by Michael Kingswood
“What’s with the hat?”
Dominic was looking at a holopic that was hanging on one of the beige-painted walls of the waiting room he and his partner, Alex, had been pacing around in for the last fifteen minutes.
The 3D image showed a slender yet muscular man, stripped to the waist and wearing tight-fitting black pants that might have even been real leather. He was wailing on a golden electric guitar, the instrument up nearly vertically in front of his body as his fingers ran up and down the fretboard in a repeat of an intricate riff. His head moved to the beat of some off-scene drummer.
And the great big pink top hat he wore, well past oversized to the point of being comic, flopped along as well.
The image was on a loop, so the hat just kept on going, and Dominc found he couldn’t look away from it.
Alex chuckled softly. Dominic could tell she was shaking her head in amusement as well; she always did.
“Shoulda known you’d never seen one of his shows. That’s his schtick; his trademark.”
Dominic forced his eyes away from the holopic and toward his partner.
She was svelte, almost tiny. Maybe five foot even, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and slightly slanted eyes that told of an east-Asian ancestry, despite their green color. She wore a grey-blue suit and open-collared white shirt—no tie—and that amused expression he had been expecting.
About thirty, he was breaking her in to the detective game, and in the two months they’d worked together he’d found himself impressed by her drive and intellect.
But not her taste in music.
“Not my speed,” Dominic said.
Alex looked, if anything, even more amused. But she did him the grace of not saying anything more.
The waiting room was plush, Dominic had to give it that. The shade of beige on the walls was actually almost warm, far better than the drab paint job they had down at the station. A brown upholstered couch dominated the wall to the left of the entrance, flanked by a pair of coffee tables on which were placed holopads that flashed a series of screens from the latest periodicals.
To the right of the entrance was a small coffee mess that smelled like it had been recently brewed; or at least it didn’t smell burnt, which again was a step up from the station.
The holopic he had been looking at was not the only one on the walls; seemed like lots of celebrities did business here.
The receptionist, sitting behind an ebony-colored counter directly opposite the entrance and adjacent to a frosted glass door that led further back into the office spaces, was a flighty-looking blonde of maybe twenty who wore a royal blue blouse that strained against the pressure her chest was placing it under. It was entirely unclear how much longer those buttons could hold up.
When Dominic and Alex had announced themselves, she had answered in a bored-sounding alto and called back to her boss somewhere in the the back, and then went back to scanning her own holos, ignoring them completely.
Great customer service. But then, Dominic supposed that was to be expected.
Not like people came to this place for her.
He looked back at the logo emblazoned in golden letters above the blonde’s head—Dooey, Cheatham, and Hough—-and shook his head.
The oldest lawyer joke around, and they had embraced it, made it their own. Told you a little something about the people running the place.
Dominic adjusted his suit jacket on his shoulders and took a step toward the receptionist. Enough of this waiting crap. He was just about to open his mouth to speak when the door leading further back opened and a woman in her late 20s, dressed in a navy blue business suit and wearing her auburn hair up in a bun, stepped into the room.
She took in Dominic and Alex immediately and flashed them an inviting grin. “Detectives? Will you come with me, please?”
Dominic and Alex traded looks, then they followed her.
She led them down a broad hallway that was painted the same shade of warm beige. But the lighting was different, sharper somehow, more on point.
The second door on the left opened into a conference room that was dominated by a table sized for eight, with teleconference microphones at each seat and a grey box in the center of the table – a holoprojector most likely. Two men in suits were standing on the opposite side of the table from the door, looking out the floor-to-ceiling window that made up the entire wall.
The view out the window was spectacular. The firm’s offices were on the 25th floor of their building, and this western-facing wall allowed a view all the way from downtown past Beverly Hills to Santa Monica and then out to the Pacific, where the incoming surf flashed and sparkled in the afternoon sun.
The men turned as Dominic and Alex walked in and their escort announced them.
They were both in their 50s. The guy on the right was taller and rounder with mostly-grey hair and bright blue eyes. The other guy was short, bald, wearing square wire-rim glasses, and built like a brick shithouse beneath the carefully tailored grey pinstriped suit he wore.
The body builder took the lead, smiling with apparent warmth that did not quite reach his eyes. “Thank you, Tina,” he said. Focusing in on Dominic, he walked around the table and held out his hand. “Sorry to keep you waiting, Detectives. I’m Alan Hough. This is Nick Dooey.”
