It’s the nineteen-eighties, and it’s another one of those hot, suffocating California summer days
in the City of Angels, Los Angeles. You know the ones that I’m talking about -
100 degrees in the shade; the ones like when you were a kid, it was so hot that you took off all your clothes and went skinny dipping with your best friend in the river or lake.
Especially if you were a kid who grew up in the south.
Times were so much simpler then; I guess most people feel that way about their past. Everyone seems to think their childhood was the ‘good old days.’ In this particular case, it would have been in North Carolina; yes, those were the days, nothing to do except go to school; nothing to worry about, just be a kid.
James loved to swim; in fact, he loved it so much, he was always playing hooky from school on hot summer days. Or playing blind man’s bluff with his friends. One night he and his best friend were out on the lake swimming when all of a sudden his friend began to yell out in pain. James quickly came to his rescue, grabbed him before he went down, and carried him to the bank of the lake. They stared at each other for a while then began to laugh. I guess you could say he saved his friend’s life that night. They never made a big deal about it; he would have done the same for James if it had been the other way around.
But one other night, his friend was out swimming with another classmate, a girl, and he drowned. This had always plagued James. He felt that the death of his friend was somehow his fault, like he should have been there. But how could he have known? Mark went out with a young girl, and she could not save him. It weighed on James’ young mind for a long time; it was a heavy burden. It was the first time he had experienced the death of someone as young as he was. Kids always think they are invincible and it was a humbling experience for him. I guess that’s why, from then on, he never took anything for granted. But I digress… let’s get back to the present.
James Harper is no longer a kid; he is a thirty-seven-year old, out-of-work private investigator. And, once again, he is at his office with his feet propped up on his desk, sound asleep, dreaming…
A routine that has become all too familiar to him. He has had so many pitfalls in his life, it has gotten to a point where all he does is sleep his life away. Right now he is dreaming that it is 1947 and he is Jack Spade, a private investigator working out of San Francisco.
Unlike James, he is very successful in his work. Spade is about six feet even and weighs about one hundred and seventy-five pounds. With a virile, buoyant personality and a smile that spreads from cheek to cheek, I guess you could say he was sort of a ladies man. His office is located on the Barbary Coast of old San Francisco, right on the corner of DuPont Street. It’s not the wickedest city in the world but they still had some pretty tough characters here. But that doesn’t bother Spade because he is also a veteran of the last war.
You know the Big One, WWII; he enlisted in the army in 1941, just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Just like a lot of other pissed off Americans, Jack went in as a private and came out a top 1st Sergeant. He saved the life of his buddy Corporal Joe Sawyer, and five other men in his platoon.
His growing up was hard in the beginning. His first twelve years was a living hell with his father. Since he was the only child, he was very independent, pig headed and stubborn; you could say he takes after his father. John Henry Spade, a world war veteran and hard as nails. He didn’t believe in showing emotions, especially towards Jack. This made Jack hard in some ways but never as hard as his father.
I guess you could say Jack Spade is a man’s man; you know, the strong, silent type. Tough as nails, but not too tough to give a dime to down-and-outs on the streets so they could buy a cup of coffee. He is always looking for his true love, a soul mate, someone to spend the rest of his life with. I guess you could say he was a hopeless romantic.
At the moment, he and his partner are working on a missing person case, a lady reported missing by none other than her husband. It has been about a week since her disappearance and her husband, Thomas Jefferson, is in Jack’s office, discussing Jack’s progress on his case. “Okay Mr. Spade, where are we at? Have you any leads yet?”
Jefferson asks impatiently.
“Not yet, Mr. Jefferson,” replies Jack. “These things take time.” Jack is trying to assure him that he has everything under control and that there is no need to worry, but he knows Jefferson does not believe him. Jefferson is not a trusting man and is not used to being told what to do; you know the type. He is used to giving orders, not taking them; he will not believe anything unless he sees it for himself so you can be sure he doesn’t think Jesus ever walked on water or rose from dead.
Mr. Jefferson is a highly successful banker and owns property all over the city. He is also a silent partner in a night club called the Blue Cage but Jack is unaware of that connection at the moment. He only knows that he is a very rich and important man.
Jefferson is around 5’ 10’’, maybe 11, and not quite 6ft. He is in his early sixties, has gray hair that is thinning a little on top, and a neatly trimmed mustache. He is in pretty good shape; he prides himself on working out daily at the gym. He was born into most of his money but has earned a lot of it on his own too with his investments. He is a highly educated man who graduated from Harvard University.
Jefferson was married to his first wife for twenty years; after she died, he married a woman much younger than himself then married a third time after they divorced. His current wife is in her mid-twenties, a real looker; you know, the kind of woman that makes you want to go home and shoot your wife. Yes, she is a woman a man would kill for. Long, black, wavy hair down her shoulders, long silky legs and a figure like an hourglass.
“Look here, Mr. Spade, I was told that you was the best,” rumbles Jefferson, “but it has been a week, and you have not told me anything about my wife’s whereabouts!”
Jefferson is pacing up and down the room as he puffs on a cigar. He’s walking so fast the taps of his shoes almost sounds like a song. Just then the phone rings.
