The Case Notes of P.I. James

by John Steckley


The Case Notes of P.I. James

In a way James was a throwback, a kind of Phillip Marlowe.  Few words.  Well-chosen.  Double meaning when talking with women.  His secretary, Ruthie, was a blonde from an earlier time –New York accent, frizzy hair, wads of bubble gum, and fingernails that she watched as she spoke.  There would never be anything between them.  She liked men with well-groomed money.  He had messy poverty.  They were no Bogie and Bacall.  They didn’t have it at all.


Case One

This case drew them closer together.  It started this way.  James and Ruthie were in the office: he standing; she sitting.  The office was so small they were almost in each other’s pockets: Reception with a small desk and two chairs; his office with the same; washroom, public down the hall, shared with a few accounts accountant, a lawyer who would defend anybody, and a therapist who listened a lot, but said little.

A woman walked into the room with a presence that was obvious, but also an air of insecurity that was new to her. 


Case Notes

I knew right away what she was here for.  Seen that look before: pain and anger, unsettled but determined.

“I don’t  know how to say this.”

“Do you want videos?”


“What’s his name?”

“Maxwell Burnes….Max.”

“Do you have some pictures?”

She handed over some flashy-dude pictures.  Teeth, jewellery, hair and shirt shone. Then she began her tale of woe.  The guy began spending more and more time away from home.  Said it was work, or fitness.  Increasingly it was fitness.  The sports complex where he worked out was where I would have my stake out.


The Plan

With his old laptop, he did some research as to what activities took place at the complex where Max spent his time, and maybe his extra-curricular activities.  James would have to engage in some activity as his cover.  He rejected one after another as too expensive, too much equipment, or too silly for him to do.  Then he found one he liked.  Only one piece of equipment was necessary.  He got it cheap at a local hardware store.

The activity he had chosen was not easy.  He practiced in the designated field.  Eventually, he not only got it to stick in the wood, but started hitting the intended target.  Imagining Max’s face helped


Case Notes

“My cover is complete.  I can now snoop.  I’ll hang around the Sports Drink Café. It is located beside the entrance to the squash courts, Max’s game of choice.  I just order coffee, nothing fancy.

My third day there I see him.  He steps out of the squash court door like he is walking on a red carpet.  He stands one hand in pocket to be admired by passing women.  The other holds a designer sports bag.  He’s expecting someone.  Not long to wait.  There she is, wearing stylish sporting wear properly accessorized with an appropriate carrier bag.  She goes straight to him.  Not wasting a step.  Saving her energy for later.

They meet like they’re just friends.   She pats him on the arm.  They share a few words.  They separate and take two different routes, but I see their common destination.  They’re not fooling me.    First he and then she separately go out the back door that leads to the woods.”


The Tracking

James gets up slowly and stretches.  He saunters to the door, doing light arm exercises while so doing. As he exits, he takes out his camera, and plays with it as if he were planning to take nature pictures. Nothing special here to take notice of.  Just another nature photographer.

He steps slowly into the woods, stops and pretends to takes pictures as he walks down the well-worn path.  He searches for signs of his prey, then stops. He stares towards a mostly-hidden clearing with only a deer trail leading to it.  Max’s sports bag had carried a big, soft blanket.   He turns on the video function of his camera, and then comments, “I would never have suspected that they were nature lovers.”


The Court Case

The court case was big news locally.  They were a rich, prominent couple.  The young adulteress was from one of the leading families in town.  In an earlier time she would have been called a debutante.

At the inevitable end of the case, announced by the judge, a woman, Max lost it.  He screamed and went to attack his now former wife.  It created a scene.  No harm was done, except to his pride.  No charges were laid.


Two Days Later

Their client went to James’ office to thank him for his work, and to give him the part of his pay that was contingent on courtroom success.  James was not there.  He was celebrating with a few tosses of the axe.


