By Steve Siciliano
No matter where I am, who I’m with, or what time I get to bed, it never takes long for me to fall asleep. While I’m waiting for sleep I use my imagination. Sometimes I place myself in a sleeping bag on a thick cushion of pine needles and I’m looking up at huge flakes of snow slowly drifting down through a high-branching canopy. Or I might be on a towering bluff listening to distant crashing waves while a full moon shines a long ribbon of shimmering light on a wide expanse of water. Other times I’m in an ink-black desert underneath a coal-black sky that is studded with millions of sparkling, blue-white diamonds. I always fall asleep that way and mostly I have pleasant dreams.
But the night Samantha Lowe called I couldn’t get my imagination to work; it took a long time to fall asleep, and when I did, I had the disturbing, reoccurring dream about the house where I lived when I was married. It’s always a cold, stormy night in the dream and I’m always trying to lock the door. I keep shutting the door and turning the latch but the door doesn’t lock. Then, when my ex-wife appears wet and shivering on the porch, the door doesn’t open.
The next morning while driving to the city I drifted back and forth between that dream and Samantha Lowe’s voice. In the bright light of the summer morning the dream, while still disturbing, seemed a little less so and the voice, while still full of complications, sounded a little less dangerous. I had a workout and a shower at the gym, picked up my mail at the post office, stopped by the police department, flirted with the female detectives, had a cup of coffee with O’Doyle, stopped by Siciliano’s for a paper and tobacco, then had breakfast at a diner on Fulton. While I ate I read the sports then went through my mail. There was a check and a nice “Thank You” note from a client, a credit card statement, the latest issues of Food and Wine and Bon Apetit, a catalog from Crouching Tiger Karate and an invitation to join ARP. On the way back to my car I threw the catalog and the ARP invitation into a trash container.
I spent the rest of the morning browsing through a used book store in East Town and that afternoon I buttoned up a case. It was the type of case I always hated working on and had stopped taking when I no longer had to worry about paying the bills. The only reason I did take it was because I felt sorry for the client, a young man, who I had met one day at Founders. I was sitting alone at the far end of the bar when I saw him wandering around the mostly empty tap room. He seemed to be looking for someone and I saw that he was a little drunk. There were unoccupied seats everywhere but he sat down next to me, studied the chalkboard like a desperate man studies a race track tote board, and ordered a Curmudgeon. When the bartender placed the tulip glass on the bar he stared at it a long time before taking a drink.
“That’s good,” he said, turning his head a little towards me.
“It is a good beer,” I said. “Pretty high alcohol.”
He gave a short laugh. “That’s why I ordered it.”
“You see what, friend?” There was an odd mingling of anger and melancholy in his voice.
“Nothing,” I replied. I finished off my pale, placed my mug on the inside edge of the bar and motioned for the bartender. The young man noticed the etched sobriquet.
“Gumshoe. What the hell’s a gumshoe?”
The bartender walked up. “Going to have another, Harry?”
“No, I’ve got to go.”
“What the hell’s a gumshoe?” the young man asked again.
“A private detective,” the bartender said. “Harry’s a private detective.”
“A private detective,” the young man said to himself. “A private detective,” he repeated softly. “A private detective,” he whispered a third time. “Mr. private detective, can I buy you a beer?”
I said no at first but when he said he wanted to hire me we moved to a table. While I nursed another pale he had two more Curmudgeons and I listened to his story.