Lovely Velma

imageIt had been raining all morning. My head was buzzing from the previous night’s booze fest, and the relentless rain beat a steady tattoo against my thinning hair. The sour taste in my mouth matched my mood.

Just another day in paradise, I remember thinking as I approached the door to my office. It once sported bright, frosted glass but now it was grimy, yellow with age and neglect. Faded black letters annonced

PETER BEARD
PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR

***

I was on my third cup of joe when my client showed up. She was late but I overlooked it when I got a look at her.

Tall, voluptuous, Velma Washington had the best pair of legs I’d ever seen. She looked expensive, real expensive. A black, tailored suit fit her snugly in all the right places. An ermine stole was draped carelessly over one shoulder. It was white, almost as white as the platinum hair that fell in thick waves around her shoulders. She wore a small black hat with an attached veil.

The spidery veil teased me, beguiling me with the way it hugged the contours of her face, ending just at the jawline.

“Miss Washington?” I offered my hand.

Coal-black eyes observed me from behind the netting. Her gloved hand briefly touched mine. “Call me Velma,” she said, her voice rich like honey.

“Velma,” I acknowledged, pointing toward the chair. “Won’t you sit down?”

She sat, never once taking her eyes off me, letting her slender legs do the talking as she slowly crossed them, one over the other, giving me an eyeful.

“I hope you can help me, Mr. Beard.”

“I’ll try. What’s the problem?”

“It’s my dog, Fifi.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’ve heard of Sal Rosato?”

Who hadn’t? ‘Fat Sal’ Rosato was a member of the ‘syndicate,’ a thug who managed to evade imprisonment by letting others do his dirty work.

“Sal’s my fiancé.” I saw the frown behind the veil. “Was my fiancé,” she amended. “That’s over. I left him a few nights ago, but couldn’t take Fifi. I want her back.”

“So ask for her,” I said, bored. Business wasn’t so bad I had to play dogcatcher for a mobster’s ex-girlfriend.

“It’s not that easy.” Her gloved fingers slowly lifted the veil.

I gasped when Velma’s naked face came into view. The sight was horrific, mottled flesh, with shiny, oozing sores. Before I could hide my revulsion, she saw it, and quickly lowered the veil.

“Sal did it,” she said. “He got angry and threw a pot of coffee in my face. I’ll wear the scars of his temper tantrum for life. The bastard!”

I wanted to weep for that beautiful body and its poor, ruined face.

“He’s holding Fifi because he knows I love her,” she continued. “I wouldn’t put it past him to kill her just to get back at me. I love Fifi, Mr. Beard. Sal can keep his money.

“I just want my dog.”

***

I’ve always been a patsy for beautiful women – especially those mistreated. When I saw Velma’s face and thought about what Rosato had done, I was determined to get the dog back.

A greasy-haired guy, six feet tall, built like a rock, answered Rosato’s door.

“Whaddaya want?”

“Well, Shorty, I want to see your boss.”

I could see he didn’t like being called ‘Shorty,’ but one thing I’ve learned in this business is belligerence is effective.

Shorty grabbed me by the back of my neck, yanking me close. I gagged at his breath, a bouquet of garlic and cigarettes.

“You wanna see the boss? Who the hell are you? I’m in a good mood today so I’m just gonna kick your ass back into the street. Normally, I’d shove your head into a drainpipe, but it’s my ma’s birthday and I’m feeling generous. So, was I you, I’d take advantage of my good nature… while you can.”

“You got a mother? Bet she’s real proud of you, you being such a choir boy and all.”

The hand at my neck tightened.

“Look, Shorty, I don’t want no trouble. Just tell your boss I want to see him. It’s about Velma Washington.”

“Frankie,” called a voice from within, “invite our guest inside. He’s going to think we’re unfriendly.”

Shorty grunted, but released me.

‘Fat Sal’ Rosato stood in the hallway, a large turkey drumstick in his hand. A smear of turkey grease coated the black hairs of his mustache.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Peter Beard. I’m a private investigator.”

“What’s your connection to Velma? I’m the one who needs a dick, not her.”

I chose to let that colorful remark pass. “Can we talk?” I looked at Shorty, hovering in the doorway. “Privately.”

