Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Ch. 4: The Office

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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.

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Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena: Chapter Three

Curious to learn more about Asena’s backstory? Meet Danny, a friend with insight into her family! Remember to comment to add your own ideas, character names, and thoughts to the story! You might just see them pop up in the next chapter!

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I stared at Danny as he turned away and started to bark out orders to the onlookers. People started to dwindle out the door or sit back down, laughing at all the ruckus. Peter came out from around the bar and walked over to Bruce, who waved a hand at him, saying he was fine. He had a split lip, but besides that seemed unhurt.

Danny looked good in his police uniform. He had loved being in a uniform ever since his boy scout days when he used to show off his wilderness skills to my mom in our large backyard. His chestnut colored hair was no longer greasy and lanky, but instead was short and styled nicely. His nose was slightly crooked from the time he had run into a tree playing cops and robbers. He had decided that he needed to be blindfolded to make the game harder. The stupid boy had always loved a challenge.

I stepped away from Berny, who was struggling to get to his feet , and sat back down on a stool. My drink surprisingly hadn’t spilled  so I reached down the bar and pulled it close. I sipped it as I watched Peter tell Berny that he wasn’t welcome anymore and that next time he would press charges. He pointed at the door and Danny marched him out with a hand on his shoulder. Berny glanced back at me and I stared him down, my mouth a firm line.

Danny came back in and his eyes fell on me. He walked over, his grin growing with each step he took.

“Asena,” he said as he took a seat next to me.

Peter walked around the bar and leaned towards us.

“Thanks for coming in Danny,” he said. “Next drink is on the house.”

“You already owe me for last time. Bruce is your bouncer, don’t forget that,” Danny said. He couldn’t hold a straight face for long though and Peter just laughed at him.

“Kid, you’re lucky I even let you in here.That uniform is bad for my business.”

I shook my glass, the ice tinkling loudly. “Peter,” I said, happy that I now had his attention. “You were talking about that guy, remember?”

“I don’t know much,” he answered. “Danny is the one who walked him out. He’d probably know better than I do.” He walked away as another customer flagged him down at the the other end of the bar.

“So you’re searching for a guy?” Danny asked. “You know, there’s these things called dating apps now. Way simpler than asking the local barkeep.” He grinned as if he had said something hilarious and I rolled my eyes.

“It’s work,” I replied. I took a deep breath, loathe to ask his help after not speaking in so long. “His name is Francis. You apparently kicked him out last week.”

“Yup, the really drunk one, right?” He pulled a bowl of peanuts closer and popped a few in his mouth. “What about him?”

“Any idea where he might be?” I tried to keep a straight face, but even though he was smiling, I could feel the elephant in the room and it was killing me.

“How about you answer some of my questions and I’ll give you some answers,” he countered. He ran his fingers through his hair.

“Don’t you need to go back on duty?” I asked, squirming in my chair.

“Nope, it’s the end of my shift. I was headed home when Peter called,” he answered. He leaned on his palm and squinted as if trying to figure me out.

“Where have you been?”

“Right here in Silver City,” I answered and took another drink. I knew that wasn’t the real question.

“No, where have you been? I haven’t heard from you in months.” The joking tone was gone, replaced with undisguised pain.

I squeezed my glass tightly, the cold helping center my thoughts. “I just needed some space. After the Lowell case…,” I trailed off. I had followed a wife who was cheating, a pretty routine case. After I showed the photos to the husband, she ended up at the hospital the next night, a broken arm and bruises everywhere else, having barely escaped her house with her life.

I was always careful on accepting cases like those to avoid anything like that. Danny had done his best to persuade me against it, sure that the husband was bad news. But I trusted my gut feeling that he was a good guy and I still had a hard time sleeping over it. After I testified in court to put the husband away, I had avoided Danny like the plague. He had never said I told you so, but every time I saw him, I felt that guilt all over again. And then at some point, I just didn’t know how I could call up after all that time had gone by.

“I don’t hold that against you. Everyone makes mistakes,” he said softly. He put a hand on my arm, but I shook it off.

“I hold it against me. I should have known better. A woman ended up in the hospital thanks to me. I’m not just gonna let that go.”

“But you’re willing to let a life-long friend go?” His words stung and I bit my lip.

