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Slowly, I pulled myself to my feet, feeling the swirling pain of last night’s drinks hit my head. I was still wearing my suit - again - so at least I knew I had a good night. After stumbling down the hallway of my one-bedroom apartment while using the wall as a crutch, I found what I was needing the most at this moment. I grasped the cigarette pack off the top of my desk and tepidly pulled out a smoke, telling myself that once again I was going to quit soon. After sparking it, I meandered over to the window, and gazed out at the city I’d grown to love hating.
Another adultery case had been solved by yours truly, and yesterday the newly minted ex-husband had dropped off the check, which still lay beside my cigarettes. I glanced at my name on the check - Samuel L. Maxton, handwritten above the 1000 dollars that slice of paper represented. I always liked to celebrate a finished job, and that one had been of particular ease. Like many before, it was a classic case of the husband suspicious of his wife’s late-night absences, and after a phone call to me, and three days of evidence gathering, I found myself a grand richer.
Despite that new cash, it always seemed that money was in a shortage. I took a long drag from my smoke before setting it down in the ashtray near me as I thought about my impending rent dues, my empty fridge, and the vomit that was quickly surging up my esophagus. Moments later, my mind shifted to my newest expense - getting my suit dry cleaned. Another typical morning.
After cleaning myself up, I decided to head downtown to my office. As I stepped through the door and looked upon the mess that was my paperwork, I wondered what my life was going towards. Another envelope from the landlord with a nice blue strip marked “urgent” across the top; I mindlessly tossed it aside as I sat down in my chair. I peeped outside my second story window at the strip club across the street, which was unusually busy for a Wednesday afternoon. Below me, the local undesirables wandered aimlessly on Dundas Street, occasionally ducking into the convenience store that my office was perched above. My eyes returned back to the heavy wooden desk before me. I sighed heavily and rifled through my papers, wondering where I’d left my paperwork from a case that was still open.
“God dammit,” I whispered under my breath. My mess of an office needed some serious cleaning - another thing I repeatedly told myself I was going to get on top of some day. The sickly brown paint that stained the walls of this Victorian-era building was chipping off in places, some of it covered by framed pictures of myself with important Londoners (all to give the illusion of being successful to clients). In one corner, a picture frame with my accreditation inside proudly covered the hole in the wall that had been left by a passionate client when I showed him a picture of his wife in bed with his best friend.
Opposite to that corner was a television on a stand, which I promptly flipped on to the local news network. I didn’t understand how this city managed to land a 24-hour news channel; especially since we were only 200km west of Canada’s largest metropolis, Toronto. And as you could imagine, Toronto’s news dominated this channel as well. However, what did tend to sift around the station and excite the usually docile reporters was the dealings of one of the two of the most successful Londoners - Gary Sinclair, who owned the hockey team, the city’s beloved London Crusade - and had been driving them towards playoff appearance after playoff appearance in the Ontario Hockey League. He frequently made news, not to mention appearances all over the city. Although there never was any official tally, Sinclair was widely accepted as the wealthiest local tycoon. In addition to the Crusade, he owned a large sum of properties in the downtown core, including the building I rented my office in, and four of the high-rise residential towers (and there was only seven).
My job was bittersweet; I worked for myself and didn’t have to worry about calling anyone my boss - but at the same time, each case I received added to the daily monotony. For the last six years I’d been traveling up to this office, and then leaving it for days or weeks at a time as another suspicious husband or wife called me to spy on their spouse. Those usually took a week to complete, and I frequently found myself in the upper-class North end spying on housewives, businessmen, and newlyweds. These cases were quick, easy, and extremely boring. I’d spent many a night in the rain or cold watching a cheating husband wine-and-dine his co-worker before retiring to the bedroom with her while his wife was out with some friends, or with the kids at a hockey game. Meanwhile, the unfaithful wives typically stuck to a pattern of an old-friend, or a co-worker of their own. I couldn’t even begin to count the amount of times I was sitting in my office with the client, handing them the incriminating pictures, and hearing them proclaim “That’s her friend Chris!” or “He works with her!”
