Yet another pulpy present under the ALL PULP tree! 4500 or so words from a little jewel by author J. Walt Layne!!
Thurman Dicke and the Case of the Baroque Pearl
© 2010 By J. Walt Layne
I was sitting in Shifty’s doing my best to kill the bottom half of a bottle of low shelf bourbon when she walked in. It was pouring rain like cats and dogs, and she got caught in the middle of it. Soaked from head to foot, even after drizzle this dame was one Class A ankle, if you know what I mean.
Just inside the door she shivered off the fall chill, and started to preen, shedding water, and a knit poncho, you know the kind the kittens wear this time of year. She leaned over toward the door to shake out her hair, and I got a look at the goods. She had the kind of hourglass figure that would make a fella’ do time with a smile on his face.
She sauntered over to the bar and sat down, two stools away, but we were alone, save for Shifty, whose old lady works in the back. She gave me the eye and adjusted herself on the stool. Her white chiffon blouse was just damp enough to make taking inventory an easy affair, and I already told you about the story written by the skirt.
“So you gonna say hello to me, or just stare me down like pot roast and potatoes,” she asked me with a wry little smile.
I should have told her I hated to eat and run, but sometimes I got a way with broads. This one could have her way with me.
“Hello, I’m Thurman. Thurman Dicke,” I said it casual not trying to be smooth.
She smiled, “do you have another one of those,” she raised a brow and poked an eyeball at my smoke.
I nodded and reached for my tobacco pouch. I slipped a paper out and a decent pinch of Carolina Queen. I rolled the cigarette as tight as miser’s doorknob and handed it over.
Her fingers were soft, and she let them drag across my hand on purpose, just to see how I’d play my hand.
She pursed her lips when I kept my hand close, and raised the smoke to her pouty lips, “do you have a light Mister- Dicke, was it?”
I drew my Zippo quick as a flash and struck an arc for her. She leaned over and lit the cigarette, drawing in just enough air to light the cigarette and not her hair.
“Thank you” she purred in a scintillating voice. She had me and she knew it.
“You’re welcome, Miss?” I left it hanging for a bit hoping she’d fill in the blank, but no luck.
“If you want to know my name, you gotta ask me nice, detective,” she said it sultry, like I was her Bogey, and she was my Bacall. Some bogey I was, shot down twice by the same bird.
“You are a detective aren’t you, or are there two Thurman Dicke’s in this burg, and you happen to be the one who isn’t,” it was sass, plain and simple, if she hadn’t been a siren, she’d have been poison.
“Nope I’m your Dicke,” I gave it to her straight, I mean come on, did I look like a used car salesman?
“Bring me one of those, and let’s talk business,” she said, gesturing to my glass.
I looked at her, then to my glass, and back to her, “What kind of business?”
“It’s not a social call. I lost something and I need it found,” She gave me a come hither smile as she slid off the stool and batted her eyes at me when she walked past on her way to a dark corner. It was a pleasure to watch her move, she was articulated, if you know what I mean.
I motioned to Shifty to refill mine and pour hers, he nodded at me and his eyes shifted to her receding backside, then back to me, he puckered up to whistle but just let go a long exhale. I nodded in return.
I took the drinks over and sat down across from her in the small round table in the back corner. She took the bourbon and she wasn’t shy about it. She took a long sip of the snort, and then rested her head against the side of the hand that held the glass. I saw her shudder when the spirits hit back.
I lifted my glass and took a sip. When I lowered it, she was giving me the eye.
“Good to see you spared no expense on the booze,” she hissed.
“You asked for one of these,” I held up my glass.
A slow, sly, sexy smile cracked the bland expression on her lovely features. Her eyes sparkled.
“So you’re a detective,” she said it more as a statement than a question.
I nodded, “and you lost something and you want it found,” two could play this game, but I wanted her to get on with it.
“Very perceptive detective,” she purred.
“Lemme guess, your kid sister skipped town with some sleaze,” I was humoring her, but if I’d been right, she’d have been impressed.
