The Prodigal Daughter


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Chapter One:

The light filtered through the small window at the back of the room, casting a dappled pale glow over everything in the room. Jack was standing by the window gazing out absently while swirling the bourbon in the glass that he held, looking down he could see the sunlight play over the amber fluid.

It was an early morning light, it had just gone 9:00am and the sun was peeking through the clouds, with the promise of a glorious day, weather wise at least, thought Jack as he took a deep pull from the drink. Maybe 9am was a little early to be drinking, but the warmth that spread through his body as he drank, was something he needed, something that the sunlight couldn’t provide.

The woman’s quiet sobbing was starting to get on his nerves, but it was all part of the job, not that he was particularly fond of the job, but there were bills to be paid, & drunken ex-cops weren’t exactly good for much other than security or P.I. work.

The woman was his latest client; she was in her early forties, stylishly dressed with an elegant bearing about her, clearly from a wealthy family. She had come to him three weeks ago, certain that her husband was having an affair but needing to see the proof. In a rare gesture of kindness he had tried to talk her out of it, just let it go he advised, but she wasn’t going to be dissuaded if he didn’t take her money someone else would.

She was like most of these high society dames, worried about social status and standing, so she had combed the yellow pages for P.I.’s in a part of the city that none of her high class cohorts would be caught dead in; after all it wouldn’t do for this to be public knowledge.

He had listened to her suspicions only half-heartedly, all he needed to know was the guy’s name, their address, and if she would cover the $250 per diem plus expenses.

He had spent longer than usual on this one, most cases he had the goods in a week, maybe two at the tops. This guy had been different, after tailing him for two weeks he had only seen him go into a few bars and have a couple of drinks. Even when he was in them, he never spoke or showed any interest in any of the dames there, it appeared to Jack that all he wanted was a quiet out of the way place to have a few drinks and watch a ball game or two. He had called the client and told her that after the end of the second week, but she was adamant that he stay on the case, she knew he was playing around and wanted the proof.

Well Jack had better things to do than to waste his time, so he decided to hurry things along a little. There was a particularly attractive young hooker that he had a side arrangement with, Sally was 25, had girl next door looks matched with a set of killer curves that just wouldn’t quit, Jack had never seen a guy that could resist once she had her sights set on him.

So he paid Sally for the whole evening and set her to the task, once she started on him the poor bugger didn’t stand a chance. He had dropped into a bar after work like usual on a Wednesday night to have a brew or two and watch the game when she sidled up to him and got talking. Within an hour Jack was outside the seedy motel room taking the photographs the unhappy lady sitting across the office from him was flipping through now.

Jack was quite pleased with the quality of them, he had become a pretty good photographer over the last couple of years in this job, & Sally certainly was a photogenic subject, though Jack didn’t think his client was too interested in the artistic merit of the shots, just the content.

Tears were running down her cheeks, streaks of mascara forming ugly dark blotches on her skin, her eyes were reddened, and her nose running as she struggled to get control of herself.

Some people were never satisfied he thought, she wasn’t happy when he told her that she was wrong her husband was faithful, she knew better. So now that Jack had provided the proof that she was right, she still wasn’t happy, there just was no pleasing some people he mused.

He took another sip of his drink and spoke “Well Mrs Sloan, I think you’ll agree that the evidence is pretty clear, you were right all along. My account is in the envelope, I’d appreciate it if you could take care of it as soon as possible, and my expenses were quite high on this one.”

The woman looked up at him, she nodded and without so much as a word she reached into her bag and drew out her cheque book, and wrote him a cheque for an amount quite a bit larger than his account was for. She pushed it across to his side of the desk, gathered the photo’s together, and made an effort to pull herself together as she rose from the chair.

“I suppose I should thank you Mr. Archer” she said “but a large part of me wishes that I had believed you when you called me last week and called you off. I’d hoped that I was just being silly with my suspicions of Archie, but I just couldn’t let them go. Now that I have seen the proof that I was right, I just don’t know what to do, but you did your job & I thank you for it.”

With that she turned and strode out of his office.

Jack moved to the desk and picked up the cheque, noticing the amount for the first time, she had paid him almost double what he asked for. Even with what he had laid out to Sally, this was a good score for him; he could pay off a few debts and even have a little left for some luxury items.

Even so, his mood was bleak, it pretty much always was when he finalized his cases, that’s what you get when you deal in the misery business he thought, it tends to rub off on you. Even the bourbon wasn’t helping much, still he drained the glass and grabbed his hat as he started out of the door, he may as well get this cashed and Coogans Pub was as good a place to do it as any.

The sunlight from the office window was shining directly into Jack’s eyes, he was lying on his side on the floor of the office, slowly the light brought him back towards consciousness, as he blinked one or two times due to its glare.

He groaned inadvertently as he moved his hand up to his face to shield his eyes from the sun. His head felt heavy, his lips were dry and the less said about the feel of the mossy tongue that he used to lick his dry cracked lips the better. He rolled onto his back, as he did so he felt the tug on the skin of his cheek as it pulled free of the substance that had stuck it to the floor.

He was fully clothed, in the clothes that he had been wearing when he met Mrs Sloan in this very office, which was close to the last thing he could recall. He remembered giving her the details of the case, getting his payment, & walking into Clancy’s to cash the cheque, after that there was nothing.

How he had gone from walking through the door with a big cheque to cash, to waking up on the floor of his office in a pool of what he could only assume was his own vomit was drawing a total blank. He had experienced blackouts before, but usually he only lost an hour or two at the end of the evening, this one felt very different, if the throbbing pain in his temples was anything to go on in any case.

With an effort he lifted himself off the floor & stumbled into his chair, the leather letting out and explosive gust of air as he threw his body into it. Slumping back he began to give himself a look over, his shirt was stained, both with vomit and blood, looking down he could see further vomit stains on his trousers, and sure enough there was a large pool of the foul smelling stuff where he had been laying.

Quickly scanning and feeling himself over, he couldn’t find any new lacerations or cuts, so he assumed that the blood must belong to someone else; he had no idea who or how it had gotten there.

It must’ve been a doozy he thought, looking at his watch he saw that it was 9:30, from the sunlight that had awakened him, obviously in the morning, roughly 24 hours from what he last remembered, if it was just one day missing that was. His hangover was picking up steam and the odour from the vomit wasn’t improving matters, in fact it was beginning to make him nauseous and he didn’t want to add to the pile.

He pulled open the top desk drawer, there amongst all the usual office utensils was a bottle of head-ache pills alongside a half empty bottle of bourbon, and a .38 special revolver. Grabbing the bottle of pills he flipped the lid open and poured half-a-dozen into his hand. Throwing them down and swallowing dry was not a pleasant experience but he needed it.

He rose slowly and staggered more than walked to the back of his office and the bathroom that he had installed a year or so ago. It was small but functional, as well as a toilet, it contained a shower cubicle, wardrobe, sink and vanity unit. He moved in and leant on the sink as he gazed at himself in the mirror, turning his face from side to side, he could see the caked on bits of vomit, but there were no signs of cuts or bruising on his face, so whoever the blood belonged to, they hadn’t got any shots in on him at least.

Not for the first time he was very happy that he had the foresight to install this shower for days like today, he wouldn’t have wanted to have to make the cross town trek to his apartment in his current state.

He jumped into the shower and turned the hot water up full bore, the hot steaming water cascaded over his head and shoulders as he leant into gratefully. After a few minutes the mixture of the pills and the hot water started to have an effect, his head was only throbbing with a dull roar, and he was starting to feel a bit more human. He was reaching for the soap when he first noticed the small tremor in his right hand, at first he wasn’t sure it was really there, but with the cake of soap in hand he could see his hand moving involuntarily; this was not good.

