The Case of the Missing Daughter

By Johnny Apocalypse
BSchin2188@aol.com

I was really starting to hate this place. The bartender had made a weak gimlet, followed by a strong tequila sunrise. I'm not a beer drinker, but I considered ordering one just to see how he would screw that up. Maybe I would give him a challenge, order it in a bottle and not from the tap.

My normal bar was closed for renovation. I had come to this joint, a dirty gin-mill filled with drunks, cockroaches and street walkers, to fill my alcohol quota for the day. All of the stools were wobbly, the bar was scratched with messages like "Save the whales", "Fuck the whales", and "What the hell are whales?". I had been to hundreds of dives before, but this one took the cake.

My name is Tyler Drake. I'm 37, white and divorced. I smoke, I drink and I like to hit people with chairs. When I need money, I'm a private investigator.

I lit my umpteenth cigarette for the night, and asked the bartender if I could come back there and show him how to make a drink right. He told me to piss off. I ordered a gin and tonic.

A hush spread across the room as the door opened. Following the crisp winter winds, a thin man wearing a business suit walked in. He must've thought he was slumming.

The waiter brought me my drink. Instead of a lime, or even a lemon, the schmuck had put a martini olive in the glass. I drank it anyway.

I could smell a payday in the air when the well-dressed man sat next to me. Before he said a word, I knew that I had a little work coming my way.

"Mr. Drake," he said, "Can I have a moment of your time?"

"Sure. Grab a drink and we'll chat."

The man ordered a bottle of Budweiser. Smart guy.

"My name's Victor Clarke. I've heard that you're quite good at finding people. Is that correct?"

A little too smart. His dialogue reeked of law school.

"That's right," I said. "Who needs finding?"

"My daughter, Amanda," he pulled a picture out of his breast pocket and handed it to me. "She's been gone for three days now. My wife and I are worried to death."

I looked at the photo. Amanda was a cute girl, but about 200 pounds over my maximum weight limit. I muttered that she shouldn't be hard to find, but Clarke either didn't hear me, or he ignored my little joke.

"Have you tried contacting her friends?" I asked.

"Yes, but to no avail."

I wished this guy would speak English. "Have you checked her normal hangouts?"

"I have, but no one would talk to me. I'm afraid that I just can't fit in at her retreats, they're all coffee shops and dance clubs for teens. That's why I'd like to hire you."

Great. He thought I was a street urchin. "Do you know if she uses any drugs?"

"Oh, come on, man!" he blurted. "I know a thing or two about your job, I've read Raymond Chandler."

I had no clue who Raymond Chandler was, but this wasn't the time to bring that up.

"I searched her whole room," he continued. "From top to bottom, and couldn't find anything that would lead me to believe she was involved in anything illegal."

I was getting pretty sick of this guy's fancy language. I told him that I could put about four hours in tonight, at twenty-five dollars an hour plus expenses. "I'll call you once I'm done poking around for the night, see if you want me to keep going."

Clarke pulled his wallet out and handed me a crisp one hundred dollar bill. "Here's your retainer for tonight."

I pocketed the bill gladly. I had never asked for a retainer before, and therefore had never gotten one. I was liking this guy a lot better.

I retrieved my notebook, opened it to a clean page and told Clarke to write down the names and locations of his daughter's normal haunts. He produced a gold pen and wrote, in a garishly flowing script, several names and street intersections.

As he stood up, we shook hands. "Thank you for your help, Mr. Drake. I look forward to hearing from you."

He handed me his card, which named him as a defense attorney. I know Harvard-types when I see them.

I turned back to finish my drink, and noticed that Clarke hadn't touched his beer. I snagged the bottle and took a sip. It was watered down. This bartender was good.

***

The cold always puts me in a foul mood. As I walked down the street, puffing on a Marlboro, I decided to make my first stop a dance club two blocks south. It was a techno joint called "Beats". The type of place where the gothic crowds hang out, pretending to be vampires or some stupid bullshit.

I pulled open the door and wished that I could stay outside. The putrid scent of booze, marijuana and sweaty teens gave me the dry heaves. I decided to hurry up and get this over with.

They knew me here, and the bouncer let me in without having to pay the cover charge. During another job, the trail had led me to "Beats" where some punk thought it would be funny to bite me and try to suck my blood. He ended up sucking on the seat of a chair instead, so the people here knew not to piss me off.

My reputation preceded me, as teens dressed in black leather cleared a path before me. I walked straight to the bar and whipped out the photo of Amanda.

