Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chapter 1: Georgia

Among Ariadne’s less odd traits is her methodical nature. And naturally, we went to Webber’s other residence next. This was a more prosaic location. Benton is a predominantly blue-collar neighborhood that was a suburb a hundred years ago, but the city had swallowed and was slowly digesting it. The run down homes varied between tiny bungalows and newer, mid-century ranch homes. Webber’s home was one of the latter and had a scruffy 5-o’clock shadow of a lawn that, surprisingly, was recently mowed. The house had peeling paint, dirty windows, and a rusting front door knocker, but in general, things were tidy.

[still in progress]

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Chapter 1: Charley

I know my eyes widened in recognition and that Ariadne saw my reaction and saw the reason, because she said to the old fellow, “I know this might seem impertinent, but who is that lovely young woman in that photo? Your girlfriend?”
He blushed a little. The photo did seem like a couple’s photo and he was the other half of the double grins smiling out of the frame.
“No, no. That’s my niece… or my grandniece… or something like that.”
“Something like that?” I thought to myself.
As usual, my silver tongued partner translated that into an innocuous question.
“Oh? Have you been recently introduced? How wonderful for you both!”
The old man beamed and you could see a hint of the little boy he had once been.
“Yes, she’d been searching for me ever since her father died and told her about her grandfather and my father’s connection. She felt it was her responsibility to set things right between our two families. Thank goodness she found me in time.”
That statement led into an emotional minefield, so I turned the subject a little.
“Do you mind if I came in to use your bathroom, Mr. uh…” I trailed off, realizing he hadn’t given us his name.
“Eaton. Charley Eaton. And yes, certainly. I know what it’s like to have a temperamental bladder!”
We came in and Ariadne sat on the couch with our host while I did a brief and surreptitious inventory of the apartment. It was a one bedroom, but much smaller and more efficient than #204. It’s windows looked into the light and air shaft at the center of the building, and the views were mostly of other apartment windows.
When I came back to the living room area, Ariadne had made some progress. The kind of progress only she could put up with. Charley was describing his recent physical ailments, including a blood clot in his leg and a broken hip some months before. It also seemed that he had some circulation problems in his toes, but not badly enough for him to go to a doctor.
“I’m sure my body can take care of itself,” he said.
“Well,” Ariadne temporized, “you still need people to take care of you, though. Is that what your niece is here to do?”
“Oh, I don’t want a sweet young thing like that to tie herself down to an old geezer like me,” he exclaimed. “Besides, the hospital was sending a nurse by every once in a while.”
Ariadne’s head went back, like she’d smelled a dead rat. She opened her mouth to ask a question when something Charley said stopped her.
“I haven’t seen him since Joanna has been by though.”
Him? Was there a connection between Josephine and the nurse that had stopped coming by? If yes, the only male we knew of in Jo’s life was Ray, and I really could not see him playing a male nurse. Maybe there was no connection, only a coincidence of timing. Maybe Jo had more male friends than she was letting on.
I sat for a little while longer while Ariadne made some more small talk. We learned that the nurse’s name was Raphael and he seemed to be of Hispanic origin. He spoke with an accent and had black hair and dark eyes. He was very kind and would sit and listen to Charley talk about the old days for what seemed like hours. Needless to say, Charley liked him a lot and missed his company.
Eventually, the conversation ran it’s natural course and began to run down. I had stopped listening some time before and was planning our next few steps. I really thought we should go by the club and talk to some people who actually interacted with Ray on a regular basis.
Ariadne finished up listening to Charley and made our farewells. We thanked him for his time and rolled out of there an hour and forty-five minutes after we had gone in.
That good ol’ boy had lots of good ol’ boy times to talk about.

Ariadne looked grave as we drove out of picturesque Greenvale Park and headed towards downtown.
“What on earth could our client want with an old fellow like that?” she mused. “And why did she and Roy go to such great lengths to act like they were living there together, when it looks like no one has lived there for ages? What purpose does the apartment serve? Does it have a view of something interesting? Is a good location in itself or is it because Charley lives down the hall?”
I found it interesting that we so easily dismissed the idea that Josephine was really Charley's niece.
“Speaking of views,” I added, “Charley’s apartment had interesting views of a completely different stripe. So it might not be about Charley at all. It might be his place.”
Ariadne looked at me and her eyes twinkled excitedly. “I love this kind of mystery!”
I shook my head. I was used to being the odd man out in most situations, but every once in a while, I realized that Ariadne had an odd streak to her as well.
And yes, I consider it odd to love your job like she does. Especially when you do what we do.

