by Lee Hammerschmidt
Gumshoe Review Short Story ISBN/ITEM#: SS032010
Date: 20 February 2010 /
Lee Hammerschmidt's story has pretty much everything you could ask for in a noir Gumshoe tale: a world weary PI, the damsel who's made poor choices, a belligerent mobster...and a tricky twist with a devious dame. Pictures never lie, but the truths they hold may not be obvious to even a jaded gumshoe...
Coincidentally, can you tell what common element this shares with last month's story (A Saint Valentine's Day Massacre by Jacqueline Seewald)?
By Lee Hammerschmidt
"Old Ringo song?" the dark haired beauty across from him asked, twirling her glass of screw-top chardonnay in her fingers. "Which one, 'It Don't Come Easy'?" A sly grin crossed her face.
"Well, that would work, too. No, I was thinking 'Photograph.' You know, 'now all I have is a photograph'..."
"Out of context. That's about lost love."
"I mean literally. All I have is a photograph, and it's the only thing keeping me alive."
She nodded knowingly and took a sip of her cheap wine, wincing as she set it down.
"You made copies, right, with instructions," she asked, "and gave them to people you could trust?"
"That's the problem, there's not that many people I trust. Or want to put in harm's way. Charley O'Connell, my lawyer buddy from college has one with a letter. He can take care of himself. There's one in my safety deposit box."
"Why don't you give me one? My family has a lawyer I could give one to. He's been with us for...."
"No, Joan," Fresno said sternly. "There can't be any ties between you and me. If Eddie knows you and I are involved he'll kill you for sure. He'll do it for fun and it won't be slow, the sick bastard."
Joan nodded again. She had been Eddie Krebs' girlfriend for a year before Fresno came to work for Eddie. She had been sneaking around with Fresno for the last 6 months.
"Look," Joan said, placing her hand on Fresno's. "Why don't you just turn it in to the Feds? The FBI's been itching to bust Eddie on extortion and racketeering for years. And that photo, wow, that would trump everything. That would put him and a lot of other people away for a long, long time."
"I can't go to the law. I'm an accessory. I've been taking Eddie's blackmail photos for almost a year now. And besides, you don't put a creep like Eddie Krebs away for long. He's got deep pockets, a long reach, and a wide range of connections."
"But you were just doing divorce work, Photos of unfaithful spouses. You didn't know Eddie was using the photos to blackmail the cheaters."
"No, I knew. Not at first. But after awhile it was easy to figure out Eddie's game. His clients were all upscale movers and shakers. You don't make the kind of dough he was raking in doing divorce work. And don't forget about the 50K I extorted from him to keep quiet and disappear. He's not gonna' let that go for long. That's why I was lucky to snap that photo."
Fresno finished his beer. He caught the eye of the cotton-topped woman at the bar and signaled for another round.
"Sure, sweetie," she rasped through a three-pack-a-day larynx. "But its last call, we're closing early."
No surprise there. Fresno and Joan had been the only patrons for the last 20 minutes. It was why he had chosen this dump to meet. That and the buck beers. Old habits die hard.
"We need to split after this drink anyway," Fresno said sadly. "I've got a bus to catch and you need to get as far away from me and Eddie as possible. He'll put all his effort into tracking me down, so you'll be on the back burner."
"When can I meet you?"
"Who knows, a month or two, maybe six. But we have to be absolutely sure that it's safe. I'll be in touch when..."
Fresno clammed up as the old bartender shuffled up to their booth with their drinks, shakily placing them on the table.
Fresno grabbed a ten off his pile and started to hand it to the old woman, when an oily voice from behind made him freeze.
"Let me get this round, Stella," Eddie said handing the bartender a thick roll of bills.
"Go ahead and lock up. And take the back way out."
"Sure thing Mr. Krebs."
Krebs slid into the booth next to Joan. Everyone remained silent while Stella grabbed her coat, dimmed the lights, locked the front door and headed out the alleyway door.
"So, let's get to it," Krebs growled. His hand came up from under the table, a nasty looking .45 automatic in his grip. He pointed it at Fresno's chest.
"I'm just saying this once, Shitbird. I want all the copies of that fucking photo! Oh, yeah and my fucking money, too!"
"When I'm safely out of here," Fresno said calmly. "And her, too." He nodded at Joan. That jig was up. Better try to save both their asses "That's our insurance policy. You leave us alone, we leave you alone. As for the money, let's call it severance pay."
Krebs let out a snort.
"Ha, severance pay. Good one Fresno. Like I'm gonna' let a pissant like you keep leverage over me. That just ain't gonna' happen."
Krebs glanced quickly over at Joan, his gun still on Fresno.
"And what do you have to say for yourself?"
"She doesn't know anything!" Fresno barked. "Leave her out of this! You harm either one of us and that photo goes public. The FBI will be up your ass in no time!"
"The FBI" Krebs laughed manically. "You really are a funny guy. The fix is in Junior. I own the goddamn FBI in this town!"
Krebs grabbed Joan's upper arm. "Well baby, anything to say?"
Joan looked down at the table. "A lawyer named O'Connell has one, and there's one in his safe deposit box."
She looked up at Fresno almost sadly.
"I'm sorry, Fresno. I really am. You're a sweet guy, but Eddie and I have a history."
Fresno sat there, speechless and stunned, as if a slug from Eddie's .45 had blown a Frisbee-sized hole through his chest.
"Well," Eddie said grinning as he stood up from the booth, pulling Joan out behind him. "Looks like a visit to this lawyer will wrap everything up. He'll have access to the safe deposit and we'll have access to him. As for you, well, you were shot breaking and entering. Adios douche bag."
A deafening roar filled the bar. Fresno stared in shock as the top of Eddie's head sprayed out across the room onto the countertop of the bar. Eddie wore a toupee? Who knew?
Joan dropped to her knees screaming as she cradled Eddie's lifeless body. Behind, from the back of the bar, stood Stella, a pistol grip shotgun in her right hand. With her left she reached into her jacket pocket pulling out an ID holder. She casually flipped it open showing her badge and credentials to Fresno.
"Mr. Krebs was mistaken," Stella said, her voice having lost most of her smokers' rasp. "He doesn't own the goddamn FBI in this town."
Stella pulled off her white bouffant wig. Jeez, does everyone around hear wear a piece, Fresno thought. Then he looked closer and the recognition came to him.
"That photo would put him and a lot of other people away for a long, long time."
"Now, Loverboy," she said pointing the shotgun at Fresno. "Let's go get that photo."
Lee Hammerschmidt is a Graphic Designer/Writer/Songwriter/Troubadour who lives on the fringe of Portland, Oregon, where he is diligently practicing to become a professional bowler. He has a long way to go. His work has appeared in several obscure publications and websites, as well as a community newspaper where he once worked as an Obituary/Engagement/Wedding Announcement writer.