Give the Woman
by John Swan
......."Jezus H. How can
she do that?"
Meg says matter-of-factly, watching the video monitor parked
in a cracked bookshelf across from my desk.
.......I'm warming the squeaky-wheeled
chair behind the desk, my head cranked sidewise for the action
on screen. "Yeah but still..."
.......Meg's barely listening.
She's less than matter-of-fact. Less, even, than bored. Meg's
attitude, her perfect ass gracing the bureau edge just right
of my empty "in" tray, is one of frustration. Bordering
on depression. We're seeing all we'd hoped to see through the
video recorder wired to the hotel room upstairs, but Meg throws
back the heel of Heaven Heather scotch I've poured her as if
this is not a moment to savour. So far our blackmail scam's been
......."What's with you?"
I ask. "I mean, give the woman credit. Who'd have figured
selling real-estate could make anyone so horny?"
......."Well for starters,
the guy on the bottom is her husband."
......."Okay, so there's
no point threatening to tell him. We take the story to the press."
.......Meg shakes that off. "They'd
never run it and she knows it. Sharon Meisels Real Estate is
the busiest agency in the city. Big advertiser." Meg turns
her baby blues my way. "And forget the other two hard-ons.
Before they go home they'll be signing a lease for acres of empty
downtown office space."
.......I should be used to it
by now, but I'm not. Meg learns more in one evening raising funds
for the party machine and local charities than I ever did in
my years as a cop. Maybe you know professional fundraisers as
the minimum-wage losers who interrupt your dinner with a phone
call every night, but the serious coin is turned at fancy-dress
galas. Make a big donation and you may get to screw the flirty
hostess of the charity ball. The hospital gets its new wing,
the hostess gets her twenty per cent, and you get a tax deduction
and your smiley face on the news channel as a public benefactor.
.......Meg trained as a model,
and has gotten good at dressing up these affairs to seem more
than what they are. I'd like to have her out of that game, but
she has expensive tastes. Which is why I now focus my attention
on the other two guys cavorting in the video monitor. "I
don't get it. Why wouldn't we put the squeeze on them?"
......."Because their big
idea is to tap some economic development fund to open the world's
largest, downtown, indoor, miniature golf course. No money there,
and never will be. Meisels will be banging somebody else to rent
the same space within three months."
.......There's our problem. It's
tough to run the fuck-pad shakedown in a town where lawyers,
sales agents and a relay of bank branch-managers make up the
social and business elite. It's starting to look like the only
worthy targets around are the property developers and their city
hall hacks who hustled public monies to restore this old, downtown
hotel. The one with the basement office we're sitting in right
now, watching four contortionists through pinpoint video cameras
and microphones we wired into the few select rooms on the twelfth
floor during renovations, to catch said city elite with more
than their hair down.
.......Understand, Meg pulled
some favours to line me up this house-dick gig when she got wind
of the developers' plans. They took their money out up front,
inflating estimates and diverting materials to other projects.
Easy enough with me in charge of construction-site security.
Money in the air then, enough to grease rooms full of politicos
and still feed several Caribbean bank accounts. But you don't
shake down members of an organization like this unless you want
to be in on the ground floor of their next project. Literally.
......."We've still got
those fifteen minutes of the mayor pulling his pud to the hotel
porn channel," I offer, hoping it might cheer Meg a touch.
......."Who cares? Everyone
knows already he's a whack-off." Meg slides her glass back
to me for a refill. "Since Lewinsky, nobody gives a shit
how some politician blows his chaff. Clinton ruined the entire
public-official blackmail game."
.......For sure. Seems the whole
world's in a footrace to hell these days. Closest Meg and I have
been to a decent boodle was the TV evangelist, The Right Reverend
Elliot T. Roberts. That had looked too perfect. Turned out it
was. All these suburban saints like to go sinning in the
core of a city next door and we had him at it. But instead of
coughing up, Rev. Bob (the bastard) confessed to his wife. They
repented together, on air, and announced plans to adopt the under-age
street hustler Meg and I had hired to seduce the old billy-goat.
Donations to his TV ministry have gone up ten per cent, if I
believe the thank-you note he sent in reply to the stills we
mailed him. We're taping over his footage now.
......."Wish you'd thought
of all this before I put out for the video equipment. This pile
of bricks won't be open long enough to earn back the investment
on gumshoe wages alone." I pour for us both.
