Dime Store Detective – Complete

Ben Van Dongen

Thomas rested his eyes. He pulled the authentic fedora down and put his feet up on his real wood desk. He hadn’t had a case in months, not that he expected any, but he was getting desperate. He didn’t need the money, the buyout he got when his tech start up was acquired gave him more than he could spend if he tried. His detective business was a dream that the extreme money and young retirement allowed him to fulfill. Thomas’ skills were with genetic programming, but his passion was detective novels.

The collection of folded and faded paperbacks was considered and eccentricity that kept other literary zealots away, but the genera fascinated Thomas. Using his time and wealth to recreate the office of his favourite detective and actually opening for business made him a kook, but he had the money to not care. Thomas even sprung for a human secretary. Big shots, like the CEO of Fresh Choppers, the top conglomerate in the world, didn’t hire humans, and Thomas’ did accents. He had insisted on having a woman, just like the books, but the old Bronx dialect was a bonus. He smiled thinking about it.

The afternoon quietly napped with Thomas. He considered heading down to the local watering hole to get the word on the street. The friendly neighbourhood bartender, paid by Thomas to play the part, kept his ear to the ground. The robotic ones never talked. He contentedly listened to the whir of the fan and the sound of his secretary randomly hitting keys on the typing machine. He swore it was called a typewriter, but she insisted it was a typerator.

Thomas decided to skip the trip to the bar and ride out the rest of the afternoon in the office. At five his secretary would come in and complain about how slow it was and about not getting paid. Thomas would assure her he would come up with the cash, though her fee was promptly transferred to her account weekly. The guys would be at his place for poker by the time he got there, then he would end the night by chronicling his adventure in his own detective novel.

With a stretch, Thomas sighed. It was in the slow afternoons that building and selling his company paid off.

“Mr. Holliday? Rachel, his secretary, called over the antique intercom. Her voice sounded tinny and hollow over the speaker, but the high-pitched nasal quality was all hers.

“Yes Mrs. Horowitz?” Thomas let his feet drop and leaned into the intercom.

“There’s a man here to see you. He says he has a case for you. For your sake, you’d better take it. You still owe me three weeks pay.”

Thomas smiled. Rachel was worth every penny he paid her.

Fixing his hat, Thomas stood to meet the man. “Send him in.” He took off his jacket and tossed it on his chair before the inner door opened.

Rachel led the man in. “Can I get you anything, coffee?” she said to him.

“No, thank you.”

“I’d like a coffee,” Thomas said.

“You can get it yourself.” She closed the door behind her as she left.

“Every penny.”

“What was that?” The man was tall and broad. His suit was fashionable and expensive. He looked like the people who bought Thomas’ company.

“Nothing, sorry. Mr.?” Thomas gestured for the man to sit.

He sat and crossed his legs. “Diaz, Please call me Jose.”

“Like Diaz Research?” Thomas sat on the edge of his desk.

“Exactly.”

“I used to work in the field.”

“I know. That’s why I’m here.”

Thomas stood and walked to the window. He looked down, but the street below was like a toy model. There weren’t very many short buildings left in Toronto, so he had to make due. “I’m not interested.”

“I’m sorry?” Mr. Diaz straightened his jacket.

“It may seem silly to you, playing pretend, but I worked hard for this life.”

“I’m not here to offer you a job.”

Thomas walked back to the desk. “Oh?” He tried to cover his face reddening.

“It’s not that I wouldn’t be happy to have you working for me. Your a rich man for a reason. I’m actually here to hire you as a private investigator.”

The words sounded rehearsed to Thomas, but they were exactly what he was waiting to hear.

“Your knowledge of the bioengineering, the players, will be an asset in this matter. It’s a lucky happenstance that you have chosen this life Mr. Holliday.” The businessman smiled and winked.

“What can I do for you?” Thomas sat back at his desk. He pulled his jacket out from under him and threw it at a coat rack standing near the door, and missed.

The smiled faded. “A researcher of ours, a Simonson, has caused a lot of trouble. He used our resources for an illegal and immoral project. Completely unsanctioned by the company, I assure you.”

“Go on.” Thomas leaned in and grabbed a notepad and pen.

“It seems he has tried to augment a human, give them abilities beyond the UN Humanity Standards commission.

“He’s tried to create a super human.”

“Yes.”

Thomas had heard of attempts made before, he even knew the theory behind it. Augmentation was a wildcard when it started, but most countries and the UN had since defined what a human was, making experimentation illegal.

“How’d he do it?”

“He started with an adolescent, his daughter. He used a mixture of surgeries and chemical implants.”

“Hybrid augmentation? That’s –”

“Monstrous.”

“You don’t mean actual surgeries?” Thomas covered his mouth and swallowed hard.

“I’ll save you the details. It was barbaric.” Diaz looked down and shook his head.

“I assume the subject died?”

“I’m afraid not. It would have been humane.”

“Simonson?”

“Dead. We found him in his lab. He was trying to use the procedure on himself.”

 

“When did you find out what he was doing?” Thomas stretched his writing hand.

“Not until last week, when we found him.”

Thomas scratched his chin, searching for his next question. “How did you find out about the girl?”

“From his data coil.”

“That’s a requirement? Recording your employees?”

“That’s right, for some time.”

“Seems like you needed something more to keep an eye on what was going on.”

Diaz sat upright. His face was rigid. “It hasn’t been an issue until now. Our security is taking new measures.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you, I’m just getting a sense of the situation.” Thomas put up a hand.

“I need you to find the girl. We can clean up the mess in-house, but we have no idea where he stashed her. She would be in her twenties by now. ”

“The police?”

“Have been informed and are content to let us handle the situation. International law is still fuzzy.”

“One more question.” Thomas pulled his hat down the way the detectives in his books did.

Diaz leaned back again. “Yes?”

“What happens to the girl?”

“That’s for a UN committee to decide.”

Thomas stood and put out his hand. “Alright Mr. Diaz, I’ll take the case. I need you to send all the information you have on the girl and Simonson, to my secretary. I’d like to see his data coil too.”

Diaz stood too, and shook the offered hand. “Some of that data is confidential.”

“Send me what you can.”

“Done.” Diaz tapped at his wrist and turned to leave.

“There is the matter of my fee.”

“I’ll pay what it takes.”

“Fifty dollars a day, plus expenses.”

Diaz looked back and squinted at Thomas.

“I’m not in this for the money.” He smiled and they shook again.

Thomas waited for Mr. Diaz to leave the front door before he jumped around and soundlessly screamed. His secretary came in and smiled, watching him.

