The thing about any journey that those who have lived it will tell you is that once it’s over you don’t really want to talk about it anymore. It may seem really odd by a reader’s or listener’s point of view, but it’s just a bit overplayed by anyone who was actually involved. That having been said, there really isn’t a better way to grasp hold of the events than to tell them to someone who wasn’t there.
Wednesday night was a bit chilly. The last couple days have seen the first real rain of the Spring and it was the cold, biting rain of a world not yet ready to give up on Winter. It felt far more like a liquid snow than the warm rains children like to run outside and see if they can catch. I was not truly prepared for this since, like most, I had been reveling in the warmer weather that had graced the area recently.
An old friend of mine had contact me about a client who wanted to meet me. The client was his since he ran a private detective service. I did not have clients and I rarely want to meet anyone who is looking for me. For some reason I am still unsure of, I had an odd feeling in this one and decided to take Alan up on his request. I could listen and still reject any offer I didn’t like. Which was most offers I heard.
I walked to his office deciding that the best way to handle this cold snap was to staunchly deny that it existed. If I refused to admit that it was cold outside the world would realize this and bring back warm weather like a pouting child. Every year I had this fight with the conditions. Don’t ask me about the success rate of my plan since bragging is considered gauche.
The building in which his office resided wasn’t large. Just a three story facade downtown. For anyone who has been to Chicago or New York this building is hard to even notice, but here it made a significant portion of the downtown skyline. Marksboro wasn’t a large town, of course. May citizens claimed thirty-five thousand out of sheer optimism. Maybe that worked much like my theory about the weather. Who can truly say how the world works?
There is a charm to small towns that I have found. If you have only lived in a city then you probably believe that everyone in a small town knows everyone else. It’s a common misconception held by so many people. Really, it is not very hard to get lost in many of America’s small towns. People everywhere like their privacy and in these towns there is truly the space to have it. There are still enough stores and restaurants to rarely ever have to cross paths. Even people in these towns get the idea sometimes that they know everything going on. Then they get the shock of having an abuser next door and they find out just how isolated they truly had been.
I stood outside of his office for a moment in the rain. I looked up from across the street at the lone light that burned in Alan’s tiny office. As I stood under a street light I had a moment of seeing this through the perspective of an outside observer. In a spotlight stood a man six and a half feet tall with a long black duster made of oil cloth and a black wide brim hat. I must have looked like an exorcist or traveling preacher here to kill a widow. I half expected to hear sirens as I stood there.
I crossed the street and entered his building. Alan had made sure to leave the door open so I could get in since it was after regular hours. His office was tiny. Very tiny really. He had a wooden desk he got from a resale shop years ago. It looked like it had spent the better part of a teacher’s career holding apples and homework. Behind it sat an old ratty chair that no longer sat upright when no one sat in it. On the other side of the desk sat two chairs for clients. They were the almost comfortable type used in churches for meeting help outside of the sanctuary. He had the obligatory grey, metal filing cabinet with coffee maker on top and a couch that had probably seen a lot of teen sex in the seventies. The door to his office had the frosted glass window with Alan Dores etched on it. The true sign of success.
Alan and I passed no words when I entered. He was not a very talkative man and I was focused on the upcoming meeting. I did not like to have any preconceived notions when I spoke to a potential client. Well, not a client really. I did not run any kind of business, but people seemed to find me occasionally with requests of services. They always seemed to think I had the skills they needed to fix some issue they had. Many times, most really, I wanted nothing to do with their requests, but once in a while I would take on the job of fixing someone’s problem. Tonight had an odd feeling about it. I didn’t know why, but I had a feeling this one might be interesting.
The two of us were sitting quietly in the office when the potential client entered. He sat behind his desk while I sat on the couch by the door. She was tall and lean. Surprisingly tall for a woman. I would say she was at least six feet two inches tall and looked taller how she was built. She was dressed very well, but it seemed out of place for her. Somehow she seemed very uncomfortable in the black suit. She had a silk blouse opened at the throat making her neck look longer. Her skirt showed a lot of leg. It was not an overly short skirt, the length looked quite formal, she simply had a lot of leg to show. Her hair was cut short with the longest in the back reaching about to her collar with the top slightly spiky on the top and in the front. Her hair reminded me of Meg Ryan’s hair. They shared about the same color of blonde as well.
She walked to the desk and sat in one of Alan’s client chairs. For but a moment she seemed out of place but took command of herself very quickly. She sat still for a long moment looking directly at Alan silently. She did not seemed scared as much as she seemed to size him up. Finally, after many quiet moments she spoke firmly.
"I would like to hire someone for a job. It’s quite straight forward, but not easy."
Alan met her gaze evenly for another moment before speaking, "Well, that’s a good place to start. What is it, exactly, that you want done?"