“I didn’t let you go,” I answered slowly. “I just couldn’t…,” I didn’t know how to finish so I just let the words dangle. I couldn’t deny it and I hated that.

There was a beat while neither of us said anything and the noises of the bar washed over us. Glasses clinked together, people laughed loudly, the jukebox played an old rock song, and the billiard balls kept thwaping each other.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. Danny swallowed and nodded and I knew he was forgiving me. I wished I could wipe away the hurt still on his face.

“Well what was that about?” Danny said, forcing a smile. “He looked furious.”

“Oh, that one wasn’t actually my fault.” He raised his eyebrow at me in disbelief. Usually it was my fault. “Seriously.” I smiled and felt the tension ease.

“Well what did he do to get tased?”

“He thought I was my mom,” I said. My smile slipped a little.

“You do look a lot like her,” he said. “So he knew her back then. And he got tased for that?”

“Not surprisingly, it was thanks to my dad. He apparently was in Silver City a few years ago and pulled a job. Berny got cut out, I think, and just wanted to get even. His wife, or rather his daughter, seemed like a good place to start.”

“Hmm, I might be on Berny’s side a bit,” Danny teased. “Your dad conned me out of my Halloween candy five years in a row.”

“He was always good at spotting an easy mark,” I joked back. I took another sip and swirled my ice cubes. It was almost gone and I debated on ordering another one. I bit my lip, enjoying the familiar banter.

“So you’re looking for the drunk from last week? Why?” he asked. He put a few more peanuts in his mouth and frowned. He stuck his tongue out and pulled a shell off from it.

“Gross,” I said. “Francis is for a case I’m working on. He didn’t tell you where he was going, did he?” I asked.

“Yes, the drunk guy I was kicking out of the bar told me his life story and exactly where he was going.” He stared at me for a beat and then rolled his eyes dramatically.

“C’mon, he didn’t spew out anything useful?” I said doubtfully..

“Not really,” he shrugged. “He seemed like he had some money to burn. I think he had tried to buy a lap dance from Hannah. And he offered me a couple hundred not to arrest him.”

“Which of course you didn’t take, you boy scout,” I answered.

“I could lose my badge over that,” he retorted.

“You were going to let him go anyways.”

“Not the point,” he said, laughing. “But I dropped him off at a hotel. The Carson, I think? It was down on Williams Street somewhere.”

“You couldn’t have led with that?” I asked.

“No way! You would have disappeared in a hurry.” I rolled my eyes at him. “This time when you pull your Cinderella act, can you leave a shoe? Or just call me back?” His voice was teasing, but mouth was in a tight line and I knew he was serious. I hated the pain I saw in his eyes and silently promised to be a better friend.

“I’ll call, I promise,” I swore to him. I had lived next to Danny for ten years and been friends with him even after I had moved with my dad when I was fourteen. I had never seen him this hurt before though and my stomach rolled at the thought.

Danny was one of the only people still in my life who had known my mom and knew my dad before he relapsed into his old criminal ways. He loved to joke that his best friend was a con man’s daughter and despite the uniform, I had told him about every con my dad and I had pulled together during those three years on the road. Danny had been the first contact on every burner phone I bought and the first person I called when I got back to Silver City. He had helped me finish my GED and then helped with my college essays.

There were times where we hadn’t talked for three months before this, especially when I was on the road. But, since I had gotten my PI license, he had been my best police contact and we talked a few times a week. This silent streak had been sudden and, I could see now, painful for both of us.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I know you must have been worried about me.”

“Well,” he started with a sheepish smile. “I did check up on you.”

“What?” I asked sharply.

“I had Jeggerson knock on your door,” he answered and leaned back in case I tried to swat him.

“The stupid noise complaint cop? He woke me up in the middle of the night. I had spent the whole night before tailing a guy and the rest of the day helping the wife file a restraining order and move. That was sleep of the dead he woke me from,” I said and huffed as I crossed my arms. I wasn’t really upset, though. I had missed him and his meddling ways.

“Oh, c’mon, I needed to know you were okay. And I wasn’t sure you’d answer the door for me.”

I shrugged, not sure if I would have. He just shook his head at me.

“So,” I said with a smile, “Ellison told me you were on the Burgens case. How did you get caught up in all that mess?” He laughed and asked Peter to refill the peanuts.

I ordered another drink, slumping my shoulders, and leaned forward as he began his retelling of the last front page case.