a HARPER mystery: "Bully For You" - SPECIAL PREVIEW

 

I hear old people aren't supposed to play video games. What an absolute crock of shit. Nobody ever batted an eye at my chess or poker playing, but somehow video games are a deal breaker? Fuck that. I've worked myself to nothing tracking down bad guys and ruining assholes' lives for decades. I've paid high prices for both. This is how I decompress without putting a bullet in someone or something.
      I earned this. I can't say the same for my opponent, however.
      "What the FU— YOU CAN'T FUCKING GO THROUGH THAT!" I barked over my mic, spiking the controller on the ground in front of me. Dan Hibiki's smug grin remained on the results screen, taunting me as if his victory were actually earned.
      "Enjoy your free lag points, you goddamn vulture." I frothed. "Fight me again when you have a real fucking internet connection."
      In my rage, I never heard the front door open. Never heard Margorie Waller shuffle past the 'reception desk' and open my office door.
      You see, when I'm in the middle of a match, I tend to kind of shut out the world around me. Somebody could rob me blind, and if they were quiet enough I'd never know. Or I wouldn't know until later. Either way, it would be a mistake. I would find them and I would, as I said, ruin their goddamn lives.
      That's science.
      I whipped my headset onto the couch next to me, hasty as I launched to my feet and extended a hand to her.
      "V-video games...?" she stammered slightly, half confused and wholly upset. It appeared she was already regretting her choice to come down.
      "Street Fighter." I replied. "The evolution of chess."
      I ushered Mrs. Waller to my desk, then poured her a cup of the finest discount coffee my money cared to buy.
      "It's black." I said, thrusting the mug her way and pouring one for myself, blowing back the billowing steam before sipping. "I don't have cream or sugar."
      "Why?" she asked, as if she actually gave a damn.
      "They just step on the coffee's natural flavor." I lied.
      In all honestly, I like my coffee black and I don't normally offer any to my clients. I just felt bad for that particular woman on that particular day.
      "Well... Well, you should still have them for your visitors." she sighed.
      "Noted." I nodded, hoping she'd take that as her cue to move on.
      Mrs. Waller seemed a great deal more relaxed than when we met. Shock has a way of doing that. Way back then, some sixteen hours prior, she was losing her mind at the desk of the Seattle Police Department's lead missing persons detective Robert Peterson.
      She had misplaced her young son, Michael.
      "I'm sorry ma'am, but if the subject ain't missin' for 48 hours or more, we can't officially declare it a missin' persons case. Kid 'r not." the SPD's most worthless detective said, as robotically as he could muster. "We're lookin', but our resources're limited."
      How many times a day do you suppose people hear some variation of that goddamn line? Not only is it categorically untrue, but it's a bitter pill to swallow; Your kid doesn't come home from school, you go looking for them, you do everything in your power... but it isn't good enough.
      So, as everything has told you as long as you can remember, you go to the police for help and, at first, everything goes smoothly. You might even start to have a bit of hope. Maybe little Billy, or Johnny, or whatever the fuck his name is might be home for dinner. The Amber Alert goes out with a search party hot on its heels, the search turns up zilch, and you wait.
      Then you wait some more.
      The longer you wait, the more hopeless you become. Nothing turns up. No kid, no clues, nothing. It's like you're peering into an endless void, screaming for help, but the screams are being swallowed up by the vast darkness long before they ever have a hope of reaching anyone.
      That's when reality finally starts to set in.
      This is the first time your mind begins to grasp the fact that you might not actually see your kid again. Ever. So, you go to the front desk, ask to see the man in charge, then you hear that fucking line or one like it, depending on how much of a time gap there is.
      The same person who was so helpful a few hours ago now feeds you a stock, bullshit, lie of a line that you can tell he's said a thousand times before. Normally followed by some painfully obvious platitude about how your case is special. Your case is the top of the pile. Your child is their number one priority.