She gave me that wry smile again, “No, nothing as exciting as that I’m afraid, but something just as important. Important to me anyway,” she took a drag on her cigarette and blew the smoke at me.
“Okay,” I prompted, and took out a pen and my old leather notebook, what’s the item, it’s approximate value, and the last place you saw it.”
She drug on that smoke again, and sipped her drink, it’s not as simple as looking under my bed for a sock, Mr. Dicke.”
“Well, no I didn’t figure on it being that simple,” but I have to ask a lot of simple questions to get to where I need to go from here,” It’s just how it’s done. If she doesn’t want to help me, then I can’t help her, Siren or not.
She looked around Shifty’s, I mean it’s a cool place and all, he’s had the same bar in the same spot for a long damn time. Pictures and other memorabilia adorn almost every inch of the walls. I followed her gaze, just so I could keep up, and eventually her eyes fell on the photo of Shifty and Mickey Mantle over the fireplace, and then dropped a bit to the mantelpiece itself where a small jar of marbles sat next to a ragged looking photo of two boys shooting marbles in a bare patch of yard in front of an old shotgun house.
She smiled, “Did you ever play marbles, Mr. Dicke?”
Sure, I guess. I mean, what kid doesn’t?” I didn’t know what she was getting t, but sometime broads are like kids and you gotta just let ‘em talk it out. So I figured she could have some time if it was gonna lead to cash.
“Did you have a favorite in your bag, or were yours all clear glass?” She inquired as she finished the cigarette and ground out the last of it in the ashtray in the center of our table.
“We were poor, and I just had the ten cent bag from Woolworth’s. They were all the clear soda lime glass that shattered green. All but two, I had one that was solid copper, it had been inside a bearing of some kind on a Baldwin locomotive, but the best one was a shooter made out of tiger eye quartz. Both of them were gifts from my grandmamma.” Talking about marbles was really taking me back. I remembered how that marble had felt in my hand just before I shot Martha Willet’s fancy little milk glass beaner out of the circle. What did she think she was doing playing marbles with a bunch of boys anyhow?
“We were poor too, Mr. Dicke. My father had a small jewelry store, left to him by his grandfather and my grandfather who were partners. Everyone thought we were wealthy, and the kids in school all treated me like I was some poor little rich girl. But we weren’t rich or anywhere near it. My mother did laundry to keep us fed, because nobody had money to buy jewelry with half the country out of work. You’re wondering where I’m getting on with all this, well the item I’ve lost is a very rare baroque pearl. It is black in color with white-green marbling, and it’s about as big around as a shooter. But it’s not perfectly round, and won’t roll worth a hoot. My Daddy gave it to me for my birthday in 1935. It had come in a bag with a bunch of other Spanish pearls. They called them bread and butter pearls because small town jewelers made their living on affordable jewelry for moderate income men to give as gifts to wives and girlfriends, not on fancy diamonds and jewel encrusted trinkets.” She paused to raise her glass and I took out my tobacco pouch to roll myself a cigarette.
I pressed my thumb along the seam to make sure it was sealed and was about to raise it to my lips.
“Can I trouble you for another one of those,” she gestured to the cigarette that I had almost gotten to my mouth.
I handed it over and made myself another, then lit us both. I motioned to Shifty for another round.
After Shifty brought our drinks over, she settled herself and we drank and smoked for several minutes. I was beginning to wonder if there was anymore to the story when she got to it.
“He wasn’t getting a lot of good stuff anymore, and this black pearl, though it was rare, wasn’t the kind of thing he could make any money on. With the depression on, there were no collectors willing to part company with the money to buy an odd piece, and at face value, it wasn’t odd enough to be of much interest- Just a black marble to most eyes, trained or not. After the depression and the ware were over, there were inquiries made about the pearl, but my father never said a word. For fifteen years that baroque Spanish Pearl laid in a bag off marbles that my brother had given me.” She stopped long enough to take a sip of her drink and finish her cigarette.
I was taking notes, and when I finished noting that the pearl had sat in a bag of marbles for fifteen years, I looked up attentively. She was looking me over, not that I’m not used to it, but this dame had teeth. I must me getting’ soft, cause I was starting to feel ashamed of the way I was lookin’ at her a little while ago.
