A detective sets up in business.
Holdfast had all the gear, the trilby hat, the rumpled raincoat and rubber-soled shoes. He had rented a decaying office in an old, three-storey building in the worst area of town. His father’s antique desk had been dragged in and he bought chairs and a filing cabinet at knockdown prices from a pawnbroker. These were supplemented with a hatstand to aim at whenever he returned from a job. The final touch was a signwriter’s best efforts at the announcement on the glass-windowed door. Holdfast Detective Agency it opined. All he needed now was a client.
He began well enough, adopting a suitable pose of world-weary experience by sitting back in his chair, resting his legs on the desk and reading a newspaper. That was good for at least twenty minutes. He lit a cigarette, coughed explosively and stubbed it out. A stick of spearmint gum supplied a sensible substitute.
Another half hour and Holdfast was becoming desperate in his boredom. He stood at a window, staring down at the street below. Even less was happening down there than in his office. Refusing to give up, he remained at the window for ten minutes.
As he was turning to go, Holdfast noticed something out of the corner of his eye. There was a man standing in the shadow in an alley across the street. Holdfast completed the movement of leaving the window but then sidled up to its edge and had another look. The man was still there and he seemed to be glancing up at Holdfast’s building occasionally. Holdfast eased back out of sight again.
For a while he stayed motionless, back against the wall. Then he inched back to peek out the window. The man had gone.
Holdfast breathed a sigh of relief and turned to face the room. His battered old filing cabinet looked slightly out of place. He moved to it and adjusted its position by walking it, bit by bit, to a more satisfying position. Stepping back, he surveyed the cabinet in the context of the room. He nodded, happy with his work.
Arm outstretched, Holdfast opened the top drawer of the cabinet. It slid out easily, reaching its stops abruptly. There were no files inside. Holdfast closed it and tried the next one. Again, it opened without protest. Unsurprisingly, it, too, was empty. Taking his time, Holdfast trundled it back along its guides to a closed position.
The third drawer proved a little more uncooperative. It stuck about halfway out and no amount of persuasion would open it fully. Holdfast lost patience and slammed it shut with a metallic clang indicative of his frustration. He got down on one knee to open the last and bottom drawer.
It seemed to be stuck fast. Looking up, Holdfast could see a hole at the corner of the cabinet where a lock should be. He returned to his task, giving the handle a powerful jerk while holding the cabinet still with the other hand. The drawer suddenly gave, hurtling forward and jumping off its rails to land on the floor. Holdfast fell backward, landing awkwardly with one leg underneath him.
He struggled to his feet, rubbed his shoulder where it had caught the corner of the drawer in his fall and bent down to lift the drawer back into place. That was when he noticed the file taped to the rear of the drawer.
Holdfast looked closer. It was a very ordinary file of the type used as an illustration for computer files - a folded sheet of card with no binding device. Four strips of scotch tape held it at the corners. There was a red marking in a rectangle stamped upon its cover. Top Secret it claimed.
Our intrepid detective freed the file from its bonds and walked with it to the desk. He sat down and looked at it. For several minutes he gazed at it. Then he shrugged, took one edge in his fingers and swung it open.
There was a photograph in it. Nothing else, just an eight by ten inches, black and white photograph. It was a photo of Holdfast looking out of the window in his office.
Word Count: 699