The bartender started shaking a bit at the sight of me. I had shaved today, so I didn't know what the big deal was. I showed him the picture and asked if the girl had been by in the last few days.

"Y-y-yes sir, yesterday. I don't think she's here now."

I thanked him for his time, and decided to look the crowd over.

Only the most oblivious teens were still dancing, most of them moving like epileptics in mid-seizure. The rest of the horde stood back and watched me. The guys tried to look tough, like all losers their age.

"Anyone seen Amanda Clarke lately?"

Almost everyone shook their head. One kid, a guy wearing platform boots and a spiked collar, just stared at me.

"How about you, pal?" I asked him.

"I ain't your pal. Fuck off."

Finally, some proper English.

I grabbed the nearest chair and took a step towards him. My fun was terminated before I could even wind up my swing.

"Oh, shit!" he yelled. "No, I haven't seen her! For the love of God, don't hurt me!"

I was going to hit him anyways, but I noticed a dark stain on the crotch of his already black pants. He'd had enough. I dropped the wooden chair and hurried out of the club, my lungs aching for fresh air.

Snow had started pelting down from above. I pulled the collar of my jacket around my face and kept walking. The next nearest stop was a coffee shop called "Caffeinated Verse". I had a special place in my heart reserved for poetry, somewhere between snake shit and sex offenders.

The bar was halfway between "Beats" and the café. I stopped back inside for a quick warm-up shot of Scotch. He gave me cheap bourbon.

The bourbon did the trick, and I was able to make the trek to the coffee shop without shivering too much. The café was warm inside, with the lights turned low except for a spotlight pointed at the stage. It was filled with young adults who thought they were beatniks, berets on every head in the house. Oversized mugs filled with cappuccino littered the tables. Not a bad ambiance if you like this sort of thing.

A slender girl wearing a gray and black plaid sweater stood at the microphone. Her poetry rhymed poorly, was out of meter and seemed to be about a headache she had last week. If it were a guy on stage, he'd be eating the business end of my shoe.

I decided to keep everything low-key while I was here, stopping at each table, showing the picture and asking if anyone knew where I could find this girl. I wasn't having any luck when the migraine poet took her bow to thunderous applause. A lanky man with a sole-patch goatee and sunglasses took the stage.

He spoke slowly and clearly into the microphone. "I'd like to recite a monologue from Shakespeare's 'Hamlet'."

There's a lot of shit I'm willing to put up with in life, but whiney Danish princes wasn't one of them. I bounded up the stairs to the stage, and before Sole-patch could whip out a single "To be", I cracked him in the jaw with my right. He toppled off the stage and landed on an empty table.

"Okay, I've got a poem for ya," I said into the mike. "Rub-a-dub-dub, where the hell's Amanda Clarke?"

Sole-patch came out of his stupor. "You just missed her," he said. "She left for her writing group ten minutes ago."

I asked him where it was, and he gave me the name of a bookstore that was on my list. I thought about taking a bow before exiting stage left, but it seemed pretentious. Instead, I just hopped off the stage and walked outside, back into the cold.

My journey didn't last a full block before I realized that I was out of cigarettes. I stopped into a mini-mart to grab some more, trying to figure out a way to add the smokes to my 'expenses'.

Two cigarettes and a lot of walking later, I reached the bookshop. It wasn't a popular chain store, but a little corner place that sold both new and used books. My watch read nine-thirty, half an hour past the closing time. A single light was still on in the rear, and I could hear voices. The door was locked, so I pounded on it a few times.

A cute blonde in her mid-thirties unlocked the door. She kept it half closed, sticking her head out to see what I wanted.

"Sorry I'm late," I said, "I'm here for the writing group."

Blondie smiled and nodded, opening the door enough for me to squeeze through. She hadn't said a word to me yet.

The lady led me through several aisles towards the back of the store. As we got closer, I could hear people saying 'great description' and 'wonderful theme'. If I had to waste my breath with comments like these before I could find out where Amanda was, it wasn't going to be a good night for anyone.

I entered the small room, greeted by the eyes of ten smiling people. Amanda wasn't in the group. A small table held an empty coffee pot and a dish of assorted vegetables. I guess cookies aren't in vogue any more. Blondie introduced me simply as a newcomer.

"Ellen, sorry I had to run to the door, but what I heard was excellent. Matt, it's your turn."