"Well," she stopped for a moment seeming to collect her thoughts as if she had not expected to get this far. "I want someone to attend a party with me. For protection. I was told that you are strong and capable."
"I see. Is there a reason you will be needing protection at this party? Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that parties are supposed to be fun affairs."
"You see, my son is getting married and his wife to be is a wizard. The party is being held by her family."
"I see. Well, while a mad wizard is dangerous indeed, this still seems to be a joyous occasion. Again, why the need for protection?"
She fidgeted a bit. I noticed that her back was very tense. There was definitely something she wasn’t saying and did not want to say. I have a general policy about taking jobs from people who held back information: don’t.
Now, most people hold information at first. They do not understand that the more I know the better I can work. Usually it is personal or embarrassing information. That kind of information made sense and I could usually get them to speak with a little coaxing. This, however, felt like something much bigger than cheating on a spouse. Something inside of me said there was a big issue at hand and there was no way I was going to take this on without knowing what that might be.
Again there was a long silent moment as she seemed to wrestle with something in her head. We both waited. Silence can be persuasion’s best ally. Often, getting information from someone had more to do with saying nothing than what, specifically, you say. Nature deplores a vacuum and so do most people. If nothing is being said they will rush to fill the air with words. Finally, she came to some decision and spoke up.
"I am a member if the Humans First Coalition."
There it was. She left it hanging out there all pink and naked. No wonder she was concerned about this party. Just imagine going to an interracial marriage as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Now I see why she thinks she might need some kind of protection.
"I assume they already know that."
"Yes. My son has told them so. I am quite a prominent member. Some of them probably knew that before he said anything."
"Okay, so am I also to assume that you are opposed to this wedding as a whole? Have you tried to stop it?"
"I want my son to be happy, but yes, I would rather he not marry a wizard. Of course I have talked to him about it and he knows my feelings about the whole thing, but I have not taken action to stop it. He is very strong willed and, in the end, will do as he pleases."
Alan leaned back in his chair as he said, "well, this seems fairly straight forward, wouldn’t you say?"
I finally spoke up, "I have a question or two before this is decided."
She snapped around as if she were slapped. She was noticing me for the first time.
"And who might you be?" There was venom in her voice. She was not accustomed to being caught off guard.
"I’m Trevor Harrison, the man you wish to hire."
It took her a moment. I did this to her on purpose. It is helpful to see how people act from the angle of an observer. Most of the time when people put on a show or lie they aim their actions toward a target observer. All of the facial expressions, emotions, body movements are targeted specifically at the person watching. A third party can usually see all of the actions for their true intentions. Lying in a group is another beast all together. This has a lot to do with why few people are truly good actors. This case was one where I noticed something I expected she did not want me to observe.
"One question: do you intend to initiate the situation?"
She faltered for a moment.
"How dare you? Why would I do that? And where do you get off accusing me of lying when you orchestrated this whole farce? I do not like to be played for a fool."
"And yet you join the club and surround yourself with them."
"And what is that supposed to mean?"
I smiled at her and leaned forward just a bit. "I find it funny that no matter what is happening in the world, bigotry always finds a target. In other times I am sure that you would have hated niggers, or injuns, or spics, or camel jockeys. You see problems in the world and have to find a safe target. Right now you and your little friends have found wizards."
I leaned back, crossed my arms, and let a smug look cross my face. This was fun.
Her face turned red. It turned quite red when I consider how tan she was to begin with. The shade of red did still match her blonde hair quite well. I dare say that this might have been a more natural tone for her.
"You son of a bitch! Where do you get off?"
"Here," I spat back leaning forward again. "If I feel you are not being honest with me I get off here and now. I don’t care about your politics. Whatever rhetoric you want to use to justify the actions you had intended to take is bullshit. I do, however, care about someone lying to get me to a wizard party to set off a bomb or start a shooting. I will not see to it that you are safe during your terrorism just because you hate your son’s girlfriend."
She sat for a moment. She almost seemed to be shaking in her skin. She spent a few moments trying to collect herself with visible effort. The red tone drained away as she gained control of her emotions. I will give your credit for her self control. Most people only saw what this woman wanted them to see.
She sighed as if releasing something big into the world. "I do not like being fooled, Mr. Harrison. I also do not like being accused of bigotry. You have your way of looking at the world and I have mine. Yes, you are correct. I would love nothing more than to start something at that party. I do not want my son getting involved with these people. They are dangerous by their very nature. However, I am well respected in this community and it would not behoove me to cause strife on my own doorstep.
"I have no intentions of starting anything, but I fear that they will. With my background with the Coalition I would make a good target to some young rogue who wanted to make a name for himself. The police will not offer protection and I doubt they are well capable in a situation like this. If everything goes well you will come to a party and be bored for a few hours, but I would feel more comfortable with you there in case it is not that scenario. I have heard that you can handle a crowd. Even a crowd of their like. I am losing my son, Mr. Harrison, please afford me this one request."
