I heard the downstairs door slam. I didn’t look up. It was so long since a client pounded on my door I had to put Mitzi on part-time. If you took a look at Mitzi, you’d understand why that was a last resort. I didn’t even look up when I heard the high heels on the stairs. The sounds echo off the plaster walls and wood floorboards. When the heels stopped outside the outer office door, I looked. There was a shape through the frosted glass. The shape knocked.
She sat well in the straight wooden chair at the side of the desk. I moved the chair over to the side when miniskirts came in. I never moved it back. She wasn’t a mini, but she had enough legs to make up for it. She appeared to have enough other parts to complete the picture. Nice seductive voice, as well.
“You’re Dick Deuce.”
It was a statement, so I didn’t answer.
“I’ve heard about you.”
“I want you to help me find a flamingo.”
I didn’t think my reputation had suffered that much. My mother wanted me to be a concert violinist. Now I’m Johnny Weissmuller chasing jungle animals. Flamingos. The damned things probably bite.
“It’s not a real flamingo, of course. It’s a diamond. One of the rarest in the world. A real collector’s item. A flamingo carved into a single pink diamond by a reclusive Chinese jeweler in Dumas, Arkansas."
I swallowed my Juicy Fruit and took a bottle of Captain Stumpy and two not very clean glasses from my bottom left-hand desk drawer. She nodded and I poured. She drank with only a slight twitch of her nostrils. My nostrils twitched, too.
“And who told you I could find this critter for you?” I asked innocently. I couldn’t imagine anybody recommending me for anything worth more than a dollar twenty-five at this stage of my career.
“A mutual friend. That’s all I can tell you. Will you find it for me?” She recrossed her legs. The skirt slid up toward paradise. I would have found Shangri-La for her.
“What’s in it for me?” Just thought I’d ask. Enough to get Mitzi back every day would be outstanding. Even keeping her on half-time would be better than bankruptcy.
“I’ll pay your regular fee, plus a bonus when you find the Flamingo. A very nice bonus. There will be extra cash, too.”
Fifty a day plus expenses ain’t a fortune, but not starvation either. After a while, enough to get Mitzi back on a regular schedule, even if I never found this mythical diamond bird. I checked out the empty chair behind the desk in the outer office. It looked a lot better with Mitzi sitting in it. With or without the typewriter.
“So who do you think has this Flamingo you want? Anybody I might know?”
“I think the Skinny Guy has it. You know who I mean.”
She seemed sincere. The skirt helped. Mostly the thighs. I nodded. I had no idea who she meant. “And do you actually have some kind of a claim to this Flamingo?”
She paused. She looked back at the busted blinds over the window that had Dick Deuce, Private Detective on the outside. She paused some more. Then she said, “Sure.”
Under the circumstances, good enough. Especially with the thighs. I said, “My advance will be for ten days at fifty. Five hundred. In advance.” I repeat myself sometimes. Especially about money.
She said the sweetest thing. “Sure,” she said.
“Where can I get in touch with you?”
“I’ll find you,” she said, as she counted out five C-notes. A very attractive personality trait, I always think. C-notes are so positive.
“Just in case I need it, what’s your name?”
She paused again. She looked at me. She looked at the old typewriter in the outer office. She paused. “Sally Smith.”
Good enough again. I watched her walk all the way out the door, a near religious experience for any man with an active hormone. I grabbed my hat and coat off the rack, tightened my tie and slipped out my office window, down the fire escape and into the bushes to watch her leave. She came out the front door and glided into a black Gull-Wing Mercedes driven by a slim guy. The Skinny Guy? Maybe.
I jumped into my bright red MG TC, took the top down, and followed surreptitiously. They led me out of downtown to the well-manicured Tittlemaus Estates subdivision and what looked like a manor house. The Mercedes screeched into the horseshoe drive and slid to a stop at the front door.
I pulled the MG to a halt outside the front gate and observed through my B&L 20X binocs that lived in the glove box. She slithered onto the porch and into the front door. The Mercedes screamed out the other side of the horseshoe and accelerated back toward the city. I headed back to town for the night, just in time for a couple drinks at Paddy’s on Pothole Drive.
Early next morning I dialed up Lieutenant Funkle at Police Headquarters to find out who lived in the mansion. Funkle still thinks he owes me a favor for putting him onto the Rat House mob during the pilfered doll caper. I also asked him to check out the license number of the Mercedes, there couldn’t be very many of them around at that asking price. The address turned up Smedley Tarkington, a well-known shady character rumored to be involved in lots of interesting things. Plenty of dough to support the digs in Tittlemaus Estates, none of it legit. The Mercedes license was issued to a Sally Smith of the same address. Sometimes clients still surprise me.
I left the MG outside the gate and called on Tarkington promptly at 11:00 a.m. There were two plaster pink flamingos in the yard I didn’t notice the night before. A butler opened the door, looked at me like I was a piece of tarnished silver that needed polish, and sat me in the leather-lined library while he went off to fetch the master. I pulled a couple of the hand-tooled books off the shelf. None of the pages had been cut. My man was a book collector, not a book reader.
