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J♦
Part One
of the
Face Cards Serial

(shot in glorious black and white)


"I have to go to work. Mix me up a bloody mary and make sure the celery is crisp."

Margaret avoided asking him if he might actually have a client to see today. Usually that question snapped Jack out of his morning stupor. He would then go off on an annoyed diatribe about the nature of his business. People would pay him good money for what he was good at. They would pay him good money to do exactly what they kicked him off the police force for doing. Jack could find out anything about anyone. Laws and regulations never held him back. That was why he opened his private investigator business three years ago. He knew it was his calling.

Jack's habit of drinking before, during and after work hours had been one of the issues the police department had been most troubled by. During a large narcotics bust, the local papers had noticed Lieutenant Jack Sharper was looking more than a little tipsy. The story hit the papers as a sidebar to the narcotics bust story and the rest was history. After two years shining shoes at the bus station, Jack earned enough money to rent an office and make his services available to the troubled people of his fair city.

Three bloody marys later Jack arrived by cab at his less than plush office. It was the size of a closet, barely fitting a desk, filing cabinet and two wooden chairs inside its barren confines. It was ten-thirty in the morning and the street below was as quiet as Jack's office. The city was rarely this quiet. Something had to be wrong. Jack could sense it in the air. Any moment now there would be a knock on his door and a damsel in distress would enter his office looking for a strong pair of arms to lift her up and out of despair.

Jack was half right. There was a knock on the door, but he opened the door to a male face. His visitor was a tall man in a fine tailored suit. He wore a clean shaven face, well groomed hair, a sharply boxed fedora and wire rimmed spectacles. The man could be considered attractive, yet he looked too frail and too jittery to have the confidence to be a lady killer. He was the antithesis of Jack, whose unkempt mop of hair, five o'clock shadow, rumpled suit and badly worn bowler hat made him look like he could sleep in an alley.

"Are you Jack Sharper?"

Jack nodded and ushered the man into his cramped office. The man took the seat Jack offered him, removed his hat and placed in on his lap. After taking a moment to look at his surroundings, the man cleared his throat and began to tell his story. This was the way almost all of Jack's more interesting cases began.

"I will not waste your time by beating around the bush, Mr. Sharper. My name is Hans Berger and I want to hire you to follow my wife. Her behavior of late has been most suspicious. She keeps strange hours, has lost all interest in making love and goes through very strange changes in her emotional state of mind, sometimes without any warning at all. I believe she is keeping a lover somewhere. I need to know the truth and I want you to find out the truth for me."

Jack scratched his incoming beard and reached for the bottle of cheap cognac that rested on top of his file cabinet. He offered some to the visitor, who declined, and poured himself four fingers of the ungodly liquid into a chipped porcelain coffee cup.

"Does your wife work, and if so where, and what is her work schedule?"

"She works at the book store across the street from here. She is the assistant manager and goes in to work in the morning when they open. Lately, however, she seems to be working later in the evening and sleeping in. Her name is Victoria and I can show you a picture."

Jack sipped his cognac and nodded, waiting as his newest client produced a photograph of the wife from his jacket pocket. Upon receiving the photograph, the first thing Jack noticed was that this was a very attractive woman. She was, however, of the type that looked shy and unassuming. Her hair was tied back in a bun. She wore glasses and a very unflattering dress that covered her neck and arms, much like that of a widow but in lighter colors. Her big brown eyes had the look of constant fear, indicating to Jack that she was a woman who jumped everytime she heard a small, unexpected sound. There was something else about her, though, and Jack's desire to figure out what that was, along with his desperate need for money, made him immediately accept the case.

"Is she at work today, and if so what hours is she expected to keep?"

"I dropped her off on my way here to your office. She mentioned that she would probably have to work late. In fact, if you look out your window you can see her standing behind the cash register by the window."

She was just a small blur as far as Jack could see from his third story window. Still, there was a pair of binoculars somewhere in his desk. They would prove useful, and the proximity of the woman's workplace would make this case a bit easy from the stakeout perspective.

"I am willing to pay whatever you need until you can put all the evidence on the table. You understand, Mr. Sharper, I need to know what is going on. Maybe it is just my imagination running away with me, but there are too many odd coincidences. There are too many things that tell me there is another man, too many..."

Jack finished his cognac and stood up. He felt like getting a cup of coffee. There was a coffee shop across the street from which he could see everything that went on in the entire front area of the book store.

"Let me ask you something, Mr. Berger.
Do you love your wife?"

The man looked awash in panic for a moment, but then took his hat, came to his feet and re-attached the hat to his finely styled scalp.

"If I said yes, would that affect the way you investigate this case?"

"No, but it may affect how I report the details to you."

Jack showed the man out and watched quietly as he descended the stairs to the first floor of the building. Then Jack returned to his window and looked on in amusement as Hans Berger glanced wistfully towards the bookstore, slipped behind the wheel of his Packard and drove off down the street. Jack began pulling himself together in order to trudge off to the coffee shop, but then he figured there would be no harm in another cup of cognac. This case was going to be easy, Jack thought before taking a Lucky Strike out of the silver plated cigarette case on his desk. Just another souvenir from a client who really couldn't afford what Jack had to do for her.


Next: Queen of Clubs

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