Chapter 1: A New Case
have to start somewhere. It's not always something grand, special, or even
exciting, but everyone has a beginning.
And, of course, the beginning is always the best place to start any
I go by the name Vere Cain. I know, it's really weird, an almost girly sounding name even. It was the name given to me by my savior. He says it's Latin for "truth" or something like that. I don't really care, either way. It was given to me by the most irreplaceable person in my life. Regardless of what other people think of it, it is a name that has a lot of power for me. Even if I get annoyed at other people’s taunts about it, I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Thomas Cain is a great man. He runs a private investigation firm in Chicagoland. He takes on any type of job. The only thing in common with each of his clients is that he's helped them. That is what he cares about most of all. It's why he even helped someone as broken as me.
I’ve worked for Thomas at Cain Investigations since he first gave me a home. It was simple tasks like filing information and making coffee at first, but the more experience I got, the more he would let me help out. Sometimes, he would even hand the case off to me entirely.
Now, don’t think that’s something super great. We take all sorts of cases, from the mundane to the damn near impossible. The ones I get stuck with or the ones that tend to drive a person crazy. Case in point, the case I was currently working on was for a Mrs. Johnson. She hired us frequently. I really hated it.
It was a chilly spring morning as I briskly walked along the path encircled by Lake Michigan. The sun was just starting to peek over the horizon, and the world was still dark with shadows. I had the hood of my sweatshirt pulled up over my head. The top button of my denim jacket was undone to allow the hood through, but the rest of it was snapped up tight. I found myself scowling at the energetic joggers who passed by me. It was too cold and early for this.
I crossed the street and made my way towards Michigan Avenue. My captive pulled against me, but it was easy to keep the little guy under control.
Mrs. Johnson’s surly little black puddle “Missy” struggled against the leash. I gave it a yank, bringing the dog back into submission. Her dog seriously got away at least once every two months. The number of times I had to go track this thing down was ridiculous. This was a perfect example of the type of jobs Thomas would leave to me. I cursed at him silently under my breath.
Tracking down lost pets was a rather common occurrence for us. At least with Missy, she was micro-chipped, so when she showed up at the pound, it was way easier to find her. Usually though, I’d find her along the path Mrs. Johnson walked her every afternoon. The dog would lead me on a wild goose chase along the path, weaving across it but never actually leaving the pavement. It made the dog easy to find, but I did not enjoy having to play tag to catch it.
Missy made angry, little noises as I dragged her along. I couldn’t blame the dog though. I wanted to run every time I dealt with the woman. She was overbearing and obnoxious. I swear that woman knew no shame.
For a dog her size, Missy put up quite a fight. I wasn’t particularly strong, but I had a decent grip on the leash, and I knew how to handle the dog after what seemed like endless times of chasing her down. I fought back easily, tugging back on the leash when I needed to and guiding the dog under my directions. She was just as stubborn as her owner.
I felt my phone go off before I heard it. It was buried in the front pocket on my sweatshirt beneath my jacket. I could hear the muffled music playing beneath my layers of clothing. I knew right away it was Thomas. His ringtone was set to the “X-files” theme song, some show from the nineties about alien investigators or something. He had set it like that as a joke. I just never bothered to change it.
I mumbled a few curse words as I dug my phone out of my pocket with my free hand. I had to pull my glove off with my teeth to answer it. Missy used the chance to try pulling against me and I almost dropped the phone. I cursed at the dog and she barked up at me. Her bark was high-pitched and squeaky. I didn’t very much care for small dogs.
“What is it?” I angrily answered the phone.
“Someone got up on the right side of bed this morning, I see,” came the voice from the other end. Thomas had a smooth, deep voice. He sounded lively and energetic. I silently cursed him for it.
“More like someone never got to bed last night,” I decided to let go of my anger. I was still annoyed, but just hearing his voice always calmed me down. Besides, if he was calling me, chances are, we had a new case.
