Pensinger

“Name.”

“Pensinger.”

“First name.”

“Powell.”

“Powell Pensinger?”

“You asked.”

“Date of birth.”

“May six, sixty-three.”

“Occupation?”

“Baby.”

“I mean now.”

“Private investigator.”

“And you came to see a private investigator?”

“Birds of a feather.”

“Nature of your visit.”

“I lost something.”

“And you can’t find it yourself?”

“More fun this way.”

“I’ll see if he’s in.”

“You’re cute when you’re benign.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“What can I do for you, Mr. Pensinger?”

“I need a partner for a job.”

“I don’t go partners.”

“Just this job.  I can’t do it alone and I can’t trust my staff.”

“You should deep six your staff.”

“I will, right after this job.”

“Why come to me?”

“Word gets around.”

“Well, why don’t you tell me about it in twenty-five words or less.”

“I just need you to watch a window.”

“You need me to wash a window?”

“Watch a window.”

“Whose?”

“A client.”

“Home or business?”

“Home.  An apartment.”

“He expecting company?”

“She.  She’s expecting someone to kill her husband.”

“Why can’t you watch her window?”

“Because I’m the one she’s expecting.”

Pensinger’s secretary had introduced the woman to him as Gladys Mavins.

“What can I do for you, Mrs. Mavins?”

“My husband isn’t cheating on me.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I know all the signs.  He’s never been faithful until now.  Something’s wrong.”

“Maybe he’s not having a midlife crisis.”

“He’s been treating me like we were newlyweds.”

“Is that so bad?”

“It is if you know Howard.”

“So he’s covering up something.  You’d like to know what.”

“Exactly.”

“We can arrange to have him followed.”

“That’s not quite all.”

“Oh?”

“Once you find out, I want to make a scene.”

“I’m sure you will.”

“No, I want to create a scene.  With a third party.”

“You want to make him jealous.”

“He has a bad heart.  I want him to find me with a man.”

“Well, that might not necessarily affect his heart.”

“It might if the man has a gun.”

“You won’t really go through with it.”

“No, but her lover will.”

“She has a lover?”

“I put a man on Mavin’s tail, but I followed Mrs. Mavins myself.”

“Mavins was clean.”

“Mrs. Mavins wasn’t.”

“You talked to this guy she’s with?

“Followed him to a bar.”

“Go on.”

“Mind if I join you, pal?”

“Afraid so, pal.”

Pensinger sat across the booth from him.

“Thanks.  Whatever’s on tap,” he said to the waitress.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“I know.  Her name’s Gladys Mavins.”

“You know a lot.”

“Thank you.”

“She told you about me?”

“You’re old news.”

“Then what’s in today’s headlines?  You?”

“Her dead husband.”

“Her husband isn’t dead.”

“He will be when you and Mrs. Mavins are through with him.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The frame-up.  The gun with the blank that I’m supposed to kill him with.”

Mrs. Mavins’ lover reached into his pocket and put a few bills on the table.

“How are you two going to do it?” Pensinger said.

“Do what?”

“Talk me into it.”

The lover was almost out of his seat but settle back down.

“Ask her yourself.”

Mrs. Mavins didn’t see Pensinger until she walked up to the booth.

“Slide over,” Pensinger said.  “Let the lady sit down.”

“What are you doing here?” Mrs. Mavins said.

“Watching you sit down.”

“He thinks we’re trying to frame him,” Mrs. Mavin’s lover said.

“Frame him?” she said, sitting down.  “Shouldn’t you be framing us, Mr. Pensinger?”

“Look, Mrs. Mavins.  You hired me to do your dirty laundry.  Your husband is clean, but I came up with this guy.  What I want to know is why you don’t just have him pull off your stunt for you.”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“Pretend I’m stupid.”

“The noise will attract neighbors.  I can’t be seen with him.  Especially if my husband lives.”

“Then how were you going to explain me?”

“You’re a detective.  You carry a gun.  It went off accidentally.”

“Happens all the time in my line of work.”

“What is all this about?” Mrs. Mavins’ lover said to her.

“No more drinks for this guy,” Pensinger said to a passing waitress.

“I’m serious,” Mrs. Mavins’ lover said.

“Shut up, Leonard,” Mrs. Mavins said.

After a moment Leonard said, “We want to be together.”

“Divorce breeds togetherness.”

“Howard would never consent to it,” Mrs. Mavins said.  “He’s too happy now.”

“Why not tell him about Leonard?”

“He already knows.”

“That makes him happy?”

“It absolves him of his guilt.”

“Do you still think he’s up to something?  That’s why you hired me.”

“No.  I just wanted to prove he wasn’t.”

“Why?

“That’s what I said.  She said she had to know before he died or it would drive her crazy.”

“So why do you want me to watch their window?”

“I need a witness.”

“In case something goes wrong?”

“In case it goes right.”

The detective leaned back in his chair.

“Why go through with it?”

“I’m not, exactly,” Pensinger said.  “But I will be in their apartment.”

“Why not use one of your own men like I said?”

“I want someone unconnected with me.”

“My secretary saw you come in.”

“I mean professionally.  We’re colleagues, you and I.”

“Where will I be?”

“I rented a hotel room across the street from their place.”

“What do I do?”

“Go in it.”

“When does this happen?”

“Tomorrow night as soon as Mavins comes home.”

“And when do we meet again?”

“I’ll call you.  Don’t worry.  You’ll get paid.”

“What do I do in the meantime?”

Pensinger stood up and laid a key and a sheet of paper on the edge of the desk.

“Remember everything you see.”

It was winter.  The detective turned the key in the lock and entered the hotel room.  He dragged a wooden chair from a writing desk and sat in front of one of the windows in the dark.  It was cold in the room.  He took out from his winter coat a pair of binoculars and adjusted them from behind the open Venetian blinds.  The apartment across the street was dark.

An hour passed.  No one came home.

He heard another key turn in the lock behind him.  He leaped off the chair and hurried to the closet and pulled the sliding door shut in front of him.

He could make out a man and a woman laughing, kissing, closing the door to the room and then the squeak of mattress springs.  After a few moments he thought he smelled alcohol.

“It’s freezing in here,” he heard the woman whisper before she laughed again.

“We’ve got all night,” the man said.

He didn’t have time for this.  Anything could be happening across the street.  He slid the closet door open and stepped into the dark room.

She saw him over the man’s shoulder and screamed.

“Look,” the detective began, reaching inside his coat for his license.

The man rolled over, still dressed, and fired once.

The detective dropped to his knees and swayed there for a moment before toppling sideways to the wood floor.

The detective’s wife said, “Is he dead?”

Pensinger said, “Wouldn’t you be?”

“Now what?”

“We wait for the police.”

They sat on the edge of the bed.  She switched on the lamp on the nightstand.

“This better work,” she said.

“I’ve had worse ideas.”

BIO:
I earned an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University and have written and published nearly 200 poems in literary magazines nationwide.  This is my first foray into mystery writing.  Two of my favorite mystery novels are Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke and Tapping the Source by Kem Nunn.  My favorite mystery series has to be Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels.  I currently live in Boise, Idaho, where I frequent Rainbow Books in search of the perfect thriller.

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