Issue 6, Semester 2, 2019
An angry night was coming in from the Docklands. The sort that makes the skin on the back of your neck itch, where rain hangs in the air like ozone, and tension runs like a live current across the tram wires and slick streets. On nights like these your nerves jump at every sound, meek housewives brush their fingers across the edge of kitchen knives whilst eyeing their husbands’ necks, and meetings between illicit lovers end with blood in the gutter.
Business as a private eye around the law school had been slow lately, but even so my gut told me to send the client packing the second she walked through my door. You stick around Pelham Street for long enough, you get an eye for trouble, and this dame fit the bill. She was blonde as hell and dressed to the nines – she’d either come from money or straight from a client interview competition. She wasn’t one of my regular customers, looking to dig up dirt on a rival clerkship applicant, or catch their partner chasing pol-sci undergrads across the lawn – seems her fella had gone missing a couple of days back, and she wanted to know where. For a pack of smokes and change, I could have told her that the best place to look for missing rubes in this town is the bottom of the nearest body of water, but something about this case was different. The john was a nobody, straight kid with good grades, working part-time as a barista at some trendy coffee joint, not the sort that usually gets caught up in shady business.
Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for a pretty face. I took the case.
I spent the next few hours loitering around level five with the cardsharps and peddlers, looking to see what I could shake loose. Far as I could tell the kid hadn’t owed money to any big players or screwed anybody on a group assignment. I tried the usual tricks, greasing palms, putting the squeeze on others, but nobody wanted to talk. One thing did stand out though – seems like everybody had left their Frank Green mugs at home - they were all carrying disposable coffee cups from Seven Seeds. I checked my notes – it was the same joint my man had worked at. In a school as snobbish about their java as this one, that couldn’t be a coincidence. How was the coffee shop mixed up in all of this? I decided to pay it a visit.
Two hours later I was standing in the rain, across the road from the joint. I’d been keeping an eye on the front door, trying to scope out the clientele, looking for any of the usual scumbags or junkies. But nobody stood out, just a bunch of kids getting their caffeine fix. I flipped my notebook closed and sighed. Nothing ventured.
Stubbing out my cigarette, I crossed the road and waltzed through the door, slick as a Teflon cat. Immediately, my eyes were drawn to the mountain behind the counter.
From twenty feet away, he looked like he could snap you in half as soon as look at you. From five feet away, he looked like the sort of man you wanted to be looking at from at least twenty feet away.
“Cup of joe.” I slapped down a damp twenty. “Off-the-menu.”
The mook peered at me and spoke in a voice like a landslide that had learned to talk but had skimped on the elocution lessons. “What class you drinking it in?”
I grinned. “Ethics.”
He grunted and turned to the machine. As he made the brew, I scanned the room. Seemed like just about the entire cohort was there - the tables were packed with students huddled together in groups over open textbooks and laptops. I turned back to the barista just in time to see him slip something into the cup before snapping a plastic lid onto it. Scooping it up, I slipped out and made my way back to my office.
I drew the blinds and cautiously took a sip of the drink. It was just a regular cup of lukewarm mud, Arabica, slightly over-roasted, nothing to explain what everybody was so worked up over. I poured the rest into the bin, and saw a small plastic satchel spill out. Digging it out of the trash, I slit the packet open with my penknife and tipped the contents into my hand. A small micro-USB card sat on my palm. I jammed it into the side of my phone and thumbed the play icon. After a few moments, a voice began crackling out of the tinny speaker. The recording was low quality, but it only took me a moment to recognise the dulcet tones of Dr. Julien Sempill.
Like a stubborn transmission finally changing gears, everything fell into place with a clunk. I suddenly realised how deep this whole caper went, and just how much trouble I’d stumbled into.
That was when someone behind me clubbed the back of my head with the butt of a .22, and my world went dark.
Join us in week eight, for the exciting conclusion: DOCKLAND NIGHT BLUES
Michael is a Second Year JD Student and the 2019 De Minimis Managing Editor.