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P.I.: Part 1
It was a small, cramped office, full of cabinets and brimming with files. Laz Winship, late forties, sits at his desk drinking the proper drink of any proper man in his field of work: a nice glass of scotch. He wasn't an alcoholic, not in the slightest, but in hot days like these, a scotch on the rocks sure helped calm everything, from the heat to his preoccupations. Summer was, always had been, a very busy time of the year, unfortunately. Careless teenagers, trips to dangerous places with permissions of deceived parents, one too many beers and things get out of control. He mostly dealt with teenagers disappearing or getting killed or simply dying, and his next case, his most memorable one, was not an exception.
A knock on the door; before he even reacted, a middle-aged woman in light yet costly clothes stood before him. She seemed unaltered by the Summer madness, though likely pretended to be calm. She took a sit. Laz was thrown out by this change in logistics: he was usually the silent one who sat in front of strangers and made them talk.
"May I help you?" he asked in a throaty tone due to the scotch, which he left aside.
"I assume you are Laz Winship."
"That's what the door says, doesn't it?"
"It does. I have come to hire your services, detective."
"I'm a private investigator, ma'am."
"What's the difference?"
"Cocky. I hope that helps you do your job better."
Winship smiled. That boldness was unheard of to that day, but he appreciated another change in the routine. People who have lost someone recently don't act this confident. Either she was planning on giving him an old case or she was a terrific actress.
"What brings you here, missus..."
She extended her hand to him. He shook it.
"Is this related to Mr. Gail?"
"No. It's about my daughter." She took some time before continuing. "She disappeared about four months ago. As you might guess, I haven't seen her ever since. And the police have done nothing to help. One would think they'd try a little harder given the circumstances--"
Miss Gail stopped and reached for her purse, which she had left on the floor. Normally, this would have caused some exasperation on Laz, since he hated when people left ideas unfinished. But he guessed it was a comment that was better off not being said. He took a sip of scotch as he waited. Gail retrieved a yellow folder from her purse and set it on the table.
"Some sort of report, I take it?" asked Laz without even opening the folder.
"Just by skimming it you will find the answer to your question."
One last gulp and the scotch was over, contrary to Winship's excitement, which grew by the second. Quite some time had passed since this last happened. He opened the folder and read it carefully: a couple of insignificant police files, some medical records and a sheet with the main information of Claire Gail, a 20-year-old at the time of the disappearance that was your typical charmer: a white, comforting smile; curly hair in between blonde and brunette; a pair of bedazzling eyes; nothing else to say except that she was pretty. Very pretty. Either this or the fact that she came from a, by the looks of it, wealthy family were the main causes for the kidnapping, if it was indeed a kidnapping, as he thought.
"When you say she disappeared, that means no one tried to contact you? No demands, no 'Your daughter's ear will be in tomorrow's newspaper' sort of stuff?"
"No. I doubt she was kidnapped."
"That's a good thing."
"But I doubt even more that she decided to escape. Mr. Winship."
"She was happy, then?"
"What can I tell you? I'd say yes in a heartbeat, but who knows? Maybe she broke up with her boyfriend or fought with a friend... There are so many things happening all the time that it's impossible to tell with certainty. It's kind of unbearable."
"Let's start with the boyfriend. What's his name?"
"Robin Wembley. I don't know his address, but I know where he works."
"Miss Gail: I'm going to ask you to write down anything of use in that notepad left of you."
Gail takes the notepad and begins to write down everything she can think of. Laz notices she sticks out her tongue whilst writing. He scoffs, calling her attention.
"Did you like Wembley?"
"Does it matter."
"For me, it does."
"I did. A lot. Great kid, excellent grades, part time job that pays more than some full timers, treated her like a gentleman. Yes."
"Do you think he could have kidnapped your daughter?"
Miss Gail looks down to her notes, trying to find some kind of comfort in them. She looks back at Winship and nods.
"It's still worth to check him out. You done?"
"I think so. Can I call you if I remember anything else?"
"Of course. I assume you have my number?"
"We'll discuss my honoraries later."
"Money is not one of my concerns."
Gail and Winship stand up simultaneously. They shake hands and he shows her out.
"Mr. Winship, be honest. Do you think... Do you think she's still alive?
"Four months past, it's hard. Not unprecedented, but very uncommon."
"I see," says Gail in the saddest tone possible. She turns around to leave when Laz stops her.
"I promise you this, though: I will find out what happened to her. No matter how much time it takes."
Without turning, "I know you will, Mister Winship," and then leaves. Laz closes the door behind her.
With the note in his pocket, Private Investigator Laz Winship drives melancholically through the scorching city streets. He knows there's something special about this case, he feels it in his bones. This is not another disappearance mystery, this is something more. He goes visit the boyfriend first. Gail's description was too perfect, idyllic in his eyes. He didn't mean to generalize, he knew that some teenagers were truly outstanding people, but this Wembley guy gave him a bad vibe, even if they hadn't met.
