The Deep End – Part 10

Paranoia got the best of him, but in a good way. He’d seen shows where bad cops snuck into a person’s home to plant false evidence. That was something he wanted to avoid. The owner of the office building had it set up with four cameras on the corners sweeping in an arc, and one closeup lens over the door.

Dean felt the need for one in his office, so he got a small camera that he set in the southeast corner of the room. It was behind and to the right of the desk, and its fisheye lens had a large field of view from the corner. If someone tried to plant evidence, the camera would record it and the time stamp on the recording would say when anything happened.

He painted the red active light black to hide it better, then hid the recorder in drop ceiling. Cabled like that, there would be no wireless transmission that could be detected, or so he hoped. He bought a battery pack to keep the recorder going at night. It could be pulled and recharged during the day and gave forty hours of service before running out of power. Thus armed for what trouble his paranoia demanded, he felt ready to go back out again.

He got his homeless clothes, some sweats to help change looks, and a reversible jacket. These went into the Jeep. He did a search on the Peak Arms, and got the number of the landlord of the building.

He then went online to get the names of the men in the 3A apartment. Local addresses came up blank, so he tried the city register. Likewise, it had no listing of tenants.

He pulled up the number of the Peak Arms again, and dialed it on his phone. It picked up with the second ring.

“Peak Arms. Who is this?”

“Hello, my name’s David. I’m trying to get information on a tenant of yours. I can’t read their names on the application, but the apartment is 3A. I was hoping to talk to them and clear up the name problem.”

“Huh,” came the answer after a long, pregnant pause. “Why’re you askin’?”

“I’ve been asked to do a background check. The paper I’ve got is filled out, but the names are illegible. I could barely make out your apartment name and number.”

“Hrrm…” Dean heard the man clear his throat and spit. God I hope this works. If he’s suspicious, he may well tell those two that someone’s wanting to look into their renting history. Or maybe he’s pissed at them possibly moving?

“What’s the apartment number?”

Relief flooded through Dean. “3A.”

There was a minute of silence as the man tapped on a keyboard. Dean gritted his teeth as he waited, willing himself not to urge the man to hurry up.

The man harrumphed into the phone and replied after what seemed an hour, “Ayuh, them’s the Villieux brothers, Baptiste and Gilles.”

Thank you sir, I appreciate all the help,” Dean said gratefully. “I couldn’t have gotten this cleaned up without you.”

The man grunted a ‘you’re welcome,’ and cut the connection.

Dean had names. It was time to go visit Adair and see if he could scare up something on them. If anyone could find out what the brothers were about, it was Adair.

Adair Weston was one of those rare people who enjoyed what he did. As he’d told Dean when he’d started, “I do this for the high from the chase. There’s no bigger rush than finding a bail jumper and hauling him in. I love the chase, man, and I live for getting up in the morning and finding the bad guy.”

Dean drove over to Adair’s office, and was greeted by the official mascot of the firm, Barbie, Adair’s Malamute. The monstrous shaggy wolf-like dog was a big softie, preferring to chase a toy than a person. That didn’t stop the ninety kilograms of dog being totally intimidating simply due to size.

Barbie gave a happy whuff and promptly tried to pounce Dean, who, after having such things happened before, wisely sat on the battered ivory couch before Barbie could knock him onto it. She spent the next minute sniffing Dean to make sure he was who she thought. Once the greeting was done, she moved to the opposite part of the couch and lay down, covering that half of the couch, with her tail happily thumping the cushion into dust-raising submission.

Dean chuckled and leaned back enjoying the familiar feel of the office where he’d work not that long ago. It seemed like he had time to take one deep breath when Adair came out of his office behind the service desk, and strode rapidly up to Dean. As Dean stood up, He enveloped in a bear hug from the huge man.

“Deano! Man it is good to see you! Carny just left to go home! Man he’s gonna be pissed to miss his best bro!”

Adair Weston put Dean down and turned right around. Striding behind the service desk, he bent over and pulled open a low drawer, then straightened with a bottle of Yukon Jack in hand. Dean grimaced.

“You still drink that swill? When are you going to get civilized and get a beer?”

“Beer? BEER!? No just a second, you jump on me for drinking a nice flavorful drink, and you say beer and civilized in the same breath? Give me a fucking break, eh? Beer is for those without refined palates!” The two men were grinning throughout the exchange. To Dean, both Carny and Adair were family. Carny’d pushed Dean to study after they got out of the Air Force, and Adair taught him everything about computers and skip tracing that he’d learned firsthand by doing the business for six years. He didn’t wonder about why they were so generous, he just rolled with it, happy to have such good people around him. Dad was right. You be a decent person, and you attract decent people around you. Your friends are what others judge you by. Dad, I’ve got some good friends.

The two argued for a few minutes more, then Adair made another quick turn and walked back through his office door. “Get in here, this isn’t a social call, even though it is. You got something bugging you about the business.”

Dean walked in after being invited, and took the first guest chair next to the desk. He handed Adair a piece of paper with the names of the brothers, and a flash drive of pictures he’d taken.

“These are the guys I think are behind some kidnapping of the girl I’ve been hired to find. They switched plates on their car with another. I informed the police, but I want to see if there’s more to them.”

Adair nodded his shaggy head. The piercing blue eyes, scar on his lip, and blonde beard gave him the look of a piratical Santa Claus as he gazed at the flash drive for a moment.

“This is going to be pro bono, Adair. The family doesn’t have much, so if they’re dirty, you get to turn it in, and get the reward.”

Adair stopped nodding. His eyes locked on Dean like a pair of glittering crystals. “Fair enough, I’ll be glad to see what these bad boys have on the internet. But we split this like always. You’re my brother’s best friend, Dean. He’d be mighty pissed with me if I didn’t split any reward since you brought it to us.”

The Deep End – Part 9

Dean stood up and made sure he could see Vlad as he trotted home. He dropped back to avoid looking like he was following as the young man strode down the side of the road. When Vlad slowed to cross Tilton Street at the light, Dean dropped in a crouch and pulled the lid off of a small trash can luckily near him. Vlad waited until the north-south light changed and crossed, moving south. Dean ran across through traffic that was sitting at the light.

The horns beeped angrily at him but he paid them no mind since Vlad had disappeared around the corner. He ducked between two shops, taking the alley out to Grover, where Vlad had crossed onto. He came out of the alley just meters behind his suspect. He followed slowly as before, not worrying about Vlad running. The young man trotted to a three-story brick building on the southwest corner of Grover and Tilton that said ‘Peak Arms’.

Most likely his apartment. Dean walked up the steps, noting that another homeless person was leaning on a cart taking shelter on the windward side of the building. As Dean passed the man, the homeless fellow grunted at him, so Dean upnodded absentmindedly, and continued walking past. He turned up the steps and pulled the door open, stepping inside.

The lobby was a small square that might have allowed five or six people to share the space. And the opposite end of the floor was a set of stairs going up. To his right, there was twelve mail boxes inset into the wall. Only three actually had names on them, the others were identified by numbers. To the left was a door that said ‘Staff Only’ that had two dead bolts on either side of the doorknob.

He took the stairs as quietly as he could, going up to the landing. The small landing was a square like the main lobby, with an archway that took up the far left third of the wall. Dean walked to the corner and listened once more. He heard some muffled voices and a child crying. Nothing sounded like it was in the hallway, so Dean turned the corner, and started down the hall. The hall was a person-and-a-half wide, with a warped linoleum floor that had a faded center where feet had worn it down. Three doors adorned each wall of the hall, the right hand ones were offset towards the landing a meter or so.

Two LED overhead lamps cast a weak illumination that made the air seem like a faint fog that blurred both color and sharpness. He crept past the closed doors, listening intently for a familiar voice. Hearing nothing but the fussing child, he continued down the hall to the next landing, this was a mirror of the first with the stairs at the far third of the right wall. As he moved silently upstairs, he heard muffled voices. There was an urgency to them that caught his attention.

He moved to the first door on the right, and heard Vlad’s voice muffled heavily by the door. Two other voices were in with him, one castigating him on showing up here. The second voice continued that he still owed them money and he wasn’t done yet. He had that girl looking for him and he’d better damn well reel her in. They had a quota to meet.

