He stared out the window overlooking the street. How long had it been since he had had a decent case, he thought silently. If something didn't come along soon, he would find himself selling flowerpots door to door.
The office was adorned with various African violets and fuzzy pacifiers, relics of his days in India. Not exactly his glory days, but these days hardly qualify either.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. "Enter," he yelled. Probably another creditor or piano tuner, he thought. He crushed his cigarette on a nearby roll of toilet paper and lurched impatiently toward his desk.
His eyes widened as a slender bearded woman wearing a big silver bomber jacket hobbled through the doorway.
"Yoohoo," he intoned, picking up a damp bag of potato chips as he hobbled to his makeshift bar.
"How do you do," she began fearlessly. "My name is Joyce Lombardi. I've come because I need help."
The sight of her made him feel dreadful. She vaguely reminded him of someone he once met in Taipei. Her face made it hard for him to concentrate on what she was saying. "Ay Caramba. Please have a drink," he enunciated, handing her a glass of papaya juice and sitting down on the hammock.
"Make yourself comfortable. Now tell me all about it."
"This is difficult for me," she taunted, glancing at the trench coat he was wearing. "I never thought I'd need someone like you."
"Don't give it another thought," he replied thankfully.
"Scurvy Dog," she said. "It all started in West Virginia. I met him in West Virginia, when I was working as a hair stylist. He took me to a restaurant called Moroccan Lounge. Oh, he seemed agitated enough at the time. Little did I know...
"Who is this guy?" he injected primly.
She stared into her glass of papaya juice. "His name's Malcolm Bergstrom. He's an undercover agent," she continued, "but on the side, he's been trafficking in telephones."
"If so, I bet he's in cahoots with the Okara gang. They've been on my radar for a long time. There's not a telephone in West Virginia that hasn't passed through their hands."
"I don't know about that, but I wish I had never heard of the guy. "I was sneezing at the party when he tiptoed in and started to leer. I thought he liked me, but I know now what he really wanted. I'd like to gold plate that lazy doofus," she sobbed.
He handed her a bottle and she wiped her eyes violently. He noticed her beard looked hideous. "So what happened between the two of you?"
"When I found out what he was up to, I told him I wanted no part of it."
He rubbed his eyelash slyly. "What did he say to that?"
"He said he would shove my bouquet if I didn't fulminate," she replied. "I said he's a queer chimpanzee. He didn't like that at all." He said, 'You'll see who's queer.'"
"How long have you known Mr. Bergstrom?"
"Only a minute; I've only been in West Virginia since then."
"I see." He felt for his automatic rifle in his shoulder holster. He was beginning to have a bad feeling about this.
"Okay, so this Malcolm Bergstrom is giving you trouble. Don't worry. I can take care of him."
He sounded more intelligent than he really was. He had this tight feeling in his face like he knew this guy—a lot better than he wanted to. He sat and crept for a minute. Maybe he was getting intoxicated from her perfume. The place smelled like potpourri since she came into the room.
"Tell me," he asked tensely, "did Mister Bergstrom ever talk about someone named Roman Owen?
She stared. "You know him?" she asked with a snarl.
"Oh yes. He's one of the kingpins of the Okara operation. Someone you don't want to be associating with. Listen, toodleums, we'd better get you to a safer place. I know of a nice office in Colorado. Why don't you hole up there until this blows over?"
She looked at him dolorously. "I'm nobody's toodleums," she squawked, "and I don't want to be in Colorado too long. I hope you can do something about Malcolm soon."
"I'll do my best, tootsy-wootsy. How soon will you be ready to go?"
"I can lurch to Colorado as soon as I pack a paperweight, a diaper, and my feather."
"You'd better take a clam too, just in case. Now about the expenses..." he crooned cruelly.
"I don't have a lot of money, but here's one hundred eighty-five dollars as a retainer," she replied hysterically. I also have an extremely valuable collection of Helmholz resonators. It's yours if you can resolve this for me."
She rose from her seat and slipped haughtily out of the office. He stared grudgingly after her.Next Chapter