It was a Monday morning. I sat in my office and smoked a cigarette while drinking coffee. The coffee was bitter, much like I was feeling.
I was reading the newspaper since I didn’t have much to do that morning. The New York Giants had just won the World Series. I didn’t much care for baseball, but there wasn’t anything else going on in the city.
As I read, I could hear footsteps coming down the hallway towards my door. They were light and sharp, like short heels would make. A silhouette appeared behind the window in the door as I saw it open.
A girl walked in, wearing a brimmed hat and green, woolen suit. She had light brown hair and was young – she couldn’t have been older than eighteen. She closed the door and walked towards my desk, holding her purse strap with both hands.
“Are you Edward Whitney?”
I shook my head. “That’s me.”
“My name is Sarah Goodman. I was wondering if I could speak with you.”
“What about exactly?” I replied.
“I’d like to discuss hiring you.”
“Protection from what?”
“I think someone is trying to have me killed,” she said.
“Do your parents know you’re here?”
“My parents are dead.”
I shifted in my seat and looked at the girl standing in front of my desk. She didn’t look like she was pulling my leg at all.
I motioned to the chair on her left. “Have a seat. Coffee?”
“None for me, thank you.”
As she sat in the worn-out chair, I folded up the newspaper and moved it over next to my coffee cup. I took a quick draw from my cigarette and leaned back in my chair. The only sound came from the cars on the street below.
“Goodman, you said. That any relation to Goodman Industries?” I asked as I breathed out the smoke.
“Yes. My father owns Goodman Industries. Well, used to own.”
“What can I do for you, Ms. Goodman? You said someone was trying to kill you?”
She drew in a deep breath and looked like she was gathering her thoughts. “Well, things have been so crazy the past few weeks, I’m not sure where to start explaining.”
“Any place is as good as any.”
She took her purse off her shoulder and sat it on the floor next to her feet.
“I suppose my parent’s death is a good place. 2 weeks ago, they were coming back from a party at a friend’s house in Muir Beach. But they never came home that night and the next morning the police called and said they found the car flipped over in a ditch. My mother and father were both dead inside. The police think the brakes went out and my father lost control when the car sped down a hill. But I don’t think it was an accident.”
“Last month, my father had the car taken in for maintenance. I was curious and went to speak with the mechanic. He said he couldn’t remember there being anything wrong with the brakes. He couldn’t remember there being anything wrong with the car at all in fact.”
“That’s not much to go on if you’re saying they were murdered.”
“I know, but in the past 2 weeks I’ve felt like I’m being followed. When I’m driving around town, I’ve noticed the same car each time. And men seem to be trailing me on the street. You see, I was supposed to be with my parents that night, but I came down with a cold that morning and couldn’t go with them. I think someone expected me to be dead with my parents and when they found out I wasn’t, they’re now trying to finish it. But I don’t know who or why. And that’s what I’m hoping you can find out.”
By the time she had finished her story, I had finished my cigarette. I reached for the pack on my desk and thought about everything she said while singling out another one of the smokes. I stuck it on the edge of my lips and lit it with my lighter. The flame was hot against my hand.
“Cigarette?” I asked.
“No, thank you, I don’t smoke.”
I tossed the lighter onto my desk. It made a short thud as it hit the wood.
“Why don’t you go to the police with this?”
“I did,” she replied, “but the detective laughed in my face. He said the grief was making me see things and that I needed some rest.”
“Helpful as usual, I see. But how’d you find me? There’s a lot better private eyes all about this city.”
“My maid is Angelica Castillo, if you remember her. She said you were one of the detectives that solved her brother’s murder. She said you helped her when nobody else would. That you solved the case people said was unsolvable.”
“I got lucky on that case.”
“She doesn’t think it was luck.”
I looked across my desk at her. She looked right back at me. I felt like she was serious about every word she said.
“You’re sure about all this? Your folks being murdered? Someone trying to kill you?”
“Mr. Whitney, I know how what I’m saying sounds like. I assure you I’ve repeated it in my own mind a thousand times. But I wouldn’t be here wasting your and my time if I wasn’t sure about it.”
I leaned forward and sat the cigarette in the half-full ash try. I had started cases on less, but no one had ever asked for anything like this. Most of my jobs were missing family members and finding out if a husband was cheating on his wife. Still, my gut said she was telling the truth, and she looked like she needed any sort of help. I also couldn’t say no to a job that paid good money.
“My rate is 15 dollars up front, then 8 dollars a day plus expenses after that. And that’s even if I don’t find anything. Can you do that?” I asked.
She sat up in her seat.
“Does that mean you’ll take my case?”
“Yea, I’ll take the case.”