I look out the window at the rain pouring down. The clouds are as grey as lead over a city where life is equally bleak. The only light in my office is from the desk lamp. The bottle of whiskey next to it makes reflections that I'd probably find interesting if I was the artistic type. But I'm not. I study the bottle. It's almost empty; two, maybe three shots left. It's a good thing I have six more in my gun. And if I'm really lucky, I won't have to use them all tonight.
There's barely a hint of movement outside the frosted window on the door before it opens and she walks in. I lean back to take in the whole package. The long, blonde hair, short dress and legs that go on for miles scream out 'trophy wife' but the sunglasses big enough to hide a serious shiner and the long-sleeved coat despite the weather hints at something darker.
"That's my name, doll."
"Excuse me?" she says, indignation obvious in her voice.
"Oh shit, you're real. One moment." Tracy quickly focused on the top right of her field of view to switch off the AR. Colour flooded back into the world, washing away the image of a 1940s office with a significantly more modern one. Tracy reached back behind her right ear to eject the small chip.
"I'm sorry about that. I wasn't expecting anybody to actually be here." Tracy put the chip in the open desk drawer and rose. "Can I get you a drink? Coffee? Tea?" This was the first client for more than a week and she couldn't afford to lose her. Not with the rent being due in only a few days.
"Um, no thanks," the woman said, seeming a little off balance at Tracy's sudden change in demeanour. She sat down in the chair in front of the desk. Tracy sat back down again and placed her phone on the desk between them.
"Do you mind if I record this, Ms…?" Tracy looked expectantly at the woman.
"Uh, Smith," she said, obviously lying.
Tracy sighed. "Look, Ms. 'Smith'," she said calmly. "I track down information or people for a living, and I happen to be pretty good at it. So unless whatever you want me to find out isn't related to you at all and you're planning on paying me with cash, asking your name is more of a formality than anything else." Tracy didn't add 'or if you didn't turn your phone completely off before entering my office, or took a taxi here and didn't pay with cash, or got caught on the surveillance cameras in the shop next door', or any of the five other ways she could find Ms. Smith's name out in less than ten minutes. After all, there was no point in scaring her off.
The woman seemed to deflate a little as she sank back in her chair. "Devereux. Camille Devereux."
Tracy restarted the recording on her phone, erasing the last twenty seconds. "So, Ms Devereux, do you mind if I record this? It'll make it easier for me to write up my reports for you later and you have my word that whatever you say will be one hundred percent confidential." That last bit wasn't entirely true, but 'one hundred percent' sounded more reassuring than 'mostly'.
Ms Devereux sat down opposite Tracy, resting her handbag on her lap. If it wasn't for her clothes, she could have been ripped straight from Tracy's 1940's AR. "It's my husband," she said after a couple of seconds.
Of course it is. Tracy leaned forward, trying to seem interested although she wasn't expecting to hear anything she hadn't heard a hundred times before.
"I think he's having an affair," Ms. Devereux blurted out. She seemed almost relieved after getting that off her chest.
God, what I wouldn't do for an interesting case. It wouldn't even have to be anything serious.
"What makes you think that?" Tracy pulled a notepad and pencil out of her desk drawer. Audio recordings were all well and good, but sometimes you wanted notes that you could set fire to and be sure that they were irrevocably destroyed.
"I'm not sure exactly when it started. Dennis has always been a little secretive about his work."
"So what is his job?"
"He works for an investment firm. Smith & Smythe. The second one is with a 'y' and an 'e'," Ms. Devereux said, anticipating Tracy's question. "Nothing big or important. He always says he's just moving papers and making sure all the t's are dotted and all the i's are crossed." Tracy looked up from the doodles in the margin of her notepad and raised an eyebrow.
"I know," Ms. Devereux said, "but that's how he says it."
"Usually he's as regular as clockwork. Leaving for work at eight and back every day just after six."
"Mm-hmm." There still wasn't anything that told Tracy that this case would be anything out of the ordinary.
Ms Devereux continued. "Every other Saturday is date night and... and..." She sighed. "I know it sounds boring, but I love him."
"And what changed?" Tracy asked. "What makes you think he's cheating on you?"
