An hour later she left and I watched the dress like a dog watches a sausage until the door closed behind it.
The dress, not the sausage.
I mulled it over. Beautiful dame married to an older guy. Substantial fortune. Will being read in a spooky setting at midnight, and possible shenanigans afoot. It sounded like the plot of a lame novel.
Until the will was read, Norm’s assets were frozen. I started thinking that I had some frozen assets that Ms Lillywhite could have thawed out for me, but derailed that train of thought pretty quick. Women who’s husband’s end up dead usually spell trouble with a capital ‘serious’. Besides. Experience had taught me that when they go from ‘client’ to ‘squeeze’, they usually get the idea that you’ll write their bill off. I didn’t plan on looking this particular gift horse in the the mouth or any other orifice until my bank account was off life support.
Fortunately Chastity still had some small change in her purse, and when you’re a Lillywhite, your small change could keep a P.I. in single malt for a month. She’d given me a $200 advance, with the suggestion of a sizeable amount more if I came through.
Much as I disliked being awake before noon, let alone working, this case wasn’t going to solve itself. I took my trenchcoat from the hook and locked the door behind me as I went looking for some answers.
My office was on the third floor of a run down building on a non-descript street. If it had been in a better neighbourhood it would have been condemned by now, either by the neighbours complaining or developers looking to make a buck. As it was, the locals were too busy either engaging in criminal behaviour - or trying to avoid it - to complain. And the developers had taken one look at the area, got back in their fancy cars and gone looking for easier pickings elsewhere.
As I made my way down the stairs I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that, like a cream cheese bagel with bacon, something about this whole thing wasn’t kosher.
I should listen to my hunches more often.
o o o o o
Five minutes later I was sliding into a booth in the ‘Cup ‘O’ Joe’ on Ninth St. The coffee wasn’t up to much, but you could usually find something worth hearing even if you couldn’t find anything worth drinking.
Nancy came over, pad in hand, snapping her gum.
“What’ll it be, Chuck?”
“Coffee and a Danish please, Hun.”
I watched her as she retreated to the counter. I’ve known Nancy a long time. She helped me out on a stakeout a few years back, and a long night in the car led to a quick kiss and a cuddle but she made it pretty clear that that was as far down that particular road as she was ever going to go.
As she came back with my coffee I coudn’t help but smile. She always wore a blouse that was one size too small. “Puts my tips up twenty, twenty-five percent.” she’d once told me. I could see why. Ten pounds of cute in a five pound bag.
“Got a minute, Nance?”
She looked around. An old guy at the counter was engrossed in his paper, and two women in another booth were deep in gossip. Other than them - and me - the place was empty.
“Sure thing, handsome. What’s up?”
“Remember a few years back? Rich guy, Norm Lillywhite? Married a kid barely out of her teens?”
“Sure!” She sucked the end of her pencil. “Chastity something or other, I think. It was big news at the time.”
She looked at me in amazement.
“Norm Lillywhite hasn’t hired you has he?”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence!” I chuckled. “No he hasn’t. He’s dead. But she has.”
Nancy’s eyes opened wide like saucers, and she dropped down on the seat opposite me.
“Seriously? But why? I mean, why you? The company must have lawyers and detectives and goodness knows what on the payroll. I mean, no offence sweetie, but you ain’t exactly Pinkertons.”
Clearly, starting work at 6.30am and being around coffee all morning makes your brains a bit sharper than sleeping late and having whisky for breakfast. Nancy had got to the same conclusion in matter of seconds that I was only reaching now, after a couple of hours. Why me? Some nobody P.I. in a rough part of the wrong neighbourhood. On the way over, I’d thought to myself that maybe she needed someone cheap, but cheap P.I.’s were a dime a dozen.
And yet she’d wound up at my door.
“I don’t know Nance, but she seems like a good kid, and she’s definitely worried. Do you remember much about the wedding?”
Nancy, bless her, is never going to make it on Wall Street, but if you want to know anything about what’s gone on, is going on or is likely to go on in the gossip pages, she’s your girl.
“Lemme think. Lillywhite is,”
“Was.” I interjected.
“...was, quite a dish. He’d been married to his wife for about thirty years when she died - boating accident I seem to recall, and everybody thought that was it. A few society women tried playing the concerned friend to get a foot in the door, but he wasn’t having any of it.
Then about five years later he meets this Chastity. Whirlwind romance, summer wedding... caused quite a stir at the time.”
I bet it did. I thought to myself. But enough of a stir to get someone thinking about forging wills and possibly murder?
Then I thought about the size of the Lillywhite fortune. People killed for plenty less.
And a boating accident? Seemed like this family had a habit of premature ends.
I left Nancy a couple of bucks on the counter and headed out. Summer was pretty much over, and the wind whipped through the streets, making me pull my coat round me. I thrust my hands into my pockets, put my head down and headed west.