WE’LL WORK ON THAT

WE’LL WORK ON THAT

The place was dark. Very dark, all things considered. The whole house seemed closed off into small compartments. However there was still light streaming in from a full moon by a window to the right of the room.

Precisely why Steinthal had chosen this night. He knew that because of the full moon his night vision equipment could make good use of the available ambient and residual light and he could operate “in the dark” without giving himself away.

Time to put on my googles he thought.

He heard a small creak.

Instinctively he ducked low but something still hit him from behind and from his left. It had struck the top of his shoulder, the backside of his neck and the base of his skull. It was wide whatever it was. And it had only been a glancing blow but Steinthal saw a flash from the impact, heard a ring in his ear, and stumbled forward a few feet. Then as he caught his balance he ran forward another five or six feet and swirled as fast as he could recover.

Someone stood there. A big someone. Big and dark. If it had growled Steinthal might have taken it for a bear. As it was Steinthal thought it might be even more dangerous.

The thing seemed to just pause there as if considering what to do next. Steinthal’s head cleared completely and he started to make for his gun when the shape charged. It came in close almost instantly and surprised Steinthal, not with a jab or a horizontal swing, but with a ferocious right uppercut. Steinthal barely had time to react but twisted some and got his left arm stiffened and intercepted the shot down low. That took most of the punch out but the guy was still so strong that he lifted Steinthal onto the balls of his feet just from the sheer momentum.

Steinthal counterpunched furiously with his right. Hit the guy solidly on the left side of the front of his neck. It should have rocked the guy on his heels, caused him to splutter and choke. He hadn’t hit the trachea but it still would have stunned most men.

As it was the only two things that seemed to happen as far as Steinthal could tell was that it made a sound like the guy had been hit with a wet fish, and the man stepped back one step. He hadn’t even bent over.

Realizing fully what he was now facing, Steinthal swiftly backtracked three or four feet and grabbed his revolver with his right and his combat knife with his left. He had only glanced down for an instance to retrieve his weapons but when he looked up the guy already had a semiautomatic in one hand and a shiny machete in the other. Where the machete had come from Steinthal had no idea but it did impress him.

The guy was now closer to the moonlight. You could partially make him out. Steinthal decided he wasn’t big after all. He was monstrous. But he didn’t look stupid. No, there was a kind of set to his face and a sort of light in his eyes that Steinthal took for real and raw intelligence. Even more dangerous.

There were several moments of tense silence while they pointed their weapons at each other.

“That kind of hurt for such a little fella,” the big guy suddenly said and spit. There might have been some blood mixed in but it was too dark to tell. “What’s your name?”

“Huh?” Steinthal said.

“I said, ‘what’s your name.’ I don’t like having to repeat myself.”

Steinthal cleared his throat.

“John,” he replied. “But most everyone calls me Steinthal.”

The guy seemed to mull over the answer.

“Yeah, you’re the one,” he said as if mentally verifying a fact-sheet.

“What one?” Steinthal asked.

“The one I’m meant to kill tonight,” the big guy said.

“Well then,” Steinthal said. “You’re one up on me. I usually know nothing about most of the people I kill until it is all over.
“Why is that?” the big guy asked.

“Because they tend to ambush me,” replied Steinthal.

The big guy chuckled quietly.

“Well then, are you going to shoot me?” he asked.

“I’d rather not,” Steinthal said warily. “But at this point anything seems possible.”

Seemingly to spite himself the big guy chuckled again.

“I like you.” The big guy said. “You’re funny.”

“Trust me,” Steinthal said. “I’m not trying to be, but if helps any then let’s just go with that.”

The big guy seemed blithe. “Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m still going to snap your neck, but now I sort of like you.”

Steinthal noticed that despite the relaxed and easy going tone of the man’s voice his aim had remained absolutely fixed and his breathing so steady that he seemed motionless. Even while he spoke.

“Yeah, well,” said Steinthal “We all do what we can.”

The guy laughed again. If not for the circumstances then to Steinthal this would have seemed ridiculous.

When the guy finished laughing he said, “Seems kind of a shame now though.”

“Don’t it,” said Steinthal. “But, you know, the guns and all…”

The big guy looked at Steinthal’s revolver.

“I’ve been shot before you know,” he said. “By a lot bigger and more powerful weapons than that. Never killed me.”

“I’ll bet,” said Steinthal. “But there’s always that first time. And I’m pretty damned determined.”

“Also I’m armored,” said the big guy, as if he hadn’t noticed Steinthal’s reply.

