Amberville - Chapter one

The water is like an experienced lover, caressing me gently as I stand still. It soothes me, washing away the pain, the regrets, the sorrow that is my life. It's an elixir after a hard day's work, a balm for all the aches. I would've stayed in the shower all night long, if it weren't for the sound of those frail arms pounding on my door.

I wished them away, this intrusion on my privacy. I knew what it would be. The landlady reminding me rent was due. The young girl from 201 asking me if I’d seen her kitten. Mrs Gladys trying another one of her schemes to get me in her pants. A salesman or a debt collector perhaps. I let the banging continue. Whoever it was would figure I was asleep or stone drunk and just give up and walk away. I decided to let them bang away at the door. They'd give up sooner or later. They all do.

"I know you're in there. Please open up. It's me."
That voice. I knew I was in trouble at that moment.

I stepped out of the shower, wiped myself dry hurriedly and put on some pants. The banging on the door continued. I imagined her reading my name over the door on the other side, with the words 'Investigative Consultant' italicised under it. Fancy title. Doesn't mean shit. Barely pays the bills. But a fancy title, nonetheless. A hell of a lot better than 'Private Detective.'
I opened the door. She stood there, just the same as I'd seen her last. Heck, even the same yellow skirt, if I recall correctly. Her hair was a mess, her eyes red. She's been crying. Her slim hands were wrapped around a travel bag that was obviously too heavy for her.
"What is it, Carla ?"

She rushed in, dropped the bag ,turned and locked the door, her frantic actions reminding me more of a cartoon character running around leaving gusts of smoke as she sped around.
I grabbed her as she finally slowed down to peer out the peephole.
"What the hell is going on, Carla ? "
"They killed Nick."
She broke down, sobbing. That struck me. Not the words per se, but her tears. I'm a sucker for a wet-eyed girl, my mom always used to say. I can’t help it. I can’t stand to see a woman cry. Any woman. And Carla was not just any woman. Involuntarily, my eyes went down to her familiar heaving chest as she sobbed.
"Not now." I chided myself. I focussed on her words instead as she spoke. She and her husband had come back from the movies to find a man ransacking the house. There'd been a gun involved. Nick had been shot. The guy'd come after Carla, but she managed to escape.

"How did you outrun him ?" I asked.
" I didn't. I could see he was gaining on me, so at the turn from Twine street, I just hopped into the alley and hid behind the dumpster. He just ran on past."
"That was smart thinking." I'd have to remember that place. These little things can come in handy in my line of work.
“Oh God. I don't know what to do. Nick's dead and I'm so lost and you're the only one I could think of to turn to in this situation." She once again fell into my arms, sobbing. I smelt her hair, old memories falling into place and sighed. This was gonna get complicated.

Let's me be honest here.
I never liked Nick Pemberton. He was a douche bag. He was rich, snobby, the kind of guy who wore cufflinks and had one of those high class, underfed mice masquerading as dogs. Plus, he stole my gal. He'd met her when he's come by the store she worked in, looking for the new French perfume; the one that smelt like jasmines on marijuana. I don't blame her, really. She's a good girl, my baby, but naive as a newborn puppy. She lived in that dream world where people are all kindred souls and men laugh at your jokes because they’re interested in your mind, not your body. He worked his college degree charms on her and persuaded her into sharing a cup of coffee and cookies during her next coffee break. She wouldn't have dreamt twice of cheating on me, this ol' girl of mine mind you, but times were tough for us back then. I was strugglin' just to make ends meet, working 20 hour shifts to pay the bills and save a bit for the wedding. You do all this and then you come back to a girl who spends all the time in bed, going on and on, telling you about the lifestyles of the rich and the snooty and it gets to you after awhile. The fights grew, my ego intervened whenever sanity tried to force a plea bargain and before you knew it, she needed time to think.

Of course, that silver-spoon-up-his-ass vulture Nick was there, the white knight for the troubled princess. Long story short - they fell in love, got married and lived happily ever after. Weirdly enough, with time, we overcame our differences . It’d be a stretch to say I and Nick became friends though. I tolerated Nick for her sake.. I guess he had the harder role being the husband and watching his wife remain friends with the guy who'd taken her to bed for so many years. Tough luck, asshole.

The detective in me stirred. "Did you see the guy who shot him ?"She shook her head. “It was dark. He had one of those ski masks on. Plus he wore this really heavy coat so I couldn't make out any features." "Are you sure you can't think of anything that can help? Come on. Think harder."
She shook her head again. I let out a huge sigh. She must have figured I was getting frustrated and the tears started again. "Oh Carla. Don't worry. I'm here. I won't let anyone hurt you. Everything's gonna be allright." Everything's gonna be allright!! How lame was that?
She hugged me again, lingering this time a while longer. Old memories stirred within me. Oh man.
I kissed her on the forehead as we parted slowly. We stared at each other. The part of my brain marked sanity was screaming warning bells of disapproval. I needed answers though before this train reached the point of no return.
"Do you have any idea what the killer wanted?" I asked, more to break the moment than anything else.

She looked down at her sandals. Blood stained, I noted. I knew that look. That I've-been-a-bad-girl look. Years ago, I found that a turn on. What can I say? She did that to me. Back then, a lot of what she did turned me on.
She nodded.
"What is it?" I asked.
In reply, she turned around and walked to the bag she's been carrying around. Dragged it forward and opened it.
I always found it funny how unlike all the other good things in life, money has no smell. It's just paper in the end and yet, it has such a senseless hold over you that no woman's scent could compete with. Any dame thinking otherwise was just kidding herself. Out here in Amberville, dames were yours for a cheap beer and a roof over their head for the night. Money – well, money owned you. And this bag was filled to the brim with it.
An even 20 million, I figured, on a rough estimate.
"You guys were planning on leaving town or something?”
She sniffed. "It's stolen money."
"You guys stole money? You two?!! From who?”
There it was again, that downward gaze at her feet. "Salvatore" she whispered.

I tried to look impassive. Every private dick worth his money should have a straight face, immobile in the presence of revelations. It adds to our aura.
"Let me get this straight" I asked, my voice, calm as ever. "You stole from Salvatore, the head of the city's underworld?”

Damn. Just when you think you know a girl.

The story continues at...
Amberville - The End



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