Case Notes

“The axe was throwing well.  I was just retrieving it from the target when I saw them: our client and Ruthie.  Their wrists were fastened tightly behind their backs.  Max was pushing them down the trail.

Axe in hand, I pursued them.  I kept quiet and hidden in the bushes while not losing sound or sight of them.  They went to where a deep hole had been dug.  Max was a planner.  He spoke to them harshly with words I could not hear.  He drew out a gun.  They cringed.  It looked like the end.

I had no choice.  The axe went flying through the air and between the trees.  It hit his gun hand dead on.  He dropped it and bent over in pain.  I ran over to get the women away.  Pushed Max into the hole.

Ruthie hugged me.  First time ever.  Then she spoke.  “What an amazing throw! Hitting his hand from such a distance.”

I think I saw something more than gratitude in her eyes.  I felt an emotion I hadn’t expected, but still managed to reply sarcastically, “Who said his hand was my target?”


Case Two

James walked into his office.  He received the kind of smile from Ruthie, his secretary, that he was starting to get used to. Saving her life had changed their relationship.  Neither knew where to take the change-or even how to act on it.”

“We’ve got a case,” she said, the smile entering her voice.  “Here it is.”


The Case

An old couple lived in an even older farmhouse just outside of town.  They were surrounded by grounds cleared for a development that was big on houses, small on land.  Minor thefts had taken place, along with small acts of vandalism.  Nothing the police were interested in.

James called and set up an appointment for later that morning


Case Notes

“Used to run my dog here…fields and rabbits, freedom and fun.  

The old house is all that remains of that time.  I drive up beside it.  I case the joint.

Knocked on the door.  Bell didn’t work.  “Coming” could be heard close but sounding far away.  The door soon opens.  “Come in” says the woman.  I’ve had warmer invitations, but I know I am welcome.  They want were to put their faith in me.

We go into the living room and sit.  Strong tea and homemade biscuits.  They tell stories about tools taken from the shed, ketchup sprayed on windows, shingles ripped off the roof.  They mention lack of response by the police.

I give them my price.  Not a flinch.  They have money.  I tell them what I plan to do.  The shed has two small windows.  Big enough for me to watch out for vandals.  I will park my car at a friend’s place, not far away, then walk back here.  

I will hole up in the shed at night, detecting and photographing the suspects. I figured they are just kids with too much time and too little supervision.


At the Office

James drove back to his office, and told Ruthie his plans.

“Call me if you get bored.” She said.  She had never said that before. “I might do that,” he replies.  He means it.


First Night

The first night nothing happened.  He considered calling.  The next night is different.


Shed Thoughts

“I come through the fields this time.  Inside the shed I sit down in an old lawn chair – carefully.  I hear them, then see dark figures, crossing the fields: four of them.  Dressed in black, armed with baseball bats, and maybe an axe.  Should have brought my gun.  Didn’t think it necessary for such a lightweight case.

I search for potential weapons.  Just small tools – screw drivers and hammers. The villains are heading towards the shed – tonight’s target?

Sudden inspiration.  I call Ruthie.  She answers after two rings.  Maybe she expected my call.

“Hi Ruthie.  James.  I’m not bored.  Four thugs are approaching the shed- baseball bats.  Maybe an axe.  Get the gun in my office.  Can you load it?

“Yes.  Dad was a hunter.  Be there in a flash.”

She hangs up

They come closer.  Good thing the door opens inwards.  I block it with an old chest loaded and heavy.   Slide it across the dirt floor.   Arm myself with the biggest hammer I can find.

Someone tries to open the door.  Not a lot of patience.  Kicks the door.  .

Loud words – anger from two sides.  Meaning not clear.  Silence, then the axe.  It smashes against the door.  The tip of the blade sticks through.  Pulls out with difficulty.  Another swing -stuck in farther.

Strike the blade several times with the hammer.  Three strikes and the blade comes off the handle.  Impatient fellah strikes the door with the handle. Then throws it at the door.