Dean clenched his hands, noted the number of the room, 3A, then slowly backed down the stairs. He knew he was onto something that needed to go to the police. The question became, what would happen if he did so? Would the two give up the girls? Where were they being held? If no one could find them, how could they be implicated as kidnappers? Would Vlad turn on them if he got caught? What would happen if he didn’t? The questions came hard and fast, and left him reeling for answers.

He went against his knee-jerk judgment of calling the police, and decided to find the girls before he called them. If I find them first, I can call from there with my cell and the cops can catch them with the girls. As he made the decision, he hear steps below him. Someone was coming this way in the hall. Prudence being the better part of valor, Dean retreated to the far end of the hall. The dim lighting left him hunting a dark spot like a cockroach who’d been startled by the kitchen lights coming on.

At the far end of the upper floor was a small landing. The opening upward hand been cover over and painted. Dean backed into the corner and lay on the floor, then peeked his head around the corner from ground level. He saw a police officer go to the door where he’d listened to Vlad talk to his unseen associates. He knocked sharply twice, pausing for a count of three, then knocking twice more.

The door opened as a woman carrying a baby stepped out, and he grabbed the door before it closed, and went inside. Dean wanted to go to the door to hear what was going on, but the door opened again moments later. The police officer stepped back out. He slipped what looked like an envelope into his back pocket, then draped his blue winter coat over it, hiding it from sight. He turned to the stairs, and walked back down out of sight.

He waited a minute, and, when nothing else stirred, he crept back to the first doorway, and listened. He closed his eyes to better focus on his hearing.

“So, who is Dean Youngblood?” said one of the speakers.

“That’s Youngwood, not blood. Merde! Do you even pay attention?” growled the second voice.

“Did the cop get us a picture?”

“No, just the name, he couldn’t get one snapped, apparently. We have his address. We could go pay him a visit.”

“Hey, can I leave? You talked to me, I’d rather not be around here” Vlad suddenly spoke up. There was silence for about five seconds.

“Sure kid, you can go. You still got a ways to go to clear your debt. Just keep up what you’re doing and you’ll clear it up in no time.”

“You said that before.”

“And you better listen, rather than running your mouth, bebe’. You might not like it if we call the debt in today, and you can’t pay.”

Dean heard Vlad stomp towards the door. He retreated back towards the alcove, getting four meters down the hall when Vlad yanked the door open, then slammed it shut. Dean looked back, certain he’d been seen, but Vlad was looking at his feet. His hands were clenched, then he rubbed his sleeve across his eyes before turning to the stairs and heading down.

There were a few other angry voices coming from the rooms near the two men, but they faded back into a sullen silence after a few moments. Dean crept back to the door, intent on hearing more. Halfway back he stopped and retreated to the alcove again.

If I stake these guys out instead of Vlad, I’m pretty sure I’ll find out what’s going on and where the girls are, if they’re still alive that is.

He waited for a few hours, and would have stayed longer, but one of the tenants spotted him. He assumed that Dean had snuck in, and raised a ruckus that had the residents chasing him out of the apartment. He went back to the office, then gathered up all his files and his shotgun, moving everything into his Jeep, and drove over to his parents’ house. He left the files and information with them, then drove back to his office to wait. Dean stopped on the way to buy a large coffee to help him stay awake that evening. Once there, he retreated to his office, and double checked that the shotgun was loaded.

It had a full magazine and one in the chamber. All the shells were number eight shot, which was guaranteed to turn a man into hamburger but not go through thin sheet rock. He sat up all night, waiting for trouble to show itself. When the sun came up and nothing happened, he picked up his files from his parents, and returned to the office.

I should find out who the cop was. They got my name from him, I’m sure of that. Are they going to set me up? Paranoia says yes, but how bad would it be? No use worrying about it now. I’ll just be way to wound up to do my job right. Gotta take it easy.

The Deep End – part 8

“Can I take a picture of those pages? I won’t show them to anyone, not without your permission.”

Jeff didn’t say a word. he reached down and spun the book around. Dean snapped the open page showing Vlad’s missed work and the reason, then took a picture of the May date, and for good measure, turned to the time four days ago, and snapped a picture of it.

He turned the book back around. Jeff grabbed the book and slapped it shut. He had a stricken look as the possibility that Vlad was the kidnapper sunk in.

His eyes rose to meet Dean’s. “How do you know if he is the guy?”

“I don’t. I’m following what I can find. So far, this makes Vlad someone I really want to talk to before I do anything. Can you keep everything quiet until I get to talk to him?”

“Yeah, I can keep my mouth shut. Just do it soon, eh?”

Dean nodded. “Thanks for all the courtesy, friend.”

“I ain’t your friend,” Jeff answer with a churlish snarl.

Dean nodded as he stepped away from the counter.

“I guess I’m not. See you around.”

“Fuck off.”

Dean walked back to his car, and drove back to the office. He grabbed the blankets on the cot and shook them open. He crawled onto the cot, curled up under the covers, and was asleep in seconds.

Dean awoke the next morning at four-thirty. he used the small bathroom to shave and brush his teeth, then drove out to the Kwik-Way. There was a gas truck out front, with the driver hooking up to one of the underground gas tanks. Off on the left of the lot were three charging stations for the electric cars. There were really no electrics still operating excepting a few that enthusiasts kept running.

Gas was now much cheaper as Canada produced far more than it could sell. Labled as a national resource, all oil and oil fracturing plants were still private, but when the government so desired, it could shut down civilian distribution and prioritize it for national defense, or any emergency service.

Dean parked a half block away, and walked to the Kwik-Way. He had dressed up this time in his ‘indigent homeless’ costume of red thermal with a sleeveless sweat shirt over the thermal and a thick old air force jacket over all of it. A ratty looking black wool cap covered his head. His pants were a faded, green fleece-lined work pair that had seen much better days. To finish off the look, he wore badly scuffed up black steel-toed work boots.

Dean shuffled into the Kwik-Way, only to find a tough-looking young man behind the counter. His nametag stated his name was Ahmad. His skin was a swarthy brown with curly black hair and dark brown eyes. He was about ten centimeters taller than Dean, but much stockier. His cheek bore a long thick scar. The kind you get from a knife fight that doesn’t heal well. A few tattoos were on his neck. the first thing that came to mind was that he had served time in prison. The second was a gang member.

Dean walked to the counter and laboriously pulled out change to get a hot dog. The attendant looked Dean over and waved him towards the microwave. He heated up the hot dog, then ate it in three large bites, then shuffled back outside. The man watched him go, and went back to leaning on the counter, reading something on an electronic book.

Dean walked back to his car and quickly dumped the coat, hat, and shirt. He threw a clean blue and black checked shirt on, got a ball cap, and a pair of gloves. He walked to Madge’s stoop and stood out of the wind as he watched the Kwik-Way, waiting for Vlad to show.

Vlad showed up ten minutes later. He walked past Dean without seeming to notice him, and trudged past the gas pumps and into the Kwik-Way. Five minutes later, the swarthy attendant stepped out of the store, turned his collar up against the cold, and walked to a beat up gold-colored car, and drove off, away from Dean’s spot.

Dean walked to the store again, pulled off his cap, then walked up to the counter. Vlad saw him coming and gave a nod. Vlad looked hollow-eyed, and his cheek sported a dark bruise that was the size of a huge fist or something like a baseball bat. He didn’t see any torn skin, but he’d get a better look when he went to the counter to pay for the coffee.

“Morning, come by to get your vanilla latte’ fix?” Vlad said with a tired smile.

“That I did, that I did. How’s your morning? You look like it was a little eventful, with that bruise of yours.”

Vlad startled a little then gave another tired smile. He winced as he said, “Nah, I slipped in my bathroom and my cheek came down on the edge of the sink. No big deal, just a little embarrassing is all.”

“That does sound unfortunate, for certain. I hope you heal up fast. Oh A couple girls came by last night when I got a coffee sure wanted to see you. She came with her friend, and both of them looked disappointed when they saw Jeff instead of you.”

Vlad’s smile winced and shrunk a little. He looked down at the counter, his cheek muscles twitching. He said in a brittle voice, “Huh? What girl? Oh Lara. Did she have black hair and blue eyes?”

When Dean nodded, Vlad said with a weak chuckle. “I know her, she’s been hanging out here in the evenings. So, what about it?”

“I was just commenting that it was something fun to see. Two cute girls looking to talk to someone.”

