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A City Full of Human Beings

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Oftentimes, the cases I get make my heart heavy with stress and fear, and I feel like Atlas holding up the sky. I place the blame on my own mind; it never shuts off, never stops thinking, even when I try to relax or sleep. When I’m bogged down by the dark thoughts that come with my line of work, I only get more and more restless. But it’s evenings like this one that help take my mind away from the world.

The sun had dropped out of sight already. However, weak rays of light still lept from below the horizon, painting the undersides of the wispy clouds with gold. It was a crisp autumn day, and the wind was piercing and relentless. It had the quality that only autumn winds have; the way it twisted around to tickle every part of you, whether you wore a jacket or not. I love the chill of a fresh October sunset. I had shed my jacket to feel the air on my arms, and the tips of my fingers and cheeks were tingling with effort to keep warm.

Families trotted along the sidewalk, admiring the restaurants from their front windows. Children chattered about their Halloween costumes. One young boy in particular was very enthusiastic about dressing as a firefighter; it brought a warm sensation to my heart. I remember when I used to get so excited about little things like that.

Amongst the small groups of families, the sidewalks were populated with the ordinary cityfolk; young couples, people on their way home from work, college kids looking to party, old homeless men. I loved to listen to and study all of them. I find people, the way they walk, and tell stories, and admire things they can’t have, so fascinating. I learned a long time ago to tune out the sound of the constant traffic so I could hear conversations I wasn't a part of. Everyone has a story that defines them; and I can’t help but wonder what it is.

Unfortunately, working as a private investigator, I tend to hear the dark and violent stories more often the the light and jaunty ones.

You might have heard of me. Dave A Bayley, Private Eye. I work with my best friend, Drew MacFarlane, to solve some of the most puzzling cases in the area. It’s not a particularly positive career, but to know that I’m helping someone is quite nice. And there’s no better feeling than finally solving a case thats been stumping you for months.

I was heading home from one such case on that evening. It had been a grueling two and a half months for Drew and I; pouring over documents at our desk till our backs ached, questioning person after person, searching through sketchy alleyways long after night fell. But, we had finally cracked it, and I had gone to the home of our client to deliver the good news, and to collect our payment. I was returning home in good spirits, already considering which restaurant Drew and I would visit to celebrate our success.

As soon as I unlocked the door to our office/apartment, it was thrown open and I was pulled into a suffocating hug. Drew’s never been reserved in expressing emotions, which often results in me getting quite a fright. However, I had gotten pretty used to this kind of greeting.

He finally let me go, exclaiming, “It’s over! This awful case is finished!” It’s almost comical how excited he gets after we wrap up. Though, this time I can’t blame him. He took most of the work on this case, and it weighed heavy on him. At one point, he didn't sleep for four and a half days.

I practically leapt through the bottom floor of our apartment, which served as our office, Drew close behind me. He got ahead of me on the spiral stairs by taking them two at a time, which I instantly took as a challenge. I grabbed the hem of his shirt and yanked, pulling him back to my level. From the top of the stairs, our target was in sight: a medium sized couch, looking out upon the west wall, which was entirely window. Drew suddenly rammed against me, causing to me to stumble and give him the lead. I knew at that point, I knew I wouldn't win, but at least I could get my revenge. Drew flopped down, taking up as much space on the couch as possible. I trotted over, then perched myself on his legs so he couldn’t move.

We would’ve sat there for ages, if not for a frantic knock at the door.

Drew groaned and pushed me off of him, straight onto the floor. I followed him, praying that it was only a friend at the door. Both of us were wrecked from all the work from the past two months. Handling another client would be difficult.

It was a strange time for a new client to come to us with a case; the sun had gone down, and the city was starting to fall asleep. However, the person at the door was most certainly not someone we knew.

He was odd looking, to say the least. Taller than Drew and I by at least half a foot. He was pale and thin, almost sickly looking. It was very clear he didn’t go outside much. He wore large, round glasses, with such a strong prescription that his eyes were magnified to twice their size. He wore all white, with some kind of NASA patch on his sleeve. I couldn’t tell what age he was, he could’ve been 25 or 55. His skin was young and smooth, but he had an obvious receding hairline. His hair itself was strange reddish-brown, and neatly combed, like he was trying to impress his third-grade crush. Or, it had been neatly combed, but it had fallen out of place in some kind of rush. Drew would later remark “He looked like an odd cross between a mad scientist and a guy on Star Trek”.

The three of us stared at each other awkwardly for a couple seconds. Drew, nor I were dressed as formally as we’d like to be when meeting a new client (My glasses were askew and my hair was ruffled from being shoved off the couch, and Drew was in his pyjamas already). However, the man looked to be as disgruntled as we were, panting and sweating slightly.

Finally, he asked, in a nasal voice,  “Are you the detective?”

“Yeah, we both are. Were you looking for us?” I responded.

He nodded erratically, so much so that his glasses slipped down his face. He shoved them back up with no particular elegance, then frantically shook my hand.