Rosato shrugged. “We’ll speak in my study.”

The large room was ringed on three sides by bookcases. The remaining wall had French doors leading to a garden. It was a nice room, not what I expected.

“You read all these books?” I asked.

He grinned. “Nah… they’re for show.”

A large poodle appeared suddenly at the French doors, pawing at the panes.

“Goddam dog,” grumbled Rosato. “Can’t get a moment’s peace.”

He let the animal in, and it jumped him, wagging its tail frenetically.

“Get down, Fifi… ya hear?” He shoved the animal, and she quickly lost enthusiasm, slinking off to a corner.

“Goddam dog,” repeated Rosato. He looked at his turkey drumstick and took a bite.

“Okay, where’s Velma? I’ve been trying to find her.”

“After what you did to her face, ever figure she might not want to be found?”

Rosato waved a greasy finger at me. “The bitch had it coming, always screwing around. Gave her everything – money, clothes, a car. All she had to do was keep her legs closed around other men. Instead, she’s screwing everything that moves.

“I shoulda killed her.”

He took another bite of the turkey, chewing furiously.

“She’s got something of mine, and I want it back.”

“Well, you have something of hers that she wants back.”

“I ain’t got nothing of hers.”

“What about Fifi?” I asked, eyeing the poodle. “She wants the dog back.”

Rosato stared at me. “The dog? You were hired to pick up the dog?”

I nodded.

Rosato broke into laughter. “She hires a dick to bring back the dog. That’s rich! Well, you tell Velma I’ll kill the goddam dog before giving it to her. Business good for you, huh, taking on an important case like this?”

Guffaws of laughter mixed with turkey spittle. Fifi raised her head, watching the fat man wave the drumstick.

Suddenly, Rosato stopped laughing. His eyes bulged while his face grew red, and he dropped the drumstick, weaving around the room, gasping. Fifi ran for the discarded drumstick, and I ran to Rosato.

“You okay?”

Rosato grunted. I thought he was choking, but then he grabbed at his chest. “Hurts,” he whispered.

I shouted for Shorty, who was nowhere to be found. By now, Rosato had fallen to his knees, his brow slick with perspiration. I reached for the telephone, dialed the operator, told her I needed an ambulance quick. Then I stared at Rosato. He’d fallen face-forward into the carpet. I touched his neck, trying to locate a pulse.

Nothing.

Fifi approached the body, cautiously nosing it.

“Hey Fifi,” I said softly. “Want to go for a ride?”

The dog wagged her tail. She was beautiful,  having a long elegant neck accentuated by a wide, velvet collar.

“C’mon, Fifi. We’re done here.”

***

Velma opened the door, and the dog at my side went crazy, jumping the blonde, licking her face.

Velma wasn’t wearing a veil, but her face didn’t seem so horrifying when lit with joy. She laughed, and asked me in while she got her checkbook.

I spied the bottle of bourbon sitting on an end-table. “Help yourself,” she said.

Velma looked at Fifi. “You okay, sweetheart?” Her slim fingers caressed the dog, then rested lightly on the collar. “You seem okay. I was worried!”

Ecstatic, the dog’s tail whipped back and forth like a windshield wiper set on high. “Fifi seems happy to be home,” I said, pouring a shot of bourbon.

“How much do I owe you, Mr. Beard?” she asked, preparing to write the check.

“This one’s on the house.” I downed the bourbon.

“Rosato said something odd…”

She didn’t look up, continuing to scratch Fifi’s ears. “Oh? What was that?”

“Said you had something of his, and he wanted it back.”

Her fingers froze on the dog’s collar. She looked at me then. There was something new in her eyes, something hard. “I can’t imagine what he meant, Mr. Beard. Look around – does this look like the place of someone who had anything of interest to Sal Rosato?”

She had a point. The place wasn’t a dump, but it wasn’t Park Avenue either.

Her fingers began moving in the dog’s fur again. “Thank you, Mr. Beard, for returning Fifi. I’m grateful – more than you know.”

I could see I was dismissed. I set the glass on the table and left.

***

Years went by and I forgot about Velma until I saw an article in a newspaper.

