The Summer Surprise

This is a sample of the short story, "The Summer Surprise" by author, William F. Powers.

It was on a Monday

The last time he was this busy was finals’ week at his junior college. Now, four years later, almost a week's worth of activity had been jammed into a single day. And on a Monday no less, as if Mondays weren't bad enough already.

Along with a number of other errands, Max Harold Palmer, Private Eye, visited the courthouse twice, once as a witness in a trial and once for a deposition, each at separate times. He also met with one client at the hospital, another at his office, and discretely dropped by Dolsky Park for a clandestine encounter with a snitch who called and said he had information that could help Max's hospital-bound case. The snitch never showed up. Some how Max didn't think he would, so he had only waited thirty minutes, but on a day this busy, even a half-hour is a lot of time.

By the end of the day, Max was bushed. He decided to stop by his old hangout, Dave's Bar & Grill, and pick up a sandwich and a bottle of grape soda to take back to the office. There he would sort out the mess that had unfolded today. When he was involved in four separate cases in the same day, he had better keep all the facts straight, or he could end up making mistakes. In Max's line of work, mistakes were not a good thing.


Back at the office, Max arranged the details of the day, copied his notes as needed, and grouped papers into the case folders. Then he made a record in his ledger of the billable hours on each case.

When he was finished, he took the last bite of his sandwich; the bread was starting to dry out, so he washed it down with the last two swallows of soda. He kept his active files in the heavy file drawer in his antiquated, wooden desk. He pulled the drawer open, replaced the folders, and closed the drawer. He did the same with the ledger in the center drawer and his pistol and shoulder holster in the top drawer above the files.

Then he kicked back with his feet on the desk to relax a few minutes before heading home.


There was a knock at the door. Max had fallen asleep. He just had retracted his feet down off the desk when the door opened and in walked a small, older man of little more than five feet in height. His hair was almost white, and he wore an immaculate three-piece, gray suit. The suit had black stripes, but they were so narrow Max did not notice them until the gentleman came closer. In his hand was a gray hat of a design Max had not seen before. In the same hand, he also clutched a rather fancy, black walking cane with an ornate silver knob at the top and a silver fixture at the tip. From his strong gait, it became apparent that the cane was part of the gentleman's presentation rather than a requirement for mobility.

His diminutive stature had a voice that matched - a fact that became evident when he began to speak in a rather mousy pitch.

"Mr. Palmer?"

"At your service," Max responded. He noticed an accent, but those two words did not give him enough of a clue as to place the origin.

"My name is Carlton Jones. May I speak with you briefly, sir?"

"Certainly," Max replied, motioning the visitor to have a seat in one of the old, wooden chairs. Max thought the accent sounded Russian.

Jones tipped his head and offered his thanks. He shut the door, walked to the chair, and sat down.

"Now, Mr. Jones, what would you like to discuss?" Max had already picked up a pencil and was starting to make notes on the small booklet that was still on his desk.

"There is someone whom I must find." The accent was there, but his English was flawless. "The matter is urgent; I require your prompt attention."

"And may I ask the nature of your business?"

"That is not important. I simply need to find a young lady. And as I stated, time is the essence of the matter."

"Well, some of my missing persons cases work out fine. Other times, the person doesn't want to be found, or the finder wants something that the findee does not agree with. I even had one client try to beat up the person I found. I almost had my license suspended for that one."

Mr. Jones assured Max that the young lady would be anxious for the reunion but said nothing further. The silence helped Max to make up his mind. "I don't think I can help you, Mr. Jones."

"I understand you charge one hundred fifty dollars per day?"

"Plus expenses, but only if I agree to take the job," Max said, remaining resolute.

"I will give you five hundred dollars per day, and I will give you a ten-day advance. Additionally, you may keep it all, even if you find her immediately."

Well now, Max had principles, but he had rent and utilities too. Also, Bluebird—his blue, sixty-three Falcon which he counted as his most prized possession—needed some repairs. At half a G per day with ten days up front, nonrefundable, Max figured he could probably manage to keep the old guy and the dame separated until he was sure it wouldn't turn ugly.

"I'll tell you what," Max finally said, "I hesitate to take this case, but I will take you at your word that your intentions are honorable; I will see what I can do." That was an attempt at forcing restraint into the bargain. Jones had actually made neither mention, nor promise of his intentions, honorable or otherwise.

"That is acceptable," the older gentleman agreed.

Max figured that since he was not really sure about taking the job anyway why not be a little greedy and let the outcome fall where it might. "Sometimes I’m on a hot lead that will go cold if I slack off over a weekend, so your retainer should include two extra days, just in case."

Jones didn't blink; he didn't hesitate. He reached into his coat so quickly that Max's mind flashed to the gun in the desk drawer, a drawer which he now regretted having closed.

Max's concerns were eased when Jones pulled a well-fed leather wallet out of his coat and opened it to an inner pocket. "I believe that comes to six thousand dollars." He counted out five one-thousand dollar bills and the rest in hundreds. He returned his wallet, somewhat lighter, to his breast pocket and recounted the cash. Then leaning forward, he casually plopped the stack of bills onto the desk.

Max was not as nonchalant about receiving the cash as Jones was about producing it. His mouth hung somewhat agape at the short stack of bills. After a moment, he regained his composure.

