Grandmama’s First Human, Part 3

Noticing the glazed eyes on her tiny audience, she sighed. So much she needed to tell them and they were still so little. They were far too young to understand the toll on her health her pregnancy, escape and acclimatization to this strange little wet rock of a planet had taken. Normally, a Cy-et her age could easily expect to live more than long enough to see her 350th of this planet’s years. But would she even see these two become adults? Who could say?

No matter. She couldn’t rush them so for tonight, she skipped all the boring details of hibernation and how many times she’d awakened to perform various necessary functions – all important things for a variety of reasons far more important than 1W-7’s insistence on getting the details right.  For now, they just wanted a funny story from their grandmama. So be it.

“Well, I finally came out of hibernation to see a much changed view – and an open pod hatch. The air was strange – so many things I’d never scented before. And the trees that had been barren and snowy were vibrant with greenery. Much improved, I must say.”

“I climbed out of the pod and spent a few hours getting used to the rock’s gravity and convincing my legs to once again bear my weight. 1W-7 will tell you I stumbled about for three point six hours but never you mind, I got my planet legs back quickly enough. It had been five years since I’d last stood up on a planet – not so easy a transition as you might think.”

Grandmama’s First Human, Part 2

“Mind you, once we came to rest, 1W-7 was absolutely beside herself, prattling on about the pod condition, my condition and any other condition she could think of. We were both in one piece which was enough for me right then. We argued a bit, but she finally admitted it was a solid landing, we weren’t in immediate danger and it was too bloody dark outside to do anything about it even if we were.”

She paused, smiling, “I got a very good night’s sleep, once all the excitement was over. It was light out once my sleep cycle was over. I could see well enough to tell what I already knew – we were in a hole in the ground. I couldn’t see and 1W-7 couldn’t find any apparent artificial habitations. What I could see were miles of frozen water vapor covering absolutely everything. I did have to admit she was right about this planet being a wet rock.”

“We did some more bandying about but 1W-7 had already completed all her EVA assessments – we’d landed in the planet’s northernmost hemisphere during its coldest phase. There was nothing for it really but for us both to go into hibernation mode for then time 1W-7 estimated it would take for the phase to end. The temperature was within my survival range, but her blasted escape hatch was frozen shut.”

Grandmama sighed, “My lovely landing had super heated the frozen water vapor which had immediately cooled to water, splashed all over the pod and promptly froze solid. Tiny little one seater – should have taken the big one, I suppose.”

Grandmama’s First Human

“So, what story shall Grandmama tell her poppets tonight?” the voice on the other end of the video call asked pleasantly.

The boy turned shyly away but spoke loudly, “The funny one!”

“Ah, a wise choice indeed, my little Tom. Now, where shall I begin?” The prim English didn’t match the slight Russian accent anymore than the youthful face fit the title grandmother, but neither child would have cared even if they could have noticed. “Best to start at the beginning…”

The girl shook her head, “We know that part!”

“Oh, do you now? Well, do tell.”

“You ran away from the evil queen and came here. ‘The big, sopping wet rock flinging around a dinky little star hiding in the outer spiral arm so no one would notice it’.”

“My, my, Tammy, you were paying attention. Alright then…” she cleared her throat slightly then picked up the story. “The pod’s AI, 1W-7, was a bit of what you would call ‘snarky’, but it was correct. I’d been to many worlds, but none like this one. So full of life and resources yet so far from civilization. 1W-7 hated it, but to me, it was perfect.”

“Tonight, I shan’t bore you with the trivial details of successfully landing a pod never intended to go dirt side – a fair bit of piloting and only a tiny crater if I do say so myself – stop wrinkling you nose, Tom…”

The children dutifully lay on their tummies, pillows under their chins and tucked in their little blankets. Tom smiled shyly and their grandmother continued.

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Five

Morning at the office, I’m on time and I don’t look anything like I feel. I’m certain, because when Sonya brought in my coffee, she didn’t fuss about my health. An hour later, she hadn’t sent anyone in to check on me so I’d clearly passed the morning inspection.

I got the chores all done – email, correspondence, decisions – all the stuff that Sonya needs me to actually do. It took two hours – this probably means I’m not nearly as necessary for my own company as I think I am.

