Wednesday, April 03, 2013

I know its been a long time since I have posted a painting and I'd say shame on me but I refuse to shame myself.  In addition to painting I dabble in writing and thought I post a short story I submitted for an annual contest.  Nope - didn't win but what it did do is give birth to a character who I fell in love with and have decided deserves his own book.  So I thought as a "creative" exercise I'd go ahead and post the story. 
Please keep in mind the rules of the contest dictated the format.  A mystery had to be established and solved in no more than 2500 words.  I have never written a short story before so it was really a unique experience for me.  It will end up being a chapter in the book and since it won't have to follow a contest guideline it will probably be longer but still - have a quick read and tell me what you think.  Any resemblence to any living person is purely coincidence.
(I respectfully ask that just like art work my work is mine with copyrights intended or acquired.) Here goes - enjoy.

Manny Garcia - Private Eye

It was midmorning in Santa Rosa when Manny Garcia lumbered up the alley looking like an old pull toy that leaned way to the left and then way to the right as he shuffled his feet. He waddled down a rut stopping only to pet stray dogs or peer into the dumpsters he passed.  Occasionally spotting something he thought he could use; he would retrieve the new found treasure and stuff it into the ratty brown shopping bag he carried.

Rose Padilla and her neighbor Lucie Hernandez stood in their back yards discussing the damage their gardens sustained in last night’s hail storm.  Rose was first to spot Manny making his way toward them, leaning closer to Lucie she whispered. “Oh no, it’s too early for to put up with his foolishness, I’m going inside.”

Lucie wasn’t quick enough to escape.  Manny smiled and waved as he called out her name.  “Good Morning Mrs. Hernandez.  How are you today?”

Lucie sighed deeply.  “I’m doing better than my tomatoes.  The hail ruined them but that’s nothing compared to what it did to my husband’s new truck.”

“That’s terrible, but you got insurance don’t you?” Manny removed his hat and wiped his forehead with his sleeved arm.  “How much did that truck cost you?” And then without waiting for an answer he continued, “How much insurance you got?  Enough?”

Lucie knew that the questions weren’t meant to be rude.  They were Manny’s way of showing concern and, as everyone in town knew, Manny was just Manny. “We’re okay – will get the truck fixed.”

“That’s good.” He said as he placed his hat back on his head and saying farewell be set out once again for town.

He was only a block from the downtown area when he stopped to sift through the dumpster located behind the home of the town’s bank president, Sam Weller.  As a general rule there was almost always something worth pulling out of this dumpster, however lately there had only been kitchen refuse.  Manny used a stick to stir the trash around but his effort only yielded the empty containers of a variety of generic store brand commodities.  With his head tucked under the dumpster lid he didn’t notice Mrs. Weller making her way to the backyard gate.

“Mr. Garcia?”  She whispered.

Startled, Manny bumped his head knocking his hat off and into the dumpster.  He retrieved his hat and rubbed his sore head. “Good Morning Mrs. Weller.”

Mrs. Weller looked up and down the alley.  When she was satisfied that no one was watching her she continued.  “Do you have time to come inside?  I’d like to talk to you about something.”

Manny followed her inside and sat down at the kitchen table.  Eagerly accepting her offer of coffee and a slice of German Chocolate cake, he listened as she sputtered off to a hesitant start.  “Mr. Garcia,” she began, “Are you really a detective?”

“Yes ma’am, I got my license right here.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.  Mrs. Weller couldn’t help but notice that the old worn wallet was completely empty with the exception of the wrinkled paper card declaring that the bearer was an official private detective as recognized by the Security Services Institute of America.  Not that Manny had attended the institute; as a matter of fact he had trouble filling out the form in the back of the magazine. In reality it merely signified that his check for $19.99 had cleared the bank.

Mrs. Weller read the card which offered her no reassurance.  Manny could sense her lack of confidence in his ability as a professional.  “You know I was the one who helped Father Lohan find his missing rosary and I have solved lots of other cases as well.”

