The fog off the bay was so thick that I was tempted to open a window and try to carve off a piece to spread on my fifty cent bagel that was more fit to be seagull bait than it was my lunch, but that was life in San Francisco. The fog played hell with honest businessfolk trying to make it back to their offices, with police detectives staking out the lowlifes who infested the city and ate away at it like the rot on the wall of my apartment, and all around made life a nuisance for anyone with anything important to do.
I, for good or bad, didn't. Hadn't for a couple of months, which is why I was trying to choke down the last of a bagel with a cup of day-old swill that may once have resembled coffee. When you're sucking on the government tit and not having much result, that taxpayer money milk can dry up real fast. That's the thing the suits never told me when I was signing enough papers to account for a small forest. I'd thought I'd gotten a real sweet gig, back then. One of the SFPD's best and brightest beat cops, ready for promotion to detective. Then the chief of police himself invited me in to a meeting with himself and some folks from Washington, who say they have a once-in-a-lifetime deal for me. I could become my own seperate agency, working partly as a private firm, partly as law enforcement in my own right. I'd be like that racket that J. Edgar Hoover's got going, but working more like the police, just without jurisdictional and interdepartmental hassle. If everything went well, I'd get to pick a few flunkies and they'd put me in a bigger office. So I signed over with them, left the force with pats on the back, and waited for my ship to come in.
I snorted as I once more read the words that I could see stenciled on the glass of my office door. They were reversed, sure, but I had them memorized. "ACME Detective Agency." Below that, "Det. Arthur Finder" sat there mocking me in smaller print, reminding me how proud I'd felt when that was put on. You see, it seems that my ship was actually a rotten dingy full of holes. I had a combination office and living space that usually had hot water, as long as no one else in the building was using it. I got enough per month for bread, beer, and peanuts but not much more. My biggest perk was a government phone line. No more dime calls for me! To be honest, that was the main reason I stuck with it through the months of nothing. Sure, I didn't have much family to call, but there was always the chance that some dame would give me her number. Still, the last time I'd had any contact from the G-men above me was "good luck, we'll be in touch soon" when I had moved in, and I was restlessless. I'd read the paper twice already, and was considering giving in to boredom and attempting the crossword puzzle, when a soft rapping echoed from that frosted glass panel. I looked up, and the silhouette on the other side made me stand up and take notice. I straightened up my desk and scrubbed my face with my hands, and then called out, "Come in."
The broad who opened the door had the figure the glass had hinted at and then some, with curves that could make me break my neck if she were to walk by me on the street. Her skin had that natural tan of Mediterranean blood, and her scarlet dress with black fur accents left just enough to the imagination to make me want to buy her dinner before knowing her name. Her hat matched her dress, with a black lace veil hanging down in front of her face. Her crimson lips curved into a slight smile as I stood behind my desk, and we stood there in silence for a moment as I got the sense that she was looking me over as thoroughly as I had her.
"You are Detective Arthur Finder?" she purred.
"I sure am. How can I help you?" I replied, trying to recall every bit of manners I'd ever learned.
"Oh, you already have. I imagine you will in the future, as well." She chuckled once, quietly, to herself, before continuing. "It was a pleasure to meet you, Detective. It'll be a shame when we have to meet again." Reaching into her small black velvet handbag, she pulled out a plain white business card and handed it to me. Turning her back, she walked out the door, and to my befuddled male brain even the sound of her heels on the chipped hardwood floor sounded sultry.
Shaking my head at the crazy turn the day had taken, I sat back down and looked at the card the chickadee had brought me. "C. Sandiego, Relocator" is all it said, inscribed in gold ink with plenty of flourishes. Smiling bemusedly, I tucked it into a little sleeve of my battered leather wallet. It'd make a good memory, if nothing else.
That was when the phone rang, and when I truly met Ms. Carmen Sandiego.
(to be continued...)