Dominic shook, and was unsurprised to find he had a powerful grip. “Detective Dominic Trejo.” He gestured toward Alex. “My partner, Alexandra Okada.”
“Charmed,” Hough said. Dooey made similar pleasantries, then there was an awkward silence for a few seconds.
Dominic traded quick glances with Alex, then when it became clear their hosts were not going to speak first, he decided to break the ice. “So, what can we do for you, counselors?” Their Lieutenant had ordered them to drop everything and get down to the firm pronto, so this better be good.
Hough gestured toward the chairs surrounding the table, and they all sat. Then he leaned forward in his.
“I must stress that this needs to be kept in the strictest confidence,” he said.
Dominic cleared his throat. “Already got that word,” he said. “Straight from the Chief’s office, I’ve been told. So,” he clasped his hands together on top of the table and returned Hough’s look, “What’s going on?”
Hough and Dooey traded looks, and Hough made a little shrug. Dooey spoke. “One of our clients has gone missing. Gary Kovacs.”
The name didn’t ring a bell for Dominic at all, but next to him, Alex took in a quick, surprised breath. He glanced her way and raised an eyebrow.
She saw his questioning look and lost some of her professional poker face, replaced by the same wry amusement she’d worn earlier. “You were just looking at his holo.”
Dominic blinked. “The hat guy? Guitar player?” He looked back at the attorneys, and they nodded confirmation.
“He was supposed to get on a plane for London yesterday,” Dooey continued. “His European tour kicks off next week, and he has a lot to get done before then. But he didn’t show, and no one has been able to get in touch with him anywhere. Not us, his girlfriend, his mom…no one. Even his implants are offline.”
Alex pursed her lips slightly. “He’s a grown man. Maybe he just decided not to go.”
Dominic was forced to agree. “It’s a little early for us to be getting involved. 48 hours is typically – ”
“We don’t have 48 hours,” Hough said, his tone sharp, focused. “There are millions of dollars at stake if his tour doesn’t start on time. And that’s just from tickets, merchandise, and album sales. He’s also got a potential gig in a movie coming up. But if he doesn’t show…” Hough shook his head.
“That’s not our concern,” Dominic said. “We’re not gophers. If there’s not a crime been committed…” He left the thought stretch out, uncompleted.
There must be more to this business, or they wouldn’t have come to the police with it.
“We don’t know if there’s been a crime or not,” Dooey said, taking the lead back from his partner. “But Gary’s been getting some…disturbing…messages from fans lately. One fan in particular.” He tapped his index finger onto the tabletop, and the holoprojector hummed to life.
After a second of warmup, the projection field coalesced in the center of the table, showing an older man with ruddy cheeks and black hair that was going grey. He wore an angry expression, his lips turned back in a snarl as though he was about to rip someone a new one.
Dooey tapped the tabletop again, and the holo began to play.
“- my daughter, and I’m going to rip your heart out and feed it to my pigs, you scumbag. Whole world ain’t big enough to hide you from me. When I – ”
Dooey paused the image again. “It continues on for two full minutes.”
Dominic was unimpressed. So was Alex.
“He’s a celebrity. He must get fifty of these sorts of threats a day,” she said.
“Actually, no,” Hough said. “Mr. Kovacs is very careful to not make a spectacle of himself, outside of his stage presence. He doesn’t engage in politics or causes, and he has made a policy of being gracious to his fans. He employs a fair-sized staff just to handle fan interaction, and satisfaction.”
“Fan satisfaction,” Dominic said, unable to stop a bit of cynicism from slipping into his tone. “For the pretty ones anyway, right? So what, he banged this guy’s daughter and the guy’s pissed.” Dominic shrugged. “If that’s all you’ve got, I think we’re done here. Pretty sure Mr. Kovacs will show up again soon as he gets through with the next groupie.”
He moved to stand, but Hough’s sharp voice stopped him before he could budge from his seat. “We have assurances from Mayor Chavez that your department will give this all the attention it deserves.”
Far as Dominic was concerned, he already had done that. But he could see from the expressions on the two attorneys’ faces they thought that meant something completely different.
Probably the Mayor would as well.
With a sigh, he nodded. “Ok. Send us that message,” he waved toward the holo, “and Kovacs’ schedule, contact list, addresses…you know the deal. We’ll need to access his accounts as well.”
The attorneys didn’t like that last bit, but they also had to know the reasons for it.
