Officer Anders tapped his worn pencil against the side of his cooling coffee mug. A blues tune wailed on the diner’s tinny speakers. Outside the window, the Angel’s Diner sign flickered, pushing a halo of light out into the gloom of another misty Heavy Nicodemia night. He hadn’t had any coffee since the first sip, but, really, that was for the best. Of all the bad coffee in Heavy Nicodemia, my sister Angel’s was the bitterest, the grittiest, and the most dangerously acidic. I wouldn’t want her getting arrested for assault.
“All right,” Anders said. “Why don’t we just start at the beginning again.”
After the events in the airlock, I’d given the police the general details of what had happened. A beautiful assassin came to town to clean up an errant art thievery ring. In the process she disrupted the entrenched crime bosses of the Heavies and caused a whole lot of other problems our closed system wasn’t accustomed to dealing with.
I winced as shifting sent a dull ache through my bandaged wounds. “When I’m dead and gone to the great beyond,” I started, “somebody at my funeral, as my body slides into the great recycler, will say, ‘Jude Demarco was a nobody, but he was the best damn private detective Nicodemia ever had from Heavies to Hallow. He was the bulldog who tracked down every lead and never let go until the bloody truth died dripping in his jaws. That man would never stop till he saw the way things really were, even if it meant someone got hurt. Even if it got someone killed. There was something we could all admire in Demarco, just as well as there was always something to hate. He saw the good in people, even if deep down he always believed that that same good would eventually lose out against greed and vice.’
“More likely they’ll stop at ‘Nobody.’”
“More like they’ll stop at ‘asshole’,” said Retch, refilling my coffee cup.
I looked up at him. “Asshole wasn’t even in the original quote, kid.”
“I’m pretty sure that quote was all asshole.”
“Shouldn’t you try to be polite so you can get a tip?”
“You don’t tip.” He paused. “You don’t even pay.”
“My charm is payment enough.”
“Officer,” Angel said from behind the counter. “I’d like to report the brutal murder of the truth.”
Anders’s cheeks turned a deep red. “I’ll make a note of it, Angel.”
“She’s joking,” I whispered, leaning forward.
He deadpanned, “We’ll see what a judge says about that.”
Maybe he could handle himself after all.
I glanced over at the back side of Angel’s flickering “Open” sign. Right below it hung my sign that read: Demarco: Detective. Medic. Handyman. All things found. All things fixed. A lie, really. I couldn’t fix everything. I couldn’t fix rift between myself and Beck after I’d seen in her eyes that she’d needlessly murdered McCay. I couldn’t fix the hole left in my family after my parents died.
I could try, though. When I had come to Angel with the idea, she had accepted me without a second’s hesitation. Retch and I help out at the diner, and she lets me live upstairs. In exchange, I get to run my business from a stable location, no longer needing to move from one vacant storefront to the next.
Oh, and free coffee. Free terrible, terrible coffee.
Helen stuck her head in from the kitchen. “Jude, you got a call.”
I excused myself from Officer Anders and made my way back into the kitchen. There, in the far corner, stood Helen’s grease-smeared video screen. On it was the image of Violet Ruiz, looking as beautiful and impatient as ever. To her side sat Richard Ruiz, smug expression on his face.
“Seems you have some explaining to do,” Violet said.
“You hired me to find the painting. It took a longer walk than maybe it should have, but I found it.”
She frowned. “The idea was that I’d keep the original. It was the forgery we needed you to find.”
“I don’t think that was in my contract, ma’am. Anyway, I found a nice museum in Onegee that was happy to take it off my hands. Everybody wins.”
Richard said, “I’m sure we have enough priceless treasures to last us a few years.”
“Richard,” I said, “nice to see you made it back to your wife.”
He tipped his hat. I pretended not to notice the line of Violet’s lips tighten.
“Does he know everything?” I asked. Violet Ruiz had double crossed her husband. She had sabotaged the heist that had ended in his exile, and even had an affair with Trey Vitez.
Violet’s eyes narrowed. “Our marital relationship is none of your concern.”
“Yeah, I know it all,” Richard said. “We’re focusing on the future.”
