The girl was trouble. All I could think about Don't need that word. when I saw her was that she was the kind of girl who would either be killed, or get someone else killed, or probably both. She walked into my office with both poise and fear, like she was Russian royalty that had fled the Revolution. There was something aristocratic about her walk, about her stance that made her look like she had either come from old money or at the very least, that she was sleeping with someone who did. There was something hypnotic about the way the streetlights coming through the blinds stabbed her golden satin dress with their shiny blades. Her heels resonated on the hardwood floors, carrying with them echoes of tragedies past and future. This girl sure knew how to make an entrance.
I suggest a paragraph break here.
As she sat on the chair in front of me, I noticed there was something about her that hit me harder than a speeding car hits road kill. Maybe it was the way her hair bounced on her shoulder like a tar cascade; or maybe it was the way her trembling fingers brought a silver cigarette holder to her ruby red lips; or then again, maybe it was the half bottle of gin I’d been drinking throughout the day; but I couldn’t help thinking one thing: The girl was trouble.
“Mister Shore, my name’s Dahlia,” she said in a shaky, uneasy voice. “I’ve been looking to hire someone for some easy gumshoe work, and I heard you were the best, so….”
“Flattery ain’t gonna get you no discount, lady,” I said, interrupting her feeble attempt at sweet talking me. “We both know I ain’t been in business long enough to have earned even a semblance of reputation. You’re here because I charge half of what the others will charge you, and that Don't need that either. despite your best efforts to look like you’re as rich as them silver screen starlets, I’m all you can afford. Ain’t I right?”
“Maybe you are,” replied Dahlia, obviously annoyed. “Do you always treat potential clients like they aren’t worth your time?”
“Not my fault that most of them ain’t,” I answered matter-of-factly. I don't trust that "ain't" right there.
She smiled, but it was a pained and forced smile. It looked like the corner of her lips were crimson blades cutting through her powdered cheeks. Something told me it was more than my bluntness that was making her uneasy. You like blades a lot, I can see. First rays of light, now red lips.
“I wouldn’t exactly call that a smart business strategy, Mr. Shore,” said Dahlia.
“Why do you think I’m the cheapest PI in the phonebook lady?” I said, smirking. “And please, call me Volkner. It's nine o’clock Miss Dahlia; it’s too late in the evening to give a damn about being polite.” You type out numbers lower than ten, hence "nine o'clock" over "9 o'clock."
“Well, since I’m paying you, maybe you could make an effort,” she said dryly.
“You ain't paying me yet, lady,” I said. “I haven’t agreed to take your case, and so far, you haven’t given me a whole lot of incentive.”
“Well, maybe the general mess your office is in, the smell of alcohol coming off of you in waves, and the fact that you look like you’re wearing days old clothes are putting me off,” she answered back defiantly. Don't need that "that."
The girl was trying hard to act the part of the capable, independent woman, but something was off. Behind her cracking porcelain mask, she definitely looked like she had something on her mind that was eating her up, like a cancer, devouring her from the inside. Doubt you need the comma. I shook my head and picked up a cigarette from the pack lying on the corner of my cluttered desk. After lighting it up and bringing it to my lips, I locked eyes with hers through the swirls of smoke.
“Listen, lady,” I told her, “you can either be straight with me, and that means dropping the tough girl act, or you can walk out that door. I got no time and no desire to go running around the city if you ain’t gonna be honest here.”
At first, I could see she was pondering whether or not to leave my office, but she soon started rummaging through her lavender purse. She pulled out a few pieces of paper. As I laid my cigarette in an already overflowing ashtray, I opened the messages and started to read them.
“They’re threats I’ve found in my mailbox,” said a shaken Dahlia, whose mask was beginning to crumble. “This guy knows where I live and, I mean, you can see the stuff he wrote in there. I just don’t feel safe anymore.” Don't trust the "I mean" part.
“You’re an actress?” I asked. “The author mentions seeing you on stage.”
“Well, yes, among other things,” she answered. “Ever since I was a young girl, I dreamt of being a star. So I packed my bags at seventeen thinking I’d make it big instantly. Started out as a waitress in a cocktail lounge, but as soon as the owners found out I could sing, they put me...."
“Which lounge would that be exactly?” I asked, interrupting her meaningless drivel. I was captivated by the letters, all of them written in some sort of red ink, though , it felt too bright to be blood. Don't need the comma. Also, The calligraphy of the author was strangely unequal, as if the tool he used to write varied in width and weight while he wrote the letters. I heard Dahlia as she continued her sob story, barely listening to her. There was something wrong about the letters, something that didn’t feel true. I couldn’t help but feel that the letters were staged, that they were hiding something. One thing was for sure; they didn’t feel like the work of an axe-wielding maniac.