Vlad looked like he just bit into something bitter. His answer was slow, and tentative. “Yeah.”

If he isn’t the kidnapper, he knows something important. Any more pushing and he’ll run. I’ll follow him back to his place when he gets off work.

Dean smiled warmly, then got himself a vanilla latte’ from the coffee machine at the back corner of the store. He brought the cup to the counter. “Thanks for the coffee. This will give me a good kick in the pants.”

Vlad nodded silently, and rang up the purchase. He fitted a travel cap onto the cup, and slid it back to Dean, his eyes seeming to have a vague resentment in them as he plastered a patently fake smile on. “You’re welcome. Come back again.”

Dean smiled quietly. “I will, friend. Thank you.” He walked out the door, checking behind him once to see what Vlad was doing. The young man had come to the door, and was watching him walk away. As Dean turned on the street towards his car, Vlad turned away abruptly and went disappeared from his view.

Is he getting ready to run?! Dean ran back to his car, and hurriedly switch clothes again, getting back into the homeless poor set. He locked his car, then ran between the small shops to Harmon street which ran behind the Kwik-Way. One thing Dean had cultivated during his time as a skip-tracer, was the ability to read people.

He wasn’t perfect, but he paid attention to his own reactions and how a person answered questions and their mannerisms. He became good at spotting the little ‘tells’ as they’re called, that a person unconsciously uses when they’re uncomfortable about a question, or outright lying. He knew he had pressed one of Vlad’s buttons, and the young man might decide to run. He wanted to be in place behind the store in case Vlad did take off.

When he got far enough back towards the Kwik-Way, he saw Vlad in the back. The young man was throwing bags of trash in the dumpster, and the recycle bin. Dean slowed down and walked along the street, bending over and shuffling his feet, doing his best to look like a broken homeless person. Vlad spotted dean, but didn’t give him a second glance. He was just one of the local poor who’d be in the trash dumpster the moment he went back inside.

Dean walked slowly to the trash bin, and crawled inside. He wanted to make certain that Vlad saw what he expected to; a hungry homeless diving for food. The stink of rotted food and spoiled milk assaulted him with a cornucopia of smells creating a miasma of misery. He poked his head up to check on the area, then climbed out of the trash, and went to the side of The Yarn Store, and sat facing the convenience store, watching as Vlad cleaned, did restocking, and ran the register for patrons when rush hour started just after six.

Vlad was joined at eleven by Jeff, and the two worked throughout the very busy lunch hour until it one p.m., when Vlad clocked out, leaving Jeff as the sole operator of the store. Vlad put on a jacket over his work shirt, and walked out across the lot, and turned left. Dean was huddled on the side of Madge’s store, and watched the young man trot on past, hurrying to get home and out of the cold.

The Deep End – part 7

He pulled up in front of his office. A yellow furniture van sat in front of his office. The back end was open, with boxes and a few large crates waiting on the ramp to be rolled into his office. Dean unlocked the door and pushed both glass doors wide. A couple rocks held the doors for the movers to bring the new furniture in.

As the movers shifted items into the proper rooms, Dean looked over the paper sheets he’d gotten. The two girls were close to the same age, and only a grade apart from Maren. Both were last seen by friends talking on a cellphone to someone, supposedly their new boyfriend.

That information fits with my case. It’s unusually close to what I’ve got as information. He read further through the first report. The girl’s car had been recovered, wiped down with bleach.

Why not just chop it and have it disappear? that’s what I’d have done. Maybe they can’t? What would stop them from just taking the car to a chop shop? Oh! If they didn’t have a contact. So this is a different group from established ones maybe? Or maybe just a single person is doing the work? That’d explain the car being abandoned. Maybe he parks another car out there to transfer to?

He placed the papers on the receptionists desk, then went to the first crate, and started pulling it open. He wanted to get everything set up and then move a cot into his office so he could sleep in it when he stayed too late.

The receptionist’s office now had it’s own set of upright 4-drawer files, a laptop and printer, an in-house hot spot, and a paid link into police open case files that were allowed to be perused. He sat down in the new swivel chair and powered up the all-in-one screen with a quick triple tap on the face. The machine lit up, with a welcoming display of it’s operating system. A few more taps set up the automatic link to the database, and a few more got links to public information such as wanted posters, lost and found, and missing pets, and missing persons.

All this still works. It’s amazing how much survived all that chaos years ago. We lost half our population in The Change, and yet stuff like the internet keeps on humming. We still have trade across the ocean, though the west is locked up until the government can figure out how to get a safe passage there and back.

He looked up the missing persons, to make certain Maren was on the list (she was) and checked on the car the officer said that had been found (it was there, with detailed information about the condition). he checked it once more against the other two vehicles, and found it similar enough to warrant him putting in a comment showing his belief of a link between the three.

He wrote up notes, then copied them off to the printer, and stuck them in a folder. Electronic records are great, but nothing in his mind makes up for something solid, like a paper copy. It was easier to carry and reference. While they were vulnerable, no one could hack paper for it’s information, like a person could hack a cellphone, or an internet-linked computer. Dean hummed to himself as he finished up, and put the first folder in the new file cabinet.

This sure beats working out of my car, or my house.

Dean went back to his house, retrieving his hunting cot, a pair of blankets, and his pump shotgun. He didn’t own a pistol, and the cost and time to get a license was not something he wanted. Shotguns were legal to own, and could be used on a person’s place of business, or their home, as defense. The Change had changed laws too. With so many dangerous things around, people often went armed. After getting the cot set up, Dean pulled the file again from the cabinet, and sat down at the receptionist desk to look through it once more.

He read through the girls information twice, doing his best to commit it to memory. He dozed off in the middle of reading. The next morning, Dean went back out to the Kwik-Way, hoping to catch Jeff in. Who he found was someone else at the counter, Vlad. The big man straightened up as he spotted Dean. “Hey, anything I can getcha?”

Dean nodded, and said pleasantly, “Good Morning, and yeah, got any vanilla flavored coffee for sale? I’d like a half-pound if you’ve got any.”

Vlad nodded, saying, “Last rack back there. Coffee’s on the bottom. If there’s any, that’s where it’ll be.” Vlad watched Dean until he disappeared behind the row, then put his ear plugs in, and began cleaning behind the counter. Dean stood up, and saw Vlad busying himself with a mop bobbing his head to whatever he was listening to.

I wonder if he’s really involved. He doesn’t seem like a kidnapper. Luka Magnotta didn’t look like a cannibal, but there you are. He strode to the counter, then rapped on the surface to get Vlad’s attention.

The young man pulled his ear buds out and glanced at Dean’s hands. “No luck, eh? Sorry, I don’t know if we’ll be getting any in. Our next delivery’s in two days. Come back then and check it out. The guy usually drops by just before seven in the a.m.”

“So, two days from now? How does that help me now?” Dean countered.

“Uh, well, we have vanilla latte available at the coffee station. You can come by here for a caffeine fix if you need one.” Vlad seemed flustered, but he did try to find an answer, which surprised Dean. Most people don’t think of answers that way, and just tell folks to wait. He’s a quick thinker. I think I’ll leave it alone and come back this evening to talk to Jeff.

Dean thanked him for the suggestion, and got himself a large coffee. Once he was back to the office, he dumped the coffee on the grass, and took the empty cup into his office to toss in the recycle can in the office. He puttered around, re-reading the file again, and when six p.m. finally rolled around, he drove back to the Kwik-Way.

He parked behind Madge’s Yarn Store, and walked to the edge of the large window. Jeff was behind the counter. Here’s hoping I can find something.

Jeff’s face soured when he saw Dean. He said gruffly, “You talked to Vlad?”

Dean shook his head. “No, I wanted to talk to you. About Vlad actually. You said he is a pretty conscientious worker. Were there any times he called in sick suddenly or didn’t show up for any reason?”

Jeff glowered at Dean. “I don’t have to answer nothing. You want to talk to Vlad.”

“I want to talk to you. Vlad may be involved. If he is, talking to him would just let him know I’m looking into things. If he puts that together, he’s gone, and so is my chance at finding the girl.” Dean took a step towards the counter. “You remember why I came here the first time? I’m looking for a girl. She’s an official missing person now. The most likely person to see her last was Vlad. Plus, two other girls in the area are missing. All the…,” Dean shut his mouth as two women entered the store.

