It was a lousy job but I took it all the same. Lousy pay and lousy commitments. But the guys down at City Hall said they needed someone with dirty hands who washed them just to get the water running for swelling out the next drink.
They needed a gumshoe to supervise other gumshoes, not that these patsies knew how to tie their own laces. What I didn’t know before I took their lousy job with its lousy pay and the lousy commitments is that some were raw recruits who’d never been trained. Or that they’d all be dames. I don’t mind dames. I’ve handled plenty, but that was with a different kind of dirty hands. And I don’t look down on broads, unless that’s where they’re lying. I’ve got plenty of time for broads, but in my line of business you had to be more than a pair of pretty lips, and taking a hit in the kisser goes with the territory. You couldn’t just pull these novices off the street, as that flunky Darren told a friend of mine who then told me like it was Chinese whispers from Claudius. That friend knew how to wind me up. But it was a lousy job and there was a lousy method of recruitment. My job was to knock them into shape whatever their contortions.
Sally was the one I worried about the most. She was clearly on the hooch. That or there’d been an accident like with that big guy Lennie: kicked in the head by a tall tale. Sally wanted to second guess every move a criminal made, even if he wrote a full confession down on a script, but I told her she had to follow lines of enquiry that others might recognise. You know the familiar score – when you bring your second-guessed assessments before a judge and he looks at you like you’re some kind of clueless teacher who couldn’t cope with a kindergarten class of five. Sally was high as a kite heading for the power-lines. She was going to be a handful, and I didn’t want to get electrocuted.
There was also a guy – only him – some fairy called Dean. But he was just one extra arc and an e away from being a dame. I was told he failed the gumshoe course the year before but got put through because he’d had a really hard time. It didn’t bother me that this would be his encore year of very hard times. I rang him up and he gave me all of this and that in his best cool-guy impersonation but I could tell he was a shyster. He screwed up on the first test case and when I gave him a heads up on what was to follow, he screwed that up even more. He was a spinning-top clown and out of control. More like pulled out of a gutter than off the street. The gutter of incompetence. Give me a dame any day. At least there’s something to look at when the despair sets in.
I’m not going to go through the whole team I was being paid a lousy salary to try and get through a lousy job that no one else wanted. It’s not like describing a chess game where there’s some sense of order and right and wrong. But I think the guys at City Hall had pulled a bum steer on me. They knew these dames – and that one other – weren’t going to make the grade no matter how hard I painted them in bright colours. It would soon rain and this would all wash back down into the drains and turn to brown. But it worried me. Not the guys who set me up – they could continue riding their train to nowhere for all I cared and I knew that some place down the line there would be a rickety bridge ready to fall just as they reached it. Guys who thought they were in control usually sat in the carriage with their eyes closed – some schmuck like the lackey Darren bringing them fancy drinks he paid for himself because he was too damn stupid to stand up to these suits. They could all die in the fall or drown in the river. I’m not choosy.
But a team full of dames. And Dean. There had to be something in this for me. Something good to find like a silver dollar stuck on the side of the road just before the grate and dried to a shine in the transient sun. There’s no use being a gumshoe brought in to instruct others if you couldn’t walk the streets and spot that small beacon stuck in the trough and then stoop down to pick it up hoping you wouldn’t pull a muscle in your back.
That’s when I decided to give Sally a call. Sometimes you had to walk off the cliff to see just how hard you could fall. She talked and talked and told me that if she failed it wouldn’t be my fault and I thought that was kind of her, like not blaming me when she drove us both down the road and crashed because she forgot to look forwards. She giggled and I hoped it was because of the jokes, but I knew it was all in her head where the other voices were telling their alternative stories. It’s then I also knew it wasn’t the hooch and something more like madness. But I remembered she was just another raw recruit and if they weren’t trained at the factory they got sent to my hospital. We all knew it was too late by then, and it was a lousy idea. A lousy job with lousy pay and lousy commitments.
But some poor sap had to do it.
[* Examiner training: ruing the demise of face-to-face]