It was a dark and stormy night...
...but I’d slept through it courtesy of my good friends Mr Glen and Mr Fiddich. I woke up in my office having fallen asleep on my typewriter and now half my face looked like a braille exam paper. The sun came through the blinds and hit me like the right hook from the sort of ape who's hired by unsavoury types, usually for their muscle rather than their conversation.
It was while I was looking through my desk drawer for a small bottle of breakfast that there was a knock on the door.
"Come in." I said. I'm good like that. I tipped my fedora back and tried to look like I'd had some work in the past three weeks.
The door opened and a collection of curves like an Italian mountain pass walked in, topped off by a platinum blonde hair-do that cost more than most folks make in a month. I indicated that the bombshell should take a seat while I rummaged around on the floor for my jaw.
The curves sat down.
I was wondering whether a dress that tight actually came with a health warning about possible damage to the respiratory system when she spoke again.
This time I realised she was speaking to me.
“Uh, yeah. Chuck Able. At your service.”
Plenty of times over the years I’d thought about changing my name. When you’re in the Private Eye business, a suitably down-at-heel name - take Sam Spade for example - can be the thing that swings it for many clients. Fortunately for me there were plenty of other clients that looked in the small ads, started at ‘A’ and never made it to ‘B’. The other thing I could have done would have been to team up with a Partner called Willing.
Able & Willing?
“Mr Able, I need help. I have to find my late husband’s will in seventy two hours or I’m going to be on the street with just the clothes I’m wearing.”
I kept the thought that that might not be such a bad position to be in, to myself.
“Why don’t you have a drink and give me some details, and I’ll see what I can do.” I said, proffering a shot of whisky in the least dirty glass. It was 9.30am, and I felt my booze was safe. I raised an eyebrow as she knocked it back in one go.
“My name is Chastity Lillywhite...”
My eyebrow jacked itself up a few more notches and attempted to leave the confines of my face...
“...of the New Hampton Lillywhites. My husband is Norm Lillywhite Snr. Or at least I should say, he was. He died two months ago in mysterious circumstances.”
My ears pricked up at this point, though they were never going to catch my eyebrow, not with the headstart it had. Mysterious circumstances were usually a) intriguing, and b) profitable. My interest wasn’t necessarily in that order.
“Go on.” I said, refilling her glass and mentally putting a bottle of Scotland’s finest on her expenses tab.
“Norm was in his late sixties, but was as fit as a man half his age. He ran every day, played golf, was never ill. But then about ten weeks ago he started complaining of headaches. They got worse - a week later he couldn’t get out of bed. Six days later he was dead.”
“Without wishing to be cold, Mrs Lillywhite,” I said “People do occasionally get ill - even the healthy ones. What makes you think his death was suspicious?”
“Mr Able, I’ll be blunt with you,” she said, and gave me a look that made me sit up a little straighter in my chair. “I wasn’t Norm’s first wife. There was something of an age difference between us.”
She wasn’t kidding. She could have been his granddaughter. The marriage, about two years previously, had been in all the papers at the time.
“We were in love - truly in love, really we were. But his family never accepted me. They always had me down as a gold digger that was only marrying him for his money.”
From what I could recall of the New Hampton Lillywhite’s, I would probably have married Norm for his money. The family had been fairly wealthy anyway. Then as Venture Capitalists, they got into nanotechnology just as the smart money got out.
Shortly after that it turned out that the smart money wasn’t quite as smart as it thought it was, and the Lillywhite family went from being comfortably off to being so rich that they had to pay people to come up with new adjectives to describe just how rich they were.
“Norm and his late wife had two daughters, Lily and Jezebel. At the funeral last Saturday, they took me aside and suggested that I make the most of the next week, as after that I’d be in the gutter. This Saturday, at midnight, is the reading of Norm’s will. I know Norm had left provision for me, so I can only think that the girls have done something underhand.”
“The will’s being read at midnight? Don’t tell me - it’s in a spooky old house!”
She looked at me.
“Norm had a sense of the... theatrical..." shes said. "It’s being read at the old Goldstar studios in Hollywood.”
My eyebrow, which had, by this point returned to it’s usual home of just above my eye, shot off again, this time taking his pal with him. Goldstar had been one of the original big four studios from back in the days when they were still using digital, but then a string of deaths - all put down to accidents - had signed the death knell for the place. In a business that is notoriously superstitious, people just refused to work there. Within a few years it had gone from a dream factory to a nightmare that Executive Producers told their kids about when they wanted to scare them. It wasn’t long before tales of strange sounds and ghostly figures started to spread, and these days it was the nearest thing L.A. had to a genuine haunted house.