Jeff went from irritated to friendly in the blink of an eye. “Welcome ladies, Is there anything I can help you find in your local Kwik-Way?”

The two girls whispered quickly, and one smiled shyly at Jeff. “Umm, is Vlad on later tonight? I was wondering if I could talk to him.”

“Well now. He’s not on tonight, but he’ll be in here every morning at five a.m. to work. If you’re up that early, there’s hardly a crowd until seven. You could catch him then, eh?”

The young woman nodded then walked back out of the store whispering and giggling with her friend as they walked off. Dean waited for them to walk out of the lot before turning on Jeff, who was clearly upset with Dean’s questioning. He also acted uncertain, as though that last talk with the girls had reminded him of something.

“Hey, Jeff. Earth to Jeff. I have three missing girls. Each one has nearly the same M.O. to their disappearance. Now, can you answer my question. It’ll be the last one I ask you.”

Jeff grunted, then palmed a hand down his face. “Fine. I’ll tell you just to get you out of here. He called in twice, once because he got a bug, the other because his car broke down.”

“Do you remember when those times were, off the top of your head?”

“I can do you one better, just to get you out of here.” He pulled up an archaic loose leaf notebook and dropped it on the counter. He opened to the beginning, moved to a tab labled ‘May’, and opened the book. A few pages later he said, “Here, May fourteenth. I covered for him.” It took a minute more to find the second time, which was in September, on the twenty-second.”

“Once moment.” Dean pulled out his cellphone, then linked to the missing persons site, and pulled up the first girl. Her missing date was May sixteenth. The second girl was listed as missing on the twenty-fifth.

“The girls are right in that time window. Take a look.” He handed his cell to Jeff, who took it, and as he looked at the two files, a haunted look came to his eyes. He grumbled and handed the ‘phone back to Dean.

“Doesn’t mean nothing. It could be coincidence.”

“What about four days ago? He call in not able to show for work?”

Jeff’s eyes grew more haunted, and a little fearful. He took a breath and exhaled it slowly. “Yeah, he called in saying he’d be late that day. Something important came up and he’d be in around eleven that night.”

Dean nodded. This kid seems to be an amateur. You’d think he’d use a day off to pull the kidnappings. It all fits together too cleanly. It IS the simplest answer. I’ll get copies of the log, if he’ll let me, and send everything to the police after I follow this up. No use in telling them something until I’ve something more than just circumstance, because Jeff is right, it could be just a weird coincidence.

The Deep End – part 6

Dean sighed. It was a lot more information than he’d had before coming here. Now if he could find a way to get Vlad to talk to him, he might come out with a solid lead where Maren was. It’s sure a hella lot more than I started with.

“Thank you. That helps me more than you can know.”

“I’m glad that I could help you, young man. It makes up for some of the…difficulties…we’ve had today.” Madge smiled.

“I’ll be going now, ma’am. I have a convenience store clerk to talk to.”

Madge nodded. “Take care, young man. Best of luck on your hunt.”

Dean gave Madge a polite bow, then walked out of the store, and into the parking lot of the Kwik-Way.

How can I use this information to the best effect? If I confront Vlad with it, will he break, run, or fight? Based on his ‘friends’ that want their money, running is most likely. So that screws the confrontation idea. Maybe following him home? No, That wouldn’t get anything. What I need is to see the cameras here. That may get me more information before I attempt to link Vlad to anything to do with her disappearance.

Dean shot a bit more about his options and what might be going on. One thought was a kidnapping for ransom, but to his knowledge, there were no ransom demands, or contact for that matter. A second thought occurred. What if there were more than one in the area? If so, then there would be other missing persons reports. That wouldn’t find Maren, but it would set a pattern, and maybe he could break the pattern and find the people.

His rational shoulder-self said he was wasting time he could be using to find Maren, and the intuitve shoulder-self was saying that if there were more than just Maren, there could be more evidence to back up his idea. I really hope that I’m reading this right.

Dean decided to go to the precinct and see if there were other disappearances that might help with this case. I can miss Vlad this time. The guy to talk to is Jeff.

The precinct was just getting ready for shift change when Dean entered. The desk officer saw Dean, and waved him over.

Who are you here for, sir?” The officer gave him a level stare that, to Dean, was trying to get him to confess to something.

Good afternoon to you, officer, I was wondering if I could get a look at the public records for disappearances over the last six months?”

The officer rolled his eyes, then glared at Dean. “Oh god, another private in-ves-ti-ga-tor.” He straightened up, then leaned forward, resting his forearms on the top of the watch desk as he leaned towards Dean. “So what is it you’re looking for? Cat up a tree? Someone’s missing pooch? Or maybe looking for some poor slob who’s wife wants to screw him over inna divorce? Would that be right, Mr. Dick?”

Dean held up his hands. “Whoa, friend, I am not here to be the start of anything. What’s this all about?”

The desk officer snarled, then shoved an open book at Dean. “Sign in, and state your purpose.”

Dean signed the book, which recorded his handwriting, then annotated his written purpose to the Desk officer’s computer. the officer read the entry, and his eyebrows rose slightly.

“Hmm, you’ve been hired to find this girl? Not a divorce case?”

“Yes, officer. Maren Payamy. She disappeared and her mother turned in a missing person’s report a day ago.”

The officer tapped on his screen, then looked up as a slurred bellow caught everyone’s attention. “Excuse me a second. Looks like there’s something to take care of.”

Dean nodded, then stepped aside as two officers brought in a loudly screaming drunk. The Troykin’s clothes were in tatters as officers kept trying to hold him in front of the desk to check him in. The Troykin would lunge away, wanting to sit down, and the officers would struggle to hold him long enough to record finger and ocular prints. The screams were something Dean couldn’t make out. The Troykin was slurring his own language, which sounded like cats screaming at each other in baritone. The desk officer grabbed a flailing hand and pushed it down on the desk, into a mounted restraint. He pulled up a smartphone and placed each finger on the face for a second, and moved to the next one.

he finished the thumb when the Troykin finally finished flailing, realizing his arm was well and truly held. In all this he’d never lashed out once at the officers, controlling himself carefully despite his apparent drunkeness. He stood quietly as his left eye was copied, then meekly allowed the officers to remove the restraint, and set him down on a metal chair. the officers cuffed him to the chair, and Dean moved back to the desk.

He observed the Troykin for a moment, then turned back to the officer. “What was that about?”

The officer shrugged, then tapped on his screen. “I hope you find her. She’s the third one missing in that area over the last five months.”

“Whaaat? There’s more than one?”

The officer nodded. Two more. I can’t give you the details until you ask for ’em, but I can tell you they’re still missing.”

Dean quickly pounced on the officer’s words. “I formally request information on any other missing persons in the last six months in and around a kilometer from where my person of interest disappeared from.”

He pulled out his own pad and pencil from his back pocket. “The last place I have her seen was DelHomme and Warren.”

“Really? Ah, okay. I just got a report of a found vehicle registered to your Maren Payamy this morning. I’ll print out the location along with the other missing person information you’ve asked for.”

Dean waited as the officer sent the information to a paper printer. He plucked the sheets from under the desk and held them up. “Finished that formal request in writing yet?”

Dean grabbed a sheet of paper, and wrote out in a hurried scribble his request, then signed the bottom and dated it. The officer glanced it over then handed Dean the sheets.

“Good luck.”

“Thank you officer. Good luck with the rest of your day too.”

Dean walked back out to his Jeep, and got in. His cellphone beeped at him as he sat down. The furniture company was waiting to unload the furniture for the receptionist’s desk. He returned the text, saying he was on his way back, and tossed the cellphone in the passenger seat.

The Deep End – Chapter 5

Dean returned the smile with his own. “I was wondering if I could look at your security camera footage. I’m looking for a missing person.” He pulled out his wallet and showed the woman his investigator’s license. Her eyes grew large as she looked it over.

“A private investigator! Oh, how exciting. Are you working on a case, mister….” she peered again at the license, “Youngwood?”

“Ah, yes, I am. Now about your cam…”

She slipped an arm through his so quickly, Dean didn’t have a chance to do much other than blink in surprise as she started to pull him towards the back of the store.

“Uh, ma’am, ma’am! This, ah…” he tried to pull free. Her grip was gentle, but her arm had all the unyielding strength of steel as she literally dragged him helplessly in her wake to the back of the store.