“My name’s Chuck Rogers,” He said hurriedly. “I’m here on account of my mother. She-”

Drew interrupted him, “Hold on. Come on inside, and then you can explain what’s going on.”

To me, the downstairs was just that; the downstairs of my home. But, to anyone who wasn’t close to Drew and I, it was a fully fledged (and fairly intimidating) office. We hadn’t meant for it to look like something out of a detective flick, but that was how it turned out. A large desk sat in one corner, illuminated by a warm lamp. Across from it, there was a large, mahogany bookshelf I had found out for donation, filled with novels, case files, and other trinkets. A bulletin board was haphazardly tacked to the wall, still covered in notes from our previous investigation. Beneath the bulletin were two personal desks, Drew’s and mine respectively. Both desks, as well as most other areas of the office, were filled with assorted things, some of which were useful to work, and some of which we just found interesting enough to keep in public. The blinds were closed at the moment, giving the whole place and after-dark look that fit the situation quite well.

Chuck wrinkled his nose as he stepped inside; Drew and I had gotten used to the omnipresent odor of fireplace ashes and old paper, but Chuck obviously hated the smell. I could tell he was some sort of control freak or perfectionist by the way his magnified eyes flicked around, rearranging the admittedly cluttered setting in his mind.

I sat down on one side of the large desk, while Drew retrieved chairs for Chuck and himself.  He joined me on my side of the desk, and Chuck sat across from us.

“Alright”, Drew said, reclining in his chair. “I’m Drew MacFarlane, my friend here is Dave Bayley. What’s your reason for seeking us out?”

Chuck looked around nervously, like he thought someone might be listening in to his conversation. The he gulped, leaned in toward us, and said with a mix of seriousness and paranoia, “My mother has gone missing. I had left my house only two hours ago for… reasons, and when I returned she was just gone. I tried calling her phone at least fourteen times, and no response. I believe she was- never mind.”

I found it a bit odd how he cut himself off, but chose to ignore it.

“When you found her missing, were you returning to your house, or hers? Or does she live with you?” I questioned.

Chuck shook his head jerkily. “No, no,” he responded. “I live with her. She provides for me.”

Drew jotted that down on a notepad he always carried around. Afterwards, he looked up, and asked, “Chuck, how old are you?”

“30 years and five months.”

Drew wrote that down as well, his eyebrows knitting together.

“Do you work?” I asked. The way he acted, spoke and dressed, I just couldn’t see Chuck as a jobless lowlife like so many that lived in the city.

“No,” he answered without a hint of remorse. “However, I’m not useless; far from it, actually. I invent things, see, really useful things. I’ve sold some of them, to quite nice profit. Look, you have one of my things”-he pointed to a kitchy palm-leaf-umbrella Drew had seen on TV, which stood in a corner of the room- “The palmbrella, it’s the most popular thing I’ve made.”

“Instant tropification,” Drew murmured under his breath.

However, Chuck wasn’t done. “I’m also a bit of a scientist, if I do say so myself. I’ve made a renewable power source from oranges and watermelons, and I believe I’m quite close to contacting extraterrestrial life.” His eyes glittered with pride as he spoke, and it was obvious he was extremely proud of his odd inventions.

“Well, thats very interesting, but not really important to the matter at hand,” Drew informed him. “What’s important is that your mother seems to be missing, which brings me to my next question; are you here to talk about yourself and your situation, or are you going to hire us?”

“Well, of course,” Chuck responded, suddenly prickly and defensive.

I reached down under the desk, and pulled out some documents. There were a couple spaces I had to fill out, but I had done it so many times it had become instinct. After filling out my fields, I passed the paper to Chuck.

“Write your issue here, along with all the information that may help us,” I informed him, pointing out the empty spaces on the form. “Then, read over all our terms carefully, and sign. When you do, you agree to the payment listed here. We get a third upfront.”

Chuck wasted no time filling the section with information, though his handwriting was so messy I doubt I’d be able to read half of it. After finishing, he skipped over everything I had told him to read and gave his signature. He passed the paper back to me with a serious expression which I couldn't quite decipher. Then, he dug into his pocket, and tossed me  a debit card a bit too hard to be casual.

Drew looked at him, concern written over his face. “You have to read it, to know what you’re paying us,” he said, phrasing it like a question.

“I'd pay anything for my mother,” Chuck responded defensively.

I ran the card, then handed it back to Chuck. He snatched it out of my hands with no small amount of force, causing me to jump a bit.

“We’ll be on the case first thing in the morning, sir,” I said, escorting him out. “Have a good night!” I couldn't be more eager to get rid of him, after how icy he had become.

Drew grumbled something about needing some fuckin’ break time , then got up and headed to the stairs.

“I’m gonna have a smoke, then try and get some sleep,” he called from halfway between the first and second floor.

“Fine by me. I’m gonna look at the stuff Chuck wrote for us,” I responded, taking the forms from the large desk and setting up at my personal one. I knew it was going to be another long couple weeks, but I couldn't bring myself to rest just yet. If only I had know how many twists and turns this simple investigation would turn out to have, then maybe I would've given myself the sleep I deserved.