The following morning, Walter Welles emerged from a cocoon of early 40’s pulp fiction novels, ready to face his first day of detective-ing. By now, the real Sweet Tooth would have definitely received word of his insolence; an imposter was afoot. If anything, Sweet Tooth was probably actively seeking Walter out to make sure that he wasn’t some kind of spy or rogue envoy.
Yeah, he was in deep trouble that he hadn’t actually perceived until he departed from Anthony’s mansion. If he didn’t come out on top or, at the very least, play a part in Maika Poisson’s return, he’d probably be sued into oblivion for taking Sweet Tooth’s advance. I mean, he’d likely get sued anyway, but he’d at least have a bit of leverage. You don’t mess with the largest law firm in the city, anybody could tell you that.
Evidently, it’s not actually easier to ask for forgiveness.
A library lifted copy of Cain’s ‘Double Indemnity’ was plonked onto the windowsill where the mother across the street was stringing her morning washing outside her flat’s safety window. Meanwhile, her children prepared themselves for school; it seemed like a real, simple life compared to the one who’s shoes Walter had just half-stuffed his size eight’s in. He could see her in the reflection of his office home, a location made more appropriate by circumstance.
It was a simple four room layout, two big, two small, sharing a floor with two identical rooms just like it. If he were to set up here, his name could be stuck to the glass of the front door: ‘WALTER WELLES INVESTIGATIONS’, or ‘WELLES & CO.’ if he had the cash to employ assistance. It could be a seating area for drop-ins, who would enter the main area to discuss their cases. At the moment, it was only home to empty bottles and a mattress but, in the future, it could have a desk, some filing cabinets, maybe even a fridge. If a tough case required long hours, he could sleep in the small, private office and work out the details in his dreams.
The bathroom could stay the same, it was fine.
The best course of action — according to the 11 books Walter skimmed through the night — was to start at the scene of the crime. Unfortunately, considering Poisson just up-and-disappeared, that location was unknown. Tony had revealed the location of a relatively small office down at Canary Wharf but their situation meant that he himself had never stepped foot in the area, let alone the building, or the room itself.
His considered his journey; from Old South Road to Canary Wharf, it would take him more than an hour and a half on foot but it was Walter’s only opti— wait. Walter placed his forehead against the glass window and smiled to himself where, at that exact moment, the mother caught him staring. In desperation, Walter chucked himself backwards, tripping over his sunken mattress, and bashing his dumb head against the hardwood floor of the office, possibly catching the attention of the accountant who worked beneath him.
He didn’t mind though; Walter didn’t have to walk, he had cash in hand! A reality confirmed by the two off-white cubes of Chinese takeaway which sat beside his reclaimed alarm clock. If he was forced out of his office home, he could probably afford a couple of peaceful nights at a local hostel or backpackers retreat but, all things said and done, he’d rather spend it on food. Anyway, these grey speckled walls had almost become familiar to him by this point, and he quite liked Amiin the Doorman from below who believed he worked as a mail-room clerk for the large business upstairs which spanned the whole top floor.
He was an impolite yet endearing man who would often gaze towards his A4 booklet of the day’s visitors to whom he would grant an entrance badge and an elevator code with an apathetic grimace. They’d be chock full of excitement and ambition until they met Amiin and his sour ‘I bet my life savings at the racehorse track and lost, three times’ facial expression. The only person who could’ve cracked a smile out of the man was Walter, and even that was rare.
Walter had managed to swindle himself a badge-and-code combination thanks to the arrival of four interns. They took very little convincing thanks to his… “boyish charm”.
Those are not my words.
Sure, he spent the day unpaid, getting coffee for one of the scummier companies in London, but he learned a valuable lesson about his own abilities and, as far as Amiin knows, Walter is the only one of the interns who left that day with a job because he had “the tenacity to stay later than everybody else” (read: “found a unlocked office to sleep in”).
On his way out of the building, Walter thanked Amiin for his hard work that morning and asked whether or not this 5’7, suited, sport science graduate would be able to call him a taxi. In a particularly good mood, Walter apologised for always causing his friend trouble and offered a small roll of notes; about £25, but it looked much more impressive in a money clip.
“Moving up in the world?” asked Amiin.