“Thanks for the heads up,” said Steinthal. “Now I know where not to aim.”

There was silence again. But no movement.

“Say,” Steinthal finally said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the distinct feeling you’re not just playing for time here. Do you get the idea that there might be something else going on with this whole affair that neither of us are quite square on? And that maybe we should skip the strangulations and compare notes about in private?”

More silence. But then the big guy shrugged nonchalantly and holstered his gun. It kind of disappeared entirely into the huge black mound that was his chest. But the machete remained. And the guy had never even shifted his gaze.

“Maybe… Probably… Yes. I’ve had that idea for some time now,” he said. “But I didn’t want to make any snap judgements.”

“Yeah,” Steinthal said. “It’s one of the things I appreciate most about you.”

“People think I’m stupid, you know. Because I’m so big,” the big guy said. With a kind of sad resignation that seemed almost fatalistic.

“Well fella,” said Steinthal. “I’m not most people. And whereas you are stupefyingly big, you are most definitely not stupid.”

The guy chuckled again. Then sighed softly.

“You going to lower your gun now?” the big guy asked.

“I’m thinking about it, but, you know, I’m not exactly stupid either.”

The machete clattered to the floor.

“Very nice. Now can you do that with your hands, arms, and most of the rest of you as well?”

The guy smiled in the dark. And it seemed completely friendly.

“Probably not. I come this way,” he said.

“Alright then. I’ll just take your word for it.” And Steinthal holstered his gun and knife.

“Say,” Steinthal said relaxing a little. “Since you know so much about me what say you tell me your name?”

“You’ll laugh,” the big guy replied.

“Well, if I do, then don’t take it personally. I have an excellent sense of humor.”

“Okay then. It’s Maugham,” said the big guy. “William Somerset Maugham. But my friends call me Angus.”

Steinthal whistled. “Well I’ll be damned. I’ve read all your books!

“Yeah,” the big guy looked sheepishly at the ground. “My mother was real big on literature.”

“Nothing wrong with that,” Steinthal said. “But say, you’re a lot bigger in person than you look in the papers. Or the history books.”

“Yeah, I hear that a lot. Well, not a lot. Not recently anyway. Most people don’t read anymore.”

“Yeah, that’s a real shame, ain’t it? But that being what it is I’m not calling you Angus or Bill either,” Steinthal said.

“Well then, what are you going to call me?”

“I’m gonna call you Maugham,” said Steinthal. “Because you remind me of W. Somerset Maugham. If, you know, he had been as big as a damned Angus.”

Maugham nodded.

“What say though we get outta here now Maugham?” Steinthal asked. “Before they send in a troll?”

Maugham shrugged. “Okay. I’m game if you are.”

As they were sneaking out Steinthal said, “Say, what you said back there. Is that true?”

“Is what true?” asked Maugham.

“Do you really have friends?”

Maugham stopped in his tracks and seemed to mull over the question quietly in his mind before replying.

“You know, I’m not really sure.”

“Well,” said Steinthal. “The night is still young. We’ll work at it awhile. Then see what we can come up with. One thing’s for sure though.”

“What’s that?” asked Maugham.

“After tonight I owe you one. If you’ll take friendship as payment then I’ll sure call it square.”

(This is the first meeting between Steinthal and Maugham.)

From The Detective Steinthal.

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IT’S ONE OR THE OTHER

IT’S ONE OR THE OTHER

“Yeah, well now, time might not heal all wounds but it will either significantly assure that you will succeed on time, or dramatically increase the odds that you won’t. Now how that works out precisely is pretty much up to you, but if I were you I’d spend less time bitching about your wounds and more time getting your ass up off the ground so we can succeed in getting the hell outta here.”

The Detective Steinthal

OLD MAN FUNNY

OLD MAN FUNNY

Maugham laughed at the smartass remark, and then said, “Man, I wish I were as naturally funny as you.”

“Natural, hell,” Steinthal answered shaking his head. “My old man bred it into me. Nothing natural about that.”

Maugham looked at his friend quizzically.

“Seems like to me,” Maugham said almost reprovingly. “That there is everything natural about that.”

Steinthal looked at his friend as if considering what he had said.

“Yeah, you got a point I guess,” Steinthal replied. “But you’d just have to know my old man. He bred funny.”

from The Detective Steinthal

AND THEN THEY ATE

AND THEN THEY ATE…

“You know what I’ve always loved most about you?” she said reaching for his hand across the table. “You never judged me. You always just accepted me as I am.”

He accepted her hand, and held it gently but shook his head dubiously.

