It was a quiet morning at the offices of Doyle and Doyle Investigative Services. Too quiet for Malachy Doyle's taste in fact as actual paying customers had been few and far in between lately. His son had a talent for finding work that not pay at all like Jake's most recent adventure chasing would-be armored car robbers or if even if they did, caused more trouble and mayhem in their lives then they were worth. With Jake out of commission for a few days, Mal was intent on making good use of the time by finding at least one regular paying client with a simple, old-fashioned case. Maybe tracking down a cheating spouse or even a lost poodle. Anything that paid had where as little as possible could go wrong. Jake might be a good investigator (not that Mal would repeat that to his face), but he had no sense for the business side of things what with allowing clients to barter for their services, paying them in belt buckles and other assorted trinkets. Otherwise, he'd have to look for another one of those repo jobs. Or not, he thought, cringing as he remembered how the last one of those had landed them in a messy affair revolving around counterfeit currency. It had to be Jake's presence, he reconned, that managed to turn even the most harmless of jobs into harrowing adventures that nearly got them kidnapped, killed, jailed or any combination of the three. His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the office door opening. It was his wife Rose who entered.
"You look worried," she observed. "Anything the matter?"
"Just worried about the business. We haven't exactly had an abundance of paying clients lately."
"Then maybe this will cheer you up," Rose suggested and deposited a pile of mail on the table in front of her husband.
"I'm going to make some coffee. You want any?" she asked, walking over to the coffee maker.
"Yes, please," replied Mal slightly absent-minded as he had begun to sort through the pile of letters. There were the usual advertisements, a few bills and one other letter, addressed to the company in large capital letters. Mal turned over the cream-coloured envelope, but there was no return address anywhere.
He reached for the letter opener and then removed the enclosure - a folded piece of ordinary white paper, the type typically used in home printers. He unfolded the letter. It read as follows:
This is your first and last warning. You will pay for the lives you've ruined.
Mal read the letter through three times, but the threat still did nothing to jog his memory. He had no idea what this could be about. Or if it was even addressed to him in the first place. Jake had a knack for meddling in other people's business and it wouldn't be too surprising if someone were to take offense one of those days. When he saw Rose coming his way with a steaming mug of coffee, he folded the letter again and put it back in its envelope. No sense in worrying Rose when all he had was an anonymous threatening letter which might or might not be meant for him. He slipped the letter beneath the blotter on his desk, intent on dealing with it later. He wasn't exactly worried, but he did intend on asking Jake if there was anything he should know about.
"Thanks Rose," he said as Rose deposited a steaming mug of coffee in front of him.
"Any business coming our way?" she asked casually.
"No, unfortunately not," Mal answered, hoping it wasn't a lie. He didn't like keeping secrets from his wife, but he didn't want to worry her needlessly. It was hardly the first threat he'd received. As a cop or private investigator, one didn't only make friends. Enemies were par for the course, especially when working with someone like Jake.
Leslie wondered whether she should consider the fact that she had spent her weekend off alone alarming or not. It depended, she guessed, on what the alternative was. At least alone, she wasn't likely to end up in trouble. Unlike whenever she spent time in Jake Doyle's company. Leslie had barely finished the thought when, turning a narrow corner of the road in her car slightly too fast, when she spotted a speeding car going over the side off the side of the road and out of view on the next turn. The road was a fairly narrow one, winding along the coastline. Anyone going this fast over the side of the road was bound to plunge straight into the ocean below. Leslie sighed and stepped on the accelerator. Less than a minute later, she had reached the spot where the other car had left the road. She brought her car to a stop on the side of the road and jumped out, running towards the cliff's edge. Down below, an older model white car was slowly sinking, already almost completely submerged with only the tail lights still visible above the water. Not hesitating an instant, Leslie slipped out of her shoes and struggled out of her jacket. The cliff was nearly vertical at the spot, allowing her to jump in after the car.
The water was shockingly cold, despite the relatively warm weather, driving the breath from her lungs in an instant. Leslie made for the surface, emerging only for an instant to take a deep breath, before diving back under. The salty water burned in her eyes as she looked around trying to find where the car had sunk. Visibility was low, but finally, she spotted the white shape about twenty yards away. With quick strokes, she swam to towards it. Bobbing to the surface once again, she gulped in a breath, then ducked back under. As quickly as she could, she dove deeper, towards the rapidly sinking car. Just how deep was the seabed here, she wondered just before the car appeared to stop sinking. It must have hit bottom she realized as she swam up the the windshield. In the driver's seat was a woman, slumped forward with her head hovering just above the dashboard. The car's interior was already filled with water, the current causing the woman's upper body to sway slightly back and forth. How could the car have filled up so quickly, Leslie wondered, already feeling her body demanding oxygen. She swam 'round the side, finding the driver's side window open. Good for her, bad for the woman inside. Not daring the risk surfacing again for breath, Leslie squeezed in through the side window, loosing valuable seconds fumbling with the woman's seat belt before she was able to grab the woman under the arms and with her burden, start to make her way back to the surface.
It was more difficult than she would have thought. The woman was dead weight in her arms, her lungs were starting to ache and the muscles in her legs burned mercilessly. The surface seemed endlessly far away and she was seriously wondering if she was going to make it as she struggled to regain fresh air. Just when the demand to take a breath become overwhelming, her head broke the surface. For several long moments, she tread water, greedily gulping down precious air. The oxygen cleared her head enough to allow her to realize that she needed to get the woman ashore somehow. She looked around, but saw nothing but a steep cliff. She couldn't possibly climb back up to regain the road, certainly not while carrying an additional two-thirds of her own weight. A wave of panic took hold of her when she realized that she was trapped, with a woman either dead or dying in her arms. It took a few moments for her to realize that there was someone shouting and waving, trying to get her attention from the shoreline above.
