It had been one hell of a day.
This morning I woke up feeling like I had been kicked hard in the skull, a bit too much gas the night before, but I was able to shake it off with a little help from my old friend John Jameson.
On the way uptown I got snagged by Officer Singer and dragged into the cop shop to answer a bunch of questions about some missing boy I’d never heard of. Bobby’s a good man, better than most of the cops in this town, and something about this missing kid’s got him grasping at straws. He wanted to know if anyone had solicited my services over the past few days. If I’m worth my salt I’d say the guy’s got a personal connection to the case. After an hour of sitting on my ass and then another fielding questions I didn’t have the answers to, he cut me loose.
I was already late as hell to the gig I had lined up, and the bucket of bolts I call a car took her sweet time getting warmed back up. It was well past noon by the time I made my way to the job.
I was supposed to be keepin’ an eye on little Miss Harvelle for her battle axe of a mother. I wanted to wrap it up as quick as possible. Ellen Harvelle was a good woman and a better purveyor of hooch. She ran The Roadhouse, the seediest speakeasy in town. That dame managed to survive the prohibition with her ass outside a jail cell and her books in the black on her moxie alone. And, well, Ellen never missed a word uttered at her bar. I owe her big time for tips she’d slipped me alongside two fingers of Old Crow. Checking up on Joanna Beth was the least I could do.
The surveillance I had planned was shot when I pulled my hunk of rust up to Benny’s just in time for Jo and her friend Meg to tumble out the door, cackling like a couple a magpies.
Jo shoved the other girl aside and bounced over to the passenger window as soon as she saw me. “Heya, Mr. Novak! You headin’ over to my mom’s joint?”
I squinted at her. Joanna Beth was seventeen, but with her messy blonde ponytail and boy cut trousers she looked like the same little girl who’d taken me for my very last dollar at poker over ten years ago. Ellen thought Jo was hanging around with older boys, but I’d only ever seen her with the short brunette currently smirking and rolling a cigarette on the hood of my car. “No, Joanna. I’ll be in later this evening, but I’m running late to the office as it is.”
Jo swiped the newly rolled cigarette out of her friends mouth and leaned into the car window, “Got a light?”
I rolled my eyes high as as I flicked open my lighter and held the flame to the end of the smoke, “Don’t let your mom catch you smoking or she’ll tan your hide.”
Jo took a long drag and grinned wide. “You don’t tell her I’m smokin’ and I won’t tell her you're the one that lit it for me.”
I raised my eyebrow and frowned at the girl, snapping the lighter shut with a sharp click. “It’s a deal.”
“Come on, Jo.” Meg tugged on Jo’s sleeve and threw a wink over her shoulder at me. “Later, Mr. Spade.”
The girls were around the corner of the parking lot and outta my sight before I could blink. I was thoroughly confused. My name is not Spade.
I shook off the interaction and made my way into Benny’s Diner. Now, Benny’s wasn’t the classiest dive in town, but the man could make a damn fine cup of coffee.
I dropped into my usual seat at the counter and took a deep breath. The place always smelled like fresh coffee, charred burgers, and cherry pie. It’s like the weight of the whole world fell off my shoulders right then. I could die in a place like this and I’d die a content man.
A low chuckle from the direction of the kitchen drew my eyes to the rough looking proprietor leaning in the doorway. “Evenin’, Officer Novak. I saw your bucket a’ bolts drag itself into my lot and started you a pot a’ joe. You’ve looked a sight better, brother.” Benny wiped his greasy hands on an even greasier rag. “Rough day?”
“I am not an officer any more, Benny. You know that.” I sighed and set my hat on the counter next to me. “I’ve had a rough day and a rough night before that.” I pinched the bridge of my nose hard. That damned headache from this morning was coming back.
Benny didn’t bother responding to the correction. Just like every day before today and probably every one after tomorrow. “I’ll grab ya that cup.” The man winked at me and turned away to pour the coffee I so desperately needed.
“Today has been a strange day, Benny.” I paused as he slid the cup in front of me, black as midnight on a moonless night. It was hot as hell, but tasted just like heaven. “Thank you. Today has been a strange day. It’s like I stepped out of bed and the world was one step ahead. I haven’t been able to catch up since.”
Benny shook his head, “I’ve had those days, bo, you just gotta push through until you get back to your bed and start over tomorrow.” The man shrugged his broad shoulders before smiling wide. “Maybe this’ll turn that streak around. Andrea wanted to thank you for trackin’ down that punk that knocked us over last week.” He reached into the display of pies on the edge of the counter and pulled out a fat apple pie before sliding it into a box and pushing it across the counter toward me.
“That’s really not necessary, Benny.” And it wasn’t necessary, but I certainly hoped he wouldn’t agree. The pie smelled as good as the coffee and I quickly realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before.
“Break it up, Novak, It’s yours.” Benny turned me away with a stern frown when I reached into my coat for my billfold.
I sighed and slipped my hat back on. “You give that wife of yours a squeeze from me and then a kiss for the pie.” I quirked a smile at him and drained the last of my coffee. It was into the afternoon and I still hadn’t made it into the office.
Benny grinned and waved me off before retreating to the kitchen.
I pushed my way out of the diner and back to my car.
When I pulled up outside the ugly building that housed my office, there was a big black car parked out front. Now, I didn’t know a whole lot about cars. I knew enough to keep mine mostly running and enough to tell that this one was either owned by someone who loved her or someone who could pay someone to make it seem like they did. It wasn’t often you saw a girl like her in this part of town and I was intrigued.
I didn’t bring in a ton of dough as a dick. I got a soft spot for this town bigger than that Chevy sitting in my parking spot outside. I had a bad habit of doing what’s right, and as my recent career change might imply, that didn’t always pay off. As such, my office was just a basement apartment next to the boiler room in a building older than the Bible.
As I shoved the door closed behind me, Mrs. Mosley poked her head out of her front door and narrowed her eyes at me, shaking her head.
“Castiel, sweetheart, you need to take better care of yourself.” She clicked her tongue and put her fists on her wide hips. “You cannot keep runnin’ round half the night chasin’ after the riff raff and then spendin’ the other half up at Harvelle’s! You’re runnin’ yourself ragged, child.”
“How do you know what I—“ I didn’t need to ask, really, I knew she wasn’t going to answer with anything other than a smack to the back of my head.
She cuffed me lightly, knocking my hat forward across my eyes, “Don’t ask stupid questions, Castiel Novak.” She huffed and rolled her eyes. “Now, there is a boy down in your office, and he’s been waiting for some time. I let the poor thing in for you. He looks about as worried as a turkey in November. You go do what you do best and help him find what he lost.” She pushed my hat back into place and patted my cheek before turning on her heel and retreating into her apartment.
Missouri had an uncanny ability to read people, and if she said this man lost something, I’d bet my reputation that he did.
So there I was standing like an idiot in the lobby of the musty brick building I call my place of employment and nursing an ever expanding headache.
It had to be a side effect of the weird day I had, but it felt like i was standing on the edge of something. That feeling you got when you’re up on that big rock at the quarry and you knew you’re about to jump in the water. Excited and nervous in a way that made everything inside you feel ready to scream.
I had half a mind to turn around, get back in my car, and just drive back home. It felt like the safe thing to do, but I’d never been good at the safe thing. So, I jogged down the stairs and pushed open the door to my office only to stop short at the sight of my potential client.
When Missouri said boy I was expecting some lanky teenager, not someone like the man sitting on the corner of my desk. No, this man was anything but a boy.