One hot June afternoon I was sitting in my office at peace with the world, and conscious that the world was, for a change, at peace with me, when Paula put her dark, lovely head around the door to shatter my pipe dream.
‘You have the Wingrove job to do,’ she said.
There are times when I regret having thought up Universal Services. (No matter how tough the job: we’ll do it.) As a moneymaker it was sound enough, and as somebody else’s brainwave it was brilliant, but when I get stuck with something like the Wingrove assignment, then I begin to wonder if I shouldn’t have my head examined for putting myself out on such a limb.
The Wingrove assignment was a job I wouldn’t have touched with an eighty-foot pole if I had been consulted, but it had sneaked into the office, together with a five-hundreddollar retainer, when I was in bed with a hangover, and Paula had accepted the money and sent off a receipt.
The daughter of Martin Wingrove, one of Orchid City’s most affluent citizens, had reverted to type, and he wanted me to persuade her to return home.
I hadn’t much of a proposition to offer her. Wingrove was fat and old and nasty. He kept one of Ralph Bannister’s taxi dancers in a penthouse in Felman Street: a big, brassy blonde whose mode of life would have horrified a monkey. He was grasping, domineering and selfish. His wife had run away with his chauffeur, who was half her age, but hungry for money, and his son was sweating out a drug cure in a private home.
Not much of a home background to persuade a girl to return to, but then I hadn’t seen her. For all I knew, she was tarred with the same brush. It would be a lot easier for me if she was, and it seemed likely. From Paula’s notes on the case, the girl was living with Jeff Barratt, a notoriously vicious playboy who was about as rotten as they come.
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