I have no idea what I'm doing

Tag: fic: High Stakes No Limit

High-Stakes, No Limit #2: We Can’t Stop Here. This is Bat Country

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. No, just kidding. I was asleep and Perry smacked me in the face with a phone charger. At first, I had no idea what the fuck was going on. One minute, I was watching some empty street in Fullerton, and the next thing I know, we’re surrounded by dark and the occasional set of headlights. We were around Barstow, though; wherever the fuck that is. Nevada, or some shit.

“What the fuck?” I looked out the window, learning pretty much exactly nothing about the current situation.

“Plug me in,” Perry said, pointing to his phone in the cup holder between the seats.

“What? Why?” I picked up the charger from where it had fallen between the seat and the centre console and tried to figure out what the hell was going on.

“Because you wanted to come with, so you’re still on the clock, Chief,” Perry said as he switched lanes to overtake someone pulling a horse box. Why would someone pull a horse box out in the desert?

Anyway, after a few seconds, I managed to figure out where the plug on Perry’s phone was and hooked everything up to the cigarette lighter. “If I’m still on the clock, then I’m getting overtime, right?”

“Only if you actually do what I tell you to do instead of flapping your jaw.” Something about Perry seemed really off. Like, whatever was going on was seriously not good.

I put the phone back in the cup holder and only then noticed that he had the map going on his phone and was following after a little blue dot. Or maybe we were the little blue dot. I don’t fucking know. I can still barely send a text on my phone, let alone use it to spy on someone.

“There. Done,” I said. “Now you mind telling me where the hell we are? You know. Besides the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.”

Perry might have given me one of those looks he likes to throw my way when he thinks I’ve said the dumbest thing ever, but it was dark and I couldn’t really tell. “We’re following Rothstein,” he said. “According to his wife, he has some ‘urgent business’ to attend to with one of his contracts.”

“Contracts? What the hell does that mean?” I hate how Perry can make something even more confusing by explaining it.

“He runs a small rental car company,” Perry explained. “But small doesn’t mean low-budget. Rothstein specialises in supercars. Pagani, Bugatti; all that expensive shit. He rents them out to film crews who can’t get the companies to give them one of their cars. Makes a fortune on insurance claims, no doubt.”

I had no idea what, like, any of that meant. He might as well have been speaking Italian, for all I could understand what he was talking about.

“What? You think this—” I waved at the never-ending nothingness around the car “—is about that?”

“I’ll tell you what it isn’t,” Perry said as he switched lanes again. “There’s no way this is about an affair.”

We followed him into this miserable little hole on the side of the road called Baker (the miserable little hole. Not the road. I don’t know what road we were on), which near as I could tell, exists only to sell people Subway sandwiches and bags of chips. Perry told me to watch the guy’s car and went into the gas station for drinks.

He didn’t tell me which car I was supposed to be watching, but I was willing to bet that it was the insane blue one that was nothing but fins and spoilers on wheels. Rothstein wasn’t doing much of anything besides filling the tank and looking like a smug bastard. But if I had a car like that, I’d probably look like a smug bastard too.

Perry came out of the gas station a few minutes later and handed me a bottle of Coke through the window.

“You know the rules,” he said.

“Yeah, yeah. Spill it and die,” I said. It was a stupid, pointless rule, because I’m not six and the only time I’d ever made anything even remotely resembling a mess in that car of his was when we found that girl in the lake. Which I still blame on Perry, because it was his damn case to begin with.

“He’s stopped at every town between here and LA,” Perry said, doing a hell of a lot better at watching him without being obvious than I ever could. I guess that’s why he’s the private detective, and I’m just the office boy. “Probably wind up stopping off at Primm, too.”

He got into the car and started watching Rothstein through the mirror.

“Primm?” I asked. “You know, you still haven’t told me where we’re going.”

“That’s why we’re following him, genius. To find out.” He had a drink of his own, but I think he only bought it for show, because he didn’t open it. “If I had to guess, I’d say we’re probably headed to Vegas, though. Which is bad news for us.”

I became very interested at the mentioning of Vegas. “Vegas? Like, Las Vegas? Why’s that bad news?”

Rothstein finally got back into his car and left, but Perry waited a few moments before following after him.

“Because I’m not licensed for Nevada and your track record for staying out of trouble is shit,” Perry said.