Ernie Gennaro, one of Sal’s old gang, was an old thug with a smartass attitude who mouthed off once too often. He was paid for his trouble by an inmate with a switchblade. Here’s the interesting part. Before he died, the old man told a tale of a safe deposit box and diamonds. Diamonds meant to be picked up by Sal Rosato. Problem arose when Sal wasn’t home when the messenger arrived with a package containing the location and combination of the safe deposit box. Sal scoured the house looking for the missing package. Never found it.

I chewed on that.

***

The banker smiled warmly. “Yes, Miss Washington did all her banking here. She still maintains a safe deposit box. She said you’d be coming in one day and left instructions that when you did, we should let you have access to it.”

Well, now, how about that?

It wasn’t hard figuring out this was the bank where the safe deposit box was. I remembered that check I didn’t accept, and the bank listed in the left-hand corner. Playing a hunch, I wound up here. Velma had me figured from the get-go.

The banker took me to a private room. Resting in the center of a table was a large metal box.

“Here’s the combination to the box, sir,” said the banker, handing me a slip of paper. “I’ll leave you alone.”

I entered the combination, and opened the box.

No diamonds. I hadn’t expected any.

Inside I found the velvet collar. I picked it up, feeling its softness as I probed with my fingers. I soon found the hidden seam where Velma had once hidden the deposit box combination.

Now hidden inside was a small piece of paper, folded twice.

Mr. Beard,
If you’re looking at this note, you’ve figured out I did have something belonging to Sal. I knew the combination to the deposit box would be safe buried in Fifi’s collar; Sal hated Fifi, never bothered with her.
I hated leaving her behind the night I left, but I had no choice – I had to leave fast. I don’t regret stealing from Sal, not after what he did to me. Fifi and I will have a good life. Please don’t think too badly of me.
Velma

I couldn’t help grinning as I stuffed the collar and Velma’s note inside my pocket.

After what Rosato had done to her, she deserved whatever she could get.

And me? I got what I deserved, too. As I was leaving the bank, the manager handed me a large envelope.

“Miss Washington left this for you.”

I opened the envelope. Inside was $100,000.

I walked out of that bank a happy man.

Maybe playing dogcatcher for Velma hadn’t been such a bad day’s work after all.

___________________
Author’s Note – This story was written in response to a challenge by Chuck Wendig’s TerribleMinds blog to write a 2,000 word story about ‘noir / body horrific.’

About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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43 Responses to Lovely Velma

  1. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of the bright frosted glass with the yellow grimy glass with the faded lettering, a direct comparison between the optimism (and perhaps naivety?) of Peter’s younger days with his current circumstances.

  2. mihrank says:

    Just Beautiful!!

  3. A very clever and well written story; a dark yet simple theme to it, but with a sense of mystery and enough going on to captivate the interest. Job well done!

  4. Oh Kate, I loved this!

    You absolutely nailed the noir flavour of this piece. You never fail to both surprise and delight me with the glorious tales you weave. You were a damn fine writer before you started answering these writing prompts, but you’ve gone from strength to strength this year. I honestly think that if you do not get a publishing deal that it would be a crime against writing.

    Like Keith, I’m running out of superlatives for you. Just when I think you can’t get any better, you pull another masterpiece out of the bag.

    Excellent stuff, I loved it ❤

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Heather… did my mother pay you to write the comment above? 😉 Seriously, thank you! I am very glad you enjoyed the story, and I appreciate the kind words. You and I have both found the writing prompts helpful in stretching our creativity and in trying different things. And we both have had a heck of a lot of fun with the prompts, too.

