A cold rain raged outside, beating against the windows like a punch-drunk pugilist. A flash of lightning silhouetted the empty bottle of Bourbon on my desk. I dropped the bottle in the trashcan and contemplated the amount remaining in my shot glass. I took half a sip, leaving barely that much more behind.
I should go home, I thought, but the bottles there are empty too….
Thunderous footsteps echoed outside my office door. A shadow passed over the frosted glass, briefly obscuring the text: J.P. Worthett, Private Investigations. The door creaked open and in tumbled a tall, thin man.
“Did I scare you?” he asked.
“Not during business hours, Sam,” I retorted. “That would be useless. Besides, you know I don’t dodge things just because I’m afraid of them. Some people call that courage.”
“Keep telling yourself that. By and by you’ll come to believe it. And you know I don’t go by ‘Sam’ anymore.”
“Oh, right, Dash. You look terrible. What did you do, go to bed sober?”
“I must have.”
“To what do I owe the honor?”
“Taking a break from the typewriter.” He yawned and stretched and his body released a few obnoxious sounds and odors. “Thought I’d see what you’re up to these days. And I brought you this!” He held a half-full bottle of Bourbon. He twisted off the cap, put the bottle to his mouth, and threw his head back, gulping the warm liquid.
I grimaced in disgust. “Bourbon should be sipped,” I said. “Even that cheap rot-gut. If you want to guzzle your booze, stick to beer or gin.”
He grimaced back at me — he was better at it — and slammed the bottle onto my desk. “Pour yourself a sip or three then.”
I sipped my shot glass empty, then refilled it from his bottle. I sipped twice more then topped it off again before returning the bottle to the desktop.
He belched and toppled into the chair opposite me.
“You mean you’re blocked and want to steal another story from me,” I said.
“I’ve never stolen anything in my life… not a story, anyway.”
The phone shrilled a long and three shorts. I knew it looked bad for a business to be on a party line, but I was barely able to meet the bills as it was. A private line wasn’t in the budget.
I lifted the handset. “Worthett,” I announced. “Ray! How are you? Well, if you don’t like it there you must be crazy or sober. Speaking of which – Sam, er Dash, came in just a moment ago. No, if he has a gun it’s not in his hand. He brought me Bourbon and gaudy patter.” I glanced across the desk. “Ray says hello and he has dibs on my next case.” Dash gestured in a way that I declined to describe over the phone line. “Dash waves hello back. Maybe I should put my case files up for the highest bidder. Right, no matter how much I rattle the coins in my pocket they don’t multiply. Well, I guess the current offer is a half a bottle of Bourbon. Can you top that? A case, huh? Yeah, that would be great, but you know, ‘a bottle in the hand…’.”
Dash cleared his throat. “I can have another bottle here in five minutes. A full one.”
I pretended to cover the phone with my hand, but we all knew I meant for Ray to hear. “I believe the current bid is a case.”
Dash grimaced and lumbered to his feet. “Fine. A case then.”
“A case in addition to this bottle,” I nodded at the one on my desk.
He looked distinctly unhappy at the turn of events, but nodded and spun on his heel. “I’ll be back. And I better get an exclusive.”
The door, creaking on its hinges, remained open in his wake.
“Yeah, Ray, I’m still here. No, he’s gone out. Huh? I suppose it is a case for a case – that does sound like a fair exchange rate. He might come back, he might not. Sure! You get the stuff delivered before he does and the story is yours. Did I ever tell you about the jewel-crusted canary? Well then make it a raven or falcon or something. Make it a damn ostrich for all I care. You’re the writer, I’m just your fodder. No, FODDER. Sure, Ray. Have that case delivered and I’ll drop a copy of my notes in the morning post. If he gets back first though, I gotta give it to him. Okay, Ray. ‘Bye now.”
Another flash of lightning knocked the power out just as I hung up the phone. No point in going out in this mess, I thought.
I leaned back in my chair and propped my feet on the desk. I sipped my Bourbon.
What have I gotten myself into? I wondered. A jeweled canary? Maybe I should lock the door and hide under my desk….
Note: This piece contains several bits and pieces — mostly indirect or rephrased — from works by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. My character, J.P. Worthett, was (of course) directly inspired by their Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe among others.
Note: J.P. Worthett also appears in stories that you can find by clicking here.