“Hello. Yeah. Are you sure?” says Jack.
A voice on the other end can be heard saying, “Maybe.”
“Okay,” replies Jack. “I’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”
“Was that call about my wife?” inquires Jefferson.
“I’m not sure,” replies Jack. “I’ll let you know. Now will you please go home, Mr.
Jefferson. I will call you later.” After Jefferson finally leaves, Jack goes outside and gets into his car. It’s a 1947 custom style Chevrolet Master 2-door Coupe and it’s cherry red (Jack’s favorite color). He heads to a cheap joint On the south side of the city, a place called the Blue Delilah. He looks around until he sees Joe, who was the voice on the phone and is also his partner in crime, sitting in a corner having a drink.
What’s so important that you couldn’t tell me over the phone?” says Jack.
"Right over there,” says Joe, pointing to a lady sitting at the corner end of the bar.
It’s the missing Mrs. Lauren Jefferson. She is wearing an all-black outfit, even a veil, which is kind of funny seeing how she loved to show off her figure. The way she looks you would think she was in mourning. Right now she seems to be having a heated conversation with a young man, who looks to be in his early twenties. He seems to be pleading for something while she sips from her drink. She seems to be laughing at him in a cruel kind of way.
Finally the young man has had enough of her rudeness and abruptly leaves. This is Jack’s cue. He walks slowly over to the bar. “Hello, Mrs. Jefferson.” She looks up from her drink then turns away without saying anything. “You are Lauren Jefferson,” says Jack. Still she does not answer him. “Your husband is worried sick, he is!”
She replies at last. “Why?”
From her reaction to Jack’s statement, she doesn’t seem to give a damn. “He told me you were missing!”
“He did? That’s funny,” she replies. “I told him to drop dead.” Then she smiles; a smile that sends a chill down Jack’s spine.
“So you’re not missing?” says Jack.
She looks up at him with those big blue eyes and says, do I look like I’m
missing? I just left him. I told him I was leaving him, and I did. How much is the son of a bitch paying you, anyway?”
“Enough,” replies Jack. As they are still talking, Mr. Jefferson comes in. Jack had told Joe to call him. “Wow that was fast! Or did you follow me here?”
Jefferson does not speak to Jack; he has only one thing on his mind. His wife.
“So that’s why you didn’t call the police,” says Jack. “
You knew she was not missing all along!” Jack’s understandably a tiny bit upset.
He announces, “You can have each other, I’m out of here. Come on Joe, let’s get out of here.”
“Yes, thank you, Mr. Spade,” Jefferson replies finally as he glimpses at Jack. “I’ll send you a check in the morning.”
“You can bet on that,” replies Jack.
Then Jefferson turns his attention back to Lauren. “Well, dear, are you ready to come home?”
“What’s the matter with you, Tom?” she screams. “It’s over; can’t you get that though your thick head, you self-righteous hypocrite? Now leave me alone.” She then gets up and hurries out the club. Lauren has had enough of Jefferson’s wandering eyes; And it is a well-known fact around town that he likes the men as well as the ladies. She wouldn’t really care that much if he wasn’t so open about it. He’s bi-sexual and he doesn’t care who knows it. He runs after her but she jumps into a cab and it speeds away.
Jefferson scurries after it on foot. He is a very persistent man. Of course he is unable to catch the cab but
He does manage to get the cab’s license number. He repeats it over and over to himself until he gets to his car. “Quick, Henry, give me a pencil.” The driver searches his pockets for one then remembers there is one in the visor. He reaches for it then hands it to Jefferson. Jefferson quickly writes down the number.
“Do you want me to follow the cab, sir?” Henry asks.
“No, it’s too late for that, take me home.”
He drives him to his apartment. “Will you be needing the car further, sir?”
“No,” replies Jefferson. “Park it for tonight.”
“Very well, sir.”
As soon as Jefferson is inside his room, he calls the Red Top cab company, Trying to get information about Lauren’s destination. The dispatcher informs him that the company does not give out that information unless it is for the police. But Jefferson is determined to have his way; and, sure enough, he gets it. He convinces the dispatcher to give him the destination of that particular cab. I guess that old saying that money talks is true because Jefferson gets all the information he wants. The cab driver had driven Lauren to a location that shocked Jefferson; in fact, when he heard the address, he was not sure he had written it down correctly and he asked the dispatcher to repeat it. “Are you sure this is the correct address?” he asks.
“That’s where the driver took the passenger,” replies the man. Jefferson then folds the paper up and puts it away, and retires for the night.
A week has passed, and Jack is in his hotel room. He has settled down on his sofa after fixing himself a drink. He lays his head back, closes his eyes, and tries to take a short nap but as fate would have it, just as he drops off, he gets an unwanted visitor.
There are a couple of light taps on his door. He gets up reluctantly to open it. The visitor is Thomas Jefferson. “Hello Mr. Spade,” he says as he rushes past Jack, who is still holding the door open, into the room.
“Come right in,” he says sarcastically.
