And here’s a CLIP!
New York, USA.
The waiting room was filled with the sound of muzak – sleepy synthesizers and yawning saxophones. The pastel walls were covered with generic abstract paintings – all splashes, dots and sharp lines – that were probably worth a fortune. The view from the window was terrific, despite the sky being granite grey. The Manhattan skyline was everything it was supposed to be.
Lisi Solitaire checked her reflection in the mirror that hung on the back of the door, knowing that you didn’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Especially with big shot clients like the one she was about to meet. She was pleased with what she saw. She thought she looked as sharp as a razor. Dressed all in black with thick black framed glasses and her head recently shaven she thought he looked more like a successful New York psychiatrist than a struggling private eye, even if her designer threads were all knock offs.
She picked up a magazine from the mahogany coffee table and flicked through it. She was reading an article about whether or not Superman was a scab – how the man of steel’s habit of working for free was reducing the salaries of hard – working cops and firemen- when she heard the cough.
The night before, she’d been playing the celebrity lookalike game with her roommate Dana, who was a dead ringer for ‘Father Of The Bride’ era Martin Short. Solitaire herself, it had been decided, was like ‘Alien 3’ era Sigourney Weaver. When she looked up she saw a more than passable Lauren Bacall lookalike standing in the doorway to her office. Doctor Katherine Howard was elegant, tall and beautiful. Her raven black hair was tied back and her half-moon glasses hung from a chain around her neck. Solitaire guessed that Doctor Howard’s designer clothes were all bona fide. Unlike Solitaire, she was a genuinely successful New York psychiatrist and she could afford the real deal.
‘Ms Solitaire?’ she said in a husky voice that fit the way she looked perfectly.
‘That’s me,’ she said. ‘The only game in town.’
‘Well, I don’t know about that but it certainly seems there aren’t too many female private detectives about these days, I’ll admit,’ said Katherine, with a warm smile.
Katherine held out a perfectly manicured hand.
‘Katherine Howard,’ she said. They shook. ‘Do I call you Antoinette or just Lisi?’
‘Call me anything you like but don’t call me early.’
She winked. Katherine smiled weakly.
‘Sorry, lame line. Most people call me Solitaire,’ she said.
‘Come into my office,’ said Katherine.
This certainly wasn’t the first time that Solitaire had been in a headshrinker’s office. Far from it. In the past, though, the rooms’ design had been anonymous, minimal, Spartan. Devoid of any trace of personality. Much like most of the shrinks she’d encountered, truth be told. But Katherine Howard’s office was different, which led her to believe she was different from those other psychiatrists, too.
On one wall was a large print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and on another a number of framed vinyl album covers – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bessie Smith, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Edith Piaf. There were photographs of Katherine Howard socialising with various celebrities- Al Martino, David Bowie, George Clooney, OJ Simpson. There was a wall length shelf of vinyl albums and book case containing the works of Albert Camus, Dostoevsky and Graham Greene, amongst others. Solitaire realised that this was more of a masculine office than she’d expected.
‘Take a seat please,’ said Katherine.
Solitaire sat in a leather armchair.
‘Nice room,’ said Solitaire. ‘Not what I expected. Not a typical psychiatrist’s office.’
‘Oh, I don’t see my patients here,’ she said. ‘This is my sanctum sanctorum. My dojo. My home away from home. Would you like coffee or tea?’
‘Espresso would be great.’
She went over to a machine and made two death black espressos. Gave one to Solitaire and sat on the edge of the desk.
‘So what can help you with, doctor?’ said Solitaire.
‘Call me Katherine. It’s nothing complicated, really. I just want you to find my husband.’
‘How long has he been missing?’
‘Oh, only a few days. It seems Howard has gone on one of his drinking binges – he does this every now and again- and I need him back here to sign some important papers.’
She handed Solitaire a piece of paper.
‘These are his regular boozing haunts. He’s sure to be at one of them,’ she said.
Solitaire looked at the list.
‘I’m not one to turn down work but why can’t you go? Doesn’t seem that difficult a task, since you pretty much know where he’ll be.’
‘I’m a recovering alcoholic, Mr Solitaire. It would be too much temptation. Especially under such stressful circumstances.’
‘Do you expect it to be stressful?’
‘For sure. You’ll need to use your brain as well as your brawn to drag Howard out of there. You know what, he’s like, right?’
‘I’m sure my husband’s reputation has preceded him.’
‘For sure. He’s a crime fiction writer and a pretty successful one, too. Writers operate by different rules to the rest of us, I expect,’ said Solitaire.
‘Maybe. Or maybe it’s just an excuse for self-indulgence,’ said Katherine.
‘You’d know better than me,’ said Solitaire.
‘Oh, yes,’ said Katherine. ‘So, can I ask you about your name? It’s a tad unusual.’
‘Yes, it’s my real name and yes, before you ask, I am related to Antoine Solitaire. I’m his daughter, for my sins. Which are not as many and as varied as his, of course.’
‘Antoine Solitaire. Well, there was a man who operated by a different set of rules to the rest of us.’
‘He certainly did. For better or for worse.’
‘How long is it since he went missing?’
‘Five years, now.’
‘Do you have any leads on the case?’
‘Nope. There’s not a lot the cops can do short of digging up half of Brooklyn.’
‘Is your mother still alive?’
‘Sure is. She’s alive and kicking ass. Literally. She runs an actual dojo Downtown.’
‘Really?’ said Katherine.
‘Yes. She’s working with some has-been action movie star. Teaching the five fingers of death to the local geriatrics.’
Katherine walked over to the window and black clouds spread like a cancer across the skyline.
‘It’s certainly a life of surprises,’ she said.
Solitaire finished her coffee got to her feet.
‘Well, I’d best get going. I’ve got a long bar crawl ahead of me by the looks of it,’ she said as she looked at the slip of paper that Katherine had given her.
‘It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it,’ she said. ‘I’ll phone you as soon as I’ve found him.’
‘By the way, Howard is a pussycat, even when he’s drunk, but if he’s with Bertie, you’d better be careful.’
‘That wouldn’t be Bertie The Bolt would it?’
‘It would, I’m afraid.’
And so am I, thought Solitaire.