“Hey, that’s not fair!” I said, pissed off about Perry’s never-ending lack of faith in me. “I’ve been doing really good lately.”

“Well,” Perry said.

“Well what?”

“No, it’s ‘I’ve been doing really well lately.’ What the hell did adverbs ever do to you? And you have, actually.” He didn’t sound like he was overly thrilled with this admission, which is how I knew something else was coming. “Which just means that you’re due to fuck something up again. So do me a favour and stay the hell out of trouble while we’re out here, all right.”

I flipped him off, but didn’t say anything else. I didn’t want to fuck something up for him just by talking. Hell, he made me feel like just being there had been a fuck-up. He probably thought it was, for that matter. Knowing him. Which I do.

Neither of us said anything for about a half hour, and during that time I had to resist the urge to “accidentally” spill my Coke on Perry’s perfectly clean floor. But I knew that if I did, he’d probably pull over and make me walk the rest of the way to Las Vegas, and I had no idea how far away that was. My luck, I’d try to hitchhike and get picked up by some serial killer truck driver or something.

Then we came out of some mountains, because the only thing the desert has more of than sand is mountains, and I saw some twinkly shit up ahead of us.

“Oh, hey. Is that it? Is that Vegas?” I asked, tapping Perry on the arm.

“No, I told you. That’s Primm,” he said. “And officially the end of my area.”

“So, what?” I asked, never able to figure out what the hell Perry was thinking until way after. “We’re just gonna stop there?”

“Hell no. We’re following him,” he said. “I just can’t do anything if this shit turns sour.”

When we started this thing, it was just some boring case about a cheating husband, but the way Perry said that made me think that maybe he knew something about this mess that I didn’t. I mean, why would he need to shoot a guy that he’s supposed to be photographing? Unless that guy shot at him first, but why would he do that?

“When’s that boring stuff happen?” I asked. “You know, where we’re not getting thrown off bridges and shot at.”

“I guess you’re just my bad luck charm. I should stop taking you with me, because this shit never turns sour when I go out on my own.”

Well, I sure as hell didn’t believe that. But whatever. I know he just says this stuff to get me pissed off, so I just ignored him, because I know he gets annoyed when I don’t get pissed off.

Rothstein did pull off in Primm, and Perry followed him off the freeway and then stopped in at some parking lot. For a second, I thought we’d lost the guy, but then Perry cut the engine and turned off the lights.

“OK, get your binoculars, Chief,” he said. “And tell me what we just did.”

I twisted over the seat to reach the binoculars from the back seat, annoyed at myself for not having grabbed them earlier when Perry left me alone in the car. At least if I’d got them then, I’d have been able to stand on the seat without Perry seeing.

When I finally had them, I sat back down and tried to find Rothstein.

“Oh, there he is,” I said, finally spotting him at the Chevron across the street. “Uhm… What are we doing? We’re across the street.”

Perry nodded. “Right,” he said. “Why?”

I had to think about it for a few seconds, which Perry always lets me do without talking. I know he keeps saying that I won’t be able to ever get a license to do this stuff, but I think he still likes having someone to teach it to, even if he’d never admit to it, the prideful bastard.

“Oh. Duh. He keeps stopping at all the towns, and even in the dark, he’d notice that he was being followed if you went to the same gas station every time.”

Perry nodded again, and I couldn’t help feeling just a little smug at getting it right.

“Tailing someone can be tricky,” he explained. “Especially if they think someone might be following them.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if you drove a black car?” I asked, still watching Rothstein mess around with his fuck-off expensive car across the street.

Perry shook his head. “In the day, a black car stands out just as much as red or yellow. Why do you think most un-marked cars are white?”

“Oh.” And of course all this stuff made perfect sense once he said it, like it should have been common sense or something. “That thing looks like it’s from outer space. He’s not exactly being subtle or anything. Oh. He doesn’t think anyone’s onto him?”

Another nod from Perry. “Probably, yes,” he said. “It goes both ways.”

“He’s showing off,” I realised suddenly. “That’s not his car. It’s from his company, right?”

“Registered to Gemini Rentals. He owns the company, so he has his pick of the cars on the lot. So the question is…”

It took me a moment to realise that he was asking me, and that he wasn’t being all rhetorical or some shit. “Who’s he showing off for?” I finished, not really sure if that was right.

