She was taller than most men I knew, and it was clear that she worked out. She was wearing a tailored suit in grey pin-stripe, but despite the tailoring she still had the aspect of one of those beefy men stuffed into a suit a size too small, except on her it, looked good. When she walked in the office I was lighting a cigarette, and the match burned down before I could finish. Her makeup was flawless up to her eyes, and then smudged and wiped away with fists. As the match burned my fingers and I cussed it out, I looked down and her large fists were bloodied and her knuckles cut. I looked up again.
“Eddie? Eddie Raymond?” Her voice was hot chocolate over ice cream.
“Who’s askin’?” I said, taking my feet off the desk, hole in my shoe wasn’t a thing to be showing a lady, if that’s what she was.
“Tricia. Miss Patricia Kulkowitz.” I stood up, but in consideration of the evidence, I didn’t offer to shake hands. I went over to the filing cabinet and looked under ‘A’ for ‘Alcohol.’ There it was, and I took out two glasses and my buddy Mr Walker and set them down on the table, cracking open the new bottle with a quick twist and pouring two stiff fingers for me and, after pausing to glance at her again, three for her. She looked like she could use an extra finger.
I sat on the edge of the desk and handed up hers, and for a second she looked like she might demur, but then she grabbed it and got about half-way down before she started gagging and coughing. I handed her my hankie. Hadn’t been out of the pocket for a year, that’s how slack things have been.
“Oh, Mr Raymond, I think I just killed a man, men.”
See, now, about this time peace was breaking out all over and a lot of men had been mustered out, and the surviving cops came back. There wasn’t room for a runt like me in New York’s finest anymore, I was advised to move on, so I reckon there are still plenty of cheating wives and husbands, plenty of money-laundering pricks out there and I’ll set up a detective agency, become a private investigator.
I’m good at what I do, get the evidence of dames undressing for the wrong guy, sure it’s sleazy but it’s a living, just about. I got my pride though, I take evidence of anything real bad happening to my ex-colleagues or the Feds. Mostly the Feds ain’t got time for me, but since that child slavery racket, they owe me, ‘specially Jake Muloney. His wife was real grateful I took a bullet for him, but I know what side my bread’s butter on. She’s a looker, but I ain’t stupid. Turns out he knows what she’s like, but puts up with it anyhow. Who knows what’s in a man’s heart?
Anyhow, I got me an office and a secretary, when I can pay her, and this ain’t the sorta case that walks in the door. Usually.
“Doris!” Where was she? She usually comes bustling in with coffee, because she thinks I should be more sober than I am, in about three seconds flat. “Doris! Where are you?”
“She’s probably at home Mr Raymond.” Said Kulkowitz, Miss Kulkowitz. “It’s eight o’clock in the evening.”
“How come you’re here?” I asked.
“I saw the light.”
“Outer door was locked if Doris went home.” She reached in a pocket, and I tensed, there was a bulge I hadn’t noticed there. She brought out its contents.
“This belongs to you.” It was a door handle, the communal door handle, mangled and broken. “I’ll pay for the damage, I’ve got money.” She placed it on the leather of the desk carefully.
“This ain’t my sorta case. You need protection, see the Big Smith’s. Or, if you killed a guy, better lawyer up.”
“Guys.” I looked at her again.
“How many?” And I took a swig…
“Four.” …which came right back out.
“You don’t protection you need, I don’t know what you need, but you don’t need protection.”
“I need to find out why they were after me.”
“Maybe they liked big women.”
“They weren’t trying to date me, they were trying to kill me.”
“They coulda shot you.”
“No, they were trying to make it look a like a robbery, or similar.” There were some things she couldn’t talk about. I noted that in my special place. Alright, I thought I’d remember it. I didn’t, and that wasn’t good later.
“So you beat them to death.”
“Technically?” I raised an eyebrow and she sipped the whiskey.
“I only hit each of them once.” I gestured towards her fists and she bought them up foe me to see. I turned the lamp on them. They were scarred where her knuckles had been broken before, and these cuts were going to leave fresh scars, down the to bone. I got my first aid kit, a fresh handkerchief and the bottle.
“Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.”
“What about the evidence?”
“Ain’t no cop gonna believe you killed no matter how much like a man you dress.”
“All my femme fatale stuff is at the cleaners.” We walked to the men’s bathroom. At this time of night there was no-one else there. She grimaced as I poured the straight whisky on to the cuts and dabbed away until it looked clean enough. I rummaged through the little medicine cabinet there and found bandage, which I tried to apply, but she tutted and wrapped fists up like a boxer’s and as expertly too.
“You box?” I’d heard of it. When the men were away the omen took up a lot of activities the men would never allow when they were around, but that’s war for you.
“I’m a cage fighter.” I hadn’t heard of this. “They lock you in a cage and you fight until one of you is unconscious or dead.” We walked back to the office. “I don’t know what either thing feels like.”
“Are you being funny?”
“I ain’t got a sense of humour.” I replied. “Funniest joke I know is knock knock who’s there I got a warrant.”
This didn’t make an impression. She waited.
“I’m ten dollars a day plus expenses.”
“You got it.”
“I usually take a deposit.” She brought out a wad of cash and threw it on the desk. “Pays well does it?”
“I make in an hour what you make in a week.”
“How many guys you kill in the cage?”
“I try not to do that.”
“How many?” She looked downcast for a second.
“’Bout half a dozen.”
“And the police and the Feds, they ain’t interested in that?”
“Had a woman came around once, said I was doing a good job teaching all the wife beaters they couldn’t just bash their way through life. Said she’d never seen the place and would make sure her colleagues didn’t either.” I didn’t reply to this, just poured another two-fingered shot and another for Kulkowitz.
“So why you so concerned about this? They tried to rough you up, you put ‘em down.”
“Condition was I didn’t take it out on the street.”
“I can see how that might be an issue.”
“I’m in trouble here, Mr Raymond.” I lit another cigarette as I walked around the desk and looked out my window. I could see people hunched up in the coats against the rain, scurrying home or to whatever assignations they had. I tried not to suspect everyone, but the nasty policeman side of me silently asses what each one was guilty of. People were usually guilty of something, even it was jaywalking.
A car drew up over the road. I knew that car, so I crossed over to the other side of the window and looked through the slats of the blind, without touching them, and sure enough, the Feds were there.
Micky Flanighan got out of the first car, a grey sedan. He had, as if here some sort of cliché, a violin case with him. I knew this, he actually played the instrument in an orchestra. He didn’t fit in there, Flanighan would never have fitted in anywhere but the mob, and the orchestra let him in out of fear, but not one of their number had been mugged, robbed, burgled or raped in the last four years. I turned the blind slightly, so Miss Kulkowitz could see. Flanighan was lighting up himself and looking up and down the street.
She shook her head.
“It’s not him, and none of those, the men I put down aren’t getting up.” I nodded. Flanighan was a strange one in some ways, he wouldn’t approve of mob violence, if he wanted someone disappeared he might do it himself, but he wouldn’t bother with pleasures of the flesh, he’d just shoot them stone cold dead and bury the body.
“What’s he doing here?” I wondered.
“I have no idea, if you’re asking me.”
“Shit, he’s coming here.” I looked around, grabbing the whisky bottle and refiling it under ‘u’ for urgent. “Get in the bathroom.”
She grabbed up her bag and ran to the bathroom, shutting herself in a stall. I returned to my office and tried to look nonchalant as Flanighan walked in.
“So, boyo? Work not so great for a PI these days, judging by your décor and your shoes. I quickly took my feet down from the desk again.”
“What do you want, Flanighan.”
“I know you got the lady in here…”
“What lady?” I interrupted.
“Sure, what lady. We know she’s here, an’ we got something to say to you both, so you can hear it one at a time or save me repeatin’ myself, it’s all the same to me.” The men behind the mob boss shifted uncomfortably.
“You want us to find her, Boss.” Flanighan shook his head without breaking eye content with me. And then he surprised me.
