"One and only," said Specs, turning his round-framed mirrorshades at me. "Today. At 1230 hours."
We were in the main bar area of the Red Dog, just a little past 11:30.
Revell, the burly and bearded owner, was restocking the liquor bottles that lined the mirrored back counter. Mouse, my partner and fellow ronin, was perched on a bar stool, working over a plate piled with breakfast pastries. Specs, everyone's favorite infobroker, sat two stools over. He was dressed in yet another Hawaiian shirt the color of a paint factory explosion, this one favoring neon greens, the overhead lamps glinting off his bald head.
"What's a city official want with us?" I said.
Specs shrugged. "Beats the crap outta me. How in hell does he even know you?"
I started to shake my head.
And a memory hit.
"The Palladium Hotel," I said.
Mouse looked at me. "Your date with Jake?"
"It wasn't a date," I said.
"Should've been," Mouse said. "You could've gotten laid."
Specs snapped his fingers. "When those assholes tried shooting up the restaurant."
"Yeah," I said. "That's the one."
Revell snorted. "Religious zealots. Always trouble."
"So what's that gotta do with the Vice Mayor?" said Specs.
"He was there," I said, then recapped the evening's events.
"Bet he's got a job for you," said Specs.
"Why?" I said. "He's probably got his own secteam."
"He's willing to pay."
Mouse swallowed a bite of a jelly donut and said, "Getting paid is good."
"True," I said.
"Keeps us from eating kibble."
* * *
Jeffries was waiting for us in a somewhat secluded area on the northwest corner of the Civic Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens at exactly 1230 hours. He was sitting on one of four benches that circled a pond, tossing handfuls of crumbled crackers at several ducks that milled around in front of the bench. A muscle stood off to one side of the bench, another just a few meters away.
The muscle by the bench spotted us and made a small gesture to approach.
Jeffries looked the same as last time. Medium height. Fortyish. Slicked-back blond hair. Dark suit.
Mouse and I stopped a meter away from him.
He nodded at me then arched both eyebrows at Mouse.
"My partner," I said.
"I thought the gentleman was your partner."
"That was a temporary arrangement," I said. "You wanted to talk to us."
Jeffries nodded. "I have a job for you."
I gestured to the muscle standing by the bench. "You have your own men."
"I need to outsource," he said.
"Ah," I said.
"I'm prepared to pay."
"One hundred thousand upon completion."
Mouse gave a low whistle.
"Goodly price," I said.
"Goodly job," said Jeffries.
"My daughter Rachel," said Jeffries. "I want you to find her and bring her home."
Mouse and I exchanged looks.
"Missing?" I said. "Why not go to BCPD?"
Jeffries took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "She's not missing. She..." He frowned, then said: "She ran away a little over twenty-four hours ago. I want you to find her. BCPD really doesn't need to get involved."
He gestured to the nearest muscle who stepped up and held out a thick manila envelope the size of my hand.
"Inside is a photoprint of Rachel," said Jeffries. "Recent. About a month old. Also, half the fee on a creditchip. Fifty thousand. The rest when you complete the job."
"Done," I said and took the package. "How do we contact you when we find her?"
"Cellphone inside," Jeffries said, indicating the package. "Preset number. Call that."
"Will do," I said and slipped the package into my jacket pocket.
"You might want to start at her apartment," said Jeffries. "Her roommate might know something."
* * *
The address Jeffries gave us was a townhouse complex three blocks northeast of the BCU campus.
When I parked the Shelby just up the street from the complex entrance, Mouse said, "Been here before."
I looked around then nodded. "Yeah," I said and pointed down the street. "Raya and her friends lived that way."
A month ago, we'd helped Revell find his missing niece. She'd shared a townhouse with another BCU student in a complex similar to this one.
Mouse said: "Same neighborhood. Another missing girl. Do I detect a trend?"
"I just hope they don't make a habit of it," I said and pulled out the package Jeffries had given us.
The photoprint was standard small, eight-by-thirteen centimeters, glossy, and showed a young girl in her early twenties, tall and slender, with a heart-shaped face and shoulder-length straight brown hair with side-swept bangs. Rachel was wearing a black cocktail dress, had a champagne glass in one hand, and was mugging for the camera.
"Party girl?" said Mouse, peering at the print.
I pointed to a few adults in the photo's background. "Not with them. They don't look like the party type. My guess is some public event for her father. Got dragged along."
Mouse checked the cred'chip with the 'reader. "We're good," she said a moment later. "Fifty grand, as promised."
I slid the print back in the package, put it back in my pocket, and popped the door of the Shelby. "Let's check out the place."
The complex was made up of a dozen two-story brown and beige trimmed townhouses that ringed a small cul-de-sac. A tall skinny tree held up by wooden supports stood at the curb in front of each townhouse. Rachel's was the third one on the right.
I rang the doorbell.
Mouse arched an eyebrow.
Rang the bell again.
Still no answer.
"Out?" said Mouse.
This time I rapped on the door with my knuckles then put my ear to it.
A faint sound. Somewhere behind the door. Inside the townhouse. Like a quick shuffle across carpet.
Felt a tap on my shoulder.
Mouse nodded toward the front windows.
The blinds moved slightly from side to side, as if someone had just peered between the slats then moved quickly away, not wanting to be seen.
"Come on," I said, voice pitched low, and we headed back toward the Shelby.
(to be continued...)
"Ties That Bind"