Tarkington strolled through the hall door wearing a no doubt expensive smoking jacket, peered at my card through his reading glasses and said, “Mr. Deuce, I believe? You say you are a detective? What can I do for you?”
“I heard you’re looking for some investigative services, thought I’d drop by.”
Tarkington surveyed his empire of leather. “You heard wrong. I don’t hire people who wander in through my front door.”
“I hear you hire lots of people of all sorts.”
“I’ll let Jeeves show you the way out. Good day.” He sniffed as he departed through a side door that led who knows where.
Jeeves? Really? And he actually sniffed. What a pompous ass. There was too much money here to burn bridges with a snappy retort. I left the library quickly and quietly. I took a quick left out the hall door and made it up the stairs in record time, before “Jeeves” could appear out of nowhere and get everybody wondering what I was up to.
The first and third rooms after the stairs looked unused. The second door was a bedroom. I slipped inside and nearly drowned in the perfume and chiffon. I waded through the carpet to the dresser. I braced myself and did a quick survey. Whoever slept there was definitely female who wore expensive size sixes and used thirteen different brands of perfume. There were two pictures of Sally Smith on the dresser in expensive frames. Nobody else in the pictures. She apparently had a close relationship with herself. I found a jewelry box in the third drawer of the chest. No pink diamonds or flamingos, but a lot of other stones of a variety of sizes and colors.
The fourth room was a man’s bedroom, pretty spartan under the circumstances. No pictures, one ring, lots of suits in the closet. A hint of aftershave. A couple of nice-sized stones on stickpins and a lot of gold in the box I found under the shoes in the closet.
I slipped out the door, down the stairs, out through a side door and down the drive to the MG. I wasn’t sure what I learned, but I felt a little better.
I went back to town and had a talk with Lieutenant Funkle about skinny people, then headed for Pothole Drive. I had a lead on the bird. Funkle knew a cop who knew a guy. Four drinks later at Paddy’s, I felt a lot better.
The next morning I found Patrolman Beagle, an up-and-coming young officer, who pointed me to Stinky Slavin, a low-grade snitch who hung out at the Axent Hotel on Fink Street. Yeah, Fink Street. You can’t make this stuff up. I went down to 324 Fink and up to Room 432. I tapped on the door with no result, so I grabbed a meal cart down the hall and balanced on it while I took a quick glance through the transom. Either Stinky was sleeping late in the middle of the floor or I wasn’t going to get much information out of him. The blood seeping from under his body voted in favor of the latter.
Lieutenant Funkle was rather curious about why I used one of his patrolmen to find a murder and didn’t tell him what I was up to. After a not very pleasant six hours with Funkle and a couple of plain clothes dicks I made it back to Pothole and Paddy’s, no richer for the day. Six drinks, one for each hour of Funkle.
I knew I had to follow up my only remaining lead, it was a last resort. I had to travel to Dumas, Arkansas, and find an old Chinese jeweler. It wasn’t going to be easy. It took four maps to find the place, and one more to figure out what road went there. I gassed up the MG and took off. I pulled up outside the Ding Dong Daddy Mall at 3:30 the next afternoon.
I cased the place. Su’s Jewelry store sat neatly at the south end. The other five stores in the strip looked abandoned. The roof at the north end of the strip had collapsed. I stepped into the store and set off a small bell attached to a spring. An elderly Chinese man looked up from the watch repair bench.
“You ain’t from ’round here, air ya?”
A statement. There weren’t any cobwebs visible in the store, but it looked like it ought to have some.
“Whut kin Ah do fer you, stranger?”
“I’m looking for a Flamingo. A pink one.”
“Man, you’re plumb on the wrong continent. And Ah think they’re all of ’em pink. I read somewhere it kinda depends on what they eat, though.”
I have to admit he was well read. Rural, but well read. “This one is a diamond, or carved into a diamond.”
“Oh, you mean lak a jool. Whyn’t you say so?”
“Yeah, that’s why I came to a jewelry store.”
”Hey, man, no offense. We jest don’t see a lot of furriners around these parts.”
“I’m not a furr—never mind. You ever see anything like that?”
His eyes shifted. Or perhaps the hanging light just moved a bit.
“Mebbe. Who wants to know?” He stood up and headed for the back of the store.
“I’ve got money, what do you care who wants to know?” I pulled the roll of C-notes out of my pocket.
“Jest interested in who’d refer you all the way down here fer a pink flamingo.”
“OK, what’s the difference? It was a lady calls herself ‘Sally Smith.’”
“Damn! How is old Sally, anyhow? Haven’t seen her since she was jest a kid.”
“She’s grown. Nicely.”
“I think I’ve got one of those Flamingos left, haven’t looked at it in years.”
“There’s more than one?”
“Shore, I made up a bunch of ’em about twenty years ago. Told all the kids they was di-monds.”
“You mean they’re not real diamonds? Why did you tell them they were?”
“Shucks, I was jest teasin’. ‘Sides, Sally was real friendly tryin’ to talk me into givin’ her one.” He looked me over. “I’ll sell you one for six bucks.”
So I found a man named Su.
I got my bonus, too.