The desk was a couple of sizes too large for the FSA guy behind it. His suit was not. Not anything like. He motioned I should sit down. I did like he said and mentioned I could badly use a coffee. He nodded to the pencil-skirted blonde hovering behind me. She turned on one shapely heel and was gone. “Straight up and strong”, I said to the space she’d just vacated, “and if you have a drop of bourbon…”

“Shall we get started?” he cut in. “Sure, why not,” I offered. “What have got for me?” “I’ll keep it simple,” he began. I nodded insincere appreciation. “A little birdy tells us some of those insurance boys have been making, let’s say, borderline legitimate use of your shamus friends.” I raised an ironic eyebrow. “Quit mugging and pay attention,” he snapped. “I want you to take a look at it and let me know if there’s anything in it.”

“Maybe I can do that,” I told him, “but you got to give me a bit more to work with.” He didn’t seem to like that, but as Blondie sashayed back with my coffee he went on: “Word is they’ve been getting private dicks to maybe lean a little on guys that are after them for insurance payouts. We hear they’re maybe leaving the rules of engagement a little flexible.”

“I can hardly believe what you’re telling me,” I deadpanned. He seemed to be liking my attitude less and less. His face suddenly seemed a deeper pink than I remembered. “Just read this”, he sputtered, handing me a slim file marked Gumshoe Probe “and call me back in a week with whatever you’ve got.” “I charge 500 a day, plus expenses”, I told him, picking up my coat. “That’s understood,” he grunted. “Delores will give you something to sign on your way out.”

She looked up from her typing as I approached. “Signature, please” she told me flatly. “They got some kind of ban on small talk round here?”, I asked. “I’m sorry, did I hurt your feelings?” she asked with a hint of playfulness I didn’t hate one bit. “Not yet,” I said. “Why not join me for a couple of drinks later and you can take a proper shot at it.” “Oh, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” she said clearly and distinctly, handing me a quickly scribbled note.

Bond’s at 6, was all it said. That seemed like enough to me.


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