Regardless, I had Sonya make lunch reservations and call Bartlett for the invite. I’d be paying for top sirloin at a suitably well enough starred restaurant for both of us, partially to make up for the last two weeks and partially to butter him up for the favor I’d need to ask.

I’m glad John isn’t a woman – he knows me so danged well that Sonya would be trying to get us hitched if he were – I’m not sure the fact that he’s already married would stop her. half way through a really good steak, he had already figured out what I was up to. Well, it does save time but it’s also annoying.

Neither of us smoke but John used to, long before he married. He still has that push back, getting ready to light up after a meal habit only now he fulfills his need by twirling silverware. Idly twirling a knife through his fingers, he gave me a wry glance, “So, what is it this time?”

I took a sip of the red wine I hadn’t yet finished and pushed my plate away. “Do you remember the Henderson case about a year ago?”

He nodded, not missing a beat with his twirling act, “Sure, would be terrorist who’s only accomplishment was to scare the heck out of some kids, right?”

“That’s the one.” I nodded, easing back in my chair, “I took it as a favor to a friend. he made some threats on social media, did what, six months? And then decided to make some more.”

“Sure, I remember. He got three years in the Federal pen. Should be out next year if he… What?”

I was shaking my head, “He’s dead. Killed by another inmate about a month ago. Some idiot sent him to a max.”

John stopped the twirling. I could see he did recall not only the case, but Henderson. That butterball wannabe had no business in a prison population filled with killers and worse. Neither of us would have said he didn’t deserve the time – he did, especially after some of the threats he made. But he didn’t deserve death for being a jackass.

“Hadn’t heard.”

“Me neither until last night. Someone is very interested in that case – interested enough to try to break into my computer files. I need to know why.”

John resumed twirling, “I’ll take that to mean you already have a who. No connection?”

I shook my head, “None I can find.”

Bartlett nodded absently, “Give me what you’ve got and I’ll see what I can do. Davidson worked that case, as I recall. ”

I finished my wine, “Yeah, which is why I need you. We weren’t friends so I haven’t heard from him since his retirement.”

“He’s still investigating – you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what – but I still hear from him. I’ll give him a call and see what he remembers.”

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Four

It’s two weeks later. Bartlett has had his fill of pretending to be trying to get anything more out of me and his superiors have finally gotten over the idea that he can. It’s been two days since he last bothered to call and four since the last front page story about the ‘incredible’ rescue raid.

I don’t care about any of that as I awake violently from that same &%*^$ nightmare. I actually use the words I won’t type as I get up to go get something strong enough to make me sleep whether my subconscious likes it or not.

The house phone buzzes as I get to the kitchen. Yes, I still have a land line. No, you can’t have the number. It’s main purpose is to keep prying wifi from wondering why I get calls from my own basement from a guy named Rover. Yeah, I’m the cautious type – it’s kept me more alive than not so far so I’m sticking with it.

“Me.” I say into the handset. Sure, there are fancier codes – but voice recognition works perfectly well on a hard wire. I listen to a few beeps and chirps and hang up.

I grab a coke from the fridge before heading downstairs. I won’t be able to take the meds I’d intended but at least I don’t have to be thirsty.

When I arrive, the control room is brightly lit and all sorts of completely useless but cool looking lights are flashing everywhere. I went for a ‘Star Trek’ meets ‘Tron’ decor when I built the place. My temperament and beginning headache at the moment are making me regret that design choice.

I put my behind in the seat and take a long swig before beginning to work, “Rover?”

“Yes sir. Hacking attempt on 157.658.36958 at 2:34. Blocking successful. Notification as per Protocol 7.”

So you know, ‘Protocol 7’ simply sounds better than ‘you told me to wake you up so I did’.  I groan inwardly and have Rover pull up the case related to that account.

I’d expected it to be someone trying to track down my gas company shenanigans from the recent case but instead I got a case nearly a year old. Rover normally handles attacks without notifying me even on current cases, unless they fit into a few key specification. This one fell into ‘too old for anyone to be caring or should be’ and the attempt hadn’t been a spider or bot.

Great, just what I need at now three am. I pulled up the attack – pretty hamfisted and definitely human. I set Rover on the electronic trail and settle down to a lovely morning of cola and case review.

