Episode 16 of Witt Kepler, Private Eye
The next morning, Witt rolled out of bed to find himself somewhat alone. No Kamianka, no Guthrie. No glorious smell of coffee brewing. The only other living thing in the house was his dog, Lord Melvin. Witt could tell by the subtle snoring that his “best friend” was laying at the foot of the bed. He paused for a moment to contemplate the fact he was more concerned about the lack of hot coffee than his missing partner. Then Witt reached for his morning cigarette, only to find the soft pack crumple in his grasp. No cigarettes, either? A trip to the corner 7-11 store could not come soon enough. People’s lives were in danger, he told himself.
Witt took a short shower, just long enough to get the soap on and off his body. Ten minutes later, his beard still a stubble, the private eye walked out the door to fire up his muscle car’s engine. The caffeine clock was ticking and the nicotine addiction was knocking at the door. No one in their right mind would get in his way.
“You haven’t called.”
Witt looked up, squinting his eyes into the sun as it rose above the house next door.
“Excuse me?” he replied. Witt knew the voice, but his mind was still flustered, racing like Secretariat at Belmont, with facts about the case intermixing with a mental image of the 7-11’s layout and a detailed plan on how to get a cup of coffee and that first cigarette of the day in the most expeditious manner. Who is speaking and why are they speaking to me?
“I said, you have not called me yet. You remember, to discuss your smoking habit. You still have your lighter, right? Left pocket, if I remember correctly.”
Witt unconsciously reached for his Zippo, which, in fact, was still in his left pocket. He then realized Carolyn Peabody was standing across the driveway. Judging by her business attire, Witt assumed she was on her way to work.
“Do you always leave for work this early?”
“Witt, it’s past 7:30. I’m running late, actually. But really, give me a call and we can set up a time. You’re closer to quitting than you realize.”
“Why do you say that? And how did you know the lighter was in my left pocket? I thought I was the only private detective on the block.”
The psychologist replied “Hmmm. Detective Doctor Peabody. I like the sound of that. Here, let me continue. You have let yourself run out of cigarettes, am I right? I mean, you are on your way to get another carton, aren’t you?”
“Well, yes I did and yes, I am , but you could just be guessing. You’re playing fifty fifty. Your choices have been either yes or no.”
“Educated guesses, more likely,” she said. “If you had a spare cigarette, you’d be smoking it right now. Judging from the 5 o’clock shadow, from yesterday’s five o’clock, I deduced you were in a hurry, probably to get more smokes. You probably even skipped coffee.”
“You still didn’t answer my question about the lighter.”
“Silly man, you’re right handed. I could tell that from dinner the other night. Which means you hold your cigarette in your right hand. The left hand? It’s the only hand available to light it. Makes sense to keep that lighter in your left pocket.”
Damn, she’s good. Witt made a mental note to be more careful around Carolyn. He had no idea she had been analyzing him.
“Look,” he said, “I’ll call you tonight. Maybe we can get together…away from your mother. I’m on a big case right now, but I should be able to snag an hour or so tomorrow.”
“Lunch? I know a nice little Italian place downtown, close to my office.”
Witt was opening the door of his car, hoping to get moving before day was over. “Lunch? Yeah, that’s fine. How about noon, noon thirty?”
“Noon thirty works for me. Do you know Figaro’s? It’s a nice little place. Plenty of privacy.”
How could Witt not know about Ivan Vetski’s favorite restaurant. Of course, Carolyn would not have known about the restaurant’s most notorious diner. And Vetski was now in Canada, at least the evidence pointed alluded to that fact.
“Figaro’s. Yes. 12:30. Got it. I’ll be there. Anyway, hate to be rude, but-“
“Go on,” she said. “Tomorrow. Don’t make me come find you.”
Witt gave a half-hearted chuckle as he finally shut the door of his car. Revving the engine of his GTO, Witt announced his presence with authority as he wheeled out of the driveway onto the street. He pulled into the parking lot of the 7-11 a minute later, his tires still wrapped in white fog from the overheated rubber.
The private eye was well known at the corner convenience store. He could get away with much more than the average customer. Witt probably spent half his paycheck there every week, at least every week he had a paycheck. Any place with coffee, cigarettes and a wine rack was akin to finding the holy grail for this man. Witt walked in and slammed a twenty onto the counter.
“Two large coffees and a pack of Lucky Strikes.”
Witt didn’t stop for his change; instead moving on to the counter laden with several freshly brewed pots of coffee. He could always count on the 7-11 for fresh coffee. One time, the clerk asked him what he would do if they ever ran out of coffee. He replied “No coffee? Someone WILL die.” Since then, the staff made sure there were plenty of fresh pots, just in case Witt stopped in.
After pouring the first one into a large cup, he stood there and downed the hot beverage like it was cold milk. Other customers just stood and watched him. No one said a word. Once finished, Witt looked around, seeing he had become the center of attention.
“Quality control,” he said, pouring his second cup.
Eventually, Witt moved to the checkout counter. His pre-ordered pack of Lucky Strikes lay there, next to the display of lottery tickets. As the clerk was handing him the change from the twenty, Witt had a change of plan.
“Keep the cigarettes,” he said.
Pocketing the change, Witt knew he had to get back in his car before he changed his own mind. As he was leaving the store, he glanced down at the newspaper stand. The day’s headline caught his attention.
“Pimp found suspended from Metro River Bridge.”
The picture was clear enough. A pimp was hanging upside down, his head about a foot above the river. Since no noose was used, the man was still alive. His expression was one of pure terror.
“Strangest thing,” the clerk said. “They found this guy hanging on the bridge. And you know? He was totally wrapped in duct tape. Isn’t that something? And that’s a brackish river, too. The tide was coming in. Another hour and his head would have been underwater. Isn’t that something?”
Witt cracked a smile.
“Yeah, that’s something, alright. I guess you just never know when a roll of duct tape will come in handy, do you?”