Part I – Natural Causes
“How can you be so sure, Mrs. Armatridge?” Damien Drake asked with something akin to a sigh.
The woman across from him fiddled with the pearls that hung loosely around her neck like a rosary. Her heavily mascaraed eyes narrowed.
“I know, trust me, I know.”
Drake leaned back in his chair, tucking his hands behind his head.
“I need a little more to go on than a woman’s intuition, you understand. I get that you’re upset, but I have a business to run. I can’t go off and pursue everyone woman who thinks that their maid is stealing silverware. It wouldn’t do me any good to harass people for no reason.”
The woman scowled, and then started rooting around in her purse. This made Drake uncomfortable, and he unlaced his fingers and leaned forward in his chair. He slid his right hand under his desk and placde his fingers loosely on the butt of the gun that was taped beneath.
“Here,” she said, pulling out a check book.
Drake relaxed and took his hand off his pistol.
She scrawled a number on the check, signed it, and tore it off. Drake reached out and took it from her, his eyes scanning the figure.
He tried not to gawk.
“Maybe this will make you reconsider harassment, Damien. As you can tell, I’m serious about this. Very serious. I want proof that she’s stealing, and then I want her arrested.”
Drake nodded quickly, and then put the check into the top drawer of his desk, sliding it beneath the half empty bottle of Johnny Red.
“I understand your concerns, Mrs Armatridge and I can see that you are a woman of conviction. I have no issue moving forward with our relationship. But to do so, I’m going to need more than a check.”
A razor thin eyebrow extended high up her forehead. Drake tried to suppress a smile. Mrs. Armatridge’s eyebrow looked like a paperclip trying to find solace in her white perm.
“I’m going to need a set of keys, and codes to any alarms that you might have. I also need a complete itinerary and schedule—for you, your husband, and the maid. To the minute. I want to know when you guys are home, but more importantly I need to know when you aren’t going to be there.”
The woman fiddled with her necklace again. Despite her previous gesture, and the check, Drake could see that she had become nervous.
And that had been his intention—to let her know just how serious things were about to get. Spying on people, even those you loved, family, had a tendency to end in strife.
“Why do you need keys?” she asked.
“I need to set up surveillance—cameras and what not.”
Drake expected to surprise the woman with this comment, but if anything it seemed that the opposite was true.
It seemed to offer comfort.
“And you’ll show me everything you record? Everything?”
“Of course. I’ll show the tapes to you, and only you. And when—if—we see anything illegal, we’ll inform you immediately. I have to admit, though, that these things don’t always work out as planned. If, after two weeks, we don’t see anything out of the ordinary, we’ll pull the cameras and then sit down and have another chat.”
The woman nodded.
“But,” Drake began hesitantly, “sometimes with these cameras, we pick up things that are… how can I say this delicately… not just theft. Things that are outside the realm of what one might consider ordinary. Before we move forward, you need to be aware of this and let me know what you want me to do with such videos, should they be recorded. Of course, at Triple D Investigations, you can be assured of our complete discretion.”
The woman smiled, and Drake suddenly felt slimy. He had a sneaking suspicion that Mrs. Armatridge wasn’t only concerned with missing spoons and forks. There was something else that she wanted to catch on video.
“Show me,” she said quietly. “I want to see everything.”
Be careful what you wish for, Drake thought. With a nod, he stood, offered the woman a tired smile and shook her hand.
“Thank you, Mrs. Armatridge. Please provide Screech with the information and keys I requested before you leave.”
The woman thanked him back, and then left his office.
“And close the door behind you, please!” he shouted, and the woman obliged.
When she was gone, Drake reached into his desk drawer and pulled out the check. He could barely believe it.
Ten grand for a job like this? It had to be some sort of joke.
Leaving the NYPD and starting the small PI outfit, first on his own and then with Screech whom he had found online, had been meant as a stop gap measure, a way to earn some petty cash while things cooled off at the precinct.
Before he could apply to be a detective again.
After all, Sergeant Rhodes couldn’t be around forever, could he?
He held the check up to the light, confirming its legitimacy.
But with money like this…
Drake chuckled, put the check back, then retrieved the bottle of whiskey and poured himself two fingers.
If anything deserved a celebration, it was this.