By five, Rover has all the particulars on Mr. Steven Gomez McClain. Mother Maria Lucia Gomez is from Spain, not just an Addams Family fan, according to Rover’s excruciatingly detailed research. By five, I’ve reviewed the case, read Rover’s report and finished off the last of three cokes.

Now my head really hurts despite four aspirin and shutting down the more colorful lights. It’s not the lack of sleep – it’s that I’ve got to get to the bottom of this today or call her tonight – and I’d rather have teeth pulled than call her.

Back upstairs, having pooped two more aspirin and downed another coke, I throw the covers over my head and will myself into slumber. Ten am will come much too soon…

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Three

Home sweet penthouse. Not the best part of town – but good enough. The place had two main attractions: it’s one of the only properties in Chicago with the land use rights still grandfathered in and it was the only seven story building in my budget.

I live at the top – appearances more than anything. Where else would a part time landlord live? I rent out apartments in floors two through six and storefronts on the first floor. Rents are reasonable for the area – not to low so I’m not constantly being asked about vacancies; not so high that I can’t look people in the eye when I walk by. I do pay for a doorman – no one wants customers accidentally wandering up into the residential part – but I also built a private elevator. There are a lot of times I don’t want to be seen.

Tonight not being one of them. I greet Jose as I enter and collect the already delivered pizza. Jose is a native of Chicago, unlike me, and is proving to be quite useful. He knows neighborhoods. He can’t tell you when the Great Fire was, but he can tell you which gang is in which neighborhood, their history, who to talk to if you want to know about a given neighborhood and where the best pizza in any five block area is. He’s studying anthropology at DePaul.  I am seriously considering offering him a contract when he graduates.

As soon as the apartment door opens, the AI turns on the lights. I close it, listening instinctively for the lock to click and continue to the kitchen as it does. I finish half the pizza as I’m wandering about. Changing clothes, tossing in laundry, finding the cable I’ve been looking for the past week, starting the dishwasher I’ve left stuffed for three days, just the usual day to day things that a guy has to do.

Poking the remaining pizza into the fridge for tomorrow’s breakfast, I ask Rover for tomorrow’s schedule, any new email and to post something on FB so my friends think I’m still alive. It’s seven pm when I crawl into bed to finish making up for all the sleep I didn’t get.

I was up again at nine – this time feeling like it. A short ride in the private elevator took me to the part of the building that only the guys that dug it in the 1880’s knew about – two additional stories worth of basement. The original deeds show it, of course – that’s how I found it two decades ago. The old documents may someday go online – but not under our current cheapskate administration. Most kids today couldn’t pull the paper if their lives depended on it – my secret basement is public record, yet probably more secure than it was when I pulled the deeds back then.

It’s an object lesson in why you get title searches before buying property. The building, originally four stories above grade, was sold in 1898 and again in 1899. One of the three levels of basement was not recorded in the 1898 transfer. A second level was also left out of the 1899 transfer. Since 1899, the deeds have all shown only one level below ground – it wasn’t corrected in 1956 when the final three stories were added although I presume the contractor knew about it as several additional supports were driven down to the bedrock at that time.

Real estate law is interesting. I learned about it when I was researching for the kind of building I would need – and if I’d done that five years sooner, my degree would be in real estate law instead of criminal justice. Probably just as well – I had to take a lot of community classes in construction in order to finish the space myself and law school wouldn’t have allowed for that. Although, I do not miss having to cart bags of concrete down here one at a time.

Which is why I look at the wall I’ve been meaning to tear out and pretend not to notice that I haven’t started yet. I really do need to rebuild it to have additional room for the new air filtration system I want. Thus far, I’ve gotten out the sledge. I haven’t broken the first brick, let alone the concrete floor.

And I won’t tonight, either. Rover hits the lights as I enter the computer center. I’m mostly self taught as a programmer and hacker – and frankly prefer to hire out most of those tasks. But there are some that if I want my privacy, I have to do.

“Rover, pull up DB-179.” I tell the AI as I sit down.

“Roger-wilco. There is a new file. Shall I open it?”

“Yes, please.” I watch the screen as it pulls up. Max came through. No surprise there.

