A handful of empty days passed by Walter who had fallen into a rut after his defeat at Maika’s office. He wasn’t sure how to continue, even with the ring. In all of the books he had read — yes, he understood that they weren’t instruction manuals — that first visit was supposed to lead onto the rest of the case but here he was, sitting alone on his mattress, staring at this nonsense inscription on the inside of the ring.
He held it up again beneath the yellow-tinted halogen lights of the office, designed to keep busy workers in a sleepless frenzy, and studied it with his own tired eyes. It appeared to read ‘ILVCZ’, but what did it mean? Was it some kind of Roman numeral code for something?
1, 50, 5, 100, and… did the Roman’s have ‘Z’ in their numerals?
Zero? As far as Walter could remember, the Romans had no concept of zero. It was the Ancient Greeks… or the Ancient Egyptians. Why did his old high school opt for the most useless of factoids when there was actual learning to be done?
After a brief internal conundrum about the British education system, Walter returned Maika’s ring to the breast pocket of his over-worn dress shirt. It was quite similar to the one that his rival had worn so, on the bright side, at least he was knocking the uniform out of the park. It’s just a shame that everybody went the other way… because of the smell.
Speaking of the smell, Walter had been wrapping the ring up in bits of tissue paper made freely available in the office toilets, hoping his stench wouldn’t rub off into the diamond or something. He had been considering Tony’s words carefully; “she’s never without her wedding ring.” If that was the case, she wouldn’t have just taken it off. What if it was the first step to asking for ransom? Next time around, he’d find a finger…
Today, Walter decided he would return to the office, hoping inspiration might strike. Better still, maybe his rival had returned everything she lifted and he’d be able to look through Maika’s old case files. If nothing else, he figured he’d be able to chat to the abhorrent neighbours and learn something new about Maika’s habits, not that he expected to get much out of them.
He took the elevator back down to the lobby where Amiin had fallen asleep with his head in his hands. Walter passed by him, quietly, making a semi-circle of steps until he was stood in-front of his friend. A brief experiment, how light of a sleeper was Amiin? Would he be able to sneak past him in an emergency?
He tapped the top of Amiin’s pedestal desk, and the man sprung into action like some kind of marionette. “Yes, hello. How might I help you?” He had lurched forwards, whipping out an entrance pass, and offering it to whomever happened to be standing ahead of him.
Walter took it, “that’s not a good habit to get in to.”
“Sorry, late night.”
“Honesty, I like it. I’m going to get some lunch, would you like anything?” asked Walter. “I’m going to need another taxi afterwards, so I figured I’d ask this one first.” He had enough spare cash to feed himself and his friend for the day and still be okay for the month; it was a Thai food kinda day. Walter knew the Head Chef of the local restaurant on a first-name basis and, oftentimes, he was able to get a free, nearly-expired meal from the guy.
It was a solid, albeit one-sided partnership so, now that he had the means to pay, he figured he should.
“I’ll take whatever,” said the man. “I’d kill for some meat, mate. I skipped breakfast on the way out.”
As he was almost out of the door, Walter called back, “I’ll be right back then."
The restaurant was just a simple 10-minute walk away but as he arrived on the scene, he knew lunch would be more difficult than it needed to be. Through the large front window, Walter spotted a familiar outfit standing out in the uncrowded eatery; the rival detective was ordering lunch, a perfect time to strike!
He approached from behind like a lioness, making sure he didn’t spook his gazelle. He wanted to leave an impression on her, revenge for threatening his life. As he drew closer, his mind blanked: for one thing, like a dog chasing cars, he wasn’t sure what to do in the moment once he had it. Secondly, it appeared he had walked right into the most uncomfortable moment in London: listening to the rival detective order her food was torture to the ears.
Stuttering and spluttering, she was impossibly nervous for somebody trying to make it very, very clear that she didn’t want any draws atop her hot noodle box. The head chef was having none of it, however, and simply crossed his arms in front of her.
Walter stood behind the two of them for no less than three minutes as she tried to make the return like a child, lost in a supermarket. For the first two-thirds, Walter was eating it up but, as the clock made it around again, he began to feel sorry for her. It’s not like it was her fault, y’know? Everybody gets nervous in social situations, some more than others. It did no good in the world to just sit back and chuckle, so he stepped around her side.
“Just give it here,” he said, reaching out for the box. “I’ll have hers, and another just like it. Then, you can make her another without the shellfish, all right?”
“Walter?” the two spoke in unison, one significantly harsher than the other.
“Listen,” continued the head chef. “We told you that you can come around every so often but today ain’t one of those days, okay?”