      I'd seen it a million times before then, and I'll likely see it a million more before I'm dead. When I witnessed Mrs. Waller hitting that wall, I knew I had to do something. So, I approached her and presented her with my card. She looked up at me, baffled as she accepted it.
      "When you get tired of getting the run-around here, come see me." I said, turning away and heading toward the station's exit. "If you actually want Michael found, come by sooner rather than later."
      In reality, those first 48 hours are the most crucial. They try not to blatantly tell you that because they don't want to get your hopes too high or completely crush them. And it isn't that they don't want to help or that they don't care.
      They do. Mostly.
      It's just that they have a whole town, a whole city, a whole county, a whole - whatever - that they need to worry about on top of your problem. That's why people like me exist. Depending on the situation, we're a little to a lot more shady than your average cop. Or, at least outwardly so.
      We dig up secrets, and nobody likes a relentless pursuit of the truth.
      We know how people really work, and cut through their bullshit. Hopefully before they get a chance to lay it on thick enough to build a house. Sometimes we solve legit cases - murders, kidnappings, rapes and the like - but, more often than not, just wind up chasing cheating spouses, digging up dirt on bosses, or some other equally tedious waste of goddamn time.
      We're not afraid to roll around in the shit with the pigs to get to the bottom of a case as quickly as possible. We're able to obsess in ways that law enforcement simply doesn't have the time or resources to. We'll put ourselves in stupidly dangerous situations, sometimes based on little more than a gut feeling.
      And it's all for the sake of the case.
      For the sake of the puzzle. For the sake of whatever bullshit line we're feeding ourselves on that particular day. We certainly don't do it for the money, which is dog shit unless you snag a rich client.
      Really, it's just the compulsion factor. We need to do it. We need to step on some toes.
      We need to know the truth.
      There are two main types of people that get into my line of work. The first, most common type are your noir fanatics. These guys watch a lot of true crime shows and detective movies. They read all the mystery novels. They actually DVR "Forensic Files" for research purposes and likely grew up on things like "Scooby Doo", "Nancy Drew", or even Dick fucking Tracy depending on their age.
      They romanticize what they perceive to be the 'detective lifestyle'. They're usually pretty detail-oriented and may even appear to be more cut out for the job than the average person but, for whatever reason, never went into law enforcement. It's quite possible they even tried to, but were turned away. Usually because of something medical or even emotional.
      These guys do have potential in them, often hidden behind layers of deep-seated laziness, or some outside factor they can't put their finger on. However, they rarely live up to it or even realize it's there.
      The other type? My type?
      They're your former law enforcement guys - cops, detectives, whatever - who were either disgraced, discarded, burnt out, or some combination of all of the above. Many would have you believe I fall into the 'disgraced' category, but in reality I was just too good. Too good and too headstrong. Dogged would be one way of describing it.
      Stupid would be another.
      I never knew - or, more accurately, cared - when to give up. I went after the wrong right guy, and it cost me everything. My career, my reputation, my home, and worst of all, to some extent, my family. Or at least the perfect version of it I had built.
      And the sick part is that I very likely wouldn't have done things differently if given a thousand second chances. Because, goddamn it, I was right. Which apparently is far more important than anything else.
      However, if those second chances came with knowledge of how the events would play out... well, let's just say I'd have a real chance at being a very different man than I am today, whether I took it or not.
      Whatever. We're not dealing with a goddamn fantasy world here. This is real life, and it's designed to chew you up and spit you out. The better the person you are, the worse you get it.
      You can bank on that.
      You may be asking what any of this has to do with missing kids, and you'd be right to. It has nothing to do with missing kids. Not on the surface, anyway. Of course, there are always more layers than meet the eye. More pawns in play. For now, let's just say I think it's important for you to understand where I'm coming from, who I am, and why I'm this way.
      My name is Reggie Harper, and I am, as you may have guessed, a private investigator. A couple of decades back however, I was the top dog on the field in my branch of the New York City Police Department's homicide squad.
