This is something I started around the same time as the last one I posted. I like the opening. I've discovered that in the time since I wrote it, I've come to like the rest of it, too. There are pretty obvious areas where it could be improved but that just means that it's a work in progress.
Some day, I'll finish the story, maybe. We'll see.
We were at coffee. While this comment, coming from one in my social circle, may seem commonplace, and indeed it is normal for our group to spend many hours at restaurants, annoying the clientele, and residing on the fringe of regulars, peering into the abyss of permanent banishment, this was not a regular meeting of the minds of Sam's so-called revolution. Granted, coffee has been known to slip into the morning hours where the sun has put in an appearance, sometimes for the second time, but to start coffee at this ungodly hour? Completely unheard of. Cliff and I had associated at this time of day, merely because he was my ride to my own personal hell for a time.
Another time that some of us had met early in the morning was when Alana's uncle needed ultra-cheap labour to help in moving his father-in-law to another house. To say he needed us is likely a gross exaggeration. Al Lawrence, all 300 pounds of him, could likely have, with the aid of his big brother, picked the house up and moved it with the furniture still in it. The house was, however, to remain in place, so it became a matter of repetition rather than brutish strength, hence the aid of his niece's mensch-like friends. At that event, Kelly, Cliff and I slaved over couches, work benches, and the like from the ungodly hour of seven in the morning. Hilarity ensued from the lack of sleep in any of us. This coffee was nothing like that.
Kelly, the same Kelly who giggled over Tibor and his beads on that fateful moving day, sat hunched over his coffee, looking at everyone as if they would steal his beverage, the very thing which, in its porcelain vessel, seemed to be his only tenuous link to sanity, lucidity, or whatever it is that prevents a person from grabbing the nearest chainsaw and making messy with people's intestines.
Cliff looked like I remembered him in the morning. He was more together than Kelly, but still, the grogginess had not yet worn off. It usually didn't until around noon. He mumbled a response to a question from the server, who asked him to repeat what he had just said. He grunted, and that seemed to be answer enough for her. His coffee, doctored with many packets of sugar, and a creamer, still seemed to displease him, though whether the displeasure came from the bitterness of the drink, or of the man at having to drink it, left me at a loss.
James, at least, seemed to be a little aware. He had been a truck driver, and used to having no sleep. He drank his coffee with a near-determination. As if he knew what he had to do, and the coffee was merely a tool to get where he needed to be. James didn't dislike coffee, but in this instance, it wasn't the taste he needed, it was the caffeine. He delivered his request for food to the waitress with a laugh, which seemed to delight the young lady to no end. With Cliff and Kelly playing the part of the death-warmed-over squad, it was a relief to see James treating her like a human being.
Monique proved to be the non-morning-person she'd claimed to be a few weeks ago. She drifted from half-asleep to wide awake to fading fast with almost seamless transition. She clung to her tea desperately, believing it to be her salvation in a time of need. And indeed this was a time of need. She looked around the table, and started, seeing Kelly for what seemed to be the first time. He must have really taken her aback, because she was completely distracted by him as she ordered her breakfast.
I'm not a morning person at the best of times, but my bouts of insomnia mean the same thing to me as James' job meant to him. Well, except for the whole "making a living" thing. I am thankfully able to deal with being up any time of the day for as long as I need to be. My coffee was a beverage, nothing more, as I waited for whatever it was we were waiting for. I declined to order anything when the waitress turned to me. I may have been a little brisk with her, but hey, I said I wasn't a morning person. Food in the morning gives me a stomach ache that doesn't leave until halfway through the day. Mentally, I took roll-call. I wanted to know who wasn't here, so I might dispense my wrath upon those who were too important to make it today.
Sam, whose dilligent work lent itself to our being chosen for this. He would be missed, but there was an unavoidable reason for his not being here.
Dave, who was with Sam, would not be missed as much, simply because his devious nature was so far beneath that of Sam.
Janine was supposed to be there, and there was no explanation for her absence. At last contact, she had told me that she would be there. My irritation picked up at her absence.
It was probably better that Atti wasn't there. Granted, his company was great, but his brashness was ill-suited for what was to transpire. Cliff wasn't a whole ton better, but he at least knew when to keep the comments to a minimum.
Jake was the one that flabbergasted me the most. He came in from BC with the sole purpose of this meeting, and yet he was a no-show. While it is true that Jake cannot be counted upon in the best of circumstances, this was one time when he would be sorely missed.
Aside from those mentioned, everyone had shown up. As I sipped my coffee, I pondered what was about to happen, and how it would change things between us. Mainly, however, I thought about how we came to be in this situation.
The hard work I praised Sam for earlier was the advertising he'd done to promote Two Sleuths Inc., the latest private investigating firm to come up in Edmonton. He'd done such a good job of promoting us as a top-notch firm that nobody would touch us. My guess is that potential clients saw the advertisements, and figured that we were too high-class for them. I can still taste the irony on my tongue. Especially considering the humble origins from which Two Sleuths arose.
