A Charles Splints Case: The Newlywed’s Diary
By Dan Leicht
Nobody had stopped by the office in weeks. Rent was due in five days and he didn’t have it. Then someone stepped through the door.
“Apologies,” she said, “the boy outside said I could come in.”
He was taking a swig from a pint of whiskey when she walked in. She had heels on that clocked her in at almost six foot tall. Her hair was long, red, and rested on her shoulders.
“Jimmy will sometimes forget about my knocking policy. It’s fine. Take a seat. What’s your gripe?”
“I’ve heard you’re good,” she said.
“The best in Brooksend,” he replied. “Charles Splints, and you are…”
“What is it you need, Alley?”
“I’ve lost something. It’s a personal item. A diary.”
“A diary? What’s it look like?” asked Splints.
“It’s white with an ink handprint on the cover. The words “In the beginning” on the front in white font, on the hand.”
“You’ve already checked between the couch cushions?”
“Please, don’t patronize me, I’m being serious.”
“I believe you, don’t you worry. Where’d you last see it?”
“My home. Someone broke into my home.”
“What’s your address?” Splints grabbed a pen and eagerly awaited the sensation of scribbling with his left hand.
“I’m on Parchment Street, house one thirty-two. It’s a nice area. I’d purchased the house alongside my late husband.”
“Sorry to hear. Mind my asking how he passed?”
“In his sleep.”
“At least he went peacefully.”
“He had a heart attack.”
“At least he had a heart.” Splints looked up from his notepad. “What’s so important about this diary anyway?”
“I’d written in it every day since I met Hank, my late husband. It’s all the memories I’ve ever shared with him.”
“Why would someone wish to steal such a personal item?”
“That’s what I’m hoping you’ll find out. What’s your fee?”
“Fifty bucks up front. I’ll bill you for any expenses along the way. Another fifty when I get results.”
“That’s reasonable. With your reputation I’d figured I’d be going broke.”
“Consider yourself lucky I’m not a proper salesman. Before you leave do you have anything to go on? A hunch will do wonders.”
“I’m afraid not, wait,” she played with her hair a bit as she rolled her eyes back to think, her cheeks turned bright red, “there’s a man from the market. He always talks to me when I’m alone, but whenever I was with Hank he’d be quite rude. Is that something?”
“It’s certainly not nothing. What’s his name?”
“His name-tag reads Niles.”
“What’s the name of the market?”
“Leave your number with Jimmy on your way out and I’ll be in contact when I get something juicy.”
“When can I expect your call?”
“When you most expect it.”
Splints ushered her out the door and took another swig at his desk.
It was a hot day in May. Splints had put the lid on a case involving an escaped ostrich the week prior. He never knew who was going to walk through the door. Alley was a much needed dose of reality, offering the type of case he’d imagined when becoming a private investigator. Her case sounded simple, like easy money. She’d lost her diary, big deal. If he could find it he’d have the remainder of the rent paid with enough left over for another desk bottle. He got up and pulled his trench coat over his shoulders. He poured some of his desk bottle into a flask and stuck it into his pocket. On his way out he saluted Jimmy. He knew the kid wanted action, but he needed someone to man the phone in case another desperate soul called with heavy pockets.
Splints started out at the grocery store, Quarter Foods. The shelves were stocked to the brim with brand names he’d never seen before. The deals on produce seemed reasonable, but everything else would require a small loan.
“Six bucks for some cheese slices? I’d rather buy a gallon of milk and wait,” he said, placing back the cheddar next to the stock boy. “Hey,” he read the name-tag, “Gus, you know if Niles is on today?”
“He’s working the register. Do you know him?” asked Gus.
“I’ve known him for years. We used to play poker on Friday nights.”
“He plays with his band on Fridays. You should check them out, they’re like a fusion of folk and techno.”
“That’s why we stopped hanging out. I’ll go find him. Thanks.”
He grabbed a few items and wandered past the lines until he saw Niles’ name-tag.
“Did you find everything you were looking for?” asked Niles.
“Not quite,” replied Splints.
“What can I assist you with?”
“I’m looking for a diary. An Alley Grant is missing one.”
“Oh, her.” His cheeks grew red. “She’s pretty.”
“You know what aisle I might find the diary on? Niles, Niles, snap out of it.”
“Wha, oh, no. Sorry. I don’t know anything about her diary. She just comes here sometimes. It’s been a while, though. Is she okay?”
