Here we go again.
209 Park St, Suite 7. The door was a battered oak slab with a frosted glass window.
The sign on the door read T. J. Boynton, Private Investigator / Advertising. This was inscribed in a semi-circle above a profile of Sherlock Holmes wearing a Deerstalker, smoking a Calabash pipe and peering intently through a large magnifying glass. I was not inspired by this image. Sherlock Holmes did not wear a Deerstalker, did not smoke a Calabash and was not a Private Investigator. He was an amateur sleuth, and master of disguise, who took cases that interested him and expected no reward other than the satisfaction of a job well done. I, on the other hand, needed a paycheck, and was not so much a master of disguise, as just not memorable. Sherlock Holmes also used cocaine. Maybe that would be on the drug test.
Duly warned, I knocked sharply on the glass. There was no response. I tried the tarnished brass handle tentatively, and it yielded to my touch. I pushed the door inward slightly and peered around it. At the far end of the room was a gray metal desk. On the desk was the last functioning rotary dial telephone in the country, and a pair of brown brogues. It was apparent that the right shoe needed a half-sole. The first section of the morning paper, open and upright, was obscuring the owner of the shoes.
I cleared my throat. “Mr. Boynton, I presume?” A little levity to break the ice. It had better be thin ice.
The shoes fell behind the desk with a thud as the paper was thrown to one side, and I stood face to face with T. J. Boynton, Private Investigator / Advertising Executive.
Evidently T. J. Boynton was a somnalitteratist.
He motioned me to the only other piece of furniture in the room, faded tangerine vinyl and chrome chair rescued from a doctor’s waiting room. What was once modern and stylish is now a supreme example of bad taste. As I walked to it I glanced around. It would take a good cleaning to make this office dingy. The failing fluorescent ceiling fixtures contributed to the charm. The low, winter morning sun caught the dirty window at just the right angle so as to render it completely opaque. I felt strangely at home.
T. J Boynton, P.I. / A.E. was, well, is, a short, barrel-chested man of indeterminate middle age. His balding head was fringed in gray hair, short cropped except for a half dozen hairs above his right ear that were cultivated to great length and carefully drawn across his dome in a classic comb-over. As he talked his head moved, these hairs would fall out of place, and his left hand, apparently reflexively, would swing up and swoop the errant hairs back into place. This occurred so often and regularly that it took on the appearance of a nervous tic. Boynton reached his other hand across his bare desk to shake mine. His hand belonged to a man who was accustomed to work, the fingers were gnarled, the palm callused.
“Mr. Boynton isn’t in today. I’m Katowski, his Chief Investigator. Welcome, sit, sit down” As he spoke he peered with watery blue eyes over drug store reading glasses. He gestured casually towards the tangerine chair and straightened himself in his own chair. I sat, and carefully adjusted my posture into my best “receptive interviewee” pose. I didn’t believe all that self help crap, but it couldn’t hurt, either.
“So, you’re interested in the law enforcement field, eh?” He gave a little, low laugh, but it was unclear what, or whom, the joke was.
I smiled, looked him straight in the eye, leaned forward slightly and said: “I have been keenly interested in law enforcement for more years than I can recall, and I believe that this opportunity suits me perfectly.”
He cleared his throat, and I could see that he was trying to decide whether to put on boots, or just get a shovel. “Right.” “Um, for this particular position life experience is more important than any specific job skills. The proper candidate will step into the job and use his wits and common sense to deal with any problems along the way.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed vehemently.
“Yeah.” He was looking past my left ear, obviously intrigued by something on the wall behind me. Katowski reached down and opened a desk drawer, He took out a pad of yellow lined paper and a pen and prepared to take notes. “So, tell me about yourself.”
I slumped back in my chair. No part of the job hunting process was more frustrating to me than the “Tell me about yourself” question. Not that I was bashful in any endearing way. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell the tale.
Socrates said “The unexamined life was not worth living.” HA! Naïve bastard. As far as I am concerned, “The life is not worth examining.” Or “The examined life is not worth living.” I had a video camera years ago, now it sits in the back of my closet. Nothing that happens to me is worth watching a second time.
There was no way out. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t hide. I drew a deep breath, squared my shoulders, fixed Katowski straight in the eye, and lied, lied, lied.
Somewhere in the middle of my story about breeding endangered tropical butterflies for release back into the jungle, the telephone rang. Katowski, who had been mesmerized by my yarn, snapped upright in his chair and grabbed the receiver before the second ring.
“Yeah, Katowski here.” he barked into the mouthpiece.
“Working on that as we speak.”
“I’ll have an answer after lunch.”
“Right, okay, Good bye”
Katowski replaced the receiver in the cradle, and turned back to me.
“Yeah, right, now where were we?”
He looked down at the few scribbled lines on the pad in front of him.
“Ah. Yes. I think we are making progress here. There are a few details to work out, but if you can start today you can have the job.”
I was slightly taken aback. “Sure, no problem. Uh, just one question.” “What is the job?”