Of course, not every case I took involved suspicious lovers. While they were the majority and barely covered the bills, every now and then union disputes would come knocking, looking for dirt on the other party. Sometimes, it was as simple as following a person while they went to deal drugs (usually, it was parents giving me the job for those). And every time election season came, at least one political wig would sent a nervous assistant to my office, asking me to ‘quietly record the mis-directions’ of the opposing candidate. If I was lucky, both the candidates would come to me, looking to spy on the other. Those were always the most fun - and the public never found out about these campaign expenses, which was almost always put down as ‘outside consulting’ jobs on their public statements. That was just a fancy term for paying me on the taxpayer dime.
As much fun as those jobs were, they were never frequent enough to keep me from hating myself on regular basis. At 34 years old, I still found myself scraping through life, barely keeping my apartment’s rent paid and my fridge full. I’d been a Private Investigator in London for eight years, trying to build enough of a reputation to finally move east to Toronto - or Montreal - or west to the mountains or prairies - or anywhere, really. I knew London well - all its parks, its ghettos, its rich neighbourhoods, all the bars, and I’d at least met anyone that was anyone in the city - some of who had gave me work. The three big office towers dominated the downtown skyline, and wedged right between them was city hall. Meanwhile, just down the street, there was a rehab clinic. The city was like a paradoxical mixture of importance and failure - a city where you could stand in the middle of a downtown street and have a businessman in a suit walk by, followed by a pregnant teenager, and then a crackhead begging for money for their next hit. Victorian buildings built back in the late 1800's either stood majestically on a street corner or looked ready to collapse under a strong breeze. Some city streets had blocks that were just completely marred with potholes, while just on the other side of the traffic light, the road was pristine and smooth. Some bridges that crossed the river into downtown were the originals that were built when the city was founded - and were repaired on a yearly basis - while others were modern, concrete slabs.
A series of parks hugged the river, with the two branches of the Thames River coming together right by the heart of the downtown core. Much of the river parks were naturalized areas, and featured an abundance of old trees and quiet places where many locals relaxed (or got up to no good). The city itself was built in a large river valley, and had only recently reached the top of the hills in its expansion. While the vast majority of the expansion was suburbs, the city had its distinct districts - the core, the poor east-end, the upper-class north side, and Springbank - a long, large park that bordered the river in the west end of the city. During the day, this park was a beautiful place to take one’s kids, or a new love. During the night, it was a hotbed for shady dealings. More often than not I found myself in Springbank, picking up tidbits of information during the dead of night.
I sat in my decrepit office that morning, sipping on my black coffee and sifting through the mountains of paperwork I’d accumulated during the last few jobs I’d worked. My second-last client had wanted an extensive paper trail - a wealthy businessman who had suspected his wife was cheating for months - and in the job, I had to keep extensive records of everything I saw, everything she did - I tell you, the worst part of this job is the paperwork. He’d wanted to make sure that when she tried to take him to the cleaners in the impending divorce, he’d be able to nail her to the cross. Never mind the fact that he undoubtedly had his own mistress - he’d just been better at hiding his infidelity than her.
After a tedious hour of sorting through the documents, they found their place in the filing cabinet near the door. Of course, that cabinet was just a precursor for the shredder, where all my finished paperwork eventually found their way to. I then spent approximately twenty minutes staring at that cabinet, losing myself in daydreams of how I was going to be a big-shot in this city, of how all I needed was that one big case before I didn’t have to live in perpetual poverty any longer. . .
My focus shifted back to reality very suddenly as a knock came upon my office door. My initial thought was that it was the landlord again, and that we were going to get into our usual argument about how I owed him money, and how he never did shit around this building to deserve the rent. Instead, a young, feminine hand pushed the door aside with a creak, and her shapely figure filled the doorway.
“Hello?” She cautiously asked, still standing at the entrance.
I cleared my throat and made a half-assed attempt to sound professional and friendly - two things I wasn’t particularly good at. “Do come in.” I stood as she approached the desk and stuck out my callused hand to shake hers. She smiled and extended her hand. Her skin was soft and smooth, her handshake very much what I expected from a young woman.
“So, what brings you here, Miss...?”
“Sarah Golden,” she responded as she sat down. “I’ve come by recommendation from a colleague of my father’s.”
“Is that so?” I stated, hoping she’d continue on. Her bright blue eyes were fixed on mine - an action that had me transfixed into staring back, while hoping that she wouldn’t take note of the general unpleasantness this office tended to radiate to clients.