“Ouch,” I could hear him wincing on the other side, “Missy giving you that many problems?”
“More like Missy’s owner is the problematic one,” I sighed. I had been on the phone most of the night with her as she cried and ranted about her poor missing baby. Usually I left the search for lost animals to better light, but Mrs. Johnson would have none of that. I finally got her off the phone around four in the morning, and I’d been out in the bitter Chicago spring morning since then.
“You find her yet?” he was shuffling through papers on his desk as he spoke.
“Yeah. Heading over to drop her off right now.”
“Good. I’ll pick you up in front of her place in thirty.”
I could hear the jingling of his keys as he hung up. Fortunately, this wouldn’t be one of those days where he spent half of it looking for those blasted things. I keep trying to get him to place it on the key holder just inside his office door, but he insisted on throwing them onto his desk. It’s a wonder he could find anything sometimes. Organization was not his strong point.
A small smile played across my lips as I shoved the phone back into my pocket. I slid my hand back into the glove before shoving it into the pocket of my jacket. Even though I was cold and tired, Thomas always had this way about him. It was impossible to stay mad around him.
I followed Millennium Park to the high-rise apartment Mrs. Johnson and Missy lived in. I had never been further inside than the entrance way, and I intended to keep it that way. I walked up to the building, its pale vestige rising up before me, lined to the teeth with windows. From the outside, it looked like just any other building in Chicago, at least.
The lobby was like stepping into another world. The Millennium Park Plaza housed only the finest and wealthiest cliental. The tile floor was spotless. It was white with rectangles of various shades of browns and grays scattered upon it in some seemingly haphazard arrangement that somehow formed a perfect pattern. The walls were a beautiful light brown wood. Lights cascaded out from a chandelier in the center of the room, hanging over a sleek looking desk that filled the entire space. I hated places like this. I looked sorely out of place.
I picked up Missy as I entered and made sure to wipe my shoes on the rug just inside the glass door. The doorman grunted at me. There was a time he would have stopped me and basically interrogated me, but he was getting used to seeing my face. I just hoped he would stay on so I wouldn’t have to go through that again.
Missy whimpered softly in my arms as the doorman called up to Mrs. Johnson. The dog struggled weakly, but she was tired from her little adventure and running low on strength. It was hard to hold her with her fidgeting, but I knew Mrs. Johnson was just going to scoop her up either way, so holding her just made it easier on everyone. Plus, I could keep her from tracking any dirt onto the sparkling clean floors. I had bad memories of getting the place dirty.
Mrs. Johnson appeared a few minutes later. She was a plump, older woman, with bleached blonde hair so light it almost looked white. It was pulled tightly back on her head into a small, messy bun. Even this early in the morning, she was already coated with several layers of heavy makeup. Her lashes were thick, her cheeks perfectly pink, and her lips big and red.
She wore a black, V-neck dress that somehow managed to keep her breasts from exploding out. A small, dark purple jacket with three-quarter sleeves covered her back and shoulders. It strained against every movement she made. A thick silver belt was fastened around the waist of her dress, and several large silver necklaces adorned her neck. She had way too many rings on her fingers, and too many bangles on her wrists. Her tall, black heels clicked as she rushed across the tile floor, all but crushing her feet inside of them. One of those people you wanted to remind to dress their own age, but no one ever would say anything.
“My baby!” she squealed in delight when she saw her beloved poodle cradled in my arms. I let her snatch Missy away from me and took a step back. I’d sacrifice the dog for my safety any day.
She cuddled her dog and mumbled to it in gibberish, rocking the dog back and forth. Yeah, I kinda felt sorry for that dog, too. Mrs. Johnson was the type to constantly smother her pets. I was glad she didn’t have any children.
“Ma’am,” I interrupted her after a moment. She glanced up at me, but she was still preoccupied with her dog.
“Please send the check at your earliest convenience,” I nodded my head to her and made towards the door.
