It was just after ten in the morning and I sat at my desk, typing up the expense account from my latest case. It was raining outside, the kind of rain that makes a man think about all the mistakes he’s made in his life. I should’ve had the salad for lunch yesterday instead of the hot dog and nachos, I thought, at this rate I’ll never slim down in time for the Autumn Pumpkin Festival. The kind of rain that makes a man think about what a fatty he is.

I put out my cigarette in the ashtray and just as I was lighting another one the door burst open and a dame walked in. And what a dame. Lips and dress and fingernails all the colour of freshly sprayed blood. Hair wavy and black as drunken midnight. And legs that wouldn’t quit. They must have took a coffee break, though, because she sat down across from me.

I handed her a cigarette and lit it for her. “You’re here about the cat,” I said, not really a question. I’d never met her before, but I had a gut feeling she was involved in the case I was now neck deep in. She stared at me for a long time before answering, taking long slow drags of her cigarette. I don’t know how many minutes we stared into each other’s eyes, but it felt like an eternity. I could have stared for a lot more eternities into those green eyes. Infinity eternities, maybe.

Finally she answered me. “Pardon me?” and coughed on some smoke.

“The cat,” I repeated as I lit her another cigarette, “you’re here about the cat.”

She nodded. “I saw your ad,” she wheezed, in the breathy way only the young, rich, sexy ones from this crazy town can wheeze, “and I just had to come right over.” She gave me a look so thick with meaning I could’ve taken a bite out of it. I would have, too, but I was being conscious of my waistline because of that goddamned pumpkin dance. “I just had to come see if you’d really found him. If you’d really found my little Ginger Snaps.”

“I found him alright.” I stood, walked around to the other side of the desk and sat on the corner. I lit her another cigarette. Looking down at her from this angle she looked like the kind of broad you‘d marry and take home to mama. Marry and take home to mama all night long. “Two nights ago, when I was walking home from the bar.” What a noir night that had been. All rain and sirens and steam coming out of sewer grates. The whole bit. “Plucky little orange and white thing, cute as they make ‘em. Meows like a sonofabitch before bed if he doesn’t get his saucer of milk.”

Her eyes lit up, much like the cigarette I was now lighting for her. “Yes! That’s him!” She jumped up and for a moment it seemed like she was about to leap into my arms, but instead she started coughing violently and shaking. She coughed up some sticky clumps. It wasn’t terribly ladylike, but it wasn’t altogether unladylike, and I retained my prominent erection.

When her coughing fit was over she asked me if she could have him back now. “Not so fast, dollhead,” I said as I lit her cigarette, “there’s still the matter of my expenses. I had him for two days, with meals and gas that’s a hundred and twenty-three dollars. But I’ll round it to an even one twenty because I like your mug.” She was drinking coffee from a really cute mug that said ‘I’M A ZOMBIE WITHOUT MY MORNING COFFEE’ and there was a funny drawing of a cartoon zombie on it.

“A hundred and twenty dollars!” she fumed, “Expenses? Why would you have needed gas if you found him walking home from the bar?”

“Wait, cats don’t take gas?” I had to think about that for a moment while I lit her a cigarette. “That would explain why he wouldn’t let me fill him up. Okay, let’s make it fifty then, to cover the cost of getting the carpet cleaned over there where there was a big poop this morning.”

“Alright,” she said, counting out the bills from her purse, “thank you for finding him, and I’m sorry he pooped on your carpet.”

“I didn’t say he pooped on the carpet,” I said, taking the money, “but the fact remains it needs to be cleaned.”

I got bold, all of a sudden. I stopped in the middle of lighting her another cigarette, grabbed her around the waist, pulled her close to me and kissed her, hard, on the mouth. She resisted a little at first, then she melted into it, like butter. Then, like that same butter after being put into the fridge, she stiffened again, then softened yet again, like the butter had now been put into a microwave oven. Damn I was hungry. The kiss was long. I’d never kissed like that, or ever before. Finally she pulled away. She slapped me. She tried to slap me again, but I caught her hand and put a cigarette into it and lit it.

“I do believe that was wildly inappropriate,” she glared at me with eyes like cigarette smoke.

“Don’t worry about it, toots. Frails like you are a dime a dozen in this lousy town,” I rummaged around in my desk drawer, pulled out her cat and tossed him to her. “Now turn that tail outta here, I gotta go to church.” She stormed out of my office in a huff. Dames like her have made storming out of places in a huff into an art. I sat down, lit myself a cigarette and poured myself a drink.

Another case closed. It wouldn’t be long before another one walked in that door. It never was. I poured myself another drink. Maybe even tonight. Cases were trouble, and trouble always had a funny way of finding me. It wasn’t hard, what with my penchant for getting blackout drunk and stealing people’s pets.

Picture by Nyco Rudolph