“No,” said Walter, retrieving a single note from his pocket, “but I can pay this time, really!” As he reached over to the chef, passing the note between their fingers, Walter caught the rival detective attempting to make a break for it. His only option was an effective one as he stuck his leg out behind him, tripping the detective up in the middle of her dash. Buckled by a great sense of pathos and regret, Walter helped her back to her feet and whispered; “don’t you want your food? We need to chat, I’ve got something that might help our investigation.”
The food came quicker than expected and, although the chef kept the change, Walter could tell that their meal would be delicious once paired with their partnership. But in order to speak about the case, both he and the rival detective needed somewhere private where nobody would be able to listen in.
“How about my office?” suggested Walter as the two wandered back to the large building, manned by a hungry Amiin who was ecstatic to have warm food in his hands on such a cold, April morning. The last step between them and their conversation was a short elevator ride upwards to the eighth floor, stopping at the second to allow two-well dressed office workers into the elevator.
They clearly worked on the top floor; their stress levels had hit the metaphorical roof and they wore brushed steel name tags which introduced them as ‘David’ and ‘Paige’. The former, a stocky suited man either in his late 50’s or permanently ravaged by an early-start tobacco addition. You could’ve set up city-wide bicycle parking across his face, with permission of course. And, whenever he spoke, thin whispers of moustache were carried off into the aether. “Any gossip?”
The latter checked her phone as though she hadn’t seen it in weeks. “Nothing much,” she said as she tapped through with one hand’s chewed thumbnail, and gulping down the remainder of a lukewarm flat white with the other.
“You seem stressed. Did you not think the meeting went well? I thought it was fine.”
Paige choked on her coffee trying to stifle a snort, “David, they’re trying to kick us out of the building. I’m too busy for this, I’ve got other projects I need to be working on!”
Unsure which direction to take the conversation, David tapped the 12th floor button three additional times as the cab began to rise like he expected it to just skip over Walter’s 8th floor choice. As he squashed himself past the two of them to be closer to Paige, Walter’s rival began to stiffen up again. It was clearly unfamiliar faces that gave her goosebumps or, at least, unfamiliar faces who haven’t showered in six weeks.
If Walter wanted to join her in this case, he would need to help her get her guard down but, considering the location they were about to have their meeting in, he figured it would be rather difficult.
“Oh yeah, I heard from Daphne,” said David as the elevator slowed to a halt; opening, and allowing Walter and Poppy to step out before the man returned to the 12th floor button to stab at it again, this time glaring at Walter for no good reason. “You’re working on an archeology start-up, right?”
As the doors began to close, Walter caught eyes with Paige as she gulped down the last mouthful of coffee. She, unlike her cohort, took the time to smile as she lowered her coffee cup, revealing a small ring piercing above her teeth. “Architecture,” she said as the doors bordered her face, and shut tight.
The rival detective had already wandered off down the hallway towards the unlocked office door. “So, this is your office?” She wasn’t excited and, in all honesty, Walter could understand why she might not want to be there. The lack of a name plaque outside of the office probably gave its uninviting nature away instantly.
“Don’t worry, you don’t have to stick around for long.” He gestured for her to enter and so she did, able to handle herself in any kind of shady situation that might arise… which it wouldn’t! Sure, Walter was down on his luck but he wasn’t some kind of criminal.
He wasn’t some kind of murderer, anyway.
“This is where you live?” she asked, “I understand now why you decided to take on Sweet Tooth’s mantle. I can spare you some money for food, if you’d like?”
He almost felt teary eyed; “that’s a really nice offer, thank you. Anthony Todd gave me an advance for my work and plus, once I crack this case, I’m going to have all the money I need.”
“That’s a shame.”
“I had assumed that you were bringing me here to give me the piece of evidence — which, by the by, you have probably tainted and made useless — and drop out of the running. Let me make this very clear,” she squared up to Walter, eyebrows furrowed and pupils contracted, overshadowed by their green overcoats.
Walter’s instincts almost got the better of him as he reached upwards to grab the pointed collar of her pristine button up. He had developed a working knowledge of drunken combat, knowing how and when to diffuse a fight before it became ugly. She wasn’t likely to attack him but this rival detective had clearly seen some shit in the past. She recognised his defensive twitch and made a move herself, pushing his hand back with her forearm.
“There’s no reason to fight.”
“Let me make this very clear,” she repeated, showing off her fangs like a threatened cobra. “I’m not looking for a partner. Just hand over the evidence, Walter. I’ll happily pay you if I have to, just drop it.”
An uncomfortable sensation rolled over Walter and passed through his entire body; hairs stood up on their end and pimples formed up his arms. This rival detective’s menacing stare pierced his defences like hot iron, searing away any remnants of a half-decent argument. If he couldn’t even back himself up, how would he be able to convince her that he was worth taking on?