“You need not worry, Niles. She’s doing fine. She’s just missing this diary and she doesn’t know why anyone would want it.” Splints noticed Niles eyes locking in one someone. He turned around to see Gus still stocking the shelves. “Everything okay? You got a grudge against that kid or something?”
“Sort of. Last time Alley was here he ran up and helped her with her bags. I was going to close my lane and do it, but he came out of nowhere.”
Niles rang up the last of Splints’ items.
“That’ll be thirty-four sixty-seven.”
“It’s prices like this that keep me from achieving a proper gut. I’ve got a couple days of food here.” Splints handed him two twenties. He stuffed the change into his pocket and walked over to Gus.
“Gus,” he said, eating an apple with his left as he held his bag with his right. “Turns out you’re a fan of my client.”
The stock-boy turned around and stood up.
“Who’s your client?”
Gus ran. Splints dropped his bag of groceries and took off after him. The stock-boy disappeared through a wall of clear curtains into the back stock room. Splints swatted the curtains away, but the kid was gone. He heard the click of a door closing off to the right. He walked until he saw a door behind a shelf stocked with almond butter and coconut oil.
Outside it was raining, a light drizzle. He pulled the collar up on his jacket and walked along the side of the building until he reached the parking lot. He saw Gus in the driver seat of a car trying desperately to get it started. Splints knocked on the window.
“Having car troubles?” he asked. “Want me to take a look at it? I’m an expert. You might just be low on wiper fluid.”
Gus panicked. He opened the door and tried to make a run for it again.
Splints took his flask from his jacket and threw it, nailing Gus in the back. The stock-boy flinched for a moment at the pain, which gave Splints enough time to catch up and grab him by the arm.
“I’m sensing some hostility here, Gus,” said Splints. “Now I don’t know if it’s because of me, or you’re just nervous about a potential crime you’ve committed, but it’s making me self-conscious. Let’s talk it out.”
“I don’t know anything,” said Gus. “Let go of me.”
“Why’d you run when I mentioned her name? Did you take her diary?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Gus, after all we’ve been through. Are you really going to lie to me? How’d you find where she lives?”
“I told you I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The light drizzle was getting worse. Splints let go of his arm.
“If you run you’ll just risk catching a cold,” said Splints. “You can get back in your car when you tell me where the diary is and how you got it.”
Gus rolled his eyes and pointed to the trunk of his car.
“Open it,” said Splints.
Gus popped it and Splints held it open just enough to see inside.
“This is quite the collection you have here, Gus.”
The trunk was filled with random household items, from lamps to candlesticks to cookware. Splints sifted through the mess and found a small diary with a hand print on it. He stuffed the diary into his coat and closed the trunk.
“Is all this from Grant’s place?” he asked.
“Not all of it. I don’t take anything that expensive. Nobody cares about stuff like that, they just buy new ones.”
“You’re breaking and entering in order to steal candlesticks and notebooks. You’re a truly dastardly villain, Gus. Even if you’re just stealing items before they have a chance to make it to the garage sale you’re still committing a crime, and a petty one at that.” Splints grabbed a pair of cuffs from his belt loop and slung them around Gus’ wrists. He pulled out his phone and selected a number from his recent calls. “Dave, how’re you? How’s the policeman life been these days? Uh, huh, that’s real great. So, anyway, I’ve got a filthy scoundrel with me right now. He’s got a trunk full of stolen junk I’d like one of the guys to take a look at. Could you send someone over to Quarter Foods? Thanks, pal.”
“What’s going to happen to me?” asked Gus.
“You’re going to spend the night in a small cell overlooking a wall of my various accolades when I was still on the force. Some people get all the luck. Meanwhile I’ll be taking this notebook to its rightful owner.”
A police car parked next to Splints and he handed Gus over.
“Good timing,” said Splints. “Check the trunk. He’s already spilled that it’s stolen goods.”
The officer walked over and looked into the trunk.
“What’s the point in stealing stuff like this?”
“He thinks it makes it a more noble cause. I don’t think he took the right lessons from Robin Hood. Well I’ll leave you to your business. I have a client in need of a diary this man in tights had stolen.”
She walked into the office and sat down in front of him. Splints placed the diary in front of her alongside his receipt from Quarter Foods.
“What’s this?” she asked, holding up the receipt.
“That’s proof of the expenses I was telling you about. I had to abandon the groceries in order to chase down the culprit. It wasn’t Niles either, it was a boy by the name Gus. He was trying to pay his way through college by selling candlesticks and other miscellaneous items at a pawn shop. He must’ve saw your diary and thought it looked valuable.”
She wrote a check and placed it on the desk.