“You gonna tell me your name, or just look at me like a pot roast and potatoes,” I threw back at her, trying to catch her off her game and get a better read on her book.
“Maybe I like pot roast detective, and my name is Chase, Veronica Chase. There, now you know. I have a little more to tell you, and then I need to be on my way.
“That’s fine, Veronica. All this back story is fine, but what happened to the pearl after all those years in the bag? The best way for me to find it, is for you to tell me about the people who knew that you had it. Specifically anyone who had any idea what it might be worth. What is it worth anyhow?”
She finished her drink and contemplated the stub of a cigarette that was burning down on the edge of the ash try.
I reached for my tobacco pouch, “d’you want another smoke?”
She shook her head and batted her eyes, “no I’d better not, and you better keep that shellac to your self, or you’ll have to carry me home and tuck me in.”
I could feel the heat creeping up my neck as much as I tried to fight it. Just the thought of being anywhere near the sack with that kinda ankle was more than I could stand.
“Nice flush, detective. Do you have a full house?” She said is just as dry as could be.
“No, I live alone.” I was done letting this kitten play with my mouse.
“Good to know if I need a cigarette rolled, you do all right with that. Outside the family, the only people who knew about the pearl were the gem merchants who sold those Spanish pearls to my father. When he got it, it was basically worthless, but it was rare enough to have a certificate of authenticity. I have it at home, if you need to see it come by, or I can bring it to your office.” She stopped for a moment, while I finished making my notes.
“I should think a copy would suffice for what I need. I will need any photographs of the pearl you have, the more the better,” I sat back, waiting for her to continue. She did not, so I leaned forward and laid my notebook out on the table.
I went over everything she’d told me to that point, which was a lot of back story about a little girl who’d lost her marble. I needed some thing solid and she hadn’t come out with it yet. She was building up to something, I was sure of it, but if she built up much more she was gonna pop the cameo pin off her blouse.
“Y’know all this is great,” I said sitting back, “but there ain’t squat diddley for me to base an investigation on. There isn’t even a good place to start. If you want this thing back, you gotta come clean and start giving me something that I can work with.
She opened her purse and pulled out a small manila envelope. She slid it across thee table and I opened it, turning out seven older photos of the pearl. I couldn’t believe what I was looking at. This marble was a Baroque Spanish Pearl, almost two inches in diameter according to the scale on the first photo, which was stamped Chase Jewelers, Champion City. The surface was beautiful, but even in the sepia tone of the old photo it was evident that there were three distinctive veins, obviously the marbling that Veronica had mentioned. It was beautiful, and I could tell that it wasn’t quite a perfect sphere.
I shuffled through the photos, several of which were in color. None of them showed finer detail than the older sepia one. A couple of them were of Veronica as a little girl holding it. I shuffled through them once again and noticed one, obviously from the jewelry store that showed three men standing behind a glass display case, with a black velvet lined tray with what must have been a thousand pearls of varying sizes and shades, all were white save one, the black one which was much larger and obviously more valuable even to my untrained eyes.
“What is this thing worth approximately?” I asked her, really curious.
“Its value would be based on its uncommon nature. There are black pearls, and they are not really uncommon, but a pearl of that size is very rare, and very old. There is a museum value to it. When it came to our attention that it was supposedly an antiquity it was decided that it should be kept quiet. So I just left it in my bag of marbles and then when I took over the store, I kept it in the safe. There it stayed for over twenty years,” She stopped talking just then, and looked around. I followed her eyes around the joint again, Shifty was in the back and the place was empty, save for us.
She leaned forward, resting her breasts on the table, causing the neckline of her blouse to open a bit, giving me a show. When she was sure I noticed, she slid a foot up the inside of my leg and rubbed my crotch with her toes, “do I have your undivided attention, detective?”
