Advertisements
Tag Archives: mystery

The Christmas Spirit, A Holiday Tale

15 Dec

December 15, 2018

I’ve been featuring other people’s writing lately and focusing a little more on books and stories, so I decided to shine a little light on myself and bring back one of my own tales from recent years. This is my first Christmas story featuring my own PI, Hollywood Russell. He’s a pulp fiction style of detective, with his adventures taking place in the noir-centric post WWII era, more or less. He’s also a really good guy to know. I’ve written two other Christmas tales with Russell, one of which you can find under the Hollywood Russell tab atop this page along with some other of his cases.

She never wore shoes at home.

Neither did her three children or their father, who only showed up every few days when he needed money. He may have left her with a broken heart, three mouths to feed and a stack of bills, but even he left his shoes outside the door.

It wasn’t that she loved being barefoot. Oh no, during this time of year she wore all four of her pairs of socks and even her not-so-good pair of stockings (the pair with the holes in the heels) to keep out the cold.

The problem was that shoes brought in dirt. Mud. Gum. Cigarette butts stuck to the bottom. They scuffed floors and sullied carpets.

She spent all day cleaning floors at work and sure as the sun shone in the sky, she wasn’t going to spend her time at home doing the same.

She worked nights. During the day she stayed home taking care of her family and at night when the little ones were in bed she trusted the older one (who was not long past being a little one herself) to watch them so she could earn some money so breakfast could be waiting when they woke up.

Winter was her good time of year. The work was harder, the floors were always wet from melting snow tracked in by, yes, shoes, and no, it usually wasn’t clean. This was not the best part of the city, after all.  But what made it good was yet to come. Christmas. And that meant tips from the people who rented the offices she cleaned every night.

Most of those people she saw only in passing. They were usually going out as she was coming in. Locking their doors as she was unpacking her box of cleaning rags and sprays.

“Hello, um, Miss! Sorry about the coffee stain near the desk!”
“That’s ok, I’ll get it out.”
“Merry Christmas, um…”
“Merry Christmas to you too, sir.”

Some people she never saw. The offices of Tick + Hansom (she wasn’t sure what they did) closed at 4:00, long before she got to work. There were a pair of adjoining offices on the fifth floor that she didn’t have a master key for. There was no name on either  door and she wasn’t completely sure they were occupied, but once in a while the shades would be pulled on the frosted glass door windows so something was going on in there.

She also never saw the man who rented the small two-room office on the fourth floor, and though he always kept the light in the office burning, it was empty when she went in. It was also usually clean, so either he or his secretary kept it neat. At least she assumed he had a secretary. The small desk that she guessed the secretary would sit at never had more than a magazine on it.

She cleaned their floors, emptied their trash cans, mopped their hallways and wiped their windows. She didn’t peek in their drawers or go through their papers. If there was an open file cabinet she left it open and untouched. If the jeweler on three had left a bauble on his desk it would still be there in the morning, shining away in the morning light.

She cleaned up spilled liquor and spilled blood. She turned a blind eye to the lawyer who was “deposing” a pretty young client late one night.

She didn’t even eat her dinner at an empty desk, instead spreading her thin meal out on a clean box she kept in “her office,” the janitor’s closet.

Tonight was an easy night. It was only a few days before Christmas and most of the offices had closed early or hadn’t opened at all. The trash cans were empty, the windows unsmudged, the floors more or less free of heel scuffs. Overall, she was going to have a good sleep when she got home, a rare one where her back wouldn’t ache.

By the time she got to the office with the perpetually burning light, she was a good way ahead of schedule and was feeling hopeful that she could be home early enough to get an almost decently long sleep.

She took out her master key, put it in the lock, but the door swung open before she could turn it. Curious, she stepped inside and saw nothing unusual but noticed that the door to the inner office was ajar. Leaving her cleaning cart in the hallway, she went inside.

On a shabby couch, looking like he’d fallen off his sled, was Santa Claus.