.......She smiles, leans back
and gives me a peck on the forehead. "Quit worrying. The
Royal Candu's a landmark. No way city hall will ever let
it close, even if they have to rent all the rooms themselves
to keep it open. And I've got enough pull with the powers-that-be
to keep you peeping through transoms till your arches collapse."
She picks up her glass. "Meantime, we'll just have to think
.......So we go back to watching
the video monitor. The thing that hooks me with Meg is I'm never
quite sure what she'll come up with next, or what I'm likely
to do because I'm with her.
......."You know, this stuff
might have potential. There's a guy in Montreal, Dick Thrill,
might move this sort of product. Has a web-site."
.......She looks back at me over
her shoulder. "You're kidding."
......."I know, I know.
You should see him. Black goatee and moustache. Wrap around shades.
Bald on top with the fringe down over his ears. Leans into the
wind to look like he's going places. Name's a holdover from his
days other side of the lens, before he married and got pudgy.
Call me old fashioned, but I'd guess the name's made up."
.......That earns a smile. "Who's
the clever-dick then?" she says. "But I don't know.
Our camera angles aren't right. We're set up to get faces and
just enough of the action to establish what's going on. Your
Montreal guy will want close-ups. And look at how these bozos
handle the finale. In the porno biz they'd pull out at the end,
for the money shot."
.......I throw back my drink.
Who am I kidding? Savour doesn't suit Heaven Heather. It isn't
anything like single malt. Probably bottled in Japan. "Suddenly
you're the expert?" I say. "Why don't I call Dick in
the morning? Can't hurt to ask."
.......Meg empties her glass
again, shrugs. On the video monitor everyone is signing papers
and toasting themselves with flutes of domestic champagne: an
average business meeting if it weren't four naked people dripping
sweat. I turn the monitor off.
......."Leave the recorder
running," Meg says. "Maybe we can make something out
this." She's out the room before I can pull my hotel blazer
on. Seems they don't make uniforms in 3X.
.......I go downstairs and pass
wind with Dink the aging doorman. Long as Dink can stay on his
day-at-a-time program he gets to cadge tips hailing taxis and
sending guests to out of the way clip-joints. Padded shoulders
and epaulets hide Dink's frailty. He leaves lifting the over-night
bags to Richard or one of the other bellhops. "Share the
wealth," Dink always says, though there's not been much
of it to go round.
.......We compare memories of
street life we've encountered, me once among the city's finest,
Dink formerly a test-tube sample of that street life, until I
spot my main objective, Señor Curratore, stepping onto
pavement for a smoke-break from his shop down the walk.
.......Señor may be the
only sunbeam that shines on our old building, renting a sizeable
chunk of ground-floor space for his large and fashionable beauty
salon. He's from the DR, but to call him a greaser would be impolite,
inaccurate and get you a visit to the dentist taking a sub-let
on the hotel's second floor. Señor could not attract the
tide of blue-rinse, sophisticate-queens that he does if they
found him the teensiest bit oily. There's a rumour he's the illegitimate
cousin of King Juan Carlos. No idea what fuels that.
.......I pull out a cigarette,
wave it his way as I draw near. He lights me up. "You've
been kicking-back to the desk clerk for hourly service in one
of our best guest rooms," I say.
.......He doesn't ask how I know.
"I admit it would be cheaper to lease by the month,"
tobacco smoke trailing out his nose and mouth, "but each
of my clients deserves only the finest. Clean sheets, fresh flowers
and a mint on the pillow, always. For these services, I expect
.......See what I mean? A born
showman and class all the way. And if there's any group has hold
of a buck in this town it's the gay crowd. They know ways to
squeeze Sir John A. till his nose bleeds.
......."But I will say I
have been wondering how long before Mister Hotel Detective arrives
at my door for his cut."
.......That's good; he knows
how these things work. I pitch to his vanity.
......."I'll make it easy.
Stop paying the desk clerk. From now on give me what you gave
him, but you can earn that back. Guy with your talent can make
.......There's a silence he wants
me to fill with details. I tell him about the porno scam, offering
a cut of sales if he lets us film his conquests. Strictly on
the QT, of course, not to upset his clientele, but him in on
it to subtly direct the action toward the cameras.
