“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.”
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.