I start tapping away. The question is how Max did his magic – but having seen the case files I already have a pretty good idea. Sure enough, I find just what I expect. It’s easy since Max already did the hard part.

Now to go a lot deeper. I counted twenty five girls on that woman’s tablet last night. The one I wanted just happened to be fifteen minutes away and the others all gone? Heck no, not buying that. Max had already found the second safe house – this one fairly close. Smart – it’s a precaution against a raid – have an emergency safe house nearby. Did something tip them off? Certainly – I don’t believe in coincidence.

It takes me an hour but I find the shared file the madame was using. It’s empty – but she’s only deleted files. Ten minutes later, I’m anonymously forwarding the entire file, fully restored, along with all the juicy identifying tidbits to the police tip line. Our last commissioner had the brains to create an online tip line. If he hadn’t retired I’d have voted for him again.

Anyway, that work’s done. The cops now have everything they need to nail these cretins. The more important job comes next – finding the real safe house.

It’s after midnight when I finish that part. Now the fun part. Ten years ago, I’d have had to go myself. Now, meters are all really ‘smart’ – which also makes them really dumb.

Fun fact – you can’t refuse entry to utility workers in an emergency.  Hacking the meter is child’s play even for me – and I’m not a great hacker, I must admit. The gas company is now getting what I want them to get. Rover looks up the specs so we send them the ‘right’ wrong information. Boiling a frog now – can’t go too fast or the gas company will be calling for the cops before the girls are all brought home for the night. Too slow and Bartley will be on duty.  Besides, leaks are usually a bit more gradual.

It takes a bit of fiddling, but the gas meter is now reporting increased usage. That will rise exponentially in the next few hours. By daybreak, the gas company’s warning systems will be howling.

Ah yes, and the last piece of the puzzle. Hacking the gas company side, I set up a quick program to change the location phone number – and to change it back tomorrow. No early warning for the scumbag parade – and only if someone really cares is the hack going to show up. This is why I love Rover – he keeps track of the niceties that I’m likely to forget at 2:15 am. Rover runs down the job checklist for me one final time. Good thing – I forgot to set up the automatic tip to the media.

Everything done, tracks covered as reasonably as possible, now it’s up to the cops. With media on hand, the raid should go smoothly. Bartley will know, of course, but he won’t care. The lovely thing about criminals covering their tracks is that you can use it against them. They can’t holler about their civil rights when the cops legitimately could not have known they were raiding the same group. I don’t believe in coincidence, but the public does. At least, in this case, they will willingly suspend disbelief – it doesn’t pay to be scumbags when the media focuses on you.

It’s three am again as I tuck myself in. A few years ago, I’d have stayed up to baby sit the operation until the cops had done their part. But I’ve grown older and wiser – I look somewhat less suspicious when I don’t look like a walking zombie. I need my sleep.

A minute later, I have it.

The Dogman Chronicles: Dogboy and Rover, Part Two

I eventually braved my outer office and my secretary. Signs were good – she didn’t throw anything. I did not ask why she had been so angry – I was still in favor of avoiding the throwing things part. I did get a few routine matters cleared up, assigned the new caseload to the various managers and answered all correspondence. Then, bidding Sonia good night, I departed.

My company, my rules – so why do I tolerate a secretary that can be that irascible? Simple – try finding a real secretary nowadays. Sonia can take dictation, knows shorthand, spells better than my computer, and could manage the place for a month without me. Other than my signature and occasional input, she doesn’t need me – which is not true the other way around.

Besides, she only really throws notebooks and paperclips and then only at John because he deliberately riles her. For my staff, she’s a second mother. Woe be unto anyone foolhardy enough to mess with her kids – biological, adopted or honorary. If I believed in reincarnation, I’d guess she’d been a bulldog in several former lives.

If she ever does start throwing staplers, we’ll just get rid of them all – Sonia was my second secretary and this business wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without her. It’ll probably go under a few years after she retires. Which reminds me, I need to call her eldest son and make sure he’s on hand when she sees her real retirement package. I don’t cheat anyone – I sure as heck won’t cheat her – so she’s not taking the standard option package she selected when we put these things together. She’s taking the premium I paid for – I just need her son there to keep her from killing me when I tell her. I’ll figure out how to tell her about the 401k sometime later this year, before the new tax rules. I make a note of it and file for future, I hope distant future, reference.

