My mind felt like a drunken hobo getting off a Tilt-a-Whirl, though with less vomiting and more spinning. The shit had come down, and come down hard — the ride had jumped the tracks. I carefully weighed my options, and given that the situation had so quickly escalated out of control, I decided to see where this ride was headed.
A long silent moment passed. In reality, I suppose it was the space of a few breaths, but in the cold stillness of that room it felt like an eternity. Eventually, though, Jason turned his frosty glare from Denise to me. I don’t think that I shivered, at least not in any perceptible way, but it sure felt like I should have. The force of that gaze caused me to take a step back, causing me to bang my shin against Jason’s left-hand desk drawer.
Karma, what a bitch.
Eventually, though, Jason’s look melted and was replaced with a face far more familiar to me. Jason was all business. What traces of emotion that had briefly filled his eyes were now gone. The slight slurring of his speech had vanished, and his steps were slower than normal, but sure.
Very deliberately, he moved to his desk and sat in his chair.
With a smooth and practiced motion, he picked up the bottle of scotch and dropped it in the right-hand desk drawer.
With a slow and polished ease, he picked up the file folder and placed it inside the desk drawer nearest me. For a second, as it moved through the air, the top of the folder flapped open and I caught a glimpse of a few photos inside… and almost immediately wished I hadn’t — police forensic photos showing small bodies in various states of mutilation and decay.
What had Jason been investigating? And why had he called me here? I wanted to ask, but given the delicate social situation I decided to wait.
With a voice completely devoid of emotion, Jason spoke firmly and succinctly. “My usual fee is forty dollars an hour, plus expenses. Given the situation, I’ll waive the retainer.”
Denise’s gaze was withering, but either Jason didn’t notice or didn’t care. He went on without pause. “In the event that the situation turns violent, or leads to police ‘entanglements’ I may charge a hazard fee.” The inflections in his voice were neutral, his gaze still all business. “This fee may reach, but will not exceed, five hundred dollars.”
His eyes flicked up to meet Denise’s. I might as well not have been in the room — and given the amount of energy that had been building up, I wished I wasn’t. A quick glance at the bodyguard told me that he felt the same way.
With only slightly more emotion in his voice, Jason continued. “If these terms are acceptable, miss, I can start looking for your husband first thing in the morning.”
Denise reached into her purse and took out a billfold about two inches thick. Without a word, she counted off five one-hundred dollar bills and dropped them unceremoniously on the desk.
Jason opened the small center desk draw and swept the money inside. “I’ll meet you at your house in the morning… six o’clock. That should give me enough time to prepare.” For a moment Jason’s look softened a bit, and he said “Don’t worry, Denise. I’ll find him.”
“God I hope so,” there were tears in Denise’s eyes, and her next words came out in almost a whisper. “I don’t think I could stand to lose another husband.”
And with that she abruptly turned and left, followed closely by the large bodyguard.
When the door closed, Jason visibly sagged. I started to offer an apology, but he warded it off with a casual gesture. “Don’t worry about it, Charlie.” The slur was back in his voice again, though not as bad as when I first saw him. “You’re right. You were always right about this kind of shit. You always had a head for people. Me, I just see criminals and marks.” His eyes drooped a bit, and he slumped a bit more in his chair. “Fuck, Charlie, but I’ve missed you. It’s been a bad couple of years, pal. Really bad…”
I pulled a chair over from the opposite side of the room, sat down near the desk and got right to the heart of the matter…