“Sorry, what lounge was it again?” I asked, hoping she wouldn’t catch on to the fact that I hadn’t listened to her babbling.
“The Tricorn,” she said, obviously feeling more and more relaxed as she realized she wasn’t alone with her secret anymore. “It’s named after a hat or something. You know it?”
Did I know it? Everybody who was anybody in this town knew about the Tricorn. Every night, Don't need the comma. all of the shakers, movers, politicians, and even the kings of the underworld, went there. Felt that the syntax was off. Any man, whether he was downtrodden or had as much gold as Fort Knox, was welcome as long as he wore a tie, a suit and didn’t make any waves. In a city like this one where there was crime at the end of every dark alley and vice on each street corner, it was the one place where everyone played nice, a no man’s land of sorts. This girl’s life was getting more and more colourful by the minute.
“Now I’ve got one more question to ask you, Miss Dahlia, and I need you to be truthful,” I warned her. “Why haven’t you gone to the police with this?”
“I got a gig,” she said. “I was cast in a picture by a well-known director, Pryce Winters -- perhaps you know of him.”
“You mean the Pryce Winters?” I asked, incredulous. “As in the one who directed Mahogany Blues? You’ve been hired by Stone Cold Pryce?”
“Yeah, anyway it hasn’t been announced yet,” she whispered, Colored bit seems off with rest of the sentence. “but he’s famous for not being very tolerant with the problems of his actors. If he knew something like this was happening to me, he might think I wasn’t worth the trouble to hire.”
“That’s all I need to know?” I asked her.
She nodded in agreement, but I didn’t buy it. Seems unnecessary. There was still something she hadn’t told me, still a part of her she’d kept secret. Now, there are two kinds of secrets: the kind that doesn’t get you killed, and the kind that does. I hoped whatever she was too scared to tell me wasn’t the latter.
“Very well, Miss Dahlia,” I said getting up. “I’ll look into this, and in the mean time, go on about your business as usual. Just leave your info with my secretary. She’s the one you deal with regarding payment and all.”
She smiled at me and this time, it wasn’t the smile of an actress trying to smile. Repetitive, that. This one was a real smile, one that could light up an entire room like the skies on the Fourth of July. She removed her right purple glove and shook my hand. As she did, I noticed a very intricate ring on her finger. Both the ring's design and ornaments felt very foreign, almost ancient. I couldn’t help but wonder how a struggling cabaret artist could afford such an obviously expensive piece of jewelry, but I kept the thought to myself. The girl was a mystery, and obviously intended to stay so.
After shaking her hand, I sat back in my wooden chair and tried to make sense of those letters. I must have read each one a hundred times, trying to find a clue, trying to find something that could help me. Each read confirmed my first impression, that this wasn’t the work of a mad man or an obsessive fan. They felt meticulous, they had a clear goal, and that goal was to inspire fear in my client -- but to what end?
After a while, I was brought back to reality by the sound of a white ceramic mug being delicately placed on my cold wooden desk. Unnecessary adjectives. I could smell the bitter aroma of freshly made coffee emanating from it. I looked up to find my secretary, Jasmine, standing there, her arms crossed across her waist and a worried look on her face.
“Did you open a file for Miss Dahlia?”
She shyly nodded. Jasmine was always very quiet and never said much. I could tell it was very hard for her to even talk to me, let alone clients. It was like she always feared she was Unecessary words. making a mistake, even though she was one of the most competent person I’d ever met.
“What about the payment?” I asked.
“She left a down payment to cover the investigation fees,” she said quietly, in a barely audible whisper, “and I’ll run her credit with the bank tomorrow.”
I smiled and thanked her. I watched her turn around and make her way to the door, her long brown hair and her white day dress floating behind her. She stopped at my office’s door and looked back at me. I could see in her eyes that she wanted to say something, but she seemed very much afraid to.
“Jasmine, can you stay a minute?” I called her.
“Yes, Mr. Shore,” she answered, in her usual quiet voice. Unecessary comma.
“We’ve been working together here at Lighthouse Investigations for about a year, right?” I asked her. “During that time, I’ve never made you feel like you couldn’t tell me something, did I?”
She shook her head, indicating that she tacitly agreed with my question.
“So, what is it?” I asked, trying my best to wear a smile that just wouldn’t come.
“I just…” she started, stopping herself in hesitation before continuing. “I… I wanted to say that I think you should go home tonight and not…”
“…stay in the office and drink myself into oblivion for a third straight night, is that it?” I asked calmly but sternly, before adding in a softer tone, “Look, I appreciate the concern, sweetie pie, but this ain’t an easy week for me, and my Beefeater friend here is helping me get through it more or less in one piece.”