“Aye,” Walter tapped his nose, “but don’t tell anybody, all right?”
“Cocaine? Mate, you’ve got to be kidding me!”
Was Walter getting too old for this? That’s not what tapping your nose meant the last time he did it! “No, Amiin,” said the newly christened detective. “I’m working my way into a new opportunity. It’s just a secret, okay?”
Amiin looked left, right, and centre before speaking, just in case his manager was within earshot. “Self-employed? I like it. Take me with you, yeah?”
“Absolutely, we’ll see where it goes.”
“Yessir.” As the man saluted, Walter’s ride made itself apparent, reflected in the shine of Amiin’s bald head. The doorman’s words followed him through the glass revolving doors and into the traditional black taxi cab, “make sure you don’t forget me when you hit the big time, mate.”
Walter would’ve been happy with Amiin by his side, he figured. He seemed like a loyal guy and, while his attitude got the best of him on his cloudier days, he had some relatively applicable experience in the field of… what is sport science, anyway? If, perchance, the P.I business welcomed him with open arms, Amiin would absolutely have — at the very least — access to an application form.
Cradled by his first car seat in months, a plan began to formulate in the mad box that Walter envisioned his mind. There was a show on TV, an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, that was broadcast when he returned to his parents home after dropping out of university. The main character, Sherlock, would imagine himself in a big, white room that they called his Mind Palace.
It was stupid, and it definitely didn’t work.
All Walter could picture was a box and, on top of it, a pie.
It was a long-forgotten memory of a pie, sprung from advice bestowed upon him during his high school exams. A friend of his, Chris B. who used to play Front Row in their school rugby team, offered him the following: “just think of pie,” he said. “Slice into it, and the answers will just flow out.”
It was stupid, and it also definitely didn’t work.
Walter approached the box, and the pie, and tossed them to the side where they dissolved into the dust of bad anecdotes yet to tell. In their place, he sat and considered his impending actions. He knew how to get into the victim’s office, but what was he supposed to do once he was in there? The thought itself was a crime, so did it really matter what he touched afterwards? He didn’t want to spoil any evidence, he supposed, but the police weren’t interested and he had neither the knowledge nor the equipment to scan for DNA and enhance fingerprints.
The taxicab pulled up outside a scummy off-kilter block of flats which emanated the whole ‘I don’t want to be caught here’ ambience Walter assumed Maika would project on a daily basis to keep her and her husband and their relationship safest. It was a cheap living space, not a place for work to be conducted so the entrance was held down an alleyway and required a key to get in, not the standard digital pad.
Having lived by his own hands for so long, Walter was quite adept at a number of illicit activities which helped him get by; thievery and slight of hand. While not exactly victimless crimes, both came in useful on a daily basis and, in all honesty, Walter didn’t need to justify his acts to his morals and worrying about it was useless.
He needed to eat; it was just a loaf of bread, Aladdin-style.
Skill number three was the one which made him most proud, and it was Walter’s standard Sixth Form party trick. You can literally learn anything on the Internet, including how to pick a lock. He had no trouble unpicking lockers and doors in just a few seconds, as long as a) it was the right kind of lock and b) he had his trusty, custom toolkit with him.
Over the years, Walter had lost bits and pieces; three of the fifteen picks had been lost to the aether of different street corners or buildings, and he was down a torsion wrench but, otherwise, he was good to go. It’s not exactly something you want to be caught in the daylight doing; Walter slid the last remaining torsion wrench into the lock and the feeler pick followed, rummaging around inside the tumbler. As he fumbled and felt, the pins began to align with ease, and the torsion wrench turned.
This wasn’t the first time this building had been picked, surprising nobody. Not even Walter would’ve felt safe living in this building, Maika could’ve been person-napped from here. Having entered, Walter returned the plug to its original placement as though nothing had happened at all, and shut the door. Any internal damage could’ve been overlooked as wear and tear, it was much easier than just punching the plug through with a hammer at any rate. With that, he continued through the building.
Tony had told him that he believed Maika’s office was located at #202, placing it on the second floor but he wasn’t certain about it. There was no plaque on the front, something Walter figured was industry-wide and made him reconsider his former future plans. Inspecting the doorframe, there was no sign of forced entry although it looked as though it had been recently repainted black. It matched up with the rest of the doors on the floor, but he made a mental note nonetheless.
