Authors: Jessica Gadziala
Jessica Gadziala 2015
sighed, grabbing a stack of newspapers off his desk and walking into
the hall, switching off the light. He moved past the bathroom and
opened the door in the back, turning on the light to his studio
apartment. Dropping the newspapers onto the blue card table he used
for dining, he went to fill the coffee machine.
the left of the room was an enormous king sized bed with black sheets
and comforter, a egg crate he used as a bedside table with a lamp
straight out of the seventies on top. The far wall had a bright red
couch, the material slightly worn on the arms, but clean and intact.
To the right was a small kitchen with a refrigerator, sink, and oven.
A huge coffee machine stood on top of the retro baby blue formica
counter tops over top of the wooden cabinets painted in a hideous
mint green. Everything was aged. Second or third- handed. It had
never much occurred to him to buy things. He usually realized he
needed something when he stumbled upon it. The bed frame had been
abandoned in the house of a deadbeat dad he had been hired to track
down, the red couch from someone who had skipped bail, the coffee
maker... well, the coffee maker was store bought. He didn't screw
around about coffee.
sat down on the black folding chair, opening one of the newspapers
and continuing to read. Every word. He never knew what tidbit might
prove invaluable on a job.
the rain pelted against the windows, merciless, unrelenting, the
thunder loud enough to make the walls shake ominously. He sighed,
watching the electricity flicker slightly. He was losing a night of
work over this stupid storm. He was supposed to be parked in a car
watching some investment banker pick up his girlfriend. He was
supposed to try to get pictures of him boinking the mistress so the
bitter wife could rake him over the coals in alimony.
was a job that would pay well and he was sitting on his ass in his
kitchen instead, reading about a string of heroin-related deaths in
the tristate area. New Jersey drugs leaking their way onto the city
streets, too strong for the locals, causing overdose after overdose.
got up, moving to grab a yellow pad off the kitchen counter and
sitting back down to take notes. It was probably nothing, but it
could mean something if he had another case from a worried parent of
an addict. Or a dealer trying to get out from under the grips of the
supplier. Who knew?
Rhodes was an eclectic private investigator. While most of his profit
came from the angry spouses wanting to catch their partner in the
act, he worked the occasional case of political chess... catching a
straight, married male candidate sthupping his male secretary. Or
paying a dominatrix to diaper him and put him to bed in a giant baby
crib at the fetish club,
, downtown. Xander laughed,
rubbing the side of his face with his knuckles. That had been a fun
one. Even though it got him into all kinds of trouble with Cory, the
force to be reckoned with, black-haired bombshell owner. It was worth
it, looking at the pictures of a grown man in a bonnet with a
pacifier in his mouth next to a young, gorgeous woman wearing a
hideous mumu with the word “mommy” embroidered on the
shit went down at that club.
he did the occasional job getting kids out of street gangs or addicts
out of crack dens and into the arms of their worried families. Jobs
that paid little, sometimes nothing, but made him feel better about
the nastier aspects of his work. The pictures that could be called
nothing other than blackmail. The faces his fist had needed to
collide with. The people he couldn't get to in time.
shook his head, balling his hand into a fist on the surface of the
table. He was having a hard time getting over the case he had handled
two weeks before. Some chick working at EM Corp who had a stalker and
came to him for help. And he hadn't figured it out on time. She had
been taken. Kidnapped. Drugged. Tortured. Almost killed. And he
hadn't even been the one to figure it out in the end. It had been a
fellow secretary of hers and her boss/boyfriend. He had essentially
been useless to her. And visiting her in the hospital a few days
later, seeing her bandaged and bruised, had been an image that kept
him awake every night since.
he was getting complacent. Slacking. Not taking things as seriously
as he did when he was younger. Maybe the steady income and full belly
was having a calming effect on him. He remembered the days at the
beginning, the clawing hunger that never relented driving him to dive
headfirst into an alley full of gang members, throwing fists, taking
a knife to his side, but still dragging the son of an affluent
stockbroker back home to his parents. Getting a check that could fill
his stomach for a week.
eighteen felt like a lifetime ago. And sometimes he felt like he had
just blinked and fourteen years had passed. He shook his head.
Thirty-two. It's funny how, when you're young, thirty seems so old.
Such a strange number. That brought with it all kinds of maturity. A
full bank account. Good credit scores. A steady foundation to live
upon. The secret they never tell you when you were growing up, is
that you never actually feel grown. Thirty-two felt like eighteen,
perhaps with a bit less angst and lot less of a tolerance for all
nighters... but the same all in all.
sighed, looking back down at his paper, willing his eyes to keep the
words from swimming. It was past two in the morning and he had been
reading the papers for hours. He should just call it a night and
climb into bed. Try to catch up on some sleep. But catching up seemed
like a pipe dream after weeks of near sleeplessness. What was the
point in laying down until he knew he would finally just crash from
the exhaustion? What good would it do to lay in bed and stare at the
he heard it, discarded at first as a tree hitting a building, the
stupid street kids out in the storm like they were invincible. But
then it got louder. A tapping. More like a banging, hard and
got up from the table, walking toward the door that led into the
office, flicking on the light. He waited for a moment, hearing only
the rain pelting against the windows and the cars parked on the
street out front. Then there it was again. Loud. Frantic. Someone was
banging on his door. Hard enough to make it shake.
your panties on,” he yelled, reaching into his desk drawer and
slipping a gun into the back waistband of his jeans. It couldn't be
good. Not at two a.m. Not in the hellhole neighborhood he lived in.
