Carlotta Wynn switches on the light, closes the blinds, then pushes the button on her desk which will allow her mystery female client to open the down stairs door and let herself in and up the stairs to her first floor office.
When the woman knocks on the P.I. window and slips quietly into the room, Carlotta carefully observes her potential client. Her first impression of the stranger (heard over the intercom) is quite correct; she proves not only to be well spoken but attractive, elegantly dressed and positively oozing wealth and breeding.
The stranger hastily introduces herself as Mrs Darlana Winslow... and again Carlotta observes, the woman almost instinctively pulls a packet of cigarettes from her purse and lights one immediately - the cigarette is Russian and smells strong and ugly.
The stranger hastily introduces herself as Mrs Darlana Winslow...
Over the next half an hour, Carlotta ascertains (in fits and starts) that the Mrs Winslow is being pursued by a group of extremely unsavoury types who seems intent on acquiring a certain sheaf of valuable papers her late husband had hidden away in his private safe. She will not tell Carlotta what is in the papers, but hints they are to do with legal land ownership rights to property in Jiangsu province, East China. Apparently, the ownership rights were in dispute at the time of her husband's death, and when the other interested party's attempted bribes to get Mrs Winslow to part with the claim without any fuss met with stubborn refusal... things started to turn nasty.
It appears that Mrs Winslow (who claims she is being followed by hired thugs, simply waiting for her to make her next move in the game of cat and mouse) would like Carlotta Wynn to procure a one way ticket to Shanghai on a Blue Star Passenger Steamer due to leave A.C. on the afternoon tide the following day. Mrs Winslow offers Carlotta $500... out of which she is to purchase a berth for one person. The woman will then return to the office at first light – pick up her ticket, and pay Carlotta the balance of an additional $400 for her kind services.
...sounds a snatch. But where's the snag!
Carlotta can see the logic of the situation; this woman, tired and harassed, upset over the death of her husband (which seems to have been natural causes), simply wishes to slip away undetected before the 'persuasion mob' even notices she is gone. Once clear of danger, she will be free to start her life over again in a new country. A fresh start, and a new beginning.
Hmmmmm, Carlotta can empathise with this; but she smells a rat. Something doesn't add up and she feels sure the stranger is being more than conservative with the truth. Yet the money is good, and if the story stinks – is it any business of hers what her client's real reason are? The woman will be out of her hair within a day, and Carlotta's bank balance will be in the green.
Carlotta accepts the case... more of a shopping trip than a proper case; but she agrees to help none the less.
By the time the conversation is over, Darlana Winslow has smoked the best part of half a packet of cigarettes, something Carlotta is not slow to notice; the nervous energy of a highly strung nicotine addict, or a sign of genuine fear?
Money passes hands, the woman shakes Carlotta's hand, then slips out the door as quietly as she came in.
Carlotta watches Mrs Winslow leave, peering out of the grease smudged window (courtesy of the fat fans from "Al Chino's Speakeasy Bar & Restaurant" situated opposite), but suddenly she notices a seedy looking rod standing in a doorway half hidden except for a nearby street light.
The suit is obviously a gun toting hire hand, and when he turns up his collar against the rain and starts following Carlotta's client... the P.I. rushes downstairs and out the front door of the building, intent on following them both to see what develops.
The suit is obviously a gun toting hire hand...
© 2008, Stephen A Gilbert.