Authors: Keith Hartman,Eric Dunn
I kept looking, and eventually found the two of them out in the parking lot. They were pressed up against the mark's black convertible, getting to know each other a little better. I'll spare you the graphic details. Let's just say that if either of them was carrying any concealed weapons, the other one would have found them.
Well, I did ask Daniel to keep the guy busy.
I walked up behind them, and then dropped the palmtop on the pavement by the mark's feet while loudly clearing my throat.
I really wish I'd brought a camera. From the expression on the mark's face, you'd think that someone had fired off a gun behind him. He spun around, the gold buttons on his elegant plum waistcoat all undone, his shirt hanging open.
"Sorry to interrupt," I said. "But Daniel asked me to remind him when it was eight o'clock."
"Oh yeah," Daniel said, putting on his sheepish face. "I didn't realize it was so late. My parents are in town, and I'm meeting them for dinner."
"Sure," the mark said. He was trying to act cool about it, but he looked like a kid who's been told that the amusement park is closing early. "No problem. Let me give you my number, though."
He reached into his waistcoat and noticed that his palmtop was missing. He looked around and spotted it on the ground. Must have fallen out in all the excitement, I guess. He dusted it off, and then he and Daniel bumped ports long enough to swap numbers. Daniel gave him a last kiss, and then made his big exit.
I turned to go as well, but the mark stopped me.
"Wait," he said, as he buttoned up his shirt. "I've been meaning to ask. Aren't you a private detective?"
I tried not to look surprised.
"Uh... yeah. I am."
"I thought so. We met at an AEN function about a year ago."
Oh yeah. The Atlanta Executive Network. Sort of a gay version of the Rotary Club. They throw a big networking party every month for all the gay owned businesses. Most of the people who turn up are lawyers and real estate agents. I go twice a year to pass out business cards.
I looked at the mark's face, but he could see that I wasn't making the connection.
"I had blond hair at the time," he explained.
"Oh yeah," I said, pretending to recognize him. "You and your husband own a travel agency, right?"
"Well... that's actually what I want to talk to you about. We're in the process of filing for a divorce, and I think that he may have taken some money out of the company and hidden it. You know, put it in an offshore account or something. Is there any way that you could...?"
"You still got my card?" I asked.
He did a quick search on his palmtop for the key word
and found it.
"Call me tomorrow," I said. "We'll set up a meeting."
It wouldn't be the the first time that I'd been hired by both sides in a messy break up. And it's not like either of these guys was an angel.
I said goodbye to my new client and walked up Piedmont Avenue in the direction of Daniel's apartment. It was a nice night to be out. Say what you will about Atlanta, but there are a full three weeks a year when it doesn't suck. And two of them are in April. The weather turns warm all of a sudden, the breezes blow off the smog, and everything bursts into bloom. Particularly the dogwoods. They're everywhere, covered in white. It always takes me by surprise. I don't know why. Maybe it's just my natural pessimism, assuming that someone is gonna cancel spring this year.
I found Daniel a block away, lying on the grass in front of some expensive condos, looking up at the clouds. He smiled as I walked over. He had a long blade of grass in his mouth, like a farm boy sucking on a piece of straw.
"You're only doing that because you know it makes you look cute," I said.
"Well thank you for noticing."
He nodded to the south.
"The Pepsi mirror is coming up in a few minutes."
I sat down next to him, and handed him the money that I owed him for the evening's work. He stuffed the bills into his jeans without even looking at them.
We sat for a couple minutes without saying anything. I considered bringing up the Bliss again. But that would be a mistake. Daniel obviously didn't want to talk about it, and he already knew my stand on the stuff. So there really wasn't anything to say.
A few minutes later, the Pepsi mirror passed overhead. The downtown skyscrapers caught it first, lighting up in a silver glare that rushed towards us like an advancing wall of light. I watched it engulf the Liberty Media Tower, and then the buildings of Midtown, and then it was upon us, and we were in the footprint. The Pepsi logo shining like burning silver, turning the night into an eerie, colorless twilight. I've read somewhere that the mirror is ten times as bright as the full moon, and that seems about right. Confused birds woke up and serenaded it as the morning sun.
"Go ahead guys," I muttered. "Knock yourselves out."
I've heard that Greenpeace is collecting donations to buy a missile and blast the thing out of orbit. They even have a Chinese arms maker lined up to sell them the warhead and the launch system. Maybe I could spare ten bucks to send them. The mirror had been mildly interesting the first couple of times I'd seen it, but the novelty had long since worn off. Well, at least Atlanta only comes into its footprint twice a year.
Daniel was looking up at it, fascinated.
"You know," he said, "that must really burn up the guys at Coke."
"Probably," I agreed.
"I wonder why they haven't blown the thing up. I mean, you know that Coke's gotta have an attack satellite stashed up there somewhere."
"It wouldn't surprise me. But I guess they don't want the cola wars to go hot."
Daniel mulled over that one, and we sat in silence for a couple of minutes.
"So, did we get the bad guy?" he asked.
"Uh.... that would be a yes. I found what I needed on his system."
He picked another blade of grass and sucked on it. I hoped that the gardener for this condo wasn't using pesticides.
"You know, Drew, I was thinking that I would make a really good spy. Like for Coke, or the CIA, or Microsoft."
I laughed at that one.
"You probably would-- if you can learn to sit still and stop wandering off in the middle of the job. I had all kinds of trouble finding you and the mark."
"Hey, you asked me to keep the guy busy."
"Yeah, well as you keep pointing out, I worry too much. So stay where I can see you."
"Aw, we only went out to the parking lot. And besides, he's cute. And did you see that car? The guy must be loaded! You did say that he's getting a divorce, right?"
"I thought you were already in love with someone?"
"In love, not blind. And besides, Vince understands these things. A boy's got to make a living."
I tried to imagine how Daniel was going to explain all this to my new client. I'm sure it would be an interesting conversation. And who knows? After a messy divorce, the guy might actually prefer a rental boyfriend. It was probably cheaper for him, in the long run.
A few seconds later there was a beep from Daniel's palm top. It was his service, trying to get in touch with him for his first "date" of the evening. He got up, and I helped him brush the grass off his back. Then we walked down the block to his building, through the strange silver twilight. We said our goodbyes in the parking lot, and then I climbed into my beat up old Ford, and watched as Daniel ran up the stairs to his apartment.
His new boyfriend met him at the front door with a kiss more thorough than most tonsillectomies. An Italian kid about Daniel's age, and height. He'd never had a word to say to me. But then, why should he? Anyway, Daniel was crazy about him, and that's all that mattered. I was happy for the two of them. Really. I'm not the jealous type.
A wall of darkness swept across the city as the mirror's footprint moved on, leaving us alone in the night again. I started my car and pulled out of the lot.
"I don't mean to be suspicious," Ms. Hastings said.
"Of course not," I said, pushing the chair up behind her.
She took the hint and sat down. Finally. She'd been walking around our office in circles the whole time she talked. And since our office is only about 20 feet across-- okay, fifteen if you take the clutter into account-- she'd been walking in very small fast circles, and it was making me dizzy.
"They only met a week ago," she went on, "when my daughter was on vacation at Club Med. I mean, I believe in true love and everything. But really-- seven days? Have you ever heard of such a thing? I just have a dreadful feeling about it."
My potential client was an attractive woman with long dark hair. Based on the age of her daughter, she must have been in her early fifties, but she didn't look it. She was wearing a dark blue dress and a cape with a high collar. The cape was sky blue, to match her eyes. She must have come from a dinner party, or the opera, or something like that.
"I understand," I said, settling into the chair behind Drew's desk. "You care about your daughter, and you know nothing about this young man who has come into her life so suddenly."
"Yes! That's it exactly. Can you help me?"
I furrowed my brow for a few seconds, as if contemplating the problem.
"I don't know," I finally said. "Not yet. Let's see what the cards have to say."
I gathered the papers off Drew's desk and stuffed them in a drawer. Then I spread out a black velvet cloth. I lit a few candles and turned out the lights, leaving the office in a warm glow. And then I went to my own desk and got the cherry wood case with my tarot cards. They're an old set, on heavy parchment. A gift from Raven, on the day I was initiated into her coven. I still miss her.
I carefully opened the box, and began shuffling the cards.
"Some people say that the universe is governed by Chance," I intoned, "and that only by chance can its secrets be uncovered. Others claim that the universe is ruled by unyielding Fate, which reveals its grand designs in small portents, such as cards and tea leaves. Both are wrong. For Fate and Chance are only illusions, attempts of the unenlightened mind to grasp the mystery which connects all things."