It’s time for another James Leipfold short story! In this one, he’s heading off to Amsterdam to investigate a case. Let’s get into it.
IT WAS TIME for a rare holiday.
Well, maybe not a holiday, but Leipfold was leaving the country for the first time in the best part of a decade and in his line of work, that was close enough.
He boarded the flight to Amsterdam at Heathrow Airport at 6:10 AM in the morning. He was tired, so tired that even coffee couldn’t save him, and the bags under his eyes were starting to look more like trashcans. He was hoping to catch some sleep on the flight – indeed, he’d booked a window seat with that specific reason – but it was an ill-conceived hope, a hope that life would never quite live up to.
The two seats to his left were taken by a couple of middle-aged women who were having a heated debate. At first, Leipfold had no idea what they were talking about, but he couldn’t help himself from overhearing – or more precisely, from listening in.
He paid little attention to the names, but the story was easy enough to follow. Somebody had stolen the younger woman’s bracelet, and it was the only thing she had left from her former lover. Leipfold had been listening for long enough to absorb the full story. He’d been taken by sickle cell in his early thirties and she’d been single and unhappy ever since. He’d only ever given her one thing – the platinum bracelet that had disappeared.
He sighed and turned around in his seat, all hope of catching some sleep long forgotten. “Excuse me,” he said, addressing the two women and interrupting their conversation. “I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Perhaps the two of you could use a little help.”
“I don’t think you can help us,” the older of the two replied.
“Martha, right?” Leipfold said. He turned to look at the younger woman, who was sitting beside Martha in the aisle seat. “And you must be Amy.”
“How do you know our names?” Amy asked.
Leipfold smiled. “I just listened to your conversation,” Leipfold said. “There’s no mystery there. And Martha, I’m pleased to say that I think I can help you, no matter what you say. I’m a private detective.”
“A private detective?” Amy repeated. “Then perhaps you really can help.”
“Amy,” Martha said, “I must protest. I mean, we don’t know this man from Adam. How do we know we can trust him? All we know so far is that he’s nosy.”
“I’m a private detective,” Leipfold said. “It’s my job to be nosy. That’s what I do.”
“I suppose it is,” Amy admitted. “Okay, sir. I’ll tell you my story.”
She started from the beginning and repeated a lot of the information that Leipfold had already heard about, but she also told him a little about her new husband, a man who mistreated her and liked to play games to keep her guessing.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stole it,” she said. “He’s stolen from me before.”
Amy shook her head. “No,” she replied. “He took my money.”
“What a gentleman,” Leipfold said.
“There’s something else, as well.” She rolled up the sleeves of her shirt and showed Leipfold a couple of nasty bruises. One of them was a lurid purple and the other had faded slightly but still looked the colour of charcoal. He could tell from a glance that they were historic and dated from different incidents. He could also tell something else. The bruises were self-inflicted.
“It’s true, you know,” Martha said. “Her boyfriend is a brute. It’s awful, some of the stuff that he does to her.”
“Have you ever actually seen him hurt her?”
“That’d be difficult,” she said. “I’ve never actually seen him.”
“Well that tells a story in itself,” Leipfold murmured.
“What do you mean?” Amy asked.
“It’s easy,” Leipfold said. “Your boyfriend didn’t hit you. Your boyfriend doesn’t even exist. You made him up.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Beats me,” Leipfold said. “Perhaps to get a little sympathy? Why does anyone do anything?”
“This is preposterous,” Martha said.
“Perhaps,” Leipfold replied. “It’s nothing to me. I don’t know you from Adam – or from Eve, for that matter. All I know is the truth. You injured yourself, and you know exactly where the jewelry is.”
“That’s not true.”
“It’s with the person you sold it to,” Leipfold said. “Isn’t that true?”
“Jesus,” Amy said. “You’re good. Martha saw it was missing, so I spun a tale. Here we are.”
“You lied to me?” Martha said, aghast.
“Oh, get over yourself.”
Amy scowled at Leipfold and mouthed “thank you” across at him. Leipfold shrugged and said she should seek some help to stop self-harming. It sent her into a rage, and she did the only thing that she could do in that situation. She called the flight attendant and asked if she could switch seats with another passenger.
“Ooooh,” the woman replied. She was called Lyndsay and she looked like one. “I’m sorry, ma’am. You have to stay in the seat that you were assigned. I’m afraid it’s company policy.”
“I’m sure it is,” Amy replied.
The three of them spent the rest of the flight in a stormy silence.
