Suspense Detective: 1953: Tomas Thomas, P.I., Chapter 1: Her Name is Ida Autumn

by Dan Swanson

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From the professional journal of Tomas Thomas, Private Investigator Trainee at Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe — October 26, 1953:

I was in the basement shooting range, doing a little maintenance and getting in some target practice with some unusual guns, when the intercom interrupted me.

“Yes, Bonnie?”

“Chief, there is a woman in the office who wants to hire us — right now, this instant. Problem is, she wants one of the partners!”

I used to get upset when Bonnie called me “Chief,” but I soon realized that if she liked you, she gave you a nickname. Anyway, I’d been called worse things.

“C’mon, beautiful, you know the answer to that one. Dewey is retired. Ketchum’s in San Francisco on a case, and Howe is on vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She either gets me or nada.”

“That’s what I told her. She said she’ll at least talk to you.”

“How nice of her. OK, send her down!” I have a nice office, and I usually don’t meet prospective clients in the shooting range, but someone coming in and then barely deigning to see me rubbed me the wrong way.

“Are you sure?” Bonnie was always worried about propriety.

“She wants someone in a hurry, right? I’ve been cleaning and oiling guns, and I’m sort of a mess. We could make her wait until I get cleaned up. But why not let her see what it is she’ll be paying for?”

“OK, Chief, she’s on her way. Her name is Ida Autumn. Try not to shoot her, OK? It’s not like we’re turning them away in droves, you know!”

I grabbed some rags and got the worst of the grease off, and put most of the guns back in the cabinet before the red lights came on. The red lights meant that someone wanted to enter the range. Rule one on the range was that, when you were shooting, the door must be locked from the inside. I unloaded the pistol I had been shooting, wiped my hands one more time, then walked over and opened the door.

This lady was a knockout! I shouldn’t have been surprised. Bonnie hadn’t said a word about her appearance, and the only women that got off of that hook were the ones who dressed better than she did — which wasn’t a lot of women, take it from me! But I’d been in too much of a snit to pay attention to subtle nuances.

Not very big — almost petite, in fact, but she didn’t look fragile. She looked like an artist’s conception of Sif, one of the goddesses in the Norse religion — a stunning face, strong more than beautiful. Not a hint of makeup. Long, golden hair in two braids, trim pleated royal blue slacks, what appeared to be deck shoes, and an open-collared white blouse over a Kelly green turtleneck. Instead of a belt she wore a red sash. Everything expensive and well put together, as she was herself. She was carrying an expensive bag, and I thought there just might be an expensive gun in that bag.

My curiosity had overwhelmed my snit. She didn’t seem to be the type to waste time or run for help with trivial problems.

“Please come in, Miss Autumn! I’m Tomas Thomas. What can Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe do for you?” I gave a slight bow and smiled at her. She walked into the room, turned slowly to take in the entire range, and then turned back to me.

“Please call me Ida.” She held out her hand, and I shook it. She had a firm grip.

“I am happy to meet you, Mr. Thomas, although I would have preferred to meet one of the partners.”

“Thank you, Miss Autumn…” She frowned at that. “…er… Ida. If you would, please call me Tomas. Actually, I could arrange for you to meet Mr. Dewey, but it probably wouldn’t be of much help to you. He’s retired. I’m sure Bonnie must have told you that Ketchum and Howe are out of town at the moment. Sorry, but I’m all we have available at the moment.”

She glanced at my targets, and then back to me. “Well, are you worth hiring? I don’t want to buy a pig in a poke.”

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to that, and I was once again starting to get a little bit annoyed at her tone.

“It won’t be my first solo case, if that’s what you’re asking.” At just that instant, the arrival indicator on the pneumatic tube from the office above dinged. Good old Bonnie! I opened it and pulled out two folders. “Here are summaries from my last two cases–” My only two solo cases, since I’d only been working here since after my graduation in August, but she didn’t have to know that. “–and recommendations from our satisfied customers. And it’s our policy — if you don’t like our results, we’ll give you a refund. Far as I know, we’ve never given a refund, even on my cases.”

I handed her the folders; she set them down without even looking at them.

“Well, you sound pretty tough when you are talking to a woman. How do you stand up to other men, though?”

Some of my annoyance had come through in my tone, and she had definitely picked up on it. It seemed as if she were deliberately trying to make me mad. And, before I realized this, she had come close to succeeding. Now my martial arts training kicked in. In some circumstances, controlled anger can make you stronger, but your uncontrolled anger can easily be used as a weapon against you by a trained opponent. I didn’t know why she was trying to make me mad, but I would play along and see what I could learn.

I grabbed the clothesline and started pulling in my most recent target, then unclipped the target and held it out to her. “I don’t normally carry this pistol, Miss Autumn, because I don’t like the balance. But I think you’ll agree that you wouldn’t want me shooting at you, would you?”