He buttoned his shirt slowly and carefully, it was a good thing he always kept a couple of full sets of clothes in the office for just this sort of situation. He was watching himself carefully in the mirror as he completed the mundane task, and sure enough it was there, you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it but there could be no mistake, every so often, his powerful hands would spasm slightly of their own accord.

He saw this in the bums on the street, as they huddled together passing their paper bag covered bottle between them, hands shaking with the DT’s.

He hadn’t thought his drinking had gotten so bad that he’d be starting to experience it himself, but the shakes were there, maybe it was time to lay off the booze a little.

Jack finished cleaning up the vomit from the floor, and as he came back into the office from returning the mop and bucket to the janitors closest, the smell of the coffee had left brewing was just starting to overpower the stale vomit, making it a far more pleasing atmosphere than what he had woken up to. He poured himself a cup and took a sip, it was hot, strong, and very bitter just the way he liked it.

He sat back in his chair and settled down with his coffee, he had no open cases and no new appointments so the only thing he had to do was to sit back and wait to see what turned up.

There was only so much coffee you could drink and only so many times you could flick through the same newspaper. His head was still throbbing and the headache pills didn’t seem to have any effect.

There had been no new clients seek him out and he was getting more and more bored, that was the problem with private work he thought, you just never knew when you’d see any action. When he was on the force it was a different matter, you could always rely on some schmuck to commit some crime or another, and there was always a backlog of unsolved crimes to go over.

He briefly thought of giving Bill Hartley a call, Bill was one of the few guys left on the force who talked to him & every now and then he’d throw some work his way, maybe he’d have something for him, but he didn’t.

There was a surer cure for boredom in his desk drawer, reaching in he took out the bottle of bourbon and his .38 revolver.

The more he thought about it, that hand shake probably wasn’t really there, it was more than likely just a trick of the light. This dump didn’t exactly have state of the art lighting and when you are first waking from a bender your eyes aren’t the most reliable.

He opened the bottle and took a deep swig, the bourbon wasn’t the best quality and the liquid burnt as it went down, but as soon as it hit his stomach he could feel the warmth run through his body, which was the feeling he was hoping for.

He poured a generous measure into a glass & stashed the bottle back in his desk drawer; taking a small sip he turned his attention to the gun. He flipped the chamber open and emptied out the bullets, the hollow point slugs made an echoing thud as they clattered onto his desk. Taking one he spun the chamber of the gun with his other hand and watched as it finished it’s spin. He placed the single bullet into the chamber, closed his eyes tight and spun it again.

With a practised movement of his wrist he snapped the chamber into place without opening his eyes, this was something he’d done many times before and it closed into place with a metallic snap.

Opening his eyes he looked at the gun for a moment or two, there was one live bullet and five empty spaces, he reached down and picked up his glass again.

He rocked back in his chair and took a drink with his right hand, at the same time he placed the gun to his temple using his left, his finger on the trigger. He played Russian roulette from time to time, sometimes he’d pull the trigger, sometimes not, even he wasn’t sure when he’d do it.

The click of the guns hammer on an empty chamber startled him, he hadn’t realized that he’d pulled the trigger, this time it has fallen on an empty chamber.

Sighing he sat forward and flipped the guns barrel open, and reloaded the full six bullets. He’d made it through today; tomorrow well he’d see what happened then.

All of a sudden he was hungry, he slipped the gun into his shoulder holster and grabbed his hat, Coogans made a damn good burger and a beer or two wouldn’t go astray either.

The burger and the beer went down well enough, but the thought of the hand tremor was still in the back of his mind, so Jack found himself leaving Coogans as soon as he had finished eating. He headed back to his office and decided to do some belated filing of his casework.

Not that he ever needed to refer to them much, but every now and then a client wanted extra copies of the photos or he got called to testify at divorce hearings, so it was a good idea to have them filed away where they could be found. One of the drawbacks in not having an assistant or secretary, was that he had to do it himself, which usually meant that he had a fair backlog to get through and today was no exception.

He had just started leafing through another file when he heard the chime of the elevator; it wasn’t often people came to this place on a Monday afternoon, and most who did use the stairs. It was only the second floor and both the state of the building and the lift did not leave you with the confidence that it would complete its journey.

Jack could hear the distinctive click, click of a set of stiletto heels as she walked down the corridor, the rhythmic sound of it almost soothing as he slipped the top drawer of his desk open just enough to lightly grip the butt of the .38 special revolver that rested there.

He slowly drew back the hammer so as to not make a sound loud enough to echo beyond the office door and sat back, one thing about this neighbourhood, you could never be too careful.

The footsteps came to a halt outside my door and there was a quite polite rap, rap, on the glass panel bearing my name and designation of Private Investigator. He could just make out her silhouette through the smoky tinted glass; it was enough for me to want to see more.

“Come in” Jack said.

The door opened and there she stood, framed in the doorway by the dull flickering light. She seemed surprised by the fact that there was no outer office, that it was just one tiny dimly lit space she was about to enter.

He took the time to look her over, and what a sight she was, you don’t see dames like her every day of the week, and you don’t see them like her in this neighbourhood any day. She was tall and very leggy, wearing a bright red dress that hugged every curve in a way that you knew was both calculated and deliberate for the effect she knew her body could have. It had a long slit up the side that ended mid-thigh, and a deep plunging neckline that left her cleavage on display.

Her long wavy auburn hair fell loose about her shoulders, her neck was long & graceful, her lips full and pouty; her lip gloss a deep delicious shade of red.

As he finally met her eyes, which were the deepest violet, she was gazing down at me with a look of disdain. This was easily the most stunning creature he had ever laid eyes on, yet somehow she seemed familiar, there was something about her that nagged at his brain.

Before he could put his finger on where I might’ve seen this vision before, she spoke in a delightful, musical tone “Mr. Archer? Mr. Jack Archer?”

“That’s what it say’s on the door doll” Jack replied, as he relaxed and took his hand off the gun, and sat back.

“Come in, take a seat, & tell me what I can do for you?”

The girl stepped into the room and sauntered to the chair in front of his desk, as the sunlight from the office window framed her face, Jack could see that she was young, maybe eighteen at the outside & fully aware of how good she looked. She sat gracefully and looked at him carefully before she began to speak.

“My name is Maggie Flaherty, I was given your name by a Detective Hartley, and he said that you would be my best chance of getting somebody to help me.”

“Well, Old Bill usually doesn’t waste my time, but you don’t look old enough to be looking for the proof of a cheating husband, & that’s just about all I bother with these days” said Jack as he lit up a smoke. “It’s been a quiet day & I haven’t got anything else to do so enlighten me as to what you need help with?”

“Detective Hartley told me that he worked with you when you were in the police and to use his terms you were a hell of a detective once and maybe could be again, he said that this case may be the chance for you to prove it. I want you to find the man who murdered my mother, the problem is she was killed five years ago and the initial police investigation went nowhere, but Detective Hartley seems to think that you may be able to find out what happened.”

Jack took another drag of his smoke as he thought through what the girl had said, Bill knew that he only took on divorce work these days; he hadn’t done any real detective work since he left the force, there must be some reason why Bill had sent the girl to him, but he just couldn’t see what it might be.

“Look doll, I don’t know what Old Bill told you about me, but I’m a hack these days. I do divorce work, peeping through hotel windows taking photos of guys doing the nasty with some trollop so that their wives can take ‘em to the cleaners in the divorce hearing; actual detective work is out of my league now.”