I get the car from the underground parking lot. ’77 Trans Am Firebird, fully rebuilt, black with the firebird in gold – yes, I own every Burt Reynolds movie ever made. Bandit was the first movie I remember ever seeing in a theater and the first time I ever thought superheroes might be real. It was a dingy dollar theater, the movie was fifteen years old then and my foster sister treated me to popcorn. The Bandit is one of my few good childhood memories; the car is a reminder that the past isn’t all bad.

“Rover.”

“10-4, Good Buddy?”

“Order pizza,” I tell the AI, “The usual. Also, reschedule tomorrow’s training at the gym for Friday.”

“Roger, wilco. Over and out”

Yeah, I’m stuck in a decade that ended before I was born. At least I didn’t name it KITT.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Chapter One: Dogboy and Rover

Before I could drift off again, someone started pounding on the door. I didn’t bother to get up or to ask. “GET IN HERE ALREADY, BARTLEY!” I roared, immediately regretting it.

As the door opened, Sonia was in full roar letting the young lieutenant have it with both barrels. The combination of Russian, Yiddish, Hebrew, English and a smattering of fluent cursing in all four would have probably intimidated anyone else. John Bartley just smiled politely, looked appropriately chagrined and backed into my office. He knew better than turn away from her while office supplies were at hand and she was that mad. Ironically, he’s the only one that needs to know better.

Little sleep and more alcohol than I like did not go well with yelling, at least not as far as my now aching head was concerned. I glared at him as I got up to go to the minibar.

“Please tell me you just forgot to ask something and how to use the phone.” I growled as I fished out the aspirin from the bottle.

“Sure, would that make you feel any better?” he asked like the bright eyed smart alec he is. John Bartley was born in the wrong decade. Square jawed, good looking, all American poster boy of a bygone era, he’d fit perfectly into any movie from the Forties or Fifties. His lifestyle fit as well – cop with wife and 2.5 kiddies at home.

“Probably not.” I admitted, downing the aspirin and OJ chaser. “So, what do you need? I gave up everything I could last night…”

John watched me rinse out the glass. He’s not the nervous sort but he wasn’t happy to be asking for favors. “Well, we ran down the addresses you gave us but they’d already been cleaned out.”

“How’s that? What tipped them off?”

“Nothing. The kid you caught said they were already moving out – had been a couple days. Your girl was the last one – just happenstance you got there when you did.”

“You believe that?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

He shrugged, “About half, maybe. I think they were already moving – we found a few witnesses that back that part up at least. You said fifteen minutes, right?”

I nodded, leaning on the cabinet, “About that, yeah.”

“Then either she was last or…”

“They hadn’t moved far.” I finished the thought. “And you have no complaint, and no warrant, right?”

“I got hundreds of complaints, just none I can tie to this.” Bartley snapped. “Anyway,” his tone softened, “we were wondering…”

“If we just might have an extra tidbit in reserve? Sorry, no. And I don’t do pro bono, you know that.” I finished my OJ and headed for the desk. “Got nothing for you. Someday you’re gonna have to start working for a living.”

He just watched as I slid behind my desk, and listened as I berated him for police incompetency,  being a mooch and having bad taste in baseball teams. I dialed a familiar number, and added a glare at Bartley for effect.

Someone picked up. “Hey, Max, it’s me. Sonia give you the news?… Good, good. … Say listen, there’s a dumb jerk cop in my office that wants to track down the rest of those kids but has his thumbs all tied in the Constitution so I thought I’d warn you not to get bored and try finding the new place then accidentally dump the address in that private shared file thing. The cops might find it and that would be bad for the Constitution and stuff.”

Max grunted on the other end something about young people having no respect for elders and for me to get off his lawn, then hung up.

“He says get off his lawn.” I told Bartley.

“I’d have to buy him one first.” Bartley replied.

He was turning to go when Sonia buzzed me. He eyed the door a bit more cautiously – staplers hurt when hurled by irrational secretaries. I picked up, listened. Listened some more. Listened a lot more. Both of us sat down and I kept listening.

