Ben Van Dongen
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.