As she pulled him along, dean reached into to his left hip, and unsheathed his multi-tool. Holding like a knife he stabbed the tool down hard on the edge of the woman’s wrist, hoping that he could get free. The chunk of steel rebounded off her soft-looking arm like it had bounced on a trampoline. She’s not affected by iron?!

The woman-thing reached a white door that blended in with the back wall. She pushed it open, then tossed Dean in, and closed the door behind her. She snapped her fingers, and the walls of the small room started glowing.

“Now” she growled, “Why are you really here? I’ve not harmed anyone by intent. I am upholding my bargain that was struck. I want to know why you are here, human.” The woman slowly shifted as she spoke, her body twisting into a caricature of a human body. Her skin darkened to a hard ebony as her jaws extended and fur sprouted on her face and forearms.

Oh gods, a werewolf! No wonder she wasn’t hurt by steel. How do I get out of this?

“Ma’am, I don’t know who you think I am, but I”m just here trying to find a missing person.” Dean realized those were the wrong words the moment they left his mouth. He tried to keep talking, but words wouldn’t form as he was violently lifted from the ground, a steel vise around his throat as the werewolf, now fully three meters tall, lifted him to it’s eye level. Golden eyes glittering like angry jewels locked on his.

“You DARE come into my den, and accuse me of EATING HUMANS?!” The creature’s rage surrounded him like a tornado tearing at his sanity and courage. It opened its fanged mouth, and Dean kicked at it frantically. The werewolf shivered, and slowly put Dean back on the ground and released him. Dean wasted no time scrambling back from it, plastering himself against the wall.

“I have not hunted any creature since I swore my oath to live in peace. If you have come to provoke me, you did. Congratulations, now get the fuck out of my store.”

“Wait a minute, let me say something here!” Dean backpedaled as the creature reached for him. “I’m not here after you, a girl went missing the other day and I think she was seen he…” He quickly amended himself, “next door before she disappeared.”

The werewolf paused. “Keep talking.”

“I was hired to find a girl. The last person she was with works at the Kwik-Way. As far as I know, I never even knew you were here. You’re just an old…err…grandmotherly type, that I was hoping had security cameras so I could see if she was around here the other night around eleven or so.”

Dean was babbling. He knew he was babbling. He was happy to keep babbling. It kept the werewolf from grabbing him again. Said werewolf was watching Dean closely, head tilted as she listened to him explain.

“I’m trying find her, not you. This is a misunderstanding. You misunderstood me, and I misunderstood where you were coming from.” he paused to take breath. “I don’t want trouble, I got hired to find a girl. Her mom hired me to find her, not you. How about we just start over and I’ll excuse myself for stepping one any figurative toes. how about it?”

The werewolf stared at Dean, its jaws opening and closing slowly as its lungs drew in deep breaths of air. Dean felt the trickle of cold sweat roll down his back. Even if the werewolf didn’t kill him, it could easily cripple him simply by throwing him against the wall. The creature lowered its hands to its knees and wheezed like a leaky bellows. Concern began to override Dean’s fear.

“Uh, umm…Ma’am? Are you, uh, all…right?”

The werewolf waved a hand at Dean and slowly shifted back to her human form, minus clothes. Dean turned around hurriedly.

“I am so sorry about all of this.”

“Just keep yourself turned to the wall,” came a prim, wheezing growl. “I’ve got spare clothes here.”

Dean waited for fifteen minutes for the woman to finish dressing. She had Dean turn around. She was dressed in baby blue sweat pants and shirt, the deep blue of the smock offsetting the paler blue of the sweats.

“Thank you, young man. Changing always strains the heart and lungs at my age. If you were here to kill me, you had every chance to do so. As far as I’m concerned, I owe you an apology.” She huffed, sounding like a dog trying to sneeze something distasteful out of its nose. “I’ve had people come by trying to force me into attacking them a couple of times this year. Once it was so I’d bite them and they’d change. The second, well, some humans are always hating anyone different.”

She took another deep breath and steadied herself against the wall. She waved Dean back when he started forward. “I’m fine, Mr Youngwood. Just lightheaded from the changing.”

Dean nodded and walked over to pick up his multi-tool from the ground where he’d dropped after being thrown in the room.

“Well, would it be allowable for me to review any security recordings that you might have of the last forty-eight hours? If I can find the girl on them, then I know she was here for certain.”

The woman shook her head.

“Sorry, I don’t have anything like that. Those things have a high-pitched whine that hurts my ears.”

“Oh.” Dean’s hopes fell, along with his hopeful smile. “Well, I’ll just have to do without. I hope you’ll accept my apology for all this trouble.”

She waved it off. “Most exercise I’ve had in a long while. And I should be apologizing to you, for going off and accusing you like that. My temper got the better of me.”

Dean shrugged. “So, I’ll be on my way. Thank you for an, uh, interesting, time.”

“Madge.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m Madge O’Brien. I’ll keep my eyes open. Do you have a picture of her so I know who to look for?”

“Oh, I should have done that right off.” Dean dug in his pockets, pulled out his cell, then displayed Maren’s picture to her.

“Hmm, yes, I’ve seen her about recently. She was visiting that tall young man with the ponytail.” Madge made a sour face. “Last time I saw her was two weeks ago. She and that Vlad fellow were talking in the parking lot.”

“Really?”

Madge nodded. “Yes, I could hear them.” She tapped her ears. “Wolf, remember? The hearing carries over, as does the nose.”

“Were you able to understand what they were talking about?”

Madge frowned. “He was trying to talk her into going out with him that night. She said no because of classes the next morning.”

She huffed again. “Smart girl. Didn’t let him talk her into getting in trouble.”

Dean nodded. “Was there anyone else around?”

“Oh yes. Vlad’s got a gambling problem. Some gentlemen who spoke French with each other, came by to tell him he needed to pay what he owed.”

Dean’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh? That’s VERY interesting. What did they tell him?”

She gave Dean a sour look. “I don’t know French.”

The Deep End – Chapter 4

The man, Jeff, as his name tag indicated, looked at Dean like he knew it was a dodge. “Listen, you looking for him because he stiffed you or something? I know him and he wouldn’t do stuff like that. He’s a good worker. Polite and conscientious. He’s never caused any trouble.”

Dean nodded then pulled out his investigator’s license, and showed it to the man. “I’m looking for a missing girl. This guy is described as the last one who might have seen her. Is there a name and address I can get from you so I can talk to him?”

Jeff’s attitude shifted. “A missing kid? How do I know this isn’t come kind of scam?”

Dean stared at the man. He understood that Jeff set a good deal of trust in this other young man, that he liked him, which made him wary of doing anything to cause his associate trouble. In books, it’s always easy for the hero to stumble across things that pushes them towards the climax. In the real world, that line is a lot wider grayer, and much more intensely personal. A person tends to see it as a personal situation rather than as a plot in a story. So you have to address those fears and anxieties, or all that happens is the person shuts up, unwilling to put themself, or others at risk.

“I know this sounds bad, and you’re right, it is. There’s a girl missing, and from her friends. He, whatever his name is, was the last one likely to see her. All I want to do is talk to him about when he saw her last, and if he saw anything that might help in finding her.”

“Vlad. His names, Vladimir, but he tells everyone to call him Vlad.”

Jeff leaned towards Dean, his features tightening.

“You swear to me all you’re going to do is talk to him?”

Dean nodded. “All I want is to find the girl. But, I can’t swear to you that’s all I’ll do. I wont lie about something like that. You like him, that’s obvious. you don’t want to see him in trouble. I get that. I don’t want to cause trouble. I just want to find who I’ve been asked to find.”

Dean’s statement seemed to have the man vacillating back and forth between a desire to help and fear of getting Vlad in trouble that he might not be part of.

“He works from six until close tonight. Come talk to him then.”

Dean nodded. “I appreciate that. Thank you.”

He left the store, and wandered across the street to window shop while he considered if he should stay or just return to the shop in five hours when Vlad was supposed to report in.

The building had a sign, “Coster’s Outdoor Supply” over the glass double doors. The silver of the brushed metal didn’t quite blend with the red brick of the storefront. The main window was a three meter wide by two meter tall pane of glass, that had a small stage set at its base, which showed off clothing, fishing, and hunting supplies.

I could use a few things for this winter. A couple trap lines would be a bit of extra cash for emergencies.