Even still, why was he so obsessed with becoming a detective in the first place? He could just take the advance and her payment for the evidence and be on his way. This was the most active he’d been in ages: he was able to hit the street without needing to scamper for loose change, just to get to sleep that night. He was exhausted from thinking, that was an incredible feeling. With this detective malarky, maybe he was on the right track to personhood, evolving from the stain he’d been for the past couple of years. At the very least, the cash Tony was offering would cover more than a year’s worth of food and drink; he’d be able to buy some new clothes, he might even be able to put down a deposit for a flat share, or even look job interview ready.
Why was he wasting his time? No matter what pose this rival detective struck, Walter had all of the power. He could see it in her eyes; he hadn’t even mentioned the contents of his pocket and yet, she was offering a cash reward. She was clearly missing something vital, and it was in Walter’s possession.
“This is how it’s gonna go down,” he announced stepping backwards from the rival detective. “I’m not going to let this go, okay? I’m going to tell you my theory, then I’ll show the evidence — which ‘by-the-by’ I’ve been handling carefully — and then,” he paused for a quick breath and a smile because, in his own opinion, that was quite the burn. “You’re going to tell me your name, partner. Because I’m clearly the better detective.”
He pushed it a little too far with that last bit.
The rival detective pushed herself back and straightened up her blazer; it was a light sea foam green this time around, white buttons, white trim. She let out a long sigh and rubbed the space between her eyebrows until it was read, “go for it, Walter.”
“Lemme break it down for you; Maika Poisson hasn’t been person-napped.”
“You are literally already jumping to conclusions.”
“Can I add ‘shutting up until Walter’s done’ to the list?”
“Good, right. Maika Poisson hasn’t been person-napped because the ‘napper you’ve had to know who she is, right? To the public, she’s just a regular old private investigator and, to those who are privy to Tony Todd’s private life, she’s just his wife.”
“Just his wife?”
“N— not just his wife. And that’s not the issue here! Todd’s not exactly the biggest deal in London, right?”
“Right. There are plenty more ransom victims out there who don’t own the biggest law firm in London. That’s a risky fish, y’know? It’s gonna bite you.”
“You’re jumping to ransom now?”
“You’re not even listening to me, are you?”
She shrugged again.
“After you fled the office, I found this!” Walter produced the tissue-paper wrapped ring from his breast pocket and revealed it like some kind of childish magic trick; the shocked, vinegar-ridden expression which washed over the rival detective’s face would never leave his mind.
“G— give that to me!”
“Ah, ah, ah!” said the pleased detective, pulling himself back from his rival’s grasp. “This is her wedding ring, isn’t it? Like Tony said, she’d never be without it… unless she wanted to be.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I reckon she’s just cheating on him, y’know? It’s not big, it’s not grand, she’s just bored. Maybe the affair’s gone on for a bit and she’s chosen this persona over Tony. Case closed, what’s your name?”
“That’s… reasonable, actually. I figured you’d jump for something more childish but ‘adultery’,” those air quotes came from here, “is a private investigator’s main vocation.”
Walter awaited a pat on the head that never came.
“Unfortunately, just having the ring isn’t enough. You’ve got no substantial evidence and, even if she was abducted — that’s the word, not person-napped — she might’ve dropped the ring in the struggle. Can I have a look at it?” He backed away a little big, protective of the diamond. “Oh don’t be a baby, I just want to have a look at it. Where do you think I’m going to run?”
He did as he was asked, “she couldn’t have just dropped it. I found it in the curtains.” He immediately started to regret his explanation now, it made less sense as he mulled it over in the back of his mind. Would you just up and disappear entirely if you wanted to break up with somebody? Maybe, if Tony had some kind of prior history in violence? At the very least, you’d pawn the diamond or something, not that money appeared to be a issue for Maika. “Hold on,” he spoke up as the rival detective started to breathe upon the diamond, “what if she left it as a clue? What if she has been abducted and this was her letting us know?”
“That’s what I was thinking,” she said, “but this is a fake.”
“Look. A real diamond wouldn’t fog up because it disperses the heat from your breath immediately. Why would Maika have a fake ring in her office?”
“Could she have worn it during an investigation?”
“She would not wear marriage jewellery during an investigation, remember? She had to keep her personal life a complete secret.”
“I was on such a roll.”
“You were,” she pocketed the ring and the tissue paper. “You’ve definitely got potential, Walter Welles, but this is clearly a deep case. You should leave it to the professionals, okay?”
“Professionals? Who do you think you are, Sweet Tooth?” Walter snapped at her, “fine, take the ring, and get the hell outta my office.”
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