“No, my dear,” he said flatly. “You are entirely wrong on both accounts, and could not be further from the actual truth.”

She withdrew her hand in surprise, a deepening frown creasing her puzzled brow.

“What do you mean?” she said nervously.

“I mean I judged you constantly,” Steinthal said. “I still do. That is what I do. I watch people. I study people. I come to understand a person, and then I judge them. In a brutally honest fashion. I judge everyone this way, including myself. You are certainly no exception to the rule. As a matter of fact there are no exceptions to the rule.”

“Oh,” she said hollowly.

He looked at her intently, staring relentlessly into her face for a moment, and then continued.

“I am no modern man,” he said, as if reading the barometric pressure on a gauge before a storm. “I do not believe in the ‘man without judgment.’ The man without judgment is simply another term for an absolute fool. I am no fool my dear, and when it comes to judgment I attempt to do something far braver and much more vital than avoid judging people, I seek to judge them accurately and in truth.”

She looked down at her plate as if suddenly uncomfortable, or in shame. There was a long pause while she tried to think of what to say. Not knowing how to respond she whispered out loud and to herself,

“What must you think of me then?”

He nodded slightly, though she did not see it. He waited a moment to see if she would say anything else or look up but she did not.

“Since you asked I will tell you precisely what I think of you and how I have judged you,” Steinthal replied, accepting her unintended cue. “I adjudged you in this way. I never accepted you as ‘you were,’ and I will not in the future. Furthermore I judged you not for what you were, but for what I fully suspected you could be. I did not take you for how you appeared, but for how it appeared to me that you could be, if you ever decided you would. And as far as I can see, you did. And did rather well at it. Does that really surprise you?”

She looked up again and stared at Steinthal, but whether more in shock or gratitude neither was certain.

This time he offered his hand across the table.

“I like to think of myself as a very good judge of character,” he told her. “And of potential. I would not waste my time or effort with or upon anyone who did not demonstrate an aptitude for both. So, do not prove me wrong and I shall not have to judge you otherwise. And that will be more than enough for me, assuming it is enough for you.”

She looked into his eyes and could find no hint of guile, or of misdirection. He seemed perfectly sincere. And it occurred to her, maybe for the very first time, just how perfectly sincere he usually was.

She reached back across the table, took his hand, smiled, and said softly, “I think I love you.”

He gently squeezed her hand in reply.

“I am aware of that,” he said.

She kept smiling but sighed with a deep resignation.

“Though you truly can be something of a real bastard.”

“I am aware of that as well,” he said, smiling in return.

Then he dropped her hand and took up his fork. He pointed it at her.

“But how bout we eat now and save the romance for later? After all we have the entire evening, and this meal is hardly the limit of my current ambitions.”

She laughed and took up her own fork.

And then they ate.

from The Detective Steinthal

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Note: this was not the scene I had intended to write tonight, but my router blew out and that delayed me working on the other scene and since this one seemed to flow kinda nicely I just worked it instead.

YOU CAN NEVER GET TOO MUCH PRACTICE

YOU CAN NEVER GET TOO MUCH PRACTICE

“Maugham, do you remember that time a few years back when I drew my revolver on you and shot you in the face with a blank round?”

“Hell yes I do,” said Maugham. “Scared the shit out of me. I thought you were really going to shoot me.”

“I did shoot you, you idiot. Just not with a bullet. But tell me, what lesson did you draw from that?”

Maugham looked at his friend, then squinted.

“Never assume I guess,” he answered.

“Then you drew the wrong lesson. The real lesson was ‘always assume.’ That the other person is dangerous. Cause they are.” Steinthal countered.

Maugham looked thoughtful for a moment.

“What are you saying then?”

“I’m saying that just because she is pretty and sexy, and nice, and smells good, is fine in bed and is maybe even sincere doesn’t mean she won’t shoot you in the face. If she needs or wants to. As a matter of fact maybe she already has and you’ve been too busy or too stupid to notice.”

Maugham looked thoughtful again. That’s twice in one day Steinthal thought. Hat trick coming?

“Yeah, I guess love will do that to you,” Maugham finally conceded.

“Or being pussy-whipped by the wrong woman,” Steinthal said. “Or, even the right one. Take it from a man who knows.”

Maugham nodded as if he agreed, at least in theory. After a moment or two of silence though he turned sinister to look straight at his friend.

“By the way. I never asked you Steinthal. Why did you shoot me in the face with that blank?”

“Because someone else tried it on me.”

“They shot you in the face with a blank,” Maugham asked, kind of surprised.