“Our firm has a limited Power of Attorney for Mr. Kovacs. We can arrange for you to have limited, supervised access.” Hough’s eyes narrowed. “Anything more, you’ll need a warrant.”
Great. Real helpful. But there was no point in pushing it. Dominic nodded and stood.
“We’ll be in touch,” he said. Then he turned and left the room.
He didn’t shake hands on the way out.
* * * * *
“This is some kind of bullshit,” Dominic said.
Back at the station, with its not-quite-white painted walls, cramped cubicles, smell of burnt coffee and, for those unlucky enough to have cubes adjacent to the doorway back to the holding tank, the fragrance of puke…or worse.
He had the holo the attorneys had given them up on the unit in his cubicle, and he’d played it through four times now. It was about what he’d expected. Dude thought Kovacs had deflowered his little girl, and Kovacs was gonna pay.
Blah, blah, blah.
Dominic had seen that story a thousand times, and it was almost always just a guy blowing off hot air; nothing to it.
And if he really though Kovacs was the first guy she’d banged, he was dreaming.
But there was no getting past it. Dominic and Alex had to at least make it look like they were applying some serious detective work to this nothingburger of a case.
He leaned back in his well broken-in swivel chair and looked to the next cubicle over on his left, Alex’s. “Got a background on this guy yet?”
Alex shrugged back at him. “Dan Sobieski. Former Marine. Now works as a longshoreman down in Long Beach. Married to a nurse. Three kids: two boys and a girl.”
“How old’s the girl?”
She frowned, then tapped at her desk console. “She’s…” She paused, blinked. “Eight?” Alex straightened in her chair. “That can’t be right.”
Dominic got one of those jolts that was like a kick to the gut. No, it couldn’t be. Unless the dad was saying Kovacs had…with an eight year old?
No, there was no way Kovacs’ attorneys would have let him and Alex know about this if that were the case. They would knowingly be compromising their client.
Unless they didn’t know. How far in-depth would they have looked into the guy before telling him and Alex about the threat? And those guys weren’t criminal defense attorneys, they dealt with Kovacs’ business affairs.
Dominic swallowed hard. “We need to go talk to this guy.”
Alex nodded. She looked just as grim as he felt.
* * * * *
A quick call down to the docks at Long Beach told them Sobieski had already clocked out for the day, so they headed down to his house.
It was approaching sunset by the time Dominic and Alex pulled into Sobieski’s driveway. His home was modest, but well-maintained. Light brown stucco sides, red terra cotta roof. A carport on the side that held two vehicles back to back, both late model Fords that needed a good cleaning.
A flagstone walkway led from the driveway to a little sitting area out front of the door, complete with a blue canvas swinging chair off to the left. Potted roses on either side of the door lent a subtle fragrance to the area.
Alex rang the bell, and they waited for a couple minutes before the door opened.
It was the man from the holo, but without the snarl and the burning eyes. He had on jeans and a blue and grey plaid cotton shirt, untucked. He looked them over quickly, a questioning look on his face.
Dominic flashed his badge, and Alex did the same.
“LAPD, Mr. Sobieski. We’re here to talk to you about the message you left for Gary Kovacs a week ago.”
Sobieski’s face dropped, and he lowered his eyes to the ground. Nodding, he said, “Yeah…knew as soon as I sent that it was a mistake.” He blew out a breath, then looked back up at Dominic. “Look, I was pissed and just blew off some steam. Didn’t really mean anything by it.”
“So you admit you sent it?”
Sobieski snorted. “No sense in denying it. So what, he’s pressing charges or something?”
“He’s missing, Mr. Sobieski,” Alex said, in her flat take-no-prisoners tone.
Sobieski blinked, surprise flashing across his face, then wariness moving toward fear. “Are you – ?”
“Where were you yesterday?”
“At work. And then here at home. Ask my wife.” He shook his head vigorously. “You don’t think – How would I even get close to a guy like that?”
Dominic re-inserted himself. “A man can think of a way to do anything, if he has the motivation. You accused him of messing with your eight year old daughter.” He shook his head. “If it were me, I’d go nuts, a guy did something like that.”
Sobieski blinked again, then looked quickly back over his shoulder into the house. He held up his finger, asking for a moment, then reached behind himself and pulled the door to.
“I didn’t mean Suzy,” he said. He coughed, then lowered his voice. “I meant my other daughter.”