Dean glanced further in and spotted in the back corner, a security camera pointing back towards him.

If that was active the other night, it might have caught a picture of Maren. Thin chance, but better than no chance.

He walked through the door, the small bell anchored at the top of the doorway tinkling as the door bumped it into motion. A heavyset gentleman in brown pants, white shirt, and a bright neon orange vest came out of a doorway underneath the camera. He waddled gracefully past the tight rows of fishing rods and camping gear, ambling to Dean. He proffered his hand.

“Hello, I’m David, and welcome to Coster’s. Is there anything I can help you find today?”

Dean smiled and nodded. “As a matter of fact, there is. I’d be wondering if I could talk to you and your manager about looking at some security footage from the other night?”

“Ah, what? Security? Why?” His smile had faded to a tenuous twitch of the corners of his lips.

“Take me to your manager and I’ll explain why. Oh, wait a minute.” Dean pulled his wallet out, then opened it. He grabbed the gold colored investigator’s license out and handed it to David.

“I’m working a job I was hired to do. Who I’m trying to find is a regular over at the Kwik-Way. The camera behind you points out that way. It might have recorded something that could help me find this person.”

David nodded, jowls jiggling as he did. He turned, and led Dean back to a small closet-sized office. The door slid into the wall, while the manager, who, if possible, was more rotund, than David, sat at a table that went wall to wall with an all-in-one computer screen on the desk. The manager was using an ancient keyboard and a wireless mouse to work on the computer. He looked over at David, then at Dean.

“Customer with a complaint, David?”

David shook his head no, and handed the investigator’s license to the Manager. He looked at the license, then handed it back to David, who in turn handed it back to Dean.

“So what are you here for, Mr Investigator?” His smile didn’t reach his grey-blue eyes.

“I’d like to look at your security footage on your cameras that cover the street, and the one in the back.” He pointed in the direction of the indoor camera. “They may have recorded something that could help me find someone.”

The manager had a sly smile form on his lips. “I’d be glad to help, but a request like that does tie us up, what with inventory and billing. It’s going to cost you for the inconvenience.”

Dean grimaced, and dug in his pocket for his wallet. He pulled out one hundred twelve dollars, as that was his entire wallet. The two men glanced at the money, then the manager stepped aside as he held out his hand.

“The PC’s all yours for the day. I hope you find something useful.” They wandered off into the store while Dean maneuvered into the broom-closet office and sat down at the makeshift desk. he pulled the door shut, then took a moment to look the computer over.

The manager had apparently pulled up the camera folder for him when he’d been conversing with Dean. the folder was on the computer screen and it was a simple double click to open it. he spent the next two hours going through the four cameras, and managing to find two intriguing pieces of recording.

The first showed Vlad, and someone that Dean guess could be Maren from the time stamp on the video They got out of a car that matched Maren’s missing Volkswagen, and walked into the Kwik-Way. The second was vaguely ominous, as it showed Maren walking back out, then getting in her car, and driving off.

As she left, a car that had been sitting at the curb near the driveway of the convenience store, flipped on its lights as the Volkswagen made a right and drove off screen to the left. As it turned, a dark colored car flipped it’s lights on and pulled away from the curb right behind Maren’s car.

Dean got an uneasy feeling at the coincidence of the action, and decided to check if there were any other cameras across the street that might have caught a better view of the car and it’s license plate, or if he was really lucky, maybe the interior showing faces clear enough to take to the police department and look at mug books online.

Amongst the discarded food wrappers and open notebooks, he uncovered a plugin drive. Dean fitted in the universal slot, hesitated. He opened the door, and started to walk around the counter as David approached him.

“All done?”

Dean nooded. “Can I borrow that mini-drive on the table? I found some pieces that could help me out. Is there anything on it that needs to be saved?”

David chuckled. “Not a thing. I feel kind of bad about Mark doing that, so, at least from my view, you paid for the drive too. I mean they’re only like a couple bucks.”

“Thanks, I’ll copy stuff over and be out of your hair.”

Dean went back to the computer, and plugged the mini-drive in, and soon had his own copies. He pocketed the drive, then walked outside and back across the street. The weather bit through his clothes as the wind picked up, coming from the Northeast. The promise of rain was suddenly a storm bearing down on Halifax.

This is the one time I’d rather not have to work in a blizzard. This job looks like it’s going to be a lot of footwork, and a storm is the last thing I want to contend with.

He turned his collar up and sidled over to the Yarn shop and went inside. A woman with a blue smock holding a pair of scissors was busy chatting with a younger woman, who was dressed in blue jeans, a green sweater, and wearing a front-mounted baby pack. The child, dressed in a pink jacket, was sleeping as the two women chatted.

Dean waited patiently at the front of the store until the two women finished their chat and began walking to the register, which Dean happened to be standing by. The woman in the smock was older than he first thought. Her hair had been colored brunette, but it was the heavy makeup hiding the wrinkles that told her age.

The young mother was chatting about making a comforter in some bright colors for her daughter. The proprietor, or so Dean guessed, smiled widely and looked at the mother and child as she held up the colors that the mother had chosen, proclaiming them to be ideal for the baby. She rang up the purchase, which the woman paid for by passing her wallet over a sensor, which recorded her information and debited her purchase.

The woman turned to face Dean, her smile pleasant as she said, “Welcome stranger. What can I help you find?”

The Deep End – Chapter 3

Dean tidied up the last bit of his writeup for the job he’d finished. The runaway was in the hands of social services, while her dad was in divorce proceedings with her mom. Neither parent seemed inclined to put her welfare above theirs. Both were in fact, so dysfunctional that Dean had actually contacted social services for the girl after meeting her parents.

I never thought helping would be something like that. What are those people thinking? Whatever it is, it sure doesn’t include their daughter.

He finished the writing, then transcribed it to an official report on the computer. He sent one to social services, and one to each parent. He knew he was going to get stiffed for his fee, but that the courts were for. Dean didn’t feel one twinge of remorse for piling another problem on the two.

I’m glad that one’s over. I can do with a nice, quiet break.

It’s said that the time you feel the most need for a break is the time when you get the most trouble. In this case, trouble found Dean right as he was closing up the office for the night. He’d just finished turning the key in the dead bolt when a woman came through the front door and walked nervously towards him.

“Mr. Youngwood?”

Dean turned to face her as she appraoched. She was his equal in height, with deep coppery skin, black hair and deep brown eyes set in a soft, round face. She wore a pair of faded blue jeans, a red thermal shirt under a black winter coat.

“I’m Dean Youngwood. What can I do for you, Ma’am?”

She stepped closer and Dean could see worry lines creasing her face as she opened her brown purse, and pulled out a folded picture. She handed it to Dean.

“That’s my daughter. She’s missing. Her friends went out clubbing last night, and she didn’t come home. When I found out she wasn’t sleeping over at any of her friends places, I came here. I think something’s happened to her. The knot in my stomach won’t go away.

Dean examined the picture for a moment, then unlocked his office door. “Come in Mrs…ahh…?”

“Payamy. Henra Payamy. My daughter’s name is Maren.”

Dean held the door open for Mrs Payamy, then closed it quietly once they were inside. His office was a spare place, containing a desk with a chair and two guest chairs. Two file cabinets adorned the wall to the right, and a small coffee pot set on the desktop. Dean indicated the coffee maker.

“Would you like a cup? I can start it up. I usually want one right in the morning.”

She shook her head no, and sat in the closest chair to her.

Dean sat down and focused his attention on the woman, who was visibly trying to avoid breaking down in front of him. He didn’t have any tissues, so he got up, rummaged under the small counter to the left. he returned to his desk, unwrapping paper cloths. She took on and held it, twisting it in her hands constantly as she waited for Dean to say something.

“Mrs Payamy. If you want me to look for your daughter, I will be happy to do so. What I will need is the names of her friends, and places where she likes to hang out when she’s not at home.” He looked at the desk, then back into her eyes. “If I can find out where she was, then I can start following upon where she went and find out what’s really going on.”

Dean made a conscious effort to harden his voice. He knew that sometimes young girls ran away because they had fallen in love, couldn’t stand the home life, or gotten pregnant by their boyfriend and couldn’t face the family.

“Understand please, that if you hire me, I’ll find the truth, regardless of what it is. I don’t push anything under the rug.”

