MYSTERIES IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
Jim Cunningham exhaled a stream of blue smoke into the sweltering Los Angeles early evening air. He checked the time on his smartphone, looked both ways up and down the alley. One more minute. It was starting to get dark. He did not want to be around this neighbourhood after dark. He was in his best suit. The one he wore the first time he met new prospective clients.
He heard a footstep and turned.
He said, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
Jim dropped the Marlborough light, stubbed it out, and turned to walk away.
“Wait!” Saori Nishimura called. “Hear me out!”
She scampered toward him, quick-footed even in high heels and business skirt.
Jim whirled. “The last time I heard you out, I nearly lost my licence!”
“This time it’s different,” said Saori, catching up to him. “This time it’s real.”
They faced each other. Jim shook his head. “Then why all the codes and sneaking around? You should have just called me and hired me.”
“You wouldn’t have come if you knew it was me,” said Saori.
Jim shrugged. It was true.
Saori took a breath and pressed on. “There’s a kid gone missing. It’s them again.”
“Oh, them, the supernatural blood-sucking super-monsters?” said Jim, scowling.
Saori kept a straight face. “No, them, the gang that is selling kids for some kind of cult sacrifice.”
Jim sighed. He knew he did not want to get into whatever the Japanese journalist thought she was onto this time, but the old knee-jerk instinct was impossible to resist after ten years as a cop.
“Who’s the kid?” he said.
Saori stepped closer and produced a photo. “Tom Pierce, he’s at Beverly Hills High.”
Jim growled. “Tom Pierce, the frikkin’ star quarterback? Now you’ve really gotta be kidding me!”
Saori blinked. “What?”
“His daddy owns half of downtown. He could hire any private detective in L.A.! I’m not interested in this rich asshole.”
Saori laid a hand on his arm as he turned again. “Jim… would you be interested if he was a poor black kid?”
He looked back at her, confused. She continued, “A kid needs help. He can’t choose who his daddy is or how much money his family happens to have. It works both ways.”
Jim growled again. She always did that damn moral compulsion thing to him. “His daddy could choose anyone. So why you? Why me?”
Saori took a deep breath again and hesitated. Here it comes, thought Jim.
She said, “Okay, there were some… unnatural things at the scene where he disappeared. The cops were spooked and seems like they didn’t believe it was real – like some hoax or something. These rich kids get up to all kinds of stupid games. The parents asked some of the bigger private firms but they won’t touch it, either.”
Jim snorted. “So we’re the last resort?”
“Captain Callaghan called me. He knew I dealt with this kind of stuff before in Japan. This could be bad. I needed someone tough… and someone…”
They met eyes and she gave him an earnest, pleading look. “… someone who won’t give up on me, or this kid. Someone who really cares.”
Jim shook his head slowly in wonder. And just like that, she had him again.
“Okay,” he sighed. “Where’s the crime scene?”
Saori nodded, gesturing to the end of the alley. “We’ll need to break in. The police still have it sealed.”
“Let’s go,” said Jim, turning.
“Jim…” said Saori, and he paused. She finished, “Thanks...”