Three raps upon the door; it was quite exciting.
Another three raps; of course, Walter wasn’t expecting anybody to answer the door and welcome him into the crime scene.
As he struck the door a seventh time, an angry neighbour burst out on the opposite side of the hallway, yelling and screaming, “what the fuck do you think you’re doing!?”
“Sorry, I’m trying to get a friend’s attention.”
“Be quieter, some of us hafta work tonight!”
As the creature withdrew back to her cave, she slammed her own door in the process prompting another neighbour to retort with a similar open-yell-close routine.
By the time the third neighbour had added their part to the symphony of shite, Walter could rationalise Maika’s disappearance as simple ‘running away’. The third, however, appeared to be the last disturbance, offering Walter optimal time to pick the lock free, push the door open, and slip himself inside before anybody else gave him grief. A deep breath, he slid down the back of the door and opened his eyes back up.
A woman stood across from him in a three-point pose. One eye shut, the other peered down the iron sight of a gun; jet-black apart from where silver letters read ‘universal self-loading pistol’.
“Police?” declared a nervous Walter, putting on that half-forced inflection by accident as he tried to remember in which cases police officers were allowed to carry live ammunition. He wasn’t told to expect police! If anything, Tony assured him that they couldn’t care less about the situation…
…which meant this woman wasn’t a police officer at all. She certainly didn’t look like an officer in her two-piece business-style suit pulled straight out of the 90’s; grey trousers, white button-up and blue tie, and a pale blue jacket. Was she shooting a movie, or what? Her stance looked like it was copied from a textbook on ‘how to be an action hero’ and her stare was nothing less than terrifying. Silver hair, short and bobbed, revealed a distinct lack of earpiece; this was no police officer, so Walter raised his hands.
He opted to break the silence first, spark some kind of conversation in lieu of having her bark orders at him through those unfazed painted lips. “Maika?”
The woman lowered her weapon, “y— you’re…” she cleared the nerves from her throat, “are you an investigator?”
Similarly nervous, an opportunity to regain control over the conversation reared its ugly head. He lowered his hands down to shoulder height and pushed them forwards, as though extending some kind go bridge between the two of them. “I’m Sweet Tooth.”
The woman raised her weapon again, slamming that same green eye shut.
“Just a joke,” his arms shot back up into the air. “I’m not Sweet Tooth.”
“Clearly.” The woman’s nerves had been wiped away because of Walter’s dumb slip-up. She had control and it was going nowhere, “for one thing, Sweet Tooth wouldn’t try and use their stance as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. They’re an armchair detective. Do you really think Sweet Tooth even leaves their office? They’ve got a lot of enemies. And another thing…”
She went on for a bit, maintaining steady trigger discipline.
“So you’re not Maika Poisson then?” he asked, placing his hand on his forehead. “How many detectives are there in this city? I’m Walter Welles.”
“I’m not Maika Poisson, that’s all you’re getting out of me.”
“Grand, but you’re looking for Maika?”
“We should work together, don’t you think?” he asked, “or at the very least, we shouldn’t be pointing weapons at each other.”
“Are you armed?”
“You are such a bad liar, Walter Welles. That’s not something you should be flaunting in this industry,” she advised. “Are you new? You have the face of an alumni, but Spring eyes.”
“I’ve been arou— I’m sorry, the face of a a what?”
“And you are easily distracted. Look Walter, I don’t want to see you again. This is my case, I’m already all over it. You can look around the office but you will not find anything of use. Take your advance and leave, you clearly need a holiday.”
“And a shower.”
Another pause and she fled, popping out of the window, never to see his Alumni face again. He opted against taking her advice but, after a brief jaunt around the place, he figured she was right. The place had already been dusted out, no files, nothing. If anything, Walter was adding to the total weight of the room with frustrated fingerprints and sweat.
In a final bid of desperation, Walter pulled the blinds closed on his rival detection only twenty-nine minutes too late for any effect. Low and behold, however, a small diamond ring fell from the curtain’s cotton clutches.
Pocketing his find with a smile, Walter peered through the blinds — who were clearly on his side — the battle wasn’t over yet.
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