The Trace Walker Temporary Mysteries Presents
Five the Hard Way
Case 3 – Another Trucking Assignment
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything? Preferably murder-free." I knew their policy; call in or don't work. My rep offered no response to my comment. Just an offer of an assignment.|
"Want a repo job?"
While auto repossession led to nothing but trouble, it paid well enough that I had money left over even after bail.
Falaf-out-loud, known by its fans as FLOL, was a mobile restaurant that worked the art district pimping Mediterranean fusion. Basile Andreadis hadn't paid his loan in over two months. All attempts to reach him failed. A nervous bank wanted to move fast in case Andreadis took his loan on the road.
I followed the path FLOL had listed on his website, only the truck vanished from its regular stops ages ago. That left the rest of the city. I didn't have wheels, so I called in a favor.
Cheryl Marsden, my only remaining friend, had a car.
"This is legit, right? I'm not helping you on one of your side projects."
Her paranoia stemmed from my occasional use of her DMV job to investigate things I shouldn't have been investigating. "Completely. It's a food truck repo. Judge approved me doing that."
"Yeah, but it doesn't end there, does it? Missing vehicles usually lead to a mystery. And you can't say 'no' to a mystery."
After the lawsuit cost me my P.I. license, my lifestyle and my girlfriend, Cheryl remained; the steadfast port in my storm. Years later, our friendship evolved into her as Jiminy Cricket to my mischievous Pinocchio. I lied to her too much, but she accepted I needed, occasionally, to break rules. Any romantic feelings I developed for her were crushed down by the knowledge I had nothing to offer her but a criminal record.
Cheryl's DMV access got us a list of FLOL's parking violations. Basile often slept in his truck as tickets were cheaper than rent. Using the internet map of his daily course and tickets that lay outside that, we developed a target zone. She drove while I scanned the decrepit city for the fugitive roach coach.
The claustrophobic streets added to a building feeling of dread. Instinct honed from living at the ground level of hell spoke to me. It said, finding the truck would be--not the end--but only the beginning.
4 A.M. and I should've placed money on my instinct.
Under a bypass, the burnt-out shell of the FLOL truck waited while the city placed layer upon layer of markings upon it.
Pigeon shit; each laying claim like a thousand dogs peeing on the same fire hydrant. I doubted the bank would want the truck back now.
"Trace, don't go inside."
Cheryl rested a cautioning hand on my arm. She slid it away when she realized I wouldn't be detoured. I approached the truck and drew in a breath of semi-fresh air before pulling open the back door.
After a thorough search, I found no charred remains of Mr. Andreadis.
"What now?" Cheryl asked.
I shrugged. A noise drew my attention to a transient carting his treasured possessions toward a ramshackle cardboard hobble. "Ask the neighbors?"
Borrowing some money, I questioned the homeless man and others around the scene. Several knew Basile. He often handed out leftover food at night before it could spoil. He chose that area regularly for his food drive. The sight of FLOL made them nauseous.
Basile had vamoosed before the truck burned. He'd stopped there earlier than usual, nervously watching over his shoulder as he jumped in a waiting car and sped away.
"They said the Terminator torched it, or at least some muscle-bound guy in a dark suit."
"So where'd the owner go?" Cheryl asked.
I was hired to find the truck. Tracking a missing Greek wouldn't bring me a bonus; just the ire of Detective Lopez.
"But Basile could be hurt... or dead."
"Now who's taking side projects?"
She looked to the hollowed out truck. I knew her mind wanted me to stay away from all of it, but her heart--the one that pictured an old man, scared and alone--her heart spoke instead.
"Fuck the courts. Find him."
I spent several days researching Mr. Andreadis's known friends, family and associates. Fun fact: people hate talking to the authorities under normal circumstances. A guy with no authority asking questions really pissed them off. I stepped on someone's toes. A patrol car picked me up and manhandled me all the way to Detective Lopez.
"What were you thinking, Walker? You can't investigate a missing persons' case."
So, Basile had been reported missing.
I leaned back. "I can, however, track down a deadbeat for a bank." Near enough to the truth.
"Doesn't matter. Andreadis is a material witness. He wasn't to leave town in the first place. We're working with the marshal's office to locate him."
Did the bank know this? My temp agency?
Interrogation rooms were designed to be small. It made the interviewee feel uncomfortable, trapped. Even though I knew police tactics, I sweated as I was backed against the ropes. I tried to fight my way free.
"Basile didn't take a vacation. He fled. The burnt truck was a message and he got it! Anyway, what kind of crime could a food vendor see--"
But Lopez wouldn't share. "Back off, Walker! Go back to shoveling shit or whatever your agency has you doing next."
My exit from the station was no less rough than my entry. A gray sky taunted me. I cursed. My feelings of impotency couldn't be cured with a pill. They belonged to an outsider who knew where he was supposed to be, but couldn't get there.
I resolved not to call in the next day. Maybe the day after, too. I needed a steady job with real world problems. Working temp jobs had begun to leave me feeling... incorporeal.
Not really there.