The Adventures of Alex Wong: Chapter 1

The day had been longer than Rapunzel’s hair as it streamed down that stone grey tower in ages past.  Napoleon could have fought all of his wars over the course of this goddam day.  It was the lousy customer’s fault.  They’d been scarcer than a hooker when the cops came.  No matter.  It would all sort itself out in the end.

There was a knock at the door.  It echoed around the room like the cries of a child in an empty house.  The door creaked open, its squeak echoing down into the dark recesses of my mind, scaring out the bats of my memories.  It was a dame.

The only dame who ever came in here.

I gestured to her with a flip of my hand.  She came in and closed the door behind her.

“Cleaning, Alex.”

“Hey, Clarice, it’s nice to see you again.”

“Another day without customers?”

“Yeah.”

“Kid, I like you, but your little business here is going to go south.”  She took out the vacuum from the cart behind her and plugged it into the wall.  She flipped with switch, but it was whisper silent.  I watched as she went to work.

Clarice was the only person in the building who really talked to me, except the manager when the rent was due.  She was an older woman, a little heavy, probably in her late 50’s.  She was Hispanic, if that matters.  She told me once she’d used to be a doctor, but quit when the work became too much for her.  She said she couldn’t take another death.

I hadn’t believed her when she’d told me this, and I’d told her as much.  Now, I’m usually polite, but sometimes you just have to call people on their lies.  To prove her point, she’d taken the letter opener off of my desk and given my arm a nice deep cut.  When I woke up, there was a row of neat stitches in my arm.  She doesn’t take any crap, that’s for sure.

She shut off the vacuum and put it back on her cart.  Next she took out the Windex and started cleaning the windows.  My first day here, I’d told her I wanted to dirty them up, give the place a more authentic feel, but she wouldn’t have it.  My eyes were worse than a drunk’s on payday after she’d gotten me with that cleaner.  Persuasive, that woman.

As she finished up, she turned to me and put her hands on her hips.  “Listen, kid.  It’s been almost a month.  I know you’re good for the money, and the manager knows that, too.  But sooner or later you’re going to run out.  And you’re nice.  I don’t want to see you out on the street.”

I leaned over my desk and put my chin in my hands.  “What are you getting at, Clarice?”

“I’m just saying that maybe you’re not cut out for this business.  I bet someone would have called by now if you were.”

I glanced over at my phone.  An old rotary number.  It fit my tastes, and I’m old fashioned, what can I say?

“A call will come.  Just you wait.”

As she walked out the door, she said back to me “Tell me when it does.  I’ll bring champagne.”

And, with a harsh laugh, she was gone.

I loosened my tie around my neck.  I looked at the clock, an old wind-up bit.  Its ticking was the only noise in the room, like the dripping of water in a faucet right after a husband storms out on his wife.  Because he knows she’s right, and can’t get himself to admit it.

“Well, it’s probably about time to call it a day,” I said to no one in particular.  I grasped the arms of my chair.

Ring, ring.

I reached for the phone so fast I bashed my hand against the edge of the desk.  Cursing, I reached for the phone with my right hand as I shook my left.  I picked it up with fingers that were trembling worse than a crackhead going for the third day without his fix.  I spoke as clearly as I could into the receiver, trying to play it cool, to keep the excitement out of my voice:

“Alex Wong, Private Eye.”

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