“Thank you, darling!” she blew a kiss after me.
I hurried out of the building. Once, she had actually hugged me when I brought back her little, dingy beast. I wasn’t about to give her that chance again anytime soon. Just remembering it made my skin crawl.
I made my way down Madison to the Starbucks and got myself something to warm me up. I ordered a mocha for myself and a coffee, black, for Thomas, when he arrived. I didn’t have to wait long for my order, and I shoved Thomas’ drink into a paper bag. I balanced it carefully as I walked, sipping my own drink and trying to chase away the exhaustion and cold.
I crossed the street back to Millennium Park to wait for Thomas. Aside from early morning joggers, there weren’t many people in the park yet. The sidewalks beside it were filled with pedestrians rushing to work, but I found solace on a bench set several yards back from the throng. I set the bag for Thomas next to me and took a seat. I watched the people hurry about with little interest, sipping my mocha and waiting for my ride.
If nothing else, Thomas is punctual. Just as he said, it was almost thirty minutes after our call on the dot when I saw his car. He drove an ugly, old Buick. It was a dingy golden colored 1980 Riviera coupe, with a darker tan near the tiny back window. It puttered along down Michigan Avenue, scaring the other cars around it into submission.
I rose from my spot on the bench and forced my way into the barrage of people. I made my way to Randolph, where I found his beast of a car puttering away in front of a parking meter. I opened the passenger door, and it groaned awkwardly as it moved. I slid inside and slammed it shut.
The car looked its age. It had seen better days, and definitely better years. Despite my constant badgering to Thomas to trash the thing, he kept it and somehow, it kept running. It struggled in any kind of nasty weather, and its good days were few and far in between. It was typically the type of car a retired, old man with no place to go would drive around. It definitely wasn’t meant for the constant trips it had to take for our investigations.
The inside of his car was just as ugly as the outside. It had a yellowish interior made of some plush fabric I couldn’t even fathom. Faux wood panels covered the glove compartment, the radio, and the side panels. An ugly brown pleather was wrapped around the wheel. Somehow, the car suited him, even though he was a clear contrast to its appearance.
I passed him over the bag with his coffee and fiddled with the wide seatbelt with one hand, still holding my mocha in the other.
“Thanks,” he grinned over at me.
Thomas was a reasonably good-looking man in his early forties. He had light brown hair that was streaked with patches of dark brown and a few strands of gray, tied back into a tiny tail. His skin was lightly tanned from years of spending too much time outdoors, and thin wrinkles adorned his face, especially near his mouth and eyes. His gentle eyes were a handsome shade of nutmeg, and they peered out from beneath thinning brown and gray eyebrows. It wasn’t unusual for him to be smiling.
This particular day, he was wearing a brown suede jacket over a dress shirt and black slacks. The dress shirt had seen better days; it was now covered in small stains from coffee and ink spills, and one strange mishap Thomas had with an iron. A red tie was hung loosely around his neck. He had clearly dressed in a hurry. To add to his horrendous ensemble, he wore an aging Cubs baseball hat on his head.
I gave him a look, “You better not be planning on wearing that to meet with our new client.”
He chuckled at me, “Oh, so you did realize that we had work.”
I leaned back in the seat as he pulled out back into traffic. I was glad I didn’t drive. I hated fighting Chicago traffic. I relied on public transit to get around, even if it made travel times a bit longer.
“You only pick me up when we do,” I retorted.
He frowned, “That doesn’t make me sound very nice.”
“Because you aren’t very nice,” I stuck my tongue out at him between sips.
“Gosh,” he shook his head, “and here I always thought I was a nice guy!”
I gave him a wry smile. He really was a decent guy. I’m generally a grumpy person, and somehow, he’s dealt with me all these years.
As he turned onto the Dan Ryan expressway, I straightened up in my seat, “So, what’s the job?”
