All Ten Of My “Noir Christmas 2017” Short Stories

Well, in case you missed any of them, here’s a handy list of links to all ten of my recent “Noir Christmas” short stories.

These stories are best read in order, although many of them are fairly self-contained. If you just want to read the basic underlying story arc, then read the first, third, fourth and tenth stories. My personal favourite story in the collection is probably the ninth one.

Surprisingly, this was the first collection I’ve written in quite some time to feature a single unnamed main character throughout the collection. Surprisingly, the stories also ended up being set in something resembling present-day Britain rather than the more traditional “1920s-50s America” setting I’d originally thought about using.

Anyway, here are the stories 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

1) “Preludes And Portents – A private detective hasn’t had a client in days. Perhaps a piece of junk mail holds the answers….

2) “Headlines“: The detective muses about Raymond Chandler, only to find that a mysterious man with a gun has appeared outside the office door.

3) “Stakeout“: The detective decides to investigate the slick new detective agency that has recently appeared in the local shopping centre. However, things may not be as they seem…

4) “Amateurs“: Finally! A client! And, perhaps many more…

5) “Magic“: The detective is asked to explain a magic trick…

6) “Espionage“: The detective’s latest client wants the private computer codes of a senior German politician. Not only is the case illegal, but it’s too much *ugh* effort. What will the detective do?

7) “Night Off“: The detective takes a night off.

8) “Paranormal“: A rich property developer needs the detective’s help. Ever since he planned to turn the local community centre into luxury flats, he’s been hearing ominous noises at night….

9) “The Twelve Cases Of Christmas“: Twelve clients in one morning!? What will the detective do?

10) “Finale“: The detective’s new business strategy has ruffled some feathers…

“Finale” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #10)

Stay tuned for a full series retrospective tomorrow evening at 9:30pm [GMT]

After the Christmas rush had started, I’d begun to get a little too used to the sound of people knocking on my office door. Don’t get me wrong, ever since I’d found myself in the strange situation of becoming a consulting detective for the users of a trendy new “gig economy” private detective app who found themselves out of their depth, this had been my most successful Christmas yet.

But, I was getting too used to people knocking on the door.

This was probably why I didn’t recognise the knock until it was too late. That sharp, gunshot-like rapping which portends nothing but trouble. It isn’t the indiscriminate hammering of an angry caller or the soft tapping of a charity collector, it’s the knock of someone who feels that they have every right to frighten you and all the time in the world to do it.

Come in, it’s.. open.‘ I said, as a sinking feeling washed through my gut. I had mere seconds to prepare myself.

The door swung open and two men in designer suits walked through. They were mid-thirties, athletic and wearing sunglasses. One of them asked me my name. I considered giving a false one but I had the feeling that they’d probably seen a photo of me before. So, I gave them my real name.

With a sharp intake of breath, the other man said: ‘We understand that you’ve been providing a “consulting detective” service.

I shrugged: ‘Are you interested in hiring me?

He held up a corporate ID card like it was a police badge: ‘We are shutting your little operation down.

Huh? There’s no law against helping out the poor souls who signed up to your app.‘ I shrugged again, careful not to show fear.

The man closest to the door reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. Speaking in a robotic monotone, he said: ‘Terms and conditions, section five, subsection thirty-two. Provision of unauthorised ancillary services….

I must have zoned out for a few minutes but, when my attention returned to the room, he was still reading. ‘…subject to any action the company deems necessary.

The other man spoke softly, like he was trying to be my friend: ‘What this basically means is that you need to stop offering your services to our customers. It..‘ He made a show of trying to control his emotions ‘.. disrupts our ecosystem.

Or what?‘ I asked.

Robot man stepped in again: ‘You will be in further violation of our terms and conditions. This could result in suspension of your…

Ah.‘ I grinned ‘I never signed up to them. And, more importantly, I never signed up to your app either.

Robot man said ‘Yes, but your clients have. We demand to see a list of all of our users who have used your services. Examples have to be made.

I shrugged and tapped my forehead: ‘It’s in here. First rule of a good P.I is to know what not to write down. The second rule of a good P.I is to start recording as soon as someone official knocks on the door.

I made a show of reaching under my desk and pulling out a small dictaphone cassette. ‘The papers will no doubt be interested to know about your attempts to access private data about my clients. And, if they aren’t interested, there’s always the internet.

The men were speechless. With a smile, I gestured towards the door: ‘But I hope it doesn’t come to that. I trust you can see yourselves out.

As they shuffled away sheepishly, I cracked open a new bottle of scotch and poured myself a large measure. Outside my window, the snow continued to fall and the Christmas lights above the high street gently glowed and flickered. I twiddled the blank dictaphone cassette between my fingers before putting it back under the desk. The third rule of a good P.I is, of course, to be a better con artist than the ones who walk through your door.

“The Twelve Cases Of Christmas” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #9)

Stay tuned for the final short story in this series tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

If there was one thing I didn’t expect after I’d set myself up as a consulting detective for people who had signed up to a trendy new “gig economy” private detective app and found themselves out of their depth, it’s that I would be drawn into the pre-Christmas rush. I mean, I’m hardly a supermarket or anything like that. Yet, today, I found myself with no less than twelve clients.

My first client wanted me to find a lost cat. I just gave him the phone number of another client who had made some off-hand remark about specialising in searching for lost pets. Then I wished him luck. People are easy to track down, but cats are something else entirely.

My second client had found himself drawn into some kind of international conspiracy involving the Illuminati, extraterrestrial life and the United Nations.

After giving him valuable advice about how to fashion a protective cap from common household supplies, I dropped a cryptic hint that the answers he sought could be found behind a secret panel in the cloakroom of Hitler’s second bunker- which could be found by overlaying a sketch of the chemtrails above the local shopping centre at precisely 6:16am onto an out-of-print map of Milton Keynes from 1949. Well, we all amuse ourselves in different ways, I guess.

My third client had been hired by someone who was sure that his partner had just started having an affair. It was a pretty open and shut case. After all, who has the time for things like that during the pre-Christmas rush?

My fourth client was probably a serial killer. Thankfully, he was a rather stupid one. I’m still waiting for my letter of commendation from the police.

My fifth client had found herself trying to track down an out-of-print book from 1973 for a wealthy bibliophile. I got to astonish her by pulling a copy of the book from the old bookshelf in the corner of my office. Not bothering to clean out my office when I’d started renting it was an even wiser decision than I had thought. I celebrated by resolving never to tidy my desk drawers.

My sixth client had been hired by someone who didn’t know how to operate his VCR. How anyone still has a functioning VCR in this day and age, I’ll never know.

My seventh client actually turned out to be my second client again, who had just remembered that Milton Keynes hadn’t been built until the 1960s. When he threatened to report me for fraud, I just lowered my voice to a conspiratorial whisper and said ‘No, the OTHER Milton Keynes.. the one THEY don’t want you to know about.‘ He just nodded sagely, thanked me profoundly and left. I tried not to laugh too much.

My eighth client had been hired by someone who needed to find eight maids a-milking for a themed Christmas party. I solemnly pointed out that such a thing not only broke five EU food hygiene regulations, but that it also perpetuated outdated stereotypes about the modern farming industry. She seemed to believe me. I just hoped her client did too.

My ninth client wanted to sell me double-glazing. I showed him the door instead.

My tenth client had been hired by someone who wanted to solve a seemingly impossible murder that had taken place in a locked room in a sealed train carriage in the middle of nowhere. I passed the case on to my friends in the local police. Serves them right for not sending me that letter of commendation.

My eleventh client had been falsely accused of murdering someone in a locked room in a sealed train carriage in the middle of nowhere. I introduced her to my tenth client and told them to argue in the hall. Best thirty minutes of entertainment I’d had in years.

My twelfth client gave me an angry phone call saying that he’d been scared away from my office by two idiots outside the door who had been arguing about trains, of all things. I feigned ignorance and suggested that he’d got the address wrong, before giving him the “right” address. I felt sorry for the owner of the local pizza shop though. Still, with all those detective novels he keeps lying around on the counter, he’d probably have a field day when my client showed up.

