Brewster McCabe: Chapter 1 – What Am I Doing Here?

Chapter 1

What Am I Doing Here?


The night was balmy and so was I. After all, it had been a long time since my last case: it was bourbon I think.

Here I sat, slowly surveying my office. It was filled with the memories of 10 years of sweat, tears and close calls in the private eye biz. To my right: a four-drawer file cabinet — its drawers contorted with age. In it were the files of the cases I had solved. The other three drawers were empty.

To the left of the cabinet stood the water cooler. In an age of bottled water, no one had taken a drink from it in years but I kept it around for company. The occasional gurgle of a bubble rising to its crusty surface has been a steadfast companion over the years.

The rest of the room was done up in a typical private eye decor with just a touch of intrigue to accent the peeling walls.

The rhythm of the dull gray, monochromatic tone of the room was interrupted only by the frosted glass door.

The name on the window had faded almost as much as my memory but it was still legible, even in the faint light cast by an unpaid power bill.

It said:

Brewster McCabe: Ace Private Eye

“Available for murders, espionage, international intrigue and occasional weddings”

That was me, Brewster McCabe. A middle-aged man in his early thirties with nearly 10 years of service as a private eye. A man whose closest friend was a Redhawk .41 strapped to his shoulder. A man who had dedicated his entire life to filling other men with bullets so he could bring those who were left to justice.

But those years of triumph over the perennial forces of evil were seemingly drawing to a close for me. Private eyes were a dying breed – literally. Now, only the careful and the cowardly remained. How the moral fiber of this once proud pro…

But enough of this bellyaching. Booze tends to cause one to look back at his depressing past rather than his bleak future – a future which…

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Each rap echoed endlessly through the sparsely furnished office.

At last, a client has come seeking help with a case. Maybe it was murder or blackmail or…

My internal monologue trailed off as the silhouette of a man appeared through a crack in the doorway. The light from the hall made it impossible to see who it was.

Knowing that the perp could be looking for some trouble and not being in the mood to accommodate him, I dove for cover, pulling my Redhawk from its holster as I fell prostrate on the floor behind my desk.

“Freeze sucker!” I yelled. “Up against the wall or have a lead buffet for lunch.”

It wasn’t a difficult decision.

The intruder inched the door open, moving slowly through the crack. He spread-eagled himself against the wall as instructed.

I carefully made my way over to the shadowy stranger so I could shake him down.

“Don’t try any funny stuff. I’ve got one hand doing the frisking and the other’s holding my rod.”

He let go a giggle, until I jammed my gun into his rib cage.

A quick pat down confirmed my suspicions that he was packing a piece. He’d better be. He was my friend and apprentice, Lionel Finchley.

“So, if it isn’t Lionel Finchley!” I said. “Apprentice Private Eye in the flesh.”

“How are ya, chief? You’re getting faster on the draw, even at your age.”

“Instincts my dear boy. A talent you’ll acquire as time goes on. You’ll learn to handle yourself again in unfamiliar situations as you gain confidence.”

Finchley and I had been friends since childhood. Until three years ago, he had been a first rate detective in South Chicago. One day a client literally spilled his guts in Finch’s office; the sordid by-product of a shotgun blast that had ripped through the door.

Now it was up to me to put the pieces of his life back together once more. I had to refill that empty shell of a man and load him back into the barrel of life. I had to restore the spirit, drive and fear of starvation that are the hallmark of a first-rate dick.

But first there was a more pressing task at hand. New life had to be pumped into my business. I had to get a case soon or die trying.

The phone cut short my thoughts of eventual doom. I picked up the receiver. I spoke.

“Brewster McCabe, here. Ace Private Eye. No case too small — no fee too big.”

A woman’s voice ended the pregnant pause of the unknown at the other end of the line before it gave birth.

“Is that you, Brewster?” she asked.

It was my mother.

My mother. It seems like only yesterday that I last saw her. Come to think of it, it was only yesterday. What a woman. Strong willed, domineering, authoritative, manipulative. They really broke the mold when they made mom and the world was better off for it.

The sound of her gruff voice jolted me back into the real world.

“Sonny, I just called to see if you’ve met anyone special yet. You know, a future ex-wife?”

It wasn’t the first time my mother had asked this question. When in hot pursuit of the latest scuttlebutt, she was about as subtle as a blackjack to the back of the head. She taught me everything I know.

But unlike her, I get paid to invade the privacy of other people’s lives. It’s that kind of business you know. Nothing is sacred when it comes to destroying other people’s lives and reputations for money. A good private eye can’t have strong morals and a large bank account too. He had to choose one or the other. I have yet to decide.

“No mom,” I replied after an unusually long pause to subconsciously validate the importance of my chosen profession. “I haven’t found me a dame yet but it’s still early. For cryin’ out loud mom, I’m only in my early 30’s.”

My mother was unusually understanding for a change.

“That’s fine with me son. After all, I’m only your mother. You can throw your life away any way you please. Die a lonely man – break your poor mother’s heart – who am I to tell you how to run your life? The life I gave you.”

No matter how good or how bad things got in my life I could always count on mom to keep things in perspective for me. How? By consoling me in my hour of need? By offering some timely advice?

Heavens no. Not my mother. She relied upon that time honored maternal gift from God: GUILT! That invisible mother-son tie which can’t be cut, but which can be easily reeled in whenever good old mom was in the mood.

But enough of this. It was time to finally take a stand. My mother could no longer be allowed to rule my life through these endless guilt trips. It was time to set her straight. Time to take a stand for what I thought was right. To stop straddling the fence of maturity and cross over to the side of manhood…

“Mom,” I said with renewed resolve. “I’m really sorry but I must have lost my head. Yes… Yes… O.K. See you soon. Love you too mom.”

She hung up. The silence at the other end of the line was deafening. Guilt, that emotional umbilical cord of life, had won another round of tug-o’-war.

I returned the receiver to the phone on the desk.

Finchley put his hand on my shoulder. Men always seem to resort to this awkward attempt to reach out to their male counterparts. It made them feel better somehow – this display of concern. Not me. It made me feel cheap. Like a two-bit hooker who made change. I thrust Finch’s arm from its awkward resting place.

“Don’t worry boss,” he said trying to console me. “Your mother won’t be around forever. Someday she’ll just drop dead or somethin’.”

Finchley always knew the right thing to say to cheer me up.

“Thanks Finch, ol’ pal. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” The thought intrigued me though.


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