By Rick Hartford
The dame that had just sashayed into my office looked eerily familiar.
She was the spitting Image of the etching of Venus on my Zippo lighter that I had been looking at moments before when I lit a Kool.
There was a difference, though. The beautiful woman in front of me was wearing a tight black silk turtleneck shirt and black Spandex tights.
My Venus wasn’t wearing anything.
I held the door so I could inhale her perfume as she walked by.
I’m not a gentleman.
Used to be, but things have changed.
She sat down in the chair in front of my desk.
We stared at each other for a long time. I figured it was a contest of wills.
“You know who I am, since Ricardo Blackbird is stenciled on the office door, right over Private Investigator. So you have me at a disadvantage.”
“I can be whoever you want me to be,” she said.
“Okay. Could you be Venus for me?
“It just so happens that my name IS Venus. Venus Mars.”
I love it when beautiful women lie to me.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Mars? And can I ask you what you do for a living?”
“What would you say if I told you I was dying?” she said.
“I’d say death becomes you,” I said.
“I’m being followed, Mr. Blackbird. “The man who is following me is trying to kill me. I want you to kill him first.”
“They frown on contract killing in this town, Ms. Mars. Especially by private dicks. Have you been to the authorities?”
“He is the authorities, Mr. Blackbird. He is a policeman. He works for the state’s attorney. He is in the military. He is even a man of the cloth. He is a shapeshifter, Mr. Blackbird. There is nowhere I can hide.”
Her right hand slipped into her purse and produced a package of Virginia Slims. Her hand was steady as I lit one. She looked at my lighter as she slowly exhaled. She seemed to recognize the person in the mirror.
I was having serious doubts about her story. Right up the point to when my office door turned into a connect-the-dots painting of the Seventh Circle of Hell.
Somebody was shooting at us.
I thought whoever it was could be accused of being overzealous.
Venus and I found ourselves under my desk looking at the door in front of us as it turned into pulp.
Venus’s cigarette lay burning on the floor next to her. She reached out and grabbed it and took a long drag. “Smoke ‘em’ if you got ‘em,” she said.
I felt for my semi-automatic pistol in my jacket pocket.
It was semi-comforting.
Then everything became quiet except the ringing in my ears.
I crawled out from under the desk, dusted off sheet rock and splinters from my black Henry Miller silk suit and went cautiously to what was left of the door. There was a man out in the parking lot reloading a couple of Uzi machine pistols, one for each hand.
He was maybe 20 yards away. I don’t know what made me do it, but I picked up a brick and threw it at him. Right to the noggin. He took an eight count on one knee as Venus and I sprinted across the parking lot to an idling taxi. The cabbie was wearing headphones and was grooving on Manic Depression by Jimi Hendrix when we wrenched open the back doors and dove into the cab.
He turned around. He was wearing a turban and looked like he should be driving a magic carpet.
With a cunning smile, a gold earring and gold rings on each of his fingers, he asked where we wanted to go.
"Anywhere but here, and step on it!” I yelled.
“Ok Boss,” he said.
Bullets raked the rear fender. Before I wrapped myself over Venus on the floor of the car, I saw the driver’s credentials on the dash. Sinbad Hadari burned rubber out of the lot, cursing and laughing in whatever language magic carpet drivers are speaking these days.
Bradford Peartree stood in the parking lot with the two guns still smoking in his hands. He walked slowly over to the car he had stolen and put the guns in the trunk next to the body of the man he had throttled an hour before. He wiped his bloody forehead with the sleeve of his white dress shirt and looked at the gash in the rearview mirror. He reached for the first aid kit under the seat, put a large bandage on the wound and then produced a needle and thread. Within minutes he had stitched up the wound and put on a new bandage. Then he drove away just before screaming police cars entered the lot.
Peartree ditched the car in the north end of the city and caught a bus downtown and blended into the crowd.
He wore a drab wrinkled suit, brown penny loafers, a white shirt with blood stains on the sleeves and a pork pie hat covering dirty white hair which stuck out like tufts of cotton from a discarded mattress. He walked down the street and paused in front of a jewelry store window. The woman behind the counter looked at him with a fearful expression on her face. She saw flies buzzing around his head. He looked at her and imagined her begging for her life as he slipped the garrote over her head.
The saleswoman turned to leave through the back door as a little chime sounded. The front door had opened.
The man was standing in front of her, smiling.
We found a Motel 6 at the edge of the city. I got Sinbad’s card and we watched him pull away and then crossed the street and rented a room at the Holiday Inn. I slipped fifty bucks to the kid behind the counter and told him to ring me if anybody came looking for a couple with our description. “It could turn into five big ones if you play your cards right,” I said to him.
I ordered out for pizza and booze. When it arrived we sat on the bed, sipping margaritas while the television across from the bed was turned to the news, the anchor reading the report of the murder of a jewelry store saleswoman hours before.
“So, why is this person trying to kill you?”
“It’s about the Green Hornet, a jewel which was given to me by my uncle. Everybody calls him The Hawaiian. He pressed it into my hand the day he left the states to go back to Hawaii. He was on the run. He made me promise to throw the Hornet into the ocean. I couldn’t. I hid it where nobody could find it.”
I sat there, stunned. The memories came rushing back. The Hawaiian and my girl Babe Noir getting into his Caddy and driving into the night, the Green Hornet on a chain around Babe’s neck.
"The stone is haunted," I said. "Everyone who possesses it dies. If you want to live you have to do exactly what your uncle told you to do.”
Across town, Peartree ducked into a Roman Catholic Church. He found a priest in the confessional.
“Forgive me father for what I am about to do.” He held the garrote as if he was praying the
The Priest leaned closer to the mesh between them and bent his head forward.
“What did you say, my son?”
Peartree exited the church wearing the priest’s garments. His next stop was the cab company where the owner, an old pug with a cigar stub in his kisser, looked up in mild surprise when Peartree entered.
“God bless you my son,” Peartree told him. I need to find a particular cab driver before you meet your maker.
About 20 minutes later, Sinbad pulled into the company parking lot. The priest got in the back and played with the garrote in his hands. He looked forward to seeing the cabbie’s eyes bulge in his head. But first they had somewhere to go.
I had called Sinbad a few minutes before and told him to meet us at Motel 6.
He arrived looking edgy.
Venus and I got into the cab and I gave directions.
I lit a cigarette, studying his reflection in the rearview mirror. He glanced nervously back at me. Bravado had moved out. Abject fear was the tenant in his brain now.
We pulled into an abandoned industrial park.
Venus and I got out of the cab. I had my pistol out and held it behind my back.
Sinbad went to the rear of the car. I looked at him in the eyes as he fitted a key to the car trunk lock.
“Your luggage,” Sinbad said.
We had no luggage.
“Stop!” I ordered, pointing my pistol at him.
I don’t know if Sinbad heard me, since his head evaporated into a pink mist and his body dropped to the ground.
So probably not.
The killer was blasting his way out of the trunk. I grabbed Venus by the hand and we ran to a brick building that looked like an old manufacturing plant.
We ran through the open front door and down a long dim hallway.
“Where is the Hornet?” I asked, winded.
“In my pocket,” Venus said.
“So, what are we doing here?”
“I have a car in storage here.”
Peartree was fifty yards behind us now, blue bottle flies buzzing around his head. He had a twisted grin that made him look like he had a broken jaw.
I wish I had done that.
“Time’s up!” he roared, leveling the two machine pistols.
I kicked in the door closest to me.
It was a fertilizer storage warehouse. There were hundreds of 50 pound bags stacked inside.
I blocked the door with an old oak chair. I found a couple of box cutters and handed one to Venus.
“Slice as many bags as you can,” I said. “Lift each one up as high as you can and smash it to the floor.
We could hear Peartree laughing hysterically as he kicked at the door behind us.
“He’s coming,” I said.
Peartree finally forced the door open and walked in. There was no sound save the pigeons flying up to the top of the huge room, escaping through a window.
There was a lot of dust in the air, but Peartree spotted something gleaming on the floor under a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
He cautiously walked toward the object.
He bent over and picked it up.
It was a Zippo lighter with an image of a woman.
Her face looked familiar.
Peartree smiled and flicked the lighter open.
He struck the flint wheel.
We were under a pickup truck in the yard when there was a huge whump and the warehouse exploded into the sky. Bricks rained down around us. The smell of fertilizer hung in the air.
After a few moments we crawled out and got to our feet.
I looked at Venus. She was holding my own gun on me.
Prodding me along with the barrel she pulled out my plastic cuffs and secured my hands to the steering wheel of the old Chevy.
She turned to walk away.
“One thing I don’t get,” I said. “Why would that man want to kill you before you recovered the Green Hornet. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“He never has made any sense,” she said.
“He’s my husband.”
“See you around, Blackbird,” she said, blowing me a kiss.
And then she walked away, the sirens moaning softly in the distance.