She looked down her nose at him and gave him an icy stare “Detective Hartley said that you were the best detective on the force until you had a breakdown and had sunk yourself into the bottom of a whiskey bottle, but he also said that once you got into a case you didn’t let go and if anyone could get to the bottom of this and find my mother’s killer it was you. You don’t look like much, and maybe he’s wrong about you, but you are my only chance to find out what happened to my mother”.

Jack could see that she was putting on a façade, she wasn’t the ice queen she was pretending to be, she was keeping a brace face on to prevent herself from breaking down, she obviously didn’t want to cry in front of a stranger. For some reason he felt touched by this young girl looking for answers, she must’ve been quite young when she lost her mother, the pain was still raw for her, which was something Jack knew a lot about.

Still he didn’t want to get involved; he’d survived this long by keeping away from cases that would get an emotional reaction from him. This girl was affecting him already, she was too dangerous for him, and he had to get rid of her. Still he couldn’t bring himself to tell her No outright.

“Shows you how much Bill knows doll, I drink bourbon. Still I’ll tell you what I’ll do, if Bill thinks that I can do some good on this case, I’ll talk with him see why he thinks that and get the details from him. If what he tells me makes sense then I’ll take the case. So don’t tell me any more – I want to hear it from a pro, Bill will let me know everything he has and what he has to go on.

Once I’ve spoken to him we can talk again and maybe I can help you out, but that’s all I can offer at the moment, what do you think?”

Maggie rose from her chair and held out her hand “Thank you Mr. Archer” she said “If you can meet with Detective Hartley and promise to hear him out then that’s all I can ask. I’ll just say this, I was 15 when my mother died, and the not knowing why that has hurt the most. I’ve tried to find out what I can, and the police aren’t able to help me, please promise me that you won’t let me down.”

Jack swallowed, this girl was getting to him, she was so vulnerable underneath her hard shell that he just wanted to tell her there and then that he would find the killer and make it better, but he kept a reign on himself as he had learnt to do the hard way, “I’ll talk to Bill, and if I think I can help then you’ll hear from me, that’s the best I can do” he said.

She seemed satisfied with that and nodded as they shook hands, with a slight smile she turned and left.

Jack didn’t know why but as she walked out the door a feeling of sadness came over him, it seemed to intensify as the last whiff of her perfume faded from the air.

He wasn’t sure what to do.

The girl had thrown a spanner into the works, that’s for sure.

He may not have the greatest life in the world, but he was getting by. He’d made sure that he wasn’t in the firing line anymore, that he wasn’t going to be hurt again.

Divorce work was dirty and nasty, but it was simple and straight forward, he didn’t get involved with the clients, he didn’t need to get invested or emotionally attached.

This, this was something very different.

Murder was not something you could coast by on, you had to dig deep, give it everything you had to get a result. You needed to care about the victim and their family; you needed to get it under your skin, so that it was everything to you, more important than the air that you breathed.

Jack didn’t know if he had it in him anymore, it had been so long since he had let himself care about anything or anyone.

The girl had gotten a hold on him already, he knew that, otherwise he wouldn’t even be considering the job; he’d have told her to shove off and find someone else. There was something about her though, something familiar that he couldn’t quite put his finger on, but it had affected him. For some reason he hadn’t been able to dismiss her outright.

So he’d told her that he’d meet with Bill Hartley, find out the story from him, why he’d sent her to him and why he thought that he was the man to crack the case. He hadn’t let her tell him anything about the case, no details whatsoever, not even her mother’s name or when the killing had taken place; he wanted a clean slate and to hear it all from Bill first hand.

It would be much easier to say no that way.

He could hear Bill out, tell him that he was out of his mind to think that he’d be capable of doing anything like this anymore, & leave it to Bill to let the girl know that he wasn’t interested.

He just couldn’t see himself being able to tell her no himself; Bill though, well he’d been telling Bill no for so long that it was hard to imagine giving Bill a yes to anything.

He thought back to the moment that she’d walked into his office, the click of her heels on the uncarpeted floor, the smell of her perfume, the way the light danced about her, almost like she lit the room up with her very presence. This was getting dangerous he thought, he was only just getting by now, keeping himself to himself, not getting attached to anyone. He couldn’t take the risk of getting close to someone again and losing them, not again, he couldn’t face that a second time.

He threw down his drink in one swallow & signalled the bartender for a refill. He glanced at the clock behind the bar, it was 12:45pm, he had 15 minutes before Bill was due to show up. Taking the drink he moved to his usual booth at the back end of the pub, here he could sit with his back securely against the wall and a clear view of both the front door and the large screen that showed the sporting events of the day. The privacy of the booth would be welcome when Bill arrived, it would allow them to talk freely.

He settled in and sipped his bourbon; they were showing a basketball game, not his favourite sport but something he could spend the time watching while waiting.

He’d made up his mind; he wasn’t going to take the case, and he was damned sure there was nothing Bill could say to convince him otherwise.

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Chapter Two:

The game was in its last few minutes and it was a tight one, despite himself Jack had become engrossed in it, so much so he almost missed seeing them as they entered the bar.

Bill had come and was on time, but he wasn’t alone, this was a turn-up for the books, when they spoke to arrange the meeting Bill hadn’t said anything about bringing her along, but here she was, Maggie Flaherty looking every bit as stunning as she had when she came to his office.

Bill knew the bar and he knew where Jack liked to sit, so he saw him straight away and steered Maggie to the booth where Jack was sitting, Maggie and Bill slid into onto the seats opposite Jack.

“Hi Jack” said Bill, Bill Hartley was a solid man, just the wrong side of sixty. He had over thirty years on the forces and they had taken their toll on him. He was starting to develop a paunch and his face was lined and world weary, he kind of looked like he needed ironing, that plus an almost entirely bald pate made him look every one of his years. He and Jack went way back, Bill was Jack’s mentor when he first made detective and he had learnt a hell of a lot from him. They remained close; in fact Bill was one of the few that stood by him when the drinking caused him to leave the force.

The contrast between Bills slovenly appearance and that of Maggies understated elegance couldn’t be greater; they made an incongruous pair, almost like the young girl was reluctantly taking a disreputable uncle out for lunch.

“I know you weren’t expecting me to bring Maggie along” began Bill “but there are some things that you need to know that are best heard from her, so you get the full meaning of it. I didn’t mention that I was bringing her because I know how stubborn you can get & I wanted to make sure that you turned up.”

Jack sighed “OK Bill, I know better than to make a big deal of it with you, here she is so we may as well get on with it, not much point in arguing with you about it, you wouldn’t listen anyway.”

“That’s something we’ve got in common Jack, now I know that you haven’t done any real investigative work since you left the force but there are some things that you just don’t lose the knack for. Once you got your teeth into a case you never let up & that’s exactly what we need.

This is a cold case that’s gone nowhere for the last three years and it’s going to take someone who refuses to give up to crack it. I can’t think of anyone better suited to solve it than you Jack.”

During the exchange Maggie had stayed silent; she’d simply sat there looking at Jack with her detached empty stare.

Now she spoke “Mr. Archer, there are a few things that you need to know about me and my mother before you make up your mind to turn me down. Detective Hartley has shared a few things with me which have made clear to me why he thinks that you are the best person to help me & I’ve got to say that I agree with him. I think that you are the man who can bring my mother’s killer to justice, will you at least hear me out?”

Jack drank down the last of his bourbon and looked at her, really looked at her, he could see the determination & steel in her eyes, yet underneath that there was a deep well of sorrow. He found that touching his heart, he was getting caught up with this girl, there was something so familiar about her but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It was affecting him though, he found himself wanting to reach out and hold her close, to tell her that it was all going to be all right, that he would make everything better.

