'Sweet Tooth': [1] - April 1st

Case #001: The Missing Detective

Walter Welles welcomed April 1st, 2020 through a pair of shoddy, sticky-taped binoculars he once found in a skip. At this point in time, his hangover was beginning to subside because his usual tactic of begging on the side of New North Road had refused to pay off. 
    In lieu of cheap bagged wine, the once-popular interior decorator had returned to his bedroom - which, in this case, happened to be the fourth floor of an illegally inhabited but disused office space - to begin the night's ritual. He'd stuff his upper body through the crack in the safety window and leer in his stupor into the front window of a sleeping single-mother's studio flat.
    From his perch, he explained, he could see a multitude of tidbits which kept his brain in the know: a small digital clock and neighbouring, puppy themed calendar, as well as a small television which he could turn his interest towards when the children went to bed. 
    She usually stuck to a neat little routine where, at 9:30, she'd double-check that her children were asleep and not hiding in the kitchen, waiting to pull down the cupboard of glassware in search for a midnight milkshake. Come 10:00, she would settle down in front of her television for some alone time with an early 2000's sitcom but, before 10:30, she'd be fast asleep, undisturbed until a flurry of infomercials finished up the station's programming; the final call to bed. 
    Walter had been watching along in silence; his only source of real entertainment besides scrawling dirty jokes behind peeled wallpaper for the next set of clients to occupy this floor. 
    It had been six months since he moved in, perhaps the economy had taken another hit.

Walter once told me that he wouldn't be able to coax himself into sleep until 3:05 when a particular advertisement flicked on; always preceded by a second of static as though it was meant only for his eyes. Then, for about one minute, a single image of an old and battered business card would appear on the screen in black and white. 
    It read: SWEET TOOTH DETECTIVE AGENCY; LEAVE YOUR PROBLEM AT OUR BEEP, followed by small-print rendered illegible to Walter's extended eyesight. The service had been in the scattered London newspapers since its inception but nobody had yet been able to track it down.
    The service operated illegally, at least in the eyes of the law who — if you don't mind me saying — probably know what they're talking about in this case. They were unable to trace it back to a single founder; all of the work was said to be carried out by envoys working under a single, god-like detective.
    They were clever, whoever they were, boasting a conviction rate of 100% without lifting a finger. This hypnotising advertisement was the only way to get their contact details as they would change at least once a week, if not more. 
    It was this advertisement which lulled Walter Welles to sleep every night, but he couldn't quite explain it to me. He said that it was the way the screen flickered and buzzed; the imperfection of the image coupled with the inherent silence which sent a waterfall of tingles down the back of his scalp and down to his spine.

Soon, he would fall into the welcoming embrace of nocturne where, in his dreams at least, he’d be shackled to a large desk behind a grey, speckled wall not unlike those of his office habitat.
    Walter’s nights were entertained by plain and boring dreams, everything he figured to be regular. To that, he attributes his future selection of lies and choices. Until then, he would soak in the 8-hour work day, sans mandated breaks.
    But the morning would dawn sooner than he wished, screeching out in the form of an alarm clock ringing from his ancient flip phone at around 6:30am. For the first time in a year, Walter would be working. That contorted face couldn’t express it — not with that hangover — but any work was welcomed, this siren was a gift. 
    In March, Walter had ‘managed’ to ‘bump’ into an old colleague outside of their warehouse who sprung the news on Walter that he’d be unable to finish a job come April. Walter had been tasked with slapping the finishing coat on a semi-detached house in a nearby residential area, a short distance from the CBD where Walter had burrowed himself. He’d be painting both the inside and the outside but it’d be easy, short work for a man of his caliber, pocketing enough cash to last him a solid month, if need be. 
    He wasn’t one to worry about his appearance since there wasn’t much he could do about it, but he was hoping that how he rocked up wouldn’t effect this bright opportunity. Judging by the location, Walter had assumed he’d be working under the watchful eye of a low ranking politician, or perhaps a lawyer. Middle-to-Upper Class, no lower. I can’t see it now as I look at him, but Walter describes himself as “something like a homeless Cousin Itt”.
    No, I don’t know what that is either, but he wouldn’t be impressing anybody.
    He hadn’t been able to cut his mop of thick black hair in months but it was held in place by natural grease. On the lower half of his face, a spindly beard wisped out from just a few of his pitiful follicles and, further down, the smell of his only pair of clothes left much to be desired. 
    On the up and up, the sweat stains on his white button-up meant that he didn’t much care about getting paint on himself.

