Morning smog had already settled into the cracks of the city when I picked my head up off the desk in my office. An empty booze bottle, last night’s best pal and pillow, rolled off and away to a dusty corner of plain painted floorboards. My head was pounding. The booze? I took off my hat and felt the back of my head sogged with blood. So that’s it.
Somewhere far away a lonely sax wailed in D minor. Just then the door opens and in walks the crooked librarian Louis Flimpden and everything comes back to me.
Well? says Flimpden impatiently, his arms crossed tightly over his bony little chest. He had a way of bristling his pencil mustache under that bird’s beak of his that irritated the hell out of me. Have you found Camilla?
I sat back in my desk, smiled, and lit up a Pall Mall. Nope. Still working on it.
He threw up his hands and began pacing the place like a caged parrot. It’s Big Charlie, that sonuvabitch. I know it, I tell ya. I never shoulda supplied him with those phony library cards. Now he thinks he owns me, and Camilla too, not to mention the downtown branch! His boys have had the whole collection of T.S. Eliot out for more than two months now!
Sit down a minute, I says. Have a cracker, birdbrain. I told ya I’d find your dame and I will. I tailed her all night. She wasn’t with Big Charlie, I can tell you that.
Well then with who? She don’t come home ’til after midnight or at all and says she’s visiting her sister, but I know better.
Sure you do. Sit. I got a bottle in the back.
Flimpden sat on the wooden chair across from my desk. I got up and went to the backroom, grabbed a bottle of gin and two glasses, went back, sat down, opened it. I poured two doubles, took an egg from my top desk drawer, cracked it into my drink, and shot it down. Outside a car screeched to a stop.
I sat back and stubbed out my Pall Mall, poured another double, and pushed Flimpden’s drink across the desktop. The glass against the wood sang out what sounded a melody in D minor. Have a drink, Flimpden. Time’s almost up.
But it was up already. The cops were just outside. They had to drag Flimpden out kicking and screaming. They’d gotten Big Charlie just an hour before, loading a crate of Eliot onto a frigate set for the Caymans. Their whole crooked library ring was in shambles, all from an anonymous tipper who apparently hated to see our public loan system corrupted like a dimestore book rack. Maybe I had something do with it.
As I took the stack of Eliot out from the top left drawer of my desk, Camilla Flimpden sauntered out from the backroom, framed by the doorway, as her husband was put in a cruiser and hauled off to do five to ten. She had on nothing but my old t-shirt and a smug smile. She was smooth as a California highway but as cruel as Death Valley. I was glad I’d only hitched a ride.
They gone? she said.
With a whimper, baby, I said, lighting another Pall Mall and downing my second double. With a whimper.