It wasn’t a sexual attraction, she was far too young for him, no matter how gorgeous she was, but there was some sort of deeper spiritual attraction that was drawing him towards her, something that he was becoming powerless to fight.

His mind was screaming at him internally, telling him to run and run now before this girl cracked open his hard won shell that kept him safe from emotional attachment. Instead he heard himself say “Sure doll, lay it on the line, I’ll listen”.

Maggie let out her breath, and began “The first thing is this; I didn’t grow up living with my mother. She and my father got divorced when I was six and she left me with him when she moved back to the city. They both agreed that the city wasn’t the best place for a young girl so I stayed in the country village where I was born with Dad, well away from the violence and corruption of the city. Despite this we were extremely close, we spoke every day on the phone, sometimes twice a day and she always spent all of her vacation time with me. As I grew she became a best friend as well as my mom and it was this that made it so much harder for me when she died, not only did I lose my mom but my best friend as well. I spent a week in my room bawling my eyes out, and things haven’t been the same for me ever since. I need to know what happened and I need to know that the person responsible for her death is punished, knowing that he is out there somewhere living his life free as a bird, has made it even harder for me.

I need him to be caught to close the door on the whole thing, can you understand that?”

Jack could only sit there and nod his head in sympathy with the young woman’s tale of torment as she continued “It was three years ago that she was killed and not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and what happened to her. I know you’ve been wondering why I came to you, why Detective Hartley sent me to you, and why we both think that you are the one who can help me.

I came to the city to find out what happened and my first stop was with the police, that’s how I met Detective Hartley, well he explained that the police investigation had led nowhere, they had no leads and with cases mounting up it was put to one side. That’s why I need someone outside the police, someone who will not give up, someone who will do whatever it takes to get to the truth, someone with a personal stake in solving this crime.

You see Mr. Archer my mother was a police detective just like you were, but her name wasn’t Flaherty, she went back to her maiden name when she divorced my father and returned to the police force.”

Jack could feel a knot forming deep in his stomach at these words, things were starting to fall into place, he knew where she was leading to with this statement, and a quick glance at Bill Hartleys face confirmed it for him. The familiarity of Maggies face, her strident manner, it was all there, he was amazed he hadn’t seen it before, but it couldn’t be, it was impossible. She’d never once mentioned a daughter, the failed marriage and the country town yes, but a daughter never, surely she wouldn’t have kept that a secret?

“You see Mr. Archer my mother’s name was Murdoch, Detective First Grade Sandra Murdoch your partner.”

The words came out of her mouth and hit Jack like a sledgehammer; he had had no idea, could this really be possible?

Bill Hartley chose that moment to chime in “its true Jack. I didn’t believe it myself; you could’ve knocked me over with a feather when young Maggie here came to see me & told me who she was. Sandra never let on to anyone; it’s not even in her personnel records, just the ex-husband as the next-of-kin. I even checked Maggie’s birth certificate and it’s all true, she really is Sandra’s daughter.”

Jack was stunned, he’d known Sandra Murdoch for a lot of years, and they’d been partners for close on five of those. The best of friends, told each other everything about their lives, at least he had thought that they did. He never would’ve believed for a moment that Sandra would keep anything from him, not as close as they were, let alone anything as momentous as a daughter. But now looking at Maggie, he could see it, he could see the resemblance, see why this girl had affected him so much, there was that much of her mother in her.

“You are my last hope for justice for me and my mom Mr. Archer” said Maggie “Will you do it? Not only for me, but for my mom as well?”

Jack knew he was trapped, it was hopeless there was no way he would be able to say no to this girl, not with her being Sandra’s daughter, it would be like betraying her again, and there was no way he’d ever do that. This explained how the mere sight of her had stirred his long suppressed emotions; he wanted nothing more than to help her. Images of Sandra came flooding into his mind, even after all these years, they were fresh and clear, the eyes, the nose, the lips, so like those of the girl sitting across from him, waiting anxiously for his answer.

Even so, he wasn’t ready to accept defeat just yet; he said “Look kid, this is a lot to lay on me all at once, who you are, what you want me to do. I’ve done nothing but peep in hotel windows and get plastered for the last couple of years; it’s going to be a big change for me to get back to real work again. I’m gonna have to give it some thought, so why don’t you leave me and Bill alone to get down to brass tacks & I’ll let you know after we’ve discussed it.”

Bill rose from his seat and offered Maggie his arm, he said “It’s a good idea Maggie, you don’t want to be here when we discuss the details. Just let me and Jack take it from here, and I’ll let you know what happens after”. Maggie took his arm and slid gracefully out of the booth and fixed Jack with a cool stare “You may protest Mr. Archer but I know that you won’t let me down, and more importantly you won’t let my mother down, you owe it to the both of us to find the truth.”

With that she turned and walked out of the bar, Bill and Jack both motionless as they watched her leave.

The two men sat back down in the booth, they simply stared at each other for a minute, maybe two, and finally Bill said “Well Jack, do you want to start now? Shall we go over the new developments in the case since you left the force?”

“Hang on Bill, I haven’t agreed to do anything yet, all I said was I’d listen so don’t get too far ahead of yourself”.

“Don’t be stupid Jack, we both know that you’re in, so you can sit there and try and talk yourself out of it but it’s just a waste of both of our time. Come into the office tomorrow, I’ll have all of the paperwork copied and put together for you, so you’ll have a place to start. You can take it with you and go through it, and then if you have any questions just get back to me.”

Jack was quiet for a few moments before he spoke again “How much does she know Bill?”

“She knows Sandra was killed in the line of duty, on a bust that went terribly wrong, that’s all. And that’s all she needs to know Jack, hell it’s the goddamn truth. I’ve been telling you for years that you’ve gotta stop blaming yourself, it wasn’t your fault. So you tipped the mob off that we were raiding the joint for a few extra bucks, so what? We were all doing it back then, it was a good arrangement, we made a few extra bucks and no-one got hurt. Until that night at least.

Well let me tell you, at least some good came out of it, it’s different now, there’s no trust between us and the bad guys any more. It’s only the real bad apples that are on the take now, none of the clean graft like it was back then. The straight shooters, we’re all on the level now.”

Jack wasn’t so sure of that, but now wasn’t the time to get into the same old argument with Bill again. “You want a drink Bill?”

“Nah, I’ve gotta get back to the station house, I’ve got a tonne of work to do, you know how it is Jack, crime it’s a growth industry.” As he left the booth, Bill turned and reached into his pocket, he withdrew a small black leather bound book and said “there is one more thing, I found this just last week when I was looking through the archives, it was buried deep at the bottom of some of some of Sandra’s old case files, it’s something that you should read Jack – it’s Sandra’s old journal. Have a read and give me a call, it will make a lot of things clearer for you.”

With that Bill dropped the book on the table in front of Jack, turned and left the bar without another backward glance.

Jack signalled the bartender for another drink and sat staring at the book until it was delivered to his table. He picked the glass up with one hand, the book with the other and took a sip of the bourbon, placing the drink back on the table he opened the book and began to read.

He read the old leather covered journal from cover to cover, and then he read it again. Now he was simply sitting there at his booth holding it and turning it over and over in his hands as he idly glanced down at it, such an ordinary looking thing he thought, who could’ve known the trouble it could cause?

