Phantom Webmaster, P.I.
It was a January afternoon so cold it would knock the scroll out of William IV’s hand. I’d been hanging around the offices of the local beak, hoping to get a tip-off that would pay the rent for the next seven days. It had been a tough week. Georgie the Ice Cream Vendor was looking at 15 years in the cooler. My best stoolie had taken a ride to Belmarsh, Shiny-Boy Stone had taken a ride to Charlton Cemetery and Yours Truly was taking a ride up Deptford Creek without a clue.
I remember the dame as if it were yesterday. I arrived back at the office soaked to the skin and shivering, my battered Homburg wetter than a Greenwich Council lapdancer-club rejection. She was silhouetted against the broken Venetian blind, all sharp suit and peek-a-boo hair. Suddenly it was August. I swallowed.
“Take a seat, Miss, er-”
“No names, Mr Webmaster. It’s safer that way.” Her steady gaze travelled down my kipper tie and fixed itself on the soup stain I’d hoped was hidden by the jazzy pin Johnny Rocket told me was in that season. “Tomato?”
“Mock Turtle,” I brazened.
“How would you like to make it real turtle, Mr Webmaster?”
“Would you be serving it?”
Her look was ice. Back to January again. “I need to find a man, Mr Webmaster.”
I ignored the obvious double entendre and cut to the chase. “Where did you last see him?”
“In a bookshop in Canterbury He wasn’t looking so good.”
“So. You go there, pick him up and cart him to QEH emergency room. I don’t see where I come-”
“He’s dead, Mr Webmaster.”
Things were looking up. I smelled a job. “So you want me to find the hood who did it? I don’t come cheap, I’ll tell you now.”
“Mr Webmaster – I’ve seen your tie. If you came any cheaper you’d be the architect for the Heart of East Greenwich. I need to know when he died. My associate will be pleased to pay the going rate for the information.”
“And who exactly is your associate?”
“Oh Mr Webmaster, I’m sure you understand I can’t reveal such -” she slipped her hand inside her purse, looked me in the eye and purred “-such sensitive information. Maybe this will help you come to a decision…”
My jaded eye scanned the wedge of notes she had pulled from the handbag, lingered momentarily on the M1911 nestled between the scarlet lipstick and powder compact, then travelled back to the cash. Enough dough for a slap-up and a marguerita at The Alamo. With a paper umbrella. And a cherry.
“You’ve got yourself a deal, Lady.”
While The Phantom’s gadding about Greenwich in swirling cape and mask, The Phantom Webmaster is far more likely to be spotted in a dirty mac and gum shoes, talking in pithy, hard-bolied Chandler-esque. All I did was mention I was trying to find John M. Stone, to see if I was ok to reprint his wonderful lecture notes so it would be available again, and wham. Within a couple of hours, the PW had found pretty much everything there was to know about the guy.
Scary stalker/sniffer-dog qualities aside, I’m seriously impressed. And have ascertained, thanks to TPW, that, in copyright-years at least, I’m safe to reprint. I have to do a little more sleuthing to just make sure, but in the meanwhile, both I and TPW are on the case….
The Underground Passages, Caverns &c., of Greenwich and Blackheath could well be available again soon…