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What Bogart Said

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Brian wadded up the blood-soaked handkerchief and tossed it in the direction of the overturned trashcan.

"If you broke my fucking nose, I'm going to kill you," he said.

He sounded like a kid with a head-cold, with his nose full of blood and pain, and he could already feel the skin under his eyes getting puffy. Wonderful.

Glancing around his ransacked office, at his coffee mug shattered in a pool of cold java where he'd dropped it in the doorway, he changed his mind.

"No, actually, I'm going to fucking kill you anyway."

The guy with the gun did not appear impressed. Brian wondered if it was part of the disguise -- dress like a thug, act like a thug, scare unsuspecting P.I.s into giving up valuable information.

Brian sighed. He'd turned his office chair right-side up, but not his desk; he leaned back in the chair and propped his feet on the desk leg.

"I'm not going to give you what you want," he said. "So you may as well shoot me."

He could say that because he knew the guy wasn't going to shoot him. Ambush him and clobber him in the face as he came into the office; wave a gun around and look threatening -- sure. But Brian knew what a killer's eyes looked like, and this guy... There was just enough ice and hard edge in the guy's blue eyes that told Brian he could kill if he needed to. But pure, cold-blooded killing wasn't in this guy's tool box. Brian would bet his life on it.


"You're working for the bad guy."

They were the first words the guy had said in several minutes. After Brian had picked himself up off the floor, the guy had tossed him a handkerchief for his bleeding nose and demanded the photos and addresses Brian had gathered on his current missing person's case. Then he'd just sat in the chair across from Brian's desk pointedly pointing the gun and waiting.

"Really," Brian said. "That's your next move? Try to bullshit me and appeal to my gullible, ethical side?"

That got a reaction, though not one Brian was expecting. He'd expected fake earnestness or irritation or maybe straightforward switching tactics. Instead the guy's expression hardened with stubbornness and -- which pissed Brian off a little -- derision.

"Is that how they teach you to do things in Chicago P.I. school?" Brian continued.

And hah, that got the reaction Brian was going for -- surprise. The guy didn't know Brian had been tipped off by some of the local mooks that someone was snooping around. Didn't know Brian had kept a distant eye on him since he'd started hanging around a couple days ago.

Didn't know the sweet blond who had chatted him up down at the Diamond Bar the night before was Brian's secretary.

The guy hadn't spilled his profession, but all reports indicated either a cop or a private dick, and the guy didn't read cop to Brian. Apparently he'd guessed right.

"The guy you're working for is a killer," the guy said. "He's playing you."

"He's got missing loved ones," Brian said. He'd have rolled his eyes but that would have hurt like a son of a bitch. "It's a pretty fucking straightforward case."

The guy shook his head and had the gall to look even more contemptuous. "His brother isn't missing, dumbass, he's in on the whole thing. They're looking for the girl."

"Is that right," Brian said.

The guy nodded. "There's a reason she's the ex-girlfriend. And when they find her -- when you hand over those photos and the addresses you found --" Contempt gave way to something hard and grim. "Let's just say they won't kill her right away."

Brian linked his hands behind his head and sighed. "You honestly expect me to believe this shit?"

"I don't give a fuck what you believe. She hired me to keep her safe," the guy said. "So if I have to shoot you to get the dirt you dug up on her, I will, whether you believe me or not."

The problem was, Brian didn't necessarily disbelieve him. What he was saying, if it was true, would fill in a few holes Brian had found in his client's story. It would also explain why Brian had become increasingly uncomfortable with the job the closer he got to the girl.

He gently prodded the throbbing mess of his nose, grumbling to himself irritably. He would have fucking appreciated having this conversation without a broken nose, and with his morning coffee in him, and he said so.

The guy shrugged. "You shoulda come in later, then."

And then he 'oof'd and jerked forward, and collapsed off the chair onto the floor.

"Is he out?" Greta said, standing behind the chair in her stocking feet, clutching a huge book.

Brian came around the desk and picked up the guy's gun, flicking the safety on and tucking it into his own waistband.

"Close enough," he said to her, kneeling to pat the guy down for more weapons (switchblade in his sleeve, Derringer in an ankle holster, shiv and lock picks in his waistband; guy certainly came prepared). To the semi-unconscious lump he said, "And that is how you knock somebody out with a dictionary, idiot."

Greta set the dictionary onto one of the file cabinets still standing mostly upright and tucked her feet back into her heels. "You want me to call the cops?"

The guy was already stirring, groaning and sliding a droopy, wavering hand around to clutch the back of his head. Brian went and dropped tiredly back into his chair. He tilted his head back and pinched his nose; it was bleeding again, dammit.

"Unfortunately, no." He sighed. "I think I need to hear what this guy has to say. But I would love you forever if you could get me a cup of coffee. And maybe some ice."

"For you and the idiot?" she said. She caught Brian's wallet when he pulled it out of his pocket and tossed it to her.

"Yeah, ice for both of us. Coffee for all of us. Actually, if you can get a couple of pots worth, that would be great." He snagged his nameplate off the floor -- it said Brian Schechter, Private Investigator in silver on black; he was fucking proud of that thing -- and set it on the part of his desk that was currently acting as the top. "I can already tell this is going to be a long day."