“Is it because of Flint?” she asked, genuinely concerned.
“Look, I ain’t looking for a heart-to-heart right now,” I answered back, a little sterner than I'd intended. “We’ve got a case, we solve it. That’s all I need you for.”
As soon as the words left my mouth, I realized they were much harsher than I ever intended them to be; before I had a chance to apologize, she had already run out the door. Alone again with my thoughts, I decided to push away the cup of coffee and pour myself a glass of gin. Why’d she have to mention Flint? I was doing well since Dahlia walked into this office. I had a case, I was getting into it, and I had something to keep my mind off of… Flint. But now that he was on my mind, there was a fire in my throat and every cell in my body urged me to drink the contents of this glass to douse the flames. I drank one glass, then two, then enough liquid to extinguish a forest fire. And it still wasn’t enough to forget him. I plunged my hand into my shirt pocket, the one over my heart, and pulled out a grainy and ruffled picture.
You could tell it had been through a lot from the folded corners and the tiny tears around some of the borders. It was a macabre token of a grim past I couldn’t outrun, and yet, it also felt like my most precious possession I had. Unnecessary words. Not that I owned anything of any real value, but this tiny piece of paper felt important. On it, there were two guys. Even though the picture was in black and white, I still felt that every time I put my gaze upon it, I could still see the scene. My unkempt strawberry blond hair next to his fiery curls, both of us wearing our blue uniform for the first time, and then there was his laughter. God, his thunderous and contagious laughter still resonated in my ears. That had been the day we both joined the police. The day he died in front of me, about a year ago, was the day I left the force. Ain’t no use being a cop and protecting people if I couldn’t protect my own partner.
Unable to get the images of that night out of my mind, I crushed the picture in the palm of my hand and threw it across the room. I could still feel him dying in my arms, shaking as he took his last breath. The last face he’d ever see was the one of his partner who couldn’t protect him, who couldn’t do anything but hold him as he died.
I must have cried myself to sleep as I woke up by the phone ringing. I turned on my desk light and glanced at the clock on the wall. Who the hell would call me at two in the morning? With a trembling hand and a head that was spinning more than a rollercoaster, I picked up the phone. I could hear a vein bouncing in my temple and a distraught voice on the other end of the line.
“Mr. Shore? It’s Dahlia, are you there?” said the voice. I had barely recognized it because it was full of fear and genuine panic. She started speaking faster and sounding increasingly frantic. “I was attacked just now outside of my apart --”
Just as she said those words, the line was cut. The panic stricken voice of my client made way to the monotone droning of a hung telephone. There was nothing but silence, as if I was waiting for someone to give me the order to go save the girl I'd sworn to protect. Even though I was barely able to walk a straight line, I ran out of the office, barely taking the time to pick up Dahlia’s address in Jasmine’s file and grab my hat and raincoat.
Suggesting another paragraph break right here.
As I climbed down the stairs and nearly tripped a few times, I couldn’t shake off the feeling of sheer terror that Dahlia’s call had instilled in me. I burst onto the street and found it damp. It was as if a tidal wave had swept through the city and turned the concrete streets into wetlands. Braving the nightly drizzle, I jumped into my car and sped through the ebony labyrinth of darkened streets. Still dizzy from the gin, it suddenly felt like the surrounding obsidian landscape was about to swallow me whole.
As I reached my destination, a shady three-story building in a shady neighbourhood, I double-parked the car and opened the leathery glove box to get my gun. You repeated "shady" twice. I found the building’s door unlocked.
Another paragraph break, I think.
As I ran up the stairs, my heart was pounding like it wanted to break free of my ribcage. After reaching her floor, I slowly made my way through the darkened corridor, shadows enveloping me in a shroud of anonymity. Tightening my grip on my revolver in one hand, I used the other to slowly turn the coppery doorknob and push open the door to my client’s apartment. As I made my way through the tidy and small apartment, I could feel the darkness and silence surrounding me. I traveled through the poorly furnished living room and the adjacent kitchen, my damp raincoat dripping on the white ceramic tiles. As I stood before Dahlia’s bedroom door, I took a deep breath, not knowing what I’d find on the other side. The beginning clauses of all these sentences are a tad distracting.
As I pushed open the door, nothing could have prepared me for the sight I was about to witness. On the bed, amongst bloody sheets, my client lay naked, lifeless, with a look of utter terror forever stamped on her face. She’d been carved up like a turkey on Thanksgiving. Triangular pieces of her flesh had been folded around her stomach, like a sickly flower with petals made of flesh and fat. Amongst her exposed intestines, I could see something that didn’t belong, a lone flower -- a dahlia with blood stained petals.
To be continued...