.......It's my good deed for
what's becoming a pleasant day. The sun shines. Traffic is moderate.
Only car backfire disturbs the pigeons shitting on bench-bums
in the park nearby.
......."The desk clerk,
Anthony, he will be disappointed," Señor says.
......."Anthony's been to
Hotel Management School. He can move on if he doesn't like it
.......Señor pinches the
coal from his thin cigar, turns to open his shop door.
......."You'll have to tell
me sometime," I say, "what you've got in there keeps
you so busy." I point my fag end toward his snug, chartreuse
......."Not to worry,"
he smiles, hitching himself with his free hand. "Your cameras
will not be disappointed."
.......I butt out on the brick
wall and head toward the hotel's brass doors. Dink greets me
halfway. "Qu---quick. Some--some--somebody's been shot."
Dink collapses on the front steps, winded from his twenty-foot
.......Inside, Anthony is trying
his professional calm on a banshee maid. He's got a hand on each
of her shoulders, his mouth moving deliberately while his eyes
dog me across the lobby. All elevators are at the twelfth floor.
It's where I go after calling one down. In the hallway to my
left more maids and both bellhops smear fingerprints around the
open door to room 1208. Guests should get this attention when
they ask for fresh towels.
.......A woman in white sneakers,
black stretch shorts and an oversized T-shirt that says "Canada's
Wonderland" on front, sits crying at the foot of the bed.
Her ankles are bare. There's a red sweatband round her head,
another on the wrist to the hand holding a double-action .22
eight shot. Mostly good for plinking tin cans off fence posts,
but deadly enough in close. I take out my handkerchief and gently
remove the gun from her grip.
.......On the bed next to our
jogger, two naked, leaking bodies approximate fellatio. Neither
has a pulse. Curiosity slowly drags the hotel staff into the
room. I order them back to the hallway and try the handle on
the closed bathroom door. It's locked.
......."This is John Swan.
Hotel security. It's safe to come out now."
......."I don't think so,"
a female voice answers. "Not until we hear sirens and see
......."Anybody call the
cops?" I ask the staff peering in from the hall. No answer.
"Good. That's my job. Richard, make sure nobody goes in
or out. Use force if you have to, but I can't see it'll be necessary.
Everyone in there is either scared or dead." He starts a
slow grin. "Don't get full of yourself and thump any hotel
guests like last time. The rest of you back to work, unless you've
something useful for the police. Does anybody have anything to
tell the police?"
.......Heads shake. I shoo the
maids down the hallway, then ride the elevator to the basement,
taking the murder weapon to my office. If anyone were monitoring
my actions, they'd see me lock the gun in my desk drawer, and
dial 911. Then they'd watch as I disconnect the video equipment
and carry it from the room. They'd see me return to coil connecting
cables out of sight behind the bookshelf. But there is no one
to monitor my actions, so no one will have any reason to suspect
the camera and microphone at the other end of the cables up in
room 1208. They won't even be noticed.
.......I head upstairs to greet
the cops at the front door. I'll take them up to 1208, then down
to my office to turn over the murder weapon.
.......I can't honestly say what
Meg did after she left. No way I would know if she stopped to
use a payphone in the hotel lobby, or on her route to wherever
she went next. No way I would know without asking and I'm sure
as hell not going to do that. But I do know she's got a touch
of promotional genius in her. Nothing will increase the demand
for copies of that videotape, sitting in the recorder
in the little-used cupboard down in the hotel basement hallway,
like having the original introduced as evidence at a nice, juicy
murder trial. And if there's a jealous housewife anywhere in
this city, Meg's the one would know.
Copyright (c) 2001 by John Swan.
stories have been anthologized and published in literary journals
ranging alphabetically from Blood & Aphorisms to Zygote.
Another has appeared in Iced, the first anthology of Canadian hardboiled fiction,
from Insomniac Press. A collection of his mystery stories, The
Rouge Murders, was published by the Jasper Press in the summer
of 1996 and Swan is currently working on his first novel, tentatively
titled Sap. His spoof "Chiffon "was serialized
in Prophile Magazine, and since made available as a chapbook.
Swan lives in Hamilton, Ontario under a pseudonym, hosting Noir
Night mystery reading events and developing his web-site, Murder Out There.
And don't forget to check out the file on
John's P.I. character, John Swan,
on this site.
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tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man
that likes to talk."
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