Thomas was silent for a moment. I could see the strain of all of his many years in that quick moment, but it was gone in the blink of an eye. He never allowed himself to be tired, even when his body begged him to rest. He pushed himself to the edge far too often. I was constantly worrying about him.
“You read the paper lately?” he asked after a moment.
I nodded, “Yeah, I try to read it every day. There’s been a lot of things going on.”
“So, you’ve seen the articles about men ending up in week long comas?”
“Yeah. It’s all over the news.”
I was always much more current on current events than Thomas was. Part of it was that I tended to get left behind on jobs for research while he did the actual legwork, but another part of it was also that he just didn’t care enough. When he needed to know about something, he made sure he knew, but often times, he’d have me handle gathering information rather than looking it up himself. It wasn’t even that he was lazy (although he had his moments), but the way his mind worked, he had trouble focusing on any one task that made him sit still for too long. He casually watched and listened to news on TV or radio though, so he wasn’t without his own knowledge. He also had plenty of sources, plus he was the type to talk to anyone.
A car cut into our lane, nearly colliding with us. Thomas stepped on the brakes, and I had to fight to keep my mocha from flying. A little bit of his coffee spilled out onto his hand and he cursed at it.
I opened up his dashboard and pulled free a couple napkins. Over the years of driving with him, I’ve learned to keep up with his messes. He’s not a bad driver, really, but he gets careless with whatever he’s holding while he drives.
I took the Styrofoam cup from him and replaced it with a napkin. I cleared the cup holder out, discarding the candy wrappers carelessly into the back. I’d have to clean out this car entirely again pretty soon. I dropped the coffee gently into the cup holder before going back to my own mocha.
“Well,” he continued as if the conversation had never paused, “this lady says it happened to her husband. She wants us to investigate for her.”
I narrowed my eyes, staring out into the angry mess of rush hour traffic. We were barely moving.
“Isn’t that something the police should handle,” I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye.
He shrugged, “I think so, too, but she doesn’t think the police are doing anything about it. I thought at the very least, we could meet with her and hear her out.”
I shook my head, “So, was she pretty?”
He slammed on the brakes as another car cut us off. He glared over at me, “I haven’t even met the woman yet!”
Thomas Cain may only have two weaknesses: people in trouble, and a pretty face. He’s gotten himself into plenty of trouble falling for a pretty girl’s words. But, there was no way he could even resist a damsel in distress. That’s why I was here. I could turn down anyone without second thought. I wasn’t as nice as him.
Thomas pouted as he merged towards the right. I could see our exit just up ahead.
“I don’t just accept cases that have pretty girls!” he grumbled.
“No,” I agreed, “but it never seems to hurt.”
“You’re an insufferable brat,” he cried out.
We exited off of the expressway and onto slightly less crowded roads. At one time, Cain Investigations had been in downtown Chicago. The area it had been was sketchy at best, and between the crime and the exorbitant rent rates, it just wasn’t worth it in the end. I had fought with him on it for years, and finally, just last year, he agreed to move us to a suburb.
Schaumburg was a decent place. It was close enough to Chicago to not lose any of our regular clients, and there were buses that would take you straight to the heart of the city, for those of us who didn’t drive. The town was crowded near the mall, but we hardly ever went into that area, settling instead for the quietness of area we had nestled ourselves into.
To keep costs down, we lived in the same place we did business. Thomas had found a reasonably priced house and converted bottom level into our offices, while the top floor and the attic remained living quarters. It wasn’t quite the same bustling feeling as our last location, but it served us well. I personally enjoyed the calmness.
It took us another fifteen minutes to reach the building we now called home. It was a dark, brick building, with a narrowly sloping roof. The lawn was neatly cut, with one small tree near the front sidewalk, and a handful of bushes circling the house. There was no sign stuck into the lawn, but on the front door was a golden plaque with the words “Cain Investigations” embossed into it. The little gray mailbox that hung next to the door also suffered the same fate, although he had the letters cut out of vinyl rather than paying to have them embossed on.
