Loose Ends - California Corwin P.I. Mystery Series Book 1D. D. VanDyke / Mystery & Detective / Thrillers & Crime
California Corwin P.I. Mystery Series
D. D. VanDyke
California Corwin P.I. Mystery Series
Copyright 2014 David VanDyke
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means whatsoever (electronic, mechanical or otherwise) without prior written permission and consent from the author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Table of Contents
Books by D. D. VanDyke
Bonus Cal Corwin short story – Off The Leash
Books by D. D. VanDyke
D. D. VanDyke is the Mysteries pen name for fiction author David VanDyke.
California Corwin P.I. Mystery Series
Loose Ends - Book 1
(Includes Off The Leash short story)
In a Bind - Book 2
Slipknot - Book 3
The Girl In The Morgue - Book 4
Books by David VanDyke
Plague Wars Series
The Eden Plague
The Demon Plagues
The Reaper Plague
The Orion Plague
Comes The Destroyer
Forge and Steel
Stellar Conquest Series
The Plague Wars continues 100 years later!
Tactics of Conquest
Conquest of Earth
Conquest and Empire
For more information visit: http://www.davidvandykeauthor.com/
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July, 2005: San Francisco
I’m scribbling these case files down in hopes they’ll be useful for another woman in my position, another former cop who’s had to kiss the love of her life goodbye and settle for another.
I’m not talking about some guy. I’m talking about the Force, the Thin Blue Line, the fraternity of police I’ve been barred from.
Being on the outside looking in does have its compensations, because now I’m my own boss. I have an agency, California Investigations, named for yours truly, California G. Corwin. My leftover hippie mother stuck the moniker on me, though it’s really not so bad because I go by Cal. I’ve always been a tomboy anyway.
With a clear docket and hope for a new case this Monday, I reached down to flip the drop box open, the one inside my Mission District office off of Valencia. The sounds and smells of San Francisco streets faded behind me as the door swung shut and latched automatically, a feature that said a lot about the neighborhood.
Glancing at the Golden Gate Bridge themed clock on my wall, I saw the big and little hands were just about lining up on noon. I decided I’d let myself off the hook this time for coming in late as I’d done all right at the poker table last night, picking up a couple C-notes. I’d rolled into bed some six or seven hours ago as dawn struggled to break over the Coast Range before giving up in the windy face of cold Pacific Coast rain. When I don’t have a case I admit I tend to fall into bad habits. No problem. Short nights don’t bother me much. I’d learned to deal with them from eight years on the job.
Typical Monday morning mail filled my hands. Bills, junk, bills, junk. A coupon pack that might be worth looking through. As I sorted, a loose business card fluttered to the floor. Must not have been mailed. Hand-dropped into the slot, then.
Bending over, I used the nails on my left thumb and forefinger to lift it off the cool tiles, holding it on fingertips while I walked over to my desk. You just never know where stuff has been.
On the front the card read Miranda Sorkin, Pharm.D with the phone number printed beneath it hastily scribbled out, completely obscured with what looked like fountain pen ink, very crisp and clear. I turned it over.
Cole said you can help – PLEASE CALL RIGHT AWAY and a different, Marin County number scrawled across the back of the stiff cream stock in a hand that was probably neat on most days, but not this time. Today it seemed shaky, anxious, like a woman in trouble might write. I was no expert, but I boasted a passing familiarity with all the forensic disciplines, including the rather suspect art of handwriting analysis.
Also, I got these vibes sometimes, ever since the bomb blast. A homegrown terrorist’s handiwork had left me with nerve damage in my right hand, put some scars on the right side of my face and rang my bell but good. Ever since, I got the occasional flash of weird insight. My mother said the spirits had given me something supernatural in return for their pound of flesh, but I didn’t believe it. If anything, my brain had been rewired and not necessarily for the better.
Today, that vibe strummed a couple of nerves and piqued their interest, so I set the rectangle of pasteboard down in the center of my desk calendar and smiled.
It was nice to get a line on a new case on a Monday, especially from Cole Sage. The prizewinning investigative journalist from the Chronicle had sent me more than one lucrative commission and I appreciated it, even if I couldn’t get him to take a serious look at me.
Taking off my classic-cut gray blazer, I hiked the Glock automatic holstered at my left hip so it didn’t catch on the arm of the old captain’s chair behind my oaken desk. I tossed the jacket on the sofa across the room and reached for the phone in front of me.
When I was in my office, I used my landline as much as possible. It had certain advantages, one of which was the custom-made device it sat on that recorded everything – incoming, outgoing, voice, numbers dialed, messages, the works.
My tech guy Mickey who built the thing says by 2010 people will start to ditch their landlines in favor of cell phones, but that’s only five years away and I didn’t believe it anyway. He still thinks flying cars are just around the corner. I chalk it up to the same wishful fantasies that promise honest politicians and cheap gas, or even a black president. With Bush still in the White House and the economy in good shape that was a pipe dream.
Putting on my best professional manner, I dialed the number on the card. “Good morning, Ms. Sorkin. This is Cal Corwin of California Investigations,” I said as soon as I heard a woman’s voice on the other end. “You said Cole Sage referred me? How may I help you?”
Silence. Then, “I thought Cole said you were…”
“A man? It’s all right. I get that all the time.” I was sure she’d misunderstood Cole, a common mistake where my name was concerned. People hear and see what they expect, forming false memories that have them swearing to things that never happened.
I had a dozen different responses to her reaction ranging from polite to withering. With potential clients, I played nice. I said, “Is that an issue? I have men among my employees, fit for any necessary role.” Not strictly true – the employee part, that was. More like a mixed cast of regular freelancers.