In the middle of an epic storm.
reached for the lock, sliding it, and pulling the door open.
wasn't exactly sure what he had been expecting. An old client. A
friend in need of help. The cops. He knew for sure that he hadn't
been expecting a woman to be standing there in black leggings, a gray
sweater that fell half way down her thighs, her slight body swimming
in it, and completely drenched. To the bone wet. Like she had been in
the storm for a long time.
was small. Short, slim. Almost childish in her delicateness. The neck
of her sweater was stretched out, revealing sharp planes of
collarbones and impossibly pale skin. Her long light blonde hair was
wet, falling down her chest, dripping onto her already soaked
sweater. She had a strange face. Feminine and soft, but with a sharp
jaw and small, straight nose. She had big, round, bright, almost
startling, sapphire blue eyes.
was a deep purple bruise underneath her left eye and a split down the
side of her lip, the skin broken and the flesh around it swollen.
There were two small tears leading from her ear to the middle of her
cheekbone. Bright red, but superficial. Scratch marks.
hands were still raised to hit the door, the skin on her palms cut
and dirty. Like she had fallen and scrambled across the ground.
was pretty. Xander looked past the cuts and bruises. The trauma. The
wide eyes. And saw what was underneath. Someone young. But maybe
older than she looked. Mid or late twenties, though she was built
like an underdeveloped teenager. Her clothes seemed chosen to draw
the least amount of attention to herself as possible, drab in color,
the shirt way too large. Her face was gorgeous, doll-like. Her skin
pale as porcelain, slightly flushed in the cheeks. From running, he
guessed. Her ears were pierced, but there were no earrings, one of
the holes looked stretched slightly. The nails on her fingers were
painfully short, the skin around the edges red. From chewing them.
From some untold anxiety. She held herself erect, so rod straight
that she looked like she was ready to bolt at any loud noise. But her
shoulders were pulled back, confident maybe? Determined, probably
more likely. Prideful.
looked down, her black leggings covered in mud. One knee was torn
open, the skin underneath inflamed... like from road burn. Like from
skinning your knee enough for it to smart, but not bleed. He glanced
lower, seeing one dirty white ballet flat. The other foot was bare,
dirty. The nails were painted a happy, bright yellow. And there was a
small, delicate silver ring around her second to last toe. He looked
down at it, his brows drawing together. Like it was out of place.
head slipped back upward, taking in her bird-like tiny wrists. She
curled her hands inward slightly, revealing her damaged knuckles. She
had put up a fight, he realized, almost nodding his head. Good girl.
You always fight back. No matter what the cops on television say. You
always fight back.
strange clicking sound had his gaze moving back up to her face,
realizing that her teeth were chattering. Her lips almost blue from
cold. Her breath hissed out of her mouth, puffing in the freezing
night air. Her head was slightly protected from the rain from a small
overhang in front of his office. But she was starting to shake, her
small body trembling. From cold. Or fear. Or underused adrenaline. Or
he realized, feeling a bit pervy, he had been staring at her for way
too long. He wanted to blame it on professionalism. He tried to take
everything in. Observe the tiniest, most minute details. Take them
in, log them for later. You never knew. The smallest things could be
important. But, he admitted internally, he really didn't have any
reason to be looking her over so thoroughly.
he hadn't said anything. And she hadn't said anything. They just
stood there, awkwardly staring at each other in silence, the rain and
occasional crack of lightening an eerie soundtrack.
watched her face for a second, waiting for her to speak. Say
something. Anything. Break the silence. Give him a reason to look
he raised an eyebrow, tilting his head slightly down at her. A face
that, unmistakably suggested she better get on with it or he was
going to slam the door. His fingers gripped the door frame, blocking
looked down for a second, at her feet, standing in a small cold
puddle, before she looked back up at him, her eyes big and pleading.
Almost tearful. That point where there isn't any moisture, but it is
about to spill out if one wrong word was said.
bright eyes found his and her mouth finally opened, her voice shaking
from the cold, and whatever she was running away from. “Please
could feel her heart hammering in her chest, making it feel as though
it was genuinely trying to break free of the confines of her rib
cage. He stood there looking at her, up and down. Not in a sexual
way. In an observing way. Making her feel like some kind of slide
underneath a microscope. Like he could see right through her.
wasn't what she had been expecting. She had heard his name. It was
hard not to. Not when you were looking for a private investigator. He
was the one. The one you went to when every ex-cop and ex-military
P.I. turned you down. When no one else would take your case. When
they told you it was stupid. Hopeless. There was no way out. When you
finally decided there was no choice but to keep some of the specifics
to yourself. When you know it is going to be trouble. Dangerous.
Reckless. When you knew you needed someone just as dangerous and
reckless to take the case. That was when you went to Xander Rhodes.