“We got a case!” He grabbed her hands and danced around.

“I got the file transfer and uploaded it to your network,” Rachel said between bounces.

“Thank you, thank you.” He stopped, wide eyed. “I have so much work to do.”

“I’ll put on some coffee and cancel your poker game. We’ve got a long night.”

“You don’t have to stay.”

“I don’t mind. Besides, I have to make sure you don’t bungle this case, or I’ll never make rent.”

Thomas smiled and poured two glasses of whisky from an old bottle he kept in his desk, and handed her one. “You’re the best.”

“I know.”

Part 2

The office was quiet. Faint moonlight shone through the window marking a square on the floor that angled onto a corner of the desk. The building was too high for the glow of streetlights. Thomas considered adding a faux light source, but was rarely in the office late enough to bother.

The text on the digital file looked blurred and Thomas rubbed his eyes. He squinted in the dark office and looked for the old Union Station clock he’d bought at auction. It was past three. The excitement at having a case, that caused him to jump around the office and bounce in his seat when he started to work, had faded.

He worked hard and made headway, watching footage from the dead scientist’s datacoil, reading his notes, and even studying up on the techniques used in the procedure. The screen timed out, making the moonlight seem brighter. Thomas scratched his head and yawned. His eyes closed and the information flowed through his mind.

“Thomas.” Rachel came from the front office. Light flooded in from the open door.

He jumped in his seat and snorted awake. “Hmm?”

She giggled. “I found some information on the girl. I have an old address, probably out of date, and I’ve got the name of her high school. Beyond that, there’s nothing.”

Thomas pushed his tablet away. He glanced at the clock, twenty minutes had passed. “Great. Thanks. I think we did enough for tonight.”

Rachel uploaded her notes to the network and smiled. “You did well today.”

He smiled back. “Sorry I kept you so late.”

“It’s fine.” She yawned. “I’m taking half a day tomorrow.”

Thomas stood up. “Of course. I’ll be out following these leads.”

“Does that mean I can sit in your chair and pretend to be you?” She walked back out to her desk and gathered her bag and coat.

“If that’s the sort of thing you like to do.” He put on his overcoat and hat on the way out of his office.

“You should know. I thought you were a detective.” She switched off the light as they walked into the hallway and locked the old wooden door.

Thomas looked at his name painted on the glass panel. “I am now.”

They walked to the elevator and rode it down to the transportation level. The doors opened on to the platform on the fiftieth floor. A set of tracks ran out of the building, north and south, with feeder tracks on each side. The level was double high with an arched tile ceiling and expansive concrete floors running up to the rails. Tables and benches were scattered around the space and vending machines lined a wall on both sides.

Rachel squeezed his arm and crossed the bridge to the other platform.

Thomas called to her. “Thanks again.” His voice bounced off the empty floors and walls.

Her feeder car came and she disappeared behind it. Thomas sat on a bench, and watched it rush away. A moment later, the train cruised through the station at top speed, sending gusts of wind bouncing around the platform. It pulled at Thomas’ hat, and he had to hold it to his head.

The platform was quiet and empty. Thomas yelled hello and listened to it echo and fade. Even though the place was well lit, he felt nervous, and looked over his shoulder to see empty tables and chairs. He shook his head, smiling at himself, feeling silly. The case was exciting, but apparently, he though, tired from working into the night, it was getting to him.

The feeder car he was waiting for broke him out of his thoughts. It stopped and the doors opened onto the platform. Thomas got on and found a seat. The doors closed and the car accelerated out of the station and onto the tracks fifty stories above the city. The train caught up and the feeder car matched its speed to line up next to it. The doors locked together with a hiss and click and opened, making three connections for passengers to cross. Normally, passengers would be moving between the two trains, but Thomas was the only one in the feeder, and no one on the train, it seemed, needed to get off at the next station.

Thomas walked through the opening and sat down in the nearly empty compartment. The doors closed and the feeder fell away. Stretching, he rubbed his eyes, trying to stay awake. A man was sitting across from him on the other side of the carriage. Thomas thought he was watching him over the ebook he was reading, but he shrugged it off. People often stared at him in his odd outfit.

The man was dressed fashionably in a multicoloured suit and augmented tie that flipped through moving images selected by the wearer. The train caught up with the feeder car for Thomas’ stop, and he walked over and stood at the door, waiting for the connection. The man got up and stood behind him. Thomas wanted to look back, but fought the urge. He shook his head again and in inhaled deeply, trying to dislodge the paranoid feeling.

The doors opened and they walked through. Thomas leaned against a pole, positioning himself so he could see the whole car. The stranger sat down and continued reading his book, but glanced over the top, scanning the car.

They detached from the train and it pulled away, slowing. It stopped in Thomas’ building, at a platform nearly identical to the one at his office. Thomas stepped onto the platform and walked to the elevator. The man joined him a moment later, absorbed in his device. The car rushed off to chase the train. The elevator doors opened and they went in. Thomas pressed his thumb to a scanner to select his private floor, 261. The man stepped up and pressed the button for floor 259.

Thomas clenched his teeth and pushed back against the wall of the small box. Even though he lived on a floor to himself, and there were hundreds of people who lived in the building, he didn’t recognize the man.

He licked his lips and eased away from the wall. “Sorry to disturb you.” He waited for the man to put down his ebook. “Hi, I’m Thomas, I don’t think we’ve met. I live on the two hundred sixty-first floor.” He held out his hand.

The man looked at his hand, but didn’t move. “I’m on two fifty-nine.” He went back to his book.

“I can see that. What’s your name? Thomas pulled back his hand.

“John.” The man continued to read, not making eye contact.

“What’d you do John?”

“Sales.”

“Really? Where?” Thomas fought back a yawn, covering his mouth with the side of his fist.

The elevator smoothly stopped and the doors opened. The stranger walked out without looking back.

“Nice to meet you.” Thomas cupped his hands, hoping to get the words through the closing doors.

The elevator made the short trip to his floor. It opened onto an entranceway with a large wooden door that opened to the single apartment. Thomas stood outside the door, letting the camera scan him. When it finished, the door slid open and Thomas was home.

He slipped out of his jacket, hanging it, and his hat, on a rack, kicked off his shoes, and went straight for the bathroom. The shower turned on to his specific setting and temperature as he crossed the threshold. Thomas stripped and walked into the large glass stall and under the hot water. It reddened his skin and sent billows of steam into the bathroom. Soap was automatically added to the stream, creating bubbles as it hit him. As he scrubbed, Thomas tried to convince himself that the man was just a tenant he hadn’t seen. He spent most of his time at the office anyway.