(OK, first new storyline and your first opportunity to vote! Votes will only count until it's time for me to decide and write about the subject being voted upon.)

Is it about:
A - Charley
B - The view from Charley's
C - The view from the empty apartment

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Prologue 5

The apartment was completely bare. There was no furniture, no signs of occupation at all. I would have laid a pretty sizable bet that it had been 6 months or more since there had been furniture in the place. The bland off-white walls didn't even have holes from picture hooks and there were no indentations from furniture in the bland beige carpet. Despite that, from the smell of the place, it had been recently cleaned.
We walked through the place, looking for something, anything. There weren't even dust bunnies.
The apartment was an inefficient one bedroom plus den. It seemed large, but when I tried to imagine it furnished, I realized that the usable space was pretty limited.
The view was great though. The apartment was on the 20th floor in a generally mid to low rise neighborhood, so I could see all the way across town to the ballpark. I bet the fireworks show on the 4th of July looked great from here.
The kitchen was clean and empty. No trash can under the sink. The refrigerator was spotless and warm. It wasn’t even plugged in.
The bathroom was also spotless. Nothing of use, not even a stray hair or water spots on the shiny chrome fixtures.
"Let's go see what the neighbors have to say," I suggested to Ariadne, my voice seeming loud in the quiet space.
She nodded and we went out, leaving the door unlocked, as we had found it.

There was no answer at #203, the door immediately across the hall from #204, but our knocking brought out a neighbor further down the hall, #201.
He was a little old man in sweatpants and a t-shirt that read "Tired of Being Retired." His white hair stuck out in tufts around his head, and his glasses, which he was just putting on, were round and rimmed with gold wire. He squinted at us with watery blue eyes and asked, "Can I help you folks? David and Annie aren't at home right now. They're visiting their daughter in Florida. I offered to take care of Whiskers for them, but they said they were taking him along."
Ariadne is more prone to indulging people. She asked the rhetorical question, "Is Whiskers their cat?"
"No, their dog. A Westie. He's the nicest little pooch you'd ever like to meet."
Ariadne looked at me and raised her brows.
I turned to the old guy and introduced myself and Ariadne. "A friend of ours lives on this floor, but he's been out of touch for a long time. We wanted to find out if he was still around."
"You mean David?"
"No, Roy in #204? We knocked on the door, but there was no answer. We thought we'd just see if any of his neighbors have seen him recently."
"Huh. 204? They were pretty noisy. Didn't see much of them, but heard 'em a lot."
Ariadne took over. She was good at drawing people out. "Really? Did they argue a lot?"
The old man shook his head. "Not unless that was an awful lot of making up they were doing. They would pound the walls if you know what I mean." He winked at me.
Disconcerted by the image of a geezer in what appeared to be his pajamas winking at me, I slid my eyes aside and noticed something.
In the hallway behind the old man stood a dark wood bookshelf stuffed like a used bookstore with old paperbacks. On top of it, right about my eye level, were some framed photographs. The one that had caught my eye was a snapshot at the front. At first glance, it was about as ordinary as you can get, a couple mugging for the camera. But the gal in the picture was our client, Josephine, or else a dead-ringer for her.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Prologue 4

When I got to the office the next morning, it was almost noon and I was in the middle of trying to kill my morning breath with strong coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
Ariadne raised a brow at the rumpled shirt I had pulled out of the hamper, but chose to comment on my whiskers instead.
"No hot water again? Good thing you're rent's so cheap -- you're not getting much in return."
I shrugged off my coat and then went to the bathroom to shave.
When I came back, smooth as an angel's sole, Ariadne had printed out some addresses and was slipping on her jacket.
"Put your coat on," she said, slipping the papers and her notepad into her jacket pocket. "We're going to start with the station. Steve wouldn't email me the driver’s licenses for our Joes, so we have to go down there to see them on his computer. After we treat him to lunch at Narssicite..."
I winced at that.
"Sorry, I know you hate that place, but he's doing a favor for us. After we treat him to lunch, we're going to stop by Roy's apartments and canvass both neighborhoods. Zone Inferno, Roy's bartending gig, opens its doors at four."