Other daughter? Dominic looked over at Alex and raised an eyebrow. She was supposed to have done the background on this guy.
She returned his look with one of confusion, and gave a quick shake of her head.
She’d missed it.
Frowning, Dominic looked back at Sobieski. “Other daughter?”
He must have taken Dominic’s frown for displeasure at him, because Sobieski swallowed hard. “I had her before I met Rebecca. It was just a short-term thing. Didn’t know she was pregnant until a few months after we broke up. I tried to get back with her, to do the right thing, but she wouldn’t let me.” He shrugged. “I hardly even saw Laura—that’s my first daughter—until she graduated.”
“How old is Laura, and where does she live?”
“She’s nineteen. Lives up in Culver City. She’s a waitress at California Pizza Kitchen.”
“We’ll need to get in touch with her.”
Dominic just looked at him for a long several seconds. Finally, Sobieski broke eye contact, looking back down at the ground.
“Yeah, ok,” he said, grudgingly.
* * * * *
“How do you keep the fact you have a kid from another woman secret from your wife?” Alex asked.
They were turning off the 5 onto the 10 heading west toward Culver City, and the traffic was making Dominic want to punch something.
“I’ve seen worse,” Dominic said. “You wouldn’t believe the creative lengths some people will go to keep their secrets.”
“Yeah, but why should that have to be a secret?”
Dominic shrugged. “Got me. I’m just glad we’re not dealing with a pedo thing here.” Although, if it were that would mean he could shove the case off onto another team, and he could get back to his real job.
Nope. Not worth it, for that.
Beside him, Alex shuddered.
It took much longer than it should have to get there, but eventually Dominic found the California Pizza Kitchen Sobieski had indicated.
The place was decorated the same as every other restaurant in the chain, and of course the hostess was a blonde. She beamed at the two of them when they walked up.
“Table for two?”
Dominic showed his badge and shook his head. “Girl named Laura Gutierrez work here?”
The hostess’ smile faded at the sight of the badge. She nodded. “Yeah. She’s on break right now.” She indicated a door back toward the rear of the dining area, marked “Employees Only.”
“Mind if we go back?”
She shrugged, then leaned in, eyes flashing with curiosity. “What’d she do?”
Dominic shook his head. “Not a thing. Just need to ask her some questions, is all.”
“Oh.” The girl looked a tad disappointed at that.
They walked past the tables in the dining area—about half full—and the smells of bread, tomato sauce, cheese, and the various meats on the pizzas as they passed the diners made Dominic’s stomach growl, reminding him that it was just about past dinner time.
He licked his lips, but pushed that thought aside.
Time for a bite after this.
Through the Employees Only door was the break room. Two round white-topped tables with grey powder coated metal chairs for four at each table dominated the center of the room. To the left, a white-fronted over and under refrigerator sat beside a long white linoleum counter with cabinets above and below, and a white porcelain sink. A coffee maker sat at the end of the counter, next to a stack of white styrofoam cups for employee’s use, and there was a microwave mounted below the upper cabinets. A bulletin board with various notices of employment was on the wall across from the entrance, with a second door leading, Dominic presumed, to a locker room.
The sounds and smells of cooking wafted through a closed door to the right; the kitchen.
Two people were sitting at the table directly ahead when Dominic and Alex walked in. A skinny, brown haired guy in khaki slacks and a white collared shirt, and a woman that Dominic could hardly look away from.
Even seated, it was obvious she was tall, approaching six feet, and slender. But not waifish, more like someone who kept herself in shape. Wavy brown hair spilled past her shoulders, setting off the yellowish brown of her eyes. Her cheekbones and chin seemed sculpted, and her lips were a lush and sensual red. She was wearing the CPK wait staff’s outfit, but she made it seem like formal attire, the way she carried herself.
“Laura Gutierrez?” Alex said as they approached, and showed her badge. Dominic did the same. He had decided to let her take the lead on this, try the woman to woman thing. At least at first.
Laura nodded, her eyes tracing his badge and then giving him a once-over before shifting over to Alex.
The guy turned in his chair to look at them as well, and his lips turned downward.
“What can I do for you, officers?”
“We’d like to ask you a few questions, if you have a minute. About Gary Kovacs.”
She blinked, surprise flashing across her face followed quickly by suspicion. She glanced at the guy she was sitting with, and Dominic noticed he flinched a little.
“What about him?”
