It was a night like any other night, my office in disarray, lit by the one small bulb overhead, the sounds of Los Angeles drifting through the window with the last glow of sunset like a warm wave on a summer beach. It was the kind of night that seemed to last too long even though it had just begun. I was in the office late trying to find some papers that I thought might relate to the recent cat burglar thefts. I needed the change of pace from the dull routine of following unfaithful husbands or locating lost valuables that weren’t really all that valuable. I didn’t mind working to pay the rent but I could sure use something I could sink my teeth into. The cat burglar wasn’t my case I was following it though the newspapers and some contacts in the police department. It was a whole lot more interesting than my current caseload which was rather light anyway. I sure needed a change.
That’s when she walked into the room. I had been distracted digging through the bottom drawer of my file cabinet so I didn’t here her come in. The first thing that got my attention was her voice, soft and low.
I looked up to see a shapely lady all dressed in black. Here was a real classy dame in a long black dress that hugged her body like rain hugs an overcoat. I couldn’t see her face – she wore a hat and veil – but I could easily imagine a strawberry blonde with big blue eyes. I have a sense about such things.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to startle you. Your door to the outer office was ajar so I just came in.”
I recovered quickly, rose to my feet momentarily and responded politely, “Johnny Drake, Private Investigator. Please, come in have a seat.” I gestured to a wooded chair in front of my desk. “Please excuse the mess,” I said looking around the room, “my filing has gotten out of hand since my secretary … went on extended leave.”
As she sat I couldn’t help but notice her fine figure, even hidden beneath the snug garments. But quickly I experienced a touch of guilt as she was clearly in mourning and here I was watching her like she was some dame in a low class bar. Then again, I thought, a murder case would really help with my back rent. I hadn’t worked a murder case in years. I tried to focus on professional thoughts.
She started to speak, then hesitated. Finally she said, “I don’t know where to begin. It’s all happened so fast. I just don’t know where else to turn.”
“Please, take your time.” I waited and since she didn’t continue I filled the space by adding, “My condolences on your loss.” I detected the faint scent of roses.
“My loss?” she asked distracted from her line of thought.
I paused and tried to think fast. I would have felt a lot more at ease if I could’ve looked her in the eyes but her veil was black as midnight. Funny how it looked flimsy and thin but I couldn’t make out any of her face whatsoever. I figured it must be some fancy new material.
“Oh” she said glancing down at her slender black-gloved hands. “No, I’m not in mourning. It’s just that I …well …” Her sweet voice trailed off.
Feeling the need to prompt her I asked, “has something been stolen.”
“Yes, you could say that. The thing is that, well, I’ve been stolen. Or maybe you’d say I’m missing.”
At the moment I felt that I was missing too. Missing the point that is. So far this lovely lady only spoke in riddles.
“Do you mean you expect to be kidnapped?” I asked.
“Oh, no, nothing like that. It’s more like my face has been stolen.”
Like a spilt shot glass my thoughts came rushing past. I took her to mean some sort of identity theft. That explained the hidden face. Perhaps, I thought, she was someone famous and someone else was impersonating her.
Now feeling on familiar turf, I sat back a little and explained, “In the business we call that Ã¢Â€Â˜identity theft’. Someone else using your face to…”
“Oh,” she interrupted, “no it’s not just my face. My head is gone, my whole body, I’ve … vanished all over.”
I paused and considered my options. Maybe this was a gag. Perhaps Lou, or maybe Fast Eddie, sent her up here. They could be real live wires when they wanted to be. But then again maybe she was some sort of screwball escaped from the local hospital’s mental ward.
Not knowing where to go next in the conversation, I decide to repeat her last words.
“You’ve … vanished?”
“Yes,” she said sounding relieved to have found the right words. “When I look in the mirror I only see empty clothing.”
She sounded so sincere that I had to stop and think. Empty? I starred at her black veil and tried to imagine the view going straight back to her hat. It made me think of those fashion advertisements in the newspaper where they draw the clothing and not the woman.
It then occurred to me that I could not see an inch of this lady’s flesh. Forgetting my attempt at manners I looked her over. The dress had a high neckline hidden by the bottom of the veil and her gloves extended into the sleeves of her dress. I suddenly stood up and looked at her legs below her skirt that ended just past her knees. To my relief she had legs. And not just any legs but shapely legs in stockings and pumps. I triumphantly sat back down. This was no dress floating ghost-like above the ground but a real woman. Now I was sure that she was part of a gag. I’d have to work hard at getting back at Lou, I thought.
I was about to call her bluff, but then I stopped. Something was wrong about the legs. The seams were wrong. I’d seen enough legs in my time to know that the seam goes in back. This was …
Then it hit me. Like the 8:45 tram on a cold November morning, it hit me right between the eyes. I had seen the seams through the stockings.
I stood again to look at her legs but she moved to block the view with her hands. Her gloved hands, I thought. Was it possible?
“Please, Mr. Drake. You’re making me uncomfortable.”
I fell back in my chair. “I’m felling a little uncomfortable myself.” Not knowing what to do next I grabbed the whiskey bottle from the bookshelf next to my desk and opened a drawer to get a glass.
“I’m sorry,” she said with earnest concern in her voice. “I didn’t mean to snap at you. I really am accustomed to being looked at, sometimes even leered at, unfortunately. I’m a fashion model you see.” Then her voice fell. “Well, I used to be a model. But now I’m afraid to have people see me.”
I recovered some of my analytic sense. “And you’re … like that … all over?”
“Yes.” She said with sadness in her voice. She reached for her veil but paused and put her hand back down. “I’d show you but I’m really scared.” Her voice had a slight tremor. “After some of the reactions I’d gotten, I’m extremely shy.”
I drained my glass in one gulp. And starred at her. “Well,” I began, “I don’t want you to feel scared.” I tried to sound reassuring. Yet I felt an overwhelming need to see more. Or, I thought, should it be “to see less”?
we can take it slowly,” she said brightening a little. She held up her left hand, palm forward and with the other hand began to work the buttons at the wrist. She opened it wide to show an empty glove where the wrist should be and then wiggled her fingers a little to demonstrate that her hand was indeed there.
She gave a short but pleasant sounding laugh and said, “I feel like I’m a magician’s assistant.” I smiled, hoping it would put were more at ease. For a moment she forgot her anxiety and dramatically waved her right hand in front of the opening and said “Ta-da!”
After a pause she quietly started to pull at the fingers of her open glove. I watched with a deep fascination, like a teen at his first strip club, as the top of the glove separated from the sleeve that extended just below her elbow. The sleeve looked entirely empty. The glove continued to hang in the air as the shape of a dainty hand moved down its length. It went quickly at the end and her left hand was completely gone. Then, to prove it wasn’t gone. The glove floated out of her right hand and hung in the air over her left sleeve like, well, like a glove held by an unseen hand.
I then realized that I wad been holding my breath and gasped quietly but still a little louder than I would have liked.
This was going to be a very unique case.