As usual, I'd killed the office overheads, which left me working in the cool, gunmetal-blue glow of my flat panel display monitor. The Feds those lousy OSHA bulls frowned on this little habit of mine. Said it caused "eyestrain." Verbally warned me. Twice. What they don't get is that I don't like being leaned on. Never have. So I keep cutting the candlepower as I want, when I want. And if the flatfoots want to play hardball, well, they'll find out this is one Web Dick tough enough to take any written citation they can dish out.
The little matter I had my sleeves rolled up on that night was a missing person case which in the business are called "doe sluts" because, generally speaking, there's lotsa bucks in 'em. My client, some 40-plus bag of wrinkled meat, wanted me to poke around online and see if I could turn up the drill team dish he didn't have the cajones to ask out in high school and hadn't seen since graduation in 1979. As usual in the Internet side of Private Investigation, no foul play was suspected in the case.
It also didn't figure she was hiding or that she'd disappeared on purpose; she'd probably just gotten on with her life. Not that that made my job any easier. Especially since all I had to go on was a (maiden?) name and a 22-year-old address. I'd been chasing leads all day, doing the "glamorous" sitting-on-your-ass legwork that most mugs don't realize is 99.99999999993 percent of an e-tective's job.
The going had been slow at first, my usually reliable dot-coms, dot-orgs, dot-govs, dot-edus and dot-nets had turned up dot-squat. Time dragged. Then, just after midnight, I'd picked up a fresh scent and, bam, I was off, nose to the trail, ass to the world. The chatter of my ergonomic keyboard and the triple-quick clicks of my trackball made more clackety racket than a Siamese Savion Glover with a crystal meth monkey on his back. I was locked on and in hot pursuit. It was in the heat of this surge that I heard:
"Excuse me? I'm looking for a Mr. Spam Spade."
What with my concentration and the din from my dancing digits, I was taken totally by surprise. But I've been at this dodge long enough to know better than to show it. I kept right on keying, cool as the last bowl of gazpacho at a Siberian garden party. After a few seconds, I stopped and flexed my knuckles, triggering more pops than a Glock; only then did I unstick my eyeballs from the screen and shift them in the direction of the voice.
What I saw, standing there in the doorway of my cubicle, was a vision. Something a Private Geek like me can only read about, dream about or see in two dimensions on 3.16 million porn sites. That is to say, I was looking at an actual, in-the-flesh female person. And she was close. Less than a 10-foot pole close. All of a sudden, I was hot as a CPU with a faulty internal fan housing. Of course, she didn't need to know that.
"I'm Spade," I said flatly, wondering for the kazillionth time if that didn't make me sound too much like a victim of Bob Barker's pet sterilization crusade. "And the office is closed. More to the point, it's a virtual office, so it's always closed to in-person visits. Call in the morning."
I thought maybe the dame was deaf. Because she breezed right into my space, gliding easy as you please past the Razor scooter I'd left sticking halfway across the cubicle's opening. My peepers followed her. She came to a stop in front of my monitor and stood there, blocking the screen with her 17.2-inch measured diagonally (but who was measuring in that direction) caboose. My semi-slack jaw told her she had my attention.
"I'm desperate, Mr. Spade," she said. "I'll do anything if you'll help me."
I liked the sound of that. I mean, it doesn't take a cyber-sleuth to know desperation is just a date waiting to happen.