This week I felt the need to sidestep all the political rhetoric that has been lambasting the airwaves and cyberspace lately and, instead, focus on curing my political ills (temporarily at least) with a healthy dose of creative writing. And who better to waltz me down a wordy detour than my four-prompt private eyes, White and Wong? The inspirational prompts for this installment are:
- A blue shoe
- A live tuna
- A certificate of occupancy
- Six lemons
Yikes! A live tuna? Really?
Once again, each of these unrelated items must appear at least once, somewhere within the story. So, here we go with another two-part, sometimes nonsensical, White and Wong mystery, where the prompts encourage notions for a plot line, then the characters fill in the blanks with their story.
Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
The door knob to the White & Wong Investigations office twisted, then the door swung wide. A hulk of a man stepped in and blocked the entrance––top-to-bottom and side-to-side. His wide-brimmed fedora shadowed a scowl as ugly as his waistline. He scanned the walls, stared at the pair of framed P.I. licenses, then leaned in toward another permit––the one that had yet to be renewed due to a new city ordinance. The man’s furrowed, square-jawed expression slowly rotated my way. His beady eyes bore down on me like lightning bolts as he stuck his right hand inside his jacket.
Wong had taken refuge in the bathroom for his morning ritual. I glanced his direction as the bathroom lock clicked home. Obviously, Wong didn’t care to participate in this dance. The only other means to avoid the city housing inspector again was through the window. Though I remained physically fit, twelve stories without wings or a parachute was a considerable leap. Guess I’d be two-stepping this one solo.
“Percy Kilbride,” I said. “Nice of you to drop by.”
“Cut the nice-guy crap, White,” Kilbride grumbled. He whipped out a booklet from his sport coat. “Where’s your partner?”
I glanced left. “Indisposed. So what do you want this time, Percy?” I sat back and grinned to myself. For a man of his girth with Percy for a moniker, guess I’d seldom smile either.
He picked up a pencil from my desk and began writing on his flip pad. “This is going to be your final warning, Barnabus. If you don’t get your certificate of occupancy renewed according to new city ordinance number H-one dash––”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember––‘There’s gonna be a steep fine tacked on to the renewal fee.’ If you ask me, seems like just another scam for the city fathers to line their pockets.”
Kilbride scowled again, then plopped the citation booklet and pencil on my blotter. “Sign at the bottom.”
I squinted one eye and looked up at him with the other. “And if I don’t?”
His brow cast deeper furrows. “Just sign the damned thing so I can get out of here.”
I hesitated for effect, then obliged the housing inspector. Once I’d complied, he grabbed the pad and pencil, ripped out the middle section of the warning ticket, then flung the carbon copy at me. As it fluttered to my desktop, Percy Kilbride smirked and turned to leave.
“You forgot something,” I said.
He spun around and sneered.
I smiled. “The pencil belongs to me. Or should I deduct its replacement cost from my renewal fee?”
Kilbride flipped the No.2-lead scribbler over his shoulder as he stormed from the office and slammed the door.
I turned toward the john. “Percy’s gone. You can come out now.”
The lock and latch clicked, then the bathroom door squeaked open. Wong peeked around the jamb. “Sorry, Barn, I––”
“Was supposed to have taken care of the renewal first thing Friday morning. Now, it’s Monday.” I scowled at my partner––not as mean as Percy’s scowl, but close enough.
Wong gazed toward the ceiling and purged his lungs. “Like I said, sorry. Got tied up with––”
“Never mind. According to the latest warning, we’ve got till this Friday to renew, then there’ll be––”
Wong nodded. “Steep fines. I heard. I’ll get it done this afternoon, Barn. Promise.”
I rolled my eyes, then returned to sorting through paperwork from our last case.
The rest of the morning quietly slipped by. I was about to break for lunch when the phone rang, so I picked up. “White and Wong Private Investigators. How can––”
“White? It’s Percy Kilbride. Need you to––”
“Whoa! A warning ticket wasn’t enough? Now you’re calling, too?”
“No, dammit. Got nothing to do with that.”
I motioned for Wong to listen in on his extension and got back to the housing inspector. “Then what does pestering me again have to do with?”
“I just came home for lunch and found a big package on my doorstep. When I dragged it into the house and opened it, there was a live tuna inside.”
Wong and I stared at one another. He grinned. “Bluefin, ahi, or albacore?”
“How the hell should I know? It’s a big damned fish packed in ice, okay?”
“Well, Wong and I didn’t put it there.” I glanced at my partner to ensure my story was completely true.
He pointed at himself and shook his head. “So, why you calling us, Kilbride?”
“I…I heard about how the mob sends warnings like this when…”
“The mob? Geez, Kilbride, who’d you piss off now?”
I’d heard about how mobsters delivered messages like that, too––a dead mackerel as a symbolic notice sent to double-crossers informing them they’d soon be permanently swimming with the fishes. But a live tuna?
“Why aren’t you calling the cops?” I inquired. “What makes you think we can help?”
“I…I got a bit loaded at a tavern Saturday night, and––”
“So, drinkin’ is why you’re always so grumpy?” Wong said.
I frowned at him. “So, I repeat, Percy, why are you calling us instead of the cops?”
Kilbride hesitated, then said, “A couple of friends from the mayor’s office were with me. Don’t wanna get them in trouble.”
Wong mouthed, Percy has friends?
I shrugged, then continued the conversation. “Pretty sure the mayor and his boys drink, too. Unless they were on the clock, so what?”
“Well…a woman was there, too. After a while we got to talkin’––you know, kinda sociable-like.”
Wong’s eyes bugged wide. “This is getting good, Kilbride. What was she like?”
The housing inspector snapped back, “Whatta you mean?”
“You know. Blond or brunette. Short or tall. Thin or heavyset. Blue eyes or brown.”
“Oh. She was, uh, blond––maybe five-seven, I think. Not skinny but not fat either. Had all the right––she was nice, okay?”
I pictured Percy Kilbride reliving his night on the town. But why was he being so secretive and defensive? What details weren’t the cops supposed to know? And what the hell did any of this have to do with the mob, or a live tuna at his front door?
“What about her name, Percy?” I said. “You remember her name?”
“Uh… Rita, I think––or was it Roberta?”
Wong closed his eyes and shook his head. “What about a last name?”
“Uh… She had brown eyes. I remember her eyes.”
I glanced at the ceiling. Geez Louise. “So you had a swell night talking with a good-looking woman. So what, Percy? What’s got you in a knot?”
“I… I… The woman and I left the tavern together in a cab, but that’s the last I remember. When I woke up the next morning––my head pounding––she was nowhere around, but her shoe was on the floor by the nightstand.”
“Yeah, a blue, high-heeled shoe.”
Wong laughed out loud. “Let me get this straight. You’re thinkin’ the woman from the bar actually spent the night with you?”
The phone line became silent as a tomb. I glared at my partner and tried to revive the conversation. “What makes you so certain the shoe belongs to her, Percy?”
Kilbride huffed. “She was wearin’ blue and I live alone, for Chrissake. Who else could it belong to?”
Wong snickered. “What, blue the wrong color for your wardrobe?”
I motioned for Wong to zip it. “So, if it was just you and the woman in the cab, what happened to your friends? Have you talked to either of them?”
Kilbride huffed again. “Called both of ’em Sunday morning. Each said they drove straight home right after the woman and I left in the cab.”
“That’s it? Neither of them overheard where you were going? Anything?”
“Nothing. But, uh… There is one more thing. I… I also found blood in the bathtub.”