Mrs Payamy nodded. “I don’t care about that. I just want my baby home again.”

Dean stood up and moved around the desk to pat her arm sympathetically.

“I understand, Mrs Payamy. I’ll do my best to get her home to you.”

She didn’t nod, but left an envelop on the desk, then walked back out of the office, head up, back straight, forcing herself to remain calm. Dean watched her go, then sat down at his desk. He stared at the envelope, then opened the middle drawer. He pulled out a letter opener and carefully slit the top. Out came a class ring, two pictures, and five hundred dollars various denominations. A second letter was inside.

‘Dear Mr Youngwood: Please accept this as your retainer. I know you can’t do this for free, so I hope what’s here is adequate.

Lorna Payamy’

He put the letter aside, along with the class ring. Why she had sent that along with the money bothered Dean. A ring is a memento. It’s something you don’t part with unless a dire situation comes up. It underscored the concern the woman had for her daughter, and made Dean more determined to find the truth of the matter.

He moved everything to the middle drawer then locked it closed, and went home to sleep and tackle the problem rested and refreshed. The next morning a letter was on the floor inside his office. Mrs Payamy had dropped by and left the list of six friends, like Dean had asked for. Three had asterisks next to them, and a note at the bottom saying these three were the ones that were with her daughter the night she disappeared. A second sheet of paper had a list of four locations that she thought her daughter liked to visit. Time to go to work.

Dean went to the girls with the asterisks first. The first girl was Alys Hardisty. She was the youngest, being fifteen. She had been the first that Maren Payamy had dropped off that evening.

Alys mentioned that they’d gone to an all night diner to talk about school.

“Maren was excited, I remember. She had met some new guy, and she was crushing in a major way. She even showed us a picture of him that she’d taken when he wasn’t looking.”

“Did you get a copy of the picture from her? That would help a lot with finding them.” Dean crossed his fingers.

“Sorry. She didn’t pass it out.”

“Well, damn.” Dean thought for a moment. “Was there anything in the picture that you remember?”

The girl shrugged. “Nah, it was just a picture.”

“Okay, thanks for your time.”

Alys nodded, then closed the door. Dean went to the next two on the list and got the same answer, She showed them a picture of a handsome looking guy, but didn’t share it. None of the three girls remembered anything about the picture other than the man, who had shaggy brown hair hauled back in a ponytail, square features, and looked like he worked out. He went to the last girl’s address, hoping that he might get lucky, and he did.

“The picture? Yeah, I recognize the place because it’s where we stopped a couple of times to get beer. The guy worked behind the counter at the Kwik-Way on Docket. It’s a couple blocks from the high school.”

It was a real break. He drove down to the store, then wandered inside. Behind the counter was a grey-haired man who looked in his fifties. Dean walked up to the counter. The man looked at him.

“What brand you want?”

“Brand? Oh, no. Sorry. I’m here asking about someone who works here. Tall guy, square features, ponytail. I was in here the other day and asked about,” Dean hesitated for a moment, scanning the store, “Moosehead? I wanted to know when you guys restocked it so I could get a case.”

The Deep End chapter 2

Dean sat in his old black Jeep CJ, waiting for the bail-jumper to appear. The mobile homes had all seen better days. Many had paint peeling away from the aluminum siding, while a few had plywood covering windows. Few people moved about. The neighborhood had the broken, desperate feel of poverty and privation. His Jeep was old, but a cut above the average vehicle around here. Most that he saw in crumbling cement driveways were dented and rusting.

The job was to track down a three-time bail jumper who had gang connections. Dean had proven to be a good skip-tracer. He was quiet, nondescript, and could talk to most anyone. He’d talked to a few former associates of Mick Browning, tracing his movements around Halifax as he tried to stay ahead of people like Dean.

Dean had been very diligent while learning the ropes of skip-tracing. A lot of what they did was paperwork, legwork, and waiting. He’d been working with Carny’s cousin, Adair, for nine months now. His record for his time was fourteen arrests after ‘failure to show in court’. To dean’s relief, all fourteen were of those deserving of jail time.

His fear of having to jail a person just because they screwed up once didn’t eat at him like it had before. It was still there, and that fear was what made him so diligent in getting information and making sure the guy he was chasing deserved to be chased. Such as the current person of interest. Mick Browning was a man Dean found he didn’t like much. Mick had a arrest record that stretched back to middle school when he was arrested for breaking into a grade school to steal computers.

His first brush with the law set a pattern of attempted thefts and punishment in Juvenile facilities, which turned Mick Browning into a street-savvy hustler and car thief. Along the way, he’d gotten into a local motorcycle gang, ‘Charon’. They’d taught him the subtle skills of drug trafficking. He’d served some time, but was released early due to prison overcrowding. Then he’d expanded into home invasion, which was what the courts wanted him for now. His trial was pending, and somehow he’d been allowed to be under ‘house arrest’ with an ankle tracker.

The tracker worked exactly for ten minutes before an alarm went off, indicating that it was no longer attached to an ankle. Police arriving on the scene found the collar had been somehow sliced in half, and Mick had disappeared. The warrant was issued that evening and Dean had been given the job of retrieving the wayward criminal. Mick had been careful not to talk to anyone of his usual friends after escaping, but his habit of frequenting strip clubs gave him away. Dean found some people at a local bar that’d seen Mick a couple days ago.

Further canvassing of nearby neighborhoods had led him to this mobile home park, and a particular address. Now, he was parked two houses down, in his old Jeep, waiting for Mick to show his face in public. Dean took a bite out of a cold hamburger, then shifted, moving his hand to his belt and loosening it one notch.

This fast-food is packing on pounds. I need to get to the gym or something, or I’m going to need new clothes as my old ones won’t fit anymore.

The walkie-talkie on the seat next to him crackled to life.

“See anything on your side?”

Dean picked it up, keying the mike as he watched the trailer house.

“No Zeke, he’s probably sleeping the day away in there.” Dean shifted again, putting the remaining half of the hamburger on the seat.

“Okay, nothing here either. Think he’ll show today?”

“Maybe, it’s Monday, and he’s got to be running low on things. If he wants to eat, he’s going to have to go somewhere to get it.”

“yeah, I getcha. Well, only four more hours until we get relieved. Wanna catch a burger afterwards?”

Dean looked at his half-eaten burger. Not again. “I’d rather not, honestly. I’m having trouble fitting into my pants. Any more and I’ll start splitting seams.” He chuckled. “How do you even eat that many? We’ve gone to that burger place every day this week and you still want to go again?”

“Well, if you can’t handle perfection, then I’ll catch alone tonight after we get relieved.”

Dean opened his window to a thin crack to let air in. July was baking him inside his car. He wondered again how John managed to eat all those burgers and still fit in his clothes. His attention shifted to the trailer house.

“I got movement. Someone just opened and shut a window shade.”

“You have eyes on?”

“No. No movement since the blinds.”

“It’d be nice to get this done, eh?”

“Very nice. I could sleep in a bed instead of my front seat.”

“Now you’re just being mean.”

“Someone’s coming out. I have eyes on.”

“Car, or walk?”

“Bike. he’s got leathers on and wearing colors.”

“Shit. Let’s take him before he gets loose in traffic. That damn bike can dodge rings around us.

Dean fired up the Jeep and dropped it into gear.

“I’ll take the bike, you take him.”

“Okay.”

Dean didn’t wait, but went through the small front yard of the home next to Mick’s. The Jeep jounced and wobbled across the uneven ground. Browning had just gotten to the motorcycle when he spotted the Jeep coming straight at him. he abandoned the bike and ran, clearing the bike just barely before the Jeep’s winch and bumper smashed the big bike flat, and the Jeep ran over it in pursuit of Mick.

Mick ran around the edge of his trailer home, breaking contact with Dean. Dean cursed, and ran to the corner, stopping and peering quickly around the corner to see if Mick had stopped to ambush them. He saw the fugitive taking on his partner in a quick exchange of blows, blocks, and counters. Mick was larger, but John had years of martial training, thanks to a father that was a full-time Aikido instructor.

John threw a punch at Mick’s face, which was blocked. John used the block to balance his arm, and he spun into a back kick that caught Mick just below the ribs, knocking him back on his backside. John followed the kick up with a quick shuffle and a second kick to his groin.

Mick turned red and gasped, falling over and groaning in pain.

