Name doesn't matter, Private Detective. I like my whiskey straight, my coffee black, my steak rare and my women raw. So when she walked into my office that hot May morning it was three out of four and counting.
I gave her a quick five-under and let my instincts do the talking. When I say she was hot she was plasma. She was one class act, and I'm not talking Zermelo-Fraenkel Set Theory. I could tell she was trouble, but she was hungry too, and I needed my steak:
"The air conditioning's broken here and it's too long since breakfast. Let's go down to Mo's for lunch, and you can tell me all about it there."
She didn't need to know the electricity was off until the bill was paid and my tab at Mo's was longer than her legs.
She was as stiff as a Mickey after a quart of Bush. I stood her a drink and got her talking to help her to wilt. Turns out she's a student, philosophy major. So we went for a stroll through the Transcendental Deduction while she maneuvered her salad around her salient points and I paid tribute to the memory of a very fine steer. She had a pretty good grasp for a sophomore. Hell, who am I trying to kid? That kid knew Kant better than his own Scottish grandfather. I had to change the subject quick before she showed me up. She'd even read the Critique of Judgment. You know: the one we always mean to get around to. I moved onto business, fast.
"So why don't you go to the cops? Report him missing?"
"He might not want the police to find him, if you get my meaning."
Just what I need on a Tuesday morning: some mobster is fishfood in concrete loafers, and his daughter the Platonic Ideal of the Chick wants me to get killed trying to find him. Life was too short to think of all the ways that this could go wrong. But I only had fifty cents in my pocket and just one more bottle of whiskey in the office.
"OK, I'll take the job. But I'll tell you up front: it's gonna be difficult, it may take a long time, and I don't come cheap."
"I've heard you're the best, Mr Name Doesn't Matter."
Her smile hit my stomach like an Italian-Jewish python falling out of a tree. I almost cut my fee. But my soles had holes and I'd already pawned the fridge.
"It'll be a rooney a week. Plus expenses at a bulger a day, and 5 bucks more if it takes me out of town. If that's too much I can recommend a friend. He isn't any good, but he's honest and cheap. And I'll need an advance for the first two weeks. If it takes any less I'll refund the difference."
She didn't even blink. The dough was out of her purse and into my pocketbook so smooth it could have been drugged. I paid the tab while she put on her gloves. The change would cover some whiskey. New York Power and Gen. would have to wait.
Three weeks later and I was all washed up, like a pizza-boy flounder on Long Island beach. I poured myself another and turned up the cold. Toni Boroni hadn't just disappeared: he'd been vaporized. Hell, his whole life seemed to have fallen through a hole in the space-time continuum. I was out of ideas, and out of ideas meant out of luck. If I didn't have a lead by Friday, I was short of an income and short of a reason to live until Monday. It wasn't just the money any more: it was the mind behind the hands that were holding the purse. Thinking of that mind reminded me: I moved the bottle to one side and opened up the brown paper parcel that had been waiting there for most of the last two weeks. 'Kant's "Critique of Judgement": a new Critical Edition with an Introduction by Prof. Dr. Anton Braun.' Hell, maybe some light entertainment would help clear my mind.
I waited until the students had left and he was tidying his notes up alone:
"Thank-you very much, Professor Braun. That was every bit as brilliant as I was expecting after reading your introduction to the Third Critique."
"Oh, thank-you. It's nice to know someone has read it. I'm never quite sure about introductions."
He had one of those accents you can't quite place, like Sigmund Freud had had something with your Hungarian-Jewish grandma while she was living in the trailer on Rhode Island.
"Yeah, I normally don't read them myself. But I'm glad I did this time. Although I have to tell you: some of the ideas seemed familiar to me already."
"Well, that doesn't surprise me: it's not exactly a new field."
"No. But I mean the new ideas. The ones you used to talk to your daughter about, Mr. Boroni."
He looked at me and sighed like a bouncy castle that just fell on an open switchblade. Hell, I could almost feel sorry for the guy.
"Was it that easy to find me?"
"Well, I wouldn't say easy. But anyone who knows your work and your daughter is gonna start adding impressions to concepts and getting phenomena, if you get my drift. She misses you, by the way."
"But I had to get out of that life! I always used to tell myself I did it for my family. But the more I read Kant, the more I realized that that wouldn't wash. How could I ever reconcile my life with the Categorical Imperative? What universal rule of conduct could I consent to criminals like me making the principle of their action?"
"Well, Mr. Boroni, it's none of my business, but as the fox said to the rabbit in the chicken-coop, I'd say that a rational being that knows it can't hide shouldn't have run in the first place."
"But I could have hidden if it hadn't a-been for María and Kant! Cazzo! What can I do? I can't a-tell my daughter to forget about Kant. It'd be like a-telling her to give up coffee! If only her mamma were still her! She would a-know what to do!"
His accent was slipping. It had moved out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and back into the pizza parlor.
"Well, Mr. Boroni, I think I have an idea there. But it's gonna cost you."
I poured myself another and looked over to the pool, where my 'long-lost Italian cousin' was emerging from the water like a slow-motion mermaid in a Coney Island side-show. On her way over she ducked under the sunshade and checked that her father had all that he needed. Of course, it wasn't her father, really. It was my mine. He didn't mind having a new face, after what had happened to the old one. Same surgeon that turned her real father into Professor Doktor Braun.
"He says he's feeling better."
"Yeah, well I hope he hasn't been working too hard."
We looked over to where he had fallen asleep.
"He really appreciates you getting him this job, you know."
"It was the least I could do after all these years. They don't know a skin graft from a honky-tonk back-hander in that Navy hospital. Let's go inside and lie down."
"Is that a Categorical Imperative?"
"Well, let's just say I think any rational being here with you would want the same."
Hell, who was I kidding? I gave up being rational the minute she walked into my office.