My clock read four-oh-three when the door swung open. I was three whisky sours away from true happiness and not in a mood to be disturbed. I yelled out, with a rough tongue, words to this effect. The door stopped halfway and a collection of mauve-chrome fingernails made their way around its edge. I swallowed awkwardly. I knew whose hands were attached to those nails, and they weren’t hands any man would willingly turn away.
“Don’t be like that, Max,” came a deep purr from behind the door.
“Sweetie,” I said, “if I knew it was you, I would’ve ordered a starter.” I poured myself a quick Jack-of-Spades and downed it in one breath.
Sheryl Fonkewski slid herself into my office. Sheryl the Peril. Old Damascus. Johnny Jim’s Lament. She wore the kind of dress that left my eyes burnt up at the bottom of my glass. I put my feet up on my desk. “What’s the straight-up, hotcakes?” I said, tilting the Trilby to a more generous angle.
Sheryl sighed. Her clavicle shifted up and down, and a weekend confessional suddenly popped into my diary. “You’re wanted down at the docks,” she told me.
“Not even time for a quick trip to deep regret?” I slid a shotglass from my sock and placed it on the desk. I was sure Sheryl was partial to an afternoon chase-the-hoop, but like all good midtown girls, never knew how to say yes.
“You’ve been warned about this, Detective Adams,” said Sheryl, crossing her arms, covering up that part of her that made angels weep from every opening. “It just isn’t appropriate.”
I laughed. This old game had been going on since Adam first found a worm in the apple. The old chase and wriggle was as natural as coffee and pecan pie.
“Seriously, Adams,” said Sheryl, “This is really tiring.”
“It can be. Especially if—”
“I’ll gladly end this in court, Adams.”
“I’ll gladly end—”
“Just go, you creep. It’s the Baby Sock Killer. Go.”
With Sheryl’s playful words ringing in my ears, I hailed a cab and headed downtown. My driver was an old plodding pony, steering down 4th and Q like a Sunday driver.
“Hey Sammy,” I told him, “how’s about we give this shoe a little shine?”
“You know, Sammy, get some mustard up that tailpipe. I need to be at the docks seven times from yesterday.”
“First up,” said Sammy, “My name’s Dwayne. Second up, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“How does a silver martini grease those axles, Sammy?” I took my badge out from my overcoat pocket and flipped him a little taste of officialdom. I could tell by his eyes that he understood.
I arrived at the docks on foot, after a slight unprovoked altercation with a taxi driver. The Chief was already there, dodging the Bulb Boys who were burning neon around John Doe’s recently departed shell.
“Baby Sock Killer, Chief?” I said as I ducked under the yellow tape.
The Chief fixed me with a glare that would’ve shot a hole through Babe Ruth. “We called this in nearly an hour ago, Adams. What kept you?”
“A little Birdy tripped me up, Chief,” I said with a wink.
The Chief ran his hands through what was left of his hair. “I can’t keep covering for you, Max,” he said. “Sexual harassment is sexual harassment, no matter how many cases you bring in.”
“You’re preaching to the perverted,” I said, clapping him on the shoulder and fixing him with a trademark grin. “Now, what’s the QT on Jimmy Cold-Bones?”
The Chief sighed. “Port Authority dragged him out around seven-thirty. Killing fits the profile. It’s the Baby Sock Killer for sure.”
I stepped into the crime scene, lighting a fat stogie to ward off the chill. Some print-chasing science boys scattered as I leant down over the body. “So what’s your story, Johnny del Muerte?” I said under my breath. The signs were the same. Shaved head, broken nostrils, and a baby’s sock slipped over the poor sap’s Howard Thomas.
The Chief settled in beside me. “Anything?”
I tipped a little ash and cleared my throat. “Well, we know one more little thing about our killer.”
“Look here,” I said, lifting the victim’s arm. “See that?” I pointed my cigar at some slight bruising in the armpit.
“So what?” said The Chief. “The Baby Sock Killer lifted him by the arms.”
“Look closer,” I said. “There. Around the bruising.”
The Chief peered in. “Looks like white powder.”
“Chalk dust,” I said. “Our killer’s either a teacher, or, more likely, a weightlifter.”
“How to you figure that?”
“No other bruising,” I said. “Our killer gives old Stiff Charlie here the clean-and-jerk and he’s dead in a second.”
“You sure, Max?”
“Think about it. Weightlifters are renowned for packing it small down in trouser town.”
“The baby socks?”
“Got it in one,” I said. “Classic case of green-eyed monster on the one-eyed monster.”
The Chief stood up. “How do you do it, Max?” he asked.
“Simple,” I told him. “You just gotta be ready for anything. You might say I’m accustomed to intrigue.”
I threw my cigar stub down and walked off in search of a fast drink and a pair of pins I could watch all the way down to Tallahassee.