By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day. Not that it was really much of a day. Business this week had been deader than a dive bar in December. According to the papers, the freak rainstorm wouldn’t even end for another fortnight.
Still, as I drained the dregs from my coffee mug and tipped the contents of the ashtray into the overflowing bin, I heard distant footsteps. A light clicking sound. High heels. Sitting back behind my desk, I straighened my tie and tried to smile. First impressions matter.
What seemed like five minutes later, there was a knock on the door. ‘Come in.‘
With a quiet creak, the handle turned. I like to think that I can size up a client immediately, but this one was something else. She looked like she’d just stepped out of one of the ritzy clubs on the other side of town.
The fact she wasn’t wearing an overcoat led me to conclude that she’d taken a sky-cab here. No doubt that it had landed on the roof, maybe with a butler to carry the umbrella too. But, there weren’t any wet footprints on the wood panelling by the door.
With a hint of a smile, she said: ‘Mr. Dillhale? I presume I’ve got the right office. I need you to look into something.‘
Smiling back, I said: ‘Yes, ma’am. My fee is two hundred credits a day, plus expenses. What is it that you want investigating?‘
Instinctively, I gestured towards the chair opposite my desk. She remained in the doorway. Without a word, she reached into her bag and pulled out a small brown envelope. Placing it on top of a nearby bookshelf, she said: ‘I expect results.‘
‘And I hope to deliver them.‘ I smiled again and began to get up. Before I could even get to my feet, she had already closed the door. Raising an eyebrow, I listened to the clicking footsteps get more and more distant. For a second, I thought about running after her. But, some people like to get dramatic when they visit. I blame the pulp novels.
Sighing, I grabbed the envelope and tore it open. There was nothing inside except for a small typewritten card that read ‘Phobos Club. Tonight. Call ahead.‘ Below it, there was a phone number.
After hefting the latest city directory onto my desk, I checked the address listings. There was a Beef Pho place a few streets away and somewhere called Phoebe’s on Dante Avenue, but no Phobos Club. Picking up the phone, I dialled the directory offices. They hadn’t heard of it either.
With nothing else to do, I rang the number on the card. The phone rang for what felt like two minutes, before I heard quiet piano music. A gruff voice said: ‘Phobos club.‘
‘Hello, I’m a private investigator. A client came to my office and asked me to visit your club this evening, but I’m having a hard time finding directions. You aren’t listed in the directory.‘
The voice went silent. For a second, it sounded like even the piano music had stopped. Finally, the gruff voice said: ‘We’ve just opened. Don’t worry about directions Mr. Dillhale, we’ll send a sky-car.‘
‘Ah, I see that I’ve been introduced. You wouldn’t by any chance know anything about my client. She’s…‘ Before I could even finish my sentence, the line went dead.
They weren’t giving out names. They weren’t in the directory. Every instinct told me to run. Maybe it was the head of the Griswold Corportation setting a honey-trap? Maybe it was Vincetti plotting revenge? Maybe it was a hundred things. None of them seemed good. With my gun at the repair shop, I’d have to cancel my plans.
Picking up the phone, I dialled the number again. Nobody answered. As much as I hated to be a deadbeat, I’d just have to skip out and hope that I could come up with a good enough excuse before the client got back.
I’d barely even reached for my overcoat when I heard the knock on my door. It was a sharp, quick knock. I glanced over at the door. There were three shadows in the frosted glass window. With a sigh, I said: ‘Sorry, I’m closed. Come back tomorrow.‘
The handle began to turn. ‘I said, I’m closed. Beat it.‘
Before I could even reach for my coat, the door flew open. A man in a black dinner jacket leapt across the room. As he grabbed my shoulders with his bony fingers, I smelled cheap cologne and dusty books. Without even thinking, I swung my knee into his groin. He barely seemed to notice. Instead, he pinned me to the wall and glanced nonchalantly over his shoulder.
A second later, the others had joined him. My client stood at the head of the group. Slowly, she opened her mouth. Any beauty she once had evaporated in an instant as my eyes fixed themselves upon her teeth. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that she’d filed them all down to a point.
Beside her, a burly blond man flashed a jagged smile and said: ‘How exciting! You’ve excelled yourself, Marletta.‘
Marletta giggled: ‘Well, I was getting awfully tired of the club. So, I thought that we’d dine out tonight. If no-one minds, I’ll take the jugular.‘
The blond man laughed: ‘You’ve earned it! This is the most fun I’ve had in decades!‘