“Yes, uh…I have a serious problem, and I need your help.” The woman sounded mid-young, thirties perhaps, like me.
“I’m in my office. Come on by.”
“Office? You have an office?”
What did she think, private investigators worked from home? I guess some probably did, but not the better sort. Without a hint of longsuffering, I said, “Yes, I do. Would you like an appointment?”
“Ms. Corwin –”
“California. Just call me Cal. Everyone does.”
“All right, uh…Cal. Call me Mira. I thought this was going to be discreet. I can’t leave my home.”
Thought it was going to be discreet? What is that supposed to mean? And it sounded like she didn’t believe Cal was my real name. What did Cole tell this “Mira” about me? I brushed my sable bob back behind my left ear, a nervous habit that diverted attention from the scars on the right, and asked, “Can you explain what this is about?”
“Not over the phone. This is a prepaid cell but I want to talk face to face. I want to see what kind of person you are.”
I shrugged mentally. Clients were quirky sometimes, but as long as they paid… “All right. If I have to come to you, I’ll be on the clock. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. I have money.”
A client with money was always a welcome sign to an independent businesswoman like me. “Where are you?”
Mira gave a Mill Valley address, and then said, “I’m not entirely sure they aren’t watching the house. I’ll leave the back gate open and you can come in there if you don’t mind.”
What “they,” I wondered, but decided to ask when I got there. I paused a moment as I wrote, long enough for Mira to ask, “Did you hear?”
“Yes. I’ll do my best to be discreet. See you within an hour.” I put the phone down and put my feet up on the desk to let myself mull things over for a few minutes. I’d often been accused of doing rather than thinking, so forcing myself to employ my “little gray cells” was a good exercise in discipline.
A house in Marin County’s Mill Valley meant upper middle class, except for a few older folks that bought long ago and didn’t sell out to the yuppies. North across the Golden Gate Bridge from the City, Marin was upscale for even its downscale residents, rivalled in the price of housing only by San Francisco proper. Mira’s accent had been pure West Coast, though without the stereotypical Valley-hippie-airhead tones the rest of the country associated with California.
Someone was watching, Mira seemed to think, perhaps tapping her phone or the house itself, and she worried enough to try a bit of cloak and dagger. I attempted to tease out more observations, Sherlock Holmes style, but the only thing on my list was the fact that the client claimed not to be able to leave her home, yet the business card had been hand delivered.
I was throwing on my blazer when I heard the groan. Instinctively my left hand dropped to the butt of my weapon, right reaching for the phone again. That was another reason I liked the hard line – 911 had a much better response time and the dispatch center would see my name and address on their screens.
“Mickey?” I called, easing over toward the open door at the top of the stairs leading to the floor below.
A strained voice drifted up. “Yeah, boss. Sorry.”
I took my hand off the weapon and descended the steps quickly. On the lower level – technically not a basement as it walked out the back into a common courtyard-cum-private-parking-lot – I flipped on the light.
“Ow, ow – please, Cal.”
I picked my way across the floor cluttered with computer gear and rotated the blinds open before turning the ceiling light back off from the nearest switch. The overcast of the day provided soft but sufficient illumination to reveal the corpulent body of Mickey Tucker, my…well, it was hard to say just what he was. Lost soul, hacker extraordinaire, sloppy puppy, champion online gamer, research assistant. Mickey was all of those things, and often put his considerable talents to work for the relatively cheap price of computer gear, crash space and food money.
“Mickey, how many times have I asked you to just close the door at the top of the stairs and move the little slider to ‘The Wizard is IN.’ Someday I’ll end up shooting your sorry ass.”
“Some days I wish you would.” Mickey sat up on the old overstuffed sofa that served him as crash space and rubbed his eyes with the back of his pudgy hands. He reached for a half-empty thousand-pill bottle of generic aspirin sitting on a subwoofer and palmed a handful into his mouth, following it up with a swig from one of the dozen half-filled plastic bottles of flat diet soda scattered around the place.
“A double. Been here since Saturday, trying to beat the boss on Level 666. No cheats.”
“No cheats, eh? So did you?”
Mickey shook his head. “Nope. Think I passed out. Woke up on the floor. Crawled to the couch…”
I sniffed. “At least you still have something to look forward to. That and a shower.”
“Yeah. Sorry. I have some deodorant in the bathroom. Got any food?” he asked hopefully.
“No, but I have a case, which means you have a job and you can buy yourself breakfast. Stay near your gear, all right? I need you to actually work today.”
Mickey licked his lips and put on puppy eyes above his scraggly beard. “Umm…”
Understanding perfectly, I took out a money clip from my front jeans pocket and peeled off a twenty. “That’ll get you something from Ritual Coffee. Here.” I photocopied Mira’s business card, back and front, on the all-in-one printer, and then handed it to Mickey, taking the copy for myself. “See if you can lift the original number from under that scribble. After that, find out all you can about one Miranda Sorkin, pharmacist.”
“Above or below the line?”
I chewed my inner lip. “Above, for now. I’ll let you know when to start tunneling.” I could afford to hire Mickey as a researcher, but didn’t want to promise him a lot more for hacking until I found out what this job would pay. While I wasn’t behind on my bills right now, I detested a negative cash flow like Mickey hated losing his T1 line.
“You got a working sniffer?” I went on.
“Sure…around here somewhere.” Mickey rooted among some equipment and came up with a box the size of an old transistor radio.
I took it, checked the battery, and thanked him with a nod while sliding it into my blazer pocket.