The water stopped and warm blowing air dried Thomas and the shower. He picked up his dropped clothes, dumping them in a chute that went to the building’s laundry service, brushed his teeth, and stumbled to the bedroom. The blinds were open, showing the bright skyline and the CN Tower below. His bedroom was small compared to the rest of the apartment. The bed took up most of the floor space and the two walls that met in the corner were floor to ceiling windows.

“Bedtime.” The command closed the blinds, dropped the room’s temperature slightly, turned off the lights, and set an alarm for seven in the morning. “Cancel alarm.” He flopped into bed and was asleep before he could put on his boxers.

The day came early and Thomas felt his late night like a weight pinning him to his bed. His movement reversed the automatic settings from the night before, opening the blinds and starting coffee in the kitchen. He leaned back in his bed, stretched, and was woken back up by his wristwatch that sensed his lack of movement as falling asleep and vibrated.

“Fine, Fine. I’m getting up.” The vibrating continued until Thomas was sitting with his feet over the edge of the mattress. He slipped into a pair of slippers, pushed himself up, yawned, cracking his jaw, and went to the bathroom. The smell of coffee drew him, still naked, to the kitchen next. He thought about making bacon and eggs for breakfast. The kitchen could do it for him, but he couldn’t find out how to override the maximum amount of butter allowed, so he cooked it himself.

He sipped his cup of coffee and checked the time. It was already ten and he didn’t want to start his day too late after the progress he’d made the night before. He poured the coffee into a travel mug, put on fresh clothes, specially wrinkled from the laundry, and left, deciding to get food on the go.

Part 3

A cool breeze blew through the open ends of the train station. Thomas turned to it, relishing the feeling on his face as it eased the fatigue from the late night. He kept an eye out for the man he had seen the night before, but the only people there were three young men dressed in casual clothes. They sat at a table eating food from the vending machines and watched a music video, projected over the center of the table by one of their phones. The music, something Thomas didn’t recognize, boomed and twittered across the platform. One of them pointed at him and encouraged the other two to laugh.

The feeder car arrived and Thomas got in, ignoring the taunts he was used to hearing. He sat in a seat across from the doors and adjusted the collar on his tan trench coat. The empty car whooshed into the open and caught up to the train, connecting long enough for him to enter and find another seat. He huffed as he sat, and stretched his neck, cracking it. A woman with a baby carriage made a sour face at the sound and went back to cooing her child.

Thomas rested his eyes for the rest of the quick ride, blinking awake when the chime announced that the feeder car for the next station had connected. He hurried into it, rubbing his eyes, trying to keep the sleep at bay. He chose to stand, hoping it would help, and walked vigorously onto the platform and into the elevator when he reached the station at King and Bathurst.

On the street, below the station, was where Thomas’s favorite food cart set up for daily business. It was a stop before his office, but he enjoyed the time to visit when he was on his way into work. The vendor was a gregarious man originally from Morocco, who, when there was a lull in business, would tell Thomas stories about his life there.

Thomas waved to the vender and stood in line at the gourmet food cart. Most people were at work, leaving the street uncharacteristically bare, but two men stood at the counter, ordering. When they left, Thomas stepped up. His usual order was already being prepared by the man.

“Ham and egg on wheat.” He smiled as he cut the sandwich and wrapped it. “Extra cheese.”

“Thank you Mehdi.” Thomas swiped his watch over a terminal, paying the bill. He pulled out an old bill and placed it on the counter.

Mehdi held out his hands. “You are too generous. That bill is worth—”

“Nonsense. You always indulge me.” Thomas took a large bite of his sandwich. “Mmm.” He covered his full mouth. “I’m actually on a case today?”

“Really? That’s wonderful!” Mehdi quickly made another sandwich and wrapped it. “Another one for the road.” He waved away Thomas’ protest. “On me, to celebrate your first case!”

Thomas took the offering and tucked it into one of the coat’s deep pockets. “Thanks. I’d better get going. I have a job t get to.”

With another wave, Thomas went back into the elevator and up to the station on the fiftieth floor, finishing his first sandwich on the way. He checked his watch as he tossed the wrapper in a receptacle, it was quarter past eleven. Thomas got on the next feeder car and onto the train. He found a seat near the back, knowing the ride to the high school in Old Towne Toronto would be long. Taking out his phone, he flipped through the digital dossier Rachel had prepared the night before.

The girl’s name was Trisha and, according to the records, she would be twenty-four now. Thomas didn’t think he’d get much out of the school, but, from what he had learned from his novels, you have to start somewhere, and if you did your job right the rest would fall into place. Often times in the books, the thing the detective was looking for, would come to him.

Thomas remembered that he should be keeping a record of his expenses, and opened up a spreadsheet, filling in the breakfast and train ride. At the top of the page he marked the case number, 001, and the name of his client. He smiled as he typed it all up, noting to print the report out at the end, so he could frame it. With the file finished, he browsed the dossier as the train whisked him to his destination.

            The station in Old Towne was a makeshift mix of new technology over old. The retrofits matched the deteriorating structure. Thomas took the elevator down and tried to touch as little of the filthy place as possible. The scanner that read his tag and charged him for the trip whirred and clicked loudly, shaking as he passed. The buildings on the street were short, the tallest was less than eighty floors, and he felt exposed. He hunched his shoulders against the vast open sky as he walked, but relaxed after a few blocks. The buildings fascinated him, especially the ones made of brick. He stopped to touch one, making a note to look into moving his office to the area, but he doubted Rachel would be as taken by the charm.

By noon, he was standing outside the school. The building was tall and narrow, as if it started its life as something else, which was likely. As land prices soared in the city, buildings rose along with it. Even schools couldn’t afford large properties, so they often ended up in old buildings or taking up the bottom floors of new ones. Even in the old area of the city, a school on its own was a sign of prosperity. It was five floors and made of dark red bricks with wooden window sills. Thomas caressed the iron railing as he ascended the stairs to the large wooden door, stopping to feel the lion that was carved into it. He grabbed the ornate handle and pulled, but it didn’t budge.

A voice crackled in a speaker to the side. “State your business.”

Thomas blinked and wiped his brow, frazzled, and tried to get into character. “Yes, uh, hi. I’m a P.I. and I’d like to talk, with someone. Please.”

“You have to press the button.”

Thomas looked up and saw a small camera conspicuously sticking out of the molding at the top of the door. He gritted his teeth, upset he hadn’t noticed it. “Sorry?”

