Breaking In
A Danny Hawaii Joint
by Daniel Hatadi


.......My office is in the front room of a single story terrace in Newtown, just down the road from the Imperial Hotel, the pub where they parked Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. The actual bus from the movie. You can see it about fifteen minutes in. Calling the room my office is a bit of a joke seeing as all I have is a desk with a map of Australia on it, shoved between the wall and my bed. But if you want to be a private investigator, you need to have an office, so that's what I call it.

.......And that's what I'm trying to do: become a private investigator.

.......To get the license, I have to spend twelve months working as a sub-agent for a real PI, and the only one I could find in Newtown was Roger Thornberg. He's an ex-cop, three times my age, always calls me 'boy', and doesn't know that lamb-chop sideburns are no longer cool.

.......For the first three months, Thornberg had me doing nothing but writing up reports on traffic accidents, so when I heard him talking on the phone about a broken window in a local clothing store, I hammered him until he broke. I know it was just to shut me up, but he gave me my first real case.

.......By the time Thornberg finished grilling me on what I could and couldn't do, King Street was dark enough for the streetlights to go on. I stepped out of Thornberg's office into the warm, dead air and walked up past the cafes filled with Oxford Street rejects doing their best to be seen. Further up, next to an incense and candle store, I found Pippy's.

.......The front window had the name of the store painted in swirling black and red lettering. Masking tape covered a spidery trail of cracks that stretched from the sign to the corner. From the hours printed on the window, the store was about to close, so I hopped in and pulled the door shut, swinging its sign around so that the word 'OPEN' faced inside.

.......A woman's nasal voice rang out from the back of the store. "We're closed!"

.......I went further in past the retro-red leather counter, shading my eyes to see where the voice was coming from. The lights at the front of the store went dark and I walked right into a rack of underwear, knocking it to the ground. I took a step back and bent down to fix the mess I'd made.

.......The woman, now closer, said, "Sorry. My fault."

....... I heard a click and the lights came on. As my eyes adjusted, I righted the rack, patting the underwear to make sure it was stable.

....... The woman laughed.

....... My voice pitched up and I said, "What?"

....... I tried to ignore the heat in my cheeks and watched her set the rack straight. Dressed from head to toe in red and black, a modern 50s cowgirl. Jeans, boots, and a knotted up chequered shirt. Out of place were narrow glasses with black frames that teetered on the edge of her nose, making her look at me with her head tilted back. It had to be Penelope Chen, the owner of the store.

....... Her dark eyes narrowed when she noticed what I'd done to the sign.

....... "Who said you could close my store?"

....... "I thought I was helping."

....... She looked me over. "You're not here to buy clothes, I take it?"

....... I couldn't see any Hawaiian shirts so I shook my head. "My boss told me to come right over. Took him half an hour to tell me, but still, here I am."

....... "Your boss?" She paused, her eyes less narrow.

....... "Roger Thornberg."

....... She nodded, pulled a chair over from behind the counter and sat. "So you're Danny Hawaii? Is that a real name?"

....... I handed her my license.

....... She looked at it. "Sub-agent?"

....... I nodded. "It's legit. I do the work, Thornberg worries about the advertising."

....... A couple of fold-up chairs leaned on the wall near the fitting rooms. I walked over and picked one up, unfolding it as I came back. She watched me the whole time, not saying anything, not getting up from her chair.

....... When I sat down facing her, she handed the card back. "Why didn't Mr. Thornberg come here himself? Why'd I have to get a rookie?"

....... We locked eyes. Insults sprang to my lips but I bit my tongue. I wasn't going to let this chick mess up my first case. Even if she was kind of cute.

....... "Ms. Chen, you spoke to my boss about a problem in the store. Can you fill me in?"

....... "Call me Pippy." She pointed to the front window. "To the left of the door. The crack in the glass."

....... "I saw it coming in. Were you here when it happened?"

....... "Yes, but it was late, or really early, whatever. The sound woke me up, but by the time I came downstairs, no one was around."

....... "Did you call the police?"

....... "Soon as it happened. They came quick, but you know what they told me?" She made quotation marks with her fingers and put on a macho sounding voice. "'It's less than $500 worth of damage, so all we can do is take a report.' Real helpful. How does that stop it happening again?" Her voice was too nasal, one I wouldn't want to wake up next to.

....... "Do you have security cameras?"

....... She nodded with each word, tilting her head from side to side. "Yes. I. Do."

....... I stared at her. "Hey, I'm asking a serious question."

....... "Sorry, I was being sarcastic, wasn't I? Look. Rent isn't cheap on King Street, especially these few blocks. So I cut some corners." She shrugged. That chequered shirt was on tight and there were curves underneath.

....... "What did you get, a fake camera with a flashing light?"

