These Are The People I Meet
I guess things started getting weird when the boy showed up.
I’d been working out of this office for a few months when one day I heard a key unlocking the door. I thought it must have been one of the janitors, but when I saw the boy I thought he had a case for me.
I was surprised that he used a key, and my first reasoning was that I had left my keys in the door, but I could feel them in my pocket. So then I thought, he had gotten it off the super, but I saw it was on one of my custom detective agency key chains, so he must have found one of the spare keys I lost on an earlier case.
The boy was Chinese, no doubt about it, somewhere around thirteen by the looks of him. He was fairly clean; hair trimmed, but his clothes were old, worn, and a bit too big for him, like he had gotten them out of a donation bin and expected to grow into them. What was really striking was not the fact that he carried a sheathed sword over his shoulder and somehow made it around the city in this fashion, but that he simply and casually walked into my office, climbed atop a low filing cabinet, and sat there Indian-style with the sword across his knees like he had always been there. Much like a cat who decides to take up residence in a new spot, he saw nothing out of the ordinary about this action because everywhere was his territory.
I tried asking him who he was and where he had come from, but he made no effort to communicate back to me. I’m sure he could speak because even a mute would shake or nod their head or make some gesture to indicate that the vocal portion of the conversation would be one sided. I knew he could hear and understand me, because when I sarcastically asked him if he had taken a vow of silence, he looked into my eyes and gave me a knowing smile, and thus signaling that would be the end of my questions on the subject.
I opened a missing person’s file on him and after a few months of no leads, and no one recognizing him, I made the only logical assumption that the boy had come from nowhere. Some might think that was illogical, but if someone had been looking for him I would have found out by now, and the kid never showed or hinted that he was lost. I figured he knew better than me. Usually the only emotion that showed on his face was a mild amusement.
From then on he lived in my office; sometimes eating the food I offered, sometimes coming in eating something he had gotten elsewhere. Sometimes he would follow me around on errands or cases, and sometimes he would disappear for a few days on end only to return later, letting himself in with his key, apparently having come to no harm. With the little I knew about Chinese culture, I decided to name him ‘Sifu’, because he seemed to be a master of his way, and I could probably learn a lot from his habit of existing just to exist.
* * *
I operate my own independent detective agency. Mostly doing missing person’s cases, infidelity (both social and business), and the rare sharing of information with some members of the local precinct who have been helpful to me in the past. Business keeps me fed and clothed if not constantly entertained.
I have been in one car chase, two shootings (no one was actually shot) and the occasional brawl. I like to think I can handle myself in a fight, and any day I can get out of proving it is a good day in my book. But this last case has unfortunately, though excitingly, given me many bad days.
A woman walked into my office around mid afternoon. She was obviously trying to purport herself as being a rung higher on the social ladder than she actually was; dark brown hair piled tightly and misshapen atop her head, garish designer knock-off skirt-suit, and slightly too much make-up over a shade lighter than naturally sun-kissed skin. All together it came off as hokey and amusing, but underneath the façade she appeared attractive. Not just that, but she was shapely where her clothes tried to conceal her curves and she had a way of moving that was frowned upon in decent company. The kind of woman a man could devote his whole paycheck to.
I was reading the newspaper and examined her out of the corner of my eye when she spoke.
“Excuse me, is this the Nick Cypher Detective Agency?”
“That’s what it says on my door.”
The classics never go out of style.
“You come highly recommended.” she said this as if reading from a script and approached my desk.
“I should hope so.” I said and gestured to the chair on the other side of my desk. “By whom?”
“Well,” she began and sat down. “The Lanford and Steinmeck Agency.”
I remembered that Larry and Stubs owed me money. Sending this case my way must have been their attempt to settle up. I would latter inform them that it didn’t.
Then I noticed her stare. “Don’t mind him, that’s just Sifu.”
“Is he your child?”
“So he is a foundling then.” which was a term I had never actually heard in conversation. “Why does he have a sword?”
“It’s sort of a package deal.”
“Is it real?”
“You know, I’ve never actually seen him take it out.”
“Do you think it wise for children to handle dangerous weapons?”
“Lady, I don’t think it wise for anyone but me to have weapons, but I’m not the guy in charge. Look, is there something I can help you with?”
“Yes, my husband is missing.”
I nodded and pulled out a new file.
“How long has he been missing?”
“About a month.”
“Did you go to the police?”
“Yes, but they didn’t find anything and suggested I seek out a private firm.”
“Are you sure he didn’t just run off?”
“No. He disappeared. I came home and all of his things were there, but he wasn’t.”
“Are you sure he was really your husband?”
The woman scowled. “What are you trying to imply?”
“A lot of times these missing husband things just end up showing the guy had another family somewhere.”
“How dare you suggest such a thing! Simon was always faithful to me!”
Seriously that’s what she said.
“Yes. Delia Crabwack.”
“Mrs. Crabwack, this is how detecting works. We start off skeptical and through a process of eliminating possibilities we reach a conclusion. But whatever that conclusion is, you should know that it might not be something you want to hear. Just remember that life goes on and, most importantly, I still get paid.”
”Of course, you are right. I’m just so worried about Simon.”