Blogs by Walker Joe Jackson
Excerpt From Private Dick Hackney McTrite
2/1/2009 9:43:09 AM
When she reached the steps of the Cathedral, he was twenty yards back. She entered, stopped at the poor box and inserted a bill. She moved to the holy water, dipped two fingers and crossed herself. Hackney avoided the poor box, but helped himself to the holy water, while watching her strolling in the direction of the confessional. Yes, he thought, this is definitely my potential client. He dawdled at the holy water until she entered the confessional, and then quickly followed.
Awaiting his arrival, she contemplated how honest she'd be with him. If her husband discovered McTrite snooping around for infidelity information, he'd dress him in a cement-swimming suit, tie an anchor around his neck and toss him into the Mississippi. This thought would intimidate the lionhearted. McTrite was her last chance. She was desperate. Emotionally she was torn between selfishness and compassion. The latter barely prevailed and she decided to level with him. If he got cold feet, she'd entice him with a cash offer he couldn't refuse.
Hackney felt guilt opening the confessional door. He hadn't been in a confessional in months. His rotten luck of late had eroded his faith. He expected to see her standing inside waiting. Instead, she'd taken the position of the priest. He sat, opened the little door through which a sinner speaks to the priest and said, "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned."
"Mister McTrite, you're a barrel of laughs. I know you've sinned. Plenty, I'm sure, but if you think for one moment I have the grace to forgive them you'll surely burn in hell."
Apprehensively he thought. How'd she know I’m Hackney
McTrite? How do I know she's Letitia Infantino?
"Mrs. Infantino, I'm sure you're an angel," he said, almost certain she was the lady who'd called earlier. Now he recognized her voice.
"Mister McTrite, an extra chair sits on this side. Please come around and join me. I have no reason to remain anonymous."
A warm feeling came over Hackney as he sat beside this lovely creature, sitting with her legs crossed and her short dress hiked inches above her knees. Hackney extended his hand. "Mrs. Infantino, it's a pleasure to meet you," he said, accepting and shaking her dainty hand that was warm as toast.
Mrs. Infantino's guileful, placid countenance slowly turned to a curious look of despair and doubt. She thought she might be scraping the bottom of the barrel. "Mister McTrite, how long have you been in the private investigation business?"
"Thirty-five years, Mrs. Infantino."
"What is your claim to fame, Sir?"
"I was trained by Army Air Force Intelligence during World War Two. I was responsible for breaking several secret German codes. Also, I worked in covert operations one year, but I'm not at liberty to discuss the details. I rose rapidly in rank from private to second lieutenant in a little over a year."
"And since, Sir?"
"I contributed significantly to identifying the Vieux Carré Pillow Strangler, a serial killer who eluded the police for several years. But more pertinent, I have a good track record in cases involving close surveillance, which your cause might require."
Letitia wondered why she'd asked. Even if McTrite was thirty bricks short of a full load she was going to engage him. Where else could she turn? Letitia's sixth sense had probed deeper than the veneer. Her intuition told her Hackney had a smart head on his shoulders and the courage to see the assignment through. She saw the alertness in his eyes. His calm, calculating demeanor suggested he'd be cool under pressure. Surely, some of that would emerge. And she was certain he was honest and responsible.
"Mister McTrite, I'll not beat around the bush. My husband is Alphonse Infantino. He's the Mob's 'big cheese' here in New Orleans. We have been married for ten years. During the entire time" — she hesitated — "except our two-week honeymoon, he's been running around with every blue-eyed blonde he can get his lusty hands on. I'm fed up with his infidelity up to here!" Her right hand rested a foot above her beautifully styled hair. "And I want out—Now!"
Hackney no longer needed a picture. Now he remembered whom her husband was. Bone-chilling remembrances of Big Al's reputation for swift and violent retaliation had filled his cranium. Hackney's stomach churned. Beads of sweat appeared on his brow. "How can I be of service?" Hackney asked, with the naïveté of a teenager. He knew where the conversation was headed.