      Thanks again, dear friend. (And I’ll check with mom to make sure the check is in the mail! 😀 )

  5. Stephen Thom says:

    Hard-boiled! Very good. You seem comfortable in different genres and styles. I like original descriptive phrasings (useless at technical things, sorry…) ‘rain beat a steady tattoo against my thinning hair’ is an awesome opening sentence, this kind of thing. And you read it like, ah I can picture that exactly. I think it is a great way to separate your writing and make it original, to be brave with your descriptive word choice. Anyhow. I read the short story idea above, about recurring characters in a small town ^ i think it sounds awesome. I think it is fantastic to have thematic links and continuity in collections, it feels so much more involving, rewarding and holistic, i love things like concept albums too, haha. So i think your idea sounds great. All the best.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Steve, thanks for the comments above. I have to admit, I do enjoy writing in different genres. This was an attempt at a writing a story in the noir genre, and I just posted a story in the sci-fi genre. One of the great things about having a blog is that you can PLAY! Great fun! 😀

      I’m glad you like the concept of the short stories about recurring characters in a town. I’m pretty excited about trying to do that. From your avatar, you look like a musician. Since you mentioned concept albums, I thought I’d mention that I believe it was Frank Sinatra who initially developed the concept album. At least, I think that is so. I’m a bit of a Sinatra fan, so when I see the words’ concept’ and ‘album,’ I tend to think of him.

  6. markbialczak says:

    I love the rhythm of this story, Kate. Very nice work.

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Thanks, Mark, I’m glad you enjoyed it! It’s very nice to have you drop by, too. 🙂

      • markbialczak says:

        That awful sound, like a nasty person doing something very nasty to another person. People who’ve never heard it wouldn’t believe us, Kate.

        I like your chosen fiction genre, Kate.

        I am a fan of the late, great, Dutch Leonard. So many great stories.

        I read everything that Carl Hiaasen cooks up down in Florida, and Edna Buchanan does a fair job but far more somber from that state, too. Michael Connelly has two heroes, Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, out of California. Those three all used to work in a newsroom, like me, so I feel a kinship.

        What about you, Kate? Who do you read?

        And, now, I will be reading your fiction.

        Keep up the good work.

        — Mark

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Mark, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of Elmore Leonard’s stories. Bad on me – I will rectify that this summer. But I will say that his namesake, Dutch Leonard, great one-time pitcher for the old Washington Senators, I am familiar with. I’ve always wondered if it was his Senators and their games against the Yankees that was the basis for the stage play, ‘Damn Yankees.’

      But I digress. As you get to know me, you’ll find I do that a lot! 😀

      As for what I read: I like the Harry Bosch stories by Connelly a lot. My all time favorite crime noir writer of present day is Dennis LeHane. I’ve read everything he’s published and they’re all good. I also like a series of supernatural, Sherlock Holmes-type stories by Preston Childs about an FBI agent named Pendergast – those are great fun. Another series I get a kick out of are the Repairman Jack novels.

      I’m all over the place with my reading, though. I like the old time noirs that became the basis of some fabulous movies of the forties and the fifties. But I like other things as well. Perhaps that is why I have trouble sticking to one genre; I love ’em all.

      On my list of stories to read this summer are those by Philip K. Dick. I’ve never ready any of his stories, and I’m looking forward to paying his ‘world’ a visit.

      🙂

      • markbialczak says:

        Thanks for your list, Kate. I like LeHane. Good stuff.

        I’ll try Preston Childs. I’ll trust you at your word. We’re building a nice bridge here.

        Time for you to pick up an Elmore Leonard. It’ll go by as quickly as a Dutch Leonard complete game for the Nats in the wayback. Damn Yankees indeed. I’m a Mets fan.

        Have a great rest of your Tuesday night.

        I had a great nine holes in my golf league tonight. I shot 44 and didn’t hear a peacock squawk at all. 🙂

        • Kate Loveton says:

          A Mets fan – okay, now you’re talking! As an Orioles fan, I salute you (for not being a Yankees fan). 😀

          Glad the peacocks stayed off the golf course.

        • markbialczak says:

          My six years living in Maryland allowed me the privilege of attending at lest 50 Birds games at the old Memorial Stadium from 1977 to 1983, and I loved every one of them, Kate. Yankees, no.

        • Kate Loveton says:

          Ah, you saw them at their best. 1983 was the year we won the World Series!

        • markbialczak says:

          I got the job in Syracuse in August of ’83 and had to follow the glory of the ’83 Series strictly on TV. My Maryland friends were so happy, though, and let me know it, Kate.

  7. Lovely! I admire your ability to write on the flash and do it so well. What’s your novel about and how far along are you?