Dean stepped next to Mick, zip-tie in hand. He flipped Mick onto his stomach, then locked mick’s hands together behind him with the zip-tie. Then John and Dean both helped him up, and placed him in the back of John’s old police cruiser. He helped Mick sit down, then tied Micks hands a second time. This loop with through a specially prepared loop of metal on the floor of the rear passenger’s seat. A third tie went around Mick’s legs and through the metal loop, holding Mick bent over until he was delivered to the Halifax police.

John finished checking the restraints, then closed the door. He turned towards Dean.

“So, still on for a burger?”

Dean patted his growing belly, and shook his head. “No thanks, I have to drop a few pounds before I can indulge again.”

John nodded and opened the driver’s door and clambered in.

He started the car, then rolled the window down.

“Hey, you still planning on dropping to part time with Adair? I know a couple places you’d fit in with.”

Dean smiled and leaned against the door.

“Yes, I’m still going part time. I want to open my own place, and Adair’s being kind enough to help me out, since it won’t be for skip-tracing. It’ll just be me finding lost relatives, lost kids, or wayward spouses who may or may not be cheating on their partner.”

John nodded, and shifted the car into ‘drive’.

“I get that. I think you’re missing a good deal though. We mead a lot of money on these guys.”

“Yes, we did,” Dean replied. Despite his laid-back expression, his mind was racing. He’d found a place, and would be getting the keys for the office today. The thought of actually having his own office sent a thrill through him that he never had when chasing bail jumpers.

I just don’t see a future in chasing bounties like that. This is the big-time. My own office. My own business. My own hours. Mine, and no one else’s.

John beeped the horn, and waited for Dean to stand up, then rolled off to collect the money for delivering a felon back to the waiting arms of the courts.

Yeah, my own place.

The Deep End – Chapter 1

“Hey Dean, how did the test go?” Carny Weston walked over to Dean Youngwood, giving him a fist bump as a greeting, and falling in next to him as Dean walked to his car. The sidewalk was full of pedestrians in a hurry to get lunch. The noon whistle had blown only a minute before Dean had exited Precinct Four after taking his test. He’d come dressed for the weather, and Dean was thankful for his bit of preparation. The snow was coming down thick and slushy, sticking to anything it landed on. The weather station had promised wet snow and the station had got it right. Dean smiled at Carny a little wistfully, then stuck his hands in his jacket pockets.

“You know, I think I did pretty good. But…,” he paused and Carny’s face fell. His blonde beard was already festooned with fat flakes that were threatening to turn his whiskers into an ice sculpture. Carny’s blue and black checked hunting jacket was doing much better, the snow giving Carny the look of a man with a completely out of control dandruff problem. His shoulder length blonde hair combined with his beard made him look like a modern viking.

Dean by contrast to Carny’s appearance, had short black hair irregularly cut, a testament to ‘don’t do this at home in a mirror’, and dark brown eyes that almost looked black. He’d put on weight since his days in the Canadian Air Force, and had a slight gut. His swarthy skin made him look piratical, but in fact Dean was a full-blooded Cree. He wore a pair of thick blue denim work pants, and a matching blue coat to protect him from the cold. His last name, Youngwood, was his adopted parents name. He chose it for his own despite some protests by fellow Cree.

“Aw man that s…,” Carny started to say, but Dean pulled a piece of yellow paper out of his jean pocket and held it in front of Carny’s nose.

“I think they believed so too, because they gave me this little piece of paper.” Dean smiled as Carny whooped and enveloped him in a bear hug.

“Way to go, man! Way. To. Go!”

He ceased hollering as people around them stopped and stared at the exuberant spectacle. Carny put Dean back on the ground and the two continued their walk back towards Carny’s pickup. When they reached the battered green truck, Dean glanced at Carny as he opend the passenger door, “How about lunch on me? I passed the exam, I think we should celebrate at ‘The Shake Shack’. I haven’t had a artery-clogging hamburger and fries for a couple weeks.”

Carny laughed, and opened the driver’s door.

“Sounds great! how ’bout we stop by Tim Horton’s afterwards to get a coffee and donut as dessert?”

Dean grimaced. “I’d love to, but I think I’ll pass on that. I can only handle so much decadence.”

“Wimp.”

“Guilty as charged.”

“Dammit, it’s no fun if you don’t insult back. Where do you get off being agreeable?”

“The same place you get off by trying to start something.”

Carny laughed again and pressed the start button on the dashboard. The vehicle rumbled as the engine refused to start, then caught with a roar. Dean settled back in his seat as Carny wheeled the vehicle out of the parking lot, and into lunch-hour traffic.

While they slowly worked their way towards their destination, Carny asked Dean, “So where are you going to hang your shingle?”

Dean stared forward out the windshield, watching the fat flakes of snow descend on the barely moving vehicles.

“I was thinking up around Shannon Park. The area is old and poor, but a lot of decent sorts there. I could probably get by.”

Carny looked over at Dean as though Dean had sprouted a second head.

“You’re nuts, you know that? I understand wanting to help people, but first you gotta get on your own feet. Helping people is good, but if you can’t keep a roof over your head, how you gonna help someone else?”

Dean shrugged, then looked over at Carny.

“You blew big holes in that idea. Yeah, I’d like to help out that way. Lots of folks could use a little help to solve problems. Hell, maybe solving the problems would fix something.” He sighed and turned back to watch the traffic in front of them. “But you’re right. If I can’t keep a place open, I don’t do anyone any good.” He turned his head towards Carny again. “So what would be your plan?”

Carny shrugged, then replied, “What about joining a detective agency for a bit. Get a name, take care of a few cases. Hunt down a few bail jumpers. Whatever. An agency would get your feet wet for a regular paycheck, and getcha experience without worrying about rent.”

Dean listened quietly. The traffic began moving once more and the two lapsed into silence for the three minute drive over to ‘The Shake Shack’.

After thy sat down with their food, Dean took a bite out of his burger.

“You’re angling for me to work with your cousin, aren’t you?”

Carny smiled and took a hefty swig from the straw in his drink.

“See? That’s why you’re the detective. You can figure things out.”

Dean shook his head. “I know you think your cousin’s a good guy, Carny, but I’m not sure he’d be the best one to work for starting out. I mean, he’s a skip-tracer, not a private investigator.”

“That’s why he’s perfect to work with. He’s been there, done that, and can give you pointers into how to use your newfound legal license the best way possible. It’s a steady paycheck, and you help by getting bad people off the streets.”

“And I have to track down people who’s only crime was that they can’t pay on their car, and I have to take it away, and they lost their job because they can’t get to work to pay bills and help their families.”

Carny’s face drooped. Dean figured he’d tried to be helpful. Carny was always trying to look out for friends. He and Dean had spent a hitch in the Canadian Air Force for four years as mechanics working on the old F-22 Raptors that had survived The Change. They’d gotten along and worked well together. Then became in-laws when Carny had married Dean’s adopted sister Carol. In the three years they’d been married, Carol had two pairs of twins. The first pair were girls, and the second were boys.

Dean shook his head. then took another bite from the burger.

“Say I join your cousin, do you get anything for referring me?”

“No, I just thought he’d be a good place to start.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. I’ll go see him. No promises. I’m still not certain that I want to do this, but you’re right, I have to start somewhere.”

“Cool! I’ll drive you…”

“Ease up Carny, I’ll drive over this afternoon. You need to get back to work, Carol’s probably going crazy with four crazed munchkins running around.”

Carny set his drink down and grabbed at his potato wedges, stuffing two in his mouth. he chewed, then swallowed.

“She probably is, eh? Carol’s a great mom. Though she’s got a temper.”

Dean shrugged. “Well, you would too with four kids in diapers and needing constant supervision. I bet she’s exhausted by the time you get home.”

“Yeah, she is.” He turned to look at Dean. “Speaking of that, wanna come by and spend time with your nieces and nephews? I could take Carol out on the town, maybe a movie, eh?”

Dean chuckled. “Okay, okay. I get it. When do you want me by?”

“How about five-thirty? I’ll be home by then and you can show up. the kids’ll love seeing you.”

“Yeah, I bet. My back’s still sore from the last time they loved seeing me.”

Carny chuckled and finished off the last potato wedge.

“You adore them as much as they adore you. Admit it for once.”

Dean shrugged, smiling. “What, and ruin a streak?”