Hank finished his ham sandwich and I my peanut butter (I don't suffer from anaphylactic shock). We were drinking our caffeine-crammed instant coffee - another gourmet meal at Rock Tuff's detective agency - when we heard a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I called.
The man who entered was of medium height and in his early sixties with perfectly trimmed and combed graying hair, wearing an exquisitely tailored dark suit and patent leather shoes. He contrasted sharply with the setting and just looking at him made me feel like a slob.
He seized Hank's hand. “Mr. Tuff, I'm Chauncey Endicott and I'd like to hire you.” The name sounded familiar.
“I'm Hank. He's Tuff.” I don't know if Hank was complimented or insulted by the mistake, but he put the plates and cups on a tray (really a polished hubcap from a semi-) and left.
I went over my rules and rates, to which Mr. Endicott agreed, and he explained his problem. “I have a lot of business ventures and I do a lot of entertaining - dinners, cocktail parties, even musical and dramatic nights - often at my house.”
“House,” I suspected, was Anglo-Saxon understatement for “mansion.”
“Someone slipped a noxious substance into the drinks and food. Several guests became very sick. I was embarrassed and angry.”
“Who runs these affairs?”
“The Gore-May Catering Service. They provide the food and drinks, a bartender, and three or four waiters and waitresses. My butler, Joves, an excellent man, oversees the events. I'm having another party this Saturday at eight, and I can't afford another catastrophe. I want you to come and try to forestall another misfortune.”
“Will I need a tuxedo?”
“No, just a suit.” The adjective “expensive” was unspoken but implied. No problem because I own only one suit, but it was an off-the-rack outfit which I bought on sale. “And you might be less obvious if you brought a companion. Are you married?”
“Not any more,” I said happily.
“Well, perhaps you have a female friend.” He spoke casually, as if any woman would do, but I suspected he preferred one beautiful and with a wardrobe from Paris or New York.
“Fine,” I said, hiding my desperation. Asking me to appear with a date is like asking a street person to arrive in a Rolls Royce. “I'll see you Saturday night.”
After much thought, I had an idea: Amanda Friend, my first client. Nervously I telephoned her and explained the situation. “There's no danger,” I assured her, hoping I was right, “and the food and drinks will be good,” hoping harder I was right. Mr. Endicott has said that he had hired an opera singer, a tenor, and a Shakespearean actress. They were to provide touches of culture with the food and finance.
“Is this a date?” Amanda asked.
“Oh, no,” I assured her, “it's a crime investigation.”
She agreed to go, although with some reluctance, I thought.