Book 1 in The Story of Bat Garrett
by Samuel B. White
Bat Garrett was just a novice private investigator with big dreams when he was approached by two men from the Home Agency-a secretive government body-to go on a mission. On the mission, his dreams seem to come true as he is surrounded by beautiful women, intrigue and danger. The dream turns into a nightmare when the first woman tries to kill him, the second one turns out to just be a plant and the third woman-the one he has to marry-can’t stand the sight of him. As Bat tries to uncover the secret behind an apparent drug ring and the possibility that he’s just someone’s patsy, he also has to come face to face with the one trial he’s spent his life trying to avoid: growing up.
I was in what was then the only non-smoking pool hall in Dallas-if not in the world-and about to sink the seven ball when someone tapped me on the shoulder. Tapping someone on the shoulder in a pool hall-when they’re setting up for a shot, no less-is not usually a wise move. Even in the higher class establishments, there’s still just a bit of the pool hall mentality lingering in the air. This particular tap hadn’t been one of those light, “excuse me” taps, but a hard, insistent tap.
Thinking it might only be a case of someone accidentally bumping into me, though, I turned around affably and asked, “Excuse me?”
Staring me in the face was a vaguely familiar, unshaven mug of a man. He looked mad enough to chew barbed wire and spit nails. His teeth made me think he might have even tried it once upon a time.
He stood about an inch below my six foot, but he would have made two of me in girth. He wore the outfit of a mechanic and something about those coveralls from “Jimbo’s Transmissions” reinforced the idea that I knew the guy from somewhere. On the other hand, I was relatively sure I had never met him before. I’m pretty sure I would have remembered the smell.
“Your name Garrett?” he asked in a gruff, demanding voice.
“Yeah,” I replied cautiously. I had never had any work done at Jimbo’s Transmissions, so I couldn’t imagine what this guy would want me for.
“You the private detective?”
“Yeah,” again, cautiously.
I noticed the pool cue he was holding in his left hand just as he swung it at me. I ducked just in time and the cue splintered as it smashed into a post just to my right. I took the momentary disorientation he was experiencing as a result of missing me to put the post between us. He recovered quickly and tried to take another swing at me, but it was again blocked by the post. I knew that tactic could only last so long, though, so I looked for my next point of defense.
“You mind telling me what this is all about?” I asked hurriedly, retreating to the far side of the pool table. I held my own cue up as if it were a sword and tried to parry his blows. Fortunately, he wasn’t any better at fencing than me and the blows didn’t land on anything except the table. I was hoping someone from management was watching because I didn’t want to have to pay for the gashes in the felt.
“You know what it’s about!” he shouted, a rage pouring out of him like I hadn’t seen since I rode my bicycle through Mrs. McClarty’s petunia garden in third grade.
“I promise you I don’t! But if you’ll tell me what it is that has you so worked up, I swear I’ll do whatever I can to rectify the situation.”
“I’ll rectify you! You lousy, worm-eaten shutter-bug!”
“Shutterbug?” I mumbled, more to myself than to him. As an errant swing of his pool cue smashed the three-bulb light over the pool table, a light went on in my own head and I suddenly said, “You’re Mister Watkins, aren’t you?”
“Got that right, punk. And you better stay away from me and my wife, you hear?”
“Stay away? Your lawyer hired me!”
“What?” he asked, still swinging but obviously befuddled.
“Isn’t your lawyer Randolph Shertz? Of Shertz and Osborne?”
“Yeah … ” The swings of the pool cue definitely had less power behind them. The last one had only broken one bulb.
“Randolph Shertz hired me to trail your wife and find out who she was seeing. I followed her and took some pictures. This afternoon I’m supposed to deliver them to Shertz and be paid.”
Watkins reached into the pocket of his once-blue coveralls and pulled out a dirty brown envelope. He tossed it across the table to me, then asked, “These the pictures you took?”
Before I even had the envelope open, I replied, “Nobody’s seen the pictures I took, ‘cept me. I just developed them this morning. Well, me and the folks at the one-hour photo place. And my next door neighbor. He saw ‘em because a couple of the pictures were of his cat.”
