It was another Christmas Eve back at the Normandie. It had become something of a tradition to take these trips. I took care of some business with Nora's estate and we got drunk a lot in the East Coast snow. Tis the season.
I went back to the couch and watched Nora from there, taking a sip of my drink. Asta normally stayed well away from these parties--plenty of food dropped by less than stable guests, to be sure, but not very many sure-footed ones around--but he kept close to me early on, just in case anyone decided to take pity on the starving pooch.
"Howsya, Charles," Fat Wally said. He'd just gotten out a couple of months ago and still seemed vaguely twitchy.
He looked back at Nora. "I wish I had an old lady like that."
"Go to Macy's. I got her on special."
Wally sat down and we played a few hands of cards. His game had always been craps, but there wasn't enough room with so many people in the suite, and he would have wiped me out if I'd let him. Cards kept it friendly.
"Oh, Nick, how wonderful to see you again." I looked up to find the large woman who lived in a room upstairs. She'd met me coming back from walking Asta one day, and seemed to latch on to Nora and me as fellow dog-lovers. "And Ashley! How sweet you are to stay with daddy," she baby-talked to Asta. She never could remember his name.
"Hello, Grace," I said, hoping she'd wander away, as she had no interest in card games.
No such luck.
"I was wondering, Nick, if you'd found anything on Frederick," she asked, obviously distraught.
"I'm afraid not, Grace," I said to her, attempting to turn back to the card game.
"I'm just frantic, Nick. Frantic!" Her voice was going up, letting me know how frantic she was.
"I understand," I assured her. "But I've told you, you should go to the police."
She harrumphed. "The police don't care. I called them ten times this morning, and they won't get back to me."
I couldn't say I blamed them. "Maybe they're out looking for Frederick," I offered.
She looked thoughtful. "Perhaps. But honestly, it would make me feel so much better if you looked into this. You're such a famous detective."
Flattery was kind, but pointless. Frederick had been her husband's name. The husband had died, apparently leaving her with a surfeit of money and not an ounce of grief. The currently missing Frederick was a small toy poodle, coddled to within an inch of his life, and with an alarming tendency to bite anyone who got within five feet of Grace, or piddle on them. Sometimes simultaneously. Personally, I thought the odds were good one of the hotel staff had taken care of poor Frederick, but I wasn't about to snitch on anyone.
"Thank you, Grace, but you know I'm retired," I said, trying to sound assuring. Asta looked like he might bite her. "Go to bed, Ashley," I told her. She growled, but trotted back to the bedroom.
Across the room, I heard Nora laugh as she talked to a group of people. It was the foghorn I needed.
"Oh, I think Nora needs another drink," I said, and apologized to Wally and Sam as I got up quickly to escape the game and Grace.
I was dry myself, so I went to get another drink before heading over. Nora really was empty-handed, so I took her one as well.
"You're swell, lady," a rather inebriated admirer was saying. From what I could tell, he'd been saying it for some time, and leaning closer and closer to her.
"Don't you know you shouldn't talk about a lady's figure," I said. She took my arm and managed to elbow me in the ribs as she was snuggling closer.
One of the things I loved most about Nora was that she was a damsel who loved a good rescue, but never needed one.
Guild was also heaping the praises, though he seemed a little more sober. "Nick sure is a lucky man," he said. He always seemed to appreciate Nora more after the third scotch.
Nora smiled at him, and took a sip from the glass I'd just handed her.
"How did you two meet, anyway?" he asked.
That again. "I found her on the doorstep."
Nora agreed: "Wrapped in swaddling clothes."
Guild laughed good-naturedly. "No kidding. I don't remember you ever saying."
"He punched me out," she said.
No fair going with the truth.
"Only after you stomped on me," I pointed out.
She nodded. "It was all turnabout."
Guild looked upset. "Say, how much do you knock her around?" He looked about to take a swing at me.
"Only as much as she needs it," I assured him.
"Nicky," Nora admonished. "It wasn't like that."
"It was a bank robbery," I said.
"On the level? I thought you was straight!" I looked over at the drunk from earlier, but I didn't recognize him.
"Oh, he wasn't doing the robbing. Just getting the floor wiped with his face."
"You do wonders for my reputation," I told her.
"We were in the same bank during a stick-up." Nora believed in starting from the beginning. At least after the middle part got told. "I was just sitting down with the manager when these men started waving guns around."
Guild was obviously trying to look sympathetic, but it was looking lecherous instead. Either way, you'd think he would have known better. Nora went on.
"The gunman closest to me made everyone get on one side of the bank before he took the manager back to the vault. We were all grouped together when I felt someone behind me getting fresh."
"You looked faint. I was steadying you," I said.
"I wasn't faint." She was right, of course.
"Anyway, I stomped back on the masher's foot just as he said in my ear, 'Don't worry, I'm a detective.'"
I protested. "I do not sound like that."
"Like Edward G. Robinson."
"You do when you've just had your foot stomped on." She turned and kissed my cheek. "I of course thought he was crazy."
"Of course," I agreed.
"You never know who you're likely to meet during a bank robbery," she said.
I nodded. "The riff raff come out of the walls."
"So, the four bank robbers--"
I corrected her: "There were two."
She pouted. "Who's telling this story?"
"Well, no one was doing anything about it, we were all just huddled in the corner, like sheep."
"Bah," I said. She elbowed me again.
"So I went over to the one who was guarding us and said, 'Don't I know your mother?'"
I smiled at the memory. "Completely flummoxed him."
"So, suddenly," she went on, "the lunatic behind me leaped out and tackled him."
"Lunatic?" I think I was insulted. "A fine way to talk about your hero!"
"But you weren't my hero at that point," she pointed out logically. "Just the strange man behind me who liked to feel up women."
Not much I could argue with that.
"So what happened next?" Guild asked, looking more excited than a hardened copper should.
"Nicky and the gunman were grappling for the gun, and I heard one of the other hostages stifle a scream."
"Didn't the other robber come back?" someone asked. We'd drawn quite a crowd, by this point.
"No, he was back in the vault with the manager at that point," Nora said.
"It was quite thrilling," I said.
"Shut up." She kissed me again.
"They were wrestling all around, and the next thing I knew, I was on the ground with an aching jaw."
Guild made an 'o' of surprise with his mouth. "That must have been terrible for you."
"Oh, no, it was wonderfully exciting."
I decided to save Guild, who looked confused. "I still say it was the robber that hit you."
"Yes, dear, but I believe it was you who pushed his elbow towards my face."
"It was still his elbow."
Guild asked what happened next.
"Nick and the robber sort of rolled around on the ground a while. The other one had been back in the vault and couldn't hear all the commotion. Anyway, while they were rough-housing, I noticed they had both managed to lose hold of the gun near me in the struggle." It had been mine, but I wasn't going to interrupt again. "I didn't know how to shoot, of course, and didn't want to risk hitting Nick, so I picked it up and hit him across the head."
"Nick or the robber?" one of our new listeners asked.
"The robber, of course."
"My hero." It was my turn to kiss her.
"You're quite a woman," Guild said again. "What happened to the other fella?"
"Oh, he slipped on some wet flooring," I said.
"No fooling?" someone else asked.
"My manly sweat had flung wide," I assured them.
Guild didn't look like he believed it, but he beamed a soggy smile at Nora and complimented her bravery.
We walked away back toward the bar.
Nora asked: "Do you think we should ever tell people my father introduced us?"
"Who would believe such a far-fetched story?" I asked, and ordered another drink.