“Tell me about the girl.” He wasn’t giving me a look, exactly, but there was something there, like he was watching to make sure I wasn’t lying. Any other man looking at me like that would more than likely get a mouth full of fist for his troubles, but Father Timothy is able to get away with it. I doubted he thought I was lying—the scrutiny was probably just him checking to see if I’d finally flipped over the edge for good this time.
I told him the story of Lizzie Grouper, how she came into my office, told me her tale, and left. Not much to it, really. When it got interesting was when a demon pumped me for info about her and then stiffed me for the check, so I told him that part, too.
“You don’t even know where this girl is?”
“Well, then, it seems to me that you’re at a dead end.”
“I’m a private eye, Padre. This is what I do for a living.”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’re a very good one. But you have no leads. This girl, this stranger, she just walks in, tells you a story, and then walks out of you life. How can you possibly expect to find her?”
“Like I said: this is what I do. But dealing with demons and shit, that’s more your thing. You got any advice?”
“Stay out of this, Saint. That’s my advice.”
I looked over at him as I dug the pack of cigarettes out of my pocket. “What about helping those in need?”
“Listen to me, Saint. I’m not speaking to you as a priest. I’m not even speaking to you as a friend. I’m speaking to you as a man who knows what you’re going up against. Stay out of this. If this was an ordinary problem, then sure, I’d say help her out. But when you start bringing demons into the equation—no matter how minor, no matter how far in the ‘burbs they live—you’re out of your league. When one starts dealing with creatures such as that, one’s only weapon is faith.”
I scoffed, then felt bad because he was being so serious. “Sorry, Padre—habit.”
“That’s exactly my point. You don’t believe in anything, Saint. Yes, I wish you could save the girl. I think you’re brave enough to do it. But it’s like sending the knight to the dragon’s lair with armor made of hot dogs.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” I asked, laughing.
Dead serious, he said, “It means you’ll be burned bad, Saint.”
I stopped laughing. “I’m gonna find this girl, Father. I’m gonna bring her back here. Are you okay to deal with this kind of thing? I don’t want to drop a pile of shit in your living room if you aren’t soul-strong enough to fix it.”
He smiled. I hate it when he does that. I grew up with that smile, and it reminds me of how much I like him, how much I look up to him. It also reminds me of how much I’ve let him down.
“God has my back, Saint. If I can’t handle it, He can.”
“All right, then.” I stamped out my cigarette, glanced at my watch, and took a deep breath. “I’m on this, then. I’ll see ya soon, Padre.”
“God be with you, my son.”
“I appreciate the sentiment, but I think He’ll probably more than likely be waiting here with you.”
I didn’t look to see what kind of effect my shit-talk had on him, just started walking down the street. About two blocks away, I realized I had left out a part when I told him the conversation I had had with Lizzie Grouper. Right before she left, she said something about it’ll all be over soon anyway. I wondered if that was something essential.
It was already starting to rain again, and I didn’t want to retrace my steps just to tell Father Timothy something that probably wouldn’t make a difference anyway. Just something to keep in my head. When I found her, I’d ask her what she meant by that.
I lifted my flask to my lips, but all I got was a mouth full of air and a nasty taste on my tongue. I started digging out any extra cash dispersed throughout my person, and only came up with four bucks. If I hadn’t dropped that twenty into the tithe box, I would have had enough for a bottle of gin. I decided to stop back by my office to recharge my flask.
I don’t live too far away from my office, but it’s a walk I’d rather not make sober—kinda like most walks. Under normal circumstances, I’d just hit the couch in my office for a few z’s, but I didn’t feel all that safe, what with demons tracking me down in alleys, and all.
I got to my office, filled my flask, took a couple swigs from the bottle, and then took a couple more. I do some of my best thinking when I’m hammered. Or, if not my best thinking, at least the majority of it.
The thing is, I do what I do because I’m good at it. I didn’t aspire to be a private dick, I just happened to be really good at it. When I’m looking for something, I generally find it. And here’s the big secret: it isn’t because I’m some sort of super-sleuth—although I have gotten pretty good at it over the years. Half the time, I don’t even have to go lookin’ for my target. I’ll stumble onto a cheating husband in a hotel lounge, or happen across his car in a shady motel parking lot. Stuff like that.
I’m not so sure I would go so far as to call it a gift, but I’d definitely call it a bizarre string of coincidences that has followed me my entire life. I’m sure I could have used this anomaly in a more productive manner, but private investigation was the easiest route to take, and it seemed the most glamorous way to go, back when I first started.
I’ve been doing it for a while now, and you’d be amazed at how rarely I come across a job that’s within spitting distance of glamour. Within shooting distance, for that matter.
I search the gutters, I peak in windows, I take pictures of people fucking people they aren’t supposed to be fucking. I would have quit a long time ago, except it’s so easy. For example: My toughest case, it was this millionaire, right? He’s got one foot in the grave and the other wrapped around his oxygen tube, he figures his wife is cheating on him. If she is, he wants her out of the will. If she’s good, he wants her to have everything.
I watch her for a couple weeks, she’s the perfect little missus, no matter that she’s about eighty years younger than this old rich bastard. By all indications, she’s exactly what she claims to be: a loving wife, cursed by fate to be separated from her lover by decades. This dame, she’s by his side nonstop, taking care of him, wiping his chin, wiping his ass, all that. So I go to tell the guy that I’m gonna have to wrap it up.
I figure I’ll stop by on my way to another job, which is in some skank-ass motel about twenty miles outside of town. I have to record a married guy banging a hooker. The old rich guy, he starts coughing before I can tell him I’ve finished my investigation, and then he starts coughing blood all over, and I run off to get help, and chaos ensues.
I head off to my next job, get to the motel, and realize that I’ve forgotten my camera.
I go back the next day to pick up my camera. The old man’s in the hospital, so the house is pretty much empty. Someone put my camera on the table, so I grab it and head home, pissed about the screwed up hotel job from the night before.
I get back to my place and realize that someone’s been using my camera. I play the tape, and it’s the wife getting down with the live-in cook. I go to tell the old guy at the hospital so he can knock her out of his will before he dies, and not only do I get a huge payoff there, but the guy I was supposed to be taping is there, too.
He has a rubber ducky jammed up his ass so far that he has to have it surgically removed, and he’s stuck in the waiting room, none too happy about it. Either the hooker is one of those with the golden heart, like you’re always seeing in movies, or she still hasn’t gotten her green from the night before, because there she is, too. I turn on the camera as I pass, and then stand in the corner and record them bitching at each other for a while. It was enough for the wife to break the pre-nup all to shit.
My life, it’s always stuff like that. Sometimes I’ll see a target filling up right beside me at the pump. Sometimes I’ll just drink too much and pass out on my couch, and when I wake up, she’s standing there with a knife at my throat.
“Hey,” I said to Lizzie Grouper. “I was just about to come lookin’ for you.”
“What for?” She asks, the knife pressing a little bit more into my throat.
“I was gonna tell you that I changed my mind—I’ll take the job.”