"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?"|
I hated begging my temporary agency for an assignment every day. It would be easier, on me, if they just called when they had something, but them's the rules; call in or don't work.
My agency rep's disinterested tone suggested she could care less if I worked or not. "Yes."
Helping an AC guy replace filters in the air conditioning was the type of labor I abhorred. Sure, hauling dozens of new filters up to the top of a skyscraper and spent ones down kept my body fit, but the heat from the asphalt on the roof rotted my brain.
I'd already blown through the antiperspirant I'd applied that morning, and had moved on to African Queen sweating.
Harold, the HVAC pro, dangled his legs out from one of the cooling units as he inspected the vents.
"Ya wouldn't believe the stuff that gets caught in here." His voice sounded like a soup-can phone. "I've found every type of dead bird, squirrel and cat in these. I could do some crazy voodoo shit."
The image of Harold--skinny as a switch with a big bushy mustache, standing over a dead squirrel, candles burning in the background, black satin robe as he commanded Satan or some minor deity to make some buxom office employee to fall in love with him--came uncalled to my mind. I stifled the chuckle.
While Harold finished his pet cemetery rundown, I scanned the area. At thirty-two stories up, I had a great view of nothing. The city lay tucked under a blanket of haze from years of industrial abuse. A million-plus citizens couldn't give a crap about it either. That required effort.
"Isn't this the office building where an executive took a header?"
"Yeah, saw some police tape over by the edge. Delayed my yearly swap out by two weeks. Goddamn middle of summer now."
A piece of yellow and black tape flapped in the hot breeze. It mimicked a wind sock nearby.
The jumper became the water cooler talk of the moment. A stockbroker who'd been linked to insider trading decided that a swan dive made a better option than prison time.
Harold grunted like someone pulled his ear. "Goddamn! Somebody wedged this piece of shit in here good."
"No, this!" His hands appeared holding a laptop. There were scrapes where the fan had brushed against the surface, but overall seemed intact. I tried powering it on. Dead battery. The severed end of a USB cable stuck out from a slot.
"See if there"s a cable with a mouse or a--"
When Harold slid out from the vent, he produced a decapitated webcam. In his office, we found a PC power supply. As the laptop awoke from its slumbers, a password guardian halted our progress.
There're a lot of skills you pick up as a P.I. that aren't covered on the test. After cracking the passcode, I rebooted. We were greeted with an investment firm's logo and desktop. Whatever had been running at the time was no longer active, but the webcam gave me an idea where to look. One file ate up the majority of the drive. The cam must've ran for some time before the battery gave up.
Pressing play, we saw the rooftop as viewed through slats of the AC Unit. Whoever placed it there took great pains to keep it hidden. After skimming an hour of nothing, eventually two people arrived. We watched the final living minutes of the soon-to-be dead stockbroker, Harold and I growing anxious by the moment, knowing what we had. The scene played out and I dialed a number I dreaded using, but knew by heart.
"Yeah, Detective Lopez. I've got something to show you."
"What? More cheating wife surveillance footage you gonna sell to a porn site? Save it, I already have your license. You got nothing else I want."
That stung, but snark was the only language he spoke.
"You’re right, it's video. Only, it's proof a supposed jumper was actually pushed. If you still want to play Trace's Fucked Up Past, I'll fast forward this over to Channel 3. The bi-line will read video provided by..."
The killer's face wasn't visible, but a hand with faded ink on the back was visible. It held a gun.
"If you don't want your wife following you to hell, jump!"
"Dammit, Walker! Why do you have to complicate my life? Now I've got a homicide."
"I swear I won't reveal his involvement."
"It's not you. He needs the FTC investigation to stop. That only happens with your death."
I hadn't had time to change from the sweltering roof top, so I smiled and waved a hand in front of my dripping face.
"What can I say, Detective? Sometimes I like it hot."
Heat is exactly what Lopez caught over the next week. With nothing but a tattoo and a voice to go by, the case had no traction. Since the murder stalled a Federal Investigation, they took a crack as well, but if they made any more progress than Lopez, it never made the news.
I wondered why I'd stumbled upon two un-resolvable murders. Did life taunt me, challenge me to step back into the detective role I'd thrown away so greedily? Too many times I'd risked Lopez's wrath by helping him solve crimes despite the judge's specific orders not to. Luckily, I stayed clean with the adage, "wrong place, right time." I never took the credit for my on-the-spot deductions, preferring that the legally employed dicks take point in the glory department.
I couldn't though do the dance again. I'd sacada'd with fate, the tango taking me too close to losing the only thing left to me; my freedom. I consoled myself that tomorrow would be another temp job, a paycheck and a cabeceo closer to lady redemption.