“Good. My pearl is worth somewhere around ten million dollars. There was an article in the paper about a missing black pearl several years ago, and then people started coming around asking about it. The only lead I can give you is Charles Patterson, my father’s former business partner. He had worked for my grandfather as a boy, during the depression. Then worked for my father for many years, he was very knowledgeable about the business, and always unhappy about his lot in life. He was a gambler and womanizer, and drank or gambled away his paycheck instead of providing for his family. My father had to make advances on his salary from time to time so the man could either pay gambling debts or buy food and pay bills. That doesn’t count the handouts he gave to Mrs. Patterson to help out with the children. When I was getting into my teens, father insisted that I stay away from the store if he wasn’t going to be there, sure that Mr. Patterson would be after me,” She stopped to take a breath and let me catch up.
“Is this guy still around,” I was thinking this might be just a little intimidation job, go by the guys place and rattle his cage.
“Yes he is, but he is in a retirement home, or at least he was, last I heard,” she punctuated this with her toes, “Finally he quit working for father, when the men from the antiquity preservation society came by asking if the pearl was in his possession, and started talking about the money it might be worth. Mr. Patterson argued with father quite passionately that he had been keeping him down, by not providing a pension for his family because they were poor; father argued back that it was the drinking and gambling that had kept his family poor. They argued and finally Patterson threatened to quit, and father told him that he was welcome to go anytime he felt the need. Patterson of course went to work for the Stuckey’s, and vowed to get even with my father. To my knowledge he never did, though our store was burglarized twice while father was still running it, and once after I took over. I didn’t move the pearl into the safe until about a year after that, when mother and father’s home was robbed. My room was the only one that wasn’t touched; the pearl still lay in my old sack of marbles where I’d left it. So the next day, I took it to the store and put it in the safe. After a thorough inventory of the house, the only thing that was missing was an old ledger from the store, from 1938.”
While she was talking I was getting an idea and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I might be on to something, “How many of those ledgers were there, I’m assuming they were all together in a closet or in the attic or basement?”
“All the ledgers from the time the store opened were in an old chifforobe in the bedroom that had belonged to my Grandmother Holt,” she tipped her glass and looked into the bottom of it, “the responsible persons were never caught, but that was the only thing that they took.”
I noted this and followed up with, “I don’t suppose the police were able to come up with anything,” to which she shook her head, “Do you have any ideas who it might have been?”
“My father never would come out and said it, but I think he suspected Charles Patterson, I know I always did,” she explained, “he ran errands and did chores for my granddad, and worked there full time as long a my father, he did the daily bookkeeping, father took inventory daily and weekly, and closed the books weekly and monthly... I just could never figure out why he would steal one ledger book, father had had a stroke, and couldn’t tell us, even if he knew,” she sat back I her seat as if she were spent.
I glanced over my notes, really just waiting to see if she had more to say, she didn’t speak for a while, so I took that as my cue to ask some questions, starting with, “I don’t suppose you still have that stack of ledgers sitting around anywhere?”
She nodded, “Yes of course I do. I live in my parent’s house, and most anything relating to the business has been saved. You can come by and look through any of those things that you think might help you find my pearl.”
I was putting together my first tack and I thought I’d go ahead and order the enchilada, “do you have know when exactly Mr. Patterson quit working for your father, and I suppose you have all of these news articles and some sort of records of explanation about what this black pearl of yours is supposed to be, or where it supposedly came from?”
“You’re already at it detective?” She asked with a little sarcasm, “I thought I smelled smoke.”
If it wasn’t for the way that broad smiled, and the way her foot felt rubbing my crotch, I might had given her the business, If she kept it up I still might have. I gave her a sober look and she demurred.
“Yes, mister serious, I have his dates of employment, and of course we have every scrap of paper about my pearl. How often is it that you run across something like that, even in the trade? I can get all of these things together and you can come by and take a look,” She smiled, and sat up a bit straighter.
“I think I’ve got enough to get started with, I’ll write this up tomorrow morning and I’ll stop by tomorrow afternoon to look through the ledgers and get Mr. Patterson’s date of dismissal. I will want to see anything you have on the item itself, and I would appreciate it if you could have it all ready when I get there. My fee works like this”-
“I’ll have it all ready for you tomorrow at seven, your fee, I suppose you want five thousand up front and another five thousand when you find my pearl?” She had that smug, tone to her voice, like she knew where I was going all along, its generally my job to know what other people think, so this grated on my nerves.
