28 December 2006

The Rhino's Horn: A Johnny Bodkin Mystery - Chapter 1

She was tall. Like a tall drink of water, but taller. A drink of water was maybe eight, ten inches tops, and this dame was much taller than that. Maybe twelve inches, with a special commemorative glass you might get at a casual dining restaurant, but even that isn't as tall as this dame. She was tall, is all I'm saying. As she stood there, silhouetted in the light of the open doorway and surveyed the room, I looked her over.

Her gams started at her hips and went all the way to the floor. She had more curves than the Mississippi - either the river, or the word, with all those esses. Her dark hair flowed like water poured from a twelve-inch commemorative glass.

She closed the door and walked toward me.

"Mr. Bodkin, I need your help" she cooed.

"Sit down, and tell me your troubles" I croaked.

As she lowered herself into the seat, the light from the desklamp illuminated her face. Her deep brown eyes were like the ocean at night, at least what I imagined the ocean would look like if the moon weren't shining and the lights from the city weren't glowing and the smog ever lifted. Then again, the ocean's always got a bluish cast to it, and her eyes weren't blue at all, but brown. Perhaps they were more like...

"...and I don't think that...Mr. Bodkin, are you listening to me?"

"Sorry. You were saying, Miss?"

"Pomeroy. Ramona Pomeroy. And it's Mrs., Mr. Bodkin."

"Call me Johnny, please. Now you were saying?"

"Do you know who my husband is, Johnny? Jack Pomeroy?" Her lips pursed and seemed to blow a kiss as she said his name. I don't know if it was intended for my benefit or not, but it certainly had an effect. I reached for the bottle of bourbon in my bottom drawer, but it wasn't there. It was already on my desk with the glass I'd poured before Ramona came to my door. Funny, I didn't remember pouring that drink, but I must have if the glass and bottle were there. Regardless, I needed a stiff belt, so I downed the glass and poured another. She looked like she could use a drink, too.

"I'm afraid I don't, Ramona. Can I pour you a glass while you tell me?"

"I could sure use one, Johnny. You mind if I smoke?" She already had her cigarette case out of her purse and was opening it. It was a slim, silver thing and shone in her hands like a stiletto. She opened it and quickly retrieved a cigarette from the neatly arrayed row inside. I pulled my lighter from my jacket pocket and stood up, stepping around the desk and next to her. The spark ignited the lighter and she clasped my hand with both of hers, guiding the flame to the tip of the slender brown tube held tightly in her lips. She inhaled deeply, dragging the sweet, sticky smoke down to her toes.

I poured us each three fingers of the bourbon and sat down, then she told me about her husband.

Jack Pomeroy was a state senator who was rising fast in the party. He was planning on running for governor, and a lot of people were set to back him. Even without any backers, he'd do just fine with his daddy's money, though. I didn't know who Jack Pomeroy was, but I sure knew about Desmond Pomeroy.

Desmond Pomeroy made an honest living through Pomeroy Packing, down on the waterfront. Sardines and tuna, mostly. But an honest living wasn't good enough for the old man. Through his warehouse on the waterfront, old man Pomeroy controlled the illicit aphrodisiac trade for the whole west coast. Rhino horn, panda gallbladder, tiger bones, and harp seal penises were smuggled in on-board fishing boats and then sold from Seattle to San Diego. He owned half the cops in town, so they weren't likely to shut him down. The DA had tried, but he couldn't get a case to stick. From what Ramona said, the son believed his father was just an honest businessman, so that dirty business was going to die with the old man.

By her third bourbon and fourth cigarette, Ramona was ready to tell me what brought her to my door. "Johnny, I'm being blackmailed" she said, then drained her glass.