Solitaire, Part 3

Eddie ran into some trouble on the case, getting his butt handed to him by a burglar who also made off with all the documents Eddie needed.  What’s a bruised-but-not-beaten private eye to do?  Check back tomorrow for part 4!

* * *

I slunk into my office the next morning in a pensive frame of mind and a hung over state of being.  I had no idea where to start the search for the missing papers, nor who else might want them.  Was that burglar from Vellum’s office hired by Pennington himself?  Or maybe even Vellum?  Did the ex-Mrs. Pennington hire the burglar as a backup plan in case I couldn’t cut it?  Who knew.

I mean, not me, obviously, but hopefully someone out there knew.

“How’s the case going, Eddie?” I heard Miss Typewell, my secretary/personal assistant/head researcher/person-who-knows-where-everything-is asked.  Her blue hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, a pair of archaic reading glasses hung around her neck on a thin chain, and she wore a wooly cardigan of bright orange.

“A bust so far,” I replied, shrugging out of my jacket and doffing my hat.  “Someone beat me to the punch at the lawyer’s office.”  And then just plain beat me, I added silently.  I gave Miss Typewell a brief rundown of what had transpired at Vellum’s office the night before, skipping over most of the details of the beating I’d suffered.

“Going to try Pennington’s personal files next?” she asked when I’d finished.

“Gonna have to,” I replied.  “Think they’re hackable?”  I knew a fair amount about technology, but not nearly as much as Miss Typewell did.  She was my go-to with technical questions like this, though her answer was often not quite what I was hoping for.

Miss Typewell looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, “I can probably get in no problem, but I doubt it’ll be to Mrs. Pennington’s satisfaction.  Digital documents are too-easily forged and faked these days.”  True to form, then: an answer, but not one that was all that much help.

“True,” I said, my thoughts drifting off.  “Maybe we should try a different approach.”

“What do you have in mind, Eddie?”

“Well…I know that the reason I didn’t get the stuff last night was because someone got there ahead of me,” I said, pacing across the reception area of the office.  “Can you do a search to see if there’s been any other robberies of this type in the city lately?”

“Sure, gimme two minutes,” Miss Typewell said, flicking vid windows across the space in front of her with the deft movements of a trained professional.  She tapped away at buttons on various panels for a minute or two, lost in concentration, then I got bored and wandered into my office and sat down.  I pulled up a new game of solitaire and was halfway through losing game 2,138 when Miss Typewell’s face popped up in a vid window next to my game.

“Found a pattern, Eddie,” she said.

Oh yeah?” I replied, not taking my eyes off my game.

“Yes.  Six similar burglaries in the past three weeks, all in the same district.  Looks like they’re all done by the same person, a burglar who goes by the name Red Ace.”

I glanced toward Miss Typewell’s screen.  “You’d think they’d at least have some red in their outfit, then,” I said, frowning.  “Any idea how we can use this?”

“Well,” she replied, looking away at a different vid window, “it looks like all of the jobs were commissioned through a bulletin board for underworld types.  The Boss set it up a few years ago to make contract jobs with freelancers outside of the Organization easier to arrange and control.  Arcadia PD hasn’t been able to do anything about it because the boards just set up electronic communication between the two parties, they don’t actually plan the jobs there on the boards.”  I nodded thoughtfully.  The Boss – the head of Arcadia’s massive crime syndicate, the Organization – was a shadowy but powerful figure who loomed over the city of Arcadia.  Anything he put together would be tough for Arcadia PD to even chip away at, let alone dismantle completely.  Be that as it may, the bulletin board did provide us with an opportunity to track down our burglar.

“Hmm…a plan comes to mind, Ellen,” I said, stroking the stubble on my chin.

“Already way ahead of you, Eddie,” she replied.  “I’ve set up a post on the bulletin board. With any luck, we’ll hear from your mystery burglar soon.”

Solitaire, Part 2

Eddie has taken a case to track down some important documents.  Is he sober enough to get the job done?  Check back tomorrow for part 3!

* * *

I waited until early evening to go out to investigate.  Not because I was hungover – though the mild headache I’d been fighting all day had proven effective at killing any desire I had to go out while the sun was still up – but because the sort of skulking and law bending I’d have to do to investigate was much easier to accomplish if everyone else had gone home for the day.  I filled the afternoon with a bit of research on Mr. Pennington, half a bottle of whiskey – hair of the dog and all that – and three more lost games of solitaire.  I decided to try Pennington’s lawyer’s office first, figuring any important business or financial documents – the sort his ex-wife hinted were taken – would likely be kept in a safe there.  Pennington’s lawyer was Caius Vellum, well-known in the fancier circles of Arcadian Society as the guy who could help you get away with just about anything.  In my research that afternoon, I’d turned up some news articles from several months ago about Pennington’s, as his ex-wife called them, “nocturnal habits,” and it sounded pretty weird, even by Arcadia standards.   I’d thought I’d seen it all, but this guy had gotten up to some strange business, rolling around naked on the street in Eakin Plaza, climbing up on the fountain in the center of the square to…well, it was gross, let’s just leave it at that.  But Vellum had managed to avoid getting any charges pressed against his client, and the whole episode had eventually been passed off as just an eccentricity on Pennington’s part.

Vellum left the office at half-past six, and I sat across the street in a coffee shop for another half hour after that before deciding the place was empty and I could try to get in.  I slipped out of my booth and trotted across the street, my jacket collar turned up against the encroaching October wind and my hat brim pulled low over my eyes.  I reached the office building and inspected the lock.  The security system was an electronic pad with several security measures, including retina scan, DNA scan, and fingerprint pad.  You had to pass all three for the door to unlock for you automatically.  The actual lock itself, though, was a traditional deadbolt, and one it was quite easy to jimmy open with a few seconds’ work with a lock pick.  I heard the lock’s tumblers click into place, but I waited to open the door until after I’d placed a flat, matte-black square over the security panel next to the door.  I pressed a button on the box, which hummed quietly for a few seconds, then beeped.  A small green LED lit up, indicating the alarm system linked to the door had been deactivated.  Pocketing my lock pick and the security bypass, I turned the doorknob and pushed open the door, which swung silently into the office.  I glanced around to see if anyone was watching me, then ducked into the building and shut the door behind me with a muffled click.

I let my eyes adjust to the darkness as I dug through my pocket for my safe cracking kit.  The kit was another small box, about two inches on a side, and about as thick as a pack of cigarettes.  It would use magnets and some other science-y mumbo-jumbo to rotate the tumblers in the safe’s lock and open the thing up quickly and quietly.  While I could pick the lock on a safe manually, as I’d done with the door, it would take a lot longer.  The safe cracking box was fast and reliable.  I found it and made my way to Vellum’s inner sanctum, sidling around expensive lobby furnishings and deeper into the dark recesses of the office.

I reached Vellum’s private office and crept over to his desk, feeling for a light panel.  I found the panel and tapped it lightly, creating a dim ambient light in the room and temporarily blinding me a bit.  When I regained my vision, I saw I was not alone.

Crouched in front of the safe was someone clad in burglar black from head to toe.  They already had the safe open and several piles of important-looking documents strewn about the floor.  They were frozen in place, staring right at me as I stared back at them.

“I’m just here for some documents from the safe,” I said casually, trying to remember if I’d packed my sidearm or not.  A certain absence of weight under my left arm told me I had not remembered, much to my frustration.  I generally preferred to talk my way out of situations like this anyway, but not having options was a tad frustrating.  “I don’t want to get involved in any violence here, pal.  Let me get what I came for, and you can rob this legal leech blind for all I care.”

The burglar stood up, revealing an individual of indeterminate sex and slender dancer’s build.  They reached into a pouch strapped to their belt and came out with what looked like a short baton.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” I said truthfully, backing away and raising my hands placatingly.  “I really don’t give a damn what you’re doing here or who you are, I just want to get what I came for and get out.”

As the burglar advanced on me, I reached out and slapped the light panel.  The panel was set to bring up the light based on intensity of touch; my heavier touch caused the light to flash to full brightness in an instant, temporarily blinding my opponent and giving me the chance to grope around for a weapon.  I found a large, heavy paperweight with my left hand, grabbed it, and quickly twisted away to the right to avoid the already-recovered burglar’s slashing swing with that baton.  The baton extended in flight, slapping down across the desk and cracking the smooth, glassy surface.  I turned my twist into a full 360, bringing the paperweight up to slam it into the burglar’s head.  They ducked my attack, throwing me off-balance a bit.  As I recovered my footing, the baton slammed into my midsection, and the burglar touched a button on the end of the baton that sent a few thousand volts coursing through my body.  I twitched uncontrollably, dropping my improvised weapon and collapsing on the floor.  With no input from me, my body decided to twitch a bit more once I landed.

Meanwhile, the burglar turned back to the safe, gathered up all of the documents and folders they had taken out of it, and started for the door.  I had just enough self-control to reach out and grab them by the ankle, but nowhere near enough energy to actually hold on.  The burglar shook off my enfeebled hand, striding out the door and the office.

“Nothing personal,” they said in a harsh, robotic tone, their real voice masked, “but you weren’t even playing the same game I was, here.”  With that, they vanished, leaving me alone and twitching on the office floor.