It was a shock, sure Sandra and he had shared a few nights together when she first joined the force, but it was never a big romance, more a casual sort of thing, there were no hard feelings on either side when it ended, it was simply one of those things that didn’t work out. When she re-joined some 10 years later and they were paired up, they were happy to work together. Hell they were closer as friends and partners than they ever were as lovers, that’s what made it so hard to understand. Maybe she couldn’t tell him when it happened, but later when they were so close as partners, you’d think that she would’ve found a way to tell him.

He hadn’t even known that Sandra had a kid, let alone that he was the father.

From his reading of the journal it was obvious that no-one else had known either. She had met and married Mike before she appeared pregnant, so she passed it off as his and it looked like he had never questioned it. After their divorce, Sandra had moved back to the city and re-joined the force while young Maggie lived with Mike and grew up with him as her father, Jack didn’t suppose that she would be too thrilled to find out the truth.

Should he tell her though?

Should he shatter her illusions, let her know that her dead mother had lied not only to her but to the man she thought was her father, and to him, her real father at the same time?

Would she want to know?

Jack didn’t think there was much to be gained from telling her at this point, she was looking for her mother’s killer, not for revelations about her past life. Why complicate things?

No wonder Bill had been so sure he’d take the case, after reading this how could he not? How could he let Maggie down now that he knew that she was his daughter? It was a hell of a shock just knowing that Sandra had a kid, let alone that it was his.

Why hadn’t she told him? The only way he could figure it was she’d wanted to make a life with her husband and had only come back to the city after that had fallen apart, he thought that maybe she didn’t want to tear the life that Maggie had to pieces by telling her that everything she thought was real, was in fact a lie.

Jack could understand that he guessed, she was probably just trying to protect Maggie and the best way to do that was to make sure no-one found out.

Well Jack would honour her wishes, he was sure Bill would keep his trap shut, maybe she wouldn’t know he was her father but he could still look out for her and who knows?

Maybe after they had gotten to know each other better, after he had solved the case, brought her mother’s killer to justice. If he straightened himself up, laid off the booze for a while, maybe he’d be better dad material.

Satisfied that this was the best approach, he stuffed the journal deep into his overcoat pocket and rose from his seat, grabbing his hat from the table he noticed the shot glass sitting on the table.

Picking it up, he studied the deep amber liquid, cramming his hat on his head he put the glass down untouched and headed out of the bar, he had too much work to do to start this early.

Jack put the phone down; he had just spoken to Bill and told him that he would take the case. Neither man mentioned the truth about Maggie, the closest they got to it was when Bill asked Jack if he had read the journal, he just grunted when Jack replied in the affirmative.

Jack knew Bill wouldn’t let anyone know about it, and he knew that Bill would help him as much as he could. They had arranged to meet at the station house that afternoon to go over the case files.

That would be a help, but Jack knew there was something he had to do first.

Something he had spent the last few years trying to forget, he would have to think back to that night and recall everything he could to try and find some nugget of information that could put him on the path to finding the killer.

He felt like a drink, but instead he put on a pot of coffee. The one thing he needed now was a clear head and one drink could easily lead to four or five, especially once the memories had been unearthed. He poured a cup and took a sip, before sitting down at his desk.

He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and cast his mind back.

It had been a fairly typical day in the office, both he and Sandra had been run off their feet all day and both were feeling bushed. He was just finishing up the report from their last arrest of the day; it was late, getting on to 8pm, another long day. Technically their shifts had ended a number of hours ago but it was a rare day indeed that had them leaving on time. Sandra had just left the squad room to use the bathroom & he was heading over to the photocopier to take the file copies of his report, when he overheard Maloney & Jones, two of the other detectives in the squad whose desk was adjacent to the copier talking.

They were discussing a raid that they were putting together later that night, hitting the mob at their warehouse down by the docks. They had a tip-off that a shipment of stolen furs was due in that night and they were going to take them down at 10pm.

They called him over and asked if he’d like a little O/T and join in as they needed as few extra bodies to cover all the exits. It wasn’t a huge score and they didn’t expect any trouble, but it was always better to have extra bodies around just in case. Jack begged off, claiming he was too tired to be effective and headed back to his desk.

He had just finished filing all his papers when Sandra came back to the desk and he told her that he had enough for one day & was heading down to Coogans for a meal and a few beers if she wanted to join him.

Sandra declined as she had some extra work that she needed to get a head start on.

He accepted the rain check with good grace and left the station house.

On the way to Coogans he stopped to make a call, a call to the mobs hangout to pass on the details of the raid that was happening later that night so that they could change the time or place of the shipment.

It was how he supplemented his income, he was hardly the only cop who took some graft to make ends meet, he was very particular about what information he handed over however.

Only small time stuff like stolen household goods or the furs coming in tonight, never anything that may put his partners in the force or the general public in danger, so there was never any thought of passing on anything to do with drugs or weapons and he never turned a blind eye to any violence of any sort. He may be dirty, but he still had his principles and he would never compromise them for anything like money.

So every now and then he passed on a few bits of information that would help the mob avoid some busts, and put a few extra dollars in his pockets.

But this time, it went wrong.

After the call he headed into Coogans, had a nice steak dinner washed down with a couple of beers and a bourbon or two he didn’t give the call he made a second thought, until he got the call that woke him up in the middle of the night. Sandra had joined the raid, and during it she had been shot and killed.

Jack’s eyes snapped open, the call he thought, it was Matches he had passed the details onto, Matches who must’ve passed the tip on. Matches Murphy was a small time hoodlum, who did a little bit of everything, without being important enough to be noticed by anyone. He was the type of foot soldier that all gangs needed to do the dirty work.

That was his opening, he needed to find Matches and squeeze him for who he had passed it onto, that would be the person who would know who organized the mob response.

He looked at his watch, he had forty minutes till he was meant to meet Bill, and he grabbed his hat and headed out the door. Now he knew where to start, he’d meet up with Bill see if he could give him a line on Matches whereabouts, if not; well he knew a few other unsavoury characters he could convince to help him out. He’d find him, and squeeze & see what came out.

Jack made it to the station dead on time, Bill had told the desk sergeant he was coming so he was waved through when he arrived. He headed up the stairs to the detectives room and the memories came rushing back, he had worked out of this house for a good 10 years and it was a weird feeling being back here as a civilian.

They say you can’t go home again, and for the first time Jack was starting to understand what they meant by that as he entered the squad room on the second floor. There were a few familiar faces in the room as he walked through, people that he had worked with and known from his past on the job. He gave and received polite nods as he walked by, the odd “hey Jack” was thrown out here and there, he acknowledged those with a wave, but for the most part he was ignored as he made his way to Bill’s office.

Bill was now the day shift supervisor of detectives and his glass enclosed office was at the far side of the room, from there he had a view out across the entire squad room from his desk, which made it the perfect place for the supervisors’ desk.

Bill was on the phone as Jack got to his door; he waved Jack in with his free hand and motioned him to close the door behind him.

Jack did so and took a seat on the opposite side of the desk as Bill finished his call.

“Yeah, look I gotta go someone’s just come in” said Bill into the phone “we can talk about it when I get home, I love you.”

He hung up the phone and looked at Jack “The wife” he explained.

Jack nodded.

Bill waved towards the corner of his office where a number of boxes were piled up one on top of the other “There’s all the stuff I could get together on Sandra’s killing and the investigations that have been done over the years, there’s no smoking gun there but maybe with a new set of eyes going over it you may find something we’ve missed, it’s worth a shot anyway.”

“Thanks” said Jack “I can take these with me?”

“Yeah, they’re all copies, the originals are in the archive room, along with all of the stuff from Sandra’s other cases if you ever want to poke through it just let me know.”