Letting out a long sigh, I checked my watch. It wasn’t even noon yet. I hate Christmas.

“Paranormal” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #8)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

Thanks to late-night television, people actually believe that ghost-hunting is a real thing. If ghosts actually exist, then it’s probably best not to find them. I mean, there’s a reason why haunted houses in horror movies usually tend to be abandoned. Plus, what exactly are you going to do if you find a ghost? Put it in jail?

But, ever since I’d set myself up as a consulting detective for users of a trendy new “gig economy” private detective app who had found themselves out of their depth, I knew that it was only a matter of time before someone asked me to look for a ghost or debunk a seance or something silly like that.

And, like hoping not to see a monster in a nightmare, what you don’t wish for can often come true.

The day started out like any other. I’d just refilled my e-cigarette with some new juice that I was sure would finally get rid of the lingering aftertaste from an ill-advised brandy-flavoured refill I’d used a week ago. But, before I could test it out, I heard a frantic knock on my office door.

Come in, it’s open.‘ I said.

Before the door even opened, a panicked voice said: ‘I need you to find a ghost.

Try the funeral directors down the hall.‘ I sighed.

The door swung open a second later. I’d expected to see a goth or a wizened old man or a gothic old man. But, the trembling man who stood in the doorway looked like the kind of guy you only ever see in magazines or old films. He had a suit that probably wasn’t bought from the supermarket and a slicked-back hairstyle that was probably deceptively high-maintenance.

Not even bothering to introduce himself, he said: ‘I’ll cut to the chase. I’ve got a new property deal going through at the moment, but about halfway through the negotiations to redevelop the community centre, strange things started happening.

Feigning surprise, I said: ‘Like ghosts?

Exactly!‘ He pointed at me like I’d just solved Fermat’s last theorem ‘It all started when I began to hear mysterious noises at night. Clanking chains, loud knocking on the walls of my flat and constant moaning. The police weren’t interested and the idiot I hired on GUMS4U wasn’t much use either. I only got your name by threatening to give him a low detective rating if he didn’t point me to someone who could actually do the job.

What about your landlord? Surely they’re the person to talk to about all of this.‘ I shrugged. ‘Ask for some sound-proofing too. It’ll be less awkward than having a chat with the neighbours.

He sat down and let out a sharp sigh ‘I am the landlord. And I live in the penthouse. I’m going to double my money with this new redevelopment project too. But, investors don’t take kindly to frightened developers. So, I need you to solve this ghost problem. On the double!

Ah‘ I said ‘I think that I know the solution. All you have to do is to leave the community centre alone and donate some money to the poor. You know, like in that Charles Dickens story.

Is this some kind of joke?‘ He glared at me.

Try it.‘ I shrugged ‘If it’s ghosts, then they’ll go away. And if it’s protesters pretending to be ghosts, they’ll go away too. It’s much better than living in fear and spending a fortune on noise-cancelling headphones, security guards and CCTV cameras.

Of course!‘ A wicked smile crossed his face as he got to his feet ‘Why didn’t I think of that? I’ve been wasting my time talking to private detectives, when I should be talking to a security company instead! Thank you, your cheque is in the post.‘ With a newfound spring in his step, he left. I facepalmed.

Sitting back and shaking my head, I took a drag on my e-cig. It still tasted like brandy.

“Night Off” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #7)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

The idea that private detectives suddenly find themselves pulled into cases whilst going about their everyday lives is something that only happens on television. In reality, outside of the office is one of the few places where you don’t have to worry about being bothered by clients. After all, a good detective shouldn’t stand out as being a detective.

This was why, after solving five absurdly small cases within a single day, I decided to take the evening off. I’d planned to go to the pub, but even the terrace had looked more crowded than a supermarket on Christmas eve. So, instead, I headed for the Christmas market. It was one of those sophisticated continental things that, thanks to the referendum, we probably only had another year or two left to enjoy.

