I was sitting in my office with my new client. Once she had put her glove back on — it had been strangely distracting — I got out my notebook and started to get her story. Her name was Natalie Taylor and she had moved here to LA from a small town up north to pursue a career as a fashion model. It was slow at first and she had to make due with odd jobs until she made it into some freelance sessions. Last year I got into one of the big agencies and started making decent money. Life was good until last Tuesday.
“I woke up and noticed that my pajamas didn’t have me in them. I thought it was a dream so I took a shower to wake myself up completely. I didn’t really believe it till I walked into the kitchen and Greta fainted.”
“Greta?” I asked.
“Greta Hindemith. We share an apartment over on Green Bough Avenue. She’s been a good friend through all of this. Once she got used to the fact that she wasn’t dreaming anymore than I was, she did her best to cheer me up. She called in sick — she’s a stenographer — and she stayed with me all day. We kept retracing my steps, everything I did the previous day, but could think of nothing I did, or ate, or anything.”
“Miss Taylor,” I interrupted, “before we get much further I need to ask you something. Why did you come to me?”
“My roommate had heard your name. She works for some lawyers who said you were good at solving tough mysteries.” Funny I don’t recall any friends in the legal arena. More often they were threatening me with action when I stretched a few rules. I never broke any serious laws, usually, but when the need arises my clients always come first. Still it was nice to know someone out there respected me.
“No”, I continued, “I mean why a detective at all. This could be some … science phenomena or something like that.” I wasn’t in the habit of turning away customers. Like I said, I got bills to pay. But this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I felt like a fish on the sand.
“The story.” She said, “I had read something in a magazine about some gangsters who stole an invention, a machine. They were trying to become … like this.” She gestured to her face but I still couldn’t see much through the veil. I’d have to put some back lighting in the room. I’d have to check with my sources down town about this invention idea. It sounded like a fiction but at the moment anything felt possible.
“So you think someone purposely did this to you?” I asked. “You don’t even know how it happened. Did you see a doctor?”
“Yes, of course” she replied.
“Well, I didn’t understand it all. He suggested many possible ways it could have happened but at one point he did say something about it not being an accident. Something was added to my blood, he said. He kept asking me if I had taken anything but I hadn’t.”
Returning to what I do best I asked, “Is there anyone who might benefit from this … um … condition?”
She answered without thinking, “Frankie Gibson.” She explained that a rival fashion model named Frankie Gibson was expecting to be picked for something special, the cover of a bridal magazine or something, but Natalie was picked instead. However, when Natalie called in ill, Gibson got the spot.
But as neat and tidy as this sounded as a motive the whole thing seemed too odd. I know from my case histories that there are countless ways to remove a rival. However all of them seem easier than secretly administering some sort of exotic medicine.
“So no one at the agency knows what really happened?” I asked. She nodded.
She added, “The only other person who knows about this is Bradley, my boyfriend. But that’s when things got really bad.”
“How’s that?” I asked adding the name to my notebook.
Her voice started to quiver. I sensed tears were close behind. “I phoned him. I told him that I needed him. He came over right away but…. He saw me. He…” I handed her a handkerchief. In my business they come in handy. It took her a while to get through that part but I got enough to learn that the boyfriend was scared. He panicked and ran out. It made a very strong impression on her.
I waited while Natalie calmed herself. I noticed that when she wiped her tears she was careful to keep her veil over her hand. I’ve often had upset women in that same chair. Bitter wives can be the worst. I do feel something for them but I also know that I can’t get caught up in their emotions. I do better work by maintaining an analytical detachment. My job is to solve mysteries not play therapist.
But sometimes it gets really difficult.
As she collected herself I continued my inquiry. We covered the events of the previous day. She and Bradley had gone to dinner at his yacht club. They ate, danced, and finally he drove her home. She noticed nothing unusual until she woke the next morning. Although she said that she had been dating Bradley for only about two months I could see that she was fairly enamored with him. At least, that is, until Tuesday.
After we had identified all of the key players, she brought up a subject that I usually bring up first at these meetings. Payment.
She took an envelope from her purse and stood up. I stood too hoping to get a better light advantage. I again tried to penetrate the secretive veil but had no luck. I stole a fleeting glance at her clearly attractive legs. Attractively clear legs, I thought. She handed the envelope to me with her slender gloved hand, its magical mystery now hidden.
I almost didn’t hear her. “This is all I have. I haven’t been saving up as well as I should have. How long would this be to keep you on the case?”
I opened the envelope and looked in without removing the contents. Based on my usual fees there was enough there to last one and half weeks not including expenses. And a case that requires research into new territory usually had a lot of expenses.
I smiled politely and said, “This is good for two months, at least. I’ll start first thing in the morning.”