The night wraps itself around them, warm as a brother’s skin, liquid as a woman’s womb. The scent of her layers itself on the humid air: the musk of her sex, the salty tang of her sweat, the sweet metal of her blood. The dizzying, erotic flavor of her fear.
He runs. Smiling.
It was the doldrums of the night, the time when human energies are lowest, when the sick and frail die, when depression turns to suicide. It was a good time for hunting.
I walked along the darkened streets, bouncing on my toes, feeling a rush building in my veins. Forget the painstaking, boring searching that is the backbone of my job, this is what I love. This was why I do what I do. A purr started deep in my chest. Maybe I’d be lucky. I laughed softly. My brothers stepped out of the shadows and grinned at me.
We went hunting.
I have a few contacts on the streets. Contrary to most people’s preconceptions about what a PI does, the sex and drug scene is usually pretty far removed from the problems people bring me. But not always. And sometimes I come here looking for trouble. Sometimes I’m lucky, and find it.
Nothing too heavy. I know exactly how much Dave and Paul can live with, and I don’t, ever, step over that line.
But even for me, memories and fantasies only go so far. Sometimes I need something real.
I was looking for a line into the porn business. There was a trannie I’d helped out once, I thought maybe he could help me. But I tripped over someone else I knew first.
He was rolling a drunk. The stupid schmuck had passed out in the recessed doorway of a second-hand bookshop. He was crumpled against the door, breathing stertorously, a bottle still clasped in his hand. Cheap scotch. The smell was strong, but not strong enough to mask the smell of the guy with his back to me, his hands busy in the drunk’s clothes. I ghosted up to him. Stood close enough to breathe in his ear.
He jerked himself straight and whirled around. His hair had been cropped into spikes and dyed white-blond since I last saw him, and he had a small scar near his eye that hadn’t been there before, but otherwise he looked the same. Eyes too close together with the pupils slightly out of alignment, high cheekbones emphasized by the sunken cheeks, a grayish cast to the spotty skin. He smelled of bad food and poor hygiene and most of all, of the bitter-sweet chemical cocktail of the drugs he consumed.
I smiled. ‘Hey, Pisser.’
He swallowed nervously. ‘Hey, man.’
‘Don’t call me man.’
He held up both hands in a defensive gesture. One of the hands held a wallet. I clicked my tongue and shook my head in mock sorrow. A little fizz of joy ran quicksilver through my veins.
He said, heartfelt, ‘Shit.’
‘What did I tell you, Pisser?’ My voice was a gravel purr, not trying to hide my pleasure.
He tried bravado. ‘You told me lots of things, ma—’ He bit his lip. His eyes darted sideways, looking for escape.
‘I’m fast,’ I reminded him, enjoying his panic. He stood very still, his eyes fixed on me in a rabbit’s stare. ‘I’m strong.’ I put my hand on his skinny biceps and squeezed. His mouth opened in a soundless cry. He knew it would be worse if he made a noise. He kept his eyes on me.
I released him. ‘And I like hurting people.’ I waited expectantly.
His head moved in a jerky stutter of a nod. He took a couple of goes to get the words out, but eventually he managed, ‘I remember.’
I looked at the hand with the wallet in it. ‘What else do you remember, Pisser?’
His breath rasped. ‘I remember you like people to break the law, cos then you have an excuse to hurt them.’ He swallowed. ‘I’m putting it back, see?’ Keeping his eyes on me the entire time, he lowered himself into a squat and reached behind to shove the wallet back into the drunk’s pocket. ‘I didn’t try to lie about it, did I? I remembered that too.’ I could see the effort it took him to keep looking at me directly, but he’d learned that lesson. A trace of puppy-dog hopefulness laced his scent with acorn and peach.
‘Yeah,’ I said flatly. ‘Doing good, Pisser.’
He brightened a little and when I stepped back he stood up. ‘You want something, ma—.’ He cut himself off abruptly, his eyes dilating with fear.
That cheered me. ‘You’ve got a name for me, Pisser. Why don’t you use it?’
He shook his head violently. ‘No, I ain’t got a name for you. Nossir. I don’t talk about you, not to anyone. Why’d I need a name?’
My grin widened. ‘You sure you haven’t mentioned me, Pisser?’
The panic kicked up a notch. ‘I swear, ma—! I swear.’ I held my stare. He wiped the back of his hand across his sweaty forehead. ‘Maybe I’ve said that I got some protection, I mean, that’s okay, isn’t it? I haven’t said anything about you though! I swear. Not one thing!’
