By Mo Conlan
(This is another in a series of Ace Spade stories, written with the help of the nine-word prompt, three words each from Mo, Kathy and Patty. The words are: stalled, ego, dog, donut, wink, begin, russet, clang, amber. Mo used all but one in this story, dog. Words used in bold.)
Ace Spade, PI, sat at the nicked-up, cigarette-marred kneehole desk that had been his father’s. The Spade Agency dated back to his grandfather Ace. The smell of tobacco from cigars the old man used to smoke still hovered in the air.
Ace the Third was managing to keep the Spade Agency going in the Techno Age. Ace didn’t like tech stuff, didn’t trust the Cloud, but he used it -- mostly by hiring Gal Fridays who knew their way around the Internet. Still, he did much of his work the way he always had; wearing his dad’s old fedora, on-foot surveillance, informants and friends at the police department, lavish tips to doormen at hotels and clubs. A lot of his work had to do with love gone wrong. But his trouble now was love gone right.
His current Gal Friday, Penny, of the beautiful russet hair, was getting married and only willing to work part-time. Ace took a swig of stale coffee and a bite of his morning donut. He resented Penny’s defection – he had been a great boss, had even allowed her to bring her pet swan Agnes to work with her. Agnes could be trouble. She had a large ego for a domesticated swan and did not like men, especially him. Sometimes, Ace thought the swan was winking at him – not a friendly, but a contemptuous wink.
The real trouble, Ace began to think, is these girls I hire are too pretty. He had taken on a an assistant recently, Layla, a young woman with long sleek dark hair, amber eyes and a law degree. He would probably lose her to some lothario, too, he thought.
Penny banged through the door, carrying Agnes in her pet carrier.
“I need to get an ad put in the Herald,” Ace called to her.
“Hold your horses, Boss. I haven’t had my coffee yet,” Penny stalled. “Gotta get some water for Agnes. Some kid on the subway kept sticking his finger into the carrier. She bit it. Kid wailed and his mom screamed. Agnes was very undone.”
Penny got a bowl of water for the swan, a cup of coffee for herself and settled into her desk. “OK, what’s this ad about?”
“I’m going to need more help once you and loverboy get hitched,” Ace said acerbically.
“Oh. Sorry,” said Penny, who was not sorry at all. She was marrying a former client of the agency who had been looking for a new wife, one who would stay put in her own marital bed. Penny filled the bill.
“Hey, boss. Just post an ad on one of the online job sites; nobody reads the newspaper anymore,” she advised.
“I don’t want a Gal Friday who can’t read a newspaper,” Ace said.
“OK.” Penny opened her laptop. “Shoot.”
It irritated Ace that she could type on it as fast as he talked. He usually fumbled with every letter on the keyboard of his computer.
“Wanted. Gal Friday for PI; must have current office skills. Homely woman preferred.”
“What the heck,” Penny sputtered. “You like pretty girls; that’s why you hired me.”
“Sure, I like pretty girls and look what happens. Pretty girls get married and, god knows, have kids, and don’t want to work so much. I want a woman I can keep – like Olive, you know, my dad’s gal; was with him 40 years.”
“She only stayed because she was in love with him,” Penny countered.
Ace did not respond to this bait. “Try to rush this into the final edition,” he said.
“Hate to tell you, Ace, but I think the Herald’s down to just one print edition and the rest online,” Penny said.
He scowled and ate the rest of his donut.
“And what makes you think only pretty girls get married,” Penny snapped. “If that were true there would only be beautiful people in the world, and look around.”
“Is this some sex gig, because I’m a sex worker, and I can play homely,” the first woman who called about the newspaper ad asked.
There was a call from a young man with computer skills, but Ace didn’t think he was ready for a Guy Friday.
Finally, a legitimate candidate knocked on the door of the Spade Agency. Penny showed her in. “Ace, this here is Goldy, come about the job.”
The woman named Goldy had bright red hair styled in frizzy curls. She wore large, square, black-frame glasses that seemed to big for her face. She was dressed appropriately, if not quite attractively, in a black pantsuit that also looked too big.
Good, Ace, thought. “Goldy,” that’s an interesting name,” he began.
“Short for Gwendolyn,” she snapped.
“Uh, Goldy, you know this is a part-time Gal Friday job?”
“Uh-huh. What do I have to do?”
“Are you, uh, competent on the Internet – searches, all that stuff?”
Goldy nodded and handed him a resume that included working in internet tech jobs, and glowing references. “I’m specially good at searches,” she said. “I’m naturally nosy.”
“That, actually, would be quite an asset at the Spade Agency,” Ace said, and so she was hired.
Business was humming at the Spade Agency. There was a lot of suspicion afoot, Ace thought, and that was good for business. Everybody seemed to want to check up on everybody else – husbands on wives, wives on husbands, parents on children, singles on prospective dates, employers on employees.
Goldy and Penny worked well together, coordinating their time and sharing the Gal Friday files and tasks. Layla spent her time mostly out of the office doing legal research – laws, especially about privacy, were ever-changing – and testifying in court.
Several months after he had hired Goldy, Ace walked into the office on a Friday morning and saw Penny and another woman at her desk, giggling.
As he entered, the women turned to greet him. “Hi, boss.”
That’s when Ace realized the woman Penny was speaking to was Goldy. But a very different Goldy. Her bright red hair was now a natural looking auburn – and the frizz was gone. It hung sleekly to her cheekbones. Gone, too, were the big black glasses and he noticed, for the first time, that she had rather amazing large green eyes. Goldy wore a pink sweater that showed off her curves, and a slim black skirt short enough to display shapely legs.
Hell, Ace thought, she was a dish. “Um, what happened to you, Goldy?” he sputtered.
Goldy laughed, a tinkly sound that Ace had not heard before. “Penny decided I needed a makeover, because, well, I met a guy online and we have a coffee date.”
Penny smiled, a benign fairy-godmother look on her face.
“Um, I have some surveillance to do,” Ace said and stumbled out the door.
After the door shut, the women looked at each other and burst out laughing.
“You know, Cuz, we really pulled this off,” Penny said. “If you had come in here looking like a knockout, Ace never would have hired you. But now that you're here and indispensable, he can't fire you for being too pretty.”
They raised their coffee cups in a toast.
“You’ve always looked out for me. We really did, pull this off, Cuz,” Goldy agreed.
Agnes hissed and honked until finally they let her out of her cage, after which she settled herself in Penny’s lap, and all was humming along smoothly at the Spade Detective Agency
Read more stories about Ace Spade, Private Eye...Layla comes in out of the rain...