I had a morning routine and it went like this: wake from whatever stupor I got myself into the night before, eat my breakfast at Tony's, then up to the office to check in with my gal Friday, Eva. That's right, I had an office and a nice young lady to take my calls and make my appointments. The office was a real tight fit. It had a waiting area with three chairs and a desk for Eva. My room was big enough for a desk, a chair, two guest chairs, a coat rack, an overworked bookshelf and a rusty filing cabinet. It was bare bones. How I liked things. Eva brought in a plant once to cheer the place up. A fern she named Burn. Short for Washburn. She had a slight wit to her. A real tough talker in a real sweet way. This was Eva I'm talking about, not the fern.
The address was the basement of 148 Rivington Street. Right around the corner from the hubbub of Essex Street. I usually walked from Tony's which took about 11 minutes give or take. I liked the walk. It helped me to digest my breakfast. This morning I walked in with Eva rapidly taking a diction over the phone. Oh by the way, Eva was a blond. A warm blond and not one of those dangerous bottle blonds. She was a snappy dresser who was partial to polka dots and light blues. Younger than me by a good 10 years and lived with a slew of Hunter girls on the Upper East Side.
"Yes. I heard you the first time. Yes." She looked up from her pad and pointed toward my office. The door was open and that meant I had a visitor. I wasn't surprised. The morning after the murder of my high profile client would no doubt bring a lawyer or family member cutting me loose from my job and settling the big shot's tab. "Well, of course. I'll let Mr. Finch know as soon as he walks through the door." I rolled my eyes. She pursed her lips. That meant it was someone from the press or my nasty sister-in-law, Millie. "And you too. Have a lovely day. Good bye now." She slammed the phone down. "Old coot." She spat.
"And a good morning to you." I said. "Let me guess, Millie?"
"Worse. Although that maybe hard to imagine."
"The Post wanting a statement?"
"The King of England?"
"Lyle Linder," She barked. "That obnoxious Swede."
"I'm glad I hired you to be the sweet talker of this office."
She stood up and threw the pad at me. "Save it, Finch. That went out the door my second day on the job when I was forced to pull a pistol on your cousin Jonny."
"I told you you'd need it."
"If only mother could see me now." She went over to the small percolator on the office hotplate and poured me a cup of black coffee. "Anyway, Prince Linder wants to meet you for dinner. 8 PM. Oak Room. Says it's important."
"I hate the Oak Room."
"Oh and Mr. Finch," She raised her voice up high to sound nice and professional. "A Mr. Fitz Roy is in your office waiting to see you."
I turned as white as a ghost who saw another ghost he wasn't very fond of. "Ahhh, Eva. You read the paper this morning?" I thought the poor girl might have lost her marbles over a bad date last night.
"The younger, Mr. Finch."
"Oh," I clutched my coffee tightly. "I didn't realize there was one."
"He's very handsome," She said with a devious smile as she sat back down at her desk.
I walked into my office to discover how right she was. He was a little too handsome. Black hair slick completely over to the left, a real rich suit, pin stripes. A stately nose like his father had and blue eyes. He was around Eva's age, early twenties, which explained the puddle I left her in. When he stood up to shake my hand, all seven feet of him nearly hit the ceiling. "Detective Finch, I presume."
I gave him a firm handshake. His was firmer. "Yes it is. Tobias Finch."
"William Fitz Roy, II."
I took off my coat and hung it on the rack. My hat followed. "My apologies sorry about your father, Mr. Fitz Roy. A real shame."
"Please call me, Will. And thank you."
I was amazed how collected he was considering the back of his father's head was splattered on a window only 8 hours ago. "What can I do for you?" I sat down. "Do you need coffee or a drink?"
He sat in the chair I found him in across from my desk. "No thank you. Your charming secretary already offered." I smirked and considered making a remark about the charming thing, but let it go for Eva's girlish pride. "I understand your were under my father's employ."
"Yeah. Something of his was stolen. He cared a lot about it and he hired me to find it."
"And you still have not?"
"No. He hired me a week ago."
"Do you think you were getting close to the culprit?"
I was starting to scratch at my neck, which meant I was getting a little annoyed. I wanted this dandy to cut me loose and go back to Snobsville. I could take a lot of baloney from a lot of butchers, but whenever someone started questioning me on my job, I just wanted to blow my stack. "Look Will, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not Sherlock Holmes or whoever you're reading in your prep schools these days. I can't just sniff my way through these things in a day. Your father knew a lot of people most of which he enemies out of--"
"Including his family."
