When the door slammed shut I could feel the desk in front of me vibrate. I watched helplessly as one of the many antique picture frames toppled over onto the snapshots I had taken with my camera. Like a defense attorney with a client who has just admitted he’s committed the murder, I suddenly felt the same dissatisfaction with my job.
I studied the pictures that were arranged on the desk. She looked so innocent, so perfect. Her blond hair was put into a pony tail and her reading glasses pushed high upon her perky little nose as she read one of her many textbooks. The snapshot of her sleeping was the most beautiful. She looked like an angel with her hair flowing onto the pillow. As I reached for my coat and hat, I took one last look at the room I was leaving and shook my head.
In my line of work you don’t always see the most normal people and this guy was no exception. With the rest of the afternoon shot--too early to go home and too late to go back to the hole in the wall I call my office--I improvised and went to the local bar. It’s where I like to hide out when I’ve had enough of a day like today. Unfortunately, it’s also where a lot of undesirables go to roost.
“Hey Charlie, what’ll you have?” the gray headed bartender asked with a smile.
“A beer’s fine.”
“There’s been a guy waiting for you here all day." he said, leaning over and handing me the chilled mug.
“Oh yeah. Who?”
“He’s in the corner." he said, pointing in the man’s direction.
The figure that sat in the booth smiled an almost toothless grin. I groaned quietly.
“I hear you need a partner." The man said, standing up with his hand extended.
I laughed reluctantly.
“How are you doing? You worthless pile of...” he cackled as he hugged me so hard that part of my beer spilt on my shirt. “I know about that hot job you’ve got lined up. Just need to know if you want a hand to help the needy.”
“The guy’s a loon." I snarled, wiping the beer off my shirt with a napkin from the table. “He wants me to pick this girl up and transport her to him.”
“So...you need a partner. Girls can be tricky, you know?”
“I’m not doing this one. It’s illegal.”
“That’s supposed to be something new to you, Mr. Perry?” He asked as we both sat in the booth where he had been sitting.
“It’s more than that, I’m not doing anything for this guy.”
“What are you talking about? This is Karter McClain. I would kill for this man.”
“You? You probably would. Me? I hate celebrities! They’re the weirdest people on the face of this planet.”
“Oh come on, Perry. You’re not gonna let this deal slide are ya?”
He lit a cigarette and held it between his yellowed finger tips.
I sat up a little straighter in the chair and leaned forward to say, “I’m too old to go to prison for kidnapping. I’m not taking the job.”
With that, I threw three bucks on the table and walked out. It’s pretty bad when you can’t even hide in your hide-a-ways anymore.
About two weeks later, I happened to catch a headline that sported a picture of the girl that I had trailed. Her name was LeAnne Feld and she was a student from one of the local universities. She had been missing for about a week. The story said that someone in an unmarked van had abducted her on campus in broad day light. A sketch of my toothless acquaintance was printed next to the text. I took a deep breath and tried to put it behind me. I guess McClain had found his man.
Sitting in my office, the phone rang.
“Hello. This is Perry’s Detective Agency. How may I help you?" I droned as I had heard my secretary do all too many times.
“Hey Charlie?” A familiar voice echoed through the phone. “You missed one heck of a deal.”
“What deal?” I asked, remembering his toothless grin.
“McClain’s, man! Ten thousand! Can you believe it? More money that I’ve ever gotten for a job.”
“Did you see the paper today? That money won’t even cover your bail.”
“It’ll all be forgotten by tomorrow.”
“What makes you say that?”
“McClain will make them forget.”
I hung up the phone, grabbed my coat and hat, then headed down town. Traffic is horrible in the city. Even in a taxi, I can feel myself stress out because of the bumper to bumper torture. By the time I had reached my destination, it was already lunch time and I had a pounding headache. I headed into the diner where I always went to eat.
“Thought you’d show up."
I swung my throbbing head towards the speaker and said, “Thought you’d be in Mexico by now.”
“Nah...I’m just hanging around here for a while," he said with his toothless grin.
“Any idea of what’s to happen to the cargo?” I asked as I reached for the sandwich that had been set in front of me.
“Don’t care. I got what I needed. Let him handle it from here.”
I got up and went to the cashier to check out. I couldn’t listen to any more of this. I am no angel and I don’t claim to be, but there is a time when you have to be above something and I truly believe that this was the time for me. I didn’t take this job because McClain had never really said what he was doing with the girl. Not that I’m into kidnapping or anything, but if it’s going to lead to murder, I usually opt out.
My toothless friend was a moron. Not only did he not care what happened to the girl, but he took a small fee for a job way above him and has the stupidity to stick around until the police pick him up. I left the diner and went back to my office where I watched the media eat the story up. There must have been ten updates that afternoon on the possible where-a-bouts of the girl. All of them were wrong, for some strange reason. I guessed there must have been a lot of scraggily dressed, toothless guys hanging around the city.
I kept low for a couple of weeks. I wasn’t trying to avoid the law, just my unfortunate acquaintance who kept popping up every now and then to brag about his fortune. The problem with him was that sooner or later I was sure he would try to bring the law knocking on my door. I wasn’t planning on leaving, though, I had done nothing wrong. I would just tell the authorities that I turned down the deal and I don’t know who picked upthe girl. It’s a lie but they would have to believe me. I have no criminal record.
A couple of days later, I got up the nerve to go back to the office to check on my messages there. I must have had ten messages on the machine; a couple of telemarketers, a couple from a friend of mine, one from my ex-wife, a couple of old clients, and one from Karter McClain himself.
“Listen. I need to speak with you, Charlie.” Pause. “Oh...it’s an answering machine. Look. When you get this message, meet me at my house.” Click.
What could he want now?
I took a cab to the mansion I had left not so long ago and made my way through security to get to him. He was seated in the study behind the same antique desk. I sat in one of the chairs, facing him. I looked at the pictures that I had left of LeAnne. They were all framed and placed nicely on the desktop.
“What do you want, McClain?”
“Nothing really. Just doing a little cleanup.”
“What do you want me to do? I told you before that I’m not doing a job for you.”
“I’m not asking you to," he said, running a hand through his shoulder length hair, “You know how hard it is for someone in my position to find a person to trust?”
“I wouldn’t know." I answered.
“I had to go through a lot to find one person I could trust with my life."
I stared at him blankly as he continued.
“I used the computer whizzes and private investigators. Anything, to find the perfect one. Do you know how hard it is to find someone who hasn’t heard of me?”
“What does it matter?” I asked, although I really knew why.
He cackled and then slapped the top of the desk, “I like you, Perry! Even though you didn’t do what I asked. I like you. You’re probably the only PI in town with a conscience."
He got up from the desk and walked behind me. Unfortunately, I had to agree. After the bang, and the splitting pain in the back of my head, the last thing I heard was, “But those with a conscience don’t survive in this town.”