But Perry just nodded again. “Exactly. And it can be taught. Imagine that.”

“Fuck off.”

Rothstein got back into his car, so I tapped Perry on the arm again. “Hey, he’s leaving!”

Perry kept the lights off, but started the car. “Which way’s he headed?”

I kept my eye on Rothstein’s car, knowing that if I got this wrong, it would seriously fuck everything up. I also had a small suspicion that Perry was able to watch the car just fine without binoculars, but I’m also not exactly convinced that Perry is human, sometimes.

“Uhh… Right. Isn’t that back the way we came?” I kept my sights trained on Rothstein as long as I could, and after a few seconds, Perry turned on his lights and followed after. “Now left,” I said, even though Perry probably saw him turn too. “He’s… going back on the freeway? Yeah.”

At first, I thought that we were doubling back again, but I had no idea where we were to begin with and felt all turned around in general, so I just trusted that Perry knew what the hell was going on. Well, we didn’t wind up doubling back after all, and pretty soon, we were in Vegas. Like, the real Vegas, and not one of the other little nothing towns that you get just because it’s Nevada and they can put slot machines inside of 7-Eleven.

Let me tell you a thing or two about Las Vegas, all right? All those movies you’ve seen where the Strip is all lit up like a Christmas tree and everything looks factory-fresh and all the people you see on the sidewalks look like a million bucks? Complete bullshit. It’s hot, even at midnight, it’s dusty, there’s shit everywhere, it’s about twenty miles between the casinos, and prostitution isn’t as legal as you’d think it would be (as in, not at all). It’s almost better in LA.

OK, in LA, people don’t usually just randomly hand you porn, so there is that.

Anyway, we were following this guy, and when we got into Vegas, I was expecting to see that big fucking sign. You know, the one they show in every goddamn movie that takes place there? But it just wasn’t there. Like, at all.

“It’s on the Boulevard, Chief,” Perry said. “This is the freeway.”

“What is?” I asked, trying my best to sound cool.

“The sign. That’s what you’re looking for, isn’t it?” Perry merged toward the right to get off the freeway, swearing at the other cars that wouldn’t let him in. “Keep your eye on that Zonda; now’s when we really risk losing this fucker.”

I looked out the window, not sure what Perry was talking about again. “I thought we were following that Rothstein bastard?”

Perry just sort of stared at me for a few seconds and then shook his head.

“Right,” I said, catching up. Now I knew that that insect car was called, I guess.

Once we got off the freeway, I saw what Perry meant about losing him. I mean, the freeway was kind of crowded once we got to the city, but off it was even worse. We spent about ten minutes just trying to turn at the intersection to get onto the Strip, and then took another twenty minutes to get to the parking lot for the first hotel after the light.

I’ve never seen so many cars in one place when there wasn’t some massive pile-up to slow them all down.

We followed Rothstein to Caesar’s Palace, which was just right there off the freeway and took way too long to get to, and Perry made it look like we just happened to be the car behind him. With that fancy-ass car, Rothstein used valet, but because Perry had his guns in the glove box we had to use the public garage. Which kind of pissed him off, I think, but getting arrested for having a gun in his car would have probably pissed him off even more.

“Stay here,” Perry said, once we were parked on the top floor of the parking garage.

He took his gun out of his coat and put it in the glove box before taking off again, once more leaving me behind to stare at nothing. But I guess my surveillance in Primm had exhausted my usefulness quota for the day, and now I was just once again in his way.

Story of my life.

After about twenty minutes of waiting around for Perry to show back up, and Perry failing to show back up, I was starting to wonder if I was supposed to do something. Maybe, like, he was in trouble, and he needed my help for something. Was I supposed to wait in the car for just a few minutes and follow after? He didn’t actually specify.

Or maybe I was just over-reacting. After all, it wasn’t even the first time that night that Perry had left me behind.

I didn’t have much time to think about it, though. A hard knocking on the window scared me so bad I nearly jumped right out of my seat. I looked over, expecting to see Perry, and instead seeing some pissed off looking security guard glaring at me. I tried to roll down the windows, but they’re electric and Perry didn’t leave his keys behind, so I had to open the door to talk to the guy, which made the whole thing all the more nerve-wracking.