There was no garage, nor a driveway, but Thomas had paid to have a small rectangle of the front lawn covered in cement so he could park his car off the street. He loved that piece of crap vehicle deeply. To each his own.
He pulled into his spot, and I was climbing out of the car before he had a chance to undo his seatbelt. I snatched up my now empty cup and rushed towards the tiny sidewalk that lead to our cement porch. Three steps lead up to the landing. On the other side of the door, opposite the mailbox, was some sort of fern Thomas thought would spruce up the place. I had to fight him with getting a plastic one, but in the end, it had been a good call. He never watered any of the other plants he had tried to keep inside.
I pulled my key out of the back pocket on my jeans and shoved it into the lock. I twisted it and when I heard the lock click, I pulled it out and pushed the door open.
When I wasn’t running around doing silly things like chasing down people’s pets, I got to be the one who cleaned up the place. The door opened into a narrow hallway. There was a rug just inside the door, and a small ficus off to the side. It had seen better days, but somehow, the plant was still thriving (mostly because I actually remembered to water plants).
Just beyond the ficus, a wide doorway lead to the rest of the bottom floor. A staircase stopped the hallway from moving any further past it.
I stepped into the room, pulling off my jacket and hanging it on the old bronze coat rack that was hiding just inside. I moved further in, until I found the small trashcan that was set beside a large mahogany desk. I dumped my cup in and moved back out towards the hallway.
Thomas stepped inside and closed the door quickly, shivering against the chill. He moved towards his office, throwing his coat towards the rack. It landed haphazardly, but it somehow managed to stay on, so I decided to leave it for now.
“Go get a shower and change,” I ordered him.
He glared at me, but after a quick glance down at himself, he obeyed. He stomped up the stairs towards the living quarters.
I went back into the office and crossed the floor. The floor was all wood, with a dark green rug set near the center. Thomas’ desk was near the front window, and although there were two chairs set in front of it, he hardly did business with clients directly there. The desktop was cluttered with papers and file folders. On one end of the desk was his laptop computer, still open from his work last night, and on the other was a small shelf for him to keep his paperwork organized.
I sighed. I knew he wasn’t going to stay organized, even if I made it easy for him. I shuffled through the papers quickly, separating them into nice, neat piles. A few of those piles found their way onto the shelf, but most of them remained on his desk. If I moved them too much, he’d whine about not being able to find anything.
I moved from his desk towards the rug in the middle of the room. On either side of it were two small bench-style couches. A long coffee table ran down the center of it. As expected, Thomas had slept on one of those couches last night. I pulled his suit jacket off of it and hung it up. I straightened out the pillows then went to work cleaning off the coffee table. I dumped the trash into his trash can and carried the dishes to the sink.
Just off of the back of the room were two small rooms. One of them was a bathroom, while the other one was a small kitchen area. I gently set the dishes next to the sink. I snatched up the dishwashing liquid from the back of the sink, and a sponge that was next to the faucet. I did a quick rinse off and scrub down of the dishes before setting them on the drying wrack on the counter next to the sink.
The kitchen in this house was tiny; it was hard to fit more than one person in at a time. One wall was lined by a counter with a dark green top. Cabinets were offset above the counter by a couple feet, reaching up to the low ceiling. There was a gap in the cabinets over the sink, where there were two recessed lights above it, and a small, square window in front of it. Light green curtains were tied back from the window to let natural light in. The cabinets and the counter were both a dark brown. The walls of the room were a light tan.
The other walls in the room were mostly bare. A few small artsy paintings of food hung opposite the cabinet, and even one on the back wall. The paintings had been a present from a client, so Thomas thought we should put them to good use. A small end table was pushed towards the back of the room. A light green runner was set across it. Just beside it was a door with a window, covered by another curtain.