"I will write you a receipt," Max said, reaching for his receipt book from the middle drawer.

"That won't be necessary," came the reply. From his other breast pocket, he produced an envelope. "Here is a photograph and a list of particulars. Please begin the search right away and bring her to me. I am in room 317 of the Cedar Pine Hotel on Grant Street . Speak to no one else of this matter."

With that, Jones bade Max a good evening. They both rose, and the older man made his exit, closing the door behind him.

Max heard the tapping sounds of the cane on the marble floor as the visitor departed down the hall toward the stairs. As the tapping faded, he looked down at a desk on which sat two articles it had acquired in the last three minutes: an envelope that contained all the information he supposedly would need to find someone whom he had never seen and a stack of bills totaling more money than he had ever personally possessed at one time.

He reached over, picked up the envelope, and opened it to find a black and white photograph in which Jones was standing just beyond a small table. To his side was an elegant, older woman just slightly taller than he. Seated on the left side of the table was a pretty young lady, evidently the object of the search. She was slender, probably in her mid to late teens. Even though she was seated, it appeared that if she stood she would be at least four or five inches taller than Jones. Seated on the other side of the table was another man, probably in his thirties. All four were superbly attired, much like Jones had been during his appearance a few minutes ago.

In the picture, Jones appeared to be a few years younger than presently, so Max assumed the young lady now would be in her late teens or early twenties.

He sat down, pulled a folded paper from the envelope, and opened it up. He was correct; the young lady was now twenty-two years old. The handwritten paper said her name was Helena Kassabian and that she had black hair and deep brown eyes.  She is five and a half feet tall and weighs just over one hundred pounds. It also mentioned that she is an actress and was in Matashaw County to perform in a play. That was all. Nothing identified the older woman or the younger man. Max turned the paper over to make sure he had not missed something. Then he folded the paper and placed it and the photograph back in the envelope.

As he sat there tapping the envelope against his hand, his eyes scanned over to the small stack of large bills sitting on his desk.

"Six Gs!" he breathed out. "Who in the world plops down six big ones to find a dame?" He wondered what he had gotten himself into and thought about driving over to the Cedar Pine Hotel and terminating the arrangement. After a moment, he decided he would sleep on it and assess the matter tomorrow when his head was a little clearer.

Right now he needed some shut-eye, and not just the forty-winks he woke up from when Jones made his appearance. He needed some real sleep, in his real bed, in his real house.

He put half the cash in his left shoe and the other half in his right shoe. Retrieving his gun and holster from the drawer, Max walked to the door, put on his jacket, and slid the envelope into the breast pocket. Within a few moments, he was out the door and down the steps to his waiting Bluebird.


At home, Max hung his jacket on the hook on the backside of the bedroom door and hung his shoulder holster on the doorknob. While walking to the bed, he unloaded his revolver. He then put the shells and gun in the drawer of the nightstand. This was his standard routine, the same thing he had done every night since he had moved into the little bungalow.

When he sat down on the bed and took off his loafers, damp bills spilled out onto the floor. He was so tired he had forgotten about the money. He gathered the cash together, counted it almost in disbelief, and put it in the drawer on top of his gun. That would remind him to take the cash to the bank on the way to his office in the morning. He finished getting ready for bed and then slipped under the sheet.

Half of his brain tried to think about how, with so little information, he was going to find the woman. The second half of his brain told the first half to shut up until morning. Within a few blinks of his tired eyes, the second half of his brain won.

What A Night


Max's eye opened.

*BumpThump.* "Shhhhhh."

Max's other eye opened. He looked at his alarm clock, his eyes still blurry. As best as he could see the hands, it was about two-thirty.

Quickly but quietly, he pulled open the nightstand drawer and reached for the gun he had placed there mere hours ago. Instead he got a handful of paper. "The money!" he thought, almost letting out a gasp. He brushed aside the bills, retrieved the gun, and fumbled as quietly as he could for the rounds he had removed. "Whatever made me think unloading the gun was a good idea," he asked himself. He did not reply.

As he poked the ammo into the cylinder, he continued to hear noises. They were quieter now, but they also seemed to be getting closer. With the gun fully loaded, he slid out of bed and crouched down behind it. In the dim light, he stuck his head up just enough that he could see the doorway across the room. The bedroom door was open several inches; however, at this angle, it was not enough to see into the hall or to be seen by anyone out there.

The yard outside sloped slightly so at the back of the house, the bottom of the bedroom window was about eight feet above the ground. He didn't think there was danger lurking outside the window, but Max took a quick glance to his right just to make sure he wasn't going to end up in a crossfire.

For all the scrapes his job had gotten him into, he had never been robbed before. But how did they know about the money? Maybe they didn't, maybe it was just a normal break-in. "But people don’t break into an occupied house at this time of night for a simple robbery," he surmised. "Besides, why don’t they grab whatever they want and leave? Why are they coming to the back of the house?"

Max's heart almost choked him as it competed for space in his throat. It was racing fast enough that he was sure it had used several weeks’ worth of beats. Noises were closer … and closer … then another quiet, "Shhhh". Then all noise stopped right outside his room. Max did the only thing that came to his mind.

"I have a gun!" he yelled.

{End of Sample}

Thank you for your interest in "The Summer Surprise". The complete story is available now for Kindle and Kindle Apps on all platforms.



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