“You have to press the button to talk. On the intercom.”

Glad the person hadn’t heard his bungled first attempt, Thomas found the button at the bottom of the speaker. He smiled as he pressed it, excited to be interacting with the dated technology. “My name is Thomas Holliday, I’m a detective. I’d like to meet with someone from the administrator’s office.”

“Where’s your badge?”

Fixing his hat, he took out the papers that identified him as a licensed privet detective. It had taken him years to get the documents, and millions on lawyers. The city council was against it to the end, but Thomas proudly held his license up to the camera.

“What the heck is that?” The voice sounded annoyed.

Thomas figured the security guard, or whoever was on the other side of the door, was comfortable with boring days. “I’m a private detective. This is my credentials. If you’d like, I can send you a digital copy, or you can come out to verify it here.” He took a step back, making room for the door to open, giving the guard an easier route. Instead he heard a click, reached out, and opened the door himself.

The entrance hall was open and dim. Locker lined hallways led out straight and to either side. Thomas walked to the center of the junction, over a crest with the same lion marked on the floor, and looked for an indication of which way to go. Loud, clicking footsteps echoed along the tiled floor. Thomas had to spin around to locate the source, and saw a tall woman striding confidently down the middle of the center hallway. She was dressed in a simple blue suit, cut to show off her height. Thomas felt silly in his costume and took off his hat. He smiled as she approached and turned the action into a polite gesture, deciding to revel in his outfit.

“Mr., Holliday is it?” She refused his hand.

Thomas took it back. “That’s right. And you are?”

“Very busy. What’s so important that you had to bother me in the middle of a school day?” She was beautiful and professional, a combination Thomas knew was hard to achieve from his days running a company.

He cleared his throat, forcing composure. He thought of Rachel, beautiful in her own right, who he had comfortable dealings with daily. “Sorry to interrupt.” He straightened and let a smirk play on his face. “I’m a private investigator, here on an important case. I need to speak with the principal as soon as possible.”

“You’re speaking with her.”

“Wonderful. Should we go to your office, or should we do this in the middle of the hall?”

“I haven’t decided if I’m going to kick you out yet or not.” The principal crossed her arms.

“Here works for me.” Thomas took out his phone and a stylus, ready to take notes. “There’s been a murder.” He put up a hand. “Nothing for the school to worry about. There is a missing person and I have been charged with finding her before she gets into any trouble. She used to be a student here.”

“Used to?” Uncrossing her arms, she planter her hands firmly on her hips.

“That’s right. The last known records of the woman are here in your school. I’d like to see them.” Tipping his hat back, Thomas smiled, enjoying the back and forth.

The principal, as if scolding a child, wagged a finder at him. “Absolutely not. I’m not going to give some weirdo, who looks like he’s dressed for Halloween, sensitive information. What do you take me for?”

“You can check my credentials, I’m registered and licensed.” Thomas took the papers from his coat and held them out to her.

“Even so, I’m not giving you anything.”

“I have a right to that information, Mrs.?”

The woman stood rigid. Being taller, she looked down on Thomas.

“I’ll get a warrant if I have to, but, to be honest, I’m not sure I’ll have the time.” He stuffed the papers back into his pocket and put away his phone.

“If you don’t leave my school immediately, I’ll have security throw you out.”

“I’m not looking for trouble miss, but I will be back.” Thomas turned and left the woman standing in the junction. He walked out the door and down the steps, and stopped on the sidewalk out front. He smiled wide and let out a chuckle. The conversation didn’t go as he’d planned, but he was in the middle of his first investigation and was threatened with being thrown out, just like the detectives in the books he read. The thought of his final comment and let out a, “yes,” causing a nearby pigeon to fly away.

Part 4

While walking back to the train station, Thomas called Rachel. The day was wearing into the afternoon and he figured she would be at work by then.

She answered on the third ring. “Thomas Holliday Private Investigations; how may I direct your call?”

“It’s me.” Thomas smiled hearing her nasally voice.

“Oh, well you better not have messed this case up already. You haven’t had one in months.”

“I need a warrant to access the student records.” He stopped walking, bursting with excitement. “She was actually going to throw me out!”

“I’ve already applied for the warrant, it should be in the records by now. I’ll upload it to your file and send one to the school.”

“You’re the best.”

“Don’t forget it come bonus time.” She hung up on him.

Sitting down on a bench, Thomas checked his tablet. The light pulsed as if it were excited to telling him he had a download pending. The file appeared as soon as he pressed the button. He read it thoroughly, noting the official seal and signatures. Nodding with excitement, he decided to finish his case notes up to the warrant before going back to the school. Scribbling notes for his own case was a thrill – he had to concentrate on not writing it like the first person books he loved – but he also wanted the principal to think he had to work for the warrant. He wasn’t sure why, but his gut told him playing along would make dealing with her easier.

Fifteen minutes later, Thomas was back at the door to the school, pressing the com button. He ran through the procedure, requesting to see the principal in the corridor. Instead, two large security officers met Thomas at the junction. They led him to the records room and stood close by as he sat at a small desk with an old computer calling up student records. Racks of servers lined the walls and jutted out into the room, whirring, humming, and clicking as they ran through thousands of simultaneous tasks.

Thomas watched the lights blink in random succession. He was disappointed the room wasn’t filled with shelves full of boxed files, but he turned back to the tube monitor reminding himself he was the one living in a different time.

He found the record in the databanks and called it up on the screen. The file was detailed, listing classes, grades, and even a few disciplinary actions. “Principals are probably all stuck up.”

“What was that?” One of the guards heard Thomas’ murmur and stepped closer.

He turned and waved the man away. “Nothing. Never mind.” Skimming the file, Thomas formed a picture of the girl. She was obviously smart and judging by the list of fights she was involved in, aggressive too. He thought about it and decided troubled was a better word. The file ended at her graduation and, while academically complete, it had few personal details. It listed her full name and the false address her father gave, but there was no picture or any hint at what she did after high school.

Thomas pushed away from the desk, deciding to talk to the principal again. He thought she knew something she wasn’t telling him. He rubbed his eyes, sore from staring at the old screen, and stood. The guards stiffened and glared at him.

“Hey, how long has the principal been working here?” He leaned against the desk looking from one man to the other.

“I don’t have to tell you anything.” The guard standing closest thrust his finger out as he spoke.

“Why does a prep school even need guys like you?”

Neither of them answered Thomas, so he went to walk past them. He had a thought that some of the teachers may have been around when the girl was. The officers closed the gap, puffing out their chests, looking down at him.

