It was one of those sweltering afternoons that has you wishing you could move to Alaska, but I never will. Ich bin ein Hamburger, as they never tire of saying. The air was thick with humidity, smog and broken dreams. I sat back with my feet on my desk, watching the smoke unwind from my cigarette and fade away like the innocence of youth.
It had been one of those cases. The Chief of Police threatening to suspend my license, while he sat behind his desk drinking sugar with a dash of coffee and eyeing his secretary like she was an ice cream sundae. The Cub from Pinkerton's, that dime-store Kojak, trying to muscle in on my investigation and not above using his Olympic fists to back it up. Larry the Snitch, always trying to believe our business was like the movies, too dumb to know a box of hammers had nothing on him.
Now all I wanted was a few drinks before curling up with my Magnum and sleeping for the next decade or so. But first, I had to have a talk with my client. There were things I'd rather do, like chew Brillo pads, but I was as likely to get out of it as I was to escape hearing my father's war stories for the five thousandth time.
Gina, my receptionist, opened the door a crack. Gina's not a skirt, he just wears one. "Boss? He's here."
I opened the bottom drawer and got the bottle out. "Let him in."
My client sauntered in like a cat with its belly full of cream and canary feathers in its whiskers. His outfit had to be seen to be believed. He'd have looked like a peacock if he'd been a little less flashy, and he had more gold jewelry than King Tut. He should've left the jewelry at home; putting it next to his masses of curly hair wasn't fair to the gold.
"The travelling circus is next door, Goldilocks," I told him.
My tone let him know something was up. He paused in front of my desk and sized me up. His eyes were as blue and innocent as the sky, which at least meant I could run him in for false advertising.
When he was done X-raying my soul with those baby blues, he folded himself into the chair as graceful as a swan. When God made Dorian Red, He was in the mood to show off.
I opened the bottle, poured a drink for myself and asked him with my eyebrows if he wanted one too.
His eyebrows replied that he was shocked I'd even offer. "A little early, isn't it?"
"Hair of the dog," I replied, starting work on it.
"That's more than a hair."
"It was a big dog."
"Did you find my father's painting?" His voice was as creamy as his skin.
"That's not all I found."
"I don't know what you mean."
I got the rest of the bourbon inside me and stood up to look him in the eye before I answered. "I found out why you wanted me to find it."
He jumped up. "It's mine by right, it was promised to me-"
"You're a thief! You only wanted me to find it so that you could steal it! You played me for a sap!"
He didn't try to deny it, I'll give him that. Then again, he lost his marbles somewhere in Elgin. "Do you really think I was only using you?"
I shrugged. "I always call a spade a bloody fucking shovel."
He stepped close to me, close enough that I could smell his rose scent, and the urges that propagate the species were confused enough to wake up and start presenting demands. "I never lied about the way I feel about you. You know I didn't."
I wanted to believe him. I wanted it more than I'd ever wanted anything. But maybe I woke up on the wrong side of Dorian's bed that morning.
"There's some things I just can't do, Goldilocks," I told him. "Not even for you."
Those baby blues got even bigger, like if he got a better view of me I wouldn't be saying what I'd just said. "You wouldn't turn me in," he said, like saying it was a good luck charm.
I let him stew for a minute. When I figured he was caramelized and had plenty of good thick gravy, I finally spoke. "No, I wouldn't." He got a little smile and started to step closer to me before I finished. "Not until tomorrow."
"I'm making the only exception I can, even for you. I'm giving you a 24-hour head start." I dug an old smile, ragged with a couple of patches in it, out of storage and put it on. "If I know you, Goldilocks, by the time I tell the cops about you you'll be well out of their reach."
"Why don't you come with me?" Dorian never did give up easy. And he was more beautiful than anything I'd ever seen. Then again, they say Lucifer was the most beautiful of all the angels.
"You know I can't do that," I said. I stepped back and turned my back on him, pouring myself another shot of courage.
At the door, my client paused for a parting shot. As long as it wasn't lead, that was fine with me.
"You haven't seen the last of me, Iron Klaus," he said.
Right before the door shut behind him.