Gumshoe #8: Be Careful What You Wish For

Gumshoe #7
February 7, 2017
Gumshoe #9: Occam’s Razor
February 9, 2017

Gumshoe #8: Be Careful What You Wish For

(Based on an actual case file)

While the words, “Don’t worry about the money” are as musically perfect to me as to make Lakme’s Flower Duet sound like a cat in a fan belt, I could sense that I was talking myself out of yet another job.

“Bruce I get it.” I offered him. “You’re 45, you’re an ex-Navy SEAL, you could finance a small continent, and you want your Mommy.” His furrowed brow confirmed I was outa line. Damn. That’s not how I usually lose clients.

Bruce was given up for adoption when he was 2 years old, and worshipped his new Quaker parents, even when his mother marched in Washington against the Gulf War, while he was fast-roping from a Blackhawk into Kuwait City.

“Shamus, I know you track people every day, and I know this one’s different. My biological father never came back from Nam, and my mother looked after me for two years. It eats me, Shamus. Two years and then she throws it in? I’m sure she had her reasons, but I gotta know.”

“Understand me Bruce.” I warned. “I’ll find your mother, full stop, but when I do, I will give her your contact details, and ask her if she wants me to give you hers. If she says no, it’s game over.”

“Deal.” He said, pumping my arm. “Even that would be an answer.”

I unfolded the cheque he just pressed into my palm. “A retainer, Shamus. Will that do?”

“Damn.” I looked up at Bruce. “How many mothers do you have?”

The ‘Badge and Billyclub’ was 10 minutes on foot from Bruce’s stately Rosedale home, and only 5 on my hands and knees from Casa Gumshoe. “Thanks Sarge.” I said as he put a frothing Creemore at my usual stool.

“Ya think you’ll ever stop calling me that, Shamus? I tossed in my tin over ten years ago.”

“Can’t choose your own nickname Sarge, and you could have worse.”

He came back with a pair of well-poured Grouse in tumblers, handed me one, and said simply, “Make you feel like a new man.”
“To the new man.” was the reflexive response before we raced them away.
I worked with Sergeant Peyton in Guns ‘n Gangs back in Y2K, just before his world collapsed. He lost his wife to cancer when he was 50, and his partner to a bullet-lunch a month later. The city lost one of her finest when Sarge pulled the chute, but his sanity demanded it. He opened the “Badge and Billyclub” as a beacon to coppers past and present to relax and swap imaginary war stories, complain about wives, lament over leaving them for strippers named Desiree or Destiny, but most importantly, for Sarge to have a place where he’s still Sarge.

“Got any contacts in Connecticut, Sarge?”

“I did a re-tread course at Aylmer with a Lieutenant from Hartford. I’m sure he’s still on. Want me to call and tell him to expect contact from you?”

“If you could, yeah. It’s a birth-mother search, so if he can help with the chain of applications, approvals, landmines and payoffs, it could save me buckets of time.” Sarge replied with his paternal wink and cheek-click. He had no idea how big a resource he was to the rookies. Or to me. I winked back and pointed to the empty tumblers. “Rack’em up again, Sarge.”

Sunday morning phone calls are typically as welcome as seeing my mother in a porno, and after last night’s death-defying pintage and yet another sordid tryst with my mistress-in-a-bottle, this would likely be no exception.
“What!” I snarled.

“I’m lookin’ for Shamus? Izzat you?” The northeastern drawl was unmistakable. “This is Lieutenant Flint from Hartford PD returning your call. I understand you were one of Peyton’s puppies?” My involuntary snuffle was his acknowledgement. I’d never been referred to as someone’s puppy before.

“Some of my happiest days.”

“I got your message Shamus, and all your client’s coordinates, so all we need now are the results of his DNA swab to triangulate. I’ve managed to bypass state privacy regulations and those pesky pre-auths. Have to maintain plausible deniability y’understand.”

“This conversation never happened.” I assured him.

“Gimme a week and we’ll talk again.” I heard a signature cheek-click and the line went dead.


Nine days later I was being driven by Lieutenant Flint down a very rural Connecticut road, 2 degrees north of Stamford, and 5 degrees below zero. “Her name is Elspeth Coe, Shamus. She’s 64, unemployed, and living on a disability pension in a trailer park about ten minutes up ahead. I’ll give you a five-minute walk to the gatehouse, where they can direct you further. Call me when you’re finished and I’ll swing back for you.” He smiled and gave me a fraternal handshake, which I hadn’t noticed originally, but which certainly explained his remarkable hospitality.

Twenty minutes later, I found myself at the door of a 22-foot Rambler house trailer listing a little hard to starboard and facing Long Island Sound. I drew a deep breath and gave four serious knocks on the door. The response told me I’d wakened someone.

Damn. This was awkward enough.

“Coming!” I heard again, followed by a curious squeaking. The door swung outward, exposing an enormous, one-legged woman in a wheelchair, nowhere near the airbrushed Mrs. Cleaver Bruce Givens confessed he had pictured.

“Be careful what you wish for.” I reminded myself. “Good afternoon Mrs. Coe, my name is Shamus Fitzpuzzel. I’m a private investigator from Toronto, and your son has retained my office to locate you to canvass your interest in making contact with him.” I handed her a recent photograph of Bruce and a business card. Within seconds, she dropped the picture and burst into inconsolable weeping.

“What the hell is going on here? Who are you and what do you want with Ma?” I was too confused to recognise the sensation as nausea, terror or just simply gobsmacked as I heard the voice behind me. I looked over my shoulder.

“Bruce…?” But I knew it wasn’t.

“The name’s Alan. Who the hell is Bruce? And what do you want with MA?” As suddenly as the awkwardness arrived, it evaporated. I smiled broadly and walked over to pick up Bruce’s picture from the snow where Elspeth had dropped it. I brushed off the back and handed it to Alan.

“October 9th, 1967?” I asked.

“… My birthday,” he said without looking up from Bruce’s face. His own face.
“Bruce’s too.” I confirmed.


Bruce Givens looked at me like the RCA Victor dog. “She won’t see me Shamus? Is that like carved in…”

“You’re not hearing me Bruce. She gave you up because she couldn’t afford both of you and you won the toss. She never told Alan about you because she couldn’t bear to be hated by both her sons. All she wants is for you to become brothers again, and then perhaps you can accept her.”

He let out 50 psi and poured two scotches into Edinburgh crystal glasses.

“As my granddad used to say, Bruce,” I said, “If you open a can of worms, and you want to close it, you’ll need a bigger can.”

… the life of a flatfoot.