I raced in to the sight of her sitting placidly on my couch – completely, utterly, stark naked.
Our first client was a real doozy. She walked into the Moo Mart, ignored Eddie’s ‘Can I help you?’ and strode right over to where we were sitting. She stood about five-eight with a buxom figure and platinum blonde hair. She wore a white semi-sheer blouse, a blue skirt with the hem just below her knee, and I am not making this up–cowboy boots.
Without so much as an introduction, she said on a breathy exhale, “I want to hire you.”
Zellie took a moment to silently appraise her, but I didn’t wait. The lady was a little meshugina, to be sure, wearing that outfit in a Moo Mart in New Jersey. But she certainly was easy on the eyes.
We were sitting at our favorite booth in Audacious Bagel or “AB” as we sometimes called it, sipping our coffee. Audacious Bagel is not a typical deli. They actually employed “bagel baristas” (BBs) to bring you your choice from over a hundred types of bagels. Everything from plain to ‘chocolate chip raisin cinnamon deluxe.’ Personally, I think of a bagel as not including much of anything, and always order a plain one, although Zellie has been known to get a raisin, which I guess is moderately okay, and Ted almost always gets ‘hamburger-infused,’ whatever that is.
Maybe it’s my Jewish upbringing, but I just can’t see a lox and “hamburger-infused” bagel and cream cheese. Last time we were there, my favorite BB, Delilah, personally recommended a pizza bagel. I must admit, it was pretty good. Delilah is great. She went back to school at night to study marketing. She practices her marketing skills on anyone who will listen, and we always do.
When we walked in today, she was wearing yellow pants and an electric-blue shirt with sparkly sequins on it, along with the required Audacious Bagel visor that said in small letters “Audacious Bagel Barista, Changing the Bagel Paradigm,” whatever that means.
“I think it means I’m supposed to sell you new and different bagels, Arnie,” she said, when I asked her once. “You always get a plain bagel in a place known for pushing the envelope on the definition of bagel. If you want a plain bagel, you can have it, but there’s a whole world you haven’t explored.” She added in a whisper, “If you try something new, you might surprise yourself and like it a lot.”
“You know that even if I was considering getting information for you, I won’t now, right?”
“We completely understand,” I said.
“Then why did you stop me?”
“Neither of us wanted you to get in trouble and lose your job.” Zellie said.
“And you decided to be private detectives for what reason?” Gloria asked us. “Private eyes– at least the ones on TV–are generally pretty unsavory. You two couldn’t even carry through a lie to someone like me, who didn’t even suspect a problem. You’re not even licensed, and don’t want to lie.” She shook her pretty head. “What in the world will you do when someone challenges you?”
“I thought we would give a disclaimer like… ‘You should give us information because we are completely unlicensed and totally unauthorized by any legal authority to make any inquiries of any kind in the course of an investigation.’” I said.
Gloria burst out laughing. “Private-eyes with a conscience. That’s a first.”
“Of course, the cost. You and Missus Fischer are worried about the cost. It’s almost free. Really, only pennies a day keeps you both safe in your lovely home. I told you how lovely your home is, right?”
“Yes, you did, Jeffrey.” I held up my hand and Jeffrey closed his mouth. “Are you for real? I mean, I expected a hard sell, but I’ve never seen or heard anything like this. You haven’t really told us anything.”
“Well, it’s my first day. I’m a little nervous.” He reached toward his briefcase. “Maybe I can convince you with what I have here.”
When he turned again to face us, we were staring down the barrel of a gun.
Baskin explained what they had in mind. It included securing the front and back doors with extra deadbolt locks and wiring an alarm system on the doors and windows, as well as installing strategically placed pressure bumps and “panic” buttons. And the whole thing was monitored twenty-four hours a day with immediate response guaranteed.
“What if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night? I don’t want to turn off the alarm system every time.”
“You don’t have to. All you need to do is hold up two fingers like this.” He spread them apart in a “V” signifying victory or peace, I wasn’t sure. I supposed going to the bathroom was a little of both.
“That tells the system to turn off the pressure bumps until you do it again. If you don’t do it again within twenty minutes, it will turn on again automatically.”
I started to ask if I was supposed to hold up one finger if I just had to pee, but thought better of saying it when I looked at Baskin’s serious countenance. It was not the time to joke. Instead, I asked when the installation would take place. As if I had a choice, I thought, thinking of Mrs. Minniefield.
About the author Eric Small, a long-time public servant who wrote extensively for work, began writing fiction in retirement. A lover of cozy mysteries himself, the genre perfectly fit into his desire to write something containing humor, romance, mystery and just plain fun. As a longtime reader of cozy mysteries, he found such stories a natural fit for his writing. Brazen Gambit is the first of a planned series of Arnie & Zellie Investigations, set in the environs of Middletown, New Jersey, where Eric was born and raised. He now lives in Florida with his wife of over thirty years.
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