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Ah, Cindy, I have been remiss with it, caught up in these flash challenges. But I need to get back to it. I think I’ve lulled myself into believing I could save the writing of it for National Novel Writing Month in November. The action takes place in a western town in the 1880s – and it’s a supernatural tale.

      I’ve got the beginnings of three novels sitting in my word doc folders but…

      Of late I’m considering writing a book that’s a series of stories about recurring characters in a small town. I’ve been doing a little of that with my Schuyler Falls flash fiction tales. I’m a big admirer of Elizabeth Strout’s book, Olive Kitteridge, which is similar to what I have in mind. I am seriously thinking of pursuing this idea as I become more confident in my ability to weave some stories that are connected by a central theme.

      Writing the flash fiction tales and short stories on my blog have been instrumental in teaching me the need for cutting away the superfluous and trying to get to the heart of a story. I’ve been considering this a ‘writing laboratory’ of sorts. 🙂

      • I LOVED Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth Strout won the Pulizer for that one. Up in Maine — she’s great. I think your idea is a good one. I write similarly. That is, I have four characters that are completely different and they go back and forth telling the story. Their perspectives move the story along in an interesting way. I quite fancy the approach. I’m working on my second novel and am wondering if I should repeat or break it down to 2 perspectives….

        • Kate Loveton says:

          Are you published? If so, I’d love to read your first novel!

        • Self published, but yesss.
          I would be flattered and pleased! Go to my website and there’s a direct link. You can but a copy on Kindle or Amazon. It’s called “The Knife with the Ivory Handle”.
          It’s set in 1900 and is historical fiction. I’m rather proud of it!

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Cindy, I am going to grab a copy of your book! I’m really glad you mentioned it. 🙂

  8. Kate Loveton says:

    Hi Keith, thank you for reading – and for your kind words. I appreciate them! 🙂

  9. Sorry, Kate. I’ve used up all my superlatives.

  10. Lucy says:

    That Velma. I’ve known a few. One had a steer named Charlie. He was a sweetie. They had him slaughtered for steaks, no less. I wouldn’t talk to her for a long time after that. Just a little aside. You know I love you more than my luggage. Very well done, as usual. Quick and dirty? How dirty? No don’t tell me. Lucy

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Your reply made me laugh – more than luggage, huh? 😀

      Poor Charlie! Fifi fared better… she went off with her mistress to enjoy a life of luxury. I’m seeing the two of them on some tropical island, Velma is sipping pina coladas, and Fifi is eating dog biscuits in the shape of palm trees…

      Glad you liked the story.

      • Lucy says:

        I really have feelings for one piece of luggage in particular. I can fit anything in it–enough stuff to go hang out in a 3rd world country for several months, enough toilet paper can be stuffed in it for that trip to the 3rd world country, or even a body.. Yes I liked your story. You have writing noir of a sort for some time–just not noir noir. if you know what I mean. Your stories have a certain “voice” that belongs to the 1930’s or 40’s. that I can detect even if ever so slightly depending on the story. It’s seductive, enticing and entertaining. Remember, I don’t do reviews very well. It’s all good . Lucy

        • Kate Loveton says:

          I think that’s true… some of my stories do have a 1930s/40s voice, particularly ‘Just Another Pedro.’ Good observation, and one I hadn’t thought of before. 🙂

          Nice to have luggage that will accommodate a body should the need arise…

  11. I treasure your stories, always leave them to the end of the afternoon as a treat with a cup of coffee!

  12. Kyle Marffin says:

    Usually I hate pet related stories, but I sure enjoyed this one. Nice job!

  13. Kate Loveton says:

    I just finished it this morning. 🙂

  14. Mark Baron says:

    And I’m a little hurt you didn’t tell me you were done with this. 😉

  15. Kate Loveton says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, she says giggling with delight. 😀 I wrote this kinda quick and dirty, having forgotten about the prompt til someone reminded me yesterday.

    I am greatly looking forward to reading yours this evening – you write great stuff!!

  16. Mark Baron says:

    That’s it, I surrender. Your noir beats mine by a long shot. WOW. As a true, deep aficionado of the genre, WOW. Bravo!

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