One of the men, a stoned-looking guy with stringy black hair and a Fu Manchu moustache, leaned forward. He cleared his throat and said, "This is a poem I wrote about a whiney Danish prince¾"

That was as far as he got. I had stepped forward and slammed the sole of my Doc Martin into his chest, tipping the chair over. Everyone in the crowd gasped. I guess these intellectual vegetarian writers aren't used to acts of senseless violence.

"I don't have time for this," I said. "I need to find Amanda Clarke."

Blondie answered me. "She left early, she wanted to try her newest poem out at 'Caffeinated Verse'."

"I just came from that place," I grunted. "She wasn't there."

"She got a ride from a friend, you probably didn't see her in the car. I swear, that's what she told us!"

It wasn't much, but it was the best I was going to do here. I left while Fu Manchu was still picking himself up off the floor.

The bar was a little out of my way, but I needed another drink. If I was going to spend my night bouncing between places, I'd need a little of my medicine to pick me up. Most people would be sick and tired of dealing with a shitty bartender and find a different place to get plowed, but I'm stubborn like that.

When I walked in, I was halfway done with a cigarette. The barkeep was wiping a table around the head of a sleeping alcoholic. Once he saw me, he hurried back to the bar, eager to please.

"What'll you have?" he asked.

"Give me a glass of gin, no ice. And if you screw it up, I'm gonna be pissed."

He went to work, shuffling glasses around and pouring something out of a bottle. He kept everything under the bar so I couldn't see what he was doing. Something told me that my gin was going to have a sickly yellow color to it.

Then he set the glass on the bar. It was clear, no ice. I picked the glass up and smelled the liquor. Gin. Honest to God, gin. I took a sip, and noticed that he hadn't spared the good stuff.

I set the glass back down for a second, letting the booze crawl into my veins. Quickly, the bartender's hand shot out, dropping a small, purple umbrella into the glass.

"Forgot the parasol," he explained.

I came very close to setting the gin aflame with my lighter and emptying the blazing contents on the bartender's shirt, but I held back. In a city this size, you can keep the law off your back pretty easy. Hell, after a few random punches and kicks on this night alone, I still hadn't seen hide nor hair of the cops. But they tend to get pretty upset when you light a guy on fire.

***

I made it back to 'Caffeinated Verse' shortly before they closed. If I didn't find Amanda Clarke here, I was going to give it up for the night and try again tomorrow.

The coffee shop was twice as full as it was when I made my first visit. A second employee had shown up and was busy carrying cups and plates around the room. Everyone sat in peace, listening to some lady rhyme about a romantic encounter with her inner-self. I almost puked right there.

I walked along the back wall, scanning the faces at each table. I didn't need the photograph; Amanda's image was burnt inside my brain.

I had reached the rear corner when I finally saw her. She was bigger then the photograph showed, dressed like a hippie and doing a line of cocaine off the table. She was surrounded by several other ladies, who were quietly chanting her on while trying to avoid disturbing the artist on stage.

As Amanda finished the line of cocaine and brought her head up to receive the silent applause of her friends, I stepped forward.

"Amanda?" I asked.

"Yes?"

"I'm Tyler Drake. I've been asked by your father to find you. Why don't you come with me and I'll take you home."

"Screw you!" she cried. "I hate it there, I'm never going home again!"

Never in my life has anyone complimented me on my discretion. There's a damn good reason for that. And after a long, aggravating night like this, any possibility of being tactful and diplomatic had gone out the door.

"You're coming with me, you little bitch!" I shouted, grabbing her arm.

Amanda didn't say a word. She started to, but it came out as a gargled "Urp!" Her free hand clutched her chest, her eyes got wide and she tipped over. She'd just had a heart attack on me.

Later on, her doctor would tell me outside her hospital room that the cocaine was the most likely cause of the heart attack. He would even go as far as to venture that her weight played a part in the process. But I like to think that my lack of delicacy was what really drove her heart over the edge.

But for now, I had to convince one of her screaming friends to grab their cell phone and call for an ambulance. After I finally got one of them to make the call, I thought about giving my paycheck CPR. Then a familiar voice turned my attention to the stage.

"Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio!"

Sole-patch still hadn't learned his lesson.

I grabbed Amanda's now vacant chair and weaved through crowded tables to the stage. Just as he began to say something about kissing a dead guy, Sole-patch's sole-patch made intimate contact the backrest of the chair.

I could hear the ambulance screeching to a halt outside, it's siren cutting through the calm air. I dropped the two remaining legs of the chair on the stage. The cops would be here any minute, and I would have a lot of questions to answer. I fired up a cigarette and waited for the cavalry to arrive.




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