I sat in my shabby office, feet propped on the desk, thumbing through the latest issue of Throb!. I pushed a stack of unpaid bills aside with the heel of my scuffed wing-tips and reached for a half-empty bottle of gin, then changed my mind. Not in the mood. Besides, I was still a little hammered from the night before. Cigarette, maybe? No. The over-flowing ashtray turned my stomach. Or was that caused by the stench of stale smoke and cheap cologne hanging in the air? Not sure.
I turned the page of the crinkled magazine and grinned at the blonde staring back. She looked like my mother---only the blonde was prettier and less slutty. That reminded me, tomorrow was visiting day at the State Pen. Had to remember to pick up Mom a carton of Camels and a fruit cake. Mom hated fruit cake. But she would be disappointed if I forgot to bring it. Odd. Oh, well...Back to the blonde.
It had started out like any other day. I rolled from the tiny bed in my one-room apartment and put a pot of three-day old coffee on the hot-plate. As I waited for the sludge to warm, I shaved with a dull razor over the sink and brushed my teeth with a finger I had dipped in Comet. It took the edge off the coffee. Dipping a chipped mug into the pot, I grabbed my thread-bare overcoat, perched a fedora precariously on my head and pulled the door shut with my foot on the way out. I tip-toed past old Mrs. Pennyworth's door and scooped up her morning paper, telling myself she was too old and senile to understand the news anyway. Nice.
Such is the life of Dick Diamond, P.I., Pigskin Investigator
A soft knock on the office door split the silence. I jumped with a start, threw the magazine in a desk drawer and zipped up. "S'Open", I croaked. Quickly clearing my throat, I reiterated in a stronger voice, "Come in".
The door squeeked open. "Mr. Diamond?" I heard the voice before I saw her face. Both ripped at my heart. "Are you Dick Diamond?" An angelic face framed by a mass of flame-red hair greeted my stare.
I recovered from the initial shock of her beauty and replied, "Who...What's the...Huh?"
"I'm looking for Dick Diamond. That's what the name said on the door."
Steady. "That's me, doll-face. Pull up a chair." I would have stood and greeted her like a gentleman, but, for obvious reasons, that was out of the question.
"Thanks." She glanced around the office nervously, then took a seat in the chair facing me across the desk. She was tall. Six foot, easy. Her legs started at the floor and went all the way to the ceiling. The rest of her...Aces.
"So, Buttercup, what can I do for ya? Or more to the point, to ya?"
"Don't you want to know my name? Or are you content to call me Buttercup and Doll-face?"
She was fiesty for a pretty dame. I knew I'd better be on my toes with this one. "Sure, Sweet-cheeks. What do they call ya?"
"Judy Wagner. Mrs. Judy Wagner."
Married. I guess that explained the boulder on her finger. I hadn't seen that much ice since I passed out in the gutter last winter and woke up with a Chihuahua frozen to my face. That was one Christmas morning I'll never forget. "Congratulations, Legs. I guess all the good ones are taken. Hope ya don't mind if I keep hittin' on ya, though. It's part of the process."
"I would rather you didn't, Mr. Diamond."
She seemed irritated. "Call me Dick. Everybody else does."
"Why am I not surprised? Look, can we just get to why I'm here?"
I was starting to get to her. They can only resist my charms for so long. "Have it your way, Sugar-breeches. Business first. Play-time second." Patience wasn't my strong suit. But I could change for this dame. She made me feel all googly inside. Skirts are like guns. They're only dangerous if you pull the trigger. And this broad had my finger itching. "What's on your mind?"
"The only reason I'm putting up with this nonsense is because you helped a friend of mine. She said you were the best and right now, that's what I need."
"And who might your friend be?"
The name meant nothing to me. "Give me a hint, Lamb-chop. My mind ain't what it used to be. But everything else still works fine."
"You're not going to stop, are you?"
"It's a package deal, Muffin." I reached for a cigarette and offered her the pack. "Smoke?"
"Please don't do that. The smell's bad enough in here. Couldn't you open a window...or turn on a fan...or something?"
I shrugged and tossed the pack back on the desk. "The windows are painted shut and the fan don't work."
"You're going to die if you keep that up." she warned.
I leaned forward in my chair. "Look in my eyes and tell me what you see."
I leaned closer. "Don't be bashful, Honey-buns. Look into my eyes and tell me what you see."
She inched forward and a faint hint of her perfume battled through the stench of my office. Lavender. "Well," she paused a second. "Now I know where the other half of that gin bottle went. Your eyes are floating." A sense of humor, too.
"Look deeper," I encouraged. She edged closer. "What can you tell me, now?"
"You need a shower. Some deoderant and breath mints wouldn't hurt either. What is that...Comet?" Her green eyes met mine. My heart felt like it was going to pound out of my chest. I wanted to take her in my arms and...Stop. Business first. Then the boogedy-woogedy. Her rules. "I'm seeing hopelessness...regret...desperation. And a few things I can't describe. You're a mess."
"Now you see why I'm not concerned about a cigarette, Angel-cake. Besides, when you've seen what I've seen and been where I've been, it changes ya."
"Alright, I'll play along to speed this up. Where have you been?" she asked.
I settled back in my chair, as did she. "Just two nights ago I was in Piggly-Wiggly on double coupon day and some old woman kneed me in the tool bag over the last couple of cans of Vienna Sausage. Things like that harden a man."
"No Doubt," she sighed. My red-haired beauty glanced at her watch. "Are we finished with the getting-to-know-you song and dance? Can we get back to my problem?"