SIX MONTHS AGO
I sat at the computer, staring intently at the screen, occasionally moving the mouse across its pad, and clicking, double-clicking, or whatever the situation demanded. Finding a job on the internet was a lot less leg-work than actually leaving the home, but unfortunately, it yielded the same results. It wasn't that people weren't hiring, it was just that I had recently graduated university, and I wanted to find something in my field. The distinguished field of computer science. And they WERE hiring in that field, but whatever it was with me, they just didn't want anything to do with me. So, I continued to apply, looking high and low, but there was still nothing.
I am not ashamed to admit that at this point, I was still living with my parents. Unfortunately, they saw it as something that should be a point of shame to me. Especially since I wasn't working. It came to pass, that fateful day which found me searching on the internet, that my father came into my room to find me looking.
"So, boy, you don't have a job, and you're playing on the computer." To my dad, anything that doesn't involve back-breaking labour isn't really work. Thus, my looking for a job on the internet wasn't really looking for a job, it was playing. "We need to have a talk. Come to the kitchen." My blood froze. The last time anyone needed to have a talk in the kitchen was when dad's credit card was charged to the max with phone sex bills. Only his threatening to fight the charges in court had gotten them taken off. It was still unknown how those charges got there, but that was a matter for another day. Still, my dad had gotten in all of our faces that day, and nobody was left with a dry eye. Granted, I was ten, but he ground my brother, sister and I into dust, and blew us away. Now he wanted to talk to me in the kitchen again. Needless to say, I took myself into the kitchen with more than an ounce of reluctance.
"Yeah, dad?" I asked, my most innocent look on my face.
"We're waiting for the rest of the family." was all he said. Sure enough, within the very minute, my brother, sister, and mother entered the room, the feeling of dread being shared on another level between my siblings and I.
"We need to talk about where your lives are heading," my dad began. "It's not as if we haven't been generous with our home. We made it your home. Still, the only one of you to even make an effort on your own was Liam. And he made a piss-poor effort of it indeed." as he continued to speak, I could tell what was happening. And it was the Johnstone mass-exodus of 4401 that saw me with a small savings, and nowhere to go. As always, in times of domestic distress, I found myself at Cliff's house.
Cliff, through some weird coincidence, had found himself on the end of a rather rough tongue-lashing from his parents, as well. He hadn't been kicked out, but it seemed that his days in the house that backed onto Notre Dame Elementary School were as numbered as mine were at Casa De Bob. As we pondered what we would do, the thought came to Cliff first.
"When I was working at Paladin Security, they brought up the idea of becoming a PI. They said that there was this really cheap school where they teach you everything you need to know. All we have to do is go through the training, open up an office, and we're set." Glossing over the particulars is a big favourite of Cliff's, and with the simplicity of his plan, I was drawn in. We discovered the location of the school, and enrolled. We also rented out some office space in Edmonton. This would serve as our home while we went to school, at least until we could afford our own homes.
When we graduated from the school, mere weeks before the gathering at coffee, Sam became obsessed. He was sure he could turn our little firm into a booming business. "It's all in the advertising," he would continually tell us as he begged us to let him in on the action. We finally relented, as it became clear that clients were not simply going to fall out of trees, and money was getting awfully lean. He agreed to take a small cut from what we made, telling us that it was only fair for his pay cheque to rely upon his efficiency as an ad man. So, he went to work, and we did too. The first week we were open, Cliff and I got some fairly standard cases, wives cheating on their husbands, a little surveillance... nothing too great, but money was finally coming in. And then, Sam's advertisements hit.
The great thing about Sam is that he is incredibly enthusiastic. The not-so-great thing about Sam is that he believes everything should be targeted to the rich. His reasoning is that the rich have more money to spend, so they're more likely to buy whatever it is that he is advertising. This has cost him more than one job, and it certainly didn't to a lot to boost our client list. Until the Thursday before our fateful meeting.
That morning, the phone rang. Cliff answered, expecting the usual phone call from the power company, the water company, or some other creditor, looking to shut us down. But it wasn't.
"Two Sleuths," Cliff always answered the phone briskly, believing some nagging collection agency would just go away if they realized just how impatient he was.
Only hearing Cliff's end of this particular conversation, while frustrating, was quite an event.
"Yes, we would." His voice rose an octave.
"Yes, we could." His face brightened.
"Really? Of course, we will. You can be sure."
"Discreet?" He looked at me. Always the moral majority of our firm, I nodded.
"Of course we're discreet." He sounded wounded at any thought to the contrary. He grabbed a pen and a pad of paper, and began to write.
"Yes, I have the address. When is good for you? Next Monday? Yes. Definitely. Thank you, too. Okay. Bye." And he hung up the phone.
"Without going into detail, what's the word?"
"Man with job for us."
"More than that, Cliff. More than that."
"Sandy Traverse, from..." he looked at his pad, "Data Information Technologies wants us to meet him on Monday. He said some things that lead me to believe that this has something to do with corporate espionage."
"Ooh, reads like some kinda spy book." Despite my sarcasm, I was interested.
"Yeah, Tom Clancy meets Sam Spade. The Maltese Briefcase or some such." Always one to reach another level, that Cliff. "And we get paid."
