It was supposed to be a job like any other.
The rain fell with an insistent urge, dashing upon the ground with a wet thud and a splash of spectacle. Brief, explosive, but determined to be seen.
Like the people in this city, the detective supposed. They live incessantly, desperate to be known, and die in moments of clamorous brilliance. This rain is for them; another loud showreel between the main attractions.
The adamant patter of rain on his hat and trenchcoat belied his presence in the street, impatient fingers rapping on him, the cadence insisting he make a move.
Have it your way, he thought, stepping out of the rain and underneath the awning of a nearby building. He turned briefly to gaze back down the street, obscured as it was by the torrent. In the distance, daubs of colour and light occasionally swept through the rain, exposing the rest of the city in all of its gaudy extravagance. The detective sniffed, the expression somewhere half between disdain and apathy, before turning away and placing his handle gently on the door to the building.
Above the noise of the rain, there was no sound as he opened the door and slipped inside.
She knew I was coming.
The detective had stared down the barrel of a gun before; more times than he cared to recount, in fact. Seldom, however, had he stared down the barrel of a gun held by a lady.
Quite a striking lady, at that, he thought, then sniffed again. Seems these aren’t professional annotations anymore.
She noticed the gesture, and her gun arm twitched at him. The gun wobbled in mid-air, in a desperate gesture of power assertion.
Was that supposed to scare me more? A desperate lady, with an obvious lack of experience in firearms, is pointing such a firearm at me. There’s nothing scarier than desperation.
“Lady...”, he began slowly, seeing her eyes widen in fear. Comforting. He continued, watching her with an inscrutable gaze. “It is far too tense in here for me not to be smoking... do you mind?”
She stared at him a moment. Her brow shifted. Another moment passed as she continued to gaze at him, incredulous.
“A-are you fuckin’ serious?”
“It’s an addiction; It doesn’t have to be rational. So... do you mind?”
The lady laughed, a high-pitched squeak of disbelief.
“Sure, do what you want. But any sudden moves and I’ll paint the walls in a distinctive shade of red”.
It would be more pink than anything else. Trust me, lady, I know.
“Duly noted”, the detective said.
Slowly, he reached into the pocket of his beige trenchcoat. It hung from him shoulders, shapeless and despondent. A dozen weary years weighed the coat down, and the man beneath felt every day, hour and minute of those years.
From the pocket he produced a battered metallic lighter.
Zippo, he thought to himself, if I could go back in time and burn your company to the ground, I’d probably get hit by a train on the way home. He suppressed a laugh, as not to alarm his would-be murderess.
So might as well keep smokin’
From his breast pocket, he drew a thin cigarette. Though unlit, it was stubbed at one end, and crumpled slightly in the middle. It was as haggard as the detective himself. With a practiced ease he placed it between his lips and drew the lighter to him. There was the distinctive flick-clink of the flint ignited and flame blossomed from the device and ignited the weary end of the cigarette. Even as he was placing the lighter back in his pocket he was dragging on the end of the stick, attempting to savour a flavour that his tastebuds had long been scoured of the ability to detect.
He dropped the lighter back into his pocket, and left his hand there, slumped against the warming steel. The other hand drew the cigarette from his mouth as he exuded a disorganised veil of smoke from between his lips. It wafted in midair a moment, hanging limply as if observing, before drifting lazily to the ceiling, to observe in peace.
“Now...” the detective began, his disenfranchised gaze meeting hers again, “let’s discuss why we’re here, and why you have that shooter trained on me”.
“I didn’t kill anyone, you hear!”
“Nobody’s saying you did, darlin’. But I gotta wonder why you hired a Private Detective all the way out here to hold him at gunpoint to tell him that”.
She paused, and the gun wavered in midair.
“You ... you can tell them, though! You can help me tell everyone I didn’t do it!”
“Lady, you have a gun pointed at me. I don’t find that particularly compelling reason to help you”.
“You... you have to! Nobody else can help me!”
“Why don’t you tell me who’s dead”. He took another drag of the cigarette. After the plume had gone the way of the one before, he spoke again. “Who didn’t you kill?”
“My father... my boss!”
“Why would you want ‘em dead?” More smoke drifted aloft. The small room they occupied had begun to smell acrid.
“Because I would have gotten everything. The company, the power, the money. Complete control”.
“Sounds like a perfect reason to kill him to me, lady”.
“But I haven’t! I haven’t got shit! The board took it all away from me?”
“Because they think I killed him”.
“So now you’re going to help me prove I didn’t”.
“Still with the gun pointed at me, though...”
“If you don’t help me, I’ll shoot you”.
“Ah, but then you will be a killer, lady, and you’re out to prove you’re not, right?”
“I have nothing else to lose, right!?” The gun swayed in the dying light of the room. Her finger twitched dangerously. The detective paused a moment on the inhale of his cigarette. The hand in his pocket flexed. Finally, he sighed and the smoke billowed clumsily from his mouth.
“Well. You have one more thing”.
“I ... I do?”
The police came shortly after I called them. They were suspicious for a while but I told them it was me or her. I didn’t tell them the details of the case but they figured out who she was pretty quickly. Her face was recognisable. No bullet holes to ruin it.
The badge worked in my favour. I know guys on the force, I’ve done some consulting for them. Nobody asks questions about how what happened to her came to be. And nobody asks questions about why there’s a smoking hole in the pocket of my coat.