Steve's computer showed us some interesting things. One of the Joesphine Williams was our client, dead-on. The picture was very recent and the address matched the one she’d given us. One of the Josephs, though, was also our client. He wasn't a blonde, but he did have blue eyes. Even I could see the face was the same, though younger. The license was due to expire later this year. I wondered if he was planning to renew it. The address was different, so we wrote it down.
Steve ate well for his trouble. I suffered through the pomp and pretense of Narssicite and I ponied up my half of the sizeable bill.

You can tell a lot about a person’s aspirations by where they live. Some kids value homes with good schools and quaint homes, while some want the media-spawned life of image and artistic surroundings. Just as you can judge a man by his clothes, you can do the same with his choice of home.
We tried Roy Webber’s address in Greenvale Park first. The neighborhood looked like a magazine spread. There was green grass and actual trees. The houses were well kept, the bushes trimmed to elegant shapes. Even the apartment buildings were elegant, and I hadn't really believed that possible.
Roy's apartment was in a tall white building with a huge lobby. We found the desk clerk behind a big curved desk of polished wood and stone.
His nametag said "Elroy Robertson" and he looked like a chubby police recruit who'd been rubbed raw. His rounded cheeks were very pink and he nervously straightened his navy blue uniform when we said we were detectives. From his demeanor, he had assumed we were police detectives. We didn't correct the assumption.
"Umm, yeah, Roy's a tenant here. Number 204. He's a real ladies' man."
Ariadne smiled a little. I recognized her “put ‘em at ease” mode.
“Really?” she asked. “What makes you say that?”
“Well, every time I saw him he had a woman on his arm. And there were lots.”
Ariadne raised her brows, encouraging him to continue.
“Red heads, brunettes, blondes. All dressed up like movie stars. Real lookers.”
“Did he ever say their names when you could hear him?”
“Nah, they would just breeze through. They never really stopped to talk to me, and when they talked to each other, it was pretty quiet.”
“If we showed you pictures, could you identify them?”
“Uh, maybe, but they all wore big dark sunglasses, like a movie star, like I said. Great legs though.”
Huh. That gave me pause. I decided to enter the conversation.
“Were all these women about the same height, same build, with long legs and short skirts?”
Robertson started to nod slowly as he sifted through his memories. He nodded more quickly and looked up at us in surprise.
“Yeah, they were!”
“They were all the same woman, Einstein.” I turned away. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Witnesses were so unreliable.
Ariadne smoothed everything over with Robertson; she didn’t believe in burning bridges.

We went up to number 204 and knocked on the door. There was no answer. I tried the knob and we got lucky. It was unlocked.
I went in first and drew my gun. We weren’t police anymore, but there was no way I wasn’t going to take measures to protect myself.
I don’t know what we were expecting, but whatever it was, we didn’t find it. I stood in the doorway in amazement, until Ariadne jabbed me in the back, telling me to get out of the way so she could see.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Prologue 3