She stood there for a moment. Santa’s suit was torn at the collar, his white wig had twigs sticking out at odd angles, his Santa hat was missing, and his beard was over his nose and completely covering his left eye. (The right eye appeared to be black and blue but that was none of her business.)

She wanted to ask if he was OK, she was about to, when Santa groaned and sat up, not much, but a little straighter. He looked at his watch, saw it wasn’t there, then squinted at the clock through his bruised and starting to swell eye. “What time is it?”

She gave a little, startled jump, then looked at the clock and answered “almost 1 in the morning.”

Santa squinted at her, then straightened his beard and looked at her through his now-uncovered left eye. “That’s it? Usually the parties in my head don’t start thumping like that until 3. They better watch out or they’re going to get raided.” He gingerly took off his wig and even more gingerly started to rub the back of his head. “Do me a favor, sweetheart. Take a look back there. Tell me if it’s as bad as it feels.”

Slowly, she moved just close enough to him to see and leaned over. “Well, not too bad…” She leaned back, but the look on her face didn’t reassure him.

He looked at her. She looked at him. He was an odd sight. Short dark hair and a thick white Santa beard. “That bump feels about the size of Patton’s ego.”

She shuffled a little. “Maybe you should call a doctor?”

He took a deep breath. “I’ve had worse.” He shifted a bit on the couch, then an odd look crossed his face. He patted his red jacket and reached into a pocket. His voice changed, a cross between surprise and anger. “They don’t really think…” He trailed off as he pulled out a very thick wad of bills.

She looked away. This did not interest her. She did not want it to interest her.

The man in the Santa suit jumped up. He swayed a little, but his face (what could be seen behind the beard) was set. “He really thinks this will work.”

She looked around the office. It was old. It needed paint. There were two chairs against the wall and one of them looked ready to fall apart. She was sure this man could use the money, just like she could.

He turned to her. “It was nice meeting you, but I have an appointment to return a favor.” Grabbing his Santa hat off the couch (he was sitting on it the whole time) he took a couple of more-or-less steady steps over to the desk, where he took something small and black out of a drawer and slipped it somewhere inside his voluminously overstuffed Santa jacket. She looked away and brushed some of the lint off of her recently mended apron.

Santa stood for a second and looked at her, taking in the full picture, and, she thought she could feel, his keen eyes taking in even more.

“Thank you,” he said. She thought that the way he said it, he meant for more than just looking at his head.

Then he rushed out of the room, but stopped at the office door. He turned back, let out a deep baritone “Merry Christmas!” and a softer “ho ho ho” and left.

She fluffed the near-threadbare couch as best she could, closed the inner door, and wondered what kind of man would get so angry to find so much money.

She closed and locked the outer door and, running her fingers over the painted letters on the frosted glass spelling out DETECTIVE AGENCY, realized that this was the first time she had met Hollywood Russell.

She turned to her cleaning cart and was about to move on to the next office when she noticed that Santa’s beard was lying on top. Maybe it had fallen off?

Probably not. The thick wad of cash was beneath it.

She heard a soft “ho ho ho,” looked to her right, and saw a flash of red disappear down the hall and around the corner.

 The End

 

 

 

 

.

 

Advertisements

The South Brooklyn Shoe Scam

30 Jun

June 29, 2018

Someone got scammed. I don’t know who it was but it wasn’t me. I ended up with five pairs of free sneakers.

I recently got married and one of the wonderful, truly beautiful things about marriage is that I had to go through the nightmare of changing my insurance. I had to give up my insurance and go with another plan but, as my wife pointed out, my old plan had benefits that I had never taken advantage of, so I should finally get everything I’m entitled to before it goes away. (My Dad would have not only already taken advantage of all the free benefits but somehow gotten them doubled. More on him in an upcoming post.)

One of the things I never took advantage of – or even knew about – was that my insurance offered free sneakers. My wife, with similar insurance, had been getting a free pair a year for the last two or three years and it always used to seem legitimate.