Words are shared, quieter than before.  Soon I hear breaking glass.  They’re using their baseball bats.  The windows are too small for them to crawl through.  Shards are stuck to the edges. I toss one fallen shard their way.  Hear a shout of pain.

Words come through the broken windows.  The word ‘fire’ is spoken.  A phone call is made.  Probably calling their boss, not one who rewards independent thinking. 

I then hear paper ripping.  See a flash of light outside one of the windows.  Flame flies inside.  Loose garbage catches fire.  I’m in trouble.

I have to get out the door.  They probably know that.  I pull the box and the chest away.  Take a deep breath.  Arm myself with the hammer and a big screwdriver.  Rough situation: four to one, baseball bats vs hammer and screwdriver.  Oh for a chain saw!

Then I hear a gravelly sound.  Seconds later, the sound of gunfire: three shots. Then the sound of running.  Then quiet broken by a knock on the door.  I open it.  It is Ruthie.

“I didn’t know you could shoot.”

“Neither did I.  Daddy only let me load his gun.”



The old couple come out.  They had called 911.  I search around the outside of the shed for clues.  You never know.

I find the phone that one of the thugs had used.  Help arrives. I tell the cops about the phone call.  The old couple tell their story.  Ruthie and I  go to the police station.  The firefighters extinguish the shed fire to an audience of two – in lawn chairs.

We didn’t say much as Ruthie drove me to my car.  “Are you hurt?”  “No”  “Were you scared?  “Yes”.  Few words more.

The cops are not long in identifying the phone’s owner.  And who he called.  Turns out it was a big developer.  The old couple said that he had made several offers to them.  They turned him down.”



Ruthie and James stood outside the police station after their interviews.  They stood close in the small space between their two vehicles.

“You saved my life” said James.

“Now, we’re even,” she replied

“Café Noir?” he asked, referring to a nearby late night coffee bar.

“I make pretty good coffee myself……But not with the office machine.”  James nodded, and took her hand.


Third Case

“Gotta say.  Things are different now.  Never thought it could happen: Ruthie and I.  She’s thinking of moving in.  I know.  She hasn’t asked.  Thinks it’s my job.  Don’t know.”


The Case Begins

It was a slow day in a quiet month. They needed a case.  Bills wanted paying – soon.  Then a man walked in.  Fear shone in his eyes like a bright light in a tunnel.  In an unnecessarily loud voice he said, “I work for the railroad.”  He paused.  James and Ruthie waited.  Then he spoke quietly. “I’ve seen something – trafficking – humans.  Just children really.  Mostly girls.  I need your help.”

“Why don’t you go to the police?” Ruthie asked.  James stared at her.

“I’m afraid they’ll know it was me that snitched.  That would have deadly consequences.  I’m getting suspicious looks.  They may suspect that I’ve seen something.”


Case Notes

“He told us what he had seen.  Kids in a box car.  Taken to a large white van.  It would be a dangerous case.  These guys were serious criminals.  Signed on to the case anyway.  Needed the money.  Would send a tip to the police, once we got hard evidence.    

Time for the hobo outfit.  Jeans with big pockets to keep my phone in. Shredded at both cuffs.   T-shirt with holes.  No underwear.  Old socks.  Had to get the smell right. A concoction of sweat, pee and cigarettes butts did the trick.  Local sauna and a rim-less paper coffee cup for the sweat.  Watered the mixture down a bit.  Put it in a spray bottle.  Applied liberally to clothes.  Smelled right.  Ruthie kept her distance. 

Found a bench near the tracks for a home base.  Appeared to sleep on it.  Talked to myself when anyone looked and listened my way.  After two days the boys in the rail yard got used to my presence.  Laughed.  One even held his nose while pointing at me. In private investigation, it’s not whether you are seen but how you are that counts.