That evening, we started general background searches on both our client and her... his boyfriend.. I called some of my buddies downtown and Ariadne worked her magic on the internet.
We found two Josephine Williams in the city, one Joseph Williams, and three Joe Williams. One Joe Williams was a career criminal -- three convictions for armed robbery -- but with his third strike he was locked up in CAMP, Cabott Arnold Memorial Prison, without parole. One Josephine Williams was a little known porn star, and she had her own website. From her pictured, she was definitely a woman, and definitely didn't fit the description of our client. That left four realistic leads on Jo, as we were beginning to call her. I would follow up with a friend with access to DMV files tomorrow.
Roy Webber was a little easier to find. There was only one of him in the city. He looked like a player. He had two home addresses that he used and six phone numbers. Ariadne identified three of them as cell phones, then there was one for each of his "homes". The last, when we called it, turned out to be a fax machine. Ariadne used our own unlisted cell phone to call all of the numbers. No one answered at any of them. Voice mail or an answering machine picked up on all but one of the cell phones. The home number one, located in Greenvale Park, a ritzy area in the south east part of the city, had a female voice that answered, saying that we had reached the Webber residence and to leave a message. We didn't. The other home number, the address for an apartment in Berton, an economically depressed area right near the downtown center, had a male voice who didn't offer a name, only a repetition of the number we had called. One of the cell phones was for "Creative Enterprises" and the other "Web Incorporated".
Neither phone numbers nor addresses corresponded with any of the information we had for Jo. The home address our client had given us was located in Lowlands, an old suburb bordering Berton. That was as close a connection we had.
After several hours of grinding and tedious work in front of the computer, a melodious beeping came from Ariadne's side of the desks. She pulled her cell phone out of somewhere and answered it.
"Yeah, honey, I'm on my way. Yeah. I just got a new client, so I got a little wrapped up in my work." She laughed. I was a little... no, a lot jealous of her domestic bliss. After a little more chit chat, she packed up her stuff and took off, telling me, like always, not to work too late.
I worked for a few hours more, after which I rubbed the muscles in my face, trying to massage my tired eyes back to life. I didn't have a cute and cuddly family to run off to. I felt like I was missing something in the files. I had it in front of me, but I was too tired to see it. The tiredness was also reinforcing my dark thoughts on my personal life. It was time to take a break.
I pulled on my trench coat and hat and went out for a walk. It was dark and drizzling. The cones of light under the street lamps were filled with silver darts of rain.
I didn't want to go there, but my walk took me to Nora's door.

I stood in the rain, out of the light of the streetlamps, staring at the iron grille of the door into Nora's apartment building. A brass plate on the grille read "499". Some of the windows were brightly lit, some not at all. Nora's window, however, had a very faint light. So faint that it might only be my imagination. It was candlelight, I was sure of it. Nora always lit candles when she took a bath... or when she took a lover.
Jealousy squeezed my heart, a memory of old pain. I wanted to ring the buzzer. I wanted to hear her voice, to see her face, to know which it was. To see if her neck was moist with bathwater or sweat. Her scent would tell me.
I might have taken a step forward, I don't know. But I stopped. I was afraid of her look. Afraid to know the answer.
She would ask me why I hadn't called. I couldn't answer that question. Not because I didn't want to... I did, desperately. But I didn't know the answer.
Instead, I walked away, into the darkness.
The question made me think in other directions. Jo was afraid her... his...her boyfriend was dead or had left her/him. What was Roy afraid of? Was he operating under fear? Had he run away?
I had a feeling that I had something. It wasn't too far of a stretch to surmise this though. Most crimes are rooted in fear -- fear of poverty, fear of rejection, fear of appearing weak, fear of anything, really. The question was, what was Roy afraid of?
I walked around the city and thought through the possibilities for another hour before going back to my apartment. I dumped the old magazines and dirty clothes off the bed and fell asleep with my clothes still on.