“Yes,” she continued, never breaking eye contact. “He said that he had used you recently and that you had gone above and beyond to get the results he wanted.”
“Well I do tend to be good at my job,” I interjected with a slight smirk.
She paused for a moment, no doubt slightly taken back by my self-promotion. However, she flashed a quick, polite smile, and went on. “However, my situation is somewhat more dire than his; my father has been missing for nearly a week now.”
My smile dropped. “Have you contacted the police?”
“No. My father frequently crosses the border into Detroit and Buffalo to discuss business with his partners. He left last week to Buffalo, and was supposed to return this Monday. However, that’s obviously not been the case.”
“So? It’s only Wednesday. Maybe he decided to stay a few extra days.”
“Without contacting anyone from his company? Or his daughter or son?”
I went silent for a moment. “Yeah, I suppose that doesn’t make any sense. What company does he own?”
She leaned back in the rickety office chair, giving me a ‘don’t you know who I am’ look. “My father is Daniel Golden.”
I stopped. “The Daniel Golden? Owner of Golden Holdings?”
Sarah nodded. Now it was my turn to lean back in my office chair. Daniel Golden was another of London’s wealthiest citizens - Golden Holdings being his largest company. Although it mostly dealt with investments and property, anyone who was anyone knew that he owned a series of factories in the east end, had ties with city hall, and sponsored just about every major project the city undertook - whether it be buildings, nature, or the eco-power dam that had been completed a few years earlier and provided much of the city with an increasingly more affordable electricity source. Why the hell would anyone want to kidnap him? He was practically a deity to this city.
“So, you want me to find him?” I finally said.
Sarah nodded eagerly. “I’m not sure how easy this will be for you. My father doesn’t really have any enemies, so I’m not sure if there’s a logical connection.”
“That is, assuming he was actually kidnaped. For all we know right now, he could be juiced up in the states with some hookers and blow.” I bit my tongue after saying that, realizing just how idiotic and insensitive I sounded. Sarah shot me a look that essentially said just that, and I lowered my head. “Sorry, Miss Golden. I frequently say things without thinking. It’s the nature of this business - you deal with some really hard people, and there’s specific ways to talk with them.”
“Well, Mr. Samuel Maxton, please try to control your tongue around me,” she refuted in a calm-but-serious tone.
“I’ll be sure to keep note.” I shifted my weight, the chair creaking loudly as I did so. “Now, there’s the issue of payment.”
She immediately reached into her handbag and pulled out a large sum of 100 dollar bills. “Money shouldn’t be an issue, so long as you don’t go crazy.” She slid 1000 dollars across the desk and into my open palm. “That should get you started, Mr. Maxton.”
I smiled to myself as I leafed the money through my fingers - I was more than accustomed to starting cases with nothing more than a dime in my pocket - having this much would loosen up tongues as I started my investigation - and fast. I hid my smile behind a sigh, and returned to my stoic gaze. “Now, Miss Golden, I’m going to level with you. This case could take some time. And as much as I appreciate the advance, I’m starting with no leads and virtually no clue to where your father was last seen, with who, and what he was doing in Buffalo. If he’s in the states, you can nearly guarantee that there’s going to be lengthy delays. If he’s on our side of the border, that’s a definite plus. However, I’m going to need to talk with you extensively throughout this case - you’re going to need to tell me if anyone contacts you about your father, what they say, and above all, spill as much info as you can to me so I can get an idea of where to start looking.”
She pushed her dark hair out of her eyes before looking around the office and out the window. She leaned in closely, and I did the same. Her fair skin glistened as the sun hit her face, and I detected a faint smell of some expensive perfume. Her eyes flared with what I initially thought was nervous excitement, but turned out just to be fear. I studied her features and subtle movements intently as she opened her mouth and spoke. “My father was supposedly meeting some tycoons in the US border cities. I don’t know what they were discussing, but I do know that a huge sum of money was going to be involved. He casually mentioned to me that he might have to sell off some of his north-end properties just to get the deal off the ground.”
“But you don’t know what the deal was about?”
I frowned. “Do you know who he was meeting? Or the company?”
“Do you at least know how much money we’re talking about, here?”
She swallowed hard and leaned in so close that our faces touched. My eyes widened and my jaw nearly dropped when she whispered the figure into my ear.