It was about six in the evening, autumn, and the evenings drawing in. My office is in the shade of the next building anyway, so no sunset through my windows, just the flickery glow of the sign of the chop-suey joint across the way. Business had been slow all week, and I was wondering whether I should just go buy some of that chop-suey, drag myself home and take an early night for once. And then she walked in.
She was blonde, because of course she was. Tall, yeah, tall for a dame. Beautiful? Yeah, but not in a movie star kind of way. Still – there was something about her. Something about her eyes. Something in the way she walked.
“Are you Jim Rockstone?” she said. Her voice was soft, husky. Not sad, though. No one who walks through my door does it because they had a good day. Half of ‘em are close to tears – and that’s just the guys. But there was nothing sad about this dame’s voice.
“That’s right, doll,” I said. “Jim Rockstone, the detective. What can I do for you.”
She sat, and put a cigarette between her lips. As I l leaned forward to light it I saw her hand, with a pale band on her finger where a ring used to be. There was a story here, all right, for the man who could read it.
“I need to hire you,” she said.
“I don’t work cheap.”
“I’d be disappointed if you did.”
I sat back and put my feet up on the desk. “To hire my services,” I said, “first you need to download my app.”
She looked at me blankly. “Your what?”
“My app, dollface,” I said. “There’s a QR code on my desk. Yeah, just move the ashtray, there is is.”
“But my husband…” she began.
“You can enter all that through the app,” I said. I took a bottle of bourbon and two paper cups out of my drawer. She shook her head, so I only filled one. “After you enter your details.”
“Do you at least have wifi?” she said. “So I don’t have to use any data?”
“Wifi is for customers only.”
“I’m a customer.”
“Sure you are,” I said. “Soon as you register through the app.”
I stood, and stared out the window as she downloaded the app, grumbling a little in that husky voice. Outside, San Francisco was growing darker.
“A warm night,” I said.
“Playing Warm San Francisco Night by Eric Burdon and the Animals,” said my laptop.
“I didn’t say San Francisco out loud!” I snapped.
“It was implied,” the laptop shot back.
“It’s almost like this ‘smart tech’ is too smart, am I right?” I said to the dame.
“Could this font be any smaller?” she muttered. “Ugh! Seriously? How can I even read the captcha?”
“Yeah, I get a lot of complaints about that,” I said. “Gonna take it up with my IT guy. Can’t complain, though, he was still learning to be an app designer when he did this, see, so I didn’t have to pay him…”
“It’s timed out!” she gasped.
“Yeah, it’s rough when that happens,” I said, sipping my bourbon. “Have to start again from the beginning.”
She started tapping on he phone again, then closed the cover. “Damn it, can’t I just tell you what the problem is? My husband started doing business with…”
“Easier just to do it with the app,” I said. “If you input the type of crime from the dropdown menu, it can give you an estimate automatically, dollface.”
She glared at me. “Please don’t call me dollface! Only detectives who are trying to solve my case get to call me that! My name is…”
“Better just to enter it in the app,” I said. “That way I’ll get the spelling right. Oh, and you can choose your salutation. You know, if you want to go by ‘Mx’ or something weird.”
“It’s ‘Dr,’ actually… timed out again, screw this!” she said, slamming my door as she stormed out.
“Dames,” I said, shaking my head. “Dames.”
I looked at the window. It was completely dark outside, now. Time to get home. I put on my coat and hat, and locked up the office. I left the building, walked past the chop-suey joint and into the alley where I kept my car.
Suddenly my head was full of shooting stars. I was on the ground, with a very large man with a face full of scars was picking me up to my feet. I didn’t recognise the palooka, but next to him was a skinny little fella who was at least twice as dangerous. Nasty little piece of work called Gussy Novak.
“Well, well, well,” he giggled. “If it isn’t the great Jim Rockstone.”
“What do you want, Gussy?” I said, tasting blood.
“Me?” Gussy said, his voice full of mock innocence. “Why nothing, Mr Rockstone. I want nothing at all. But my employer, Mr Richardson… He would like for my friend Bruno to have a… a little talk with you, hee hee. Would you like that?”
I looked Gussy square in his beady little eye. “Did Richardson use…”
“Yes, he booked a block of your time on the app,” Gussy said, suddenly annoyed. “Seven to eight.”
“If he hasn’t finished having me beat up by eight…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Gussy said. “He’ll have to enter a second appointment. I know the drill. Get started, Bruno!”