Sunday, February 9, 2003

Prologue 2

Man, with pipes like those, she must smoke a couple of packs a day.
Ariadne greeted her and offered her a seat and some coffee. She accepted the first and declined the second. She sat on our vinyl cushioned guest's chair and crossed those long legs.
"Tell us the story, ma'am, starting with your name please." Ariadne was business-like as ever.
"My name is Josephine Williams. I came back from a business trip a few days ago and found that my boyfriend had disappeared. I want you to find him."
"Who is he?" I asked, wanting a little of her attention.
She turned towards me, blue eyes glimmering a little with unshed tears. They stayed unshed. Tears might mess up that extravagant paint job. She was good.
"Roy Webber. He's a bartender at a club downtown. The last time he showed up for work was Wednesday night. None of his friends have heard from him either."
Ariadne pulled out her notebook and started taking things down. She got the name of the club, the names, phone numbers and addresses of some of Roy's friends as well as Roy's own address. She also asked for Josephine's information, and after a couple moment's pause, she was given a phone number and a home address.
"Where do you work, Ms. Williams?"
"I hardly think that's relevant." Ms. Williams' look was cool as an October night.
"True." Ariadne seemed to give up easily. "I just thought it might be more convenient for us to reach you during the day at your place of business."
"That phone number is for a cell phone. You'll reach me."
Ariadne seemed to have the scene well in hand. I sat back and let her do her stuff. This was her forte, collecting the necessary data to get a good running start.
After a few more questions, Ariadne closed the notebook and looked at me.
"Got anything to add, Mike?"
"Yeah," I said, "Why didn't you go to the police with this?"
Ms. Williams flushed attractively and looked down at the patent leather purse clutched in her lap.
"I... The police and Roy haven't always seen eye to eye. I... I didn't trust them to look very hard for him."
It was a lie. She wouldn't look at me as she spoke. Well, the truth should become apparent once we started investigating.
I nodded to Ariadne. She started the wrap up.
"Well, Ms. Williams, we'll do what we can. If we have any news or any further questions, we'll give you a call. Our daily fee will include today, since we'll probably start investigation tonight. You understand that we'll keep track of any expenses."
Ms. Williams nodded enthusiastically as she stood.
"One other thing," Ariadne put a hand on Ms. Williams' arm, "I couldn't help noticing your fabulous nails. I was thinking of treating myself to a manicure. Where did you get yours done?"
Ms. Williams smiled widely and said, "Why thank you! Chic Chick. They're absolutely the best."
Ariadne thanked her and opened the door to usher our latest client out.
As the flounced edge of her skirt disappeared behind the door and it closed with a click, Ariadne turned to me and smiled.
"What did you think?"
I shrugged. "Well, she was pretty bold in her clothes and makeup, and she definitely had something to hide. She was an interesting puzzle."
Ariadne smiled again, almost an impish grin. "He."
"What?" I asked, foreboding rushing in.
"He was an interesting puzzle."
I admit I was stunned to silence.
"The legs were a dead giveaway."

Friday, February 7, 2003

Prologue 1

The city was cloaked in darkness. A cloak it wore to hide the pain.
I felt like I was wearing that cloak too, standing in a shadow, staring out the window, watching the rain fall against the glass.
"It's like the sky is weeping for the city," I said aloud.
Ariadne shook her head and said, "you always get maudlin when it rains."
I came back to my desk and sat down in the pool of light spread by the two desk lamps. I stared across at my partner. Our desks were arranged in the middle of the room, facing each other, as they had been when we worked on the force.
She looked up from her reading and saw what I was thinking, a skill she had developed early in our partnership.
"That last job was a rough case, I agree, but we had to do it. My mortgage was due and yours had been past due for weeks."
She sighed and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose as if that would stem the flow of images.
"Child pornography is sickening regardless of where you find it, but that couple were particularly foul," she continued. "But it's done. You've got to return to your own life. You may not think so, but I think you've got lots to live for."
I gave a short laugh. "You think I'm suicidal?"
She smiled back at me. It was her honey smile, sweet and direct and persuasive. "I think you don't appreciate your own life. I hate to repeat myself, but you have got to learn to separate yourself from your work."
She returned to her reading and I stared across the desk at her, knowing she wasn't finished. The silence lengthened, like someone laying down empty shot glasses.
Finally she said, without looking up, "And I think you have a flair for the dramatic."

My name is Mike Pierce. I'm an ex-cop. I wouldn't have acquired that prefix except that I was given a choice by Internal Affairs: resign or be indicted for "police brutality." That's a laugh. I twist a few arms and all of the sudden it's "brutality." Ariadne had left just a few years before to have a couple kids. I tried being a lone P.I. for a while, but all I got were people wanting me to spy on their spouses. Ariadne brought a little respectability to the business, so I put her name on the door. Pierce and Cover. Like Attack and Defense. We make a good team. She's the thorough one, I've got the imagination.
Right now neither virtue was being used for much. We didn't have any cases on the books so we were killing time by reading up on the latest investigation techniques. DNA ID is all the rage, but it has its weaknesses.
I was about to ask for the fortieth time if any of the defense attorneys we usually do business with had called, but I was interrupted -- by a client, I hoped. Almost none of our work comes from walk-ins, but it's been known to happen.
She was tall and blonde, with legs like the Mona Lisa, or at least the legs I always imagined Mona Lisa would have. She was a little heavy handed with the makeup, but some guys dig the blood-red painted-on lips and calligrapher's eyeliner. I think it's a little too much of a good thing.
"I need you to find someone for me," she said in a throaty voice.

Options: No options until we're through the prologue!