I love the city. From the glamorous face she puts on for the world, to the grimiest corners that most people never see. Every part of it means something to somebody. The restaurant where a guy proposed to his girl. Right outside is the street where a woman comes every day to grieve for the son she lost in a car crash. The people on the observation platform admiring the views are just above the boardroom where the decision was taken to lay off eight hundred people and move their jobs ten thousand miles away. You live here long enough and she talks to you. Today, I was straining as hard as I could, but I wasn’t getting a whisper.
As I walked on, I... wait! Where are my manners? I’ve been yakking all this time and I haven’t even introduced myself! The name’s Able. Chuck Able, and I’m a Private Eye, but you’ve probably figured that much out already. Let me give you the potted history. I was born in Brooklyn thirty nine years ago. Parents, Roy and Sally, kid brother, George. The folks moved out West when I turned eighteen and I decided to stay. Spent a few years doing this and that. I’d live on pal’s sofas until they got fed up and kicked me out, and then I’d move on to the next one. Eventualy I ran out of sofas. After a while I landed a job doing data analysis for the police - tech skills were about the only thing I’d come out of school with. It didn’t pay much, hence the sofas, but I didn’t need the fancy life. I lived cheap and managed to squirrel away a few bucks every week. The other thing I was doing every week was paying attention. When you work in a Police Department you can pick up an awful lot if you keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. To cut a long and dull story short, a couple of weeks before my twenty-seventh birthday, I moved into the fine suite of offices you saw earlier, put my name on the door and started out as an independent Private Investigator.
That first year, I nearly starved.
Gradually though, word got around. I was cheap, I was reliable and I took on the sort of work that the more established guys turned away. I’ve found my fair share of missing cats and missing kids. Provided evidence of cheating husbands to horrified wives. Provided evidence that husbands weren’t cheating to equally horrified wives, and along the way I’ve looked into a few murder cases.
I’m single - just lucky I guess - which isn’t to say there haven’t been a few ladies in my life. There’ve been several, and occasionally they’d... overlap a little, but you don’t spend half your time investigating person A cheating on person B without learning what to avoid.
Hey - I ain’t proud of it, but what they don’t know, don’t hurt ‘em, right?
These days, the only one who shares my bed is Lady Ella. She’s one of the cats that I found. I took her home, but by the time I got back to the office, she was already on the doorstep. The third time I got back to find her on the doormat, I gave up, let her in and she’s been there ever since. In return for two square meals a day, she keeps the mice down and coughs up furballs on my desk. I guess she thinks it’s cute.
I’ve fired my gun five times in anger - never killed anyone, but I’ve put a few in the hospital. Always in self defence.
Lately it’s been fewer cats, fewer cheating husbands and fewer cases generally. Fortunately the Police retain me as a ‘Freelance Operative’, which means that I get to do cruddy stakeout work and other joyous tasks for a whole lot of not much. But it tends to be regular, and lately it’s been the only thing keeping the wolf from the door. Which is why I was so pleased to see Ms Lillywhite and her dress walk through that same door this morning. Well, one of the reasons.
Hey! It’s been a while.
o o o o o
The Eighteenth Precinct is at the top of a steep hill, and by the time I neared the entrance, the combination of exercise and fresh air had made my brain realise that this wasn’t a bad dream, and I really was awake. It had started chewing over what Chastity had told me earlier, and on the face of it, it was a pretty typical story.
Somebody rich dies. Note the ‘rich’ part. Nobody ever tries this on with poor people. Usually the dead person in question leaves a will, and as they say - where there’s a will, there’s a relative. Now sometimes the deceased will have informed everybody well in advance of what to expect, and the reading is just a formality. Other times they play their cards pretty close to their chest, and the greiving mourners / expectant recipients only find out what there getting, or not, at the ceremony.
Now people, being people, are sometimes fickle creatures. So maybe Great Aunt Wilhemina will have a change of heart of her deathbed, call in the solicitor, and that big fat cheque that was coming your way gets redirected to the Spokane Home for Wayward Donkeys. The point is, one ex-relative can have multiple versions of their will, but it’s only the last one that counts.
But what if you were somehow able to nobble the solicitor? And somehow that last will, leaving Dobbin and chums a small fortune were to somehow disappear? Then apparently, the last will would be the one that said ‘Hey you! Proceed directly to Go and collect $200.’
That’s a lot of ‘somehow’s’, but it’s a surprisingly common tale. Maybe people just don’t like donkeys very much.
If I believed Chastity, then that’s what had happened. She was adamant that her beloved Norm had left her a considerable sum in the will he’d made not long after they got married. And every cent that Chastity got, was a cent that didn’t go to Lily and Jezebel who, as his only surviving blood relatives, expected to gain most, if not all of Daddy’s fortune. Norm remarrying threw a spanner in that particular works, and the ladies' Lillywhite seemed to have taken it upon themselves to ‘correct’ matters.
It didn’t help that Norm Lillywhite had apparently fallen out with both his daughters. They were both in their late twenties and had seemingly never done a days work in their lives, content to live the high life of parties, holidays and a general social whirl. Daddy would, of course, pick up the bill. According to Chastity, Norm had sat down with them a couple of years ago and read them the riot act. While he was prepared to give them both a generous allowance, he did expect them to enter into the world of work, so that they could appreciate the value of money. He didn’t even expect them to follow into the family business - they could decide to do whatever they liked, but they had to get jobs or face a serious reduction in their allowance.
The girls saw this coming on the back of their father’s recent second marriage, put two and two together, and came up with a number they didn’t much like the look of. From that day on, they’d regarded Chastity with undisguised loathing.
Of course, this was only Chastity’s side of the story, and while paying the nice P.I.’s bills does give credence to a clients story, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t try to verify a few facts.
Which is what led me to the Eighteenth Precinct, and Sgt. O’Halloran, one of New York’s finest.