"What do you think of these disappearances in Toorak, Paddy? All pizza delivery boys. The newspapers are talking about a serial killer."
I was firmly ensconced on my favorite bar stool at Sam's Fly-by-Night Club, and the sweet voice belonged to the light of my life, Stormy Weathers. Nobody has the right to be as beautiful as my little chickadee but she carries it off with aplomb. The plunging neckline is a prerequisite for the manager of a gentlemen's club, and few people would know that she is employed by Australia's foremost intelligence agency (ASIO), as are the other girls on the payroll. When we are together, I always insist that she button up. After all, I am a respected member of the local community.
"It's a mystery to me, Stormy, and it will remain so until someone comes forward with a retainer. You know I don't like to indulge in conjecture on a complimentary basis."
"Be that as it may, your pal Justin O'Keefe is heading the investigation and we both know he usually needs a lot of help."
It was a bit of a stretch to call Justin a pal because we had a love/hate situation that had existed for many years. Although he was now a prominent dinosaur in the Homicide Squad, the truth of the matter is that he was the only snitch at headquarters I had left. The relationship had become quite fragile since he learned that I was sleeping with his ex-wife, but I did appreciate the fact that he didn't think it necessary to acquaint Stormy with this information.
"I hear what you say and I’ll consider it. However, I don't know what makes you think the demonic dick from Homicide would be remotely interested in any help from yours truly. Anyway, he knows I hate pizza."
With that, I gave my girl a peck on the cheek and retired for the night. Sleep is an important element in the life of a private eye and, for this reason, Miss Weathers and I do not co-habit. I also utilize my lodgings as an office, which upsets the orderly nature of her structured life. I have many endearing qualities but tidiness is not one of them.
I awoke the next morning to a soft Melbourne day. There was precipitation about, a strong northerly was blowing and the weather bureau was predicting a sunny end to the afternoon. The only thing missing was snow. The ringing of the door-bell caught me by surprise but I slipped into my silk robe (the one with Chinese dragon on the back) and slicked-back my hair. If my visitor turned out to be a Seventh Day Adventist, there would be blood on the ground.
Her name was Mrs. Smith and she looked like the booby prize in a vanity raffle. I guessed the lady was all of forty and then some. Her bedraggled appearance was in some way due to the rain but she had sad eyes and there appeared to be red discolorations on both of her cheeks. Her hair was damp and discolored and her good bits were discreetly covered by a tight-fitting overcoat. The woman was clutching a mustard colored umbrella that was dripping like an Irish faucet, so I invited her in. I was dead keen to learn whether her husband might be John Smith. This was a name that people in law enforcement heard quite often.
"You are Mr. Pest aren't you, the famous detective? I was told you were the best person to find my Henry. He's gone missing."
The initial disappointment in learning that her partner was not a John passed quickly, but I was inquisitive as to who would have recommended me. I suppose I should tell you that the transformation of my moniker from Pesticide to Pest was achieved over a few nights in the early days at Sam's. The girls claimed I was always harassing them and they decided I was Paddy the Pest. I have since re-branded the sign on my office door. Four letters is always cheaper than nine and, after all, I am a discount detective.
"I am more than happy to try and help you find your husband, especially if he was the one who gave you those ugly bruises on your cheeks."
"What bruises? That's my rouge. We all can't afford French cosmetics and my husband, John, is not missing. Henry is my son."
Although I was certainly chastened by this rebuke, I had a warm feeling about Mrs. Smith, and this was exacerbated when she removed her overcoat to reveal a well-rounded, taut figure that belied her years. She was some kind of gal for an old boiler.
"OK then, tell me all about it. How long has he been missing? How old is he? Could he be involved with a femme fatale?"
"He is fourteen years of age, likes video games, skateboarding…..and his mom’s cooking."
"In that case he probably hasn’t run away, Mrs. Smith. Can I call you Daphne?"
"Please do, Paddy. I am very hopeful that you will be able to get to the bottom of this. Detective O'Keefe said you were a good man and if the truth is out there, he thought you would be able to find it."
My initial thought was that O’Keefe had been watching too many episodes of “The X-Files” but there had been one thing nagging on my mind since I had met the very agitated Mrs. Smith, and I had to know the worst.
"Just one thing, Daphne. I presume Henry is at school but does he do any part-time work?"
"Why yes, he's a pizza delivery boy."