It was a walk-and-a-half away from Walter’s office home but wandering from the off-right of the city to the upper left-hand quadrant made of a nice breath of fresh air, shaking the dusty cobwebs from the inside of his unkempt cranium. 
    It took passing through the high street betwixt the gawking eyes, hopping between twin park fences, and tasting the intestinal-scent of a nearby paper mill before Walter had arrived on the edge of the city, and the front garden of his client which was big enough to fit at least two or three small homes in its place. 
    Two harnessed washers took care of the abundance of windows as Walter approached the thrice-painted white front door, dropping soapy residue onto the polyester shoulders of his button-up where the collective of discarded sweat and skin made sure the liquid just slid straight off. 
    A new sense of creative determination swallowed his stomach with every rap upon the door which exploded throughout his entire body in the form of crippling anxiety when the client appeared from behind it. There was a great fire in his chest and the smoke was filling his lungs and his veins, choking the very concept of human conversation from his mind. 
    It flowed from his nose in the form of snot, and from his eyes in dampness. If his body hadn’t been so sticky, every hair on it would’ve been standing at attention waiting to fire off like some kind of exotic spider. 
    “I— I’m here for Tori… I mean, Tony.”
    Thankfully, this ‘Tori’ in question couldn’t have cared less for Walter’s words. He was in the midst of another conversation on some kind of Bluetooth setup pinned to his left ear. “Listen,” he gestured for Walter to enter his domain. “I’m going to have to put this on hold for an hour, I’ll call you back.”
    His nerves found an opportune time to strike; perhaps it was the lavish entranceway which danced Walter towards a blanketed and bare front room, or perhaps it was Tony’s statures he peered down showing off an ageing collection of nose hairs, each of which had more social experience than Walter himself. 
    “I hope I haven’t kept you waiting,” he spoke without a visible hint of sarcasm but it was there, right? Had Walter already managed to piss this guy off? The ageing decorator knew what kind of area he was walking in to, but he wasn’t expecting him to immediately be this uptight.
    Walter looked around the room for a clock, “I’m not late, am I?”
    “No, no no!” Tony’s confidence slipped out from the side of one of his razor-burned chins. Why was he so nervous around him? It must’ve been the phone call, it was far too early for good news. Tony pushed his guest further into the room, almost bending his legs at the knee to get Walter to sit upon the bandaged couch. “I can get you a cup of tea if you want?”
    “No, it’s fine. I’d just like to get to work and get out of your way.”
    “Of course, of course,” he reassured Walter, placing himself nearby the adjacent armchair. “I expect you want to be gone as soon as possible.”
     The decorator took the following brief silence to plot out a timeline for the job. It was quite an intricate design. This front room alone had three archways, it would be a challenge to get it done today but that’s all he’d been given. If he didn’t get it done, he wouldn’t receive payment.
    And anyway, at the very least he expected some kind of biscuit, or sandwich for his efforts. 
    Walter missed his chance to get his word in, Tony had already begun speaking again. “Let’s just get down to it…”
    “Walter,” he repeated, shifting his body weight to the left as though he planned to take a seat but felt as though getting comfortable would offend his guest. “I need your help.”
    “That’s why I’m here, where are the—.”
    “My wife is missing. The police have been very unenthusiastic because of her… history, I suppose. I know that she’s in some serious trouble, you’re my absolute last option. Please help me, Sweet Tooth.”
    “Come again?”
    Tony finally took a seat, sending a plague of plaster dust out into the room as he slumped into the armchair. “Yes, sorry. I do understand that you’re not Sweet Tooth. I realise that he works through envoys and misdirection, but you’re working for Sweet Tooth, right?”
    Walter made no sudden movements, trapped in the glaring headlights of his own reflected image in Tony’s trickling emotion windows. The punishment kept coming; apparently Walter was told that he looked just like how Tony imagined a detective.
    “Very pulp,” he said. “No offence.”
    “Don’t worry about it?” he forced an inflection out of the side of his mouth, leaning back in the chair and crossing his legs. Without consent, his body had already adapted to this misinformation. It was acting on its own, becoming exactly what Anthony Todd wanted to see. Walter himself — the conscious Walter — had never felt so uncomfortable in his own skin.
     Was it a sign of a new beginning? How difficult could it be to just slip into somebody else’s life?
    And how hard could it be to become a private investigator? It’s not like Sweet Tooth’s envoy wouldn’t arrive later today to get the same information out of Tony, right? Sweet Tooth would get involved one way or another, Walter just had a bit of a head start on the ‘Detective King’. He inhaled, deep enough to clear the room of the aforementioned dust, and he leant towards Tony. 
     Walter had the power in his hands, “can I see a picture of your wife?”