Against the falling snow, the fairy lights around each wooden stall glowed like futuristic fireflies. The aroma of spicy mulled wine and melting chocolate filled the air. A tinny speaker crackled out a bland version of “The Little Drummer Boy”. A rotund Santa Claus menaced a few tourists with a charity tin. A taxidermy reindeer head glowered down at me, his beady eyes somehow unaffected by the heavy snow.

When I stopped off for mulled wine, I ended up having a friendly argument about pronunciation. Apparently, it’s not meant to be pronounced “Glur-wine”. The correct pronunciation is “Glue-vine”. Which made sense. Either I’d got the dregs from the bottom of the cauldron or the guy behind the counter wanted to give me a helpful reminder by adding a dash of PVA to my plastic mug when I wasn’t looking.

Above the constant tinny music, the sound of phone shutters echoed like crickets. It took me a few seconds to notice it, but it actually seemed like more people were taking selfies than actually talking to each other. Not that I was complaining. If I wanted to listen to inane babbling, I’d have extended my office hours.

But, as I finished my mug of wine and found myself passing the same ornate arrangement of sugar plum chocolates for the third time, I felt a twinge of boredom. Not only that, the market was starting to get crowded too.

So, I headed for the cinema. If there’s one place no-one visits these days, it’s the cinema. As I stood on the escalator and watched the glowing blue signs slowly drift into view, I realised that I hadn’t even bothered to look at the listings in the paper earlier. Great, I thought, I’d be reduced to standing in front of the main desk like a pillock and craning my neck at the display board. Even so, it still seemed like a marginally less stupid idea than getting a smartphone.

But, like television at this time of night, there was barely anything worth watching. About the only vaguely interesting things were a leftover horror movie from Halloween and a shiny new adaptation of an old detective novel. Although the horror movie looked like it could be fun, I’d have to wait an entire hour for the next screening. So, with a sigh, I got a ticket to the detective movie.

Thankfully, the theatre was almost empty. Grabbing a seat in the middle, I waited for the trailers to begin. The cinema’s logo glowered down at me from the big screen whilst old pop music played in the background. Why, I wondered, did they bother advertising this place to people who were already here? Surely it was a bit self-defeating.

When the opening credits finally deigned to roll and an ornate train whooshed across the screen, I suddenly remembered that I’d read the book this film was based on. Worst of all, I remembered the ending too. Even by the standards of old-fashioned detective fiction, it had been a little bit on the contrived side of things. The next two hours would be fun.

As the moustachioed Belgian detective on the screen gasped and said: ‘A murder?‘ I felt something approaching jealousy. As much as I’d wanted peace and quiet, I’d also forgotten how boring it was.

Two rows back, someone gasped. Quick as a flash, I turned around and whispered: ‘Everything ok?

It wasn’t a murder. Someone had just spilled their popcorn.

“Espionage” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #6)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

Thanks to a certain vermouth-swilling international incident on legs, spies get all of the glory. Which is great! We private detectives get to enjoy sneaking around too, but at least we get to advertise our services.

And, ever since some trendy new “gig economy” app had made everyone think that, yes, they could be a P.I. too – I’d found quite a profitable sideline in being a consulting detective for those who found themselves out of their depth. Which was pretty much all of them.

And that is never a good thing. Case in point, my latest client.

With a crisp handshake, he introduced himself as ‘Maximilian Redfort-Lowbury‘ before plucking a shiny new smartphone from the pocket of his designer jacket.

Tapping the screen twice, he said: ‘I signed up to GUMS4U as a bit of a lark. But, this latest case has got me stumped. Someone wants me to get hold of some documents from an encrypted government mainframe in Berlin. Within the week too.

I shrugged: ‘That’s illegal. Refuse the job. I’m sure there’s an option on the app for that.

Oh, come on!‘ He said ‘Where’s your sense of adventure? If you don’t help me out, I’ll be the laughing stock of… the office Christmas party.

Adventure? Do you know how busy the airports are at this time of year? Plus, I don’t sprechen sie Deutsch.‘ I sighed.

But, you just did. Just then. Your grammar was a bit off though.