"Any idea how much?"
"He mentioned Sam's ad, and it was in a positive light, so hopefully we'll get some kind of payday."
"Well, I hope we get SOME kind of payday. We're gonna be working afterall." Such a wit, I should have been a comic.
And now we found ourselves in the Denny's restaurant, prepared to both share the good news of our job, and to ask the help of those who would give it.
"So why the fuck are we here?" asked Monique.
James was quick to point to her and nod, his mouth full of "Moons over my Hammy".
Cliff turned to me. I figured I should say something, since I was the one who decided we should ask them for help.
"We had a meeting with Sandy Traverse at Data Information Technologies. Apparently, they received a manuscript in the mail. They tried replying to the person who wrote it, and there was no response. That was six months ago. Now they want us to try and find this... Gillian Tait. The reason Cliff and I are here is because we found Ms. Tait's home, but it was abandoned. We would like to ask your help in locating her." I could see I had attracted every eye at the table. Even Kelly perked up a bit for the story.
"What do you need us for?" James asked.
"That's a good question, James." Cliff replied. "We need you guys for different things. Kelly, we need you go scour the internet and find out everything you can about everything on this list." Cliff handed Kelly a folder. "We were going to get Janine to use her connections at CSIS to try and track Ms. Tait down. Monique, we need you to man the phones in the office. We've been leaving regular messages at Ms. Tait's home and place of work. If she gets the messages, we're going to want to be there to talk to her. If we can't, we want you there. Jake was supposed to help you there." Cliff turned to James. "Why are you here, James?" He paused, turning to me. I nodded. "We want you with us."
"What's in it for us?" Kelly asked. "It's not like this stuff is going to be easy." He shook the folder menacingly."
"You'll all share in our profits. From all that Sandy said, there's going to be quite a bit of money coming in from this." At this, they all nodded, and went back to their breakfasts. I sat back with a sigh, and finished my coffee.
The compound for Data Information Technologies lay sprawled out about the River Valley like an ant colony. Offshoots climbing the side of the hill, disappearing into it, only to reappear somewhere else.
As James, Cliff and I descended into the valley for our appointment with Mr. Traverse, I could see that my allusion was not entirely inaccurate. Through several windows could be seen flurries of activity, almost in chorus. Broadway dance numbers flitted through my head, but none of them had the hectic fervor required for this act.
Cliff pulled us into the visitor's parking lot, and the three of us made our way, excitement in our hearts, to the building that served as the brain centre for Edmonton's largest and most compelling example of capitalism in action.
Entering the building, we were instantly accosted by the Viking warrior, poorly disguised as a receptionist. Looking to the name on her desk, expecting to see Broomhilde, I was somewhat shocked, though greatly relieved to note her name was Ann.
Her disguise was better than I thought was the realization as she asked us without accent, in a voice that dripped helium to state our business.
Cliff, using his best Joe Friday "Just the facts, ma'am," stated our purpose, while James overtly avoided looking her in the eye, or even looking in her direction, for that matter. Maybe he went to a catholic school.
Directing us to the anteroom where we were to wait, Ann the Viking warrior receptionist pressed some buttons, seemed satisfied, and looked up at us in cold dismissal.
Fighting the urge not to run, I calmly turned from the reception desk, and walked to the anteroom, my cohorts in tow.
Fifteen minutes found us in Sandy Traverse's office. In one bold stroke, all of my high-corporate fantasies were dashed. In a word, Traverse's office could be described as stark. In a compound word, near-empty. The walls stood bare of any adornment, lacking even the usual concession to ego that was the University degree. The surreal effect continued as I realized that his desk, while holding a computer, phone and lamp, had nothing else. No paper, no pens, no pictures of the kids... nothing. I found myself looking forward to a time when I would once again be among people who made messes, had interests, and lived lives.
Traverse himself was as I remembered him. A slim man of average height, the man moved about in a manner that would put shame to a hummingbird. However, rather than seem panicky, or nervous, his movements had an efficiency about them, as if not a motion was wasted.
"Hi again. I won't waste any of your time. We have a dossier of Ms. Tait's information. What we were able to gather. The personal information is encoded with red tabs, professional with blue. Her curriculum vitae is in orange, though that doesn't really matter, since it's all at the back. You can pick up the dossier from Ann when we're finished. Do you have any questions?"
I could think of several thousand questions, none of which pertained to the case, and all of which would likely alienate Traverse toward us to the extend of terminating our contract. I kept my mouth shut.
"Without going over the dossier, there's nothing to discuss at this moment. We wouldn't want to waste your time with questions you may already have answered in the dossier." James seemed to understand the way this guy's mind worked.
"I like the cut of your jib, son." and with that, and without hurrying, Sandy Traverse herded us out of his office, promising to answer any questions we might have in the future.
"A cup of coffee." I said, once we'd had our showdown with Ann, coming away unscathed, richer by one dossier.
"What's that, Liam?" Cliff asked.
"That's what Traverse reminds me of. The human equivalent to a cup of coffee."
They stared at me in uncomprehending disdain for awhile. I never claimed to be insightful. It was just an observation, anyway.