Alex didn’t answer, but pressed on with their agreed-to line of questioning. “We understand you were with him last week.”
Laura looked at her flatly. “Is this because of what my dad did?”
“You know about that?”
Laura nodded, looking, if anything, amused as she thought back on the event. “Yeah, my dad called me up and told me, right after he did it.” She snorted out a half-laugh. “He was embarrassed as hell.” Then she added, with a bit more heat, “And he should be.” But it seemed like she was only adding that because she felt like she should; the heat seemed half-hearted.
Alex pursed her lips. “Interesting.”
Alex made a little shrug. “I think I would have been angry, in your position.”
Laura shrugged. “Well, mom and the courts wouldn’t let him be around when I was little. I guess he’s feeling like he has to make up for the lost protective time, or something. He didn’t really mean anything by it, though. I told Gary not to worry about it.”
Dominic could not stop himself from interjecting at that. “You’re in contact with Gary still?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Yes. It wasn’t just a one night stand, if that’s what you were thinking. We’ve been seeing each other for a couple months.” She paused, then lost some of her spunk. “Only just told dad about it a week and a half ago. He flipped out, because Gary’s a rock guy. Figured he was using me…” She shook her head, frowning. Now she actually was irritated. “He doesn’t get it.”
Dominic looked aside at Alex and she raised an eyebrow. This was an angle they weren’t expecting.
“Why are you asking this?” It was the guy who was sitting with Laura, and he was looking at Dominic in particular. His lips were twisted into a half-smirk, half-frown, and his tone was affronted.
“Who are you?”
The guy straightened in his chair. “Tom Delancy. Assistant Manager,” he said, putting on an air of importance as he said the title.
Great. One of those guys. “Well, Mr. Delancy, that is police business. And none of yours.” He looked back at Alex and gave her a little nod.
She said, “When did you see Gary last?”
“Yesterday. We had lunch here before I went on shift.” Laura grinned. “He said he wanted to get a last good taste of America before he went off to Europe.”
“What time was that?”
“About 1:30. Why?”
Alex made a little shrug. “Just checking the timeline. Someone saw that message your dad left and was concerned.” She paused, then asked, “Have you heard from him since?”
“No, but he wasn’t getting in to London until late and he’s going to be really busy. I’m flying out to meet him in Paris for his gig in two weeks, though.” Her grin grew even more broad, and Dominic couldn’t blame her. The city of lights in the company of a rock ‘n roll star?
Alex looked like she would relish that idea also. Her eyebrows arched upwards, and Dominic thought he saw the edges of an envious smile.
Laura glanced aside at the clock above the door to the kitchen. “I’ve got to go back on shift,” she said, and stood. “Is there anything else? My dad’s not going to be in trouble is he?”
Alex shook her head. “No. We just needed to follow up on it. Thank you for your assistance.”
The two women shook hands, and then Laura swept back through the door leading out into the dining area.
Tom watched her go, that half-smirk becoming all frown. “Don’t let her fool you. He’s trouble,” he said.
Dominic looked askance at him. “Who, her dad?”
Tom shook his head. “Mr. Rock Star. She’s too good for him.” He sounded decidedly bitter as he said that, and his eyes remained locked on the door where she’d gone through for a moment. Then he gave himsefl a little shake and he, also, stood. Straightening, he put on what was clearly intended to be an ingratiating smile but instead resembled more of a grimace. “If there’s nothing else, this lounge is for employees only,” he said, in lieu of, “Get the hell out of here.”
“No problem,” Dominic said, and he turned to go.
As they stepped out of the break room and into the dining, Alex said, “What a creep.”
Couldn’t argue with that one.
Dominic saw Laura tending to a table over on the far left side of the dining area. She hadn’t been there for long at all; couldn’t have. But she already seemed to have established a good rapport with the customers, as one of them laughed in enjoyment at whatever it was she had said.
“So famous rock ‘n roll guy falls for a waitress,” he said, mulling the concept over in his head.
“Stranger things have happened,” Alex said.
“True enough.” His stomach growled again. “You up for dinner?”
He shook his head. “Might get misunderstood. Let’s hit Jack In The Box across the street.”
“Fancy man,” Alex said, grinning back at him as she pushed the door open. “No wonder you go on so many dates.”
Dominic snorted. That would have stung, coming from someone else; he hadn’t been on a date in months. “You know it,” he said, playing up the joke.
They took their burgers to the car and sat inside, munching away.
In between bites, Dominic said, “What time was Gary’s flight supposed to be yesterday?”
Alex swallowed, frowned, and pulled out her holopad. She tapped the interface a few times, then said, “Looks like 1600.”
“So it’s safe to say Laura was the last person to see him before he vanished.”
Dominic took another bite of his burger and chewed, slowly. Somewhere between this CPK and Van Nuys airport, Gary Kovacs had met with some misadventure.
“Maybe you were right in the first place. He said screw it, and decided not to go.”
Alex shook her head. “Why drop off the grid, though? Even his implants aren’t answering, and that takes some doing.”
True. The new interactive database implants were constantly online with the global network, and enabled the wearer instantaneous, or near enough, access to the information stored there. Made things like forgetting a person’s name an anachronism.
That alone would almost be worth the price of admission, as far as Dominic was concerned. If they weren’t so damn expensive.
But they also made it almost impossible to have any real private time. The constant network pings and interfaces made someone trackable, and reachable, all the time.
For that reason alone, even if he’d had the money to afford a set, Dominic wasn’t sure he would want to get one.
Gary may not have had a choice in the matter. As a high profile celebrity, whose presence was the cornerstone of a massive upcoming musical tour and who knows how many other ventures, his investors or people who he had contractual obligations to may have forced the implants on him.
Which didn’t at all change Alex’s point. It was darn difficult to block the signal to those things, unless…
“Maybe he had them removed,” Dominic said. “Instead of hitting the airport, he went to a tech, got the deed done, and then split.”
“Well, Laura thinks he was going to Europe, along with everyone else.”
“So she says,” Dominic said.
Alex opened her mouth to reply, but he raised a hand to stop her. “Hear me out.” She closed her mouth, looking expectantly at him.
“Laura’s the girl on the side. She’s not the girlfriend the tabloids and his attorneys know about.”
Alex frowned, but nodded.
“He decided he doesn’t want the business anymore. Doesn’t want the main girl, because she only was with him for his business.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” Alex said.
Dominic shrugged. “But true more often than not. Anyway, he meets Laura. Here’s this salt of the earth girl, hot, and they hit it off. He comes up with a plan to get away from it all, and she helps him. She tells her dad something outrageous about Gary, so dad flies off the handle. They know when Gary disappears we’ll waste time looking at Dad, and that gives Gary time to get the implant removal procedure. Then, instead of meeting in Paris like she’s been advertising they meet somewhere else. And it’s all’s well that ends well.”
“That’s pretty thin.”
Dominic shrugged. “Did our access to his financials come through yet? They’d need to take out a nest egg.”
“I’ll check.” Alex began tapping at her holopad again. “If you’re right, why would she tell us her dad’s message was no big deal? They’d gain more time if we focused in on him.”
Yeah, that was a wrinkle in his idea. “She doesn’t want him to get in any real trouble. And anyway, they wouldn’t need a huge amount of time. Just long enough to get the implants removed, or at least disabled. How long does that procedure take?”
“No idea. Ok, I’m in.” Alex chewed on her lip as she scrolled through the records. “I don’t see anything that stands out right off the bat. No unusually large withdrawals…” She trailed off as the data drew her more fully in.
“Well it wouldn’t have to be just one. A bunch of smaller withdrawals over a period of time would do the trick, but not raise eyebrows.”
“You’re grasping at straws.”
“Maybe. But do you have any other ideas?”
Alex was silent for a long several seconds as she mulled it over. Finally, she shook her head. “If she’s in on it, they’ll probably meet up at some point.”
“So we’re staking her out then?”
Alex groaned. “So much for my Tae Bo class.”
* * * * *
CPK closed at 9, but Laura didn’t come out until almost 10.
Dominic and Alex sat in their car around the corner, watching the entrance through electronically enhanced binoculars, but even with them, for a little while there he thought they would miss her. Maybe she went out the back when she left, or…
No. There she was. She had changed into street clothes: a black t-shirt with PINK written across the breast, jeans, and sneakers.
Laura crossed the street at the intersection in front of Alex and Dominic’s car but never looked in their direction. She continued up half a block, then got into her own car, a late model Ford just like at her dad’s house.
Her lights came on, and Laura drove past them, going the opposite direction as they were facing.
Dominic waited half a minute, then started their car and pulled out, making a u-turn at the intersection to follow her.