I pulled some photos out of the envelope and took a look at them. They were pictures of Mister Watkins kissing-making out, really-with a young blonde woman who definitely wasn’t Mrs. Watkins. I had never met the wife of this wonderful couple, but I had followed her enough for four nights to know what she looked like. The woman in these pictures definitely wasn’t the woman I had been following. This woman had a figure while Mrs. Watkins was, basically, round. I looked up from the photos to Mister Watkins and asked, “Who is this?”
“A friend,” he replied, as if suddenly realizing that his whole appearance in the pool hall that afternoon was, at best, ill-conceived.
“Must be a good friend,” I commented.
“You didn’t take those?” he asked, a little bit of hope that I did take them showing through in his voice. He was suddenly realizing that, if I didn’t take them, then someone else entirely knew about his tryst and he had just told me about it for no reason.
“No, not my work. How did you get the idea that I had?”
Watkins was shifting his feet and absently fumbling with the broken end of his pool cue when he finally replied, “I was looking for the checkbook when I stumbled across some of my wife’s files and found that she had been seeing my lawyer. I wondered why. Then, I ran across your name on one of the sheets and it said you were a private eye. When I got them pictures, I figured Shertz must have hired you on her behalf to trail me and find out if I was cheating on my wife.”
“Well, I didn’t take these pictures.” I went over to my jacket, which was hanging on a near-by hat tree, and pulled an envelope out of the righthand pocket. I tossed it to Watkins and said, “These are the pictures I took. See? I have a much better sense of composition and style.”
He pulled out the photos and a strange smile appeared on his face as he flipped through them. I knew what was in those pictures and was wondering what a husband would find amusing about them.
“I’ll be dogged,” he remarked. “So she was cheating on me while I was cheating on her. Who’d’a thought?”
I was puzzled and asked, “You didn’t know your wife was cheating on you?”
“Not a clue,” Watkins replied. He smiled a gapped grin and asked, holding up one of the pictures of his wife, “If you were married to that, would you ever suspect her of cheating?”
“I think I’d rather not answer that.”
Watkins shrugged and muttered something like, “No matter.” He seemed to be taking it awfully calm, but that may have been because he had just been caught with his own coveralls down.
I was talking mostly to myself when I asked, “Then why did Shertz hire me to take photographs of your wife? I don’t get it.”
“Huh?” he looked up from the pictures as if he hadn’t been listening.
“Your wife goes to Shertz to start divorce proceedings. Shertz, it would seem, hires a private detective to catch you in the act of infidelity; a job that is done quite well. So, why would he also hire me to trail his client and catch her cheating?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. It seems like his best bet would have been to make his client come out looking virtuous while you look like a jackrabbit. But, as long as I get paid …” I pointed to the contents of his hands and said, “Can I have my photos back?”
“Uh, sure.” He handed them across the table and picked up the photos that had heated him up and sent him after me in the first place. Then, much to my surprise, he extended his hand across the table and said, “Sorry about trying to brain you with the pool cue.”
“It’s all right,” I told him, shaking his burly hand. “I’d have probably been more upset if you had been successful.”
“I was just all worked up when I thought you were going to blackmail me. I’ve been through that before.”
As much as I would have liked to know what he meant by that, I was already thinking along other lines. My brow furrowed with confusion, I asked, “But you aren’t that upset now that you know she was cheating on you?”
“Well, you know what they say: turnabout is fair play.”
“In bowling, maybe. But this is a marriage you’re talking about.”
“Eh,” he dismissed with a wave of his hand, “It wasn’t much of a marriage.”
The attitude was completely incomprehensible to me, but suddenly, I had a pretty clear idea about why his marriage wasn’t working.
“I guess I better go back to work.” He said it like it was just the most natural thing to do; like this sort of thing happened on all his lunch breaks. “Reckon I ought to give Shertz a call on my coffee break and find out when the divorce proceedings will start.” He laughed good-naturedly and added, “Them lawyers. They sure play both ends against the middle, don’t they?”
He left without further ado. Me, I just stood there with my pictures of Mrs. Watkins and the butcher. I got to thinking that-if I’d had any idea the marriage had such casual views of fidelity-I could have saved myself a lot of trouble. Rather than skulking around and taking pictures from house-tops and rose bushes, I probably could have just asked Mrs. Watkins and her paramour to pose for me. I cast one more glance at the ugly couple-now even more distasteful to me since I knew more of the story-then shoved the pictures into my pocket.