Submitted for Flash Fiction Friday
Prompt: PERIOD FICTION – A pulp styled story set between 1900 and 1950
Genre: Pulp Genres – See above.
Word Count: Under 1800 words
I climbed out of the taxi cab, one leg at a time and opened up my umbrella. It had been raining for six days straight and most people had just submitted to the damp and let the rain pour down their waterlogged stetsons or raincaps. Well, I was tired of it, tired of everything. I'd run out of options, which is why I found myself overtipping a cabbie in front of Number 7 Lucky Street and the door to the offices of Max Fletcher, Private Investigator.
I'd gathered a lot of information about P.I.'s in those lonesome evening hours after John went missing. None of them were interested in a case where a husband took off and left a Plain Jane like me. I finally figured out that it took a bombshell to get the kind of personal assistance I needed. So I'd given myself the full treatment: Shampoo, rinse, and style at Ros' Doll House and a new dress and undergirding undergarments from Macy's. My red hair was shaped into glowing waves that flooded my back and eddied around my face. My makeup was flawless and the red dress and spoke for herself.
John had left for a pack of cigarettes one night and had never came back. I always thought that was a euphemism for something else until it happened to me. Certainly someone would already have to have plenty of reasons to be suddenly moved to leave home forever. Going for smokes was just a way to get out of the door. But we were happy. He said he was happy. He didn't have a reason to leave. He smiled a lot, laughed, loved my cooking, bought me thoughtful gifts. Why, oh, why would he disappear?
The police did the minimum: Filed the report, posted signs, retraced his steps. Then a kindly old commissioner sat me down and filled me in on the facts of life.
"Men are animals," he said, "I know; I am one myself."
"But John was different," I pleaded.
"You may think so, honey, but in the end, a man's going to do what a man's going to do. It ain't fair, sweetheart, but there's nothing you can do to cage us."
"I never wanted to cage him..."
"Sure, sure," he said, lighting a stogie, "But what is marriage but a trap, really? And when you trap a wild one, he would sooner chew off his own foot off than stay penned down. It's not you, honey, it's his nature."
"It isn't," I said.
"Suit yourself, doll, but there's nothing else the police can do for you."
P.I. after P.I. guffed my chin and sent me on my way home with nothing more then trite sentimentalities. They wouldn't even take my money to do three day's work, just to see what they could find. They all came to the same conclusions: Ain't nothing to stick around for.
So, here I am with a new look and a new tactic. I will set my trap knowingly this time. I stepped off the curb and crossed the street in my five-inch heels and tiptoed my way through the puddles and pot holes to the brownstone office building across the street. I climbed the stairs and entered the foyer. I thought it best to shake the umbrella and leave it here. Umbrellas are about as sexy as a doily on a lawn chair. I opened my clutch and pulled out my compact mirror. I held it up and looked at myself critically. My mother always said I was beautiful, but it was only now that I could really see she was right.
I pursed my lips, shook my hair then bared my teeth to make sure none of the "Lover Red" lipstick had smudged my white teeth. Satisfied, I put my compact back in my purse and straightened the deep vee of my red dress so that there was just enough mountainside to give Mr. Fletcher a reason to cross the valley between us.
I breathed deep and considered for a moment what Lana Turner would do. Then I headed down the hallway to Mr. Fletcher's office and opened the door.
There was an empty waiting room. The walls were amber with age and nicotine. There was a brown plaid couch with a small, rough hewn coffee table. The air was filled with the scent of burnt coffee and dust. And the clock that had quit working at 11:20 some day long ago hung above the receptionist's empty desk. This told me the man was too busy to clean but not busy enough to turn me away.
I sashayed my way over to the office door and struck a pose with the dreary light behind me, casting a curvy shadow on the opaque window. Then I knocked on the door and called for him.
"Mr. Fletcher?" I called and opened the door, "I need your help."
I found myself facing a large desk with a man who was old enough to know what he was doing but young enough to appreciate what I had to offer. He was peering through a magnifying glass at black and white pictures strewn across the blotter.
"Whaddya want...can't you see I'm bu-" He started to say, but stopped when his eyes refocused on me.
"I can see that you're busy. Do you want me..." I let that float and then finished with "...to come back some other time?"
"Yes, I want you..." he stammered, "I mean I can see you now, just have a seat."
He pointed me to a chair and I took my time over there, hovering over the seat and then finally resting and crossing my legs. I noticed he enjoyed the show. I opened my clutch and found my silver cigarette case. I opened it, selected a long smoke and held it between two fingers.
I looked into his eyes and held his gaze for a moment. He had hazel eyes behind long thick eyelashes, the kind that are wasted on a boy. His face was rugged and dark, with thoughtful lines around his eyes and brows. His hair was longer than it should have been and fell in brown-gold locks on his forehead, despite his efforts to tame it with quick, smart fingers. His mouth opened slightly and we both sat there sizzling.
"Got anything to light me up?" I asked.
His pupils dilated as he considered the possibilities. I wiggled my cigarette to bring him back to earth. He recovered. He stood up and bent over the desk to give me a light.
"What can I do for you, Miss...?" he asked.
"Missus," I corrected and watched his face fall slightly.
"Missus...?" he prompted.
"Mrs. Smith, if you must know and, yes, that's my real name."
"How can I help you Mrs. Smith?" he asked, regaining a bit of his professional polish.
"I need to find my husband," I said and explained the story to him, but this time I added some embellishments. Not lies, just facts with some sparkle added to draw him into my trap.
"I really need to know where he is," I explained, "I know it's not a case of marital disharmony; he was completely satisfied."
"Who wouldn't be?" Mr. Fletcher muttered under his breath.
"At any rate," I replied, "I've never worked and I can't claim my sizable inheritance without some closure here, do you see what I mean, Mr. Fletcher?"
"I do see," he said.
"And while I do have some savings, enough to pay you for sure, I know it won't last forever. I want him to come home, but failing that, I at least need to be able to survive. You understand, right, Mr. Fletcher? Yes, you do. I can see it."
I watched him again and saw his eyes swim with lust. I knew he was dreaming of screwing me on my pile of money someday. He reached for a contract and started filling it in with the facts I had given him. I never had to repeat myself like I had in the past. Good doggie, I thought.
I sat and confirmed the facts as he wrote them down and considered how different this experience was from the twenty other people I consulted. How did I never realize this before? That a turn of the head, a direct gaze, some strategically placed red and holding myself in a state of neediness and not neediness would get me exactly what I wanted.
I want John back and I'm going to get him. And I'm never again going to stand by and accept only what I've been offered, be happy with what other people want me to have. If John is an animal, so be it. I will track him with my faithful doggie and trap him so good, he won't even know that he can never escape.