"I need grounds for divorce. Of course, he neglects me, but I'd get nowhere with neglect as a reason. Infidelity, on the other hand, is usually a sure-fire justification. Since Al's philandering is bold and prolific, getting evidence should be relatively easy. This is where you come in Mister McTrite."
Sweat ran down his cheeks now. The fire of fear burned inside Hackney. "Mrs. Infantino, you say getting evidence will be relatively easy. Do you realize to make an allegation of infidelity stick one need a photograph of one's husband with his pants down and in the saddle?"
"Yes, that's dawned on me." She uncrossed her legs and crossed them the opposite way. Hackney modestly glanced away.
"Getting said photographs strikes me as anything but a piece of cake."
"Yes, I quite agree. But with patience, the right opportunity might arise. I'm prepared to give you three months to get the photographs."
"Mrs. Infantino, have you deduced from something I've said that I've shown an inclination to take your case?"
"Well. No. But I'm hopeful." She smiled sweetly.
"You may call me Letitia." It was a privilege seldom granted Hackney surmised from the regal tone of her voice.
"You may call me, Hackney, if it pleases you. As I was saying, Letitia, your husband has a reputation for swift and violent retaliation. I hear the landfill the Mob manages is stuffed with a few of your husband’s adversaries."
"I don't know about that, Hackney. Besides, what does that have to do with it?"
"Elementary, Letitia, I am but flesh and blood. And I desire with my whole heart to keep it that way. I cringe at the thought of becoming garbage, or lying in a gutter, watching my life oozing out of me. Looking out for number one is why I've enjoyed the breath of life so long."
"If you approach the problem with stealth and cunning, you should be able to pull this caper off without being identified. You might employ a clever disguise. You might dress in drag."
The thought sounded repulsive and farfetched on the surface, but deeper scrutiny revealed an idea rooted in great genius.
"Letitia, you can talk until you're blue in the face, but I don't think you'll convince me to take the assignment."
"Mister McTrite, let's talk turkey. Alphonse is reputed to be worth over five million dollars. I, the world and especially the IRS know that. There’s no telling how much he hides in Swiss banks. If you get the photograph that supports my suit for divorce, I should receive at least half of his assets. That's two and a half million dollars. I'm prepared to offer you fifteen percent of everything I get. Or, I’ll guarantee a minimum of two-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollars upon receiving clear, authentic photographs and negatives of my husband in bed with another woman. You’ll get one hundred grand upon delivery. The rest after the divorce is final."
Hackney had listened taciturnly, highly amused and half-flabbergasted. He was speechless.
"Furthermore, I will give you a cash retainer of ten-thousand-dollars and six-thousand-dollars each month for expenses. If, after three months, you haven't succeeded it is curtains. You keep the ten grand. I'll require no accounting of the expense money."
Letitia opened her large purse, brought out stacks of hundred-dollar bills and waved it in his face.
Hackney's eyes grew bigger than silver dollars, as his eyes feasted on the wad of green.
God, I’m tempted. I have never seen so much money closer than an arm length away waiting for the taking, but I could be getting in over my head. The people I’ll be matching wits with live on Mean Street. They break arms and legs for entertainment.
He rationalized, for crying out loud man you're fifty-seven years old. You could die tomorrow. Thus far my miserable life has been little more than that of a quarry slave. This woman has offered me an opportunity to become financially secure. A chance to live the life of Riley, but the flip side is clear as the nose on my face. I might be signing my own death warrant.
All the time his mind went through the agony of deciding what to do, his left hand inched closer to the wad of hundreds. Suddenly, his hand connected and Letitia released her hold.
"Then we have a deal, Hackney. In accepting the money, I trust you are prepared to make a full-time commitment to my cause. We'll always meet here once a month, unless something important comes up. Should that happen we'll inform each other by running a personal in the Times-Picayune, 'PP I love you TH3'. This will mean Thursday at 3 p.m. If you harbor any doubts concerning this assignment, or if you have plans to hightail it with the down payment and expense money, be advised that I have friends who will, with one word from me, castrate you with a knife so dull it won't cut hot butter. Then, they'll break every bone in your anatomy, one at a time. Do you read me?"
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