Authors: G.M. Ford
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Text copyright ©2012 by G.M. Ford
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140
My old man was right. From the very beginning, he understood that leaving a pile of money to a guy like me just wasn’t a good idea. It didn’t take a genius to see I wasn’t the sort who’d stash the cash and then trot off to work the following morning. That part was easy. I’d been a slacker since birth. As far as I was concerned, Manual Labor was a former governor of California.
What took insight on his part was realizing that I also wasn’t the type to fritter away ninety percent of it on whiskey and women and then waste the rest. To his credit, he recognized that I was moored somewhere between lazy and crazy and thus my draconian trust fund had sprung to life.
I think it was the paper route that sealed the deal. I was fourteen when I signed up to deliver the
. My first job other than mowing lawns. He tried to talk me out of it. Took me into his office, a dark sanctum from which I was otherwise forbidden, and put on his most ominous Big Bill Waterman scowl. Said it was a hell of a responsibility…neither rain nor sleet nor dead of night, and all of that…but I was too stoked to listen to reason and eventually badgered him into signing the parental paperwork.
I lasted a week and a half. A particularly bad spate of weather combined with a persistent head cold quickly doused
my ardor. He ended up having his driver/bodyguard deliver the papers until they could get somebody else to take over the route. Early on, he told his cronies, it had cost him three grand. By the time of his death, that accursed paper route had supposedly cost him a house on the Amalfi coast.
So he doled out the ill-gotten bundle with the stipulation that I didn’t see the first installment until I reached the ripe old age of forty-five. Wasn’t like he had a wealth of options. I was, after all, his only child. The sole issue, as it were. What else was he going to do? Leave the pile to the cat? Despite his well-founded misgivings regarding my work ethic, in the end, blood turned out to be thicker than Little Friskies.
At that point, I’d been attending the University of Washington for the better part of seven years and was inching triumphantly toward full junior status. He must have figured the only way to avoid perpetual tuition and a lifetime roommate was to find me something useful to do. As I spent a great deal of my free time reading detective novels, he just naturally figured that’s what I’d like to do with my life, which probably explains why the he pulled a thousand strings and finagled me a King County Private Investigator’s license.
As a private eye, I had my moments. I plied the trade for the better part of twenty years, made a decent living, got myself in the papers on a number of occasions, made the front page once or twice, and, I’d like to think anyway, managed to help quite a few people in their times of need.
Being a PI is a touchy business. People hire private investigators only out of desperation. When all else has failed, when the cops have moved on to something more current,
when your friends are sick of hearing you bellyache about it, only then do people go out looking for a gumshoe. Most of the time they’re not even clear what it is they want. Somewhere in their hearts they know there’s virtually nothing a PI can do that can’t be better accomplished by a modern police department. It’s just common sense, but that’s not the point. The point is that if they’re ever going to be able to look at themselves in the mirror again or ever get a good night’s sleep, then they’re going to have to be able to tell themselves that they’ve done absolutely everything they possibly could. That’s where private dicks come into it. We’re kinda the last bent straw in the milkshake of their lives.
My forty-fifth birthday rolled around about six months back and the timing couldn’t have been better. The advent of no-fault divorce combined with the digital revolution had reduced my calling to little more than data input. As skiptracing and bail recovery held little appeal, I found myself at a middle-aged crossroads. Had it not been for my old man’s long-ago insight, I’d probably be working in a Burger King by now.
Instead, I was stretched out on a chaise lounge in the backyard of the family manse, a cold one hard by my elbow, kicking back, enjoying the intermittent sunshine, watching the remnants of my father’s political machine stumble and cavort around a pile of fresh topsoil like decadent earth trolls.
Big Bill Waterman’s political empire hadn’t survived his passing. Before he was cold in the ground, several of his closest confidants were indicted and later convicted on a laundry list of charges ranging from fraudulent appropriation
of public funds to immigration-law violations. City and state government spent a decade and over three million dollars trying to wrest his considerable estate back into the public pocket—and out of mine—but failed miserably. Even in death, he was slicker than they were.
The local press had a field day with it. For the better part of a month after his death, his face adorned section A of both papers, as the newshounds sought to sell papers and grease the slow-turning wheels of justice. All of which made it kind of hard for me to mourn my father’s passing. The guy in the paper—the one they accused of all those improprieties—that big, scowling visage bore scant resemblance to the man I’d always called Dad. To me, my dad was just my dad. All the hoopla made it so I wasn’t quite sure which one of them was real and which one wasn’t, which of them deserved my sadness and which deserved his fate…or either…or neither…or both.
There weren’t many of his old cronies left anymore. Most of them had passed away. All that remained were a couple of minor functionaries who’d managed to avoid the dragnet, the last of the crew of drunks and reprobates for whom I still felt a certain sense of personal responsibility. No telling what course their lives might have taken had they not become entwined with my old man and his backroom dealings.
Back when I was a full-time PI, I used to invent work for them. By that time, they’d succumbed to serious substance abuse and perennial homelessness and needed all the help they could get. Besides, if you could keep them conscious, they made excellent surveillance operatives. In urban society, the homeless and destitute have become virtually
invisible. We treat them like some kind of nasty apparition and subconsciously train ourselves to look the other way. They could loiter outside a building for days without anyone taking the slightest notice.
These days I find them odd jobs whenever I can. Today it was gardening, replacing a couple of ancient rhododendrons that had perished over the winter. Coupla days back I’d stopped by the Eastlake Zoo, told Manny, the daytime bartender, that I was looking for a little landscaping help on Saturday. Free beer and a shovel. A little pocket money on the way home. Tell the boys if they happened to stop by. Manny picked his teeth with a matchbook and said he’d pass it on.
Five of them showed up. Late, drunk, and in shambles, but that was to be expected. George Paris was one of the originals. Somewhere around seventy now, he had a face like a satchel and a body to match. George used to be a prominent local banker. One of the cadre of financial specialists who hatched the serpentine scheme to launder my old man’s money. Just far enough down the authority ladder to avoid criminal prosecution, he’d been summarily cast adrift by the bank, divorced by a well-to-do wife, and jettisoned into the streets like a discarded gum wrapper. For the past twenty years, he’d bounced from gutter to gutter. Blown by the wind, fueled by an ocean of cheap booze and bitter memories, he’d managed to maintain both his keen intelligence and his acidic sense of humor.
Ralph Batista wasn’t so lucky. Bleary-eyed and thin as a wire, he’d been a midlevel official for the Port of Seattle when my old man died and the excrement met the
proverbial cooling device. Served short time in the county lockup on a plethora of charges relating to the smuggling of human cargo through the port and then was likewise cast upon the streets. The years hadn’t been as kind to Ralph as they’d been to George. Decades of self-abuse had cut his functional IQ in half. Ralph wandered through the world, looking for his next drink in a constant state of wonder and semi-confusion. If it weren’t for George looking out for him, he’d undoubtedly have been dead by now.
The other three I’d picked up along the way. Billy Bob Fung had a thick Tennessee drawl and skittered through his days in a state of mild amusement, nodding and smiling at everything that went on around him. If you’d put a gun to his head, cocked it, and told him you were about to blow his brains out, he’d have grinned that gap-toothed grin of his and said, “Yeah, man. Yeah. Go for it.”