The flask was halfway to my mouth, one for the road. Then a hesitant rap on the glass told me I wouldn’t be leaving early. I guessed it was some high class dame with long fingers. I took a swig then popped the flask into the top drawer.
As she stepped in, I saw that I was right. A wave of raven hair hid one eye. The brim of a fancy hat hid the other. She had a mouth that might light up a ballroom with a smile. But she wasn’t smiling.
“I’m looking for a man with a name like a suit of cards.”
“Billy Heart? Joe Diamond? Jack Club? Sam Spade? Take your pick.”
“The last one.”
“Well, you got the address right. Anything else I can do, or is your mission complete?”
“I’m told you get things done.”
“Getting things done is easy. It’s getting them done right that’s tough. Have a seat?”
She did, flashing one long leg as it went over the other. “May I smoke?”
I nodded. Her cigarette case and lighter gleamed in the day’s dying light.
“Unless it’s diamonds, I’m guessing your name doesn’t have anything to do with cards.”
“It depends what kind of deck you’re using.” She exhaled. Smoke transfigured her like a little heaven. “I’m Amber.”
“Not any deck I know. How can I be of service, Ms. Amber?”
“Amb, please. I . . . I need a funny name.”
“Sam Spade not good enough for you?”
“It might be, if the first name weren’t so ordinary. No offense of course, Mr. Spade.”
I shrugged. “None taken. And this name is for . . .”
“Friends. They . . . collect them. I used to help. Then things got hectic . . . I dropped out. It weighs on me. Sometimes I don’t sleep. Do you know what that’s like, Mr. Spade?”
“Insomnia’s an old friend of mine. So’s falling asleep at the wheel.”
Her smile started to catch. “Then you understand my predicament. Can you help?”
I opened the bottom drawer. “I have some names that might interest you. For starters, a mystery writer. Virtually invented the hard-boiled genre. Served in both World Wars. Got the attention of HUAC in the 50s. Did time.”
“Depends how you look at it. Anti-Nazi until Hitler and Stalin were buddies. Then anti-Nazi again when they weren’t any more. A little fickle for an idealist, don’t you think?”
“Confusing times. Like Streisand in The Way We Were. How did he end up?”
“Not well. A sick, old shell of a man. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t even keep his house clean.”
“Sad. Poetic. Even romantic.” She was pensive. “And the name, Mr. Spade. Is it . . . funny?”
I handed her the file. “Maybe funnier than Sam Spade. You be the judge.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spade.” She stood. “If this answers my needs you’ll be compensated . . . handsomely.” She left, and the door closed softly behind her.
It felt like we would be meeting again before long.