After what seemed an hour, Sonia finally made enough sense for me to get the gist of it. I finally dared to speak, “You know, you could ask him….”

I didn’t chance that again. Five more minutes of listening and I meekly promised to do as requested. Some battles you can’t win – and some you shouldn’t try.

“You may want to use the elevator in the office.” I told him. “Friday, I wanna know what the heck you did. Anyway, she wants to know when Melinda is due.”

“End of next month.” He grinned, “The twenty-eighth is when they plan to induce if the munchkin doesn’t come sooner. We’re gonna call her Emily Sonia – I swear, it’s Melinda’s grandmother’s name.”

“You told her?” I asked incredulously.

“Sure, when we thanked her for the diaper subscription. I can’t decide if she’s happy or not. About that anyway – obviously not happy now.” Bartley explained.

“Okay, fine.” I texted the date to my irate secretary, “It’s on her calendar…” A reply came. “You need a sitter for the boys?”

“My sister is supposed to come – would she mind being backup?”

I texted, she replied, I relayed and he left through the private elevator. Not the most insane day I’ve ever had at the office, unfortunately. I went back to my desk and dutifully checked my email. I didn’t want Sonia any madder than she already was and I really didn’t want to think about what the heck a ‘diaper subscription’ might be.

 

The Dogman Chronicles: Prologue, Part Three

I’m awake at six. I don’t want to be but years of habit do not end because you are severely sleep deprived. Morning calisthenics out of the way, I trot down to the hotel gym and get some sweating in.

Breakfast is ordered and waiting for me when I get back to the room. Morning necessities are completed, bags packed and a sizable tip left for the young lady who made sure I had extra marmalade which puts me on the pavement by nine. A quick side trip to dispose of the rental and a quick taxi ride to pick up my own ride put me only slightly behind. I walk across the threshold of Hund Investigations Incorporated at 10:04.

I take the private elevator up. Three hours sleep is not enough to make me suitable company for any human that wants more than a hello. I’ll need a lot more coffee for that. I’m not surprised to find my coffee waiting for me on my desk alongside the paper copy of the report I submitted last night. Computers will never replace a really good secretary.

I scan the report for the corrections and initial each as I okay them. Sonia was born in Russia and grew up in Israel, She didn’t learn English until she immigrated here in her thirties yet she’s better than my tablet’s spell check. I sign off on the report and toss it in the outbox.

Nothing in email or the inbox needs immediate response. I finish my coffee, wander over to the couch and catch up on the rest of my sleep. It’s good to be the boss sometimes.

I wake up vaguely pondering for the millionth time why exactly Sonia is so danged convinced that I need to still do field work? I used to think she just didn’t understand the changes as the business grew but she can direct managers better than I can so that’s out. Then I thought she just wanted me to keep my hand in as a way to stay sharp but she doesn’t care what I work as long as it’s a case and I leave the office at least once. Dog finding cases satisfy her so that can’t be ir, either. I began to suspect she wanted me out of the office and out of her hair, but there is no pattern to it other than me bringing in direct revenue at least weekly and she can take any day off she likes and knows it. So that makes no sense/

Lately, in the back of my mind, it’s begun to worry me. There’s one other possibility – the one that scares me, There;’s only one thing in my life she isn’t supposed to know. Is that it? Has she found out somehow and wants to either keep me sharp or keep me too busy to engage in my extracurricular activity? I don’t see how. That seems too fantastic/

Yet its the first thing on my mind as I wake up. I’m used to trusting my instincts but I don’t want to this time. That’s not a part of my life to be shared. It’s the part that keeps me going, keeps me sane, but it’s no where I want other people to be, especially not the ones that mean anything to me. That dark place in my soul has no room for – let’s just say, no one else should ever go there. These journals I keep are enough. No one needs to know the monster I really am.

The Dogman Chronicles, Prologue, Part Two

Runaways are easy to find. In the old days, you had to figure out how they got out of town – if they did – and from that where they went. Now, you just need the parent’s permission and a well paid hacker gets you everything they ever posted online – along with all the accounts their parents don’t know about. More often than not, there’s an address. Kids either want to be found or they are stupid – either works for me.

My well paid hacker is a sixty-five year old retired programmer who does endangered kids work  pro bono – or stupid runaways for a reduced fee. The only development in the files Sonia had sent was that Max had returned the fee – Miss Allen was moving down in the world from ‘stupid’ to ‘endangered’.  I skimmed the updates to find out why.

In the old days, a gumshoe didn’t really need to be told why – he knew. Fact is, I already knew, but thoroughness is a good way to do business. Nothing in the files that would alter my intended approach – I’d had a bad feeling about this one. Sonia says I have bad feelings about all of them – maybe so. Once in a while, it would be nice to be wrong.

I drove to where I planned to leave the car. Getting out, I started in the direction opposite of the intended destination. Streets have eyes, both human and electronic. No sense giving anyone a head’s up.

I bought drinks at a couple bars and schmoozed with girls too young to be doing this but too old to be illegal. I watered a few floors and even a waitress, making sure to have something on my breath and a quick dab in my eyes. No one believes a white eyed drunk, after all.

Took a lot longer than I liked – but no longer than I expected. A bartender scouted me out. A woman more than old enough to know better made the approach. Was I perhaps interested in something say a little younger? Sure, I might be. The kind of conversation that takes up two pages of dialogue in old mystery novels – all that’s changed is the slang and the price structure.

We negotiated. We settled on a price. She pulled out a tablet and we perused the available listings in a private booth. I took my time, wavered a bit between several similar looking babies and finally selected the one I wanted. I was given a hotel key for the agreed ten percent down. I paid and bid the madame a good night.

Walking the block to the hotel, I fiddled in my pockets like a nervous school boy.  I’d seen eyes on me coming out which didn’t matter. I’d expected as much and hadn’t planned on using text anyway. Old school sometimes rules.

I let myself in, went to the minibar and poured a drink. Grabbed a Coke as well – might as well keep up appearances. I made a point to keep pushing back the curtains – a habit new clients often have while they wait. No point, I knew – they wanted the cash and wouldn’t have gone so far if they weren’t intending to complete the transaction. Now, that didn’t rule out larcenous and murderous sidelines but those tend to be self limiting. People who have multiple layers of security tend to be more business like.

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock. Opening the door revealed a twenty something with greasy hair and dead eyes escorting my purchase. He shoved her into the room without a word and closed the door.  He met my eyes only for a split second – he was carrying and knew I was. No trouble, please – too much hassle. I let him think there wouldn’t be any.

She looked stoned, which she no doubt was. She started shedding clothes but I told her I liked a little more lead up – she picked up her jacket and put it back on. Junior was no doubt listening in and probably bored. I made it worse. Sat her down, gave her the Coke, started rambling about my non-existent wife and kiddies. I swear I heard a disgusted sigh on the other side of the door.

Talkers are a thing – they just want to talk to a girl and will pay for the privilege – then roll in the hay as a bonus. I’d paid for two hours – a pretty good indicator I either wanted an ear or I was going to damage the merchandise. The price was high enough to cover either eventuality.

My pager finally vibrated – I silently wished that had happened before I gave poor little Marilyn the flu twice in one month. The girl just nodded absently as if she heard when she really hadn’t. My hypothetical kids could have all had cancer and been knife jugglers – she wouldn’t have cared. I doubted Junior cared, either, but he might be sharper than he looked.

She was still sipping her Coke. I got up and went to the door. I cracked it to ask about altering the arrangement for another 30 minutes. Junior said he’d check and started texting. He got an answer, told me, I agreed and he put the phone away.

Idiot. I tossed open the door and tossed Junior face first into the wall. The plain clothes cop that had been pretending to searching for his room grabbed the kid and finished the job. Cops were everywhere – Lt. Bartley had come through.

Miss Allen was still sipping her Coke, too drugged out to know where she was or what had just happened. I told her who I was and that she was safe. She just finished the Coke.

Two am, reports finished, interviews done, runaway safely in hospital waiting for Mom and Dad, I crawled back into my flophouse home, retrieved my property and checked out to go to a real hotel. By three, I had scrubbed my skin raw, gotten into PJ’s and was throwing myself at the bed. I didn’t want the particulars of what the kid had been through. I didn’t want to know if she could even remember. I knew enough to know I knew too much.

Then it was finally dark.