I listened to him babble for a while, then leaned one shoulder against the window. Pisser stopped talking immediately and the hopeful look came back into his eyes. I’d got him pretty well-trained. I hoped he’d lasted longer than the last junkie I’d had. Oh well, short shelf-life. And it was fun training them.
I said, ‘You know the little mall near the video arcade on Dunsmuir? There’s a florist on one side of the entrance and a shop selling papers and stuff on the other side.’
He relaxed some more. ‘Opposite the kebab place?’ I nodded. ‘Yeah sure. They make great kebabs. You should try —’ My eyes bored into his. He stopped and swallowed nervously. ‘I know it.’
‘You know the game shop?’
‘I guess. I don’t go into those shops. I mean, I don’t even know if I’ve seen it open, you know? Doesn’t keep my hours.’ He grinned hopefully, keeping his eyes on me like a love-sick puppy.
‘The guy who runs it, I hear he has another business out the back. Porn. Kids. You know anything about that?’
His whey face clouded. ‘Not my scene.’
‘I know. But you hear things.’ I reached out and ran a nail consideringly along the flaccid line of his jaw, feeling the effort it took him not to flinch. I grinned. ‘What I keep you for, eh?’
‘I can ask around, sure.’ His head bobbed up and down eagerly. Wanting me gone.
My brothers drifted around me, looking for something more interesting, sensing we weren’t going to get any more fun out of this one. I shared their disappointment.
‘Nobody better know I’m asking.’
He shook his head hard. ‘No way.’
‘No.’ I stared at him while he stood there, desperate to move, pinned to my stare like a butterfly on a page.
The minutes passed. The stink of his ratcheting desperation amused me for a while, but it also whetted my appetite. My brothers moved restlessly.
‘His name’s Bill Short.’ I repeated my client’s description. ‘He’s about thirty. Dirty blond hair, thinning on top. Moustache. No beard. Not tall, not short. Average build.’ I paused. ‘Repeat it back.’
It took three goes before I was satisfied, then I said, ‘I’ll meet you at the usual place at midnight tomorrow. Don’t be late.’
He bobbed his head, then shook it. ‘I’ll be there.’
I glanced down at the noisome heap on the ground. There was no point stopping Pisser from rolling him then leaving him here. Someone else would be along soon. I squatted down and picked him up. Useless asking Pisser to do it, a wallet was the most he could lift.
I carried him a ways down the street and dropped him on a bench on the edge of the pedestrian mall. There was a good chance the cops would get to him first. That was the most I’d do for a drunk.
I headed west again. Night club territory. Bright lights and noise and too many people. But I didn’t see any of it. I’m squatting over my keyboard grumbling over my report to the insurance company and the phone is ringing. I pick it up with relief.
‘Brother.’ I settle back with pleasure, despite the note of restraint that has been in my brother’s voice for weeks. For now it is enough to hear his voice.
‘I was afraid I’d miss you.’
‘I’m in the middle of this stupid report. And Paul’s staying home tonight.’
‘You got plans for me?’
‘You could say that.’ His voice holds amusement now. ‘It’s Mrs D. again.’
‘ ‘That young brother of yours’,’ he mimics in an old lady’s quaver. ‘ ‘Such a nice boy. So clever at finding Diana.’ ’ He laughs, and resumes his normal light tenor. For a moment it is as it has always been between us. ‘It’ll only take you a few minutes.’
‘It’s the second time this month. I reckon she’s doing it on purpose.’
‘Mrs D. or Diana?’
There is a brief silence. When he speaks again, the amusement is gone from his voice. ‘Do you want me to tell her you can’t do it anymore?’
I try to speak lightly. The truth, as there must be between brothers. ‘You want me to do it, I’ll do it.’
My brother has taught me over the years that it is not always the right time for too much truth. I try to erase my error. ‘Dave, it’s okay, I was just mouthing off. You know how much I love writing reports.’
Silence. I can tell he is mulling over my tone of voice, trying to work out how honest I am being. I smile. Let the smile enter my voice. ‘We admire her. And you know I’m desperate for an excuse to leave this computer.’
His voice relaxes. ‘I know.’ A pause, then he says awkwardly, ‘Well, I better let you get going then.’
‘See you Sunday.’ The words rush out and he hangs up without waiting for a reply.
The jagged hurt of that was still with me when my cell rang. It was Caryl with the address. It wasn’t far. A run-down part of town, but maybe my suspect lived at one of the better addresses. I went to see.