“No lads, she’ll only kick your arses. If she don’t break yer.”
“Steady on, Boss.”
“Michael Patrick McInty,” Well, shit, I never knew Big Mike’s last name before. “D’ye think I’m tryin’ to insult ye or keep ye alive?” Flanighan had turned to look at the man, and Big Mike did deserve his name. Remember I said before about a gorilla stuff in a suit? That was Big Mike, but he didn’t generally have the brains to go with it. One thing though, he believed, with justification, in his own prowess.
“S’just a lady, Boss.” Big Mike cracked his knuckles. “Ain’t never been hit by a lady.”
“Well ye’ll only get hit once by this one.” Flanighan shook his head. “And then I’ll I o’ lost me a good man.” It was my turn to shake my head.
“What’s going on here?” I asked.
“We don’t know exactly. They were Russians she put down and this is my city. You know that.” I knew he thought that, but I didn’t work his side of the street so I was happy for that. “We don’t run the cage fightin’ gig, I’ve never cared for it, we get our money and that’s all I care about. I’ve always thought the poor saps who go in the ring deserve their moment o’ glory, so we don’t bother them, small fry. It’s the property we’re interested in.”
“You’re renting the space out to the cage fighting lot? That’s almost legitimate.”
“Well to be quite frank, our legal enterprises are making more than the stuff on the other side o’ th’ law. I found a genius accountant for that stuff, clean and untouched.”
“So, you’re going legit?”
“Not exactly, we’re going where the money is.”
“So, what do you want with us? Me and her, separately, not jointly. She’s a client.”
“We want nothin’ with her and she’s only goin’ t’ buy that from the head o’ my lot and that’s me.”
“Did I mumble o’ somethin’ lads?”
“No, Boss.” Said Big Mike. The other one shifted his stance a little.
“Very clear to me, Boss.”
“Does it seem like I’m going soft these days, lads?”
“Little Eddie don’t think so, Boss.” Little Eddie hadn’t been seen on the street for a while, so that cleared that mystery up. You don’t cross Flanighan.
“And I got an interest in you because I’m hiring you.”
“I’m a little busy, Michael.” Big Mike stepped forward.
“Mr Flanighan don’t like no one usin’ his first name like that. It’s for friends…” but Flanighan was waving him back.
“Now then, I think you’ll have time for this, ‘cos I’m payin’ yer to find out what she wants to know, and ten times the rate you barely live on now. Find out what those Russian bastards got against her and report it back to me.” He held his hand out and the other brickbat put a thick pile of notes in it. He fanned through it before dumping it on the desk. “That’s your retainer for a month. If it takes longer than that there’d better be a bloody good reason.” He turned to leave and stopped in the doorway. “I think you should come to the concert on Tuesday, I’ll send some tickets round.” And just like that, they were gone.
Flanighan, basically turning legit. Never thought I’d see the day, but where the money is, guess that’s right, real estate, though I’ll never see any of that.
So, we’re sitting here in Miami and this giant, beautiful, woman is spinning me a tale that’s more extraordinary that anything I could have imagined. If the Russians got her, well, I should say if the Russians got her back, then I guess the world’s going to turn out a very different place and we’re all going to be Bolsheviks or whatever they got there now. She still dresses like a man most of the time, but were in Miami, so we’ve been dancing and she can move real smooth, and I don’t mean for a giant woman, she got the moves for any woman. And when she wears a dress, it’s a party all its own.
When we go back, Flanighan, well he’s not going to believe half this stuff; and if he does, I don’t know how he’s going to take it. I figure I deal with that when we come to it.
In the meantime, I’m getting’ used to a woman being the muscle, and the brains. Doris is looking after the office, full time, and I even gave her a bonus. We got jobs lined up, and life is good.
Raymond and Kulkowitz,
“Kulkowitz and Raymond.”
Hell yes, it does sound better.
Kulkowitz and Raymond, Private Detectives.
We’ll take the ordinary and the extraordinary.