Family Honour

By: Hannah Howe

To my family, with love

Chapter One

A gentle breeze wafted through the open window, disturbing the papers on my desk. Marlowe, my office cat, sat on the windowsill, pondering whether to stay in or jump out. He gazed at me, meowed then offered his paws a thoughtful lick. As usual, Marlowe was sporting a split ear, the legacy of an alley fight. The swagger in his walk suggested that he wore his wounds with pride, as badges of honour. Without doubt, Marlowe felt at home in the alley, in the seedier side of town, much like yours truly.

After another lick of his paws and a further moment of contemplation, Marlowe decided to jump on to my desk, where he curled into a purring ball, ready for a nap. I closed the window, smoothed the creases from my slacks then sat at my desk, where I proceeded to type up a report.

I’d been hired to play store detective, to discover why shoes had been ‘walking’ from a shoe store. I’d established that a one-armed war veteran had been stealing the footwear, much to the store owner’s annoyance. The store owner was mustard keen to prosecute, but after a protracted conversation and some bartering, I’d made him see sense. The bartering took fifty per cent off my fee and expenses, but I considered that money well spent.

With the report complete and Marlowe snoozing, I stood and stretched my legs. For some bizarre reason, I felt the urge to perform a handstand. As a child, I’d had the ability to walk on my hands, which greatly amused my friends. So, with no one watching, I succumbed to the urge and stood on my hands. Then I walked across the room, my long auburn hair sweeping the vinyl floor, my face turning red. Still, not bad for a thirty-four-year-old who’d taken a bullet in the shoulder and various blows to the body and head.

I was still walking on my hands, contemplating turning a cartwheel, when a heavy hand rapped on my office door. “Enter,” I said, and before I could straighten, he was in my office, viewing me with a fair measure of bemusement.

“So, this is where, and how, you ply your trade,” Vincent Vanzetti said.

I sprang to my feet, smoothed my hair, smiled and nodded.

“Compact,” he growled, his hazel eyes flicking around the room, “not much bigger than my desk.”

I shrugged. The office was small, but it matched my budget. I sat and said, “You here to offer me your desk?”

Vincent Vanzetti growled again. He remained standing. Of medium build and around six foot tall, Vanzetti had large, soft hands with his fingernails neatly trimmed and polished. He was carrying a smart leather briefcase, black, without a blemish. His hair was grey and wavy, swept back to reveal a high forehead, while a firm chin, a menacing moustache and a series of pale moles distinguished his face. Vanzetti was dressed in a smart business suit, dark grey. His shirt was pristine and white while his tie was neat and straight. A gold pin adorned his tie, matching his gold wristwatch and a gold signet ring. Vanzetti looked like a cross between a businessman and a mobster, highly appropriate because he was a mixture of both.

“What’s that?” Vanzetti frowned, his suspicious gaze trained on Marlowe.

“That’s a stray from the alley, now my office cat.”

“An office is no place for animals,” he said, taking half a step back.

“You want to tell him that?” I asked, aware that Marlowe took a backward step for no one, regardless of their reputation. With a smile on my lips, I added, “No need to be afraid, he’s a cat, not a lion or a tiger.”

“I’m not afraid,” the mobster said, though now he stood closer to the door than my desk. “It’s just that I don’t like cats.”

“I don’t like boats,” I reasoned, “but whenever I want to talk with you, you force me aboard the Esmeralda.”

Vanzetti shrugged, conceding my point. He added, “The Esmeralda’s up for repairs.”

I nodded. “And I hope she’s feeling better soon.”

Our banter had disturbed Marlowe, who arched his back, meowed and stretched. He gave Vanzetti a mean, don’t mess with me, glare then jumped on to the windowsill again, where he rubbed against the windowpane until I opened the window and let him out. With a sigh of relief, Vanzetti sat in front of my desk, on my wicker-framed client’s chair.