"He started coming home late, or not at all. Forgetting things. And then there are weird charges on the credit card. It just isn't like him."
"What kind of charges?"
"I don't know. They were all to those anonymised online services. You know, like wemovemoney4u.com. I tried to find out where the money was going, but I couldn't even get access to their login page."
"I'm not surprised. You usually have to use a single, specific device connected to your account there."
"So I'd need his phone or computer?"
"Yeah." Tracy sucked her teeth and stroked her chin. "You do realise that all of this doesn't necessarily mean he's having an affair, right?"
"I know, but we've even stopped..." Ms. Devereux hesitated awkwardly. "You know..."
"I just need to know." Ms. Devereux sniffed She looked like she was about to cry.
Tracy decided that a distraction was called for, so she put down her notepad. "So, just out of curiosity, what made you come here. My ad says pretty clearly that I specialise in online stuff." Tracy briefly touched the plastic port behind her right ear for emphasis, trying to make it look like an absent-minded gesture.
Ms. Devereux smiled sheepishly. "Dennis isn't really what you'd call charming if you meet him in person so I figured that whatever he's doing, it's going to be online. That's how we met. He's so different online. Caring and funny and…" Her voice trailed off.
"OK," Tracy said, "I'll see what I can find out. But you might not like what I find. You have to be prepared for that."
"Oh, whatever it is, I'm sure we can work it out."
Riiiiiiight. Like I haven't heard that one before. I'm going to find him fucking your sister or something, and you're going to 'work it out'. Oh well, at least it'll pay the bills.
Tracy spent the next half hour getting all the details she felt she needed about Dennis Devereux from his wife. Then, after transferring the initial fee and Tracy promising to let her know as soon as she had something, Ms. Devereux left.
Tracy transferred the audio file on her phone to a speech-to-text program and read through the transcript before saving it. Next she double-checked the information Ms. Devereux had given her. It wasn't that she didn't trust her, but Tracy didn't want any surprises. It all checked out though.
Luckily, Smith & Smythe wasn't the only company in their building, so Tracy didn't have any trouble finding someone who had time to see her the same day.
It was still three hours until Mr. Devereux would be done at work, so Tracy went over her equipment, making sure all the batteries were fully charged and all the memory chips were empty. The only thing she needed to do was to fill the tank of the car and she could do that on the way.
As she lugged the two heavy suitcases down the stairs, she cursed the landlord for not fixing the elevator and she cursed herself for picking an office on the fourth floor, even if the view was nice. Once she was on the ground floor, the suitcases became more manageable although the little wheels would find every little crack and bump as they rolled along the floor. Tracy managed to block the closing door with her butt and backed out onto the sidewalk. It was like walking into a wall of heat. The heat had already dried most of the rain, leaving just a rank smell and air that felt almost sticky. Beads of sweat immediately began to form on Tracy's forehead. She looked quickly up and down the street before walking briskly across it, eager to reach the shadow of the parking garage on the other side.
The old security guard at the entrance looked up from his newspaper when she came closer. "Hi Jamal", Tracy said cheerfully. "What's new?"
Jamal ran his hand over his grey hair. "Not much," he said. "The world is still going to hell, politicians are still lying and athletes are still cheating." He smacked his paper for emphasis.
Tracy wasn't sure exactly how old Jamal was, but it had to be at least eighty. He had been working the security booth in the garage when she moved in to her office four years earlier and he always seemed to be there. Tracy suspected he lived in one of the cars. He was also the only person she knew that still only read newspapers on paper instead of just using a tablet.
"Maybe you should switch to books instead. At least the plot makes sense in them."
Jamal snorted softly. "Work?" he asked and nodded to the suitcases.
"Well, a girl's got to eat, you know." Tracy smiled and ducked around the barrier blocking the exit.
"Just be careful then."
"Stop worrying Jamal, You know I don't go anywhere near trouble. That's what I have my little friends for." She patted the suitcases.
Tracy made her way down the ramp, trying to ignore the smell rising from the lower levels. She stopped at her van: a greyish-beige, medium-sized one that was about as non-descript as possible. After deactivating both alarms, she opened the side door and loaded in both the suitcases and the small backpack she was wearing. Then she got in and started the engine.
OK, first the petrol station and then Smith & Smythe.