This week’s blog post offers another two-part, four-item-prompt short story featuring the private-eye duo of White and Wong––this time a bit of early Cold War Noir. As I explained in a previous post, the four items used for inspiration are totally unrelated and must be included at least once somewhere within the story. In this instance the four items were:
A left-handed sprocket
Pink Perfection nail polish
A dipper of hot grease
An elk-antler-handled bottle opener
I truly enjoy writing these four-item-prompt stories not only for the challenge but also for their spontaneous results. If you readers enjoy them, too, and wish to pose a four-item challenge of your own, please leave a comment that includes: four unrelated items, your name, and where you’re from. As I use a reader suggestion for a story prompt in a future post, I’ll also credit the person who submitted the challenge.
Enjoy! Thanks for stopping by.
A Left-handed What?
Right Bank Pawn. Find left-handed sprocket. IMPORTANT to resolve case.––BW
The note my partner had scratched onto the blotter atop my desk baffled me. I wasn’t aware of a new case, or what a left-handed sprocket looked like, or whether such a gadget even existed. After all, wasn’t a sprocket a sprocket––a round disc with a bunch of teeth cut into it with a hole in the center? What made a left-handed sprocket unique? Shouldn’t sprockets be interchangeable from side to side? Or did he mean gear rather than sprocket? If he meant a helical-cut gear instead of a sprocket, that would make a difference—teeth probably wouldn’t mesh. Regardless, my partner’s message had indicated urgency, so I hurried from the office but wondered: If the sprocket is so doggoned important, and White knows what to look for, shouldn’t he be searching instead of me? Too bad I can’t reach him. Hope the splotch of red beside the note wasn’t his blood.
Standing in the entry to the Right Bank Pawn Shop, I eyeballed the joint from side to side. A fat man with a greasy, ginger comb-over sat behind the counter, perusing the morning newspaper. He paused long enough to glance over spectacles balanced at the end of his ski-jump nose and snorted––or maybe broke wind. Hard to tell.
“Look around,” he said. “You find something, I be right here.”
Mr. Helpful himself. I nodded, then moseyed to the right. Several wooden bins contained pieces of metal in assorted sizes and shapes. I thought it odd that a pawn shop had scrap bins like these— seemed more appropriate for a junkyard. Nevertheless, I slipped off my jacket, laid it on an old dresser, then rolled up my sleeves and started searching.
After rummaging through two bins with no sprockets, I pulled a handkerchief from my jacket pocket and wiped my hands. Prepared to dig in to a third bin, I put on the brakes. A woman’s fingers danced a business card in front of my face––a White & Wong business card. Her nails were perfectly manicured and glossed with Pink Perfection nail polish. A waft of flowery perfume graced my nostrils. Thoughts of left-handed sprockets took a powder.
“I believe you dropped this,” she purred. “Are you White?”
I turned my head. The dame’s blond hair shimmered in slow waves toward her shoulders. Her blue eyes sparkled with hints of mischief. Her rosy lips were full and pouty. Her scarlet satin dress hugged a body that was curvy as a mountain highway. Marilyn Monroe, eat your heart out.
I grinned and batted my eyebrows. “No, I’m Wong.”
She smiled. “I’ll just bet you are. Can I…help you with anything?”
I’m sure you can, but… “You work here?”
She winked. “I have an office in back…where it’s more…private.”
“The bookkeeper, right?”
She grinned, then winked again. “Right.”
Without warning, the image of White’s note interrupted my fantasy. I sighed. “Maybe later we could go…talk. For the moment, I’m looking for a left-handed sprocket.”
She squinted and cocked her head. “Really?”
“Yeah. Know if the shop has one of those things?”
She stared, then said, “I…believe Fre––uh, Frank can help you with that. I’ll go get him.”
Moments later, a hulk of a man with wispy red hair and sunken eyes strode toward me. The blond followed. The man’s arms hung ape-like with hands hefty enough to palm a bowling ball. He stopped inches away, then glanced around the shop. Apparently satisfied no one was watching––or cared––he glared at me with his beady eyes. He pointed a gnarly finger at my face and spoke in a low tone, “You the guy looking for left-handed sprocket?”
I stepped back. “That’s me. You Frank?”
He grunted. “Who told you about sprocket?”
I shrugged. “What’s it matter? You got one or––”
“Who told you!”
I stared at ape-man Frank, then at the blond, then back to Frank. “My partner, why?”
“White?” the blond inquired.
“What?” the big ape said.
“No, White. So, you have the––”
Before I could block his punch, Frank cuffed me upside the head. The world went black.
I awoke inside a dimly lit room, on a wooden chair, my hands tied behind me. My head throbbed. Blinking didn’t help side-step the pain, but it cleared my vision enough to notice my jacket tossed over the chair back, and my partner, Barnabus White, perched in a similar manner in the corner, his hands secured with identical hemp restraints.
He smirked. “Hey, glad you could join me…ya big dunce. Thought you were smarter than to get shanghaied into––”
“Shanghaied? Cute, Whitey. But I’m not the only one tied up here.”
White scowled. “You got my message?”
“Obviously. Was that your blood on the blotter?”
He nodded toward his bandaged finger. “Sliced it on your letter opener searching for a pen. Who the hell sharpens their letter openers, anyway?”
I shrugged. “Never know when you might need a decent weapon. So, what’s the dope about the left-handed sprocket? What’s the difference? And why is it so friggin’ important?”
“Damned if I know the difference. But it’s not the sprocket we’re after, it’s the code etched onto it.”
“Code? Code for what?”
A key rattled in the door’s lock. Frank swung the entry wide, then backed from view. The blond followed a tall gent into the room. He wore a gray pinstriped suit. His dark hair was slicked back. A pencil-thin mustache decorated his upper lip. His outfit and his narrow-eyed smirk indicated he ran the show.
“Well, well. So, you are the team of White and Wong.”
I huffed. “Which makes you two Good and Evil, right?” I stared at the blond. “Or are you both just plain evil?”
The man in charge chuckled. “Call us what you like. Who hired you?”
I focused on my partner. Normally, I wouldn’t toss him to the wolves. But White was the reason my head thumped and we were tied up. Besides, he still hadn’t filled me in about what the hell he’d gotten us into. He owed me one.
The head man turned toward my partner. “It seems you hold the cards in this shuffle. So tell me, Mr. White, what do you know? Who sent you for the sprocket?”