Martha Thomases: The Pesky Dreams Stuff
The dame walked into my office just before closing. An older woman, dressed like every other woman in this city in a black leather jacket and black pants. You wouldn’t look twice at her unless you were allergic to cats, because she was covered with cat hair.
“I require your services, Mr. Spade,” she said, a trace of the midwest in her voice. “I’ve lost something very precious. Perhaps it was stolen. In any case, I must have it returned to me. I’ll pay you anything if you can find it.”
I looked here up and down, paying attention this time. Did she have money to spend? “Tell me about the case,” I said, motioning to the chair across from my desk. “Let’s start out with your name.”
“Thank you. I just don’t know what to do.” With this, she wiped a tear away from her eye, using the sleeve of her jacket.
I handed her my handkerchief and waited while she pulled herself together. After a few minutes, she took a deep breath and spoke. “My name is Martha Thomases. That’s ‘Thomases’ with an e-s on the end. Like it’s plural.” She said this as if it was something she had said a million times before.
“My story. I can’t find it anywhere. I think it’s stolen.”
“Can you give me a description,” I said, taking out my notebook.
“It’s been with me since I was a child,” she said, as if that give me any idea what she was talking about. “I really must have it back.”
I looked at her with the pen in my hand. “A description,” I said. “What is it like? When did you last see it?”
“Well,” she said. “I don’t know that it has value to anyone but myself. It’s a story about a girl who grows up, her relationships with other people, the things she has to do to get ahead.”
“That’s describes a lot of people’s stories,” I said, still not writing anything down. “How would I recognize yours?”
“It’s mine,” she said, as if that gave me any clues. She saw my stare, and stammered, “Usually there is something about fathers in it.”
“That gives me something. Anything else?”
“And there’s super-powers,” she said. “Someone will be able to fly or read minds or something. And there will be capes. Dark blue capes.” She tried to repress a shudder of pleasure at the memory, but couldn’t keep the smile from her lips.
Why hadn’t she told me that first. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” I said. “When did you last see it?”
“Just the other night,” she said, crossing her legs. It might have been a sexy movie if she hadn’t been wearing sneakers. “We stayed up late with a bottle of wine. In the morning, there was no trace.”
“Perhaps your story left?” I said, trying to be diplomatic.
“No, never,” she said. “We’ve been together more than 55 years. Someone must have stolen my story.”
“Who would do that?” I said. “Do you have a list?”
“There’s a lot of writers out there who need stories,” she said. “I just don’t know who would take mine. What good would that do them? It’s my story.”
I stood and put out my hand for her to shake. “Let me make some calls,” I said. “I’ll get back to you with an estimate, and we can proceed from there.
She walked away, and I watched her go. Not a bad caboose, but she was old enough to be my mother. What did a woman her age need with a story, anyway?
Still, a job is a job. I made a few calls that afternoon, but they didn’t tell me much. I was going to have to go out on the street. I put on my coat and headed for the bookstore. They’ve got a lot of stories there. Maybe someone heard something.
I went up to the clerk at the information desk. “I’m looking for a story,” I said. “Something with capes. Flying. Maybe a father.” I didn’t want to give away too much.
The clerk pushed a few buttons, and a long list appeared on her monitor. “You want the graphic novel section,” she said to me, pointing to an aisle at the back of the store.
I walked back, looking over my shoulder to make sure I wasn’t followed. I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Shelves reaching to the ceiling, filled with books that had spandex-clad characters with capes on the cover. I picked up a few that had dames on the cover, but there were so many I couldn’t tell if any of them came from my client.
I went back to the clerk. “These are all the same story,” I said. “How am I supposed to tell them apart?”
“Not at all,” she said. “All of the stories are different. Every writer takes the elements and makes them his or her own. It’s like meatloaf. Everybody makes it differently, and everybody makes it the best.”
I went back to my office, no closer to the truth than when I left. As I unlocked my door, I saw a package on the floor. I took it to my desk and unwrapped it. It was a statue of some stupid black bird from the Thomases dame. I picked it up, and saw an envelope underneath. Inside was a check and a note. “Dear Mr. Spade,” it said. “I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I just needed a walk to clear my head and my story came back to me. It is the stuff that dreams are made of. So easy to misplace. Thank you so much for your time.”
I’ll say you’re welcome when the check clears.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander