“Dad,” someone was saying. “Dad. DAD!”
And now poking, he noted.
“Yeah. OK,” he said, lifting his head from his arms.
“This place is disgusting,” his daughter told him.
“Well, daughter mine,” James muttered. “Of all the gin joints you could have found me in … at least this is a gin joint.”
“Nice,” she said sarcastically. “They let you sleep in here?”
“Darling, I am practically responsible for the mortgage. Anything short of pyrotechnics.”
Pyrotechnics, he thought to himself. His vocabulary was running higher than the average hangover.
“Roy. Put on a fresh pot,” he told the man with no idea if his command would be obeyed.
A balding man placed a pair of cream colored sloping mugs before them. Fresh or twelve hours old, only a scientist could have made a determination.
“Don’t drink,” he advised Carmen. “I’ve tasted better gasoline.”
Carmen took a sip, never one for fatherly advice, his girl. It seemed like yesterday she was a bratty kid, chomping jawbreakers and learning how to belch on purpose. Now she was a young lady, or if not, none had so informed him.
“Fuck,” she said. “That’s coffee?”
“Language,” he said.
“You’re one to talk,” she replied.
“An egg on toast,” he yelled. “And this time don’t murder the yolk. I may not be homicide—but I know people.”
Roy flipped him off and cracked an egg on a surface not intended for the purpose.
“So,” he said, choking down stale bread and a questionable egg. “What brings you tracking down your father so early in the morning?”
“Is it?” he looked at the fake Rolex. “So it is.”
“I want you to look for this girl,” his daughter said. “Woman. Her.”
She handed him a printout, unofficial and crude with a torn corner. If the girl was pretty, it was difficult to tell in the photo.
“Friend of yours?” he asked.
“She’s enrolled at UCC. Donna.” Carmen looked at the paper again. “Donna Logan. Nickname Lola. She’s been missing a … well between a week and a few days.”
“Reported?” he asked.
“By one of the professors.”
“OK,” he said. “That’s good. So, if she is missing … really missing, not just with a boyfriend, or sick, or … a girlfriend, or wanted some time off, or—”
“No one’s seen her. And she doesn’t have a boyfriend, not steady anyway. She was coming to class and then just nothing. No ‘take notes for me,’ no ‘I’m going out of town,’ ‘need some time,’ ‘transferring,’ ‘won the lottery,’ just nothing. Like she was abducted by aliens.”
If one was abducted, he thought, aliens were probably the most innocuous possibility.
“Look,” he said. “Missing person’s not my beat. Never was. And anyway … last thing they want’s some other cop stepping on their case.”
“Got some time off this weekend, I see,” Charley observed, following an epically uninteresting shift.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’m going to be searching for a missing girl who goes to my daughter’s school.”
“Actually, I’m going to be going to a game. I have it on good authority my bookie’s out of town. I owe way too much,” he said. The truth, unfortunately, at least as regarded his gambling of late. He was starting to wonder if the bookie in question was placing bets the opposite of his. Doing that and the man could retire from bookkeeping. Was a streak of bad luck the time to be looking for a missing girl?
“Great,” Charley said. “And you want to know what I’ll be doing this weekend?”
“Finding a tighter vise and a bigger stick?” He muttered under his breath.
“You ever wonder why no one likes you?”
“No,” he said. He’d forgotten that Charley had the ears of a bat. More bad luck. Bad-ish. Charley already knew he disliked him, and he was pretty sure the feeling was mutual.
“I know why. I used to be a Detective.”
So he went through the list.
Family: in a different state and so far, unreachable.
Roommate: neither hot nor knowledgeable.
Friends: vague. Also stoned.
“That what I think it is?” Land asked him.
“What do you think it is?” he asked.
“Oh,” he said sucking smoke and holding his breath. “Yeah.”
“You are also on—”
“No. I meant in general … want some?”
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Lost a bet,” he said.
“You lost a bet so you’re smoking a joint?”
He sucked in some more smoke.
“That’s enough,” Land told him.
“Why?” he asked. “I assure you it has already done the job.”
“Because of a bet?”
“Yeah around twenty years ago someone bet me I’d make a terrible father.”
Anyone would admit his losing streak was epic: Son, Soldier, Husband, Detective, Father, Cop—he couldn’t call one an unqualified success.
“Are you crying?” Land asked.
He walked away, handed the remains of the joint to a bum.
“Jeez man,” the bum said. “Someone die?”
“I don’t know, yet” he said. “Missing’s all it is now.”
“Picture?” the bum asked.
He worked the printout from his wallet.
“Your kid?” the guy asked.
“No,” he said, feeling his heart do a flip in his chest. Just the thought of Carmen missing made him nauseous. “Just a girl.”
“Good luck,” the bum said.
Great. More luck, he thought.
“But you can only find what you aren’t looking for,” the bum said.
“I don’t know about that,” he said of the joint. “Seems off. Maybe. I feel …”
He wandered off again without finishing his thought.
At home he nursed a six-pack. He looked though a list of friends and acquaintances, and felt in serious danger of phoning his ex-wife.
At the end of the day, he thought to himself, laying a fresh can against his throbbing forehead, the point of being a Cop was—
The telephone rang. He opened the can while he waited for the message.
He had won a phony trip to the Bahamas, all he had to do was … he deleted the message.
The point of being a Cop was to get the bad guys and protect the innocent. If even he would admit his “bad-guy” getting had been a touch haphazard and sporadic, almost everyone he had tried to keep alive had stayed alive (very often in spite of their own idiocy).
This girl, he smoothed out the paper, was about as close to an innocent as one was likely to find these days. Which made his job harder not easier. People were found by their actions and interactions. A man through a girlfriend, or girlfriends, which should be reversible, and sometimes was, but this girl seemed to have no friends worth speaking of.
Between a few days and a week, and no sign of her. No credit use, cell phone unused, no internet. He crumpled the can. If she was dead (as, or more likely as, alive at this point, providing she had not contrived her own disappearance), he shook his head.
Alive he would find her. Dead he would—
He opened a new can rather than carry the thought to its conclusion.
He watched a well-dressed man playing with a brace of puppies. A Canadian, with a wavering accent, and some said decent looks. He looked thus far a lot like his father though, who none had ever called handsome, perhaps through lack of nerve.
“They won’t make good guard dogs if you spoil them,” he said.
“Hmm,” Laurent said. “My father would have said the same. What brings you to my humble abode, Marco?”
“I’m looking for a missing girl,” he replied.
“Well you’ve come to the wrong place.” The man poured Bourbon into two tumblers and scooped a puppy from the floor. “I was brought up to respect propriety.”
“Nice speech,” Marcos muttered, smoothing out the sheet of paper.
“As I suspected,” the man said, setting the puppy back among its fellows. “I do not recognize your missing college girl.” He shook the printout. “This isn’t police issue.”
“Someone at the school must ‘ave done it. There’s an official one somewhere. But I’m not going to get it. Stepping on toes enough as it is.”
“This girl a friend of Carmen’s?”
“No,” he said.
“Little young for you, isn’t she?”
“I’ve never met her. She goes to my daughter’s school’s all. Just a normal girl. No friends. No enemies. No money. No known bad habits.”
“That does not bode well,” the man said. “How long missing?”
“Possibly a week. Possibly longer. Possibly shorter. Professor reported her missing after no shows in class. Multiple no shows before he noticed. That may have taken longer than a week. One hears professors aren’t much for noticing anything. And none seeing her since.”
“Someone must have,” the man said. “If she is not the cause, then she is a … symptom.”
“Still with the doctoring,” he said.
“You don’t go through med school without some rubbing off on you. Like or not.” He twisted his glass and drained the remainder. “So, she is either hiding or …”
“Yes,” he said.
“Or dead,” Marcos repeated.
“How flattering you thought to come to me.”
“You know people.”
“So do you.”
“No,” Marcos said. “Not anymore I don’t. Or they don’t know me anymore. Amounts to the same thing.”
“Well,” the man said, showing off snowy incisors. “Then I’ll give you a few names.”
He was ready to curse every one of the man’s forebears and currently nonexistent descendants, for putting him on the trail of his rivals and enemies rather than anyone relevant. He had always suspected he would one day regret having saved the man’s life.
The last on his list he had no intention of seeing in person. Easier to ask around than in person. He watched a short man watching a woman with the adoring expression of a dog about to get dinner.
The man looked him over and went outside. He waited a few seconds and then followed.
His kneecap felt like it had been shot out from under him. He managed to get a hand over his ear in time. Al’s version of the one-two, a kick followed by a punch to the sternum, solar plexus, or ear.
“You missed,” he said.
“Did the job,” Al told him solemnly.
“Meant the puddle,” he said of the fluid adjacent to his ringing skull.
“I’ll make you one if you like.”
He worked his way to a seated position. “You got sand in your gloves? Metal in your boots?”
“Maybe,” Al growled. “What do ya want? I’m on a date.”
“You still Baker’s favorite lapdog?”
“If I’m a dog,” the man said. “It is not a lapdog.”
“Enough,” he said to ward off the gloved fist. “I came to talk. You attacked me. Unprovoked.”
“Date,” Al said. “And one I had to work for.”
“Looking for a missing girl.”
“She’s no girl,” Al said.
“I didn’t mean her,” he said.
“I’ve nothing to do with any missing girls.”
“Not you,” he said. “Baker.”
“He’s a killer,” he said.
“That’s what he’s got you for, right?”
“He’s a killer. A murderer. You’ve killed. But you aren’t a murderer.”
“You’re drunk,” Al growled. “Don’t bother me again. Or you find out exactly what I am.”
“She did nothing,” he said. “If she’s alive, she’s a prisoner. Or hiding. Either way she must be terrified. And there’s no one.”
“‘’Cept you? Now that is terrifying.” Al crouched and removed a knife from his boot.
“Thug,” Marcos said. “But you’ve known fear. And lo—”
“The good either did me.” He closed the blade. “I’ll ask around. But if the news is bad then no arrests. Right. Killer. Takes one.”
Marcos leaned his head against the restaurant wall while he waited for his head to stop spinning. Closed his eyes for a few minutes, opened them to break of day.
He had a cigarette going when the trembling began.
Jesus, he thought to himself. Not here, and not now. How long had it been since his last drink? Too long apparently.
He tripped and held a meter for dear life, world and meter spinning like a roulette wheel.
He leaned his head against his hand and counted the beats. “Fuck,” he muttered. “Fucking fuck.”
“You alright?” a young woman asked him. “Should I call someone?”
“It’s withdrawal,” he said. “I’m an alcoholic.”
He felt sweat slide down his skin. He removed a flask from a pocket. A swallow remained. Enough? He doubted it.
The world was full of sparks when he fished in another pocket and extracted his wallet. “Get me one of the little bottles,” he muttered. “Please.”
The woman returned with both wallet and a bottle. He drank before he could process disgust or miracle. Had someone somewhere liked the two? Jesus? Well, the man certainly had liked putting fingers in questionable locations. No denying that.
He looked at the woman and recognized another miracle. He took back his sacrilege and calculated the costs for his latest sins.
The restaurant was far more expensive than he thought from the exterior. They were less than happy with his sorted appearance. Would have been even less with his extended trip to the bathroom to attempt to become recognizable as a human being again.
Well, he thought to himself, regarding his culinary splurge, he had found the girl. Or she had found him. An example of the positive thinking the therapist he’d had once upon a time had advised. Or his luck had turned again. Maybe all wins from here on out? Or enough to balance out the disasters? Only one way to find out.
“So,” Donna said. “They wanted me to sell drugs for them. And I said I wasn’t interested …”
He drank his second Bloody Mary, slower than the first.
“You listening?” Donna asked.
“Uh-huh,” he said, starting on the eggs. Eggs were becoming a weird habit; he didn’t even like them. Not since he’d tried a yolk in vodka. Better not to think about such things when he had to get protein into his system.
“So my friends, or some people I knew, were smoking a joint at a park. And then these guys came over and we played some ping-pong. So I can only assume someone in the group wanted to buy from them. Anyway, I didn’t know there were any deals or anything. So I’m jogging through the park a few days later and same guys are like, you have to buy this stuff now. And I’m like one, I didn’t make any agreement, and two, I don’t have more than a few bucks on me. And they’re like let’s all go to an ATM then. And I said that’s for rent and books and that’s all I’ve got. And they’re like buy from us and sell to your friend. And I was like, hey I don’t even know who you made this agreement with, what do you want me to do, put up a sign saying I bought drugs buy them from me? And—”
“And then I said something in hindsight I realize was bad.”
“I have a photographic memory and I’m a pretty good artist. I didn’t mean to. It just came out. So one of them started coming toward me and I pepper-sprayed him and got the fuck out of there. And then I got back to my place and I grabbed some cash and left.”
“A week’s a long time,” Marcos said.
“That was over a month ago,” Donna said. “It took that long for anyone to notice I wasn’t around.”
“Over,” Donna said. “Got a job. Decided to apply, elsewhere. Been working on my applications. What’s the point of being somewhere if no one knows you’re there?”
“And you think that will not be an issue elsewhere?”
“I don’t know,” Donna said. “But it can’t be worse than here. And elsewhere I won’t have dealers looking for me.”
“I doubt they’re looking for you,” Marcos said. “But … were you telling the truth about this photographic memory and art thing?”
The girl went through her belongings at the apartment stuffing them into luggage as she went.
“Thanks for coming back with me,” she said. “I know it’s dumb, but I was … nervous about coming back here. Hey. There’s no smoking in here.”
“So?” he asked. “You aren’t staying, are you? What’s it to you?”
“Oh fine,” he said, rubbing it out and placing the stub behind his ear.
“Man,” Donna muttered. “You smoke too?”
“Only since I was twelve.”
“Aren’t you worried about cancer and stuff like that?”
“Sure,” he said. “But I’m a lot more worried about my liver.”
“I guess you are the kind of Detective I’d find.”
“Ex-Detective. What’s that make you then? PI?”
“Cop,” he said. “Makes me a Cop.”
“A Cop and not a Detective. Your choice or—”
“Theirs,” he replied. “Now, unless you’re planning on becoming a Cop yourself, which would be one way of dealing with your … issue, no more questions.”
“Fine,” Donna said resuming packing.
He pulled a sketchbook from under a row of books.
“Not bad,” he said, looking through it.
“The technical’s fine,” she informed him. “But that’s all I am. Technically proficient.”
“So you can draw these guys?”
“Sure,” she said. “I could, but I don’t want trouble ….”
“I can file it under anonymous,” he said.
“It’s only… drugs, you know,” she said. “Just my bad luck running into them. I don’t even think… I think users should be treated not punished.”
He studied the room. “It’s not the drugs that bothers me per se, it’s the threat. The intimidation. They should not have made so much of such a little thing. You weren’t the person they wanted, they should have dropped it. You didn’t even really know who they wanted other than being someone in the vicinity. That should have been the end of it. They acted wrong. I’ll leave it anonymous.”
“What if they remember I said I could draw?”
“So an artist who works for the department drew a picture. Anyway, you’re leaving town. What do you think these two are going to do, track you across the entire USA? Most dealers stick to a two-block radius. Anyway, this probably won’t go anywhere. Budget cuts.”
Twenty minutes later he had an impressive set of images. Guy with a rangy gap between his teeth, and a man with a tattoo.
“Which did you pepper spray?” he asked.
“Ponytail with tattoo,” Donna replied.
“You’re back,” Charley observed. “What happened? Run into your bookie?”
He considered replying in kind, decided against the impulse. A person had to act like an adult at some point.
“Lee’s here,” Charley told him.
“Mabel Lee. The—”
“She’s right behind you,” he said.
Charley jumped and looked. “Hey, fuck you.”
“I’ll report you to HR,” he said. “Hostile work environment.”
“Yeah, fucking right. Says she’s here to see you …. Hope your bookie got your bills straight. Won’t be getting anything once she’s done with you.”
If he had to describe the woman seated before him, he would have to say he would rather she was a few pounds heavier and a few years younger. If he did not have to describe her, then he would never admit he thought she was intensely attractive in her spare way and had earned every year she had lived.
“A royal visit,” he said. “What have I done to deserve it?”
“I think you know,” Lee said.
“Missing persons that mad at me?”
“In a word,” Lee said. “Yes. But that’s not why I’m here.”
“Going to offer me my old job back?”
“Your old job?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Or is this the smack down?”
“Which job?” Lee asked sounding amused.
“So, the smack down then?”
“How would you feel about Training again?” the woman asked him.
“Like I’d rather get the smack down. I was terrible at that job. Ask anyone. Your Ex even.”
Or was the on again off again back on? No one ever knew with those two.
“No one died,” Lee said.
“That you know of,” he replied.
“Right,” Lee said. “So you’ll take it?”
“I’d rather be a Detective again. I did a good job this time. Recall?”
“A good job? Were you not engaging in frowned on behavior?”
“You’re going to have to be more specific,” he said.
“I see,” Lee said. “And any chance you can do anything to avoid such egregious public display in the future? I mean a more serious approach. One that does not involve drinking and—”
“I am serious about my drinking. Ask anyone.”
“What we,” she said. “And by that, I mean the department would like to see is healthier approach to life. The department is changing. A friendlier approach. More modern. Less like—”
“I prefer to think like you but improved. Your liver—”
“I’ll worry about my own liver. Thank you very much.”
“So,” Lee said. “As to …”
“No. Thank you.”
“A new position it is,” Lee said. “You found the girl. Some scumbags. Not a bad weekend all things considered. Providing the rumors of … poor choices are only rumor. A new position or Mi-Po will be after you.”
“They’ll be after it one way or the other it sounds like.”
“Baby steps, James,” she said. “Today. Detective? Maybe down the road.”
“James?” he asked.
“That’s your name. Recall?”