This week’s blog post features another two-part noir adventure with my four-item prompt detectives, White and Wong. This time the duo’s tale was inspired by:
A set of Japanese silk prints
Fourteen yards of wet canvas
An antique pocket watch
A map of Chernobyl
Enjoy. And thanks for stopping by.
The Silk Print Caper
I was sitting in my office, perusing the latest copy of True Detective magazine, and wondering why my name had never appeared on the pages of the rag’s many editions. My partner was sulking at his desk, his feet propped on the ink blotter and his wide-brimmed fedora pulled down like a shade. He was also wrapped in his mother’s old pink chenille robe again. From what I’d heard him whine about most of the morning, he’d had a rough night. The robe helped him settle his nerves and think––at least that’s what he’d told me the first time I caught him snuggled in it. When he wasn’t sulking or hungover––or both––White was a great detective. Because of that trait, I chose to ignore his one peculiar habit.
I glanced his direction. “Hey, White.”
I waved the magazine. “Ever wonder why neither of us have been immortalized in here before?”
He lifted his chin from his chest and squinted. The St. Joseph’s aspirin must not have kicked in quite yet.
“They’re just stories, Wong. Made-up stuff. Nothing in there’s for real––not like us.”
I nodded and grinned, the derogatory reply coming from the man wrapped up in his mother’s pink bathrobe.
“But it says right here, ‘Authentic Stories of Crime Detection.’ ”
White’s commentary about the monthly publication triggered flashbacks from our last couple of capers: Chasing down a bad guy called The Pigeon; snagging a left-handed sprocket from spies… and how White’s lucky elk-antler-handled bottle opener had saved the day. Okay, my partner had two oddities.
Before I could think of a third quirk, the phone rang.
White shuddered, so I picked up. “White and Wong Detective Agency.”
“Is this White?” a man inquired.
“Nope, all Wong.” Before the caller hung up, I clarified. “This is White’s partner, Peter Wong. What can I––”
“I was calling for Barnabus White.”
I glanced at White again. His eyes were shut, and his chin had found a home in the chenille once more.
“White’s a bit indisposed at the moment. Like I said, I’m his partner. How can I help?”
“I, uh… My name is Thomas Cornwallazinski–– the janitor at the art museum.”
I pulled the handset from my ear, stared at it, then returned to the conversation. “Okay, Mr. Cornwallysinksk––”
“A mouthful, I know. Just call me Thomas.”
“Okay, Thomas, what can I do for you?”
“We had a break-in at the art museum last night. Several pieces were stolen, including a set of Japanese silk prints on loan from…from one of our benefactors.”
“Why are you calling private investigators? Didn’t the curator call the police?”
“I… That is to say… Where’s Barney White?”
I frowned. “Like I said, indisposed. What’s the big hubbub, bub?”
“Barney’s already familiar with… Oh, never mind. I’ll call back.”
I huffed. “Hold on a minute. At least give me a phone number where I––where White can reach you.”
Several silent moments passed before the man complied, then he abruptly disconnected.
I scratched my head, gave White another glance, then decided the St. Joseph’s had had plenty of time to massage my partner’s woes.
“Hey, White! Wake up!”
His right eye crept open. I’d gotten his attention.
“You know a guy named Thomas Cornwallazzzinkski?” Just trying to pronounce the man’s name made me sound like I was schnockered. “Guy said he’s the janitor at the art museum.”
White’s other eye matched its counterpart. He croaked, “Tommy Cornwally? Yeah, I know him, why?”
“He was just on the phone.”
White scowled, then flinched. Maybe the St. Joseph’s still had more work to do.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“’Cause he was impatient, and you were sawin’ logs like a lumbermill. So, what’s the deal? How do you know this guy?”
White snugged his mother’s robe a bit tighter. “We go way back––high school, the army. Fought together in Korea. I’ve got a set of Japanese silk prints on display at the museum. Picked ’em up as a souvenir while in––”
“Whoa. Back up, a sec. You’re the benefactor who owned the prints?”
“Yeah, that’s right.” White dropped his feet to the floor. “Whatta you mean owned?”
“Cornwally said somebody broke in and lifted ’em.”
“WHAT?” White’s hat fell to the floor. His flinch this time reflected more duress. Normally, the St. Joseph’s didn’t take this long to act.
I shook my head. “Hang on. I’ll get you a cold washcloth.”
When I returned, White was pacing the floor, one hand was shielding his eyes, his other hand clutched the robe that dragged on the floor––his momma was a tall woman. He grabbed the washcloth, slapped it on his forehead, and kept pacing. “So, what’s the skinny? When’d this happen? Was anything else taken? Did they call the police?”
I sat in my chair and leaned back. “Your pal said the thief got away with several other items but didn’t say what they were. Left a phone number, so you could return his call.”
White peered sideways from beneath the washcloth. A drop of water slid down his ski-jump nose and clung to the tip. I handed him the scrap of paper with Cornwally’s telephone exchange scribbled on it. White blew away the drip, then shuffled to his desk. He slowly inhaled and exhaled, sat down again, then dialed the phone.
I lifted the receiver on my end and listened in. White didn’t seem to mind.