It didn’t take long to catch up with Laura’s car, and then he hung back, being careful to maintain distance so as not to be seen.
She drove for twenty minutes or so, and finally pulled into an apartment complex called “Cedar Farms”, which seemed a strange name for a place in LA. But whatever.
Dominic pulled into the complex as well, and parked near the front. They were able to see her park in the lot about halfway down. She got out of her car, popped the trunk and removed a bag from inside, then went to the second of three buildings in the complex and climbed stairs up to the second floor. Her apartment was to the right of the staircase, and then she was gone from view.
It was 10:30.
“Think she’ll go out again?” Alex asked, peering through her own binoculars at the building.
“Might not need to, if he’s at her place.”
She lowered the binoculars and gave him a wry look. “Not likely. They wouldn’t risk it this soon.”
They went back to watching.
There was a single window visible from her apartment, and Dominic could see the light on. At 11:30, it went off.
Ten minutes later, she still had not emerged, and Dominic looked back at Alex.
“Guess she’s in for the night,” Alex said. She glanced at her watch. “I’m beat. Let’s call it, pick it back up tomorrow.”
Dominic nodded, and was just reaching for the ignition when movement further back in the apartment complex caught his eye.
He raised his binoculars to his eyes. There was a figure crouched in the shadows back at the rear of the parking lot. Dominic flipped on the lowlight function, and his eyes widened.
“Alex. Rear of the parking lot. Left side, by the big tree.”
He didn’t take his eyes off the binoculars, but he heard her shifting. A moment later, she made a quick inhalation.
“Is that – ?”
Dominic nodded. “Pretty sure that’s Tom, the Assistant Manager.”
“He was definitely giving off some creepy vibes. What’s he doing here?”
Dominic adjusted the magnification function on his binoculars. Tom was holding something up to his eyes. He’d bet good money that something was a set of binoculars, and he was looking straight at Laura’s apartment.
“Looks like he’s doing the same thing we are.”
Alex’s silence spoke volumes.
Tom stood there for another several minutes. Then he tucked his binoculars away and stepped over to a car that was parked a couple spaces away from his tree.
Dominic switched off the lowlight function. A couple seconds later the car’s lights came on.
“How did he get in here?” Alex said. “No way he came past us.”
“There must be a back entrance.”
Tom’s car pulled out of its space, and Dominic started his own engine.
“I was just about to say no way we’re not following him,” Alex said.
Dominic was right; there was a rear entrance to the apartment complex’s lot. They followed Tom out at a discrete distance.
He drove north, and before long they were ascending a winding road leading up into the hills. Dominic could feel it in his wallet every time they got a bit higher and passed another uber-expensive house.
“He can’t live up here, not on an Assistant Manager’s salary,” he said to himself.
Alex must have heard it, because she snorted out a chuckle. “Maybe mommy and daddy do.”
He did look the type to still be living at home, Dominic had to admit.
But when Tom reached the crest of the hills, he continued on, descending down the other side. Eventually, he slowed and turned onto a side street that branched off to the right. Dominic followed, and almost ran into him as Tom had come to a halt.
His reversing lights came on, and Dominic realized Tom was parallel parking. He maneuvered around Tom’s car, and Alex slumped down in her seat so she would be less visible. But as they passed Tom by, he was solely focused on the reversing camera and rearview; he never even glanced over at them.
Dominic pulled over in front of a fire hydrant half a block up, and killed the engine. In the rearview, Tom was just getting out of his car. He looked both ways, and then hurried across the street to the house across from where he had parked.
It was difficult to make out many details of the house because all its lights were off. But there was a carport on the near side, and it looked like the house was just one story.
Dominic chewed on his lip for a second. Then he grabbed up his binoculars and opened the car door.
“What are you doing?”
“Can’t see anything from here. I’m going to sneak over and check out what he’s doing.”
“He’s going home is what he’s doing.”
“Are you sure?”
Alex frowned, then nodded, conceding his point. Tom had already stalked one victim tonight. What’s to say he wasn’t doing it again?
She got out of the car also, but took a moment to pick up their portable transmitter before joining him.
They moved quickly, staying to the street side of the parked cars and keeping low so they would not silhouette as they approached the house.
Slowing as they reached the last car that was parked before the house’s driveway, Dominic inched his way to the edge of the car and peeked around.
The carport lights were not on, but there was a storage shed at its rear. The shed’s door was ajar, and the interior light was on, illuminating the red Mercedes parked in the carport.