Have a few props.  Two bottles, one full, one empty.  The full one contained gin and one big surprise.  Took several strategic walks around the place – stumbling steps – empty bottle in hand. Fell twice.  Nothing broken

Third day, a lot of attention to one box car separated soon after the train stopped.  Small engine took it to another track.  Would watch it tonight.  Had my bush hideout picked out as my lookout point.

Had suspicions concerning what would happen tonight.  Called Ruthie.  She is involved with every case now.  Told her what I suspected and what I wanted her to do.  She said she could handle it.  Knew she could. 


The Scene

It is dark with many stars and little moon.  A large white van pulls up in a parking lot close to the lone box car. Five men get out of the back of the van.  One of the two in the cab joins them.  Three men have guns raised.  Two guys knock three times on the box car door. Two armed men slide the door open and come out.

They co-ordinate their plans for their prisoners.  A lit bottle with gin and a few quite flammable and unstable substances added is tossed out of the bushes.  It explodes,  bursting into flame as it crashes not far from the men.  Some of them hit the ground; all of them are in shock. 

Unseen in the bushes, James calls the police.  Then he makes a call to someone parked behind a nearby building.

The van driver gets out, worried by the explosion.  In less than a minute, two shots are fired at the tires.  The aim of the shooter, made accurate by many recent hours in a shooting gallery, hits the intended targets.  The tires blow up.  The driver rolls to the ground, readying himself for further shots.  He gets his own gun out.

At the other side of the box car men are firing at the now empty bushes. The gun-less  are making themselves difficult targets.  

In a crouched position unfriendly to his back, James circles the box car far enough away to be invisible to the traffickers.  He is soon at Ruthie’s side.

The van driver stands and fires at them.  He nearly hits Ruthie, who dodges the shots well, like she has practiced.  James, who had neglected to load his gun (Ruthie’s job), picks up a fist-sized rock, and throws it with a high, basketball player’s arch.  It comes down directly onto the van driver’s chest, briefly knocking the wind out of him.  But after a few minutes he returns to his feet ready to fire.  Ruthie beats him to it, hitting his gun-bearing arm.

“We’re even” said James.

“I didn’t know we were keeping score.” replied Ruthie.

“Men always keep score,” joked James in return

She hit him lightly in the shoulder.  He faked a cringe, and said, “Careful.  That’s my throwing arm.  She smiled.

Then sirens are heard.  Two vehicles with flashing lights come screeching into the parking lot.  The police were arriving. He explains the situation to them.  There had been rumours of human traffickers in the area. They had received pressure from high up to produce results.  They act quickly and efficiently.  The men are rounded up, those with guns drop them to the ground.  The police open the sliding door. 

James and Ruthie stand nearby.  They see a group 15 to 20 huddled figures on the other side of the box car.  All are quite young.  None appear to speak much English.  As they are led outside, one remains, crouched in a corner.  James and Ruthie see her.  Ruthie steps into the box car, bends down and extends a hand to the young girl.  After some hesitation, the hand is taken.  The girl comes close to smiling.  Then Ruthie speaks.

“Someone should…we should adopt her.”

“You have to be a married couple to do that.”

“Are you proposing to me?”

“Believe I am.”

“Believe I am…saying yes.”





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16 Responses to “The Case Notes of P.I. James”

  1. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Case One Says:

    […] « The Case Notes of P.I. James […]

  2. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Case Notes Says:

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  3. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: The Plan Says:

    […] read it in correct order […]

  4. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: The Tracking Says:

    […] read it in the correct order […]

  5. » Blog Archive Says:

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  6. » Blog Archive » Two Days Later Says:

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  7. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Case Two Says:

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  8. » Blog Archive Says:

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  9. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: The Plan Says:

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  10. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: First Night Says:

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  11. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Shed Thoughts Says:

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  12. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Reporting Says:

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  13. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Finale Says:

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  14. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: Third Case Says:

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  15. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: The Case Begins Says:

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  16. » Blog Archive » The Case Notes of P.I. James: The Scene Says:

    […] read it in the correct order […]

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