“Easy guys.” Thomas put out his hands. “I want to have a quick word with your principal. What’s her name anyway?”

Neither man moved.

“You can take me there. I wouldn’t know where I’m going anyway.”

After a minute of exchanged looks, one of the guards shrugged and led Thomas out of the room and down the hallway. Working the information around in his head, he keep an eye open, studying the lockers, room numbers, projected murals, anything that could lead to a clue. He knew the girl attended the school, there was a trail if he could find it.

Thomas was led past a trophy case near the junction where he first entered the school, and stopped. He wasn’t sure how he noticed it, but inscribed on one of the gleaming trophies was the girl’s name. Next to it was picture of her at what looked like a science fair, holding it.

The security officer was several doors down the hallway before he noticed Thomas wasn’t following him. He turned sharply, his face flush with, Thomas thought either rage or embarrassment. He stomped quickly back to the case.

Thomas held out a hand to feebly ward him off as he studied the picture. She looked familiar, a lot like her father, but there was something else.

Large hands knocked Thomas’s arm away and grabbed him ferociously on a shoulder, twisting the arm behind his back. Thomas squeaked, but struggled to stay at the image, clenching his teeth in concentration and pain. He was dragged away.

“I’m taking you to the principal!” The security officer pulled Thomas in front of him and marched him down the hall in a tight hold.

“Ah! That’s where we were going anyway.” Thomas smiled, though his arm hurt. The mention of the severe woman dropped the pieces to place in his mind. The picture looked exactly like a miniature, though smiling, version of the principal of the school.

As they rounded a corner the guard’s grip slackened and Thomas considered struggling free and running, but he was heading to the place he would go anyway so he feigned cooperation.

The sign on the door read Mrs. Simon. Thomas chuckled at the simplicity of the name choice, prompting a jostling from the officer. Letting go of his shoulder, the man opened the door and shoved Thomas inside. A secretary told him to sit in a chair and wait, Mrs. Simon was dealing with a school issue, and the security officer stood in the hall.

While waiting, Thomas warmed up his best gotcha expression, and worked on how he would call the woman out. He fidgeted with excitement, tapping a toe to the annoyance of the secretary who shushed him. Still feeling antsy, Thomas stood and wandered around the small outer office looking at the displayed pictures and signs. The door to the inner office had windows on either side giving a smoky view inside. He put his hands around his eyes and peered through the glass. He could make out the desk and a shelf behind it filled with books, knickknacks and a digital frame, flipping through images.

The door to the hallway clicked open and the loud clacking shoes of Mrs. Simon — daughter of Dr. Simonson — preceded the woman. Thomas was drawn to the noise, but the images through the glass, thought unclear, showed the same girl turn into the woman through the advancing images

“What do you think you’re doing?” The venom in her voice was clear, but Thomas ignored her. The click of her steps started again, closing across the small space causing Thomas’s heart to thump vehemently and a lump to develop in his throat.

He could feel her behind him like an energy source, pulsating, and the most recent picture flipped to one of a little girl and her father, the man in the picture Thomas had been shown when he took on the case. He spun around, eyes wide, meeting the burning gaze of the principal.

“It’s you.” The words dropped casually out of his mouth as if he were surprised, even though he suspected it. His mind had put the pieces together, but it seemed to have been laid out for him. She was still in the same place she was last seen, either brashly flaunting her intelligence, unaware she would be sought, or, Thomas looked away from her at the thought, she wanted to be caught.

As Thomas ran through his thoughts, she turned and ran out the door.

Part 5

The door closed behind the fleeing woman and Thomas slammed into it in pursuit. He lunged forward, running right into the back of the waiting officer, pushing him. The tall man turned on Thomas, red faced and furious. He tried to get hold of Thomas, but momentum was against him. Thomas spun, ducking the reaching arms, and sprinted in the direction the guard had been looking.

At the next junction, he paused, listening for the principal’s clacking footsteps. Hearing the sound, Thomas ran after it, further into the building, back towards the records room.  He had to force the smile from his face as he ran.

The woman was fast and far enough ahead that he hadn’t caught a glimpse of her. He was determined though, and manage to follow the footsteps echoing down the empty hallways. He heard the click and slam of a door closing and traced it to a stairwell. He pulled open the door and chased the principal up the stairs.

“I just want to talk.” He had to yell between his heavy breaths. The woman was engineered to be fast and he spent most of his time behind a desk.

The woman looked down over the railing and he spotted her, a flight above him. He pressed on, pulling himself forward with the help of the railings. He didn’t think he could catch her, so he raced through his options, trying to outthink her.

They raced up three more flights and the principal widened the gap between them. She burst through the door to the third floor halls. By the time Thomas caught up to her, she was halfway down the long corridor. He struggled to keep up his pace and felt he had to catch his breath or he may faint. He stopped and thought through his novels, searching for an idea, listening to the sound of the woman’s footfalls carrying her away. The memory of his own time in school came to him and, excited, searched the walls. He licked his lips, still heaving, but smiled when he saw a fire alarm on the wall near him.

Thomas pulled the alarm. The woman skid to a stop and looked back at him. He waved to her as the doors lining the hallway opened and students poured out. Her path was blocked, but the space between them was filled with bodies too. The tide of people forced him back towards the stairwell in a calm and orderly fashion.

He watched her straighten and converse with some of the students and their teachers as she slowly walked away with them. He was nearing the stairs, searching for a way to get to his target, ignoring the looks from the people around him. Just inside the doorway was a space where he could let the procession pass. When the flow of bodies became a trickle, he pushed back into the hallway and, feeling refreshed, sprinted after the woman. She wasn’t there, but he followed the direction she had been taking and hoped her progress was slowed by his tactic.

At the end of the hallway, Thomas was stopped by a teacher, counting names on a list.

“What are you doing here?” The woman was what Thomas thought of as a typical strict teacher. Her grey hair was in a tight bun and her mouth was pursed in a tight snarl.

“I was in a meeting with the principal when the alarm went off.” Thomas showed her his credentials, but she was unimpressed. “We were separated in the commotion. Do you know which way she went?”

“She went down that stairwell.” She pointed to the doors behind her. “It leads to the side street.”

Thomas thanked her and slowly walked away, through the doors. As soon as they closed behind him, he ran, galumphing down two and three stairs at a time. He jumped down most of the last flight and nearly twisted an ankle. He recovered and crashed through the doors onto the street at the side of the building.

