A short story

It was late in the afternoon on a dark day in a dark week of a forgettable month. The summer weather was rough, not like the brutal weather in the big sandbox where I lost my way so many years ago. Hot summers in Tampa were so humid, you could chew the air. 

Diaz is my name, investigations are my game. I have had my state issued P.I. ticket since I returned from Iraq and recovered from the post war hallucinations that troubled me for months. My detecting business was slow. I spent more of my time body guarding than investigating. Protection was big business for anybody who could afford it. Law and order is only a TV rerun. The clashes between rival gangs in the lawless environment of our brave new world put all innocent bystanders at risk. I was the shield. The cops were only the garbage collectors. It was up to people like me to take the trash to the curb.

The world didn’t end with a bang like everybody expected. It ended with a whine and a sputter, with a total decay of any sense of law and order. Now we had neither. It was more like a war of attrition against all the values of a civil society. I lacked enough angst to care much, and I am too small potatoes for anybody to care about me. You better keep your head up all the time though, or you risked becoming collateral damage.

I just finished vaping some great shit when the door opened. And there she was. I wasn’t expecting anybody, certainly not anybody like her. I offered her a blurry eyed look as the initial rush swept through my brain. She looked all of 17, if this was one of her good days. 

“What can I do for you, little lady?” I asked.

“Mr. Diaz?”

“That’s me.” I opened a plastic bottle of warm water and rehydrated my dry mouth. 

She tiptoed in, shutting the door behind her. “Honestly, I need your help, Mr. Diaz. “I mean, like  I need you to locate my mom.”   She was fumbling with something in her hands.

“I heard you could literally find my mom.”

“Oh yeah, where did you lose her, little chica?”

She turned back to the door. 

“Ummm, okay, I’m sorry, sir. I was told you were a man who could actually find my mom. So, I guess I was wrong. If you can’t take me seriously, I’ll go elsewhere with my business.” She gave a parting glance around my office. “Like your opulent office tells me you don’t need my business, anyway.” She swung the door open to leave. “I gotta go.”

“Hey, wait one second, smartass.” I rose and came around the desk. “I apologize, let’s make a fresh start, okay?” When I reached the door, I looked down at her, giving her my best hangdog look, the one with the loopy smile. “Please, come in, sit and tell me your story.”

Sitting back at my desk, I flashed her the come on sign.

She sat and kept fiddling with something in her hand.

“Well, my mom has been a gonner for three days now. She never leaves me alone. She’s totally overprotective. I’m so turnt up by this. So, leaving me alone has never actually happened in my whole life. 

“Tell me when you discovered she was gone.” I asked.

“Actually, my driver brought me home from school that day. Mom’s car was in the garage, but she wasn’t.”

“Wait, your mom wasn’t in the garage?”

She started with an exasperated sigh. “No, like totally gone from everywhere. Don’t you get it?”

“Let me get this straight. You have a bodyguard bring you home from school? Why didn’t you get him to investigate your missing mom?”

“Exactly why he sent me to get you. He said he was protection, and you were investigations.” 

“What does your mom look like?”

She held up her hand. I finally saw what she had been fooling with incessantly all this time. She reached her hand out to me, holding up a gold chain with a large heart-shaped locket attached. 

“That’s my mom.”

I nodded my head and reached for the locket. I saw at a raven haired woman in her late thirties with a cryptic smile that tilted up at one end.

“Like she gave that to me for my birthday last year.”

“If you want me to investigate, I must visit the scene. Can we get your driver to take us there?”

“Like I’m alone.”

“What? Are you nuts? You shouldn’t be walking around here alone. You’re lucky that you made it. Then, I’d be trying to find you too.”

“So, I can literally take care of myself.” She was smug about it.

I called a buddy who owed me one. He drove us to her house on Davis Islands. It was a nice setup. At least it looked like she could afford to pay me. A point in her favor.

The house we stopped at had a brick wall and a wrought-iron gate. She tapped in the code and the gate swung inward.

“Go inside, turn on the lights, and see if she’s back. I’ll check the perimeter.” I pulled out my mag light and started my patrol. When I came to the back corner, I spied motion by their dock. I swept the light in that direction. Yeah, there was some movement. It was too small for a man. I turned off my light and walked that way. When I passed a large salt pine, I heard a suspicious sound behind me. I got lucky. I twisted my head in time to take a glancing blow that knocked me down, but not out. Whoever hit me was coming again. I scissor kicked hard and connected. The perp landed on me. I took the worst of it, getting all my breath knocked out.

He rolled off, then ran for the hills. I lay back bonked and buzzed. This was way above my pay grade. I picked my sorry ass up, went inside to tell her I was out of here. No lights were on yet. That was strange. I shined the mag light around the large Florida room. It was in shambles. I kicked my way through the rest of the first floor. Somebody had done a number to the whole place, not a professional job either. More like a slash and grab. I wanted to call out to her, but damned if I could remember her name. I turned on every light switch I could find. I was ready to get back to finding missing dogs. This would not be healthy for me, I could feel it. I passed a wet bar on my way to the front door. May as well. I plucked up a bottle of rum for my trouble.

It was a dark and stormy night. By the time I got home, I was drenched. The rum was smooth and helped me to forget about the evening.

Three days later, I was adjusting the vertical blinds in the lone window of my office when I heard the office door squeak open. When I turned, there she was, the woman in the locket. 

“Mr. Diaz? I need your help.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I met your daughter.”

“Daughter? I don’t have a daughter.”