“I hadn’t really thought of an amount, but if the marble is worth what you say it is, that sounds like a fair deal,” I wasn’t trying to stiff her, she was trying to tell me my business, so I was gonna let her set her price, just because it was more than I usually charge.
She had that sexy little smug smile on again, “You’re a tough negotiator, detective. I tell you what- I’ll pay you twenty five when you bring me my pearl, plus expenses,” her eyes narrowed and she leaned forward again, resting her assets on the table and getting my attention with her foot again, “but if you don’t find it- you don’t get a dime.”
“I get it, don’t worry. You’ll have it back in no time,” I tried to reassure her.
She stood up and leaned across the table, on sweet, sultry drink of water. I got a good look at the goods, she bet over me deep and looked right into my eyes, “I want my pearl detective and if you find it, I will be very… Pleased,” she said so slowly, she purred. A very sensual smile crossed her face and she kissed my, drawing my bottom lip out and letting it slap back against my mug as she pulled away. Damn, why did she have to do that?
“I’ll see you tomorrow at seven, Detective. Don’t be late, and don’t disappoint me,” she said over her shoulder, and she was gone.
I finished my drink and mulled it over for a bit and then I rolled out, unloading a sawbuck on my way to the door. When I got back to my place, I checked the mail and walked up the back stairs to go inside. My place is a nice little two bedroom walk up over a two office suite with oak floors and oiled walnut woodwork- maybe you know it, E. C. Levinski one of Champion City’s more prominent attorney’s had owned it before he died, I got the building in the estate sale for next to nothin’ its perfect, office down stairs, apartment upstairs, its home.
The next morning I drove by Chase’s Jewelry to eye up the joint. I wanted to check out what kind of place I was dealing with. At face value it was just another store front built into the front of a modest, late nineteenth century home. When I pulled into the drive that led around to a small rear parking lot, I saw a different story.
In its day this place had been a real cherry. To start with, the short asphalt drive terminated into a cobblestone driveway the led under an arched portico to a cobbled parking lot, marble steps and walks leading to fancy scrolled doors with lots of cut glass. A marble fountain and wrought iron fencing complete what must have been a very ritzy scene in its day, even now the shadow of glamour hung over it.
I parked my car and got out to take a look around. The three door block carriage house had newer clay tiles on the roof, and the hardware on the doors was free of rust.
As I walked across the lit, I noticed that the cobblestone lot was well maintained and there were no weeds or scrubby vegetation growing up through them and some of them looked as if they had been replaced through the years.
I went inside to have a look around. It was a decent place, lighted display cases sat upon fine thick carpet. It was well lit and there were two young clerks , both well dressed. One of them, a young man was helping an older lady. Their hushed voices were discussing a diamond bracelet. The other one was working behind what appeared to be the main desk. I walked over. When she turned around I was struck, it was as if someone had turned back the clock twenty years and Veronica Chase was staring back at me.
“May I help you?” She asked in a sultry pitter that could belong to no one else.
“I, uh... I need to talk to-“I trailed off, her resemblance of all of her was uncanny, in a lot of places.
She rolled out her best smile and purred, “Veronica isn’t here right now. Are you Mr. Dicke?”
I nodded. I didn’t know what she knew, and I wasn’t about to believe that resemblance meant relationship.
“Mother said you might stop by. She said to give you this,” she handed me a letter size manila envelope.
There was a note pinned under the brad that held the envelope closed, which read:
When you get this, just come by the house. I’ll be home all day. The address is:
1236 North Fountain Avenue
I’ll be expecting you,
I opened the envelope and held out the flap so I could look inside. There were copies of the photos I’d seen at the bar and the employment records for Charles Patterson. I closed the flap and thanked the young woman on my way to the door.
I pulled out of the lot and headed west on High Street. It seemed awfully convenient that I would be expected…