When the plane landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, Leipfold didn’t need to hang around to wait for his case to be ejected from the conveyor belt. He travelled light and carried everything he needed in a rucksack on his back.
It was a big airport, but it wasn’t hard for Leipfold to find his way around the place and he was soon on a shuttle train into the city. He found a seat and opened up his notebook to review his notes on the case so far.
Leipfold was in the city of sin to track down a client’s ex-girlfriend. It was the kind of work that he resented but which paid well, and so he had to take it on whether he liked it or not. But at least he’d blagged an all-expenses paid trip to Amsterdam, his first holiday in a decade or so and it still technically counted as work.
And it wasn’t like he had much to go on. All he knew was that she was a junkie and a stripper in a city of junkies and strippers. He had his work cut out for him.
He started by wandering the city, ambling through the side streets and up and down by the canals. For a city that was known for its drug culture, it was a surprisingly clean place. People flew past him on pushbikes and trams wound their way through the picturesque streets. He saw no sign of heavy drugs, and the smell of marijuana only floated out from the licensed coffee shops that dealt the herb to locals and tourists alike.
His hotel was in the south side of the city, and he took a detour to wander down to it and check into his room before heading to the Rjiksmuseum. He wandered idly around the exhibits, taking notes here and there on his favourites, before taking the tram into town to start work.
When dusk fell, the atmosphere in the city started to change. It was a slow, subtle shift to begin with, but by 10 PM it was a different place entirely, as Leipfold couldn’t fail to notice when he wandered through the red light district perusing the human wares in the windows. He’d been given the name of a gentleman’s club where his mark was rumoured to work.
So Leipfold went along and paid for the peep show. It wasn’t his kind of thing, but he couldn’t deny that the women were beautiful, empowered creatures who nevertheless looked like dope fiends and crack addicts. The woman he was looking for didn’t make an appearance, but the other girls were pleasant enough. He waited for the show to finish and then headed off to speak to the leading ladies.
Most of them wouldn’t speak to him, but he found a couple of girls called Silver and Summer who took him over to a corner and agreed to talk to him, in exchange for a little hard currency.
Leipfold paid them what they asked for and showed them a photo of the woman he was looking for. “Have you seen her?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen her,” Summer said. “Candace. She dances here sometimes. Not tonight though.”
“Why not?” Leipfold asked. “Where is she?”
“She’s at the Blue Room,” Silver told him. “It’s a brothel. It pays better than this dump but the shifts are less reliable.”
“I can imagine,” Leipfold said. “Where can I find the Blue Room?”
The girls gave him directions and Leipfold thanked them and then followed them. They took him down a couple of side streets and right down by the river, along an alleyway and up a flight of stairs into a tiny little brothel that looked like it was for locals and not for tourists. The journey to the office reminded him of the journey into his own office on Balcolmbe Street, another country away.
The Blue Lounge was drab, dingy and unashamedly functional. Leipfold was greeted by a middle-aged madam who listed off their services. He showed her the photo and asked for Candace and was told that it wouldn’t be a problem, as long as he had the money. They haggled and Leipfold paid up front for a couple of hours, then followed the madam into a back room where his mark was ready and waiting. She was scantily clad and wearing much more makeup, but it was definitely the woman from the photograph.
“What’ll it be?” she asked.
“I want you to come home with me,” Leipfold replied.
“Perhaps I worded that badly,” Leipfold said. “Listen, there’s somebody who loves you and wants you back. I think you know who I’m talking about.”
“I do,” she replied, reluctantly.
“He’s why I’m here,” Leipfold said. “I’m a private detective. He sent me to track you down and bring you home.”
Leipfold shook his head. “That’s not my style,” he replied. “Besides, if I brought you back with me, you’d just jump ship at the first opportunity. He can’t keep you locked up forever. No, you need to want to return. I mean, look at you. Look at where you are. Is this really what you want?”
“I don’t know what I want.”
“Then come home,” Leipfold said. “You won’t have to do this to earn money. You’ll have everything you could possibly want.”
“I wouldn’t have my freedom.”
“You would,” Leipfold insisted. “It’s just a different kind of freedom. It has to be better than this.”
They talked for the rest of the two hours, sparring with words like two fencers until they were both too exhausted to deliver the winning blow. Leipfold thought he’d made some headway, but it was hard to tell.
“You have to go, Mr. Leipfold,” she said. “Your two hours are up. Here, take this.” She took a paper towel from the adjoining bathroom and wrote something on it with an eyeliner pencil.
“What is it?”
“It’s my address,” she told him. “Visit me in the morning once my shift is over. I’ll have a decision for you then. In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me. I have a shift to finish.”
Leipfold met her in the morning at the address she’d given him. By the cold light of day, she looked like a different person. It wasn’t just the outfit – she’d removed all traces of her makeup and looked younger, almost innocent. She held herself differently, too. She held herself like someone who’s been waiting for a train for two hours and doesn’t know if they can hold on any longer.
“I’ve come to a decision,” she said. “Thanks for coming to find me, Mr. Leipfold. I’m going to leave the city. But I need a couple of days to get my affairs in order. Can you give me them?”
Leipfold whistled softly and looked around the shithole apartment that she was living in. He didn’t think it’d take her two days to pack up her belongings because she clearly didn’t have any. But what was another forty eight hours?
“I’m here for three more days,” Leipfold said. “I’ll see if I can book you on the same flight home.”
Candace and Leipfold shook on it, and he walked her back to her flat and left her to get on with things. He had admin of his own to do, including calling his client with the good news. The client was ecstatic and told Leipfold as much, and he wired over the money for the flight as soon as he got off the phone. The flight itself was almost fully booked, but Leipfold was able to get a ticket for a single seat at the other end of the aircraft, which was good enough.
He spent the next couple of days enjoying his time in a strange city.
On the day of the flight, Leipfold went back to the address to pick Candace up. There was only one problem – she was nowhere to be found.
Well, that wasn’t quite true. He could make out the silhouette of a body on the floor on the inside of the house.
Leipfold panicked. He didn’t know the number for the emergency services, and so he flagged down a passerby to put the call in while he tried to kick the door down. It broke on the fourth boot and Leipfold spilled inside with the stranger in tow, but it was pretty clear that they were too late to help her. Her skin had turned blue, for God’s sake. And Leipfold’s eyes lit up on the needle in her arm.
“Holy shit,” Leipfold said. “We’ve got to get out of here. There’s nothing more we can do.”
He turned around, but the stranger who’d called the police had already disappeared.
Leipfold disappeared shortly afterwards. He had a plane to catch.
Back in Britain – back at the office on Balcolmbe Street – Leipfold was worried. He was about to make an uncomfortable phone call and he wasn’t looking forward to it.
His client picked up on the fourth ring. Leipfold cut straight to the chase to say, “She’s dead. I’m sorry.”
“She’s dead,” the client repeated. “What do you mean, ‘she’s dead’?”
“What do you think I mean?” Leipfold replied. “Listen, I did what I could. She was supposed to be coming back with me. She said she was going to. And then…well, you know what happened.”
“No,” the client said, “I don’t. How did she die?”
“She overdosed,” Leipfold said.
“And you’re sure of this?”
“I saw her,” he replied. The memory of her body lying lifeless across the floor was one that wouldn’t be leaving him any time soon, especially not late at night when he was struggling to sleep.
“God damn it,” his client said. “I’m not happy about this, Leipfold. Not by a long shot. Why didn’t you save her?”
“I couldn’t,” Leipfold snapped. “I tried and I couldn’t. And neither could you.”
“You should have got there sooner,” his client said. “No, this can’t be happening. I’m done, Mr. Leipfold. I’m done, you hear? No more money for you. And if I ever see you again, I’ll kill you – you hear? I’ll kill you.”
“I need a favour,” Leipfold said.
“I guessed as much,” Cholmondeley replied. The two of them were sitting opposite each other in a greasy spoon. Leipfold had chewed his way through a large cooked breakfast, but Cholmondeley had settled for toast and a pot of coffee. “You always need a favour.”
“I’m sorry, old friend. It won’t take a moment.
Cholmondeley sighed. “I can’t keep doing this, you know,” he said. “I’m too busy. Too old. Too much is at stake.”
“That’s never stopped you before,” Leipold said.
“True.” He sighed again. “Okay. What is it?”
Leipfold told him.
Two hours later, Jack Cholmondeley was in uniform. It was his day off, but Leipfold had been insistent and besides – it still made him proud to wear it, and he knew it would until the day he died. It was a family tradition.
At Leipfold’s insistence, he knocked at the door. Cholmondeley didn’t recognise the man who answered it, but Leipfold did – and he gave Cholmondeley the nod to confirm it.
Cholmondeley grinned at the man who’d loved the prostitute – and who’d failed to pay Leipfold’s final invoice.
“I believe you owe my friend some money,” he said.