“Ed Lowercase? Private detective? There’s something you can do for me…”
When I first heard that honey-trap voice, I could have said I was busy. However, as the voice came from a tall blonde in a low-cut tight dress leaning over my desk at night and waving a hundred pounds cash, then I could be excused for getting interested. I could also be excused for not pinching myself, in case I woke up and spoilt it all.
“Have you heard of the Scarbrington Writers’ Annual Competition?” she asked, and watched me as I watched her long fingers smooth slowly down her voluptuous waist and hips. She tossed her head as though she wanted me to award her a prize. I must admit the thought was crossing my mind. “The competition judge has got something of mine… and I want it back.”
“Let me guess. You want me to give it to you?”
“I’ve decided to correct my entry after handing it in.”
“Can’t you ask him yourself? You’re a big girl.”
“It’s against the rules.”
“I’m sure a woman like you could take care of that.”
“Not like you could. All members have to submit a short anonymous piece at Christmas, and mine is in a white A3 envelope. Here’s my corrected version.” She handed me a large envelope. “Just creep into his study and make the switch in the pile. You’ll get another hundred when you bring the other one to me. He’s just picked up the entries so you’d better go now before he reads them. Here’s his address… and my name and number….”
She put a slip of paper on my desk, then picked up one of my business cards and put it down her cleavage. “I’ll keep your name warm in the meantime… See you soon, Ed.”
She turned and left. It was a confident act, and she knew I would accept the job. The name on her slip of paper read “Ellie Lipsis”. I had a feeling that she was the kind of woman who might leave some details out.
The judge was called Quentin Mark. He lived in a big pile with a long curving driveway at the end of Sentence Avenue. I’d heard of him. He was more twisted than Wagner’s Ring Cycle, his favourite music.
When I arrived, all the lights were on and the front door was open. Yet no one was about. I crept down the hall towards the sound of German opera coming from a back study.
Quentin Mark had come to a full stop mid-passage he hadn’t expected. He was bent over his desk like a terminated Siegfried. In front of him was the pile of unopened competition envelopes and my business card.
Outside the window, a flashing blue light was approaching. I had to get out fast. I took the envelopes, the members’ directory, and my business card to take the heat off my name.
Later I pulled into a lay-by, opened all the envelopes, and checked the identities against the members’ list. There was no white A3 envelope, and Ellie Lipsis wasn’t a member. However, she was regularly signed in as a guest by Ingvar ‘Ted’ Commas. Furthermore, Abe O’Strophy’s entry was missing. I was beginning to join the dots.
I called Ellie’s number. No answer. I guessed she was with Ingvar Ted, but I needed to know more about Abe O’Strophy’s missing entry. So I headed out there.
His was the second house I had been to that night where the front door was already open. I drew my gun. As before, all the lights were on except one: the light in the house owner’s eyes. Abe O’Strophy was slumped across his desk with a hole in his head. It was not quite how he looked on his website.
“Drop the gun, Lowercase,” said a voice behind me.
I did so and turned round slowly. Alongside Ellie Lipsis was a guy with a gun and his cap on back to front.
“Give yourself up, Ingvar Ted,” I said. “It’s not too late to end the paragraph you’re in. Just turn the other way. And, perhaps, you and Ellie Lipsis would like to fill me in?”
“I suppose there’s no harm in spelling it out in bold before you get the capital treatment, Lowercase,” he snarled. “Tell him, Ellie.”
“Abe O’Strophy tried to hang around with me,” she said. “He thought that we could have something between us, but I always knew it was only going to be a one-letter affair. He was too possessive, and acted as though there was something missing. He didn’t like me being next to Ingvar Ted, but I knew Ingvar Ted and I were always going to be together at the end. As a result, Abe O’Strophy went floating mad and dug up some dirty references of mine I’d covered up. He bragged they were in his manuscript to be read aloud at Christmas. I saw him hand in a big white A3 envelope, but I couldn’t intercept it with everybody watching. So I asked you to get it. It would have worked out OK if Ingvar Ted had left it all to me and not started a new paragraph. He had a bad exchange with Quentin Mark. So, naturally after that, we had to tidy up Abe O’Strophy, and then you got in the way again…”
I lunged at Ingvar Ted and grabbed the gun. In the struggle it went off three times. Ellie Lipsis fell with three red marks on her. Ingvar Ted’s grip loosened, and I managed to turn his hand round before he fired again. The bullet hit him, twisting his head and bringing him to an end.
I rushed down to Ellie Lipsis and held her.
“Those other two were poor marks, Lowercase… Maybe you and I could have seen a lot more of each other…” She closed her eyes.
“In your dreams, Ellie… In your dreams…”
Stuart Larner is a chartered clinical psychologist. As Mental Health Expert he ran an advice column for XL For Men Magazine. He has published international articles and poems in magazines and newspapers including Nursing Times, as well as in scientific journals. He has been been involved in scriptwriting and directing productions at the Edinburgh Fringe. He has published Scarborough Modern Sea Songs, and an ebook in verse: Jack Daw and the Cat. He is currently working on a non-fiction sports psychology book and a novel about cricket.