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It is a damp, foggy pre-dawn on the Embarcadero. One can hear the faint and rhythmic slapping of turbid current against the approaching hull of the overdue Vallejo Ferry as it sidles past Pier 1 for its first foray of the day. On the clouds of wisp rolling in off the bay, comes the occasional pungent tinge of burning oil emanating from the first batch of hashed potatoes at Gott’s Roadside Grill just down the block. Well beyond the cone of tepid light cast by the last remaining streetlight, against the dank old brick of a vacant shipper’s warehouse, leans our dedicated gumshoe. The first fag of the morning hangs from his immobile lips, now and again overriding the scent of burnt oil with that of cheap tobacco burning ever so slowly.
You can call him the shambling shamus. Or the intrepid investigator. The steady shadow. The determined detective. How about the persistent plainclothesman? The aggressive agent. The sedulous sleuth. The diligent dick. The unstoppable constant copper.
Well, no matter what you might call him, this resolute and unremitting and sure-footed slewfoot will stick with a case longer and harder and more in-your-face and on-your-tail than just about any other gun for hire working the speakeasies and juke gin joints throughout the seamier quarters of America’s dark and nasty urban underbelly. (And it’s not just because, as a true gumshoe, he happens to have stood his ground on this particular all-night stakeout with one of his beat-up and broken-down black broughams positioned directly atop a heaping fresh dirty-pink wad of Joe Bazooka’s gooey best.)
No, this guy’s got stick-to-it-iveness, in spades! (as — he would only too readily remind you — in Sam Spade, his lifelong novelistic and cinematic hero.) Once he’s on a case, there’s no calling him off until some rough characters are on (or in) the ground, the swag is back in rightful hands, and the hot-looking dame with the loose habits is blowing kisses at our guy from across a banquette and two martinis at Sergio’s.
At this moment, the DG is up to his trenchcoat collar in a web of intrigue that could make or break his flatfooted fame. Seems a Sir Caspar Von Diemen, scion of a dissolute Central European duchy, was — believe it or not — actually Shanghaied in Shanghai. Put to harsh labor aboard a Singaporean sloop shuttling a stock of black ceramic falcons to Malta, Sir CVD was stripped to his BVDs to hinder any attempt at escape. The meager slops tossed his way by his Moluccan pirate captors barely sustained life. On the long route around the (to Caspar’s sense, rather ironically named) Cape of Good Hope, the unfortunate Sir Von Diemen was reduced to an exceedingly thin man, wiry and wasted. After more tortuous months bouncing northward along the western coast of Africa and through the Straits of Gibraltar, the now-delirious Caspar somehow found himself floating facedown in the seas off Marseilles, two pirate pellets embedded in his back, and no memory of his former self residing any longer anywhere within his addled cranium.
Our peripatetic private eye has pieced together much of this malevolent tale, but still isn’t quite sure of the role Mr. E. S. Blofeld, owner of the warehouse outside of which our guy now so nonchalantly waits, plays in the intrigue.
I say: Let’s get ready to ruuuuummmmmmbble! We who are ringed about the tacky old oak veneer parquet dance floor (measuring certainly no more than 12 feet by 16 feet) at deep center of the...
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