“And where would that be?”
“There’s a nice little planet called Blue Haven,” Violet said. “They have a forest and cliffsidde waterfalls that go on for miles.”
“One more thing,” said Violet. “Why didn’t you tell her?”
I knew exactly what she meant. Why didn’t I tell Charlotte Beck that Violet had been at the heart of the betrayal that had killed her father. Why hadn’t I given her the closure she needed to resolve all that pain and anger she’d worked up over the years? I could have told her of Violet’s part. I could have told her that Richard was hiding on the ship. I hadn’t.
“Is she in hibernation for the next leg of your trip?” I asked.
“Yes,” Violet said, “and she’ll be leaving the ship at our next stop. She was a good employee, and I love her dearly, but this business with her father makes her too dangerous.”
“Make sure she’s set up someplace nice before you let her go,” I said. As much as I wanted, I couldn’t bring myself to cut her loose. “Use my payment if you need.”
Violet’s lips tightened into a hard line, but Richard grinned at the audacity of my statement.
“He did find the painting, dear,” he said.
“Good bye, Demarco,” said Violet, and with that the screen went dark.
Back in the other room, Retch had made himself at home as my replacement across from Officer Anders. “Then, when he was rummaging around in my stuff, I pointed my gun at him.”
Anders made a note with his pencil. “You have a gun?”
“No! I have a piece of metal that I twisted to be shaped like a gun, and Demarco bought it. So, anyway, I’m pointing this gun at him and he’s all blubbering and pleading for his life. I almost think he’s going to throw up right there he’s scared so bad. Then this lady shows up out of nowhere. She smacks me so hard the gun goes flying.”
I slid into the booth next to Retch. “That’s basically how it happened,” I said.
“And now you two work together?” Anders asked, a smirk on his smug face.
“We do,” I said. “I’m able to accomplish a lot. Being excommunicated is a tremendous honor and grants me an amazing about of power in Nicodemia, but there are things I need help with. Retch here has agreed to be my assistant.”
“Partner,” Retch said.
The door opened, ringing the bell. A man I recognized stepped in from the cold drizzle, wringing his hat in his hands. I recognized his shock of silver hair and his drab suit. It was the government man, Williams.
“Mr. Demarco?” he asked. “I hear you’re the guy to talk to about finding people?”
“We done here, Anders?” I asked.
“I think I have enough for now,” Anders said, dropping a dime for his coffee, and then another dime for the excellent service. Retch snatched them up as the officer passed the government man.
As Anders opened the door, I called out one more question, “Hey, Anders, in the McCay crime scene, did you find a plastic pistol?”
He removed his hat and scratched his curly hair. “We did, actually.”
Anders nodded. “And it said Forsaken on it. It’s a McCay family heirloom. Totally legal.”
“Thanks.” Beck hadn’t taken the gun. Had she killed McCay? The gun had been my best evidence, but if not her, then who? I remembered her words before she left on Ruiz’s ship. If you say so. Not a confession, but not a denial, either. Maybe she left because she killed the man, or maybe she left because I had no faith.
Either way, she was a killer. I had to remind myself of that. Even if she hadn’t committed the worst of the crimes accused of her, she’d sinned enough. Somehow that knowledge didn’t make me feel any better.
Anders left, and I searched my soul for a way to smother my doubts. “Where did you disappear to?” I asked the government man.
“I’d rather not say,” he said, twisting his hands together. Something was bothering him.
“What can we do for you?”
“I need help,” he said. “It’s my daughter. She’s missing.”
I fixed my hat on my head; my coat on my back. With Retch at my side and a client following close, I stepped out into the swirling drizzle of the Heavy Nicodemia night.
All things found. All things fixed.
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Bio: Anthony W. Eichenlaub's short fiction has appeared in numerous publications, including Little Blue Marble, On Spec Magazine, and the anthology A Punk Rock Future. His novels range from pulse-pounding technothrillers to the adventures of irresponsible scientists on a colony planet. In his spare time he enjoys woodworking, video games, and working in his garden. Support him at: https://www.patreon.com/AWEichenlaub