     In silence, possibly stunned by Walter’s sudden interest in the case, Tony pulled out this thick, passport-size photograph of himself and his wife from an unbeaten leather wallet. Everything in that item was pristine, even the money, but the photo was illegible; blurred and torn. 
    She looked like a mountain goat but Tony assured him that she was the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on, not particularly helping the visual metaphor sketched into Walter’s mind.
    “Maika Poisson; she’s a private investigator herself. She always considered herself second to Sweet Tooth.”
    “I recognise that name.” 
    “Yes, she’s made quite the impression on the local detective circuit so you can imagine why the police don’t want anything to do with her. But, if she was going undercover for a case, we would’ve discussed it throughly but I haven’t heard anything from her in weeks.”
    “Poisson is French, right?”
    “French Canadian. Maika grew up in New Brunswick but she’s spent so much time over here that she’s lost the accent somewhat.”
    “That’s helpful, actually. What else can you tell me about her?”
    Tony oozed over the side of his chair as he thought for a moment, considering what Walter wouldn’t be able to see in the photograph; distinguishing marks, tendencies, health conditions. “She’s obviously very, very logical which is why I don’t think she has just run away, if you understand what I mean.”
    “Yeah, I understand.”
    “And she’s never without her wedding ring,” he added. “It’s one of her prized possessions.”
    “Is that you saying that?”
    “No. At least, I hope not…”
    “I don’t wanna upset you but, for the most part, private investigators focus on adultery, even in this climate.”
    He moved his hand over his face and scratched into three or four of the pimples produced by improper shaving, bursting them like jaundiced water balloons. “Maika focused mostly on the dealings of other, lesser investigators, when she wasn’t working in corporate crime. She’s like a spy-within-spies, a double agent? That’s a good word.”
    “So, you could say she’s probably made some enemies.”
    He bit his lip, “absolutely.”
    “And what about you? Anything you’ve done that might’ve prompted this?”
    “We’re already jumped to kidnapping?”
    “I think we just call it person-napping when it’s not a child.”
    “Just keep going, please.”
    “I’m the CEO for Ardra & Feather LLP so yes, I suppose you could say that we’ve both got enemies lurking in the shadows.”
    Nope, Walter had no idea what Ardra & Feather LLP was supposed to be referring to or, in fact, what a CEO did. He took an internal note of its existence for later reference. After all, he would find himself involved with it again in the future.
    “You sound like you’re hiding something.”
    “I thought so.”
    “Walter, this is not my first time dealing with a P.I. I wouldn’t lie to you, I’ve got nothing to gain but my wife in safe hands, but my line of work requires my utmost secrecy. You understand this, correct?”
    “I do understand… that you’re the culprit!” If his aim was to unnerve his client, Walter was done a bang-up job but, otherwise, he had lost the plot. It went against his peaceful, humorous mantra, but he had to get to the bottom of this case!
    “Is this what your job entails?”
    “It’s my job to get this stuff out of you,” he spoke with total sincerity. “Can you tell me where she frequented? Does she have an office? A coffee shop that she usually works at? Who were her clients?”
    “I can give you access to her files and her office downtown but I’ve got to stay as far away from this as I can. It could ruin my reputation, it could destroy my business.”
    Refusing to pull his punches, Walter pressed on. “You’re sounding more worried about your workplace than your wife, Tony.”
    He stood up, scraping back that feeling of power over Walter as he shouted, “do you know who I am? I run the largest law firm in London, I can’t be seen meddling in private investigations.”
    “So, you’re telling me that Maika’s not her real name?”
    “No,” Tony returned to his seat, pulling back the stained blanket as he came crashing down. Walter stood in his politeness and began readjusting the blanket behind his client. “It’s a pseudonym.”
    “I see. And her real name?”
    Shake, shake, shake. 
    “Figures,” Walter continued to fail in his adjustment as Tony’s behind sat firmly upon the remaining length of cover-up.
    “You can just leave that,” he said. “I’m waiting for a decorator to come in and give these walls a good seeing to, but it doesn’t seem like he’s going to arrive.”
    “Oh,” Walter replied as he sat back down, “typical, eh? And you don’t want anything to do with this investigation?”
    “Let me put it bluntly,” Tony returned to his feet again, catching the blanket beneath his belt and removing it with force from its seated position like some kind of slim-budget superhero. Walter could hardly stifle the grin as he watched his practical joke literally unfold in front of him, “you have not been inside this house.”
    “And I definitely didn’t see this happen.”
    “The two of us have never spoken, it was simply somebody pretending to be Anthony Todd in order to extract industry secrets. At the moment, I’m in Glasgow while this fucking decorator finishes up my home, if he ever arrives.”
    Walter stood up himself and, feeling goofy, squared up to the giant managing only to encompass a modicum of his rotund persona. Half-tempted to bump stomaches, Walter reached deep into himself and pulled what little showmanship he could offer; how would an envoy of Sweet Tooth make their exit?

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