There was someone moving around in the shed, and Dominic could hear at least one voice coming from within, though he couldn’t make out the words.
A minute or so later, Tom emerged from the shed, and now Dominic could clearly hear him say, “Motherfucker,” over his shoulder as he switched off the light, closed the door, and locked it. Then he walked around the Mercedes to the door leading from the carport into the house itself, unlocked it, and went inside.
A light came on inside the house. Then, after a couple minutes, it went out again, and the night was silent and dark.
It was well past midnight. Tom had probably gone to bed. But what was the deal in the shed?
“I’m going to go check out the shed,” he said behind himself, to Alex.
He liked that she played by the rules. But she needed to learn when and how to stretch them. “Only going to check out what’s observable from outside. If there’s nothing, we back off.”
She waited for a few seconds before replying, “Ok.”
Dominic moved up into the carport at a crouch, and he heard Alex following along behind him. He stayed on the opposite side of the Mercedes from the house, for extra concealment. When he came to the end of the car, he waited for a minute, listening.
Nothing, except… There was something from the shed, muffled.
Dominic moved to the shed door and pressed his ear up against it.
There was definitely something moving inside the shed. And…that sounded like a voice, but muffled like gagged.
Dominic felt a surge of adrenalin rush through his system. He looked back at Alex and mimed a lockpicking action. She shook her head, and he pointed to his ear then toward the shed door.
She nodded, seeming to understand. Then she pointed at the transmitter. Radio for backup?
Dominic thought for a second, then shook his head. Wait to see what they had first.
He kept a set of lockpicks in the inner pocket of his suit coat. It wasn’t strictly speaking illegal to have them, but… Well, he kept them anyway. Just in case he came across a situation like this.
He worked the lock on the shed door for a couple minutes, Alex watching his back—he didn’t have to check to know she was. And then he got the tumblers just right, and the lock turned.
He had the door open a second later and stepped inside.
Whoever was in there heard, and probably saw, him. They made more noise, but again, it was muffled, impossible to make out.
Dominic found the light switch inside the door and flipped them on.
In the middle of the shed sat a wooden chair. A man was sitting in the chair, his hands tied behind his back and his ankles tied to the chair legs. He wore jeans and a t-shirt with some band’s logo Dominic didn’t recognized. He was gagged with a red bandana, and he blinked hard as the lights came on. The smell of urine and feces surrounded him; Tom must not have even let him loose to go when he needed to.
Dominic recognized him from his holo. Gary Kovacs.
“Call for backup,” he said to Alex, waiting outside.
* * * * *
Alan Hough met Dominic and Alex in the waiting room at Cedars Sinai medical center. Despite the early hour—or late, depending on how one looked at it—he was impeccably dressed in his pinstriped suit. It didn’t look at all like he had been woken in the middle of the night with the news, and that he had rushed down to see to his client.
“Tied up in the shed?” Alan shook his head. He sounded incredulous.
“Yep,” Dominic said. “Tom lawyered up, but we figure he thought if he could split Gary and Laura up, he could weasel his way in on her while she was on the rebound. In his very finite wisdom, he decided Gary standing her up in Paris would be the ideal way to do that. Turns out he’s studying cybersecurity on the side. So, he figured out how to jam the implant signal and then just…” Dominic made a snatching gesture with his hands.
“But…” The lawyer shook his head. “That doesn’t make any sense. What was he going to do with Gary after that?”
Dominic didn’t answer, and the lawyer paled.
Changing the subject, Alan asked, “Whose house was that?”
“Tom’s,” Alex said. “He inherited when his parents passed away two years ago.” She paused, then added, “Natural causes. We checked.”
Alan nodded. “Well.” He paused. Then he stuck out his hand toward Dominic. “Thank you, detective.”
Dominic shook, and watched as Alan shook Alex’s hand as well.
“If there’s ever anything my firm can do to assist you, please let me know,” Alan said. Then, not stopping to wait for a response, he turned and walked to the nurse’s station where he would no doubt begin demanding to see his client immediately.
“Well,” Dominic said, “Another job well done, and all’s well that ends well.”
He looked over at Alex, and she grinned in response. Then she broke out in a huge yawn.
Dominic agreed completely.
This is the 5th story of 52 that Michael Kingswood wrote as a challenge to write a story a week for a year. A collection of his stories were published and are available here: