I can still remember the day this whole thing started. It was a pleasant sunny afternoon. I had drawn the blinds and popped open my windows, allowing for a brisk breeze to blow through the office. The cream and olive wallpaper was peeling around the edges, and the door had been misaligned when some lug attached it to the hinges; you couldn’t get it to stay shut unless you pulled up on the brass knob. A pane of frosted glass was set into the oaken exit; bold lettering across the window read, “Shadow Private Investigations”.
The radio was rebroadcasting the Corsair-Tigers game from a couple of weeks ago. The Tigers were up two runs at the bottom of the 6th. I didn’t care for baseball all that much, it was just something to pass the time. I was more of a fútbol fan myself.
I leaned back in my chestnut chair, and propped my feet up atop the mahogany desk. I had found the thing in a backstreet in Rooktown. I couldn’t believe myself when I found it. It was perfectly good except for the ink stain on the corner, I liked the stain, gave the thing character. I had a black rotary telephone. I hardly ever used the thing I usually waited for someone to call me, someone always did. The lamp was opposite the phone and was joined with the glass ashtray. A glass of whiskey was perched within easy reach.
My thoughts drifted to my partner. Well, former partner, David Wolfe. He was one of the best gumshoes money could buy. He retired, found himself a cute bird named Mary, and decided to settle down. He had bought an automobile service shop up in Sabine; he sure did love his cars. He loved working on the things. He had a strange fascination with anything that had mechanical workings.
When he had decided to retire from detective work, I found a smaller office. Not out of spite or anything, I just couldn’t afford a larger one anymore… See, when you have two private dicks on a case, you can wring a bit more bread out of the client.
Mary was a nice wren. She was a laekanorn, or a mender as most people called them. You know, a healer. She was alright in the looks department. Just to be clear; what I mean is, she wasn’t a model or anything; just an average cluck.
Last I talked to him, he and Mary, were trying to have kids; that was almost five months ago. I wondered if they had been successful yet.
Anyways, my skin was pale with a tinge of red, though not for over exposure to the sun; it was always like that. A pair of dark-wine horn-nubs protruded from my forehead, just below my hairline; and my tail hung off the seat and toward the floor, flicking rhythmically. Yeah, I’m a Djollfolk. I know us tieflings can make people uneasy (thanks to our uncanny similarity to the demons and devils of popular mythology), but there is nothing I can do about it.
I pulled a pill from the pack in my breast pocket. I flipped open my lighter, and held the flame to the tip. I puffed on the fag and a wisp of smoke floated upwards, but was soon dispersed by the cross breeze. I heard the creak of the floorboards out in the hall and there was a short rap on the door.
“It’s open!” I called. I quickly pulled my feet off the desk and hastily smoothed my blouse. The door swung open and a well-dressed floozy walked in.
Now understand, usually I don’t make scissors, but I’m not opposed to kissing fish; this dame though. If I had met her down at the bar after I’d dipped my bill a bit, you can go all in on me chatting up this chick.
I gave her a once over. She dressed conservatively, not like those roundheels that you can find down in the Pearl District. Her gams would make any jasper swoon, and I felt my thumper quicken. She wore a muted cerulean dress, and a matching jacket. Her tawny curls framed a beautiful and mature face. A hand bag was slung over her shoulder, and a pair black suede gloves were clutched in her finely manicured mitts. She tried to close the door, but it hung open.
“Here, let me get it, please have a seat” I said, getting up from my chair. As I stepped around her, I could smell jasmine and rose. She sat daintily in one of the leather backed chairs positioned in front of my desk. She smoothed her skirts as I made sure the door was closed.
I saw her eyes dart towards my diploma from St. Vincent’s Academy, which hung next to a withering cork board which hung over a dark leather davenport. The davenport was another item I found in a back alley. It’s amazing what those rich types throw away. A flat pillow clad in white cotton with a red strip around the opening was tossed haphazardly on the leather cushions, accompanied by a knit blanket. I turned off the radio before returned to my seat.
“Sorry about that, the damn thing never closes properly. What can I do you for Miss…?”
“Skinner, Kathleen Skinner. But my friends call me ‘Kat’.” Her voice was like a babbling brook, bubbly and cheerful. She smiled as she talked, putting that perfect row of ivories on display; they made me think of my more defined canines. She held out her hand.
“Vera Shadow, Private Eye,” I said, taking her hand. She had a surprisingly strong grip, which took me by surprise. Most twists don’t give you a good shake; their arms are usually like over cooked spaghetti.
“So, what can I do for you today?” I asked, stamping out my cigarette.
“I need you to find someone.” My eyebrow raised. Usually when a dish comes in asking for me to find someone it’s because she thinks the lug she’s hitched too has run off with some young bim. The dish’s hunch is generally correct.
I noticed her eyes dart to my piece, which was tucked into it’s holster that hung from my shoulders. It was an Arnurson .45 Runekaster Double Action Revolver. (In layman’s terms, it’s the style of gun that Felix Steel uses to fight outlaws in the flickers, and double action means, you don’t need to cock the hammer every time you want take a pop at some one. A .45 was more powerful than the .38 that the coppers would carry; couple that with hex-slinging… Hell, I bet it could take down a aurochs; don’t quote me though.)
“Who’re you looking for Mrs. Skinner?” I asked, leaning forward.
“Miss, I’m not married,” she corrected.
She continued, “A student of mine disappeared a couple days ago. See, I’m a professor down at the Dorwich Institute of Magik. Ms. Morse hasn’t been to class, and no one has seen her around campus.”
“How do you know she’s not just ran off with some husky?” I asked taking a sip from my pony glass.
“She isn’t that kind of girl. She would never do such a thing,” she admonished.
“But how do you know?” I leaned forward, resting my forearms on the rim of my desk, my cigarette balanced between my fingers.
“When I was in school, I knew tons of broads who ran off to shack up with their sugar daddies.” Her nose wrinkled at my language and stiffened in her chair.
“She’s on scholarship. Her very attendance of the school depends on her making good grades. I’ve seen how she studies. In fact, she’s so focused she cut off her relationship with this young man she met during the summer once school started!”
“Now how does a teach know that stuff?” I questioned.
“I’m her advisor. She often comes to me with more than just school work. She’s loner, in a way. I guess she’s comfortable talking with me; more so than her peers.”
“Let me guess, you think… What’s her name? Morse, did you say?”
“So, you think Violet has been kidnapped by some punk she broke up with?” I challenged. Her hand jumped to her kisser, as a facade terror washed over her.
“I surely hope not! But it is one of my suspicions,” she exclaimed.
“If that’s the case, why didn’t you go to the cops instead of rashing me?”
“I did.” She withdrew a cigarette from her purse. I whipped out my lighter and lit the pill.
“Thank you.” She puffed. “They gave me the same answer you did, and then they told me they’ll put out a reader for people matching her description; but it could take weeks for something to show up. I can’t wait that long! She’s like a daughter to me.” I pulled another smoke out of my pocket and lit it up.
“Did you call her folks?” I asked the cigarette bouncing like a busty woman’s tits as she walked.
“Yes. They live upstate. They said they would give me a ring if Violet showed up.” I finished my hootch and set the glass on the desk.
“I still don’t see why I should get involved with this.” I commented, “I don’t usually work missing persons. I leave that to the cops.”
“Please! I’ll make it worth your while,” she pleaded. I thought about that. The last time someone they would, ‘make it worth my while’, I woke up in a hotel, up in Livrem City, with a pair of joy-girls in the bed.
“Alright. I’ll take the case. But it’s going to cost you thirty krones a day, plus expenses.” I watched her face. I had told her three times the scratch I usually charged for this type of case. The absurdity of her story bumped up the price; also I wanted to see how she would react. Surprisingly, her lips curled into a grin.
“I can give you a hundred now to get you started, and I’ll pay the rest when she’s found.” She pulled a C-note from her purse, and slid it across the desk. I nipped the bill off the desk and held it up to the light.
“Just a moment.” I’d been slipped one to many split bills and it had become a habit.
“Your folding is in good order; looks like you got a private dick on the case! What’s the girl look like? Do you got a photo?” I questioned.
“Yes, of course!” She reached into her handbag and passed me a photograph. It showed a young woman in her early twenties, with shoulder length brunette curls.
“The dormitory is on the edge of campus, on the corner of South Bayville and Kenter Street. It’s not easy to miss, it’s the only gothic building on the street. I’ll tell the guard you’re coming,” said Ms. Skinner.
“Guard?” I’d never heard of a dormitory having a hard boy watching the door.
“The academy isn’t co-ed. It’s against the school’s policy to have boys in the dorms. Besides, the city isn’t a safe place for young girls to be left unprotected.”
“Alright… How can I going to get in touch with you?”
“Oh yes, of course. I’m the head of the Psychic Department at the Institute, but I’d prefer that if you need to get in touch with me please call my home number: D-274-4166388.” I opened the middle desk drawer and withdrew my notebook and pen.
“What was the number again?” She repeated it and I scribbled the digits below her name. I also made sure took note of the location of the dormitory.
“Thanks, I’ll be sure to toss you a line if I find something,” I said.
“When you find something,” she said. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Sure thing, Ms. Skinner.” She closed the clasp on her purse and stood. I matched her.
“Please, call me Kat,” she requested.
“If you insist,” I agreed and showed her out. I couldn’t help but watch her pendulum hips as she walked down the hall towards the stairs.
As I ducked back into the office a dull pain formed in my right knee. I had mussed it during my years of sprinting over uneven cobblestones, through alleys, and jumping fences, et cetera. I hobbled over to the window, and looked out towards the bay. Dark clouds loomed on the horizon, a storm was coming.