Brittle Shell: Handle with Care

A good PI knows he shouldn't take his job home with him...

A better one knows he's going to anyway. Might as well make it work for you...

Brittle Shell: Handle with Care by Greg Flynn

There are two things you don’t want to hear first thing in the morning: the sentence “I’ve missed my period” and an alarm clock. In my case, it was both. They came fifteen minutes apart.

Slapping the clock radio off the table, I rolled over and saw the other side of the bed was as empty as a lawyer’s promise.

Then came the slamming of a door. She’d walked out of my life. Again.

In the bathroom, her perfume swirled in front of the misted mirror. Two words written in lipstick on the glass. And it wasn’t “Thank you.”

From the window, I could see her striding down Macleay Street towards Sydney Harbour, the summer breeze tugging at her skirt.

In the apartment’s small kitchen, I burnt two pieces of toast, made weak coffee from what was left of the beans, and hoped she’d ring. My client beat her to it.

Showered, dressed and wary, I walked up Macleay Street to the grittier end of Kings Cross and took up a position toe-to-toe with a bouncer.

“We’re shut,” he said. His palm came up and pressed against my chest.

“Do I look like someone who visits strip clubs at 8 a.m?"

“Yes,” he replied, leaving his hand where it was.

The voice of authority came down two flights of red carpeted stairs: “Stop socializing, Smith, and get your ass up here.”

“I’m being summoned,” I said. The bouncer dropped his hand but stood still, forcing me to walk around him to reach the stairs.

Half way up, I paused, made one phone call and pulled medical gloves from my jacket pocket. Snapping them on, I edged my way past another no-necked party in black shirt and trousers, and went into my client’s office. Neville Forewood’s thumbs were tucked in his belt, lips pulled back over his teeth and his stripper dead at his feet.

“Minnie the Minx,” he said. “Recognize her?”

“Not with clothes on.” Dropping on one knee, I put two fingertips behind her right ear. There was an exit wound behind her left. She was as cold as a banker’s handshake. “Where’re the cops?”

“Before I called them, I needed you to grace us with your hardboiled similes and snippy manner.”


“I want you to find out who killed Minnie.”


“I’ll kill him,” Forewood said. “This is bad for business.”

“You sentimental old thing. Give me a hand.”

While Forewood rolled Minnie on her side, I tugged out a newspaper caught under her hip. The masthead read Tygodnik Polski.

Lowering her gently, Forewood and I recreated the original position. Her stiffening finger appeared to be pointing to something. There it was—a cigarette butt. The brand name, barely visible, spelt out M-o-c-n-e. Ten seconds later, under a nearby coffee table, I found a half empty bottle of Wódka Żołądkowa Gorzka.

Straightening up, I held out the butt and the bottle. “First time I’ve seen a corpse point to leads.”

On cue, a door on the far side of the office opened and a solar flare in high heels lit up the room. I could feel my socks getting warm. Forewood introduced her as Layla, one of Minnie’s colleagues.

Looking down at the body, Layla let out a small “Eeek!” as if a mouse had run over her shoe. Forewood looped a comforting arm over her shoulders. A very comforting arm. “Layla, this is Mr. Smith. He’s a private eye.” A pause. She didn’t appear impressed. He continued: “Layla and Minnie were very close. In fact, they even shared a boyfriend.”

Layla tilted her head. “Minnie certainly knew how to work that Pole.”

“Well,” I said. ”That was sorta her job, wasn’t it?”

“No, Pole with a capital ‘P.’”

“Now that’s a spooky coincidence,” I said. “I’ve just found a Polish newspaper, cigarette and vodka bottle.”

Her head tilted to the other side. “I believe they’re what you detectives call ‘leads.’”

Forewood pushed his thumbs back behind his belt. “So, who’re you liking for the murder, Sherlock?”

“Someone with motive, opportunity and a rather literal sense of planting evidence. Someone such as Layla.”

Unfortunately I didn’t know her skills as a stripper, but as an exponent of the quick draw she was sensational. It was difficult to tell at a distance of six feet, but I guessed it was a Ruger .380 pistol pointing at my forehead.

Forewood nudged my ribs. “Do something.”

“Forget it,” I said, slowly raising my hands in the air. “I’ve got too much to live for.” Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the big man in black guarding the office’s main door also lift his hands high. Neither of us wanted to take a bullet for Forewood.

Backing away, Layla chose the far door. A good call. As she left, the police I’d phoned earlier came up the carpeted staircase fast, bursting into room with only a hint of Keystone Cops. Forewood pointed a finger at the escape door. He was using his comforting arm.

I turned to leave.

“Where’re you heading?” Forewood asked.

“Sort it out yourself. I’m going to buy a baby’s rattle.”

Greg Flynn is a Sydney-based writer whose debut novel The Berlin Cross (Random House) was described by The Age as “a first-rate historical crime thriller,” and The Weekend Australian said of it: “He is good at the furtive, frantic atmosphere of this genre.” Greg is working on a (hopefully) humorous novel.