(With apologies to Messrs, Chandler, Hammett, Spade and Marlowe…)
THE BIG SLEEPY SWAB
A novella in 5 acts
Act 1- The Wife
I have two rules. First, I don’t follow any rules. Second, rules are for suckers.
It was a balmy August morning, the early morning fog hovering over my beach town – so thick it made pea soup look like Evian. The town is an artist colony, and has the personality of a eucalyptus tree swaying in a Santa Ana wind. My name is Diamond. You can call me Samme.
My rent for the summer was overdue, more than a high school senior’s library book. I was sitting in my office wondering where the rent money would come from when she knocked. She walked through my door the way a princess walks into a dive bar. She sported strawberry blonde hair and wore that dress. A dress so tight it looked like it had been tattooed on. Not the expensive tattoos. More like the kind the sailors get at the docks.
She looked like she jumped from the USS Gorgeous and didn’t wear a life vest. She had bad news written on her like it was 9-11-01.
“Mr. Diamond?” she cooed.
“Samme. What can I do for you Angel?” I snapped back.
“You’re the best diagnostician in town, and I need to find out what is killing my husband Frank. Can you help?”
I was intrigued. “Tell me more,” I instructed.
She shared, “You know the drill. Headache. Cough. Low grade fever. Going downhill.”
“Doesn’t sound so fatal to me,” I chimed back.
“I took him to a specialist. Told me he had 48 hours to get on treatment. But he couldn’t pin it down. I figure you’re our last chance.”
I knew this would take some legwork.
“Your name Angel?”
Frances Frackle. You can call me Fanny,” She said with a purr.
“I better get started Fanny. Oh, speaking of coughing, you’ll need to cough up my fees,” I reminded her.
“Of course Samme. Name it,” she declared.
“$89 for an office visit. $69 for video visit from your phone,” I said.
“Sure Samme; anything,” Frances responded.
“That’s not all Angel—plus expenses,” I told her.
She agreed so I went on…
“Get Frank down here now. Pull up curbside. Keep him in the car. Have him lay low. My people will take care of the rest.”
I knew the clock was my enemy. I also knew what I needed – a beach house and a vacation. What I had was a white coat, a straw hat and -for protection- a #10 blade scalpel.
Act 2- The Masks
My first stop was downtown. A little boutique on Main Beach. The owner was a little blonde number named Heidi. She was so petite a 20 MPH offshore wind would take her to Catalina. I went there because Heidi makes the masks she sells by hand. And everyone in town gets their masks from Heidi. I knew she could help. She knows everyone in town and everything that’s happening too.
“Hi Princess,” I greeted her.
“Samme, don’t call me that! You know that’s sexist!”
“Sorry Heidi. Just being true to the genre.”
“Oh why didn’t you say so? Sorry- I wasn’t around in 1947,” Heidi reminded me.
“So Heidi,” I asked, “have you seen Frank Frackle lately?”
“Are you kidding? Everyone knows he won’t wear a mask. He’s been walking all over town sans mask. I saw him on the street and I offered him free masks; he just said the whole thing was a hoax,” Heidi retorted with the roll of her eyes.
I knew it. Frank Frackle–an Anti-Masker.
I threw 1,000 bits on the counter and took my favorite mask–jet black with nuthin’ on it. I knew there was more to this caper than I was bargaining for. There was a killer out there and it was my job to find him…or it.
Act 3—The Mechanic
After a quick club sandwich from Penguin’s, I decided to drop in across the street at the local mechanic. Mechanics always bugged me. That’s the trouble with mechanics. You get all set to hate them and then you meet one that goes human on you.
Jim was a happy Pollyanna type of fellow that you couldn’t miss due to his thick Scottish brogue .When he spoke you expected to see him wearing a kilt with bagpipes and eating a meat pudding. His hands were big. As big as plates of spareribs, and twice as greasy- grease from a ’47 Hudson.
Jim tuned up every car in town, and knew every car owner and when he saw me he said, “Hey Mr. Diamond, its ty-em fer yer old jaloopy to get ‘er oil changed.”
Jim was right. Of course it was.
“Next week, my friend. I’m checking on Frank Frackle; has he been in the shop lately?” I inquired.
“Matter of fact, ‘e was just ‘ere loost week. Broot ‘is Rolls in,” he remarked.
“Notice anything unusual?” I inquired.
“Yes indeed. He refooosed to use our hand sanitizer–we poot it out here on the counter and ask the coostumers to use it. He said it was all a cone-spiracy!” Jim sighed.