Her speech seemed to calm her more still. She had control again as if it had never been lost in the first place. Impressive emotional control.
"Yes, I can handle a crowd. And yes, I can offer you some protection from this particular crowd. I will go with you to this party. Maybe it will at least be interesting. Understand, however, that if you or your people do start anything I will not get involved... on your side. I will not be brought in as a weapon for your agenda. I have no sides in this business. No harm will come to you. That is what I offer with reasonable assurance. Do you accept that?"
She sighed and stood up, "yes, that will be fine. It is the best I will get either way." We discussed payment and reached an agreement easily. She had enough money that arguing my price was not worth her time. She wrote me a check and handed it over.
I looked down at the check and held my hand out.
"So," I looked down again for effect. "Clara, when do you want me to show up?"
"Sorry, my name is Clara Edwards. I forgot entirely to introduce myself. The party is Saturday at eleven in the morning. Thank you."
She walked to the door and opened it. Her forward momentum halted and she turned back toward me.
"You don’t like me very much, do you?"
"I don’t know you," I paused. "But the forecast is overcast now with a chance of rain."
* * *
We sat quietly for a time after Clara left. Alan made a new pot of coffee with a jug of water her kept nearby for that reason. He had told me before that he thought running water to his office was a ridiculous notion when I had suggested it. We kept the silence marathon going as the coffee maker chugged along making the dark brown fluid that seemed to sustain Alan’s life. I have come to believe, with time, that there is such a thing as a coffee vampire. This supernatural beast must suck the life essence from coffee plants. They have discovered over time that the best way to do this is by running water through their victim’s seeds. They are a very efficient predator in that way.
As we sat refusing to break the calm we had created I took the time to study my friend again. It had been a year and a half since we had seen each other last and things can change in that time. We had known each other for eight years at this point. We had worked on a few cases together in that time. Alan was the best investigator I had ever met. He had built a very respectable practice on his reputation alone. People knew him as a tenacious man with an agile mind for mystery. He could not stand mysteries so by nature had to solve them once involved. On that same note he maintained his reputation by carefully picking his cases.
Alan was a wiry man who seemed jumpy and jittery. His path to detective work was a truly unique one. Unknown to the local legal structure, Alan had spent years as a mafia shooter. Well, the legal structure knew well of who he used to be and the man he is. They just had no idea he is the same man. Of course, as it goes, things went awry for him and he chose to turn state’s evidence. The Witness Protection Program had set him up in a new area with a new identity: Alan Dores.
His choice of work was as much an act of negative reinforcement as it was a job. Bust criminals in one manor to keep himself from becoming one. He kept all his skills sharp as an obsession and he was still the best shooter I had I had ever seen. He stood five feet eight inches tall and fluctuated around a hundred-fifty pounds. He had a very cool, almost icy edge to his demeanor but always felt like a spring wound too tight. There was an energy the seemed to be stored deep inside of him. I had seen him move before. No, scratch that. I had seen the results of his having moved before. I am still not entirely sure I have seen every frame of his action.
His mind was tailored much like his body. Though it seemed to relax and just allow information to seep in as it flowed through the world around it, it would rapidly snatch that information and process it. He could for connection between facts much like The Flash does housework. Detective work mostly involves trying every possibility you could think of until one worked out. Alan could create and try them rapidly in his head, but had the patience to wait out trials when he needed to. I loved to watch him work. Two of my previous encounters had found me through Alan. I imagine there were others who wanted my services but he had turned them away. I fully trusted his judgment so I had never actually asked.
After more time passed I walked to his filing cabinet and poured coffee into my mug. I turned and refilled his as well, put the pot back, and took up residence in one of his client chairs. I looked across the desk for a moment and took a drink.
"So, what are your thoughts on Miss Edwards?"
"She wants you to be there to witness something." He turned in his chair and looked out his window. He lifted his mug and took a drink. His mind was racing through possibilities. This was truly his element.
"She wasn’t at all concerned that you refused to help her if something went down of her initiation. I doubt she intends to directly start anything. I also doubt that anyone would plan a straight hit on her at a party for her son’s wedding. That would look terrible on the host. That having been said, something is going to happen and she wants a witness who isn’t connected to law enforcement involved. I would guess that it will probably be violent and that someone will get hurt. I think she wants someone around who can stay calm when the shit hits."
He took another drink and turned back to me from his window gazing.
"My advice to anyone else would be to leave this whole thing be. It’s going to be bad and there will be collateral damage."
"And your advice to someone who is me?"
"Keep your eyes open. Don’t get into fights with wizard. And no matter what, you should keep the World’s Greatest Detective nearby for assistance."
"No dice, I checked and Inspector Gadget is busy."
"I guess you’ll have to take me instead."
"My loss, you don’t have a niece or a dog."