Sunday, April 25, 2010

Accounts Receivable

About a week-and-a-half ago I helped spread the word about the flash fiction contest overseen by Chad Rohrbacher. Here's my entry. The others will be posted through Monday at 5:00 PM at Chad's Site.

Accounts Receivable

Jason Worthington told Daniel Rollison he had a week to find his daughter. Rollison listened to the information Worthington had for him and it wouldn't take more than three days. It took two.

Worthington had wanted her found alive.

Rollison almost made it. Girl hadn't been dead ten minutes when he found her in the emergency room, tubes up her nose and in her mouth and down her throat, pale as fresh snow. Overdose, which was why Worthington wanted her found in the first place, so she wouldn't. Now Rollison was back to get paid.

"I'm not paying you a goddamn cent," Worthington said. "Cindy's dead."

"I'm sorry about that, I really am. The payment's for my time. I never told you I'd bring her back."

"You said you'd bring back a receipt. Something she'd signed to prove you found her. You were up on your high horse, preaching ethics about how you had no way to be sure what I might do if I knew where she was and all you'd do was find her and tell me how she was. Well, she's dead, and you don't have anything signed by her. I won't pay."

Rollison liked splitting hairs even less than he liked working fifteen-hour days to find a dead girl. "Mr. Worthington, I know this is a tough time for you, but a contract is a contract."

"And my daughter is dead. You want your money? Get a lawyer, and good luck to you."

"I won't need a lawyer. I won't need much luck, either."

This time it did take three days. They met next at Worthington's home. Rollison handed him a two-inch thick manila folder, rubber banded to keep the pages from falling out. Then he sat in the leather wing chair across the desk from Worthington and watched his composure slip away as quickly as a junkie's friends.

"How did you get this?" Worthington's voice was as dry as if he'd had no water for a week.

"Which part? The part where you help Russell Bailey launder his drug money through the laundromats? Or how you finance the occasional random kilo yourself for a taste of the profits? How you sold weed for party money in college? Maybe you wonder how I found out about the hookers and how you like to role play? I hadn't heard of your 'border patrol and illegal immigrant' variation before. Only Hispanic girls for that, I guess. Or Hispanic boys."

Worthington raised a handful of papers, his elbow on the desk. "You're a private investigator. I read your references, I know you're good, but this—this is law enforcement. I don't even know how law enforcement would know some of this."

"Did you ever check what I did before I went private? Doesn't matter; you wouldn't find anything. I worked for a government agency. The acronym might mean something to you; probably not. This agency has access to a lot of information."

"But you don't work there anymore."

"I have friends."

"But they can't just hand that information out."

Rollison raised a finger to stop and scold. "You're confusing illegal with impossible."

Worthington's shock veered toward outrage. "What did this cost you? You must have paid ten times what I owed you to get all this."

"I didn't pay a cent. I told you, I have friends."

"I have friends. Everyone has friends. Friendship only goes so far." He looked at the disheveled stack of papers in his hand. "What was this worth to you?"

"Let's not argue semantics. I have friends; you have whores. Friendship for you is a cash transaction. The kind of friends I'm talking about have my back because they know I have theirs. All I had to do was let out the word you wanted to screw me." Rollison picked half an inch of paper from the pile in the open folder. "I could've had twice this much."

"What are you going to do?"

"Cash the check you're about to write."

"It's blackmail, then."

"Blackmailers don't take checks. You owe me for three days' work." Rollison reminded him of the figure.

"That's all."

"You seemed to think it was a lot when you refused to pay."

Worthington scanned the papers in his hand, gathered everything back into the folder and took his time closing it the best he could. "You can't really use any of this. I'm not a public figure. It's not like I have a political career you could ruin. Considering its source, none of this is admissible in court. The friends who helped you would be in more jeopardy from exposing this than I will."

J.D. Crawford once told Rollison during a surveillance that it's easier to pull a stallion off a mare than to get a nickel from a rich man unless it was for something he could either show off or fuck. It depressed Rollison to be reminded of how wise J.D. had been. "You're missing the point. Very little of what's in there came directly from my friends. They provide what's called background. They lead me to people with the most direct knowledge of your weaknesses. Then I squeeze. May I?" He nodded toward the folder.

Worthington pushed it across the desk; Rollison sorted through the documents. "Here. A statement from Russell Bailey himself. None of what my friend told me is in here, but Bailey would much rather cop to this and have to cut a deal than face what I threatened him with. And you have no idea how much whores love to talk about their johns."

Worthington spent three minutes skimming. His eyes moved across the pages faster or slower, depending on what he saw. He squinted a couple of times, pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger once. Then, taking care to show his hands and move slowly, he took a leather-bound checkbook from the top drawer of his desk and asked again how much he owed. He used an old-fashioned fountain pen to write the check without another word.

Rollison shook the check dry and put it in his wallet. Said thank you. Stood and turned for the door—he saw no reason to shake hands—made half a dozen steps before Worthington spoke.

"You really did all this in three days." Not a question, but Rollison knew one was coming and waited. "The police have already written Cindy off as an overdose. You know there's more to it than that."

"I thought there might be."

"Could you find out?"

Rollison turned toward him. "Sure, I'll do it." He returned to the wing chair. "Tell me what you know. Including what you held back last time."

"Before we start, I might as well ask how much of a retainer you want."

Rollison shook his head. "I don't need a retainer. It's not like you're going to stiff me."


Chris said...

This is a great little chess match you've written here, Dana. It's nice to see a little crime fiction that isn't about blood and guts and people being dismembered! Well done.

Dana King said...

Thanks, Chris. I wanted to try something a little different, and I also wanted to work on this character from the WIP a little. I'm glad you liked it.

Steve Weddle said...

This is really cool stuff. Feels as if these characters are pretty well developed. Love to see more.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

That was a great little story, Chris. Best I've read so far. Granted I haven't read them all, yet. Still, I like it.

peggy said...

Loved the line about getting money from a rich man.

Powerful read.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very nice, Dana. Well thought out.

Paul D Brazill said...

'Then he sat in the leather wing chair across the desk from Worthington and watched his composure slip away as quickly as a junkie's friends.' Liked that very much.

Jarrett Rush said...

Gonna agree with Chris. Nice to see a story without the blood and guts. Good job.

Charlieopera said...

Dana, is this the Rollison I know and love?

Good stuff ... keep'm (and Mr. Rollison) around ...

Dana King said...

Thanks to all for the kind words. There's always some wonder when trying something different, and nothing really happens here. I'm glad you liked it.

Charlie, That's him. This was originally written for an unnamed first-person narrator, then the Beloved Spouse heard the first draft and said it would work better as a character study for Rollison. As usual, she was right.

David Barber said...

Great piece Dana. certainly worthy of a few more votes.

chad rohrbacher said...

Dana, I want to know how he did it and I want to know what govt agency and how the girl died and why this businessman held back and.... I guess that's a sign of a great story, the reader wants to keep reading :)