“It’s funny.” He scratched his khaki pants, picked at the sleeves of a pink button-down shirt. “A couple of nights ago, my daughter asked what it means to die. I always figured the sex talk would be the toughest. Turns out, explaining to a child that someday she’ll no longer exist, well, that’s about as difficult as you can imagine. In my line of work, I discuss these things with strangers all the time, no hassle. When it’s your family, for reasons even I can’t figure out, it’s quite a bit tougher.”
I offered up an indifferent grunt. I’d overslept and missed my morning fix. The sun beat in from the window behind me. I sweat more than usual. Felt like ripping off my skin and howling like a dog. My patience with the toothpick sitting on the other side of the desk begged to skedaddle. Cunningham, the man called himself. Dr. Dennis Cunningham. Couldn’t find his sister.
“I’m a divorce specialist,” I said. “I don’t dig these sorts of gigs.”
“We talked on the phone,” said Dr. Cunningham, pushing his Lennon specs higher up his nose, maybe thinking it a show of strength. “You assured me you had no problem taking this case.”
“We’ve spoken before?”
“You quoted me an extraordinarily decent price. The best in Indianapolis, according to my research.”
I leaned forward. “You’re kidding.”
“Fifty a day plus expenses.”
“I would never work that cheap.” I slapped the desk twice. “Sorry, Dr. Cunningham, but you’ll have to take your troubles somewhere else. Now, if you’ll excuse me…”
“We have a verbal contract, Mr. Boyle. You don’t honor it, I’ll call my attorney.” He folded his left leg over his right knee. He looked like the kind of guy who’d never been in a real fight. All bones covered by the meekest layer of skin. Middle-aged. Balding with a capital U-shape on his scalp. A thick, manicured professor’s beard. Like a walking circumcised penis who relied on the system to keep his knuckles polished. The mention of a lawyer made me grind my teeth. I wanted to bash his face in and dump him in the White River.
He must have considered my momentary silence a concession. He pulled a photograph from a pocket inside his tweed jacket and put it on my desk. His sister, I assumed. He’d already told me her name: Lorraine. Invisible for over a month.
“Mother called me,” he said. “She wouldn’t have made the effort if she didn’t believe something was wrong.”
I rubbed my eyes. I hated serious work. My forte? Taking stills or video of husbands cheating on their wives or vice versa, doing my part to enhance the divorce rate and destroy Western civilization. Missing persons involved interviews and contact with the squares out there in the real world. The best I could do? Poke around until Dr. Cunningham considered me unqualified for the work. Pick up some dope money in the meanwhile. “All right,” I said. “I need the first week’s pay in advance.”
The bastard wrote a check. Uptight people always did business like that. He told me how to get in touch with his mother. Then he went back to his practice: Psychology. Second, in my book, on the greatest hits list of sleaze. Right behind lawyers.
Soon as he left, I put on a CD of whale songs and opened the top drawer of my desk. Using yellow water from the sink in the bathroom, I cooked up the day’s first dose of smack and plugged it into a vein in my ankle. Once the junk warmed my heart, I felt omniscient, better equipped to think.
I stared at the woman in the picture. She had wild, wavy brown hair. Deep green eyes. Wore a flimsy blouse with the shoulders sliding down, allowing a glimpse of a black bra underneath. Sexy. Desperate. My kind of woman.
After making a call to the mother and setting an appointment, I rested my head in my hands and let the dope and the whale songs transport me to a place where bills didn’t need to be paid and children didn’t ask questions about death.
So begins DARKLANDS, an epic short story currently available at The Yard Crime Blog. It features a junkie snoop named Tom Boyle. There will be much more featuring this character in the future.