Solitaire, Part 1

This is a short story I wrote several years ago as an introduction to Eddie Hazzard and the city of Arcadia.  A new chapter will run every day this week, leading up to the release of The Invisible Crown next Monday!  Come back tomorrow for Part 2! 

* * *

I was playing my 2,134th losing game of solitaire in a vid window, a hard light interface, when she walked into my office.  She was impressive-looking, with her close-cropped hair, dark skin, and tall stature.  I immediately flicked the floating screen away into the corner of the room and attempted to look as professional as possible.  The woman was clearly someone very busy and very confident; I could tell by looking at the smart, no-nonsense business suit she wore and the vid windows floating around her head at eye level like a low-slung halo.

“No, I want you to sell the shares of Vitruvian Dynamics,” she was saying to one of the screens, “and buy 100 shares of Relativistic, Inc.”  She pinched the vid window closed with an exasperated sigh, and waved away the rest to gather into a stack that floated just outside of her peripheral vision.  The long-suffering woman turned her well-manicured attention on me.  “Detective Edward Hazzard, I assume?”  It was less a question and more a resigned statement of unavoidable fact.  She was clearly unhappy that I was the man she’d discovered behind the desk.  And I couldn’t really blame her.  My appearance doesn’t inspire much confidence: I’m scruffy, slovenly, and only kind of sober.  Her attitude stung a bit, though.

“Yes ma’am, though I prefer ‘Eddie,’” I replied, trying to ignore her disdainful tone.

“I’m sure you do,” she sniffed.  “I have a…case for you, detective.  The subject matter is quite distasteful, and I would prefer if it were kept quite confidential.  I don’t want my business all over the tabloids.”

“Of course, ma’am,” I replied smoothly, easing my way out of my battered chair and around the corner of the scarred, ancient desk.  “We are very discreet, you have my word.”

The woman arched a tweezed eyebrow.  “Well then, I guess I should provide you with the lurid details,” she said, snapping open a smart leather briefcase that was older and better-cared for than anything in my shabby life.  She withdrew a small datachip and handed it to me.  “This is a file on my ex-husband, a man named Geoffrey Witherston Pennington III.  We divorced recently over his rather…unfortunate nocturnal habits.”

“Sleeping around on you, was he?” I asked with a wink.  The woman looked aghast.

“No!  He…had a habit of getting temporary genetic modifications and running around town naked.  It was…unseemly.  I could not handle the personal stress and the lost face in the community, so we quietly separated a few months back.”  A gen-mod tourist, a guy who used a chemical cocktail to give himself the traits of some other animal – snake scales, bird feathers, whatever – and ran around the city making a fool of himself.  It wasn’t all that unusual, but the obscenely wealthy did live in a weird bubble.

“So what do you want me to do, then?” I asked, slipping the datachip into a small port on my desk.  A vid window popped up with a picture of the man and physiological information.  He was around 55, in good shape, with a thick head of still-dark hair.  He was handsome, clearly, and didn’t look unkind or all that odd.  Guess it just goes to show, you never can tell.  “Sounds like anything that he does now is somebody else’s problem.”

“I wish it were that simple,” the former Mrs. Pennington replied, snapping her briefcase shut.  “When we separated, he took with him several documents and files that were quite important to me and my business.  I need you to retrieve them quietly and without causing a scene.”  I opened up a second file from the datachip, which turned out to be a list of the documents the woman needed.  Legal documents, going by their titles.

“Lady, not causing a scene is my bread and butter.”  I didn’t mention I couldn’t afford bread or butter, what with my wholesale whiskey bills.  “It’s $500 a day plus expenses, first two days’ pay upfront.”

Ex-Mrs. Pennington flipped a vid window back in front of her from the stack, tapped a couple of buttons on window, and pinched it shut.  “The money has been transferred to your account.  I expect results, Detective Hazzard.  Do not disappoint me.”  She pivoted and headed out the door, her heels clicking loudly across the scuffed linoleum in the quiet room.

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