“I may need to, but the stuff over there will be enough to start with for now” said Jack “But there is someone I want to talk to, that you may be able to give me a lead on where to start looking for him. Do you have any intel on where Matches Murphy hangs around these days?”

Bill looked surprised “Murphy? I haven’t heard of him for a fair while, last I heard he’d left town but then again that was a while ago, hang on” he grabbed the phone and punched in a number “Carlsen, get in here” he bellowed and slammed the receiver back down.

“He’s a new guy” he told Jack “but he knows the streets, if anyone knows if Murphy’s in town he will”.

The door opened and a young detective came in, he was six feet tall, around 25ish, blue eyes, square jaw, wearing an Armani suit, looking like he’d just stepped off a high fashion billboard, Jack took and instant dislike to the pretty boy.

“You wanted me chief?” said Carlsen without a glance in Jack’s direction.

“Carlsen, this is Jack Archer, he’s an ex-detective and a good buddy of mine, he working private these days and is gonna have a look at a couple of old cases for me.”

Carlsen turned as Jack rose and proffered his hand, Jack took it and felt Carlsen apply pressure, Jack smiled to himself and started to squeeze himself, he could feel the young man’s hand compress as his vice like grip compressed the bones together. Carlsen winced and withdrew his hand, which Jack released and sat back down.

Bill continued “Carlsen, Jack needs to find Matches Murphy; you got any idea where he might be?”

Carlsen made a face “Murphy, he’s a nobody. Why would anyone want to search for him?”

“That’s not your concern pretty boy, can you tell me where he is or not?” said Jack.

Carlsen looked at Bill who nodded, “He usually hangs out at a underworld dive called The Stag, a real bucket of blood, the kind of place even the rats feel dirty going into. He seems to be nothing more than a foot soldier, he showed up about 6 months ago and settled in, we think he’s in the frame for a couple of small break and enter jobs but nothing that we can pin on him at the moment. That all you need Chief?”

“Yeah get out of here, and close the door behind you” said Bill

Carlsen nodded and left the room.

“You know the Stag, Jack?” asked Bill

“Yeah, I know it” replied Jack “Pretty boy was right, it’s a real dive, down near the docks, mainly Clancy’s boys that hang around there, I didn’t know that Matches was one of Leo’s boys.”

“Well Clancy has been climbing the ranks over the last few years Jack, he runs most of the dirty rackets in the city these days, I know you two have a history, is that going to be a problem for you?” asked Bill.

Jack looked at Bill “Nah, why should it be? I’m just going to ask Matches a few questions, there’s no reason why Leo would even hear about it, let alone care.”

“Do you think Murphy can give you anything good?”

“I’m not sure, but he was around when the raid went down, he’s as good a place to start as any. And he’s a coward, so a bit of the right kind of pressure, and who knows?

Anyhow, there’s only one way to find out.”

With that Jack rose and went to the corner and picked up the boxes that had been left for him, “Thanks for these Bill, I’ll keep you in the loop with how I’m going on the case and if I shake anything loose.”

Just as he was walking through the door, Bill called out “Jack” he stopped and looked back over his shoulder as Bill continued “Sandra was one of ours Jack, it’s a stain on this department that her killer hasn’t been found. If you do find the scumbag, you bring it to me and we’ll bring him in under the full force of the law and prosecute the bastard.

You don’t do it on your own understand?

No vigilante shit, he pays for it in a court of law, you got it?”

“Sure thing Bill, you can count on me” said Jack as he turned and headed out the door.

The Stag was even worse than he remembered; it was a rundown dive in a rundown neighbourhood. It was on a corner of a crossroads and there was a steady stream of scumbags and streetwalkers going in and out. It was a cold and dark night, Jack was huddled in his coat hunching down to keep his ears out of the wind, he was across the street just inside the recess of an alley that allowed him to keep an eye on the entrance of the pub without anyone seeing him. As it was such a lousy neighbourhood, Jack wasn’t surprised that the street lights were out; it helped him stay out of sight, so he wasn’t complaining. He lit a smoke and thought things through, he’d been here for just over 2 hours and there was no sign of Matches. He’d arrived around 10, it was just after midnight now, it seemed like Matches wasn’t going to show tonight, he was just contemplating his next move when a familiar figure slipped out of The Stag and headed across the street and straight towards him.

Unless he was very much mistaken it was Lefty, Jack had no idea what his real name was, he had always gone by Lefty. Lefty was the epitome of non-descript, he was average in everything about him, his looks, his size, his clothes. So much so that it was very hard to notice him, when he sat in a corner, your eyes just seemed to travel over and past him without noticing. Lefty used this to his advantage, in fact it was how he made his living.

He hung around the periphery of the underworld and picked up titbits of information that others talked about when they didn’t realize he was there. He was a born snitch; in fact when he was on the job Jack had used him on several occasions to uncover information to help his investigations.

It looked like it was time to renew old acquaintances as Lefty had crossed the street and was walking directly past the alley where Jack was lurking.

Lefty didn’t know what hit him, when he felt a sudden jerk on his jacket collar and he was hurled off his feet and slammed back into the brick wall.

Jack stepped in front of him and said “Hi there Lefty, it’s been a long time.”

“Mr. Archer” replied Lefty “Is that you?”

Jack threw his right hand into Lefty’s gut, the little man collapsed over Jacks arm and his breath exploded out of him. Jack dragged him back upright and said “Maybe that will jog your memory as to who I am”

“I didn’t mean anything by it, Mr. Archer. W what do you want with me?”

Jack smiled, “I need your assistance Lefty, with your particular abilities I think you are just the man I need. I’m looking for Matches Murphy, where is he?”

“I haven’t seen him for a few days Mr. Archer; he hasn’t been at The Stag for the last couple of nights. I did hear that he had a place in the docklands area, but I don’t know where.”

Jack thought for a moment or two, then pulled out a couple of fifty dollar bills and held them out in front of Lefty’s face “I’m sure a resourceful fellow like you can find out exactly where, it is. Here’s $100, you get this now and you’ll get another $100 when you tell me what I need to know, we got a deal?”

Lefty snatched the money out of Jacks hand and the bills disappeared into his pants pocket, “Sure Mr. Archer, I’ll ask around I’m sure I can find him for you.”

“You do that, and make sure you don’t let on that I’m looking for him. Just make sure that you don’t take too long about it, I’ll expect to hear from you soon” said Jack.

“Sure Mr. Archer, you can count on me” said Lefty as he scurried off.

Jack seriously doubted that he could, but Lefty’s greed and fear of him should be enough to make sure he played straight with him. He figured that with Lefty doing the leg work he should be able to find Matches a lot easier than on his own, plus he had to get through all the boxes of evidence that Bill had given to him and it was hard to do that and search for Matches at the same time.

Satisfied he’s made the smart move, Jack decided to head back to his apartment to get back to sifting through the evidence while Lefty did the legwork.

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Chapter Three:

It had been a long night, fuelled by coffee rather than bourbon for a change, something that Jack was thankful for now, as he awoken with a clear head for a change.

He made himself a fresh coffee as he got up to help clear the cobwebs from his head, he had been sifting through the evidence he had collected from Bill till 3am, trying to find something that would give him another lead to follow.

Nothing had leapt out at him.

He took a sip of the coffee and moved into the small living room of his apartment and sat on his couch. He had to think things through, the main lead he had at the moment was to find Matches and grill him hard, and apart from that he had nothing to go on.

The one new wrinkle that he had found was that it seemed that Matches was working for Clancy now. That could complicate things, Jack didn’t know what Matches was doing for Clancy, or how important he was to the mob boss, so he had no idea what sort of trouble it may cause for him to snatch and put the squeeze on him.