We used targets that displayed a life-size silhouette of a thug pointing a gun at the target shooter. I’d been practicing shots that would quickly stop a man, and I’m afraid I’ve never been delicate. I had shot three clips of six shots each at this target, at one hundred feet, and two shots from each clip went into the chest, the head, and (sorry to be so graphic) the groin.

Still, she wasn’t finished with me. I think she was impressed, but all she said was, “Shooting a target is easy. Have you ever shot a man?

“Not in this job, no. Company policy to keep the shooting to a minimum. But I was in the Marines for four years, and I saw some action.”

Now it was my turn for a little heat. “So you think target shooting is easy, eh? Do you have time to shoot a couple of clips?” I opened the cabinet. “As you can see, we have all kinds of pistols to choose from. Even a couple of lady’s guns!” Ketchum insisted that we keep a wide variety of pistols at the range, and that everyone, even Bonnie, should practice regularly with guns other than their favorites. I admit I was being a little rude with the lady’s guns remark, but she had irritated me.

“In fact, let’s make it worthwhile. We’ll shoot for score. I win, you hire me. You win, I’ll take the case for free.” I wasn’t authorized to make a deal like that, but I didn’t expect to lose, either.

“Bull’s-eye targets at fifty feet. What do you say?”

She looked hesitant. “I’m not sure about firing one of those.” She vaguely waved her hand at the cabinet.

I interrupted. “You can shoot with whatever gun you like.” I didn’t want to hear any excuses.

I picked up a Kolibri 2.7 mm, Austrian, six-shot semiautomatic — the smallest semiautomatic ever made. If she was a shooter, she would be insulted — good, let her deal with a little irritation for a change. If she wasn’t, she might even manage to hit the target with this gun.

She just laughed. “What a cute little gun! Not much stopping power, though. I guess you use it when you don’t want to hurt anyone?” Funny, I had always wondered the same thing. “I think I’ll use my own, thanks!”

She pulled out a Colt 1911 Kimber Ultra Elite — a big, fancy name for a small, deadly piece with a top-of-the line price — and worth every penny! Small enough to carry easily, with a short three-inch barrel and grip, it shoots .45 ACP rounds. Not a long-distance weapon, but designed to be able to stop a horse. If she was any good, I was prepared to be very impressed; for a small gun it has a big recoil, making accuracy in a timed test match an issue.

Hers was beautiful! Polished gunmetal, wooden grips, cleaned and oiled to perfection. We had a Kimber Ultra Elite in the cabinet, and it was in good condition, but hers was clearly lovingly maintained. She probably even had a private name for it. She had to be able to shoot — nobody spent that much effort on a display piece!

A small voice in the back of my head was whispering to me that there was something wrong with this lady. Nothing obvious, certainly, but I always listened to that particular voice. I started studying her more closely, but whatever it was that had alerted my subconscious, I sure couldn’t see it.

“Very nice gun! I’ll use the same model to make it a fair match.” I reached in the cabinet and pulled out the Kimber.

“Use the gun you usually carry, Tomas! I don’t want you using an unfamiliar weapon as an excuse when you lose!”

I had planned to give her a handicap, but now I changed my mind. She would see my absolute best shooting. I wondered if she had done that on purpose?

I can usually find a way to use my super-powers to avoid shooting on a job, but a private dick is expected to carry a gun. I carried the Colt Detective Special, a six-shot .38 snub-nose double-action revolver. Nice gun; I keep it up well, and with my enhanced speed and coordination, I can put all six rounds through the same hole in a target at fifty feet as fast as I can pull the trigger.

So we shot. She was good! She shot out a hole the size of a quarter in the bull’s-eye of her target. Watching her was weird. She moved very smoothly and gracefully, and deliberately as well, as if she were moving in slow motion, and yet she moved faster than just about any normal person I’ve ever seen.

But it still wasn’t really fair. I punched out a hole the size of a dime. She shrugged. “Nice! Let me tell you about the case.”

To be honest, I felt a little guilty. “Ida, before we go on, I have to apologize. You see, not long ago, I was exposed to radiation, and the doctors used an experimental treatment on me. It increased my hand-eye coordination to superhuman levels. (*) So this wasn’t really a fair match. If you don’t want to hire me, it’s OK. I’ll call down to Smitty’s–” Our main competition. “–and have them put their best guy on your case.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See Whiz: Times Past, 1953: The New Adventures of Bulletboy, which tells the real story.]

She laughed again. “I expect you’ll do just fine. I need you to find my brother. And I want you to start looking today!”

“Let me finish putting things away, and then you can give me more details. Why don’t you go tell Bonnie to give you our rates page and set us both up with coffee in the conference room? I’ll be up in ten minutes.”

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