....... She propped her glasses with one finger, looked at me, then stood. "Go back to your boss and tell him not to send a rookie. I have to close up so I can get some sleep."

....... I stood up and touched her shoulder. "I'm sorry. Rookie mistake?"

....... She raised an eyebrow.

....... "Please." I held out an open palm to her chair. "My boss won't charge you more than thirty bucks an hour. Rookie rates, but I'll do my best."

....... Breathing out, her shoulders relaxed and she took her seat again. "It's a fake camera. Just a blinking red light on a toy."

....... I nodded, bit my lip and almost drew blood. "Okay. Here's what we'll do. I'll watch the place tonight and see you in the morning when you open up." I handed her a card with my mobile number on it. "Your job is to call me if you get the shakes."

....... She took the card but shook her head. "No surveillance, I'll be fine."

....... "You sure?"

....... She nodded. "I spoke to your boss about getting a quote."

....... "I'll get him to call you."

....... She looked at me, holding the card as if she wasn't sure about taking it. "You can't give me an idea?"

....... "He's the boss, it's not up to me."

....... I left with the card still in her hand.

*****

....... I spent the night parked in front of the shop. The weather was hot and sticky as only Sydney can be and I woke up every hour to blast the air conditioning in my car. For a Thursday night it was pretty quiet. The biggest event was around midnight when the Coopers Arms Hotel closed. A huge group of heavy metal dudes in band T-shirts and black jeans spilled out of the pub, arms around shoulders, screaming out songs by ACDC. I was half asleep and it scared the hell out of me, but they didn't even go near Pippy's. The only people that did were a drunken couple with matching dreadlocks who looked through the window and, much later, a lone guy in a grey hood. None of them caused any trouble so I stayed put.

....... Caffeine pills and a Steven King novel kept me company for the rest of the night. The dawn snuck under my car's visor and I held my eyelids up with my fingers until King Street got busy. Then I dragged my feet home, keeping my parking spot, and crashed for a couple of hours.

....... I didn't walk in to Pippy's 'til somewhere between brunch and lunch. She was wearing a purple, see-through Indian outfit, and she was near the fitting rooms, helping a customer.

....... She gave me a big smile. "I got some phone calls this morning."

....... "And?"

....... "Hold on. How did that go?" she asked the customer. "Not good? Try this one." She passed a bra over the fitting room door. To me, she said, "Sorry. What did you say? That's right. I got a few calls from glass companies. One of them had a deal going and tried to upsell me on the window. Thicker glass or something. I asked how they knew. They told me they pay spotter's fees. I said go to hell."

....... "What companies?"

....... "Something like Rapid … Roberts?"

....... I wasn't sure what it meant, but the timing was suspect. Thornberg always told me to listen to the clients and wait for them to open up, but Pippy was distracted by the shop. I had to push, try to direct her thinking.

....... "How old were they?"

....... "I guess they were young. What does that mean?"

....... "Not sure. What did they sound like? Deep, quiet?"

....... She propped her glasses up and looked around, squinting, turning her hand over.

....... "Actually, there were only two calls. Both of them had accents. Definitely ethnic. One said he was Leon, I can't remember the other."

....... A skinny girl with her head half-shaved came out of the fitting room wearing pants and a bra. I couldn't help staring. They both laughed. I turned away, feeling my face get hot. Underwear had embarrassed me twice now, so I walked over to the front and pretended to check out the men's clothes. When Pippy was finished, she came over, holding back a smile.

....... "So did you call your boss?" She laughed.

....... "No, I completely forgot." Why was she laughing? I scratched my ear. "I'll sort it out."

....... "You didn't sleep much, did you?" She snorted, stopping herself from giggling.

....... I frowned. "No, do I look that bad?" She was completely different from the night before, teasing the crap out of me, but I was getting the impression that she liked me.

....... She stepped up close and touched my arm, her face all serious. "I saw you out there last night. That was really nice of you." She laughed again. "But I still won't pay you for it."

....... I was hot and bothered and the smell of her deodorant mixed with a tinge of sweat was making me more so. "Listen, I was planning on coming over and spending the day parked across the street." I looked out the window at my car that hadn't moved in over twelve hours. "But I have a better idea. Do you have a phone book? A local one?"

....... She leaned over the counter, exposing a strip of midriff. Her skin was smooth and even. She grunted and heaved a phone book out from a shelf. When she turned back, she caught me staring at her. She adjusted her top, then pointed at the phone book.

....... I let out a breath and broke eye contact.

....... Flicking through the pages, I walked my fingers all the way to R. There were two companies. Rapid Glass and Roberts & Son. I closed my eyes and let my finger fall on the page.

....... "I'm off to visit Roberts & Son. I've got a detective-type hunch."

....... She nodded, eyes wide open. "Cool."

*****

....... Roberts & Son was a couple of blocks away. Traffic along King Street had slowed to its usual lunchtime pace. The cafes swallowed up eager young women with armfuls of shopping bags, who all thought slumming it in Newtown was worth it to snag a few bargains. My stomach rumbled, but I walked on.

....... When I turned into a side street, the sound of the traffic dropped to a gentle and constant woosh. The yellow building on the next corner down hadn't been painted in years and the walls had brown streaks on them that looked like rust. The front window had a sign printed neatly in the corner with the phone number, and nothing was behind the front window but a counter.

....... It made sense. All they sold were windows.

....... When I walked through the door a buzzer went off and a woman yelled out. Her voice came from an open door behind the counter.

....... "Joe! Can you get it?"

....... I heard a grunt, followed by the sound of tools being laid down. A short, balding man with a belly that verged on pregnant walked through the door. His t-shirt would have been white when it was new. He wiped his forehead with the corner of it.

....... His voice boomed out. "What can I do you for?"

....... "Are you the owner?"

....... "Yep. Why you wanna see the owner?"

....... "I'd like to speak to one of your boys. Leon."

....... "You need a window fixed, you talk to me."

....... "I got a call this morning from Leon. He said there were special deals this month. I've got a shop around the corner. Leon said to speak to him."

....... He rubbed his gut and belched. "Leon don't work here no more. You woulda got a call from Sam, his brother. They sound the same. Sam likes to joke around." He wiped his face again. "Any deals go through me. What you after?"

....... "They're brothers are they? What's their last name?"

....... "Lahoud."

....... He hadn't been paying much attention, but now his brown eyes pierced me. "Why you wanna know their last name? What are you, from the school? Look, those boys are okay. They old enough to work. They get commission, so maybe they talk it up. So what?"

....... I had him on the defensive. I had to push now or find another way. "I need to get their home number. I have to speak with their mother."

....... "If you're from the school, you already got the number." He spat on the table and wiped it. "Get outta here. I got work to do."

*****

....... When I made it back onto King Street the onslaught of heat and the sound of traffic almost knocked me over. I felt tired to my bones and my stomach hadn't stopped growling, so I stepped into a convenience store and grabbed a Red Bull and a muesli bar. I scoffed them on the way back to Pippy's.

....... She was alone, folding up a pile of clothes on the counter.

....... I knocked on the counter. "Did I scare everyone off?"

....... She snorted. "You get dips now and then. How'd it go at Roberts?" She made a show of flexing her muscles. "Did you strong-arm anyone?"

....... "No, he was bigger than me. Listen, I was thinking --"

....... "Wait. Before I forget." Pippy threw the pile of clothes on a table behind her. She bent down, came up, and slapped a piece of paper on the counter. "There. That's the receipt from the glass company, from the last time I had it replaced."

....... The receipt had 'Rapid Glass' written on the top.

....... "Wait a minute. From the last time you had it replaced?"

....... "That's why I hired you. Didn't I say that?"

....... "I could have gone there first."

....... "Sorry, I was all caught up in Thornberg sending someone else."

....... I shook my head and tried to give her my best searching look. "Pippy, there's something I want to try. If you don't like it, we won't do it."

....... She put her elbows on the table. "Do your worst."

....... I pulled out my mobile phone. "I want you to call Roberts & Son. Ask to speak to Sam, say you want a quote. Get him to come here at 6:30. I'll do the same for Leon, with this number." I tapped the receipt. "That way, it won't sound like the same person."

....... "How do you know it's Leon?"

....... "It's one of those detective-type hunches."

....... "Before we do this, I want you to promise you'll be here when they come."

....... "I wouldn't ask you otherwise."

....... We made the calls. Pippy's went easy. Mine took longer.

....... Leon was there, but had trouble understanding what an appointment was. I took my time explaining it to him. I counted the repetitions. Twelve. If this guy had smashed the window, it was by accident.

....... After I hung up, business picked up again, so I walked around the block a few times to keep myself awake. Once it started getting dark, I made my way back.

*****

....... Dodging through slow moving traffic, I crossed the road. A car honked its horn hard when I planted a hand on the bonnet. Standing in front of Pippy's, a guy in a grey hood turned and our eyes met. He whipped his head back, facing the store. I jumped up onto the footpath and stood behind him.

....... "Store's about to close," I said.

....... The grey hood turned his head, thought about saying something, changed his mind and walked into the shop. He went over to the men's section and started leafing through the racks, his eyes darting about.

....... I hopped inside and went over to the counter. I leaned against it and watched him go through the racks. He looked young. Probably wore the hood to make him feel tough. I didn't want him there, but I couldn't go scaring off customers.

....... Pippy walked over from the back of the store and smiled a hello that was more of a grimace. She stood behind the counter, watching the grey hood and the front door. She fiddled with a pencil and dropped it.

....... I put my hand on hers, looked at her and said, "It's okay. I'm right here."

....... She nodded, swallowing.

....... At 6:25, Pippy gritted her teeth and walked over to the front door to close it. Someone knocked on the door.

....... "Sorry, we're closing," she said.

....... A young guy in denim overalls and a red cap on backwards said, "I'm Sam. I'm supposed to meet ..." He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket. "... Penelope Chen, at 6:30."

....... "Come in. I'm Penelope." She pointed to the front window. "There it is."

....... Sam walked in, bent down and looked at the cracked glass up close.

....... I watched him, waiting for the next arrival.

....... He stood up, turned around and said, "I'm sorry Penelope, but it looks like the whole window needs replacing. We've got great deals on LamGuard. It's a stronger glass, quadruple laminate." He thumbed the window. "This is only single laminate, it won't stop anyone breaking in."

....... The grey hood was trying to inch out of the store, but Sam and Pippy were in the way.

....... Sam looked at the grey hood and slapped him on the head, pulling the hood off. "Leon! What are you doing here?"

....... Leon, the grey hood, mumbled something.

....... "This one's mine," Sam said.

....... Pippy stumbled back. I moved forward, but I was too slow. Leon grabbed Pippy from behind and put his arm around her neck. Pippy screamed.

....... "Hands off!" I shouted.

....... Leon backed into a rack of skirts and pulled out a knife. He held it in front of Pippy's neck and said, "Stay back."

....... She screamed again, louder.

....... Leon pulled the knife closer, breathing on Pippy. "You shut up."

....... No one moved.

....... "Leon, what are you doing?" Sam said.

....... Leon's voice was shaky. "This job's mine. I made the call."

....... "You made the call? I did." Sam looked at Pippy, then at me, then the cracked glass.

....... I thumbed the window and softened my voice. "Leon, did you do this?"

....... Leon nodded, adjusting his grip on the knife. Pippy's nostrils flared but she kept quiet.

....... "Why?" Sam said.

....... "We need the job. Mum needs money."

....... I stepped forward. "Do you think she'd like you doing this, getting money for her like this?"

....... Leon looked down. "I dunno."

....... Sam stepped closer. "Do you think she'll make baklava for you when she finds out? C'mon, Leon. Give me the knife. Let's go." He nodded towards the window. "This is all bullshit anyway."

....... Leon tightened his grip on Pippy, the knife now pressed against her skin. "No. Don't want to. It's my job, not yours."

....... Pippy made a choking sound. Her eyes were wide, looking to Sam for help.

....... Sam stepped back. "You can have the job, Leon. I won't fight you."

....... "Leon, if you hurt her," I said, "if she's cut, you'll go to prison. Do you know what the food is like there?"

....... With more space between them, Leon held the knife lower. He looked down, tears forming. "No baklava?"

....... He looked at Sam, me, Pippy, then he sniffed.

....... Letting his arm fall away from Pippy, he whispered, "I'm sorry lady, I'm real sorry." He let her go.

....... I jumped in and took the knife.

....... Pippy ran behind me and wrapped her arms around my shoulder. Her breathing was fast. I reached around with my left hand and rubbed her on the arm.

....... Sam looked at Pippy and me. "I'm really sorry about Leon. He gets stupid sometimes." He looked straight at Pippy. "Please don't call the cops on him."

....... She held back sobs and cleared her throat. "If …" She cleared it again and spoke louder. "No."

....... "Don't worry," Sam said, "Mum'll lock him in his room. He won't come back. I promise."

....... Pippy looked at me. I shook my head. She looked back at Sam. "No."

....... I gave the knife to Pippy. "Put this somewhere safe."

....... She nodded, swallowing.

....... I grabbed Leon by the arm. He put his hood back on, keeping his eyes down. I motioned to Sam to get out of the store. He stepped out onto the street, quiet, his eyes red. I led Leon out of the shop, letting the door close behind him.

....... Seeing the knife in Pippy's hand, it was suddenly clear to me. This wasn't a traffic diagram or something I'd read in a manual. These were real people. I couldn't see Thornberg calling me 'boy' ever again.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Daniel Hatadi.


......

Sydney crime fiction writer Daniel Hatadi has been a musician, a petrol station attendant, and a software engineer in the poker machine industry. All great fuel for writing about crime, if not committing it. Daniel has appeared in Crimespree Magazine and recently made his Shots UK debut. A novel is in the works starring the young and bumbling Danny Hawaii, PI-in-training. Daniel can be reached through his web site.

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