She did know.  She and every other citizen knew that Father Lohan had intentionally left his rosary at the coffee shop and then walked across the street to the plaza.  Waking Manny from his nap on the bench where he slept most afternoons he retained Manny to find his lost possession.  It was assumed that the old priest had done this as an act of kindness but he had done it to end the daily visits from Manny who complained that no one would give him any business.   When Father Lohan praised Manny’s skill the following Sunday at mass it resulted in several new cases, mostly lost pets, lost rings or watches and the occasional stolen lawn ornament.  Much to everyone’s surprise Manny was fairly successful in retuning the lost items to their owners.

Drawing in a long breath Mrs. Weller decided she had nothing to lose.  “About a week ago I was doing some cleaning in the living room when I accidently bumped our Ernest L. Blumenschein painting and it fell off the wall and crashed to the floor. Are you familiar with his work?”

Manny shook his head so she continued.  “He’s a founding member of the Taos art colony.  Sam and I purchased Blumenshein’s Oak Creek Canyon ten years ago to mark our twenty fifth wedding anniversary.”  Then with a little embarrassment she added “at that time we paid around forty thousand dollars.”

Manny choked on his cake. “For a picture?”

“For an original Blumenshein” she corrected. “The painting itself wasn’t damaged but the frame broke.  My husband was out of town so I took the painting back to the gallery in Santa Fe where we purchased it to see if the frame could be repaired.  To my surprise they called me the next day to inform me that the painting I brought in wasn’t the same one they sold us.”  There was a sudden hitch in her voice. “They said…they said it was a forgery.”

“That’s terrible,” Manny said as he helped himself to a second piece of cake. “What did you husband say about it?”

“When he got home yesterday from his business trip I told him what I found out and suggested we contact the police but he was against that.  He said that he didn’t want the police brought into it because he didn’t want anyone to know what kind of money we had in our art and collectibles.” She poured Manny a second cup of coffee.  “I pointed out that we had paid a small fortune for the painting and that a report should be made for insurance purposes but Sam was firm and said that I should forget about it for now and then he left me sitting here while he went off to the bank to work.  He was gone most of the night and before he left this morning he said he didn’t want to talk about the painting anymore.  I just don’t know what to do?”

Manny finished his cake and coffee and then checked the clock on the wall.  “I better get going; it’s almost time for lunch.  But I tell you what; I’ll start working on your case right away.” She watched him go through the back gate and head up the alley toward town.  Sighing heavily, she couldn’t escape the feeling that she had just wasted a good hour of her time and two slices of cake on a hopeless case.

Making his way into the plaza Manny decided to bypass his regular bench located under the shade of a towering cottonwood tree and chose a bench on the south side of the square, the one across the street from the bank.  He sat down and surveyed the bank with is parking lot sandwiched next to the drug store.   The smooth, shiny, burgundy Cadillac parked in the first available space, the one marked Reserved for Bank President, belonged to Sam Weller. The rest of the lot was occupied with employee vehicles.  The bank policy emphasized leaving the parking spaces in front of the bank strictly for customers. 

 Gloria Alderidge, the bank secretary, came bouncing out of the bank and made her way to the parking lot. It crossed Manny’s mind that her skirt seemed short even for a girl in her twenties but he enjoyed looking at her legs anyway.   As she slid into her Mustang Convertible she let out a yelp as her skin touched the hot leather upholstery.  Manny couldn’t help but notice that last night’s hail storm had done quite a bit of damage to her car as well.  As she sped out of the parking lot the big clock on the bank chimed twelve.

Sitting in the sun Manny thought about the case of the forged painting.  He thought so hard that before he knew it his heavy eyes closed and he was fast asleep.  He might have slept there all afternoon had he not been woken by the sound of Gloria’s Mustang screeching to a stop in a parking spot in front of the bank where it would be shaded by a large tree.  As she made her way to entrance she was intercepted by Sam Weller.  Manny watched as the two had a brief conversation before she went through the front door and Mr. Weller continued down the sidewalk to the drug store.

 Manny’s stomach growled.  Looking up at the bank clock he was surprised to see that it was a quarter to two and he had slept through lunch.  The drugstore had a lunch counter so Manny pulled himself up from the bench and headed across the street.  As he pushed the door open he saw Sam Weller standing at the front checkout counter paying for his purchase, an unmistakable black and gold box of Rogaine. 

“What’s new with you Manny?” said the waitress as she sat down his egg salad sandwich.

“I’m working on a case, can’t talk about it but it’s a big one.”

“Working?” She laughed.  “Manny you’ve been asleep over there all day.”

“No really.” He said “I was working on a case and as soon as I finish my lunch I’m gonna go solve it.”

With a smile and a wink the waitress slid his check across the counter.  “Well if anyone can solve it you can, you probably see everything walking through the alleys all day.”

True to his word Manny wiped the last of the egg salad from his face and headed for the bank.  As he passed the parking lot he stopped to look closer at Sam Weller’s pristine Cadillac sitting in its coveted spot.  Clean and waxed without a blemish on it Sam smiled and thought he might like to have just such a car for himself one day if he ever learned to drive.

Sam Weller was busy going through some files when Gloria tapped on his door to say that Mr. Garcia was here to see him.  He was in the process of saying he was much too busy for an unscheduled meeting with anyone when Manny pushed his way through the door,

“I know you’re a busy man, this will only take a minute.  I’ve come about the painting.

Sam slowly closed the file and asked him to come in.  Gloria began to excuse herself when Manny stopped her.  “No Miss Alderidrge, you come in and sit down too” Gloria looked at Mr. Weller who shrugged so she closed the door and sat down.

Manny removed his hat and sat down. “That was a bad storm we had last night, lotta damage all over town, lotta damage.”

“I thought you came to talk about the painting?”  Sam said flatly.

Manny nodded. “You know your wife is a wonderful woman.  I’ve known her all my life and what a good cook.  She makes the best German Chocolate cake I ever tasted.”  He glanced at Gloria and then looked back at Sam.  Anyway, she was telling me about your trouble with the painting.  Quite a mystery don’t you agree?”

Mr. Weller sat silently and waited for Manny to get to the point.  “So many things are a mystery to me like …” his voice trailed off like he was trying to think of an example.  Then suddenly it picked back up.  “Like why a man that everyone thinks would have lots of money is buying Great Value vegetables and milk but, “  Manny gestured to the drugstore sack on the desk. “wastes good money on hair fertilizer.” Suddenly sweat began to appear on Sam’s head and bead up on the peach fuzz covering the bald spot

Manny went on.  “Or why Miss Alderidge takes a longer lunch than the other employees and parks in front of the bank just to have her car in the shade. And about your car,” Manny turned to face Gloria directly, “it such a shame that the hail banged up your pretty new car like that.  You should have parked it in the garage of that new house you just moved into.  You know the one where they delivered the new furniture to last week.  You must get paid pretty good here at the bank.”

Then returning his gaze at Mr. Weller he went on..  “And how nice for you that while you were working last night your car didn’t get any hail damage.  You’re a lucky man because that a very pretty car.  Yep you were lucky, either that or you had your car parked in a garage.  Op, but there isn’t a garage here at the bank so it must be luck.”

Sam’s mouth dropped open.  He looked at Gloria and then back at Manny.  “What do you want?”

“Me? I want to find your nice wife her painting but” Manny rubbed the back of his neck, “ I don’t think it’s around here anymore.  I think someone switched it with a fake and sold the real one for money.”

“For what reason?”  Mr. Weller managed.

Manny shrugged.  “I don’t know, maybe your living expenses have doubled.”

The pink in the banker’s cheeks drained.  “Again, what do you want?”

“I want you to write a nice letter recommending that Miss Alderidge gets the job at the school.”

Gloria’s cheeks, by comparison, were flushed with anger.  “I don’t want to change jobs?”

“Sure you do Miss Alderidge.  You see when Mrs. Weller finds out about the painting she will divorce Mr. Weller and take everything.  The scandal will cause the bank to fire him.  With no job and no money he won’t be able to pay for cars or furniture or even store bought hair. But you’ll still have a job so you can pay.”

Gloria stood up and tugged her skirt hem down.  “I’ll go clear out my desk.”

When she left the office Sam slumped back in his chair.  “Mr. Garcia, are you going to tell my wife?”

“What for Mr. Weller? By the time I see her again you will have already told her all about it yourself and after some time she will forgive you.”

 “You think so?”

Manny smiled “I haven’t been wrong yet?”


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