So one Saturday we went down to a medical supply store which, although named “MEDICAL SUPPLY STORE” was really nothing but a shoe and sneaker warehouse. No wheelchairs, no canes, no catheters, just displays of sneakers like you’d see in any shoe store, just a whole lot dingier. I told the girl behind the counter that I had so-and-so insurance (that is not the real name of my insurance, believe it or not) and I’d like a pair of sneakers. She was happy and chirpy, even chippy and genial, to use a thesaurus, and informed me that sure! I could! get sneakers here! 🙂 🙂 🙂 – yes, she somehow talked in smiley emojis- but I had to go to a foot doctor and get a prescription first.

“Oh,” I said, “I guess-” was as far as I got

“”We have a doctor! Right down the block! Tell him his cousin sent you and you want free sneakers. emoji, wink, happy gif.”

So I went from some sort of medical supply store/shoe store to what I expected to be a kind of foot doctor speakeasy, where I’d knock on the door, a little slot would open and a pair of eyes would look me up and down while I said the password “your cousin sent me and I want free sneakers.”

But what it actually was, was a legitimate looking doctor’s office with an actual legitimate looking staff in legitimate looking white scrubs who legitimately took my insurance information and ran it through their legitimate system. I was a little disappointed, to be honest. Legitimately.

The staff for some reason was very interested in where my wife and I were from.

“Brooklyn,” I said.
“No, before that. Your family.”
“Brooklyn.”

They got less information from my wife, who said “why do you want to know?”

After a few minutes I went into the doctor’s office. He had a broken arm but he conducted the exam with one hand. The real drawback, for him, was that he couldn’t write on the chart and needed an assistant to do it for him. This really slowed him down as the assistant apparently had no idea what any of the medical terms meant, or where to write them. I’m talking about very technical terms that any layperson would be clueless about, like “foot,” “heel,” and “today’s date.”

He asked how my feet were doing.
I said they’re doing good.
He asked me if my feet hurt.
I said no.
He asked me if I had any foot-related medical conditions.
I said I don’t think so.

He then asked me to take off my sneakers and while I was doing that, he had his assistant help him slip a glove on his good hand, not an easy task as he was also reviewing her notes and using that same hand to point out her mistakes. “You spelled ‘exam’ with an h again.”

He then carried on with the “exham” by groping first one foot then the other in what I must point out was not particularly different than what I do when inspecting a potato at the supermarket. After a few seconds on each foot he said to me “OK, you’re getting shoes. Want insoles?”

I wanted insoles.

So I went to front desk where they gave me a form, which I took back up the block and gave to the chippy/chirpy/happy/genial/lobotomized girl at the counter. She asked me to look over the shoes on display and tell her what I liked.

I liked none of them.

A word about the free shoes and sneakers. They were all perfectly wearable, pretty well-made and sturdy. They looked pretty good. But none of them were brand names, or even names you heard of, and likely not even names you might have overheard mentioned somewhere. But if I’m wrong, and Prooop´lr sneakers (with an accent mark over the second p) are trendy in your neighborhood, please drop me a line and let me know what part of the Baltic you live in.

 

So while I didn’t like any of the display shoes I did find a nice pair of sneakers in one of their catalogs, and after trying on some of the displays to find my size (what? They never heard of a Braddock device?) I found the ones I wanted and as luck would have it, they were out of stock so they had to order them.

So a couple of weeks went by, during which I had to fax them another form, only hindered by the fact that the fax number on their card goes to a full, unmonitored mailbox, the second fax number they gave me was not a fax number at all, and the third one was missing a digit. But eventually they told me to come in, my sneakers were ready.

This is where it gets weird. (Weirder, actually. It was kind of weird to begin with.)

When I went back for my sneakers, the same amazingly upbeat girl remembered my name. (“Hey! It’s Mr. Big Pants!”, she didn’t say.) She gave me my fashionable Prooop´lr sneakers (with an accent mark over the second p), I tried them on, they fit, and my wife and I were ready to leave when she said “here’s your coupon!” emoji emoji.