Students and faculty were milling about, waiting for someone to take charge. The ones closest to the doors jumped as Thomas crashed through. He stretched to look for her in the crowed then pushed his way through them, searching as he went. He thought he saw a woman run around the corner to the front of the school, but when he got there, all he could see were more students and a fire truck parked on the street. Thomas leaned against the school, catching his breath. He looked through the gathered people, but there was no indication of where his target had gone.

Thomas walked back to the front of the school and called Rachel. As Rachel answered, he sat on the stone steps watching the hubbub he’d caused play out.

“I had her.” Thomas sighed. He had been excited that his hunch was correct but frustrated that he lost his target.

“You did wonderfully.” Rachel slipped out of her character. “You found her and-”

“I let her get away. I have no idea where to look now.”

“Come back to the office. We have more than we started with. I can start a new search based on what you found.”

“Yeah. I’m going to look around here first, see what I can find. I can probably get some of the staff to spill what they know.” Thomas looked for the heads of the faculty above those of the milling students. “See if there are any street cameras around here and get a warrant for them while you’re at it.”

“Good thinking boss.” Her accent came back. “Leave me with all the tough jobs.”

“I’m the one who has to call diaz and let him know I spooked the target.” He scratched his chin, imagining the conversation.

“Maybe leave out the part where she got away.”

“I’ll consider it. See you back at the office.” Thomas hung up and got to his feet. The people had gravitated into groups based on age, position, and some hierarchy Thomas didn’t know. It made walking through them easier, and many of the teachers were standing together near the edge of the street, talking and corralling students who strayed too far.

He asked them a few questions, but they were protective, or scared, of their principal. Thomas tried to get back into the school, but no matter how much he protested, the guards refused without permission. He considered trying to speak with some of the students, but didn’t want to give anyone more of a reason to dislike him. Instead, he went back to the decrepit train station and headed back to his office.

When he was seated on the main train, he took out his phone and called the direct line Mr. Diaz had given him. The train was mostly empty, being so far from the city center. Still, he sat at the back of the train, away from the other passengers.

The phone was answered on the third ring. “Ah, Detective. I wasn’t expecting a call so soon. Do you have information for me already?”

“I do.” Thomas scratched his chin. “Unfortunately it’s not all good news.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” Diaz’ voice was deep and expressive, making the comment seem insincere.

“I found the girl. She was working as the principal at her old school.”

“You don’t say.” He paused long enough to make Thomas think there was a problem with the connection. “And what was the problem you encountered?”

“I confronted her, to be sure it was her, and she ran. I lost her.”

“That’s unfortunate. Still, you have provided us with information we lacked. I’ve had your payment sent to your charming secretary, along with a bonus for such speedy work.”

“I’m not sure I’m clear what you’re saying.”

“Your services are no longer required Mr. Holliday.”

The strong voice stung Thomas. “I see.”

“Don’t misunderstand me. I’m happy with your work, but we have what we need to take things from here. I’ll be sure to tell my colleges what a fine service you provided. Good day.” Diaz hung up the phone. Thomas licked his lips, reeling from the unexpected direction the call took.

From the height of the rail line, Thomas saw drop ships rising from the Diaz Research building, like bugs being shooed away, and streak past him, towards the direction of the school. The train ran thought a building, cutting off the view, and Thomas considered getting off at the next stop and heading back to the school, but he didn’t know what he could do.

His office was close, so he decided to continue there and consult his secretary. His dismissal didn’t sit well with him, even if his employer seemed satisfied. The connector car for his building caught up with the train and latched on. Thomas boarded it and was carried back to his office to lick his wounds and plan.

Part 6

The office was quiet. It was usually quiet, but after his first case, Thomas could feel it. He sat at his desk, thinking over the events at the school, looking for what he did wrong. Letting his target get away was eating at him, but not as much as Diaz not caring.

A knock at his inner office door made him jump. He saw the shadow of Rachel in the window before she walked in.

“I brought you a cup of coffee.” Rachel walked over to the desk and gingerly put down a brimming mug.

“Do I look that pathetic?”

She put her hands on her hips. “I just trying to do something nice.”

Thomas rubbed his chin. “Sorry. It’s that phone call. I can’t shake it.” He picked up the mug and sipped. “The only thing I can come up with is Diaz knew more than he was telling me.”

“Don’t tell me you’re shocked by that?”

He waved her off. “No. They’re a big company, bound to protect their interests. But if they already knew, why did they need me?”

Rachel walked around the desk and leaned against it. “It seems to me, either they knew everything other than where she was, or they knew that too and needed you to flush that poor girl out.”

Thomas rolled his eyes, but stopped when Rachel caught him. “If that’s the case, she must have had something keeping them away.” Opening the file, Thomas drew a line from Diaz to himself, then Diaz to the girl. “Of course it’s just a hunch, but that gives me a place to start looking.”

“Good, because one case isn’t going to pay the bills Holliday.” Rachel pushed herself away from the desk and walked to the door.

Thomas stood and followed her. “I’d better go to Dr Simonson’s office and see what I can find.” He passed her and left the office, heading for the train platform.

While sitting on the train, heading to Diaz’s headquarters, Thomas flipped through the notes he and Rachel had collected. Rachel had indexed all the information on the tablet, so drawing the connections was easy, though he wasn’t sure where it was leading him. Like he had done with the school, he moved forward hoping the direction would show itself.

The train moved quickly through the city, connection cars coming and going, transferring passengers. It was nearing the end of the day, so the train was full and the movement of people was fluid, like an organized dance. The low sun reflected off the mirrored surfaces of many buildings, shining in Thomas’ face from several angles. As they zoomed along the track, the sun was briefly blocked by the buildings, causing a strobing effect of bright light and shadowed dusk. The intermit light reflected off Thomas’ tablet, making it difficult to read. He put it down and rubbed his eyes, stifling a yawn.

Thomas stretched and scanned the train. Looking down the back of the car, he saw a woman duck behind a seat. He only saw her for a moment in the sporadic light, but she looked like his target. Turning to face forward, he focused on the seat in front of him, not wanting to let her know he’d seen her, if it was even her at all.

He had a hard time believing he had accidentally gotten on the same train at the same time as the woman he was looking for, but they were headed to where she was made and being as confrontational as she was, she may be crazy enough to go there.

Scratching his chin, Thomas decided he had to find out if the woman he saw was her before he made any move based on conjecture. Several people on the train were standing. Thomas looked for someone he could offer his seat to. A few seats away, a man held a heavy looking box. Thomas pushed his way over to him, excusing himself as he bumped into several people.

