My office door opened and a dead man walked in.
Almost dead anyway. I gave him a minute or two. A good time to buy life insurance.
He staggered toward me. His body tilted forward so he fell into each step. His head bowed as he watched blood spurt out of a nasty looking hole in his chest. Arterial blood--bright red, loaded with oxygen he'd never use.
I jumped up to help him, tripped over my chair, and fell across my desk.
He stumbled on, then stopped and looked up into my face. I watched the light in his eyes sputter out.
Jeez. The last thing he saw on this earth was me. Poor bastard.
His face cracked as it hit the floor. More blood oozed out from under him--crimson against green linoleum.
I reached down to take his pulse in the unlikely event he was playing possum. Sadly, no.
I spied a scrap of paper clutched in his hand--a note with a ten-dollar bill folded inside. The note said "Save Ruby" and gave a nearby address. The bill said steak dinner, drinks, a tank of gas, and a week's rent. I guess I'd taken on a case.
The Houston cops told me they'd be by after lunch. No hurry, since the victim was already dead.
I'm a private detective. That's why I've got this dingy office. A frosted glass door. My name on it in gold letters, the last of which has fallen off so it says "George Have" instead of "Haven." A .38 revolver in my top desk drawer and a bottle of bourbon in the bottom.
And practically no business. The Great Depression didn't provide most folks with enough money to employ luxury services such as myself.
I try to avoid cops, but figured I should stick around, given the circumstances. Unanswered questions tend to stimulate imagination, not that the police I deal with have much. But I wanted to allay their suspicions before they anointed me perpetrator to clear their books.
In the meantime, I checked out my visitor. He was a big guy, probably six feet tall, or long, in this case. Broad too. Lots of muscles. He wore a shabby suit of coarse blue wool, which didn't fit very well in his current position.
I don't have much tolerance for corpses, but I needed to find out what killed him. I put on a pair of rubber gloves I keep on hand for minimally nefarious purposes and lifted him up by the shoulders. The hole in his chest was wide enough to stick three fingers into--which I didn't. I laid him back on the floor, then threw up discreetly into my wastebasket.
Looked to me like he'd been stabbed. With something mean. A hunting knife. A bayonet.
His pockets yielded a little change, a couple of keys, a bus ticket, and a worn wallet containing three dollars and a business card.
His name, Caleb McCoy, didn't bother me, although it brought to mind a backwoods fellow perhaps inordinately fond of his sister. But his occupation did. Private Investigator.
We detectives don't like to see a fellow PI get killed. There aren't many of us to go around, so if somebody wants to rub one out, we each have a better than average chance to be next.
Okay. The good news. He came from Dallas. A long ride away. The bad news--well, here he was. Not just here in my office. Here in my life.
By choice. His choice. Jeez, the man climbed three flights of stairs while bleeding to death to get to me. There're plenty of detectives in town who have offices on the ground floor.
I guess I should've been flattered. Instead, I was scared to death.
I wanted to leave it alone. Forget it happened. But I couldn't. Any reasonable murderer would assume Caleb had told me a lot more than any reasonable murderer would want me to know. Somewhere out there, I heard a blade sliding across a sharpening stone.
I shuddered. Scared as hell. Sounded better than scared to death.
I didn't want to leave my nice, safe, albeit gory office to go out into the world, but I needed to learn all I could before the police arrived and mucked up the evidence. I swallowed a slug of whiskey to fortify my courage and stuck my revolver in my belt.
I followed Caleb's trail down the staircase to the first floor and out the door to a sprinkling of red spatters on the sidewalk. He must've been knifed there. Most likely nobody'd seen it. This neighborhood of crumbling structures and abrasive streets rarely attracts strollers.
Back inside, I glimpsed someone in the near darkness under the stairs. A prior someone. Dead as a doornail. This was my lucky day.
The guy had been shot in the forehead. I didn't have to move him to find what I was looking for--a butcher knife in his hand.
Easy to figure this out. This guy killed Caleb. Then somebody killed him. Only fair.
Trouble was, that same somebody was out there--highly motivated to make my forehead his next target. Nonetheless, I felt enormous relief. I'd much rather get shot than stabbed.