While he sipped, his mind wandered back to his bug-eyed ex-boss. Instead of searching for Sergeant Rhodes, however, when he turned on the computer, it was his own name that he Googled.
Two articles came up, both written by the same man: Ivan Meitzer.
The first was the Skeleton King expose that he himself had been the informant for, which despite being more than a year old was still the top hit, and the second was the one that Ivan had published shortly after they had captured the Butterfly Killer.
Drake had promised Chase that he wouldn’t do the expose despite the debt he owed to Ivan, but it hadn’t mattered; someone had gone ahead and spilled the beans, and it had predictably painted Drake in a less than favorable light. When Screech had first brought the article to his attention, he had gone on a rampage wondering who had been the source—Detective Simmons? Yasiv? The bastard Sergeant Rhodes himself? Chase?—but after his rage fizzled, he came to realize that it didn’t matter who had broken their silence. It was out, and that’s what counted.
Drake read the headline for what felt like the thousandth time.
Veteran NYPD Detective breaks all the rules in pursuit of the Butterfly Killer.
He shook his head.
Drake resisted the temptation to read the article again, and instead found himself searching for “NYPD Detective Chase Adams”, as was his habit.
One of the first results was Chase smiling broadly, a plaque held in both hands. Standing behind her was Sergeant Rhodes, his weasely eyes poking out from behind round spectacles.
Detective Chase Adams makes First Grade detective in record time, the heading beneath the photo read.
After everything that they had been through together, he was happy for her. And a little proud.
He was staring at her image when the door to his office opened, and Screech burst in. Tall, thin and wiry, Steven Horner aka Screech, was in his mid-twenties, but acted as if he had just entered his teenage years. His hair was shaved on the sides with a swooping pompadour on top, which made his face appear even more narrow. His thin goatee didn’t help him look any less like a Planter’s peanut, either.
“Well, that shit was interesting,” Screech said as he bounded toward him.
Screech also had a problem with walking; he simply hadn’t seemed to master the art of it. He either bounded, skipped, sprinted, or sauntered.
He never walked.
Drake raised an eyebrow, and deliberately peered around him.
“Don’t worry, the GILF is gone,” Screech said. “Listen, you really want me to set up cameras in her house?”
Drake didn’t answer right away. Instead, he reached inside the drawer and grabbed a second glass, filling it with a splash of scotch and motioning for Screech to grab it.
As he did, Drake laid the check on the desk in plain view.
“For ten grand, we’re going to videotape her cat taking a dump, if she so desires,” Drake said. Screech laughed, a high-pitched, irritating noise from which Drake imagined that his nickname had been borne, and then he took a sip of his scotch.
“Salud,” Screech said after he was done tittering. They clinked glasses and then both of them drank.
Screech left shortly after Mrs. Armatridge with instructions to set up the cameras in her home the following morning when the maid was out doing groceries, the Mr. was out getting his car serviced and the woman herself was at church service. Drake, feeling more than a little buzzed, was just locking his office door, when a shadow appeared in the entrance to Triple D Investigations.
“You forget your dental dam, Screech? Because—”
But the door was thrown so wide that it bounced off the back wall and startled Drake. He removed the keys from the lock and whipped around and found himself staring at a lean, light-skinned black man who stood in the entrance.
“Detective Drake?” the man gasped.
Drake’s eyes narrowed, and he felt his body tense, preparing for action.
“Nobody’s called me that for some time,” he said quietly, trying to measure up the other man.
He was young, with neatly cropped, curly black hair and dark circles under his eyes. But for all of his bluster, his pose was non-aggressive.
He was scared.
“But that is you?” the man asked, moving forward.
“Yeah that’s me—Damien Drake.”
The man took a deep, hitching breath. When he reached into his leather messenger bag slung over one shoulder, Drake instinctively took a step toward him. Scared or not, he wasn’t about to be taken by surprise.
But when the man pulled out a folder, Drake felt his body relax and he admonished himself.
You’ve got to stop doing that. You’re going to give myself a heart attack thinking that everyone is going to pull an Uzi from their purse.
“We’re closing, so if this is about a job, come back tomorrow,” Drake said.
The man shook his head.
“No, I’m pretty sure you’re going to want to see this,” he said flatly.
Drake eyed him suspiciously, and when the other man didn’t falter, he nodded.
“Fine, step into my office, then.”