Read an Excerpt
The Sure Thing
A Shell Scott Mystery
By Richard S. Prather
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Richard S. Prather
All rights reserved.
when I answered the phone in the living room of my three-rooms-and-bath, Eddy, the day man downstairs at the desk of the Spartan Apartment Hotel, said softly:
"Shell, there's a kind of weird guy down here, says he wants to see you. I think it's you. You're the only private eye we got, so you must be the famous and wonderful detective with Jupiter rising and a Mars-Venus—"
"What? Jupiter what? Famous and wonderful?"
"That's the way this egg talks. He says he's a sheikh."
"Huh? A what?" I shook my head. "Wait a minute. Start over—no, don't start over."
Normally, in the middle of a hot autumn afternoon, like this one, my responses would have been more brisk and lucid than a "What?" and a "Huh?" divided by mumbles. True, immediately upon arising I might respond to any reasonable query with even less, for I awaken like a man recovering reluctantly from rigor mortis — which, in my business, I see a lot of. But I had thus risen more than eight hours earlier, and was now, this October Thursday at three of the p.m., alert, vigorous, and full of marvelous beans.
Indeed, I had already been out in the poisonous vapors and rattling clangors of Los Angeles; had driven through the decaying corpse of once-glamorous Hollywood; had interviewed a number of people, at least a couple of whom had lied to me exuberantly; had visited my client, who—to my considerable embarrassment—was in the Morris Memorial Hospital, having been severely shot; and had been shot at myself within the hour; among other interesting things.
So I was awake enough, no doubt about that.
"Eddy," I said, "slowly now. This guy's a real sheikh? Like ... Rudolph Valentine?"
"Forget it. Like—the Arabian Nights? You know, Scheherazade, with the veils and the boobs. Ali Baba and the Forty—"
"Yeah, got it. From there in the middle of the east, that kind of sheikh, yeah. Only he looks more like one of them Forty Crooks."
"Well, swell," I said dubiously. "OK, Eddy, send the sheikh up."
* * *
Ordinarily, since I was already on a case and had a client, I would have told almost any other caller that I was engaged, my day fully occupied, and he should try me another time. But a real sheikh from "the middle of the east" was something else. I had not in all my thirty years met any sheikhs; I was, however, more than merely curious about the man now walking up one flight of stairs to the Spartan's second floor and soon to appear at the door of my apartment, 212.
I had come back here only half an hour ago, for a quick-fried steak sandwich and some quiet cogitation while I watched the tropical fishes frisk about in the two tanks inside my front door. Cogitation, because this case, which I'd been on for only a little more than twenty-four hours now, was surely—at least on the surface—not the kind of case in which I would expect guns to be going off or bullets to be flying, particularly into my client—one of my clients—or very close, too blisteringly close, to me.
Yet it had sure turned out to be that kind of case.
So when Eddy rang me I had been cogitating on what-the-hell, and why? Sure, there was an oil well pumping a trickle instead of flowing a flood, for one thing. There were those two born losers—my lackluster clients—who could plant oaks and grow acorns and might be the death of me yet. I dimly recalled one of them saying something about a sheikh and the Persian Gulf and a palace ... something to which perhaps I should have listened more closely. Still another reason for my instant curiosity about a sheikh who spoke of "Jupiter" and a "Mars-Venus" something or other was the still-fresh memory of intriguing but baffling dialogues with Cynara, stargazer or astrologer or perhaps zingy witch, about such incomprehensible-to-me items as transiting Saturn squaring the Moon, and possible fraud and deception indicated by an afflicted Neptune in the seventh house, and Mars square his natal Mercury in Virgo, just for starters.
This one had already become, needless to say, a case unique in the files of Sheldon Scott, Investigations — which is the name lettered on my office door, up a flight in the Hamilton Building on Broadway in downtown L.A.—even before the entrance of a Sheikh Ali Baba, or whoever he turned out to be.
Alongside the door of my apartment there is a button that, when poked, activates softly cling-clonging chimes. But the chimes did not cling-clong. Instead, there was a loud, solid, but fortunately brief, ker-banging upon the wood of my door.
This guy, I thought, before seeing him, is about eight-feet, six-inches tall. Thus I missed him entirely when I opened the door, for I was gazing upward, where he was not.
The man was about five-six or -seven, at most five-eight, slim, standing almost elastically erect, as though poised like a ballet dancer preparing to out-Nijinsky the champ. His head was tilted back slightly, angled a little to one side, as he looked at me—up at me—along the ridge of a sharp, hooked nose with flaring nostrils, looked from eyes that seemed to glow like small black suns in the dark of burning space. His skin might have been smooth tough leather, bronzed and seared by thousands of desert-dry summers and endless hot sighing winds. He was an extraordinarily handsome man, handsome, but with a faint sheen or stamp of cruelty upon his face; or perhaps it was simply boldness, suppressed but simmering violence, hardness, strength. All in all, he was just as impressive as if he had been eight-feet, six-inches tall.
For no good reason, except my thinking about Ali Baba and Scheherazade's boobs and such splendors, I had been prepared to see someone decked out in robes and a burnoose and/or whatever those things worn on emirs heads are called, bright with jewels and rings and possibly with a curved scimitar glittering at his side.
My caller, though, was dressed in a black, perfectly fitted, business suit, white shirt, narrow and tightly-knotted tie. The uneven points of a folded handkerchief, also black and with the look of fine silk, rose above the breast pocket of his coat. Light rippled on his small, patent leather shoes. Except for the shirt, he was all in black, from the brand-new-looking shoes to the thick, tightly-curling hair close-cropped on his head.
Actually, I was dressed more like an Arabian sunset, or massacre, than was he. I do like a bit of brightness, or at least dash, in a man's clothes, and today I was wearing basically white trousers, sort of red-and-blue splotched, with globs like little melting orangish stars scattered about upon the underlying firmament; a long-sleeved pink shirt with "Byron"-length collar tabs dangling parallel to the kind of plunging neckline I dote upon, at least upon bosomy wenches; a wide white belt; and white spongy-rubber-soled shoes.
We regarded each other.
We were both, I think, somewhat taken aback. He might even have been taken a bit more aback than I was.
I'm six-feet, two-inches tall and weigh two hundred and five pounds when I'm hungry, and in contrast to his hair which was black and curled tight to his head, mine is whiter than the sands of the Sahara, only about an inch long, and sticks straight up into the air as far as it goes, as though startled, perhaps by the equally white boomerang-shaped brows angled over my eyes, which are gray to break the monotony.
His skin was not a hell of a lot darker than mine, but if this guy's face appeared to have been exposed to plenty of hot sun and wind, mine must have been left out in the monsoon the night it hailed for an hour, though I would not say it appears to have been struck by lightning. The nose is probably my face's most interesting irregularity, since the second time it was horribly broken, the good doctor—the one who set it the first time—had died, which was tough on him, but not so great for me, either. Then there's the fine scar over my right eye, the slightly missing spot atop my left ear where a hood's bullet clipped it, and—but that's enough.
The man standing in my doorway said, "You are Mr. Sheldon Scott." It was a flat statement rather than a question, but the flatness was in his delivery, not the almost metallic but softly resonant voice.
"That's right, Shell Scott," I said. "Come in. And you are ..."
"I am Sheikh—" This was followed by a good deal of musical incomprehensibility, marvelous fluting sounds formed from velvet consonants and gleaming vowels, out of which I managed to get "Sheikh" and what very likely, or at least perhaps, was "Faisuli."
Whatever he'd really said, all of it brushed the ear as those graceful letters over entrances to Mohammedan mosques caress the eye, but I knew right then I would have to guess at much that the Shiekh might say, because some of the things he'd already said were obviously made from the letters they don't use anymore.
I indicated the oversized chocolate-brown divan aslant on my shaggy gold living-room carpet, and as he strode to it with that dancer's stride and turned to sink down easily upon it, as though lowering himself on steel springs, I said:
"That is close enough."
"Well, if I missed it by an inch, or even a couple of feet, I'm willing to try—"
"Sheikh Faisuli is ... adequate. Now, Mr. Scott, I desire to employ you to perform for me services of a uniquely unusual nature and requiring absolute secrecy, of vast importance to me and my—"
"Hold it a minute, Sheikh. Please. I'd better make it clear at the start that I'm already employed. And I concentrate on one thing, one client, at a time—"
"I shall pay you. Handsomely. I shall give you ... a bag of gold."
"Hmm," I said. "Wow. A bag of gold. Man, that's even better than money. Especially these days."
"You," said the Sheikh, obviously having picked up some of the vernacular along the way, "better believe it."
I sighed, shook my head. "Sounds good to me. But I can't do a thing for you, Sheikh. At least not until I've wrapped up the case I'm on. Which may be never."
"But you do not even know what it is, my ... ah, difficulty," he said. "Surely you will listen, and then decide?"
"I'll listen. You bet. I'm agog with curiosity. But I'm afraid I've already decided."
There was silence for a while. Sheikh Faisuli scowled, sort of rubbing his lips together.
After a bit I said encouragingly, truly curious, "This difficulty?"
"Ah, yes. I have lost...."
Believe it or not, at that moment I knew what he was going to say before he said it. It was outlandish, an almost ridiculous concept, monumentally unlikely. Still, I knew.
"... my harem," he said.
"Uh-huh. I knew it."
"Miss Lane assured me that you are a truly remarkable detective—"
"Cynara? So that's where the Jupiter—"
"—an individual of vast strength and gargantuan appetites, the one investigator who might most assuredly and speedily restore to me my lost ... ah, and beloved—"
"Sheikh, please. What I meant was, I just—guessed. I know from nothing about your harem."
"You are clairvoyant."
"I haven't got enough clairvoyance to stick in your ear. I just—well, Sheikh, dancing girls, Aladdin, Ali Baba and the Forty Croo—"
"Ah. So, then. For a moment I apprehended that you must already know where it is, what to it has happened, that you—"
"Nope. Haven't the faintest idea where it's at, or how in the world to apprehend it ... them? We're speaking about a real harem, aren't we? I mean, a harem of girls?"
"To my knowledge, there is no other kind."
"Yeah. And I guess you'd know. Well, that's one for you, Sheikh. So it—they—is, or are, lost, huh?"
"Yes. Or ... no."
"Got to be one or the other, right? That's one for me, huh?"
He did not appear to notice, or at least did not respond to my pleasantry. Instead, he said slowly, "I fear it may not merely be lost. I fear it may have been kidnapped."
"Kidnapped?" I said.
"Precisely so," he said.
"But who," I said wonderingly, "would heist a harem?"CHAPTER 2
"who ...," I repeated, still wondering, and why?"
"I know not," said Sheikh Faisuli. "This might perhaps have been deduced from my presence here, and my concern regarding its—their?—whereabouts?"
The last was, this time, a question. Gently, he added, "One more for me, eh?" So he'd noticed.
He went on, "I shall tell you more about this difficulty, yes?"
"You'd better not. I'm screwed up enough as it is—sorry. I've got a lot on my mind."
"This bag of gold, it is a small bag. About one thousand dollars. I could make it a larger bag."
"Don't say bag, huh? It reminds me of Audrey. And it's not the money, Sheikh. I'd love to look for a harem, believe me. But seriously, I've always given each of my clients the best I've got, which means doing their job, not half of it plus two or three others at the same time. And I'm not going to change my game now. I don't think."
"I could make it a bag—a pouch—for each of the, ah, wives in my harem. That would be six bags."
"Pouches. Six, huh? So, there are six gals in this harem? Or this segment of your harem? Is it the entire harem?"
"Oh, ha-ha," he burbled, or chortled, apparently genuinely amused. "This is merely a small group, a modicum of companionship, a traveling portion, we might say, of my harem."
"A little companionship ...," I said dully. "Well, that's half a dozen for you, Sheikh. Ummm.... Six of 'em. Six...."
"Yes, six. Six magnificent wives. Each one young, graceful, a fragile flower brought sweetly to bloom and blossom in the most sensuous of Allah's gardens, fully formed, yet slender and willowy as tender grasses blown by the wind o'er the—"
"Sheikh, quit it—"
"—whitest sands of the Lakashami, or even Shakalami, yet sands no more fiercely burning than the bountiful breasts of my Zezik, Visdrailia, Monesha—"
"Quit it, Sheikh—"
"—Shereshim, Yakima, and wild-eyed blossom-lipped Rasazhenlah ... burning breasts as full and succulent and plump as those luscious fruits that hang heavy from the boughs of perfumed gardens—"
"Knock it off, Sheikh. Sheikh, I never socked a Sheikh before, see? And I probably should not commence now. So cool it, will you?"
"Cool ... yes, cool as the night-brushed thighs ... coo ... ah. You, sir, have a look of violence about you."
"It's more than a look, Sheikh." I smiled.
He fell silent. But in those black eyes of his I detected, or thought I detected—and, since I am supposed to be a detective, there was a fair chance I really did detect it—a dancing glow of delight, of amusement, merriment, or possibly sadism.
"For a guy who never met me before," I said, "you've pounced pretty quickly upon one of my, oh, ah, weaknesses."
"I will confess, Mr. Scott. Miss Lane not only informed me that you might most speedily and efficiently erase for me my present difficulty, but spoke briefly of those things that might most assuredly activate your feverish interest. In precisely this way, she did not phrase it."
"I'll bet not. Cynara again, huh? There's something queer here ... something fishy."
"That it would be necessary for me to divulge certain things to you, I hoped not, Mr. Scott. But I perceive some further comment will be necessary. I assure you, sir, the return of, and safety of, my hareem —" he pronounced it differently, more gutturally, this time—"is of vast importance to me. Perhaps even to my country, Kardizazan, which, as you surely know, is on the shores of the Persian Gulf."
"I sure didn't."
"As my understanding is, you would, to embark upon such an endeavor as this that I have here for you outlined, rejoice, were it not that you feel morally obligated to expend your entire energies upon the endeavor presently and already engaging you. This is so?"
"This is so."
"Then, if it is possible for me to assure you—to convince you—that my difficulty almost certainly is involved, perhaps entwined closely, with your present endeavor, it is probable that my difficulty you could investigate without sacrifice of dishonor, or ... how?"
Excerpted from The Sure Thing by Richard S. Prather. Copyright © 1975 Richard S. Prather. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.