Which just goes to prove my point.‘ I said.

Ah!‘ He said, as if he’d suddenly discovered the meaning of life ‘But you won’t really be talking to anyone! Surely you can just sneak in there and do whatever computer wizardry you detectives do. In fact…‘ He gestured at my computer ‘You could probably hack in from here, right?

That old thing? It’s been on a ten-year go slow protest. I can’t even log on to my e-mail without waiting five minutes. I think it wants me to oil it or something. I don’t speak computer either‘.

So, you’re useless?‘ He sighed sharply. ‘You know, I could have you investigated for false advertising. My friends could make your life..

Very easy if you walk out of the door right now.‘ I said ‘What would they think about you hiring a private detective so that you could bunk off for an unofficial Christmas holiday? And.. Maximilian Redfort-Lowbury… A word to the wise, false names work best when they don’t stand out a mile away.

After he stormed off in a huff, I poured myself a large scotch and watched the snow falling outside my office window. That’s the other problem with spies, they’re all a bit too taken with the idea of casinos, beautiful lovers and fancy hotels. Again, I blame the movies.

“Magic” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #5)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

Ever since I’d set myself up as a consulting detective for the hordes of wannabes who had signed up to a trendy new “gig economy” private detective app and quickly found themselves out of their depth, I was actually starting to enjoy Christmas again.

Not only had I actually dusted the chair on the other side of my desk, but I’d also been able to get a decent bottle of whisky for the first time in about three weeks. But, as I sat back and watched the frosted glass window on my office door, I couldn’t help but feel an odd sense of foreboding. Call it a detective’s instincts, but I probably shouldn’t have had that chicken phaal last night.

But, before I could think about it too much, I saw a silhouette appear against the window, followed by three short knocks. With something that almost felt like friendliness, I said: ‘It’s open. Come in.

A twentysomething woman with bobbed black hair glided through the doorway. The eyes of a cartoon skull glared at me from the back of her smartphone.

With a smile, I said: ‘Let me guess, you need help with one of your clients. Either that, or the funeral director is at the other end of the hall. Tell him I sent you and he might give you a ten percent discount. On the other hand, the miserable old git might jack the prices up.

He’s my grandfather.‘ She deadpanned. I tried not to let the shock show on my face.

She almost creased up with laughter. I raised an eyebrow. With a magenta smile, she said: ‘Sorry, bad joke. I need your help with a case on GUMS4U.‘ She paused for a second ‘Some joker didn’t read my seller description.

Am I getting yanked into solving a murder or something? Because that’s really the police’s job.’ I sighed.

What? No. I usually track down lost pets.‘ She tapped her phone a couple of times. ‘But this smart-arse wants me to find out how The Magnificent Marvin Mysteriono performs his most famous magic trick – the cabinet of swords. He’s demanding answers within the day. Tosser.’

Tapping her phone again, she handed it to me and said: ‘Take a look.‘.

I tapped and swiped at the screen for a few seconds. The video disappeared above the top of the screen. I tried to swipe downwards, but the phone screen suddenly displayed a photo of a rock band instead of the video. I’ll never understand smartphones. Sighing, my client reached for the phone and tapped it twice, before holding it up.

On the screen, a man in a top hat emerged from clouds of ominous blue fog before gesturing towards an ornate wooden wardrobe. With a theatrical flourish, he flung the doors open to reveal a row of gleaming swords. A violin started to play quickly as seven shrouded figures drifted out of the fog.

As quiet chanting started to fill the air, each one reached for a sword and held it aloft. Finally, a hooded monk appeared in a puff of smoke. With a bony finger, he pointed towards the wardrobe. Nervously, the magician stepped inside. Four of the shrouded figures turned the wardrobe sideways. Then, after shrieking a few words of phony Latin, they plunged their swords into the wardrobe.

Each blade went clean through, followed quickly by a gush of bright red stage blood from below the wardrobe doors. As the blood pooled under a stage light, the monk merely lowered his head in prayer before slowly removing his cowl. He was none other than the magician! The tinny sound of applause crackled through the phone’s speakers.

