by Trevor Hopkins

It took some time to calm down Clunie, who had seemed to be on the verge of hysteria even before the discovery that the briefcase was missing. While I searched unsuccessfully in the closet, she slumped back into the armchair, weeping inconsolably and hiding her face in her hands. I tried talking to her; dealing with hysterical females is not a particular skill of mine, although it is one I seem to need to practice far too often in this job.

She finally only became rational when I suggested I would investigate Vale's death further, in my professional capacity. It was something I uttered as a palliative, for reassurance, a throw-away remark not intended to be taken seriously. But somehow it struck a chord, some deeper desire or need in her.

She dried her eyes with another paper tissue, added it to the growing pile and then leaned forward over the table. Her pretty face was suddenly still with a determined set to her mouth.

"I want to engage your services," she said calmly, using a surprisingly formal tone of voice.

I nodded and grunted in acknowledgement, unsure how to respond. I briefly imagined that she expected my services to be covered by the money Vale had given me. I was wrong. Instead, she produced a crisply folded fifty dollar bill from between her breasts. It seemed to have been sitting there comfortably. Perhaps she was the kind of girl who gets folding money tucked into her underwear all the time.

"You find out what happened to Merton," she said earnestly, leaning forward still further and pressing the bill into my hand, "He was kind to me. He deserves better."

I took the warm and faintly perfumed note, unfolded it, smoothed it out and looked at it. It seemed I had a new client.

Part 16 Part 18