The flushed cheeks. The impatient tone. The agitated state. She was as anxious as me. This was turning out to be a great day. "Anything ya want, Love-chunks. Tell me about your friend. You know, the one who said I was the best."
"Elisabeth Carter, yes. Her husband is a Broncos fan and..."
"He spent three thousand dollars on Tim Tebow merchandise", I interrupted. The memory came flooding back when she mentioned 'Broncos fan'. "Then John Elway snagged Peyton Manning, dumped Tebow and left the mook with a fortune in worthless jerseys and posters. Correct?"
She seemed surprised I had remembered. "Correct."
It took a minute, but it all came back. Silky dark hair. Smooth flawless skin. Blue eyes. A body I could spend a month enjoying. And his wife wasn't bad either. "I had to talk him down from the roof. It wasn't easy."
"What did you tell him?"
My chest swelled with pride at the recollection. "I told him he had a beautiful wife, great kids, a good job, loyal friends...You know, the usual crap."
"That's horrible!"she exclaimed.
"What do ya mean, horrible? I should 've let the sap jump," I laughed. "It's bad enough he's a Broncos fan. Now he has a garage full of junk to remind him he's a loser."
"Well, I hope you're more sensitive about my situation."
"Why the bum rap, Pudding-lips?" I asked. "I got the job done and everyone is satisfied. Sounds like a happy ending to me." She's even hotter when her blood's up.
"Yes, they're ecstatic," she retorted. "Can we?"
"Alright, alright, Sugar-tush," I submitted. "Let's hear what's on your mind."
"Thank you." She shifted a little in her chair and collected her thoughts. "A couple of months ago, my husband began acting very strangely. He began coming home from work and just crawling into a shell. He'd spend hours sitting on the floor in a corner, rocking back and forth and staring at a football. It started slowly at first. But gradually he stopped eating...stopped talking...stopped everything."
"As in everything?" I asked.
She choaked back a tear and quietly said, "Yes." Ashamed to admit it.
"Interesting." I really didn't think so, but suddenly I felt like one of those high-dollar head-shrinks. The kind I had spent a small fortune on, just to tell me I have an Oedipus Complex. I don't even like seafood. "Does he say anything, or just sit there bobbing around?"
She thought for a minute. "Mostly he says nothing. But every once in a while, he'll mutter something I don't really understand."
"Like what, Dumplin'-dimples?"
"Oh, I don't know. Stuff like 'DeCastro...DeCastro...We needed DeCastro.'" She thought some more. "And 'Newman blows...Couldn't cover a dead cat with a blanket'. It's crazy talk. I can't make any sense of it." She sighed in exasperation. "I just wish I could do something to help."
"Well. Tasty-hips, you could stand up and do a little dance," I suggested with a smile.
"How is that going to help my husband, you pig?" she barked.
"Didn't say it would help your husband. But it would do wonders for my morale."
The young beauty bolted up and headed for the door. "I've had enough of this," she spat.
"Don't you want to know what's wrong with your husband, Mrs. Wagner?" I stopped her in her tracks. She stood facing the door, waiting for me to continue. Stubborn. "How long have you been married?"
She turned to face me. "Six Months."
"So this is your first summer as husband and wife? And did you live together before your marriage?"
"Of course not," she indignantly responded.
I love this part. I get to 'wow' them with my genius. "Your husband's a Dallas Cowboys fan, no?" She nodded in surprise. "He started acting wierd around the end of April?" She nodded again. "There's nothing wrong with your husband other than he misses football. He may be taking his depression to the extreme, but it's nothing serious. Once the pre-season gets under way in a few weeks and the players hit the field, he'll be fine. Until then," I stood and walked around the desk, "give him this." I handed her a piece of paper I had jotted on.
She hesitantly took it. "Prescription?"
"Im a love doctor, not a medical doctor, Sugar-bumps," I grinned. "That's the name of a blog---'Blogging the Boys'. It'll get him through the next few weeks until the games begin. It's all about the Dallas Cowboys. Fantastic writers. Knowledgable fans, for the most part. He'll love it. It'll bring him out of the depression. May even make him better than he was."
"That's it? That's all he needs? Someone to talk football with?"
"He's a guy, lady", I quipped. "Not much going on upstairs. Basically, it's just a big empty space with a football bouncing against some breasts." I added, "We're not that complicated."
A slight smile briefly crossed her mouth. "You're right about that. Well, I guess I owe you an apology. Oh, and some money, too." She reached into her purse and pulled out her checkbook. "How much? I know we didn't talk about a price..."
I held up my hand and shook my head. "It's on the house, Sweet-knees. Consider it a belated wedding gift."
"Are you sure?" I nodded. She put her checkbook away. "I can't just leave without giving you something." I turned my head and pointed to my cheek suggestively. She considered it for a minute. "Oh, well. I'm sure I'll hate myself tomorrow." She quickly kissed my cheek and turned to leave. Without looking at me, she said, "Thank you, Mr. Diamond."
As the door closed behind her, I whispered to myself, "Thank you, Mrs. Wagner."
I sat behind my desk for quite a while thinking about that red hair and those full lips. Once again, I had come out on the short end in the game of love. Once again, a dame walked through my door and into my heart. Only to walk out of my life...Forever. Once again, I was alone. Well, almost. I reached into the desk drawer and pulled out the magazine I was reading earlier. Turning to the apropriate page, I smiled.
"Hello, blondie." She sure looked like my mother...
Be sure to join Dick Diamond,P.I. next time, when he gets knee-deep in "The Case Of The Curiously Cross-eyed Kicker"...