Coupon? Yes, a coupon. It entitled me to two pairs of shoes or sneakers at the shoe store across the street for just $5. OK, makes about as much sense to me as the rest of this did. At this point I must remind you that this whole thing began as a legitimate benefit of my insurance, and now I was going to a dingy shoe shop that, as I soon saw, looked like it was the last shoe shop in Hanoi after the US army pulled out.

Well, I was getting a good deal on sneakers but my wife? She was not, and if anyone is going to get a good deal it is going to be her. So she asked why she didn’t get a coupon when she got her free sneakers a few weeks ago. We didn’t get an answer but it didn’t matter because the girl, instead of giving her a coupon, added my wife to mine, meaning that we were now going to get four pairs of sneakers for $5. Instead of 2 pairs for $5 twice, ($10, $2.50 per pair) they are doing 4 for $5 once ($5, $1.25 per pair).

I know what you are thinking, that this makes no sense. Not economically, not medically, probably not fashionably either, but there it is. To that I say, simply go with it and don’t think about it, which is pretty much what I did.

We crossed the street to a shoe store with the highly imaginative name SHOES and stopped. Remember Goodfellas, when Karen is afraid to go into Jimmy’s warehouse because she was afraid she was going to get whacked? It was a bit like that, and also a bit like if Sesame Street was filming an episode while Karen got whacked. The place was full of kids. It was dirty and messy, the shelves were broken, shoes and sneakers littered the floors, while dozens and dozens of kids ran around, some throwing shoes at each other, some ducking those shoes, and their parents trying to buy them shoes. What was this place? I never found out.

My wife and I walked in and we gave the coupon to the girl behind the counter, who was almost, but not quite, as chippy/chirpy as the girl in the other store. She did not seem surprised at all to be practically giving away 4 pairs of sneakers.

What is the connection between this store and the medical supply shoe store? The people working there seem to be related. Everyone, from the girls behind the counter to their “cousin” the foot doctor (who was very likely not related at all) seem to be all in on it. I’m sure that the insurance company has nothing at all to do with the seedy shoe store across the street. And the coupon I was given was not really a coupon but a receipt like you could get out of any 99 cent store receipt book with a stamp on it. It appears that the shoe store is trying to liquidate their shoes to the point that they are willing to give them away, and using the medical supply store to drive in customers. Why? I don’t know. the purpose isn’t to make money, that’s obvious.

My wife and I picked our shoes and I am actually wearing one of them as I write. They are a comfortable and pretty good looking pair of green and blue sneakers. Sturdy and feel good. But if you’d say that the Prooop´lr shoes were a second rate brand (at best, and it’s a stretch) the ones in this store were eighth or ninth. Again, wearable, durable, good looking, but two have no company or brand name, one has something written in characters that I can’t even identify, let alone read, and the last one, the pair I am wearing, has no brand but a logo that looks very much – but just different enough to avoid a lawsuit- like the Nike swoop.

So there’s a scam somewhere. More than one, I think. The medical store seems real, and so does the foot doctor, but the mechanical and rote way they did things in his office (people marched in and out of his exam room like an assembly line while I was there) tells me that this place exits just to work the insurance company. He may be a real foot doctor but if I had trench-foot I’d go anyplace but there. But he’d the first doctor I’d see if I wanted to know how to score free insoles.

There’s also obviously something shady going on at the shoe store across the street. If the goal was just to get rid of the shoes, just take them all and donate them someplace. Why pay rent on a store, pay employees, pay utilities, just to sell shoes for almost nothing? You’d do better selling them from a folding table on a street corner. It has to be a front for something, I just don’t know what.

It’s The South Brooklyn Shoe Scam, and it netted me five pairs of shoes for $5, plus two pairs of insoles.

 

.

 

%d bloggers like this: