The Rain Stops for no Man
A Tom Steele Mystery
I looked at the weathered gun in my still trembling hands and felt nothing. Wiping the blood from one eye – I quickly killed the lights, pulling back the blinds to check for activity on the dimly lit sidewalk.
Walking over to the rain soaked second story office window on Main Street, I couldn’t help but reflect on the dour forbidding surroundings. I had always hated dreary Montesano with its colossal, overbearing Court House and rain soaked trees. It was a place that encouraged debauchery and my tendency to drink. Hard.
Then I saw something in the distance, or rather someone.
It was the figure of my secretary, Monica Strange. Monica was a modest, slight woman fighting back the years well. A skill most women had come to master with effort in Montesano, but Monica, with her small dainty feet and squat hands, struggling as she jumped the swelling rivers of rain as they poured down the street in the half light, seemed to master with it with a graceful ease.
I gulped. Glanced at my own reflection and shuddered. What stared back at me in that rain beaten window was a frantic, sympathetic, drinker with too many bad memories for one man to carry. My friends saw me as a lumbering, gentle sap for a skirt with a sad story. They were right. Like most, I had had dreams. Once. Dreams that had long ago been ripped out and stomped into the mud of this town. “At least they weren’t alone down there.” I thought to myself.
Once, I had even saved a motionless toddler that was stuck in a drain pipe. It set me up in business in the one horse town. And kept me in booze ever since. That and following cheating spouses. Both of which were never in short supply in Montesano.
But not even a well intentioned P.I. who had once saved a motionless toddler that was stuck in a drain, was prepared for what Monica had in store this night. “Of all nights, not tonight Monica.” I muttered, quickly covering the window.
The rain hammered down like jumping toads, making me more nervous than usual.
As I stepped outside the office, quickly slamming the door behind me, Monica came closer. Dripping wet, Her long black hair resting in tangled clumps, her wet feet squishing a trail on the lime green stained carpet.
I could see the smiling glint in her eye as the washed out light from the street bathed her moon shaped face. She ran toward me, her arms outstretched.
“I am here because I need you Tom,” Monica bellowed, in a spiteful tone that reeked of desperation. She slammed her clenched fist against my rock hard chest, with the force of a bear. “I frigging love you, Tom Steele.”
Holding her close to me with one arm, I looked back into the office and the body lying on the floor behind the desk. I wanted to kiss her, needed it as much as she. Her full wet lips drawn to me like a magnet. It was all I could do to push her away. I was even more torn and still fingering the weathered gun in my pocket as I decided she had to get out of there. For her own good.
”Monica, I need you too,” whispering into her over-pierced ear. “But….I need you to go.”
We looked at each other with that look that required no words to convey our feelings, like two lovers talking at a very wild dinner party, which had loud piano music playing in the background and two loving uncles bopping to the beat.
I studied Monica’s tiny hands. Taking them into my own. Eventually, taking a deep breath. I lied. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you what you need, I’m no good for you….for anyone” I extorted, in a pitying tone.
She could tell I was lying and Monica looked back at me longing, her body raw and trembling, like a blue-tinged, barbecued salmon on a grill.
I could actually hear Monica’s body shatter into 8747 pieces as she sobbingly turned away, slowly walking down the hall into the distance.
Watching her bound away into the rain, I knew I had done the right thing. She couldn’t be involved in what had to be done this night.
I walked slowly into the office and reached down taking hold of a wad of blood soaked matted hair. Reg’s fragile lips twisted and his fingers claw-like, strained to grab onto my hand. He looked frightened, his body limp like an uncooked steak. Blood squirting from the wound in his chest.
Then he let out an agonizing groan and collapsed. Moments later Reg Masters was dead.
I went to my desk drawer, removing a bottle of bourbon. It wasn’t the first time someone had died in my office, but this time, somehow, it felt different.
Not even a drink would calm my nerves tonight. There was a war brewing in Montesano, and no one would be able to play Switzerland. Not anymore.
“You’re going to have to deal with that”, the seated councilman said, leaning forward into the half-light from the dark corner of the room. “This isn’t over.”
Draining the last of the bourbon, I turned toward him. “It never is around here….is it.” “Now tell me where you got this gun.”
There are only two things you need to be a P.I. here in Montesano. The ability to forget at will, and a shovel.
I wasn’t going to need ole Betty today, a quick call to the Chief of Police will take care of the body stinking up my office. God knows he owed me enough favors. There wouldn’t be any questions and probably another resident in Montesano’s un official cemetery. No, it was the forgetting part that I was grateful for now. Forgetting damage this situation would do to whatever Monica and I had finally found. Forgetting about the hold Councilman Jaiden Mckeown had over me. But most of all, forgetting about my disgust of traveling to the North part of town and into the sleaze.
“The Hill.” I prattled, spitting as the words formed on my twisting lips. Home to illusion and baseless human instincts. The worst humanity could muster. Sure, some of the women had gotten themselves north of Broadway and arrived there the old fashioned way, by marrying into it, but others….well, best not to look too close. You might not like what you find. And I had already found plenty. Enough for one man’s lifetime.
Damn Mckeown for bringing me into another of his messes!
It took a couple of slaps across the face, but eventually that elected hack spilled his guts. His beaten face a semi oval, like a circle that had its two sides pinched with a bench vise.
Reg Masters was well known around the circles up there. He had a habit of showing up to parties without the invite. Brought in the back door. A small bag of white power served as a written invitation. Maybe not quite so formal, but just as effective.
Poor Reg was punching over his weight that night and let it known that he had other things for sale. The type of things that ruined lives. Information. Worse, pictures.
No one knew who shot the Snowman in the back yard, but one thing was for certain. Whatever information he was hawking, had found the highest bidder.
Councilman Mckeown couldn’t think of anything else to do with the half dead body. It wasn’t the first time a wounded bleeding near corpse had found it’s way into my waiting room, and probably wouldn’t be the last.
I took the case, not to protect the reputation of the various swells that were at the party, I could care less about them, but to finally get Mckeown off my back and out from under his thumb. For good.
He had arranged to have the people at the party gather at the scene of the crime this evening. We needed to find the killer and fast. If there is one thing this group valued more than money – it was reputation. They had few red lines, their wealth attested to that. But murder crossed the line.
After smacking Mckeown a few more times, just because it felt good, I grabbed him by his narrow shoulders and shouted “make sure you are there tonight, don’t make me come looking for you.” They would all be there alright, they had to. Anyone missing might as well be holding up a sign saying they murdered Reg. Besides that, just say party, they would come. It was the Hill after all. And this was Montesano.
With that I left the office and was determined to find Monica and try to repair the damage I had done. I hope the few hours left until this evening’s activities were enough. They would have to be.
I found Monica at home. A simple four room cottage house by the tracks. She and her neighbors all on edge due to the lack of sleep. The distant constant trains hauling logs a constant winding jack-in-the-box, never knowing when the sadistic train engineer would lay on the horn. The jerking sound rattled people and cats alike never allowing for more than a couple of hours of un interrupted sleep. It was a tough life, and they were tough people.
Monica never had much, but that didn’t seem to bother her. Her yard showed care and her home warm and inviting. Considering the scandal of her birth, she had done all right for herself in Montesano.
I didn’t have to knock on the door as it swung open. Its hundred year old wood banging against the aged worn fir frame, splintering from the force and scaring one of the many cats that called casa de Monica home.
She came at me like a wild beast. Her hot breath mixing with mine as we fell into each other. Her pent up emotions spilling from her like rocks dumping from a cement mixing truck. “I burn for you,” she whispered into my waiting ear as I pulled her ample heaving womanhood to my chest, flattening her outstretched orbs like twinkies against a brick wall. She was gasoline and I her match. She began mewling her pleasure, her hands found their way into my clothing tightly holding me. It was then that I realized I had made a mistake. Until this mess with the Councilman was finished, I could be putting her in danger. I loved her. When she spoke I herd bells. Like an earthmoving piece of equipment backing up.
“Darling”, I said holding her forward, “I had to come see you.” As she realized what I was saying her face twisted and tightened like over stretched naugahyde on the back seat of a 57 chevy from a bad upholstery job in Tijuana.
Monica was as crestfallen as a lovely crested egret whose crest had fallen off. Unwilling to accept what I was saying she grabbed at the thick fog soaked air and screamed “Well then what are you waiting for Tom Steele, come inside damn it!.” She pulled at me harder grabbing at me trying to drag me into the living room.
It took all my strength to resit her, holding onto the frame, my feet buttressed against the door stop as leverage. Still she pulled harder, anchoring her small frame against the inside wall, pulling, grabbing and pleading.
Buttons ripped from my shirt and she became mad with desire at the sight and only doubled her efforts, like a wild animal ready to devour and defend its kill.
Handfuls of torn shirt in her rambling hands she stood there in the doorway panting, wild eyed. “I’ll be back Monica, I promise,” “I’m sorry, I have to go.”
As I backtracked through the yard and reached the picketed gate, I turned and shouted “I forgot, I need you in the office, someone is coming by to pick up…….something, Thanks.”
I turned and began the trip into the fading sun up to the North side of town.
It was starting to rain.
“My shorts!”, the Commissioner cried as he leapt from the second story window, deftly catching the overhanging branch of a singular aged fir tree with an out stretched grasping arm. With the practiced skill of an elected official , he swung around the branch and bounded twice landing hard on both feet in a loud squat, like a truck dumping a load. His manicured toes digging into the driveway gravel, he grunted his displeasure. A wild eyed quick look in all directions, he was off hurriedly down the hill, hop-scotching his way while trying to keep his balance as he pulled on his pant loops and fastened his belt.
As the commissioner whizzed past me mumbling, he disappeared into the thorn covered brushy thicket lining the driveway. I felt like Alice once had and braced against a bone rattling chill. “The rabbit hole was going to go deep tonight.” , I thought to myself. How far down, and just how deep into the underbelly of Montesano high society depended on how much I could take.
Removing the battered engraved flask that my sainted mother had given me on my fifteenth birthday that she found in a thrift shop those many years ago, I drank long, deeply, remembering the smell of pancakes that she had made for me once. Sated and braced, I began my entry into the estate.
The long twisting driveway ended abruptly flanked by the matching massive gold-painted reposed lions. Two of the party guests, the Daillyho sisters , alder switches in their hands, were taking turns disciplining a crying maid. They were wearing loud yoga pants, the uniform of their polite society, and oversize paste jewelry, the pants straining to hold tight as they worked. Just returning from their daily power-walk through town, talking as loud as possible along the way to attract attention as they went, both sisters were worked up. “Where is everyone gathered?” I interrupted.
The taller of the two pointed annoyingly pointing her switch toward the conservatory, its jagged end whipping in the air and setting in the direction of the servant estate entrance. With the thin branch lingering in the cold foggy evening, the sisters briefly cast a hated glance toward me. I backed away and cautiously trod my mud caked shoes upon the highly polished cobblestone walkway winding past the chef’s organic herb garden toward the staff entrance. As I wound past the artistic topiary, I could hear the trembling maid in the distance. “Yes mam, soften the butter prior to serving….soften the butter….”.
I had decided to question those gathered this evening in the wine cellar. Lachlan Russel was waiting for my arrival. Seated at the butler tasting pantry, she immediately rose, gracefully extending her hand in a sincere greeting. “How pleasant it is to have you here this evening detective, how can I be of help to you?”.
She was a looker alright, a cut above the rest. True Montesano royalty. Ditching the yoga pant uniform of her peers for a silver slit evening gown. Tall, slim, with a wide smile and long straight blonde hair. Her blue eyes twinkled and her voice echoed in song making one think of an angel. She was both stunningly beautiful and captivating in grace. The type of woman men have, and will, write songs about and fight wars over. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her, and didn’t want to. A perfect woman, and completely unable to attract a man. Well, any man in Montesano that was.
I pretended not to notice her extended hand turning sharply away to make small talk about an oddly shaped corkscrew laying on the ornately hewn oak tasting counter.
Figiiting with the small devise, I let my mind drift toward the tragic fate of poor Lachian.
It was the summer of her sixteenth birthday and the young Miss Russell was eagerly looking forward to the local gathering and fishing trip with her friends down by the Chehalis river. Upon arrival, she giddily took her place in the cleaning line with the dozens of other young Montesano women.
As the young girls fought for attention of the strappingly handsome Montesano boys by showing off their fish cleaning skills on the freshly caught flopping open mouthed variety of fish being brought in from the murky greenish river, Lachlan let her eyes rest on the young Reg Masters. His bent fishing rod in one hand, and a large gasping for air trout in the other.
Reg bypassed the other young women, their eyes straining and fighting to meet his, seemingly not to even notice them. Reg stood before the now motionless Lachian. “Here, I caught this just for you.” Reg spoke loud enough for the other girls to dissapointingly hear.
Lachian tried to contain her excitement but couldn’t hide the smile slowly forming over her full red lips. Her girl-heart fluttering below her rapidly flushing cheeks she began breathing heavy. She reached out, taking the offered fish and held the wiggling prize high in the air like a trophy speaking louder than she needed. “ I will clean this fish for you Reg Masters.”
Her eyes locked onto his, she hesitated, and in her moment of distraction, the razor sharp knife she had made herself in industrial arts class that Spring, slipped.
Slicing cleanly, her right thumb severed from her hand in an instant. In shock, both she and Reg could only watch as the thumb rolled and fell off of the fish-blood soaked table. Falling and rolling slowly at first, it’s red nail polish coated tip catching the bright harsh rose tinged harbor sunlight as it turned. The dis-attached thumb then picked up speed and with a plunk, disappeared into the swirling murky summer rushing water of the Chehalis river.
It was several months later and Lachian found herself sitting next to Reg in the movie theater. “Finally, something right going on in my life.” she thought to herself. The doctors had grafted her big toe onto the stump of her missing thumb and the incident was taking less and less of her thoughts as the days went by. By luck, her missing thumb was found in the belly of a running salmon the next day and attached to where her toe had been removed. Although parts of her were switched, at least she was whole, she reasoned.
It was a silly movie, just the kind of distraction she needed. Her hand dipping in and out of the popcorn box, she laughed and whispered this and that as she leaned into Reg. As she licked the dripping butter and salt from her fingers and toe-thumb she turned and saw the look of horror on Reg’s face. Not understanding she offered the box of popcorn in his direction. Reg looked at the half eaten box, looked at her toe-thumb, looked back at the box and slowly shook his head.
In an instant, Lachlan understood the situation and cried silently.
The following years were no kinder for her. Forced to date men from Elma and other even worse communities that weren’t as picky about their women She never married.
“Detective….detective?……I asked if you had a question for me?”, the tall beauty with the angelic trilling voice called, holding my arm gently, her grafted toe gripping my jacket.
Forcing myself to focus, I began the interrogation. “Yes…yes, tell me Miss Russel, where were you when Reg Masters was shot?”.
“Well, now, let me think”. She began to twist the ends of her long blonde hair with her toe-thumb and index finger. “I think I had just gone into the kitchen to look for Dolora and see if I could help with anything.”
“Dolora Garavito?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s right, it was her party you know, and she can just become so stressed if things aren’t so-so.”
I Couldn’t take my eyes off of her hand as it dipped in and out of the bowl of bar peanuts. Bits of salt and husk sticking and falling from the saliva.
“One last question, Miss Russell…..did you kill Reg Masters?”.
The stately beauty became agitated. Licking the salt from her fingers and toe-thumb rapidly and slamming the antique polished silver tray hard against the bar top.
In a pent up fit of rage, a rage that had been kept low and controlled for what seemed her entire life, Lachlan finally let her feelings go. Her thoughts tumbling in her mind, making and breaking synaptic bonds like socks in a clothes dryer without Cling-Free. Unable to control herself she began to shake and let loose her fury.
“Did I want Reg Masters dead? Did I want to stake him to a tree, rip his beating heart out with a can opener and stomp it into the dirt, then set it on fire only to put it back in his chest and stab it?” “Yes, yes. I wanted him dead, I dreamed of killing him every night. When I saw him I wanted to leap onto his back and chew off his ears and drive a steak into his eyes. “
I began to back up.
“I always carry a knife, just in case I am in a place where I can slice him to pieces….. slowly.“ The enraged beauty began walking closer to me. “I enlisted the military and learned how to kill with my bare hands, just to be ready for when that day finally came.”
Taking my chance while her arms were swinging wildly in front of her, her now twisted head cocked back laughing heartily into the air above her. I grabbed the large corkscrew from the bar and palmed it out of sight.
“Reg Master’s ruined my life!” She bellowed from a deep dark place within her small-waisted frame, her attention now returned in my direction.
“I would do anything just for the chance to wrap my fingers around his worthless neck and choke the very life from him and laugh at his suffering and cries for mercy – taking the happy thought of his agony to my grave as comfort”. “Did I want him dead? Yes Yes Yes…a million times yes!”
“But I didn’t kill him.”
Sobbing and spent, she fell into my arms, as beautiful women tended to do. I could tell she still loved him, and always would.
Wiping her tears, from her beautiful face with the arm of my coat, her watery eyes rested on mine, and she began to calm herself. “Why, Mr. Steele, where have my manners gone.” She reached out with her arm and lifted the bowl of peanuts.
“Would you care for a bite?” She guttered out through the clearing salty phlegm and receding tears.
“No….no, that’s all right…..I ate before I came here.” Removing myself quickly from her ever tightening grasp.
She began to cry again.
As I was leaving the cellar I turned from the imported marble staircase to see her quietly sobbing. Reaching in and out of the now half-empty peanut bowl, her red high heel open thumb-toed shoe rocking back and forth as she parked on the stool.
“Poor girl.” Was all I could think