It took me a few minutes to regain control of my limbs, and even then it was a pretty shaky proposition.  I struggled into a sitting position, clutching my bruised gut and wondering just what the hell had happened.  I scooted over to the safe to see if there were any documents left inside, knowing there wouldn’t be.  I looked anyway.  There weren’t.  Being right all the time can be a bit of a burden in situations like these.

“Okay,” I muttered to myself, staggering to my feet, “I know there’s someone out there with the files I need.  It can’t be a coincidence someone burglarized this place the same night I came to do my investigation.  So, who else would want these papers?”

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.

The Summer of ’02 and the Birth of Eddie Hazzard

I’m going to tell you a story.  A story about mountains, and hiking, and storytelling, and the search for some sort of direction.  It’s the story of how I spent a summer in Yellowstone National Park and wrote a short story about a down-on-his-luck private detective with a serious drinking problem.

The summer of 2002 followed my graduation from college.  My younger brother and I got jobs working for Xanterra, the concessions company that operates food service and gift shops in a bunch of the national parks.  We were working as table bussers in the dining hall at Mammoth Hot Springs, at the north end of the park.  It wasn’t a particularly difficult job; we had difficult shifts sometimes, and were often very busy, but it was simple and straightforward and didn’t require much in the way of thinking.  In our downtime, we hiked, played basketball and soccer, and worked on writing songs.  I also spent a significant amount of time reading; that was the summer I got into Terry Pratchett, reading almost a dozen of his Discworld novels over those few months.

When I was between books, I’d spend time writing.  I had a Mead 5-Star five-subject spiral notebook, in which I wrote poems, songs, and a short story idea I’d come up with.  The story, which I eventually called “Missing Person,” is barely recognizable as the same story that will be published in December as the full-fledged novel The Invisible Crown.  The basic bones were the same: woman comes into the detective’s office, hires him to track down her missing husband, he goes through a series of misadventures until he discovers the missing man’s fate, and…well, telling anything more would be giving away the story.  Eddie was still Eddie Hazzard, though he was less snarky and more a misogynist jackass.  The story itself was more of a pastiche of noir cliches and was set in some undefined time in the past.  The story wasn’t great, but there was something in it that I must have liked, because I kept coming back to it over the next decade.

I don’t know where that spiral notebook is now, which is kind of sad.  I’d like to go back and re-read the original story, the handwritten kernel of a larger, more elaborate work that will finally see the light of day before the end of the year.  Things have changed, but Eddie is still around, and he has lots of new adventures ahead of him in the coming years.

Getting To Know You: Eddie Hazzard

I thought it might be fun to give you guys little introductions to some of the characters you’ll encounter in the Hazzardous Pay books.  We’ll start today with the hero of our story, Eddie Hazzard.

Eddie is too damn clever for his own good.  He’ll be the first one to tell you that, too.  He sounds far more educated than he actually is; he likes using big words and proper grammar and punctuation.  This might be the real reason he drinks constantly: grammar.  Not a dark and mysterious past that will be slowly unspooled over the course of several novels.  That would be boring.

Eddie is half-Cherokee, half-European mutt.  He doesn’t know much of anything about his father, except that the man didn’t hang around after getting Eddie’s mom pregnant.  Eddie’s pretty philosophical about his family, though the philosophy is mostly, “Dear sweet Jesus, keep me away from all of them, they’re crazy.”

Physically, Eddie is about 6’1″, broad-shouldered, and in his mid- to late-30s.  Eddie got his mother’s complexion and hair, though he doesn’t seem to take very good care of personal hygiene.  “Unkempt” is the word that springs readily to mind when you see Eddie.  He’s starting to get soft around the middle – too many liquid lunches, and breakfasts, and dinners – and he’s a habitual smoker, despite the fact that almost the entire city of Arcadia has outlawed tobacco products.  He’s still fairly athletic, though he’s prone to serious coughing fits and a short wind when it comes to endurance tasks.  He likes to dress like a walking anachronism: gray suit, tie always loosened and the top button of his shirt undone, and a battered, stained old trench coat over it all.  He also wears a fedora, because sometimes narrative conventions are stronger than fashion sense.

Like so many pulp heroes before him, Eddie’s strength isn’t that he’s the strongest, or the smartest, or the fastest.  About the only thing he really has going for him is that he’s a determined guy, beneath the apathetic facade, and a loyal friend and ally.  He can also take punishment, soaking up pain and damage and still getting back on his feet.

If you peel away all the layers, you’re left with a guy who wants to see justice happen, even if it means bending a few rules.  Especially if he can get a decent paycheck out of it.

Featured image is the original character sketch of Eddie Hazzard by Adam Askins.