“Damnit Jake! I told you to take this trash out yesterday!”
It was morning. Back to paradise. Mrs. Kelter and Jake went at if for about an hour before I got out of bed. I took care of my morning shit, shower and shave, then left for the office. That’s all there was to it.
At a red light I looked toward the bus stop. I watched the people standing there. I watched their movements. Studied their faces. Their clothes. I catalogued them one by one. I picked out a young man dressed in an old suit. Stains on the lapel. His shoes, dull and black. He wore a face of desperation and confusion. He was trudging through it with the rest of them. Beside him, an old woman sat as feeble as a toothpick, her bones ready to break under the pressures of existence. Gravity pulling her towards the grave, bending her body like a question mark. The others were following suit. Devising in vain. Playing the lotto. Wishing on a star. Holding their breath for the easy way out . . . Hell, they could all be Exos playing out some role programmed into them. They’d blend right in and you’d never know the difference.
The light turned green. I moved on and forgot about them.
When I got to the office I made coffee. Spiked it. Drank it down. Watched a fly buzz around the room for thirty minutes, ramming its head against the window. Poor bastard. I really felt for it. Sometimes I wanted to do the same.
Business was slow again. No new cases. No leads on the old. Stacks of paper like dog shit smeared across my desk. Wives trying to catch their husbands with their pants down. Lost daughters running off to be porn stars. A business partner rubbed out . . . People lack imagination. They’re too obvious.
I stared at the wall for a couple more hours. Then there was a knock at the door.
A woman walked in. Long blonde hair. Bright molten brown eyes. Curves from hip to chest. She wore a dress that clung to her body like cellophane. The right strap hung loosely past her shoulder. I was instantly brought back to infancy.
“Are you Frank Berringer?”
“Even on the Sabbath.”
She gave me a curious look.
“My name is Mary-Lou. They told me you’re the best.”
“They were right.”
She took a seat and crossed her legs.
“What can I do for you, Mary-Lou?”
She pulled out a cigarette and lit it. Took a long seductive drag and blew a long kiss of smoke into the room.
“It’s my father . . . He’s missing.”
“Maybe he had some place to go.”
“My father wouldn’t just disappear without saying anything. It’s not like him.”
“People are known to do strange things. They bottle everything up for years then one day they snap a shoelace and POP! . . . This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this, you know.“
“You’re wrong, Mr. Berringer. My father may be a bit eccentric. But he wouldn’t just disappear.”
“Why don’t you take this to the fuzz?”
“I don’t want this information getting leaked to the papers. I need someone who works discreetly.”
“Oh, is that so . . . Well then, who’s your daddy?”
“My father is Bertrum Welles.”
“Welles? . . . As in Snyder and Welles, the energy company?”
“Well I’ll be damned . . . “
I rubbed my chin and thought for a minute. I got lost staring at her legs before she reminded me by clearing her throat that I’d been looking too long.
“Do you think a woman was involved?” I managed to get out.
“Uh . . . a woman. You know . . . Maybe they eloped.”
“My father’s work is his passion. After my mother passed, he devoted his life to helping humanity. He loves this world and the people in it.“
“Sounds like a real saint.”
“My father rode the bus everyday to be closer to them . . . He wouldn’t just leave them behind.”
“You’d be surprised what a man would do for a good roll in the hay.”
Mary-Lou gave me a cold stare. She’d had enough of the go around. This was serious business. The man meant a lot to her. A perfect picture of father and daughter . . . Well, who knows. Maybe she’s in on it. There’s always a lot of dough in these dealings. But then again, maybe not. What did I care. I sure as hell wanted my cut.
“What do you think he was working on?” I asked, changing the subject.
“I’m not sure,” she answered, her face more relaxed. “He said it would change the world, and the way we live on it.”
“Was it a giant can of Raid?”
“What? No . . . But he was talking strange the last time I saw him. He said the flame of Prometheus belongs to every man, woman and child . . . Whatever that means.”
“Thinking like that can get a man sent to the madhouse. Did you look there?”
“He’s vanished, I tell you!”
“Hmmm . . . Flame of Prometheus, eh.”
Just then I recalled my dream from the night before, what the snake had told me.
“Maybe that little worm was on to something.”
“Uhh nothing. You got a photo of the old man.”
“I do . . . Here.”
She fished out a picture from her purse. Her dress hung low as she reached over my desk. I got a good look between the peaks while snatching the photo from her little white hand. I looked the picture over. Bertram Welles was a scrawny man like a boy with wrinkles and grey hair. The look on his face was distant, as if he were looking far off into the future, seeing things most people couldn’t even dream of.
“Where was he the last place you saw him?”
“He was leaving for work a week ago . . . Sometimes he can be gone for days at a time. I understand the sacrifice he’s making. So I waited for him to come home. But he never came. Then I went down there and no one had seen him. He just vanished.”
“What about Snyder?”
“That’s where you come in. Snyder has been unreachable.”
I rolled the whole thing over in my mind. Strange for a high profile figure to simply vanish. Foul play is a possibility. But then again, everything isn’t always as it seems. I looked Mary-Lou over. How could someone like her come from someone like Bertram. The two didn’t add up. But what did I know. Math might as well be Cantonese. I thought about what Mary-Lou said about the Flame of Prometheus . . . Can truth be found in a dream? I wondered. Does it hold some weight with reality? Did Bertram know this? I couldn’t say. But I got goosebumps thinking about it and quickly shook them off.
“I’ll take the case. But it’s going to cost you.”
“Tell me what you need and I’ll get it.”
“My usual rate, $25 a day. And I’ll need a retainer for expenses, of course. All standard. You can pay me the rest when I find him.”
“Please, Mr. Berringer. Please find my father.”
“Call me Frank . . . And I always get my man.”
I drew up a contract.
You know what the man said, ‘You can’t feed nightingales on fairy-tales.’ And he was right. Mary-Lou’s got the looks to turn any man into a fool who’s found his pecker for the first time, drool coming out of the corners of his mouth. But what she was sellin’, I wasn’t buyin’. I needed something tangible. The cold facts. I needed blood stains on the carpet. Then I’d really go to work . . . You gotta keep your eyes wide and nose off the ground. Clues are in the air, like a mouse fart in a secondhand store.