I knelt down and opened the cabinet beneath the sink. I pulled free another trash bag and went back into the main room to swap the bag. I tied the current bag up and pulled it free from the can. I carefully set the new one in before taking the trash bag back to the kitchen. I went through the door to the back where our trash cans sat. I dumped it into one of the cans before returning inside.
When I came back into the office, Thomas was seating himself at his desk. He flopped down into his seat, and it creaked beneath his weight. He leaned back, sighing.
“I’m so tired,” he mumbled.
“Just put a good face on when the client gets here,” I chided him. He stuck his tongue out at me as I passed it. I stopped in the doorway and returned the gesture.
I figured I still had enough time to get a shower and change myself, so I headed up the stairs. Similar to the first level, the stairs lead to another narrow hallway. There were three doors off to the left, and two windows to the right. At the end of the almost pastel green hallway was another door that lead to the attic. The attic was just used as storage space for the time being, but it was large enough to make into another bedroom if needed.
The first door was Thomas’ room; the second was mine. The third was currently filled with overflow of files from the shelves in the office downstairs. There was a bed in there somewhere, but it had long since been lost to the mess of boxes and paper. We both avoided entering that room if we could help it. We were slowly working on getting Thomas to make all of his files digital, but it was a slow and tedious process.
My room was definitely the most organized in the house. The dull blue walls were bare of any photos or art. Tall, black bookcases lined the small window in the room. My bed was next to the bookcase on the left side, nestled into a corner. It was perfectly made, not even a wrinkle in the dark blue blankets. There was a small worn chest at the foot of the bed, with an aging quilt draped over it. Another present from a client. That one was given to me especially. I didn’t want to ruin it, but I wanted to display it, so that seemed like the best option.
To the right of the bookshelf on the other side of the window was a small desk. There was a laptop on it, closed and powered off. There were a few binders lined up on a small shelf at the back of it. The laptop’s case leaned up against one of the sides of the desk in the inside. Otherwise it was bare.
There was a dresser against the wall, giving me just enough room to get into my desk. There was a small coat rack next to it, where currently hung a black suit jacket, a brown suede jacket (a present from Thomas himself), and another sweatshirt jacket.
I opened one of the drawers and pulled out a nice pair of dark slacks and a white button-up shirt. I crossed the room to a door set several feet away from my bed. The bathroom on this floor was squished between Thomas’ and my room. I had been worried about sharing it initially, but with how rare it was for both of us to be home and need it at the same time, it had worked out just fine.
I stepped in through the door on my side and deposited my fresh clothing onto the counter. I stripped out of my dirty jeans and sweatshirt, shoving them into a small portable hamper I had finally convinced Thomas to buy. I stripped out of the rest of my clothes and turned on the water. The warm water felt heavenly after the bitter cold of the morning.
I took a quick shower and redressed. I combed my hair back and glanced at my reflection in the steam-coated mirror.
I’m one of those people who has an eternal baby face. I have round cheeks and wide, bright blue gray eyes, even when I’m glaring at someone. My damp dark blonde hair almost looked brown with its wetness. It clung to my cheeks and forehead, despite my attempts to brush it back. When it dried, it would go back to its natural state, gently curling around my face. It didn’t help my baby face at all.
I wasn’t short, but I wasn’t tall either. I was about five foot eight, just tall enough to be average height. Thomas was a couple inches taller, but I felt like he towered over me. Where Thomas’ body had thin, toned muscles, I was just thin all over. Any muscles I had didn’t show, making me look even more like a young child rather than a young adult. I admit, sometimes it was a bit of a complex on my part, comparing myself to Thomas, but I also knew we were different people. He had at least a couple decades on me, plus plenty more experience to back it up with. I had only been in this investigation business for a few years; I’m not sure if he ever wasn’t involved with it.
I heard the doorbell echo through the house. I dropped the comb on the counter and hurried downstairs. Thomas was already at the door letting the client in.
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