Please visit our new site!


Private Investigations, Part I

From the LabLit short fiction series

rpg 9 March 2008

Oh, I knew about him all right, with his Nobel Prize and armies of post-docs...

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the first episode of a four-part story about the adventures of a very special scientist-for-hire.

The name's Richards; Nick Richards. What they call me is another matter. This is my office. Find a seat – just move those papers onto the floor. Whisky? It's all I drink at this time of day. Any time of day. There might be some coffee somewhere. Gives me the shakes. Try above the sink.

I don't get many visitors these days – the odd debt collector or jilted broad maybe, but I don't do that sort of work anymore. I kinda got a reputation, and people don't like that. I guess you could say I work for the Government – a public investigator.

That? Oh, that’s my piece. A Gilson P10, since you ask. Never leave home without it. Yeah, some guys call it a broad’s pipette, but I prefer it to the larger models. More precise. Less messy, too; ever see a grad student with a P5000? Scares the crap out of me, and I’ve been around the hotblock once or twice.

You want my story, or are you just going to admire the equipment? Yeah, you can have your back to the door. I prefer a wall behind me.

It started about six years ago. I came to the city looking for work. I'd heard these guys were doing some nuclear trafficking. This was before I knew about the Germans – oh, I knew about him all right, with his Nobel Prize and armies of post-docs, but I figured he was well out of it.

So this guy comes up to me, thinks I'm crazy at first, says he may have a job for me. It's not like anything I've touched before, but it sounds interesting. I used to like 'interesting'; now I prefer a quiet life.

“Long time no see,” he says, and I wonder what he knows. “I’m Bruce.” He takes me to his office.

“Nuclear trafficking?” I say. “Isn't that illegal?” I don't believe in messing around – get to the point. But he doesn't look the type to scare easy, and he laughs.

“No worries,” he says. “Government work.”

I figure he's spinning a line, but I play along.

“High risk, but big rewards,” he adds. “You could be famous.”

I laugh with him, keeping one eye on the door. Fame's all right, but it doesn't pay the bills – take it from me.

Tap, kettle. I’m sure you can work it out.

He shows me his operation. I tag along, toe the line. He takes me to meet his crew. Usual suspects: the quiet, smart one; the fixer; the sassy broad. Didn't look like Government types, but that's the game, see?

The quiet one's just sitting there at his desk. He's working on something – I can't tell what. The fixer is in a corner, his back to us. There's some kind of tension in the air, but it's too early to tell the score.

I check out the broad – and she's sizing me up. Redhead. Eyes like emeralds, skin like silk; attitude like nitroglycerin. I figure when she gets upset people get hit by shrapnel. The type who could break your heart, or maybe your legs. One to watch. Preferably from a safe distance – like the next county.

No, I haven’t got any milk. You’d better learn to like it black. There’s a mug on the drainer.

Bruce says he wants to offer me the case, but it's not his decision.

“You have to see Mr Big.”

I figure this is it. If it's going to blow up in my face, it's going to be now. I didn't know what I was walking into, and if I knew then what I know now you know I would have turned and run. But it was all unknown. I knew it was unknown; but that's all I did know.

We take the elevator to the top floor. I slip my hand into my pocket and slide the safety on my piece. I was taking no chances.

I'm shown into a spacious office, with a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. There is a wide but low mahogany desk, and a single chair in the middle of the room, the light reflecting dully from its edges.

“Mr Big?”

A figure emerges from the shadows and sits on the edge of the desk, legs dangling. His legs, not the desk’s.

I case the room, but as far as I can see, which isn't very, it looks clean. Dusty maybe, but clean. I check out Mr Big. White hair, Scottish accent; east coast. One eye seems squashed – a sporting accident, I find out later.

“You can call me Dick. Pleashe, shit down.”

I sink into the worn leather, not yet relaxing – keeping one hand on my piece.

“Sho you want to work for the British Government, Dr Richardsh? For the MRC? Are you shure about thish?”

No, my teeth are fine thanks; that’s how he talked. Can I go on? Thank you.

I parry the question, backhanding it across the desk: “What can the British Government do for me?”

He rallies quickly, volleying back to the baseline.

“Opportunitiesh, Dr Richardsh. Contactsh, connectionsh, your name whishpered abroad in high plashesh.”

“I have a lot to offer, Mr Bi – Dick.” My reply drops in front of him, and I see the spark of victory in his good eye. Luckily, I catch sight of a book of matches and kick it towards my seat. He moves in for the kill, but I'm ready for him: “If the prishe, sorry, price is right.”

I drop my arm over the side of the chair and palm the matches.

“The jobsh yoursh, Dr Richardsh. Don’t let ush down.”

[Continued next week]