The Duke Steps Out
Author: Charles Salzberg
A mysterious stranger who’s recently been tried and acquitted of a notorious double-murder, hires Henry Swann to find the actual killer. But the real mystery is, who is this vaguely familiar client?
The Duke Steps Out
He wasn’t more than halfway through the door, a flash of bright yellow in his thigh-length rain slicker, before he asked, in a low, gravelly voice that sounded slightly familiar, “Do you know who I am?”
“Should I?” I asked, as I stood to greet him, half-expecting him to flash an American Express card to answer his own question.
He put up his hand. “No need,” he said in a tone of nobless oblige, hinting he was a man used to being catered to. Funny, I hadn’t known this guy for more than a few seconds and already I didn’t like him. I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest judge of character—I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes—but I can tell when a man has a chip on his shoulder. I can also tell when a man, or a woman, for that matter, is going to rub me the wrong way.
“You will,” he said, leaning forward slightly. “Will what?”
“If you say so, pal. I’m Swann,” I said, extending my hand. “And you are?”
He hesitated a moment for dramatic effect, then grinned. “You can call me, James Brown.”
“So what can I do for the Godfather of Soul and the hardest working man in show business?” I asked.
Not even a hint of a smile. Instead, he asked, “What’s the H. stand for?” alluding to the initial on my front door.
“Harried, hackneyed, horrible, hot-headed, hospitable, hedonistic, hellacious, hog-tied, hateful, take your pick.”
“I’m not here to play games, man,” he said sharply, and I could tell that he meant it.
“No problem, amigo. It’s Henry. Now why don’t you take a seat and we’ll get down to business.”
“Ain’t no wonder you use Swann,” he mumbled, as he started to move toward me. He was a big man, over six-feet, kind of husky, with a bit of a beer belly. He had a milk-chocolate complexion and he was wearing the worst damned disguise I’d ever seen: a fake mustache, goatee, long side- burns, a curly, yellow Harpo Marx-like fright wig and a wide-brimmed, black Stetson. And although he walked with a slight limp, I noted that he moved with remarkable grace, almost gliding across the room. He sat down on the folding chair in front of my desk and when he gingerly crossed his legs I noticed he was wearing a pair of expensive, hand-sewn cowboy boots.
“So, you’re a private dick, right?”
“That’s right and the way you say that means I can’t very well counter with, ‘I’ve been called worse.’”