Clancy ran most of the rackets in the city these days and was a very dangerous man, not the sort that you should cross. He was a hard ruthless character & as Jack was no longer on the force, he didn’t have the protection of the shield like he had in the past.

There was an extra complication as well; Jack and Leo Clancy had grown up together. They were the best of friends and rivals who tussled all the way through their childhoods. They only drifted apart when Jack went to the police academy whilst Leo went the other way and joined the mob.

Even so, they remained friendly and on civil terms over the years, but Jack remembered their tussles, Leo and he had come to blows on several occasions’ over the years, some he won, some he lost, the only thing that didn’t change was that both of them came away from each scrap with lots of bruises.

Jack wasn’t sure if he was in good enough shape yet to tangle with Leo now and one thing was for certain he’d need to be at 100% if he was going up against him.

Still it didn’t make much sense in worrying too much about Leo now, he’d grab Matches and see what he had to say, if it caused problems with Leo, well then he’d deal with them then.

He looked at his watch, it was 9am, funny that he hadn’t heard back from Lefty yet, he didn’t think that Matches would’ve been that hard to find. He’d give Lefty till later this afternoon to check in before he’d track him down. It may be that Matches was on a job last night that could explain why he wasn’t at The Stag, and why Lefty hadn’t found him yet.

He felt a bit wired, the excitement of being back on a real case was starting to get into his blood and he was feeling more alive than he had for years. He was too keyed up to just wait around for Lefty, so he thought he’d head down to the local Y and hit the iron for an hour or so to take the edge off. He had been lifting weights for most of his adult life, it was the one part of his regular routine that he hadn’t left behind, it calmed him and kept him in good shape, being strong was a handy advantage when you travelled in the neighbourhoods that Jack did.

He got dressed and packed his gym bag, he felt better about things now that he had thought them through and he was confident that Lefty would play straight with him and let him know as soon as he got a line on Matches.

Things were starting to look up he thought as he headed out of the apartment and headed down the stairs.

They were waiting for him in the lobby of his apartment building, he hadn’t thought that he had attracted any attention with his search for Matches and so he wasn’t on his guard, just as he exited the stairwell and started towards the exit when a hand closed on his elbow and he felt the business end of a pistol ram into his back.

“Just keep walking nice and steady Jack, and don’t try any funny business” said the bruiser who had grabbed him, as they walked across the lobby together, Jack noticed the other two positioned near the exit doors, they left their posts and joined them as they exited the building.

There was a black limousine idling at the curb in front of the building as they walked onto the curb, the fourth member of the group opened the door, and Jack was bustled into the back seat. One of the men jumped in after him and the door shut with a heavy thud.

“Relax Jack, Leo just wants to talk” came a voice from the seat opposite.

Jack sat up and looked across; the voice belonged to Wilson Rand.

Rand was a massive man and he almost took up the entire bench seat by himself, the bulk was not all fat though, underneath was an impressive amount of muscle. Rand was Leo Clancy’s right hand, his arranger, the man who organized his rackets and got his hands dirty while Leo pulled the strings from his ivory tower.

Jack relaxed, seeing Rand he knew that this wasn’t a hit, Leo wouldn’t try that with him.

“A phone call would’ve been sufficient Rand, there was no need for the heavy treatment” said Jack.

“Leo wasn’t sure you’d understand the urgency of the situation Jack, besides as you are old friends, he thought you’d appreciate the lift.”

Jack didn’t know what the game was here, but he knew well enough not to force the issue now. Rand would be enough of a problem to deal with on his own, let alone the other 3 men as well, so he decided to sit back and see what developed.

A hard shove in the middle of the back sent Jack stumbling through the double doors and into the office, it was large and spacious, on the 25th floor of the newest office tower in the city, a corner office with a panoramic view of the city through the tinted glass windows that dominated the room.

“Jack, so glad you could make it, come in, have a seat”.

The voice came from the large figure seated behind the expansive desk that dominated the room. He was clad in an exquisite three piece pin stripe suit that probably cost more than Jack earned in a year, a crisp clean white shirt and a no-nonsense navy blue tie. His jet black hair was swept back and bryl creamed into place as usual, his coarse hard features were broken up by the crease of his thin lipped smile and the jagged beak of a nose that jutted out.

The nose was that crooked due to it being broken in a schoolyard brawl when he was fifteen, something Jack remembered well, after all he was the one who broke it.

Leo Clancy now ran just about every crooked racket there was in this city, he had a meteoric rise to the top of the mob at just about the same time as Jack was crashing down into the depths of a booze ridden haze following his exit from the force, but there was a time, long ago, when they were inseparable, the best of friends.

Times change thought Jack.

He righted himself and took a seat opposite Leo on the other side of the desk.

“How could I refuse such a gracious invitation Leo?”

His laugh rang out, deep and booming, it seemed to echo through the confines of the room, that was Leo, nothing subtle about him, there never had been.

“I hope the boys weren’t too rough on you Jack, I told them to be gentle, after all we are old friends.”

He opened a big mahogany box that was sitting on his desk and drew out two large thick cigars. Jack nodded as he raised one in his direction, taking his cigar cutter he cut the ends and lit both of the cigars, then handed one across. Jack didn’t hesitate and took a deep draw from the cigar; both men sent large clouds of smoke into the air. Jack wasn’t sure what was afoot, but this was Leo’s game & he would play it at his pace, & hope that he’d make it out of here in one piece.

“Joey get Jack & me a drink will ya, Bourbon isn’t it Jack?”

“Yeah, straight up for me Leo”

The gorilla fixed the drinks from the bar at the far end of the office and brought them over; he placed one reverently on the desk in front of Leo and handed the other to Jack. Then he stationed himself behind Leo and a little to the left, so that his boss didn’t obstruct his line of fire, a real professional this one, he knew what he was doing. So did the other two, they never got too close to Jack and were now standing at each side of the doorway to the room, well out of reach and with a clear line of fire, he was covered from all angles.

As he took a drink Jack asked, “What’s this all about Leo?”

“Geez Jack, you never were one for the social niceties were you? Here it is, what 5 years since we saw each other and it’s straight to the point, no Hi Leo nice to see you, how’s the wife and kids?”

“Nope, straight to the point, just like always. That’s one of the things that I’ve always admired about you Jack”. He leaned back in his chair, took a drink and sighed, “I still can’t work out it out though Jack, and why is it that you never came and worked for me? It’s not like you’re Snow White, you’ve done some questionable things, so why not?”

He was referring to when he was on the take; Leo knew that when Jack was on the force he wasn’t averse to accepting a few dollars here and there to look the other way, only for small things, never for anything important, at least that’s how he used to justify it to himself. Unfortunately he learnt the hard way, that there’s no such thing as half corrupt, it has a way of biting you in the behind when you least expect it.

Jack wondered if that was why he had sunk so low, the realization of his own failings had hit him hard. It was only in the last few days since Maggie came into his life, that the light of truth had shone on him, she had made him realize that maybe he can’t change what he had done, but he could change what he was, who he was now.

“Leo, you know why. We just went different paths you & me, you went your way, I went mine. Though looking around, it seems that your way is a lot more lucrative than mine.”

They both laughed at that, it helped to ease some of the tension from the air, both of men on edge, they knew this could easily get out of hand, & neither of them wanted that.

Leo looked at me & withdrew a thick envelope from his coat and threw it at Jack, he caught it before it could thump into his chest.

“That’s ten large in there Jack, in cash, mixed bills, untraceable, it’s yours.”

