Vic woke at her desk after a cold night spent reading the file left by Emerson Gunn’s lackey. In the rain-soaked dark the whole thing gave her bad vibes. Unfortunately, it didn’t look any better in weak sunlight. The more she read, the more this case stunk. Usually she dealt with runaways, jilted lovers, or possibly finding where some dopped-up kid hocked stolen family heirlooms. Stuff easily solved with a little brains and maybe a shakedown or the right greased palm. This case, though, was going to require a few house calls, and she wasn’t looking forward to any of them. But time wasn’t on her side. Vic didn’t know the boss of the Barstolt Row Gang personally, but she’d heard things and she doubted he would put up with delays. Especially after paying in advance.
Still tired and stiff, she splashed water on her face in the cramped office bathroom, grabbed a cold slice of pizza from last night’s dinner, and headed to her first stop, Arch City police HQ. Not a place you’d typically find a PI of questionable repute, but she was an exception. Her father had been a well-respected detective in Arch City for years and running the halls of HQ had been her favorite pastime as a kid. She’d taught herself to read on Guns and Ammo mags in his office. Detective Cross was a decent man, even if parenting wasn’t his strong suit. He did his best, though. At least until he was offed by some meathead out for revenge when Vic was 17. That was a lifetime ago. But the old chief remembered the little girl with pigtails and a dirty face and took pity on Vic when she started her agency. He was always good for a few crumbs if she asked nicely. Most of the guys got used to seeing her around, so when Chief Sosey died a few years back, she was sorta grandfathered in. The detectives put up with her as long as she didn’t come around too often or ask for too much. Most of them did anyway. Still, it was never a place she’d felt particularly comfortable.
Gray clouds hung low in the morning sky as she made her way up the front steps of the decaying building on Wiamut Avenue that housed the cities ‘brave protectors’. That’s what the inscription over the dusty glass doors said anyway. She’d known that was pretentious bullshit even as a kid. The inside of the building smelled as stale and decrepit as the city it served.
“Cross, what the hell do you want?” The man behind the front desk didn’t look up from his magazine as she walked in. The phone in front of him was lit up on every line and his dark blue uniform was already covered in breakfast crumbs.
“Barry, how the hell do you still have a job?”
“What’s it this time, Cross? Little Suzie run away with a banger? Or baker’s wife screwing the plumber?” His multiple chins wobbled as he laughed.
“Whatever, Barry. Need to talk to Logan, he around?”
“Oh,” he finally looked up properly, his bloodshot eyes wide with curiosity, “thought you two called it quits.”
Vic rolled her eyes. “What are you a sidewalk super now? Ain’t about that. Have a case.”
“Damn. That Dicks been busting my ass for months. You fuckin’ again would be great for morale.” He gave her a nasty grin.
“Jesus Barry, is he here or not?’
“Yeah, yeah,” he waved a pudgy hand dismissively and went back to his magazine, “he’s in his office.”
Vic found Detective Ward hunched over a stack of papers that nearly obscured his metal desk. She started to knock on the open door but hesitated, watching. She had been hoping to put off this meeting for much longer. They hadn’t exactly left things on good terms the last time they’d spoken. She watched the muscle in his jaw twitch, as it did when he was under extra stress or more tired than usual. It was a strong jaw, what those flowery romance novels called chiseled. That aptly described nearly every feature of Logan Ward, if she was honest. And she’d seen them all in delightful detail. She didn’t have to see his soft dark eyes to know they were tired or that his crooked grin was still as boyish and charming as ever.
“Victoria?” Lost in thought she’d hadn’t noticed him look up from his work. He did look tired. “What are you doing here?”
“Uh…,” damnit she was too old for brooding over a pretty face, “hello Logan,” she stepped into his sparse office and gave him a friendly smile, “I need a little help on a case.” His eyes returned to his work almost immediately.
“I’ve got cases backed up,” he gestured to the littered desk. “Now’s really not a good time.” Vic had to stop herself from sighing.
“It’s kinda a big one or I wouldn’t have come to you Logan, and time ain’t on my side.” She took a seat across from him. His mouth thinned in annoyance, but he put down his papers.
“This department isn’t your personal information stash Vic, despite what you’ve been led to believe.” Damn, but the man could hold a grudge. He wasn’t going to make this easy, and she didn’t have time to stroke his bruised ego.
