"... Memories can resurface.
Wounds can reopen.
The roads we walk have demons beneath.
And yours have been waiting for a very long time."
-- Sherlock, 'The Final Problem'.
Los Angeles, 2004
"Uh, excuse me? Hey! Guys!"
José Rosales cocked a weather eye over the horde of chattering, laughing Angelenos stuffed into the back room of his Rosewood Avenue restaurant and shook his head.
If Gabriel Yorker thought banging a fork against his empty beer bottle was going to grab this lot's attention, he was living in the clouds. The staff of YCC Investigations might number only twenty, including the three founding partners, but when they hit the town they made enough noise and barullo for fifty.
Aheuvo! Something about these private detectives, hey? José dodged around one tiny Korean girl, waving her arms about like a windmill gone crazy and picked up the seven empty tequila shots littered around the tamales. Seven shots and they hadn't hit dessert yet? Crazy, crazy.
He worked his way down the table, picking up bits and pieces of the conversations. Typical Friday night stuff - what club they would go to, the best places in the Garment District for knock-off silk shirts and designer capri pants.
Of course, this being YCC, there was a little crazy stuff mixed in as well. But that was part of the fun of it. The YCC were José's favourite customers and not just because they left a big bill and a hefty tip. There was always some celebrity needing saving or big banker trying to pull the dirt on an ex-wife so the gossip after a few cervezas between colleagues was something else.
Reaching the head of the table, José ducked his head down by Christina Carleton, the second C of YCC investigations. "Senora Carleton? Everything is okay?"
Christina turned a serene smile up to José, her curtain of rich brown hair swinging over one shoulder. "Perfect as always, Jose. Thank you."
With most customers, José would move on after that, satisfied his duty as host was done. With these customers, he lingered. "This is a big night, si? A celebration, some new client or big case?"
For a moment, he thought he had pushed too far. After all, YCC's business was keeping secrets hidden as much as finding them out. Then Christina shrugged a slender shoulder. "Not so much, José. A goodbye, more than anything."
She tipped her wine glass down to the centre of the table where the thickest group jumbled on top of each other. "One of our old interns is leaving us. Mallory Raines. She got in to Quantico."
"FBI?" José had watched enough true crime tv shows to recognise the name of the famous training school. "Felicitaciones! That is good news?"
"Ask her yourself." Christina took another sip of wine. "She's right there."
And that, Jose recognised, was the end of the conversation.
He nodded and headed down in the direction Christina gave. The group had thinned a little. Some headed off to the bathroom, some moving on to other conversations further down the table. So Jose was able to see clearly the woman - híjole, she was little more than a kid - that was the cause of all this fuss.
Average-size, coffee-skinned with black corkscrew curls tied back in a small club at the base of her skull. Her features were simple. An artist would praise the clean lines, the gentle curves. Jose only looked at her and thought, dios, but the girl would age well. Like his own Clara.
She looked a little lost now. The clamour of her friends had gone and with them the big smile she had been pinning on like a pro. Sunk in on her own company, her tawny eyes darkened. Second thoughts?
No, Jose thought. Bad memories. Bad memories and old ghosts. He recognised that look too well.
Sympathy had him going up to her, giving that thin shoulder a tap.
Two tawny eyes, the color of amber, turned up to him. For a second, Jose caught the same sadness again, like a ghost lingering in the back of the girl's head. Then a polite smile came down like she pulled a half mask right over her face.
"Yes? Sorry, if it's about the noise-"
"No, no. Not at all. Your jefe, Miss Carleton, she tells me that this celebration is for you. I wanted to say, ah, congratulations for your new job."
"Your family is very proud, like your friends, hmmm?"
Again the guarded look and the careful smile. Well, Jose reflected, she was a private investigator.
"My brother is. Thank you."
There was a hesitation even behind that. Too much information given? Jose mused. Or something else?
His nose, always on point when it came to his customers, said the latter.
A bright jingle broke the awkward silence. On the confetti- and glass-strewn table-top, a rectangle of black plastic hopped and buzzed.
Mallory Raines reached out with one long-fingered hand and turned the flashing screen over on reflex. The name on the little blue screen sent a frown between her eyes and she glanced up at Jose.
"Please, señorita." Jose shook his head. "I only wished to say good luck. I'll let you get back to that phone call."
Because if the look in your eyes is anything to go by, chica, you'll need every speck of luck you can get.