The door was easy to force. Luckily the fancy inlaid glass didn’t break. Although this building appeared deserted, I did not want to chance being overheard by some cleaning lady. One firm shove – the door jamb cracked – and I was in.
I felt along the wall for the light switch. I flicked it – but nothing! Some joker had taken all the light bulbs.
Big deal, I thought: I see like a bat in the dark. But lights were not the only things missing from this office. The place was stripped clean: no chairs, desks, or filing cabinets. They had even taken the water cooler.
Across the room, before a half open window, I saw a tipped-over wastepaper basket. Garbage can be a case’s Rosetta stone, every detective knows that. Before checking it out, I peered through the blinds. Only a few cars were in the parking lot, two stories below. Some looked abandoned; this was typical for the meat-packing district.
Luck was still with me; the basket was stuffed with papers! This could be the break I needed. I unfolded the first crumpled letter by the dim light of the window.
“Samuel Bigglesworth: Private Detective,” announced the letterhead. What kind of a tinsel-ass name was that? I checked the glass on the door. There it was, in big black stencil: this was Bigglesworth’s office. I unfolded another letter.
“Dear Mr. Bigglesworth,” it read, “enclosed is a check for $15,000 for your services.” The next letter said, “As we agreed, here is the $6,000 advance.” I found more and more like this, even a couple of canceled checks. One was for eighteen grand!
This Bigglesworth has a sissy name, but he sure rakes in the bucks. I wish I had this guy’s clientele! Whoever he was, he had to be the best. But it made no sense for a guy with such cash flow to keep his office buried downtown. I’d be uptown with the big players and corporate guys. He did make mistakes, though. It was not smart to leave records around where someone could find them. And if I ever got a check for eighteen grand, I would have the fucker framed!
Next in the basket was a dog-eared magazine. A nearly naked babe was plastered on the cover. Big deal, so Bigglesworth was into porn. Who isn’t? I flipped through the pages, and instead of naked women, I found reams of classified ads. “Thirty-something white male seeks twenty-ish blonde,” that sort of thing. Poor baby! Bigglesworth was lonely, I know how that is! Some people included pictures of themselves with the ads.
The more I saw, the more I realized something funny was going on. One picture had a guy dressed up like a baby, with diapers, even a pacifier stuck in his mouth. He had to be fifty years old! Next, I saw a woman holding her stocking clad foot to the camera. Her ad read, “Hi; I am in desperate need of the right person (guy or gal) to worship my feet.” I winced when I saw the photo of the guy with all the clothespins pinching his cock. CLOTHESPINS? For Christ’s sake!
The more I saw and read, the stranger it got. I never would have figured Bigglesworth for a pervert. But it takes all kinds, doesn’t it? The ads at the back of the magazine were for escort agencies, “licensed” masseurs, and “professional” hostesses. A sweet bunch of words that spelled one thing: prostitution. Just as I was ready to toss the magazine, I noticed an ad on the back was circled by a felt tip pen.
“Visit Mistress Amanda,” the ad proclaimed. “Do you need something different?” It went on to say, “Come be a captive in my Dungeon. No posers, beginners, or wimps allowed! Slaves must submit an application to qualify. Accepting positions for male and female submissive.” The phone number was the exchange of this neighborhood. The bottom of the ad included a picture of the proprietor. She was wearing some sort of fancy girdle. Even in this low-resolution picture, I could tell she was a beauty. I ripped the ad out and stuffed it in my back pocket.
The basket held one last surprise: an old hat. It was the kind those pot-smoking Rastafarians use to stuff their dreadlocks under. It had rainbow colors, like something out of a time-warp from the hippie days. It was embroidered with little metallic beetles. Who would have dreamed up such a thing?
Something else was strange. As I handled it, my fingers were getting numb. It was as if it contained a hidden chunk of dry ice.
I sniffed at the rim. It was not soaked with perfume, nor did it smell sweet, the way a lady’s sweat smells. This smelled acrid, so it must have belonged to a man. But I detected something else, an odor that reminded me of . . .
Nothing breaks your concentration like the flashing lights of a police car. From the window, I saw one racing into the parking lot. It lurched to a halt. Immediately, two uniformed officers jumped out, followed by two suits climbing from the back seats. One suit carried a high-powered rifle slung from his shoulder. The grenade-launcher attached under the barrel of the gun meant this was not standard issue. The other suit must have stepped out of a science fiction movie. He was muscular and big. He was wearing some sort of goggles, like those fancy night vision things, the infrared type.
“We are doing this legal,” I heard the cop say, “by the book. No nasty mess-ups like last time.” The suit with the rifle chuckled. “I mean it,” insisted the cop. “The chief wants this to go smoothly. Get a good clean fix on him before you shoot . . .”
What were these guys after? I was glad they were not looking for me.
Then the craziest sensation hit me. I had no idea what I was doing or who sent me. What case was I on? I started quizzing myself. My unanswerable list grew larger and larger, even when I got to the fundamental questions. My own name was even a mystery. It was as if I just became self-aware moments ago. What was going on? My pockets were empty: no wallet, cards, license, or money. Not even snapshots of the wife and kids. Did I have a wife and kids? Sickness cramped my stomach. I felt dizzy, so I steadied myself against the windowsill.
That was a big mistake.
TING! A hole shot through the window glass. It spider-webbed out and shattered. I dived for the floor. I heard yelling.
“HEY! No shooting!”
“You missed,” another informed, “but I got a clear read on him: he’s up there.”
They missed, all right. I had to get out of there fast! Crouching low, I headed for the door.
The dark hallway smelled of plastic and mildew. At one end glowed an exit sign by the stairwell. At the other end was an elevator. I chose the stairs.
Just inside the stairwell, a barred window provided a view of the parking lot. I decided to have a peek at my friends.
Both cops were dead. One lay sprawled on the hood of the patrol car, his head smashed clean through the windshield. The other was spread-eagled on the ground, face down in a pool of blood. The suits were nowhere in sight. If those two suits caught up with me, they weren’t going to read me my Miranda Rights.
A creaking sound echoed up the stairwell. A glance over the handrail confirmed the worst; the searching beam of a rifle laser sight cut the darkness. They were here.
Dashing upstairs would make noise, so I backed out into the hallway. The only option was the elevator. If the suits had brains, they would separate; one should take the stairs, the other the lift. So I pressed myself flush against the wall, out of sight, and hit the “up” button. Seconds later, the doors opened. It was empty. I got on and pressed the panel for the top floor. If a chance existed for getting out of this alive, I needed some distance between us.