Impressive.‘ I smiled. ‘I have to give him marks for theatricality but, really, it’s the oldest trick in the book.

Tell me more.‘ My client looked surprised.

Whilst the wardrobe is being turned sideways, Mysteriono changes into the monk’s robe and sneaks out via a secret door in the other side of the wardrobe. Because everyone’s attention is focused on the wardrobe, which also has a false back panel that contains a blood bag, he’s able to switch places with the monk for the big reveal. As I said, the oldest trick in the book.

She gasped theatrically ‘Really? You got that just from watching the video once? I’ve seen it like twenty times.

I shrugged. She raised an eyebrow: ‘Wait a minute. You just guessed, didn’t you?

I smirked: ‘Technically, someone else did. Don’t feel bad about collecting a fee from your client – it’s practically a stupidity tax. I mean, couldn’t he just have glanced at the comments below the video?

She rolled her eyes ‘The comments? No-one reads those. Hey, wait a minute! What about the fee I’m supposed to give you for this wise advice?

I checked my watch. ‘Fifteen quid an hour. We’ve been here twenty minutes. So, a fiver, I think.

“Amateurs” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #4)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

The rot set in with Sherlock Holmes. Over the years, his fans have told people that anyone can be a private detective. Most people, thankfully, do a bit of background reading about the subject and then buy an electric guitar instead. Only a few deranged souls actually bother to put in the effort. This is the natural order of things. Or, at least, it used to be.

Not only was own-brand whisky starting to look a little pricey, but even my slick new competitors in the local shopping centre had found themselves in a similar situation thanks to some trendy Silicon Valley smartphone app that had launched less than a fortnight ago.

I’d got so used to the silence that the knocking on my office door sounded like a volley of gunshots. An imposing silhouette stood out against the frosted glass. Before I could even think, I shouted ‘The bill isn’t due until the end of the month. Sod off!

The knocking stopped. It obviously wasn’t a bailiff. If it was, they would have probably complimented me on my politeness by now. Instead, the silhouette just stood there. Letting out a sigh, I said: ‘I’m sorry. It’s open. Come in.

With a bushy beard, plugs in his ears, a lumberjack shirt, a twitchy index finger and a slightly hunched gait, he must have been one of those hipsters that I’d read so much about in the papers. Either that, or the male model I’d seen on a billboard a couple of days ago. With a nervous smile, he said: ‘Are you, like, a detective?

I’m not like a detective, I am a detective.‘ I smiled. Obviously he didn’t have a sense of humour. The tabloids were right for once. Who knew it?

Er… Look, I need your help. I signed up to GUMS4U a few days ago and I’m stumped. If I don’t solve this case within the next day, my seller rating will tank. Can you solve it for me? I’ll pay you.

That’s always good to hear.‘ I smirked. ‘What seems to be the problem?

Well, most people just want me to find Rocket Man figures for their kids. You know, for Christmas. I’ve got a guy in the market who helps me out with that. But, my latest client is certain that her boyfriend is cheating on her. How on earth am I meant to prove that? The guy’s social media is clean as a whistle.‘ He sighed.

I reached under my desk and pulled out my camera. ‘The old-fashioned way. Of course!

He looked impressed ‘No way! Is that a vintage 1959 SLR Lecca? Oh my god, please tell me you’re on Photogrammetry‘.

I gave him a blank stare. He mumbled something. Finally, I said: ‘Just give me the details and wait by your phone. I’ll call you.

———–

The case was a walk in the park. After I’d snapped the suspect skulking into a high-end jewellers on his way back from the office, it was a simple case of waltzing in there and acting like a big spender.

Trying to sneak a look at the account books is a trick that only ever works in the movies. Most of the time, jewellers aren’t stupid enough to leave customer information just lying around on the desk. They use computers, with passwords.

So, I went in there and pretended to browse. A few muttered comments about how anything less than seven carats was little better than, ugh, gold leaf soon got the suspect’s attention.

Tugging at his tie nervously and fumbling with his phone, he said: ‘You seem to know a thing or two about gold. Could you help me out? I’m looking for a personalised Christmas present for my girlfriend.

What’s your budget?‘ I asked. When he answered, I made a show of trying not to wince.

Pausing for a second, I lightened my voice and said: ‘Does she have a long name?

Anastasia.‘ He said, a warm smile crossing his lips.

You’re best going for something engraved. She’ll love it. Just keep the carats in double figures.

———-

Back at my office, hipster guy was in raptures. It was, of course, the classic heartwarming Christmas story. A guy had gone to all the trouble of getting a surprise Christmas present for his partner, only for all of the secrecy to raise the wrong kind of suspicions. I’d seen better-written romantic comedies.

As hipster guy promised to tell all of his friend list about me, I realised that I’d been too hard on Sherlock Holmes. After all, not many people know that his official job title was “consulting detective”.

“Stakeout” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #3)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

You’ve probably heard that the vast majority of private investigation work literally just involves sitting around and doing nothing. People often say this like it’s a bad thing. I’ll never understand people.

Stakeouts are, by far, the best part of the job – even if it is supposedly frowned upon to call them “stakeouts”. The proper term is “surveillance”, but where’s the fun in that?

But, despite it being the season of joy and goodwill to all, fun had been in short supply recently. Ever since my slick new competitor Prest Investigative Services had set up shop in one of the least fancy corners of the local shopping centre, I hadn’t had a single client in over a week.

This probably explains why I was slumped on an icy bench outside the centre’s immaculately tinsel-strewn windows, glancing at the P.I.S shopfront between sips of homebrewed tea cunningly concealed in a posh cardboard coffee cup.

Combined with a designer greatcoat I’d picked up in a charity shop last year, a newspaper from the train station dustbin and a pair of pound-shop earbuds, the posh cup meant that no-one was likely to mistake me for a beggar.

Don’t get me wrong, extra coins are always a bonus. But, within sight of the centre, beggars don’t seem to last long. The centre had cut some dodgy deal with the mayor, who had cut an even dodgier deal with the police commissioner or something like that. I’m not a journalist. But, the upshot of it was that begging was more of an arrestable offence than mugging around here.

Even the carol singers near the centre’s doors had to put up some kind of sign telling people not to give them money. A direct debit was fine though. Still, as they launched into another turgid rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, I couldn’t help but wish I’d actually bothered to connect my earbuds to something.

So far, the P.I.S shopfront had been unusually quiet. It reminded me of one of those estate agents who were always empty when you walked past, but who had been there even longer than you had. I’d expected to see all of my usual clients forming an orderly line outside, but even old Mr Griggs had just shuffled past it without even a glance.

With a weary sigh, I finished my tea and fished around in my coat pockets for my e-cigarette. It was almost out of juice. Dropping it back into my coat pocket, I carefully placed the empty cup on top of it and folded the newspaper under my arm.

Although I hadn’t planned to do any undercover work, posing as a client seemed to be the only way I’d get any in-depth information. At the very least, I’d make myself feel better by sending them on a wild goose chase.

As the centre’s well-oiled glass doors swooshed open, the carol singers groaned out “Oh, tidings of comfort and joy“. Trying not to smile too much, I casually dropped a few pennies at their feet and kept walking. A wave of stuffy heat and cinnamon hit me almost immediately. Garish advertising hoardings glared at me and a bright orange sign cheerfully informed me that I was on CCTV. Like I’d forgotten.

When I reached the shiny new “Prest Investigative Services – Results or your money back!” shopfront, I could feel the beginnings of a scowl cross my face. A glance over my shoulder at the carol singers frantically kicking the pennies away from them helped me to regain my composure. Taking a deep breath, I reached for the shiny door handle and gave it a firm tug.

A blonde woman in a sharp blue suit raised her eyebrows and almost gasped. This was followed by a stare of utter disbelief from the handsome twentysomething guy standing behind her. Had I been made already? Were they really that good?

But, before I could stutter out an excuse, the woman said: ‘Welcome to Prest Investigative Services! As our first customer, you are entitled to a ten percent…

First customer?‘ I muttered.

We’ve all got to start somewhere.‘ The handsome guy said, a pained smile crossing his perfect face.

You’ve been open for a week and a half.‘ I sighed. ‘Surely you must have had other clients. People always need detectives at Christmas.

How did you…‘ The woman stuttered. I just reached into my coat pocket and handed her a business card. Honesty wasn’t usually the best policy but, if this was a ruse on their part, then I had to give them credit for ingenuity.

I thought you were poaching my clients.‘ I said. ‘It seemed worth investigating.

No need for that.‘ The guy grumbled, as he fished a smartphone out of his pocket. Jabbing it a couple of times, he held it up to me. Against a bright orange background, a stylised cartoon drawing of a trilby-wearing gumshoe stared back at me. Below it, an elaborately-designed logo read “GUMS4U“.

The woman rolled her eyes: ‘It’s an American start-up. Zero hours, surge-priced, “gig economy” detectives. You don’t even need a licence or anything. It launched two days before we opened.

“Headlines” By C. A. Brown (Noir Christmas Short Stories – #2)

Stay tuned for the next story tomorrow evening at 9:30pm GMT 🙂

Raymond Chandler once said that a slow moment in any investigation could be livened up by an armed man suddenly bursting into the room. What did he know about detective work? The whole point is not to get involved in cases that include men with guns. If I wanted that, I’d have joined the police.

Still, I couldn’t help but feel that bringing a gunman to justice would give me the kind of free publicity that my slick new competitor, Prest Investigative Services – or P.I.S as I like to call them – could only dream of. At the very least, it would give me an excuse to actually dust the chair on the opposite side of my desk.

Unfortunately, my chronic bullet allergy put a bit of a dampener on the whole idea. Still, as I finished my second glass of own-brand scotch, I couldn’t help but think that the basic idea had some merit. A good, headline-grabbing case would really take the P.I.S… But not a case with guns.

Of course, the universe has a sense of humour that is more twisted than the mess of wires behind my computer. How else could I explain the fact that, as I began to fill my third glass, the silhouette of a tall man gripping what looked like an old service revolver suddenly appeared in the frosted glass panel on my door.

If movies had taught me anything, it was that this was the time to scrabble through my desk drawer for a pistol, duck behind the desk and fire a warning shot between his eyes. The only problems were that movies are movies, my desk was made from cheap MDF and this was Britain not 1930s Chicago.

Even if I could get through the decade and a half of clutter clogging my desk drawers, the only thing I could muster was a staple gun that I’d borrowed from the estate agent’s down the hall during their grand opening. When they closed a week later, they never bothered asking for it back.

But, that would involve sorting through my desk. And, that’s a four-day job that I wouldn’t even do if someone held a gun to my head. No, I’d have to be smart about it.

My eyes rested on the ornate marble finish pen that took pride of place on my desk. After I’d filed off the “Ebenezer’s Floor Tiles” e-mail address on the side, it actually looked like I’d paid good money for it.

Picking up the pen, I slipped it into my jacket pocket and pointed it forwards. If movies had taught me anything else, it’s that an object poking through one’s jacket pocket is always mistaken for a gun.

Ducking behind the desk, I began to plan my next move. It would have to be quick. There was a fifty percent chance that the man outside was facing away from the door. If I slipped it open quickly and acted tough, he might actually think that I’d got the drop on him.

Keeping crouched, I made my way to the door. With shaky hands, I reached for the handle. My heart hammered like an angry bailiff. It was now or never.

In one move, I flung the door open and jabbed the free pen into the guy’s spine. Putting on my toughest voice, I growled: ‘Drop it or else!‘. He dropped the gun.

The next day, the headlines read: “GRUBBY P.I. ALMOST GIVES WW2 HERO HEART ATTACK DURING CHARITY CALENDAR PHOTOSHOOT!

Anyone who tells you that any publicity is good publicity is a liar. Luckily, the old geezer saw the funny side of it though – but it meant yet another name on my already lengthy Christmas card list. And my office chair was still as dusty as ever.