Figures. No mask. No Purell. I was getting the picture crystal clear and it wasn’t pretty. Or as Jim would say “purty.”
“Ok Jim, thanks for the dope. And better add a loob n’ filta to the jaloopy toon up next week, eh?” I quipped trying to impress with my new accent.
“Worst Scottish brogue imitation I’ve eva heard mista Diamond,” said Jim with a broad smile, “and stay oot of trouble.”
A little trouble I don’t mind. It’s big trouble I have a problem with.
Act 4- The Restaurant
It was 6:54 PM -the time for most guys to go home and get in their slippers, and light a thick Cuban cigar. But for me it was suppertime and time to go to my regular hangout next to my office, a little Creole place. The residents of my beach town will eat anything that is plant-based, gluten free, and held loosely with toothpicks. Me, I needed a steak.
Michael, the owner, sported a full head of hair whiter than a salesman’s teeth after his dental appointment. He was as smooth and strong as a garlic milkshake. He quickly escorted me to my regular table, #4, in the corner where open windows gave a breeze as welcome as a slice of bacon at Zinc. His wife Cindy came to take my order. A tall drink of water, Cindy was as sweet as a baby’s smile and her eyes revealed a brutal honesty.
“The usual Samme?” she asked.
“No, Cindy, I’ll take a steak.”
She was shocked..”But Samme you always have gumbo?”
“Trying to be true to the genre Cindy,” I said.
“Ohh…gotcha,” she said yelling over to Robert the chef, “one 1855 steak for Mr. Diamond, Robert!”
I asked Cindy and Michael if they have seen the Frackle’s lately. “Oh how can I forget Samme. They were here last week, no social distancing and walking around hugging and kissing everyone. We had to ask them to leave. He said we were infringing on their human rights.” No surprise there. Frank Frackle touched all three bases, but there would be no home run…no mask, no hand washing, no social distancing. A blind man on a galloping horse could see this picture.
I finished my steak. Robert had cooked it exactly to order, matching how I was feeling. Burnt on the outside. Cool on the inside.
Part 5 -The Reveal
The following day, Fanny reappeared in my office. She looked as inconspicuous as a rattlesnake on a white tile floor. “Mr. Diamond, I must say you are stupid. A stupid person. In a stupid business. On a stupid mission!” she cajoled.
“I get it,” I agreed. “And now I must make a stupid diagnosis. Because you see, Fanny your husband is suffering from Covid.”
“Good guess Mr. Diamond. But you can’t prove it- you can’t prove a thing,” she argued. She went on, “the quickie tests are inaccurate. The PCR test is the only thing that can diagnose him, and those take 3-13 days for a result. And the specialist only gave Frank 48 hours to live without a diagnosis. It appears my dear husband’s number will be up very soon.”
“Oh but Fanny I can prove it,” I said with an evil grin. “I used the new PCR test now available at Caduceus. We swabbed him curbside yesterday and I knew we would have the results within 48 hours. And as this report clearly shows, Frank is indeed suffering from Covid 19–no doubt a consequence of being an anti-masker, anti-hand washer, and anti- social distancer. A mere $189 and I hold the proof here, in plenty of time to get him on inhalers, some pulmonary hygiene, and maybe a little Decadron. Frank should be fine!”
“But I had it all planned,” Fanny said and stopped abruptly.
“Yes, Fanny. You are named the beneficiary in his multi-million dollar life insurance policy. Knowing he felt Covid was a hoax, you paraded him all over town to get him infected. Thinking we could not diagnose him in 48 hours, you came to me to avoid you being a suspect. But I have the smoking gun right here.”
“Nonsense!” yelled Fanny.
“This is an IgG moderate complexity antibody test you took at Caduceus two weeks ago, showing you are likely immune. So you knew you couldn’t get Covid yourself as you tried to infect your husband. And that dear Fanny is the reveal our dear readers have been patiently waiting for—you were brought down by a 48 hour PCR swab and a moderate complexity antibody test.”
“But Samme, aren’t we going to be true to the genre? The wife always becomes a femme fatale who then falls in love with the detective and they run away together?” she asked out of desperation.
“Sorry Fanny. I’m going to take a load off you, and put the load right on me…”
I left the office and walked a block to Thalia Beach. I had a date with sunset, a beach chair, and a Laguna Feast taco.
And Covid? It’s like a cheap bourbon. And I put it on ice.
Gregg DeNicola MD
Chief Medical Officer