“That looks heavy, why don’t you take my seat?” Thomas pointed to where he had been sitting.

The man looked him up and down, sneering. “No thanks.”

“Really, it’s not trouble. I’ve been sitting all day.”

The man turned away. “I’m fine.”

Thomas leaned to look him in the face. “I insist. It’s OK, really.”

“Listen weirdo, I don’t want your seat. Just buzz off!”

Passengers nearby watched the outburst, some of them snickering.

“I just wanted to offer you my seat. No need to yell.” Thomas shifted to block himself from where he thought his target was.

Someone tapped him on the shoulder. “You’re seat’s gone.” She pointed to a young man with his feet up on the back of the seat in front of him, dressed like the kid’s he had seen on the platform the day before.

Thomas thanked her and rolled his eyes. He had accomplished his goal, making a reasonable case for leaving his seat, but he had caused more of a seen then he liked.

Moving further down the train, he positioned himself so he could get a better look at the back, keeping bodies between himself and the woman. His eyes struggled to keep up with the flickering light, making his observation a challenge. Through the crowed he saw flashes of her, hair, right eye, hand on the seatback in front of her, profile as her attention was drawn to that side.

A connector car came and went, shifting the population, some leaving, others getting on. The large body Thomas used for most of his cover was gone, forcing him to move and lose his view. He looked out around the shifting people, seeing what he could, moving further back when the crowd thinned, keeping out of sight.

Through the dimming light, Thomas noticed they were closing in on Diaz’s building. He thought, if she was heading there, he should get off a stop before so she wouldn’t notice him at the same stop. When the car came, he shuffled along with the departing riders, ducking low. When they disconnected and the train sped off, he spotted her through the window staring directly at him.

“Shit.” Thomas’ outburst startled a woman standing close to him. She backed away, face in her tablet.

Thomas scratched his chin and looked down sheepishly. Gritting his teeth, he took out his own tablet, downloading a map of the streets between where he was stopping and the building where his target was going. There were taxi stands, but in the rush hour, they would be busy. Zooming in and out on the screen, he read out turns under his breath, finding the quickest way to run there. The map program marked a red line on the path he chose, making suggestions of restaurants and stores where he may want to stop along the way. He ignored them and reread the turns so he wouldn’t have to stop and look at the map.

The car slowed as they approached the stop, people stood, collected their things, and prepared for their final leg home from work. Thomas repeated the turns and considered calling Diaz to warn him.

He shook his head, skipping a left and started from the beginning. Diaz hid things from him and may use the warning to cover things up, if they weren’t already.

The station, like most of them, was on the fiftieth floor of an impressive building filled with residential units, stores, and businesses. The population boom Toronto experienced in the early 2000s hadn’t slowed down. Thomas pushed his way to the door of the car, ignoring the dirty looks. The building enveloped them and the car swiftly stopped. As soon as the door opened, he ran out, heading for an elevator. A few kids were hanging out at the platform. To Thomas, they were indistinguishable from those who loitered at his building’s station.

The rest of the floor was empty, and Thomas managed to get the first elevator to himself, being so far ahead of the commuters. He scratched his chin and winced, touching a sensitive spot. He ignored it and said his turns out loud, preparing for the long run.

Part 7

The elevator doors opened onto a dim city street. Streetlights were on to compensate for the deep shadows and setting sun, which was almost gone over the horizon. Groups and couples walked down the sidewalks or hailed cabs. Thomas took a moment to look for a cab without a group of people standing around it, trying to make their claim, but they were all taken, leaving dozens of people waiting. He turn and ran, dodging pedestrians and excusing himself.

At the first intersection, he went right then darted across the street through a gap in the traffic. Horns honked at him, but he ducked left into an alley, leaving them behind.

Coming out at another street, he followed it to the next intersection, ran left through traffic again

Thomas ran along the street, next to parked cars, but he was tiring and slowed. Plodding down the sidewalk as quickly as he could, he ran into a woman who walked out of a store without looking.

He fell over her and the contents of her shopping bag spilled onto the ground. People closest stopped, some of them gathering the fleeing items. Thomas rolled off the woman, got to his feet, and pushed through them.

“Sorry!” He yelled the word over his shoulder though a shuddering breaths cradling his arm where it hit the cement.

“What a jerk.”

He heard the comment, but had no idea who said it. Someone at the edge of the crowd shoved him as he broke though.

Out in the open, Thomas ran, leaving them behind. The incident left some space on the sidewalk, and he took advantage. At the next turn, he saw the top of Diaz’s building in the distance, between the streets. It was a few long blocks away, and the Simonson girl was likely already there. Thomas sprinted through an intersection as the amber hand blinked at him to stop. He ran through the projected image and made it to the curb before traffic started.

The push to make the signal wore him out, and Thomas had to slow to a trot. “Too much running in one day.” He groaned and held a stitch at his side. At the next intersection, he stopped and waited with the trendy people, heaving through clenched teeth. When the light changed, and the bright projection of a stick figure walked across the street, they had moved away, giving him an open path. He took it, running again, but slower.

The plaza surrounding the huge building was ahead and Thomas stopped at its edge. He caught his breath and assessed the situation. It was a weeknight, and if it was anything like his old company, there should be plenty of people still working, but the front of the building looked empty. People passed on the sidewalk, but no one went in or out of the wide bank of doors. The large street level sign lit the plaza in a harsh white and red glare in the darkening evening. Thomas considered calling the police, but the sound of distant sirens suggested they already knew.

“I’m going in on my own. It’s my job, and people need help.” His pep talk focused his decision, but didn’t stop his knees from shaking. Thomas walked across the open space to the doors, eyes darting around for clues and signs of danger.

Inside the massive lobby, half a dozen security guards were in a panic. One was behind a long curved desk yelling over the phone, two ran from place to place, clearly not recalling any training. Two more tended to an unconscious third and their own injuries. A pulsing light feebly flashed in a back corner, reflecting off the open marble floor. The wall behind reception was peppered with bullet holes and was missing a large chunk.

One of the frantically running men stopped when he noticed Thomas. “Hey! Hey you! Stop there!” He pointed the end of a baton at him and at the press of a button, it sparked with electricity.

Thomas put up his hands and took a step back. “Hold on. I’m a detective working for Mr. Diaz. I assume a woman came through here,” he looked at the damaged wall, “recently.”

“Yeah. You with her or something?”

The other runner joined the first, but stood more casually.

“I’ve been looking for her for your boss-”

“Well I found her!” He waved the baton to the stairs behind him.

“Yeah. I can see that. She’s likely headed for the labs in the basement. I have to go and stop her. I assume the police are already on their way.”

“You’re not going anywhere buddy!”

Thomas figured after their embarrassing defeat, the man needed to prove his masculinity. “I can help, but I need you guys to coordinate with the police.”

The other guard put a hand on the first’s shoulder. “You can stop her?”

“I’m going to try.”

He nodded and Thomas walked around them to the stairs, giving them a wide berth. Passing the desk, he heard the other man’s conversation over the phone. He was talking to a corporate security team, Thomas could hear the orders barked through the receiver – contain, witness, and eliminate were clearly stated.

Thomas continued to the elevators without making eye contact. The building security was a joke, even less intimidating than at the school, but a professional squad, like the team that was sent to contain the school, were bad news.

At the elevators, he read the directory and spotted the location of the type of labs that would accommodate Simonson’s research. The labs were down three floors in a sub basement, secure, private, and easily hidden. Thomas jabbed at the button, but the elevators had been shut down. He ran to the stairwell, shouldered the door open and took the stairs two at a time.

Through a pair of double doors at the bottom was a security station. The desk was to the side and a blocked metal detector barred the rest of the hall. The seat behind the desk was empty. Thomas peeked over the edge, but there was no one around. The hallway, all the way to the end, was empty. He hopped the desk and took a peek at the tablet sitting on it. There was a record of the people who had visited that day, including Mr. Diaz. The record showed he went to lab four, so Thomas took off down the hallway.

He passed the first door. It was wide and made of bare metal with a round window set into it. A sign next to it read Lab 1. The next door was a long way down the hall. Thomas figured the rooms were huge. His old company had similar labs. He continued, noting the numbers as he went. Lab four was around a dark corner where a single light flickered, casting periodic shadows. The door was cracked open and the window was shattered.

Thomas pushed the door open. It was heavy and creaked as it moved. He reached in to find a switch, but only felt a smashed sensor. He looked into the darkness, trying to make out whatever he could in the light spilling in behind him. Hundreds of tiny LEDs blinked in individual patterns, indicating the multitude of tasks the equipment was performing.

“Hello?” The word came back to him from the depth of the huge, dark room. “I know you’re here somewhere.”

He heard stifled mumbling from further in. There was a chair within the rectangle of light coming from the doorway. Thomas used it to prop the door open and went into the room.

“I just want to talk.” Thomas stopped just inside. “I know what your father did to you.”

What do you know?” The voice shot back at him.

“I know what I saw on the data coil.”

“Faked.”

“Alright. Why don’t you tell me what happened?” Thomas saw her outline moving. His eyes adjusted to the darkness.

“They forced him to make me. He hid me from them and they killed him for it.”

“If that’s the case, why not go to the police?”

“I’m not supposed to exist. Besides, who would they believe?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure who to believe.” Thomas scratched his chin. “Do you have Diaz with you?”

“Not bad detective. They expected me to come here to find my father’s work- get the drop on me. But I came for him. My father destroyed everything.”

“Everything but you.” Thomas moved, trying to make out her position. She didn’t answer. He took a step outside the light.

“Don’t!”

Thomas froze. “They’re on their way. Security for sure, police not far behind. You scared a lot of people in the lobby, hurt some of them.” He took another step. “What do you want to do?”

“I—what?”

“What do you hope to get out of this? If you leave now, you have a slim chance of getting away. Go back into hiding. You kill him, security will kill you. You have to decide.”

“I don’t want to die.”

Thomas could sense her fatigue. He was exhausted from the run to the building, from the whole case. He could only imagine what life was like being hunted.

He head footsteps coming down the hallway, dozens of them. “I think you’re out of time.”

“I want to hire you!” She came into the light. She was haggard. The strong professional, Thomas chased at the school, was ragged and tired.

His mouth hung open.

“I let him go, you prove what they did; that they coerced my father to do this to me. It’s my only chance.”

“Done.” Thomas walked over to her. “Drop the gun and get behind me.”

“I don’t have one.”

Thomas heard a muffled protest from the darkness.

Shadows leaned into the room. “Turn around!”

They did and saw two armoured security officers crammed in the door and many more behind them. Their guns were pointed into the room. Thomas assumed they had night vision, among other technologies, stuffed into their helmets. He made sure the girl was behind him and stepped forward with his hands up.

“My name is Thomas Holliday and I’m representing this woman. She is unarmed and willing to come peacefully. Please move back and let us come out.”

One guard conferred with another and in an official, amplified voice, said they would.

Thomas walked into the light and out the doorway with the woman close behind. As soon as they were in the hall she was grabbed and cuffed. Thomas was shoved against the wall and held there, struggling. The remaining guards went into the room and returned with a furious Diaz.

He stood in front of the woman. She was being held by two men. “I’m going to deal with you in a moment.” He went to Thomas, still fighting the guard who pinned him. “And you. I want you to know that you’re a joke before I kill her, then you. Shoot them.”

One of the officers who retrieved Diaz raised his gun. He stopped at the sound of more trampling boots in the hallway.

Police started to stream around the corner, more than twice as many as the in-house security.

“Hold it right there. Drop your guns and put your hands up!” A woman in captain’s stripes pointed at the guards and they complied. Diaz was taken and cuffed, swearing and threatening as it happened. The guards had their weapons taken and they were all lead off, along with the woman.

The captain told Thomas to expect to be called in and let him go. His heart was racing from fear and excitement. He hurried out of the building and back to the office.

            Rachel was waiting at the door, tapping her foot. “ Are you alright?” Her accent was missing again.

“A little shook up. I had a gun pointed at me!” He took off his coat and draped it over her extended arm. “Are you up for another late night?”

“Depends.” She went into the outer office and hung up his coat.

“On?” He followed her in and continued into his office. He tossed his hat at the rack, missing.

“What happened?” She put his hat on the rack.

“Let me put a pot of coffee on and I’ll tell you.”

“Already done.” She sat in the chair in front of his desk.

Thomas told her about the events at Diaz’s building.

“So we’ve got a new case?”

Thomas nodded. He couldn’t stop smiling.

“You’d better go over that information again. I’ll call the police station and requisition their arrest report. I’ll have to commend them on their timing and send them a bottle of something nice. You’ll have to go see her tomorrow.” Rachel’s accent was back. “Your last case hardly covered what you owe me. You still have to pay for this place.” She gestured at the rundown office, authentic down to the broken blinds and the hand-stencilled name on the door, perpetually in need of painting.

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