“Maybe not,” she leaned toward him over the desk, “but I imagine you’re as eager to find Nicole Quinn as I am.” That got his attention. It was a risk, but she figured there was no way Arch PD wasn’t involved in such a high profile to-do. And Logan was good at his job. Good enough to have his hands in the big stuff.
“How the hell do you know about that,” He whispered through gritted teeth.
“How the hell have you kept it quiet?”
Logan crossed the room and shut the door, “it was necessary until we could work out the details,” he hesitated, “and Mr. Quinn insisted. We didn’t even know she was missing for sure until this morning.” He stopped and looked down at her, “so I’ll ask again, Victoria, how the hell do you know about it?”
“Told you, I got it as a case. Missing person.”
“Who hired you?”
She laughed and shook her head, “you know very well I can’t tell you that.”
“The hell you can’t,” he brought his fists down on the desk, scattering his papers, “how about I run you in for obstruction? Would that jar your memory?”
“Come on, Logan, you know how this works,” she held up a hand to stall another outburst, “and even if I wanted to tell you, you’d be looking for me next if I did.” He lost some of his bluster at that. Logan was more bark than bite, and she knew it.
“Fine. But I can’t give you anything,” Logan shook his head, “not on a case this big.”
“Come on, Logan. You know I have ways and means you can’t use….”
“Like harassment and assault….”
“...we can help each other out. I’ll give you a heads up on anything good I find.”
He sat back down and stared at her from behind clasped hands. Finally, he shrugged, “I don’t have much to share anyway,″ he gestured to the papers still strewn about on his desk, “no personal belongings missing, all the money still in her account, her passport still in the safe, credit cards unused since before she was last seen. There’s nothing here to go on.”
Vic rose from her seat and moved to his side of the desk. Fingering through the papers it seemed he was right. What he had was an exact copy of what Gunn had given her. The gang leader must have a man inside.
“Come on,” she threw a stack of photos down in frustration. “Nicole Quinn is the wife of the most powerful politician in Arch City, and you’re telling me all you’ve got are some take-out receipts and paparazzi photos?” She sat on the edge of the desk facing Logan and leaned closer to him. Close enough her leg brushed his. “Who reported her missing?”
His hand twitched, almost reaching for her; old habits. But instead, he pushed his chair out of reach and got up, turning his back to her. She didn’t find that side of him any less distracting.
“You know it’s my job if I tell you that. Never thought you’d resort to dredging up old feelings to get what you want.”
“I never meant….”
He waved away her protest and moved to a dented file cabinet on the other side of the room. He brought a small evidence bag back and dumped the contents on the desk beside her. An inscribed leather datebook and a key. Logan picked up the book and handed it to her, “this is the only other thing I’ve got. Found it in her private room at the Quinn estate. Pretty obvious the room had been combed before I ever got there though. I’ve been over it about a hundred times. Nothing useful.”
As she flipped through the pages, she had to admit it seemed he was right again. The book was filled with regular meetings, hair appointments, and tv appearances, probably all made by assistants and covered by the tabloids. They loved following around the Queen Bee of Arch City. There were very few names, and none of them were helpful. The only one that didn’t belong to a well-known figure in the city was an entry from a month ago just marked ‘Nadia-Birthday’.
“Wait, what’s this,” she turned to a mostly empty page, “it’s from two days ago. Just says AZURE on the 8:00 pm line. Isn’t that some shady club down in Dellner Ward? What the hell was she doing going there?”
“She didn’t. It wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the tapes from every entrance of that club for the last week. She never came near the place. Must’ve gone missing before that, or it means something else.”
“How exactly did you manage that? And how do you know the tapes are good?”
Logan shrugged, “called in a few favors to a sergeant that works that way. He leaned on the owner a bit.”
“And the key,” she picked up the small bronze key and turned it over in her hands. There was nothing distinctive about it except a small number 72 etched neatly on one side.
He just shrugged, “it’s not a house or car key. Doesn’t go to a safe deposit or P.O. either, but beyond that, no idea.”
Tossing the key down she shook her head, “is it foul play or is she running you think? And what could be big enough to make someone cross Anthony Quinn? Either wife or stranger that takes balls,” she sighed, “looks like I’ve got more leg work to do.” Vic nearly reached up to pull him in for a kiss goodbye. Old habits. Instead, she turned and headed for the door. “Thanks, Logan. I do appreciate the help.”
“Yeah, I want that information you promised. And this time maybe as soon as you get it and not after the case is solved?” He sat back down to his paperwork, “and Victoria, watch out for yourself. This whole thing smells wrong.”