      At that time, NYC had a governor by the name of Gordon Alquist. He was your typical, charismatic, mid-Western, Republican politician. He loved to talk about God and guns, often in the same breath, and made sure to hit all the 'Real American' indoctrination benchmarks.
      Like most rich asshole governors, Gordon had a spoiled, rotten, violent, arrogant asshole of a son; One Richard 'Ricky' Alquist. One night, Ricky's lovely, obedient, and wholly stupid fiancé - an heiress by the name of Valerie Swanson - washed up on a river bank. Her body was covered in countless scrapes and bruises, her skull was caved in, and her torso was lovingly aired out by fifteen stab wounds - none of which actually killed her.
      Cause of death? Drowning. Fucking drowning.
      That meant that this poor girl lived through being savagely beaten, repeatedly stabbed, and clubbed in the head only to be hucked off a bridge, still alive on impact. She was in such rough shape that there was no way in hell she'd ever be able swim to safety before the water filled her lungs to the brim, and fill her up it did.
      A couple kids found her the next morning while throwing rocks at the bottles the winos often left along the waterline. Hell of a way to become conscious of your own mortality. No way were those kids ever the same after seeing that.
      I was the first on the scene and, once I identified the victim, I was absolutely certain who did it. However, you can't just arrest someone and charge them with murder based on a gut feeling, so I had to take my case to a judge. Luckily for me, having a 91% solve record makes that part of the job a minor roadblock, especially if you know a few judges who already owe you. I always did.
      Also luckily for me, little Ricky had a history of violence.
      Like many spoiled brats, he was quick to explosive anger - a bar fight here, a bit of road rage there - usually more minor offenses. There were, however, times when someone would wind up in pretty rough shape due to one of his outbursts. Daddy's money always made them go away.
      Anyone with half a brain would remember though, and I always told my colleagues that it was only a matter of time before he went too far and killed someone, if he hadn't already, and that when he did, I'd do whatever the fuck it took to put him away forever. To lock him away so far from the rest of humanity that he may as well never've existed in the first place.
      In this particular instance, he was my one and only suspect, and after we wrapped up the crime scene and I got my warrant, I personally headed to his father's mansion. There was no doubt in my mind that was where he'd be, cowering behind daddy's girthy wing.
      The place looked like something out of a movie, all decked out in beautiful flourishes of ornamental decor, ivy growing up the sides just so, and a perfectly manicured hedge maze surrounding a massive pool out back. It's the kind of place that makes becoming a soulless politician seem like a great fucking gig.
      As I approached the front of the house, I could see governor Alquist staring out the window of his lounge. He glared at me as if I were the only spot of light in a sea of darkness he himself had spent years cultivating, only to have it ruined by one, minuscule blip.
      He knew what was coming. He knew there was nothing he could do to stop it this time. His little prick of a son would fry if I had my way, and no father wants that for his only son. Even if the piece of shit's guilt's obvious to anyone with even a modicum of sense.
      I calmly, yet sternly rapped on the door. Silence. So I banged a little harder.
      "These knocks are only a courtesy, governor." I said, trying to keep my tone as even as humanly possible. That part was always hard. Especially after seeing a crime scene like the one I had that morning.
      Still nothing. I was beginning to rage internally.
      "I've got every goddamn warrant I'll ever need, and I will not knock again." I warned.
      As my team arrived at the door, it slowly creaked open. There on the other side stood governor Alquist, his face white as paper and his voice about as thin.
      "H-he ain't here." he choked.
      "Bullshit." I said, forcing my way past him and barely breaking my gaze as I slapped the warrant against his heaving barrel of a chest.
      "Richard Alquist..." I barked into the massive hall. "Come out now, on your own, or I'll tear this whole goddamn place down around you."

 

Story, characters, and graphics copyright 2017 © Dan Burley