I stopped my rant. "Say again?"
"My father and I had not spoken in 10 years." I took out a cigarette from my pocket and offered it to the kid. "Thank you, I don't smoke." I lit mine and let him talk. He needed to. "He left us for a showgirl when I was 13. Mother, Marion , and I. He continued to support us in the lifestyle we were accustomed. But made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with us. We remained on the estate in Connecticut and he kept a number of apartments in the city."
"Marion your sister?"
"Your mother remarry?"
"No, she chose not to."
She'd lose the money if she did and she'd be hard pressed to find someone as rich as Fitz Roy. Now I was going to take out the big guns. "Can I ask the obvious question?"
"How did you find your way to me so quick? And what can I do for you?"
He cleared his throat. The last thing he thought he'd be doing this morning was sitting in a PI's basement office on the Lower East Side telling some schmoe that his daddy left him for a dancer and now he needed answers. "Theodora, his wife, telephoned me two days ago and asked me down to lunch with the two of them today. They had some affairs that they were settling and wanted me involved. I am the first born and father always intended to have me manage his businesses when the time came. I should clarify, he had no use for me as a child, but now that I'm a man, he wanted a Fitz Roy to continue his legacy."
"And you agreed with no hard feelings?"
"One doesn't pass up the opportunity to manage such a successful enterprise as the one my father ran."
I puffed away. Probably a little too much as Mr. Fitz Roy seemed to be waving the smoke away from his face. "So why me?"
"She telephoned again early this morning and told me about my father's murder and that I needed to come down to see you. Said you were working for him and I was to rehire you."
"To find his murderer."
That was not what I wanted to hear. I took my coffee cup and gulped it down. "EVA! MORE COFFEE. You sure I can't get you anything?"
"No I'm fine. Thank you."
Eva broke through the door with the pot smiling the whole way at Fitz Roy. "Mr. Fitz Roy, are you sure I can't get you anything?" She was so sweet I could vomit. She poured the coffee into my cup without even looking at it.
"No thank you." She couldn't take her eyes off of him.
The coffee was about to spill over the brim of the cup. "Eva, you can stop pouring now."
"Oh of course, Mr. Finch. Is there anything else I can get you, Mr. Finch."
"Yeah the gal who used to sit out front. The one with the rough mouth and the fast hand."
She gritted her teeth at me to let me know she wasn't amused. "I'll see if I can find her." She stomped out.
I pulled out a bottle of scotch from the bottom drawer of my desk and introduced it to my coffee. I hoped they'd be fast friends. "This is tricky business, Will."
"Why is that?"
"Because your father's murder is big time in this city. He's been dead for about nine hours now and I've already been warned by the cops to stay away. They want this thing all for themselves."
"It's our right to hire you. You are licensed, correct?"
"I am, but this isn't Country Day down here. We don't hold hands on the green grass and play pocket full of posies. One bad move and I'm out with last night's mackerel. In the slammer or my license cut up into pieces. Everyone wants credit for finding the guy who knocked off your father and the boys in blue don't want a private dick doing the work and stealing all their glory."
"According to Theodora, he trusted you. He said so many times. She was quite insistent. We are willing to pay you handsomely for your work." I perked up. Money was tight and my pockets had holes in them so deep sometimes an Australian popped through to say hello from the other side. "5,000 retainer, expenses, and an additional 10,000 when the suspect is identified."
I nearly choked on coffee. "15,000 and expenses?" I'd like to think I was good, but that fee brought me into a whole new class of detective. His daddy only paid me two grand for the theft case. The coppers would be on my tail at every turn trying to trip me up, all of Fitz Roy's enemies would be going open season on one another. This would be my most dangerous case. No more small time petty thefts or wife cheaters.
"Is that enough?" This kid, obviously knew nothing about the value of money these days but I wasn't about to give him a lesson in economics.
"All I ask is that I do it my way, no involvement from family or friends unless I say so."
"Yes, of course."
I smiled. The thought settled with me that I would go head-to-head with Claire again. And for that price, I'd finish both cases, the theft and the murder. He lifted the brown leather attache case that was sitting on the floor next to him. "I brought cash, I hope you don't mind."
Eva plowed through the door, all smiles at one last chance to see Will. "Yes, Mr. Finch."
"You're finally getting that Christmas bonus I promised you."
She smiled, "Just this year's?"