I knew that I had to find Francis. I laughed inwardly, enjoying my own Marvel reference. So far, I had caught a few lucky breaks. Emmett had heard of him at one of my favorite bars and Danny had been the cop to throw him out. I was feeling good about myself though I didn’t want to jinx it. Emmett had said there was another player involved. But, if this Francis was as stupid as he sounded, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had this case wrapped up before the end of the week. I could hand him over to Danny and maybe ease a bit of my guilt.
I had let myself enjoy last night, catching up with Danny and mending the damage from the past few months. It had been so easy to focus on cases and just ignore my cell phone every time his name popped up. Part of me was surprised he hadn’t broken down my door sooner. I had admitted that if the situation was reversed, I would have camped out on his doorstep until he had no choice but to talk with me.
My smile disappeared as I looked at the screen in front of me. My fingers hovered over my keyboard for the fourth time that morning and once again, I snatched them back. I stared at the fading letters painted on my door, ‘Asena Patterson; Private Investigator’. The ‘r’ at the end was almost completely scraped off and I wondered if I should repaint. I looked around the whole place, trying to direct my mind anywhere else than the screen and its temptation.
I liked my office. It was on the third floor in a building a few blocks from Main Street. It was small, that was for sure, but I preferred the term cozy. It had a tiny front reception area where a secretary could sit if I ever had the money to hire one. The floor was hardwood, though it had its fair share of nick marks. The walls had a wood paneling that felt like we were still living in the seventies but I kind of loved. It reminded me of all the old detective sitcoms from back then and made me feel like I belonged to a different era.
I had gotten a couch for clients when they were waiting and for me to crash on occasionally. I placed it where a reception desk would normally sit, across from the door. The couch was more modern than anything else I owned, a simple black fabric and all ninety degree angles. I had to lint roll every day but I had picked it up at a thrift shop for only thirty bucks so I deemed it worthwhile. Two doors branched off from my lobby. One went to a kitchen, the walls painted an obnoxious shade of yellow that made me think of egg yolks. It contained a grey counter with cabinets underneath. My coffee maker, a small toaster, and a microwave lived on top with not much else besides a bottle of Lysol underneath. The fridge stood at the end of the narrow space, blocking one of my cabinets. It was old, but worked just fine. I had a stash of leftovers in there from the past few nights.
While everything else in the office space felt sparse, my actual office was cluttered. I knew where almost everything was, but I had stacks of papers on every corner of my old wooden desk and on top of most of the file cabinets which lined the walls. I didn’t have many picture frames, but I did have my degrees and my PI license in frames on one of the filing cabinets. There were nearly dead tulips sitting on one corner of the desk, a gift from a client a few weeks back. A black desk lamp was nearly hidden by the stack of books I had to read but it shed some light in the room. The large overhead light always seemed too bright and fluorescent so I tended to just keep the window shade open and use natural light paired with the small lamp.
A small wooden hourglass sat near the books. The sand inside was electric blue and always made me think of some tropical beach. It had been a gift from my mother on my tenth birthday and it was one thing I had never left behind no matter where I had moved.
There was a small safe in the corner behind my desk and an assortment of coats and sweaters piled on top. The walls were a soft sky blue and had come with a few pictures of serene mountains hanging on them.
The blue walls had actually been my deciding factor. The price had been the thing to catch my interest and the location made it a steal. But, I had walked in and felt a sense of calm, which I knew was so unbelievably necessary in my line of work. I was glad that the previous renters had only painted the kitchen yolk yellow because there was no way I could have spent all day staring at that.
My computer faded, going to sleep, and I shook the mouse to wake it up. I wasn’t sure how long I had been staring at it, but my eyes were dry and I blinked a few times to clear them.
“Screw it,” I said and broke my own policy, typing ‘Harold Patterson’ and his social security into Danny’s police database. Danny didn’t know I had his password but it had been invaluable over the past year. I flipped the hourglass over and watched it as I waited for the new page to load.
The first result was an arrest in New Hampshire four months ago. He had been released the next day on a technicality. He’d always been good with technicalities. I scrolled down. He was a person of interest in quite a few cases. I finally stopped when I saw an entry for Silver City.
Bernard Palmer had been the main suspect and under surveillance for months following the incident. Harold and him had conned an old woman out of nearly ten grand, claiming to be IRS agents. They hadn’t been able to get Berny on anything, since they never found the money. Shoot, he’d never even acted like he had ten grand. He’d been conned too, which explained his actions at the bar. Harold disappeared before they could question him. That had been five years and three months ago. I had started college just around the same time.
I bit my lip hard. I couldn’t believe he had been here. Only a year after I’d left my dad and his constant cons, he had been in the same city and not said a word. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.
I stood up and walked to the only window, which faced the parking lot. I could see my old CRV in the parking lot, rust creeping up the left side. Snow was pushed into piles in the corner and more was starting to drift down, making the whole world look gray.
I pressed my forehead against the cool glass.
A black SUV pulled into the parking lot, leaving twin lines of black in the fresh snow. I straightened as a tall woman stepped out of the passenger side and a large burly man in a peacoat and hat stepped out of the driver’s side. I recognized the woman. She wasn’t much older than me and she had flaming red hair, which I could see even though it was partially covered by her hat. I turned from the window and started straightening up my desk with a sigh. It had barely been four days. I was ahead of schedule but I had a feeling that might not matter. Marlene Pembrook was here for her stolen ruby and I was empty-handed.