“And what do I have to do to earn this Leo?”

“Simple, just drop it Jack, go back to the divorce cases and taking photo’s through hotel windows. That’s more your speed these days, a fella can get hurt sticking his nose in where it’s not wanted you know.”

Jack looked at the envelope and then at Leo, his eyes were gleaming as they bore into him with a ferocity that he hadn’t seen for a long time. The goon behind him shifted he is weight as his hand closed on something in his pocket, from the shape it looked like a .38 special. This was a tricky situation, he’d have to think fast to get out of this, so he tried to play for time.

“I’m feeling a little slow today Leo, I’m not sure I know what you are on about”.

Leo’s hand thumped down onto the desk with a mighty crash that sent his whisky glass flying “Don’t fuck with me Jack, you cock sucker. You know what I’m talking about; stop looking for Matches, let sleeping dogs lie. I don’t know what has lit a fire under your arse all of a sudden after all this time, but I do know that it stops and it stops now.”

Leo withdrew his cigar from his mouth and jabbed it in my direction to emphasize his next words “ Let it go Jack, go back to your tiny little office and your insignificant little life, live it up a little on the dough I’ve given you and be a good boy. If you behave yourself, there’ll be another 2 grand a month for you, just to stay in the divorce business & keep out of the missing persons business, ya follow?”

Jack followed all right; if he kept going, he’d be the missing person. Still Leo had confirmed for him that he was on the right track, Matches was the key to it, and he could give me the answers that I needed to crack the case. What he didn’t know was why Leo cared, was it because Matches was a key operator for him & he didn’t want to have to replace him? Or was it another reason? Was Leo protecting Matches or someone else?

Either way, Jack knew that he had to keep digging for Maggies sake if not for his own, he had let a lot of people down in his life, but he’d be damned if he was going to let his own daughter down. The tricky thing was going to be getting out of here without Leo knowing he was playing him. If he did it right he could buy himself a couple of days to find Matches at the least.

He stood and drained the bourbon, it was much better than the rotgut he normally drank, smooth as silk, it slid down his throat easily. He made a big show of putting the cash filled envelope into his inside pocket and could see Leo relax at the sight.

“I get you Leo, as it so happens I have got a couple of divorce cases on the go at the moment, they’ll probably take up all my time for the foreseeable future. Two grand a month you say, in cash?”

Leo nodded, a happy smirk coming to his face “that’s right Jack, first day of the month, guaranteed”.

Jack nodded “Well I guess that’s that, thanks for your hospitality Leo, just like old times, I’ll see myself out”.

Jack didn’t think the ruse would last long, Leo wasn’t stupid, but it would get him out of there in one piece and that was all he was concerned about.

Leo’s men paid Jack no attention as he strode out of the office, down the corridor and into the waiting elevator, Jack was deep in thought, as soon as Leo figured out he’d pulled a swifty on him and he wasn’t going to back off there’d be hell to pay, he just had to make sure he wasn’t the one drawing the cheque.

Jack was thinking things through as he left Leo’s office building, so much so that he failed to notice the two men who tailed him. As he headed into the stream of pedestrian traffic he made up his mind, the money he took from Leo would make him think that he was backing off, but he’d need to work quickly.

He needed to find Matches and soon.

Decision made, Jack hailed a passing cab, “Head to the waterfront cabbie” Jack said as he settled back into the seat. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a sedan pull out from the curb and settle in behind the cab, but he didn’t give it much notice, it was a busy part of the city and lots of people in a rush drive recklessly.

He had decided to get a hold of Lefty and emphasize the urgency of the search, perhaps some of Leo’s money might make him a bit more efficient. He wasn’t too sure where the little man was, but he thought he’d have a good chance of finding him in one of the bars in the waterfront area; it was where he could glean a lot of information from the dark corners as he sat unnoticed.

It was in the third bar he tried that he found him, lurking in a corner booth where he was nursing a small glass of beer. Jack dropped into the seat opposite and passed over a fresh glass “Here you go, Lefty. Have a fresh one on me” said Jack.

“Thanks Mr. Archer” replied Lefty.

Jack just sat and looked at Lefty for a moment or two, the little man started to sweat as his unrelenting stare started to unnerve him.

Jack reached into his pocket and withdrew the envelope that Leo had given him; slowly he withdrew five $100 bills and put them on the table in front of Lefty.

“That’s the $500 I promised you when you’d found Matches, so have you anything to tell me yet?”

Lefty looked left and right to make sure there was no-one near enough to overhear their conversation, it was an old habit of his, one that he was glad other people didn’t share as overhearing people was the way he made his living.

“Look Mr. Archer, I’ve been nosing around but there’s been no sign of Matches for the last day or so. It’s almost like he’s dropped off the face of the earth. I have got a lead on this dame that I hear he’s been seeing, it may be that he’s been with her, but I haven’t been able to find her address yet.”

Jack nodded “Well, you’d better get to it Lefty, I need to find him and I need to talk to him today, do you understand?”

“Yes sir” Lefty replied “I’ll find him; no-one can hide from me for too long.”

“That’s what I’m counting on” said Jack, he rose to leave the booth, the money left on the table, he nodded towards it “Take that now Lefty, I’ve decided to be generous to encourage you to find him faster, if you can tell me where Matches is by tonight, I’ll throw another grand your way after I’ve spoken to him, but don’t let anyone know that I’m looking for him. I won’t be very happy if I hear that you’ve squawked to anyone, you got me?”

Lefty grabbed the money and in a flash it disappeared within his coat, he smiled up at Jack “You know me Mr. Archer, I’m a professional, once I’m bought, I stay bought.”

Jack reached down and patted his cheek, “good boy, now go fetch” with that he turned and left the bar.

Lefty sat for 5 minutes or so and finished the beer, this job was starting to make him nervous, there must be something big going on for Archer to all of a sudden double the money he was offering and be so urgent about it. Still if he played his cards right, he could make out all right, he had a grand already and with another it would be a good couple of days work.

Suddenly a figure loomed over him and a man slid into the booth opposite him, Lefty was just about to speak when he saw who it was and fear made him swallow the words before they could come out, it was Wilson Rand.

Rand smiled, at least his lips moved into a thin line, the closest approximation of a smile the big man ever could manage, there was certainly nothing like mirth in the cold grey eyes that glared at Lefty, like he was yesterday’s leftovers.

“Lefty, how are you my old friend?” asked Rand “No need to speak dear boy, you look a little grey, like you need some fresh air. I suggest that you come with me and the boys, perhaps a nice ride in the car will perk you up. That’s a good fellow, come along.”

Rand gestured, a strong hand gripped Lefty’s shoulder and he was jerked out of the booth. Two large men flanked him and he was led out of the bar and into the back of a sedan that was waiting outside the bar, Rand slid in beside him and slammed the door shut.

The car sped off into the stream of traffic and headed back downtown.

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Chapter Four:

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Chapter Five:

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Chapter Eight:

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Chapter Nine:

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Chapter Ten:

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Chapter Eleven:

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Chapter Twelve:

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Chapter Thirteen:

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Chapter Fourteen:

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Chapter Sixteen:

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Chapter Seventeen:

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Chapter Eighteen:

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Chapter Nineteen:

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Chapter Twenty One:

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Chapter Twenty Three:

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Chapter Twenty Four:

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Chapter Twenty Five:

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Chapter Twenty Six:

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Chapter Twenty Seven:

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Chapter Twenty Eight:

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Chapter Twenty Nine:

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Chapter Thirty:

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Chapter Thirty One:

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Chapter Thirty Two:

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