Canary In A Coal Mine
Author: Charles Salzberg
P.I. Pete Fortunato is hired by a woman to find her husband, dead or alive. The stakes are high, because if he finds him dead, she’s convinced she will be blamed for his murder.
The Canary in the Coalmine By
By Charles Salzberg
I woke up this morning with a bad taste in my mouth.
It’s not the first time that’s happened and it probably won’t be the last. I like to think of it as my canary in the coalmine. It usually means trouble. Sometimes it’s someone else’s trouble. Sometimes it’s mine. Sometimes it’s both. Those are the times you gotta watch out for.
Once I roused myself from bed I launched into my usual routine. Shower, shave, brush my teeth, which are my pride and joy, especially the two phony teeth on the left side that replaced those knocked out in a fight I did not start. That’s the drill for most of my fights. I never start them, but I’m always ready for them in case matters progress beyond the reach of reason. They usually end with me bloodied but unbowed. I win a few. I lose a few. That’s the way it goes. Those phony teeth match the others perfectly. A dentist who owed me a favor—I provided him with all the information he needed to divorce his wife and not be taken to the cleaners—planted them and swore no one could tell the difference. So far he’s been right. I like to
think those are the only phony things about me. Everything else, for better or worse, is me, all me.
I stopped at the local diner for my version of breakfast: two cups of coffee—neither of which took that bad taste out of my mouth, by the way— then headed to my office. Well, let’s be honest here. It’s not really my office. It’s the office of a friend who has a small real estate firm here in the city. He has an extra desk he rents out to me for only a hundred bucks a month, which includes phone service. But there’s a hitch—isn’t there always a hitch? When business picks up and he has to hire another broker, it’s sayonara, pal. Fortunately, in the two years I’ve been there it’s only happened once, and then only for a couple months. But I can’t say it put much of a dent in my business, since it’s always pretty much touch and go with me.
I’m a P.I. I even have a license that says so. I look at it every once in a while just to remind myself that I actually do have a profession. I would like to say I’m choosey about the kinds of cases I take, but that would be a lie. It’s not that I don’t lie, by the way, but I don’t lie frivolously, which only means you can’t quite tell if what comes out of my mouth is the truth or a lie. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in my business it probably qualifies as a plus.
I rolled into my office around ten, which I think is a pretty decent hour considering the late night hours I keep. But obviously not everyone was in agreement because the half dozen other desks scattered about the large room were filled with folks either on the phone or trying to look busy as they stared at their computer.
I parked myself at my desk—you could tell it was mine because there was absolutely nothing on it—I don’t have to fool anyone but myself—and as soon as I did Philly, my so-called friend and boss man of the real estate firm, appeared in front of me.
“I wasn’t sure you were coming in today, Petey.”
“This is kinda early for me, but as you can see, I’m here.”
“I’ve been here since eight, my friend. That’s early.”
“What can I say, Philly? You’re a better man than me and you have absolutely no real life of your own.”
“Funny guy. Now that you’re such a comedian maybe I should raise the rent.”
“Sure. Why not double it? Triple it, for all I care. No matter what you ask, I’m only paying the C-note and you know as well as I do, you’re lucky to get that. Other than yanking my chain, do you have something in particular in mind?”
“There was a broad in here earlier looking for you.”
“What’d she look like?”
“That’s the first thing you ask?”
“What’s on my lung is on my tongue. I’ve got the depth of an inchworm.”
“Like you’d want to spend a lot of time with her, except that she’s way out of your league.”
“That good, huh?”
“Where is she now?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Did she tell you why she wanted to see me?”
“Nope. But she did give me this.” He pulled a business card out of his pocket and flicked it on my desk. “Said you should call her. If I were you, I’d do it. She smelled of money, among other things.”
I looked at the card then brought it close to my nose. It smelled like lilacs. The name on it was Lila Alston. I liked the sound of that.