A James Cartwright Hard-Boiled Noir Short Mystery
By Oliver Dean Spencer
The Final Ring (Excerpt)
“You’re never around when I need you.”
“You never need me when I’m around.”
Kiss Me, Deadly (1952) Mickey Spillane
IT was about four in the morning when I got the call. The phone’s incessant ring—at first a distant hum, kept rising in volume—clawing at the surface of my subconscious like some crazed snow crab, caught in a midsummer’s heat wave. I tried ignoring it—tossing and turning and hoping to get back to sleep, but to no avail.
I finally decided to give in and get up, balancing myself on the edge of my bed. Even if the phone hadn’t rung, I would have woken up. A recurring nightmare that I’d been having over the past few weeks, usually kicked in, around this time.
As a private investigator, reality sometimes got scrambled up inside one’s head. That included one’s dreams. When it came to mine, it seemed that someone always ended up dead—usually murdered and for obvious reasons—love, greed or plain stupidity.
In this one specific recurring dream, I was shot point blank by an unknown assailant. There was no face—only its presence taunting me through deserted city streets. I had no idea if the assailant was a man, women or thing. It’d keep shifting it shape and movements, like a fleeting shadow out of an old classic, black and white Nosferatu film.
But, as such nightmares go, I’d always wake up before the bullet’s impact—gasping for air and drenched in cold sweat. A cloud of dread and anxiety would then hang over me throughout the day, wondering if today—was that day.
The phone was still demanding my attention, so I pulled it hard against my ear. With a course, broken and uncertain voice I attempted a response, “yeah, Cartwright here.”
The female voice on the other end seemed out of sorts. It also sounded familiar, but who, I couldn’t place.
“James. James is that you?”
“Well Yes—if it’s JC you’re looking for, you’ve got the right number.”
“James. It’s Ann. Ann Mercer. Shelby’s wife.”
I suddenly made the connection. Shelby was my partner when I was with the Detroit Police Force, some fifteen years back. I hadn’t spoken to either Shelby or Ann for the past five years since they moved up north to Toronto.
“What’s going on Ann?” Knowing it must be important if she was calling me in the middle of the night.
“It’s about Shelby. He’s. Well. He needs your help.”
“He’s been arrested. For murder.”
There was a long pause as I got my mind up to speed as to what Ann had just thrown at me. Shelby had been a stand-up cop—never got his hands dirty with drugs or payoffs. But like me, he wasn’t a saint either. While on the force we both had our idea of justice. We both tried to play it by the book, but on occasions, we’d bend the rules. In the process, we also pissed off a lot of the wrong people.
“What do you mean arrested for murder? Who? When?” I heard myself asking with an edge of anger rising in my voice.
“Another cop. A few days back.” Her voice was starting to waver, “please James. You must come down. We need you.”
“But Ann, what can I do? My investigator’s license isn’t any good up there. I’m sure this is all some misunderstanding.” But I knew full well that arresting an ex-cop was not something other cops took lightly. They must have some hard evidence on Shelby.
“When did a little thing like a license ever stop you, James?” Inserting a bit of humour to a stressful situation. But she had a point. Kissing up to bureaucrats was never my strong suit.
“Ok, Ann. One question before I decide. Do you think he’s innocent?”
“Yes. With all my heart.”
“That’s good enough for me. I’ll be on the next flight out.”
The Final Ring is available on Amazon: $2.99 or free with Kindle Unlimited