It was difficult to understand the words over the sound of wind and water, but she could make out parts of it.
"Hold on...help coming..." She wasn't sure but she thought she could hear sirens in the distance as well.
Leslie shifted, trying to feel for the pulse of the woman she had pulled from the water. It was a difficult undertaking considering that she had to hold on the woman at the same time, but eventually she managed to find a faint beat under her fingers. That sign of hope gave her renewed strength and Leslie begun swimming again, towards the shore. As she got closer, she saw a small outcropping at the foot of the cliff. It was about 50 cm above the waterline, just low enough so that she might be able to reach it. Swimming the distance seemed to take forever, but in reality it couldn't have taken her more than a few seconds. Getting onto the ledge took considerably longer and by the time Leslie had herself and the woman secure on the ledge, she was trembling with exhaustion. Stretching the woman out on the ledge as best as possible, Leslie proceeded to check her over. She still had a pulse, but wasn't breathing. Damn, how long had it been? Leslie immediately started rescue breathing, hoping that it wasn't too late. It only took a few breaths before the woman made a gurgling sound, and begun to cough up water. Leslie helped her turn to the side and held her steady until she was done bringing up salt water. It was only now that Leslie noticed how young the woman she'd pulled from the wreck really was. She could hardly be more than a teenager - sixteen, maybe seventeen years old. Dressed for a party from the looks of her mini-skirt and skimpy top. She'd probably been coming from a party when she'd gone off the road. Alcohol, drugs maybe? A sudden giddy laugh escaped her. Apparently it didn't take Jake Doyle to land her in trouble after all. From the looks of it, Leslie thought as she held the shivering teen, she really didn't need any outside help.
Twenty minutes later, the girl and the Leslie were safely on the way to the nearest hospital. The girl had been somewhat alert and coherent enough to answer a few basic questions before they had left the accident scene. Leslie hadn't wanted to go along to the hospital, but she hadn't been able to deny the fact that she was shivering uncontrollably. The paramedics suspected mild hypothermia, and she had scarped her hands and knees pretty good when trying to climb onto the ledge. This was not how she had planned to spend her day off, but not diving in after the car had never been a consideration. And if she was honest, it felt pretty good to have saved a life.
Leslie was still somewhat high with adrenaline as she walked out of the exam room and into the hospital hallway. Her scrapes and abrasions had all been cleaned and dressed and she was now dressed in hospital scrubs as her own clothes, save for her jacket and shoes were still soaking wet. Fortunately, her cell phone had been in her jacket pocket the whole time, hence avoiding a watery end.
The shivering had stopped after she'd gotten into some dry clothes and had had two cups of hot tea from the vending machine. The doctor who had seen to her had pronounced her free to go. Leslie intended to do just that without making a bee-line to visit Jake before she left but first she was determined to see if she couldn't find out how the girl was doing. Having saved her life, she couldn't help but feel somewhat responsible for her. It was silly, she told herself, but there it was. As she approached the information desk in the lobby, there was already a man, gesticulating wildly, as he tried to get information from the young woman sitting behind the counter.
Leslie stood at a discrete distance to wait her turn, but couldn’t help overhearing their conversation, as neither of them were attempting to keep their voices down.
"But she is my sister!" the man was saying. "I have a right to see her."
"As I told you before, sir, you need to talk to Dr. Wong for that."
"I did, but the cops won't let me see her."
"Then I suggest you take it up with them," the receptionist replied stiffly, her tone carrying an air of finality as she turned her attention toward Leslie. The man stormed off in the direction of the elevators.
"What can I do for you, ma'am?" the receptionist, Tina, as her name-tag proclaimed, asked Leslie.
"My name is Leslie Bennett. I came in with a young woman about an hour ago. Her name is Jocelyn Parker."
At that the receptionist raised an eyebrow and interrupted Leslie in irritation.
"As I told the 'gentleman' before you'll need to talk to the officer in charge for any information about this particular patient."
Now it Leslie's turn to be taken aback. She pulled her badge from the pocket of her coat and showed it to the woman. "Could you please tell where I can find the officer in charge?"
The receptionist changed her tune at that, and quite meekly replied. "Of course, she's in room 456, forth floor. You should find the officer in charge there."
Leslie thanked the receptionist and made for the elevator wondering what was so special about the young woman. Cases of driving under the influence usually didn't command this kind of secrecy, unless the person in question was someone well-known or well-connected. She didn't recognize the name, Jocelyn Parker, but that didn't mean that she wasn't some big shots' daughter.
Leslie had no trouble finding the right room. The man from the reception desk was arguing loudly with a uniformed police officer in front of room 456. She was maybe twenty meters away when the man turned around, stalking off in her direction.
"Are you a doctor?" the man asked her, desperation in his voice.
Leslie shook her head. "No, I'm..."
"My kid sister, she's been in an accident and no one will tell me anything or let me see her," he blurted out.
"I know," Leslie said softly. She felt sorry for the young man who seemed so desperate for answers. Plus, even if she didn't want to admit it, she
The man stared at her, aghast. "What...?"
"I mean, I was there," she clarified. "I witnessed the accident."
"So it was an accident?"
"I don't know that," Leslie confessed. "All I saw was a car going over a cliff. I stopped and just did what anyone would have done."
"So, you helped Jocelyn?"
Noticing the looks the uniformed police office was giving them, Leslie pulled the man aside. "Why don't we go somewhere more comfortable to talk?"