“Not exactly,” Steinthal said. “They tried to shoot me in the face with a live round. Luckily they missed.”

“Was it a lady?” Maugham asked.

“Hard to say,” Steinthal replied. “You never really know about that kind of thing nowadays, do ya?”

Maugham laughed.

“So then, you were trying to forewarn me?”

Steinthal smiled broadly. Then he clapped his friend on the shoulder.

“Maybe. That, or I just needed the practice. You can never get too much practice shooting someone in the face.”

“Yeah,” said Maugham kind of wistfully. “I’ve had the same thought myself once or twice.”

Steinthal smiled again. But this time he kept it to himself.

from The Detective Steinthal

GOOD NIGHT LADIES…

GOOD NIGHT LADIES…

“Oh, I understand you completely madam, but, perhaps not in the way you presume I do. You see the thing that may disturb me the most, it certainly repulses me the most, about you supposedly ‘civilized people‘ is that you are always unfailingly polite, and extremely well-mannered, and pretentiously and profusely diplomatic. Your high ideals are on constant display for all to hear, and although I rarely see them or detect them in actual action, I must say they get a whole lot of airplay on rebroadcast.

On the other hand the pointless wrongs you people encourage, the self-absorbed misdeeds you recklessly commit, and the evils you so callously allow strike me as rather atrocious. Just. Fucking. Atrocious.”

Suddenly her serving man snorted. Or scoffed. It was difficult to say which but otherwise he remained unmoving and at attention. Steinthal carried on as if he had failed to notice.

“So please excuse me if I decline any further excuse to endure your company. I suddenly feel the need to take a hard, dirty shit. And probably a long shower.

Good night my dear. Good night ladies.

Let’s not do this again, real soon.”

Steinthal placed his untouched whiskey glass back upon the silver serving plate, tapped the phone in his trouser pockets, then turned and walked for the door.

Just before reaching it he turned again and bowed graciously.

“My apologies. That was rude and somewhat misleading. I’ve reconsidered. Let’s not do this again – ever.”

Then he left.

The Detective Steinthal

YEAH, SO EXACTLY HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

YEAH, SO EXACTLY HOW DO YOU DO THAT?

“It’s a question of precisely what is the most ethical possible practice,” Termkin said, apparently annoyed by Steinthal’s relentless and unswerving line of inquiry.

Steinthal stared at him intently, but unreadably.

“Is it?” asked Steinthal.

Termkin seemed puzzled by the question.

“What do you mean?” Termkin said.

“See,” said Steinthal twirling the brim of his hat in his hand, “that’s where I think we both know you’re wrong.”

Termkin furrowed his brow, his expression a mixture of ongoing annoyance and a genuine struggle to understand.

“I still don’t perceive your exact meaning?”

“No, I don’t think you do,” said Steinthal. “And I really didn’t expect that you could. But let me simplify the matter for you. You see I have this theory that everything is always really about morality. And that ethics is just something that lawyers and other no count types like you employ as a cheap legal substitute.”

Termkin seemed to follow Steinthal’s explanation at a slightly slower pace than it had been enunciated. But when he finally caught up he suddenly flushed red and showed his ire.

“Why you smart mouthed son of a bitch!”

Steinthal laughed good humoredly.

“Probably,” he said. “But I noticed you didn’t bother to refute me.”

Termkin mulled on that for a moment before his snappy comeback finally came to him.

“Oh yeah, well exactly how is one supposed to refute you smartass types?” Termkin demanded. “You think you’re always right.”

Steinthal stood up and put his hat on his head. He smiled to himself as if Termkin wasn’t even in the room though he was still staring right at him.

“See, that’s the part about this whole thing that’s easiest to resolve,” said Steinthal. “We are always right. Even when no one else knows it yet. Like you. As for the thinking part, well now, if you ever really bothered with that then I presume you could figure it out for yourself.”

Steinthal tipped his hat at Termkin in a peculiar gesture. “But I’m not gonna lay real money on it.”

Steinthal walked across the room, opened the door and then looked back at Termkin.

“I’d like to say it was nice to meet you Termkin. But, we met anyway. So at least we’ll always have that.”

The he left.

Still full of questions, but certain he finally crossed the right man.

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A bit of dialogue involving my Detective Character Steinthal. I didn’t really get a chance to do a Tuesday’s Tale this week. Too busy. So I’m posting this today instead.

My youngest daughter read it and I asked her what she thought of it and she said, “Dad, Steinthal talks pretty much just like you.”

Which made me laugh.

“Yeah, funny how that works, ain’t it?” I told her…