“I’m sorry to rush in like this,” says Jefferson as he holds out a piece of paper for Jack to read. “I have information about my wife that I-”
“Hold it right there,” interrupts Jack. “I’m not working on your case any longer, Mr. Jefferson, or did you forget that I quit your case?”
“But Mr. Spade-’’
“No buts about it,” says Jack. “I’m done with it.” Jack is pretty stern with his decision.
“All right, Mr. Spade. I can’t say that I blame you.” Reluctantly he leaves, saying,
“Maybe the police will believe me.”
After Jefferson has gone, Jack goes into his bedroom to lie down.
But then the phone rings and James awakens from his sleep.
Its morning, and James Harper is in his apartment about to have his breakfast.
This is James’ real world as he knows it; a divorced, out-of-work private investigator.
And things do not seem to be picking up. He has a ten-year-old daughter who, luckily for her, lives with her mother and new father. James and his ex-wife have been divorced for the last five years but they have remained friends. He gulps down the rest of his breakfast then goes to his office. He parks his car and as he walks pass the YMCA building, he thinks about going inside and getting a morning swim. ‘Why not?’ he thinks to himself.
“I’m not on any clock,” he murmurs, so he goes in.
“Good morning, Mr. H,” says the attendant at the front desk.
“Good morning, Billy,” replies James. “Just want to get in a couple of laps.”
Mr. H, no problem.”
“Just let me know when my ten minutes are up,” says James. Billy has always called James ‘Mister H.’ James really likes it because it makes him feel important. It’s like a little pick me up; and every man needs a little pick me up every now and then.
James does twenty laps, many more than he had planned. He lost all track of time. It’s a good thing he had told Billy to let him know when it was ten past nine.
He is so entranced with his swim, he does not hear Billy shouting at him so Billy, being the energetic young man that he is, jumps into the pool to get his attention. Finally he gets James’ attention. “Oh, Billy, what’s going on?”
“Your ten minutes were up ten minutes ago, Mr. H.”
“Thank you, Billy, but you didn’t have to get wet to let me know,” he says, laughing a little. In fact they both get a big laugh out of it. “I completely forgot about the time,” says James as he gets out of the pool then helps Billy out.
When he finally arrives at his office, its 10 am. And when he opens the door, the first thing he sees is a pile of mail, mostly bills. The swim made him feel like a new man.
He sits down at his desk and starts to read some of his mail.
He had informed the post office to send all of his mail to his office a long time ago since he is there most of the time anyway. He is hardly ever at his apartment except when he is seeing his little girl, as he likes to call her. But he knows she is growing up fast, and soon she will not let him call her that anymore. As he continues to go through his mail, he spots an envelope that couldn’t be a bill because it is blue and smells of perfume.
After he has read the letter, a single tear drops from his eye. His daughter had written him a very personal and loving letter telling him how much she loved him and even though her mother had another husband, he would always be her dad. At the end of the letter, she wrote in very large letters ‘PS. don’t forget we have a date for my birthday, love Jenny.’ James gently folds up the letter and puts it in his pocket.
Harper is what most people would call the strong, silent type but when it comes to his little girl, he is a pussy cat. He has been that way from when he was a kid. He never really opens himself up to anyone, not even Karen, his ex-wife. He was and still is a very private man. People always mistook this for weakness but James is by no means weak.
He is a kind and caring man who would give you the shirt off his back if you were in need. But he is also a man who believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. In other words, don’t cross him. He is like an elephant; he never forgets a favor and he never forgets a foe. He drinks, but is not considered a heavy drinker, never has been even when he was in the service, which was a ten-year hitch. It was the happiest time of his life and he thought about it a lot. He was never known to whoop it up with the other soldiers, but they all knew they could depend on him.
He may have a beer or two every now and then so drinking was never a problem.
No. James’ biggest problem was that he was not really a very good private investigator.
There was one particular case a few years back when James was first starting out as an investigator. This elderly lady had hired James to tail her husband (the guy was a few years younger than her) and she was getting suspicious that he was cheating her. So one particular time James was tailing him, taking pictures of him and the other woman all day. But when it came time to develop the pictures, James found he had forgotten to put film in the camera. Needless to say he was fired on the spot. Just one example of his bad luck.
Now he is at his desk day dreaming; you know that old saying, if it wasn’t for bad luck, James would have no luck at all.
As he continues to read his mail, he holds a bill from one of his creditors. As he is reading it, he drifts off to sleep and dreams that he is back in 1947 again − and once again he is Jack Spade, Private Eye.
Jack is at his office. Mr. Jefferson is back again and they are having another conversation concerning his wife. “Now, Mr. Jefferson, we’re not going into this missing person thing again, are we?” says Jack.
“I assure you,” replies Jefferson, “this time she really is missing! I tried to explain this to you a week ago but you would not believe me.”
“No, and I still don’t believe you!’ barks Jack.
“But Mr. Spade,”
Jefferson says, insisting unequivocally that she may be in danger, “I’m out of my mind with fear.”
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This page contains the first chapter of Jack Spade by Carl A Chase as a sample. This sample has been published with permission from the author and/or publisher of Jack Spade, whoever originally submitted the book for review.