He parked in front of the Accounting building of the hospital and stepped out. The heat was overwhelming, but he didn't feel the need to fasten the pace. The hot asphalt pressured him to hurry, but he didn't mind it. He didn't mind anything or anyone. When he got to the front desk, a secretary greeted him without lifting her eyes off the magazine she was so discretely reading.
"I came here to see a Robin Wembley."
"Do you have an appointment?"
"Do I need one?"
Laz finally called her attention enough to make her look at him. She gasped a bit at first, smartly concealing it with an obviously fake sneeze. Nonetheless, he appreciated the gesture. It was true, he wasn't particularly pleasant to the eyes: he had a large scar on his left cheek from a battle with a murderer who kept throwing his knife at him; his eyes were sunken deep into their cavities; his nose was crooked from a bar fight he was involved in while tailing another suspect; his lip was perpetually swollen from a... well, you get it. His beard covered some other facial wounds, thus his disheveled appearance.
"Ah, right, Mr. Wembley. Follow me, I'll take you to his office. If you can call a cupboard an office," explained the giggling secretary. She guided Laz through a sea of seemingly interminable narrow halls until they reached a rather mistreated wooden door. She knocked and entered without waiting for permission.
"There's a..." She turned to Laz. "What's your name, sir?"
"A Mister Laz here to see you, Mister Wembley?"
"What's it about?" asked the young man.
"Mister Wembley asks--"
Laz entered the office, rolling over the poor secretary as he did.
"Thank you, I'll take it from here," ordered Laz as he shut the door in the secretary's face.
"Who are you?"
Before answering anything, Laz walked calmly to the desk and browsed through the pictures on it.
"No Claire, huh, Wembley? She goes missing and she's suddenly out of your mind?"
"Who are you?" repeats Robin.
Laz took a seat. He stared at Wembley, who rapidly felt uncomfortable.
"Will you just--"
"Relax. I was hired by Miss Gail, Claire's mother, to try and find out what happened to her. She speaks highly of you, Wembley."
"I don't know why she does, though."
Robin smile fades.
"Do you want my help for something?"
"Yes, sort of. I want to ask you some questions."
"All right, I guess."
Robin was nervous, and Laz could tell. Now it was a question of asking the right ones.
"When was the last time you saw Claire Gail?"
"I'd say about four months ago."
"Do you remember the exact date?"
"No, I don't. Let me try to refresh your memory, then. Deborah went missing on the eleventh of February. Very close to Valentine's Day. Were you planning to do something special, Robin?"
"Um, not that I can think of. I mean, I was taking her to dinner, but other than that, I don't think so, no."
"Nothing? It's a shame. For someone who earns that well and at that age, I'd be kind of mad if he took me to KFC for a bucket of chicken."
"What? I wasn't going to-- And what does the money I-- What is the point of--
"You nervous, Robin? 'Cause I think you are nervous. I think you know something you're not telling me, and why do I get the sense that it's related to Valentine's Day? Maybe a surprise, an unexpected trip somewhere... Nothing like that?"
Robin simply nods.
"You sure? I wouldn't like to recur to more-" Laz tightens his firsts "-savage methods of interrogation. If it wasn't for Valentine's, what was it for? Her birthday wasn't for another two months and you don't really strike me as the kind of guy who would kidnap someone. You, however, do strike me as someone who's hiding something."
"I-I don't know wh-what..."
"I think you do."
Laz stands up. He walks closer and closer to Robin. Both men are sweating, but they're two very different kinds of sweat: one is fearful; the other, exhilarated.
"What do you know that I don't, huh, Robin? Your statement to the police was weak, your statement to me is weak, you seem week yourself."
Laz reaches the desk. Robin pushes his chair backward, but it just won't move. Laz raises his fist and grabs Robin by the sweaty neck.
"What the fuck do you know, Robin, that I don't?!"
Winship shakes Robin violently. Robin tries to free himself from Laz's dominating yoke, mouthing the word "Security" and scratching Laz's hand.
"I swear to God, I'll beat the living shit out of you if you don't tell me."
Robin tries to talk but he doesn't succeed.
"Pity. You're not half ugly."
"Laz strikes him hard."
"He hits him again, and then one more time."
"He forced me! He forced me!
And the one last time."
"He told me I had to break up with her or he'd make the rest of my days miserable! He also told me not to tell the police or he would kill me. Please, stop!"
Laz lets go of bleeding Robin.
"Who told you this?"
"Selby Trevis. This creepy guy who was crazy for Claire. I shouldn't have done it, I should have told someone--"
"Where can I find Trevis?"
"He lives at the university, but I don't in what dormitory or what room... I'm so sorry..."
"You disgust me, Wembley. I swear to you: if that girl is dead, I will be the one in charge of making your life miserable. Don't even think about telling anyone about this, you fell for being such a piece of shit."
Robins nods as he wipes his face. Laz storms out of the office.
The hunt has begun.