“What’s up?” I asked, trying not to sound fucking terrified that he was gonna find the goddamn guns in the glove box. I mean, yeah, they’re Perry’s, and you won’t find my fingerprints anywhere on the damn things, but they were still right there, sixteen inches in front of me. There’s not a judge in the world who wouldn’t say they were in my possession.

“Is this your car, sir?” the security guard asked me.

I shook my head. “No,” I said, and it wasn’t until he started looking really annoyed with me that I realised how this all must have looked. “I mean, it’s not my car, but it’s my boss’. He knows I’m here though, because he told me to wait. So, that’s what I’m doing. Waiting. For him.”

It wasn’t going well, and I knew it. Even though this guy wasn’t actually a cop, he still knew how to glare at someone like one.

“Get out of the car?” I asked.

“Yeah, let’s do that,” he said.

He stepped out of the way of the door and I undid my seat belt to get out, still putting every ounce of my energy into pretending that there weren’t two loaded guns in the car, perfectly legal or otherwise.

“Listen, if you just let me make a quick phone call, I’m sure we can get this all straightened out,” I said. “This is my boss’ car. He’s just downstairs seeing about rooms or something.”

The security guard sighed, and I could tell that he really didn’t want to be there dealing with me, which is probably why he said, “Make it quick.”

I got out my phone and called Perry, grateful that the fucker actually answered for once.

“Hey, Per. Bit of a situation here,” I said. “Kinda need your help.”

Well, he already seemed pretty annoyed with me, but after I explained the situation, he was just flat-out pissed off.

“This is your idea of staying out of trouble?” he snapped.

“Yeah. No. Yeah. Just, it’s not my fault, OK? Come help me.”

Perry hung up on me, and after that, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I shrugged at the security guard and leaned against the car, hoping that maybe he’d get bored and go away. He didn’t, but luckily, Perry showed up pretty quickly, and even though he was laying on the charm for the security guard, I could see that he was fucking furious, probably because I nearly blew his cover.

“Hi,” he said, laying on the gay extra heavy. He was just a lisp and limp wrist from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. “Sorry, what’s all this about? Did we do something wrong?”

The security guard looked at us, and I just knew what he was thinking. You know, you’d think it’s something that I’d get used to, but it bugs the hell out of me every time. I could probably have my face buried in Harmony’s tits, and Perry would still be able to do something to make everyone think I was gay.

Perry shamelessly flirted with the guy before getting out his car registration from the glove box (and how he did that without the security guard seeing the guns is beyond me) and proved that it was his car and I was allowed to be there by myself. After that, the guy left us alone, and as soon as he was gone, the smile dropped from Perry’s face so fast that it almost scared me.

“Hey, that was not my fault,” I insisted. “You’re the one who left me alone in a dark parking lot with loaded guns. Which I’m not even supposed to be anywhere near, as you keep reminding me.”

Perry didn’t say anything. He just kept staring at me like he expected me to read his fucking mind or something. I hate it when he does that.

“Oh, fuck. I didn’t blow your cover, did I?” OK, I actually backed up to put some distance between us then, because when Perry gets pissed off, he gets scary.

“No,” he said. “Lucky for you. But I’m up here rescuing your ass instead of keeping an eye on the guy I’m supposed to be watching.”

I took another step back, just in case.

“Well, did you see which way he went?” I asked hopefully. I still had my binoculars, and tried to look around to see if maybe I could spot Rothstein, but all I saw was building and more building. And some neon lights, but apparently the parking garage exists in a black hole where nothing useful is visible.

“Yeah, up to his room,” Perry said, knocking the binoculars down from my face. “Now I just have to hope that he stayed there.”

“Oh.” As I watched him make sure that the car was all locked up, something occurred to me. “You know, this could have been a lot worse. What if he’d checked the glove box? He’d be calling the cops and I’d go to jail and it would be all your fault.”

Perry glared at me again and made me want to step very far away from him. “Please tell me you didn’t give him a reason to search my car.”

“No! No!” I said, hoping to make him hate me a little less. “But, I’m just saying. What if he did? He could have, couldn’t he?”

Perry looked at the car for a minute before punching the air. “Fuck,” he spat. “You. You are off this case, and all cases, permanently. Starting now.”

“I didn’t do anything!” I said. Seriously, I thought I’d done what I was supposed to do. What the hell else could I have done? “You were showing me back there how to tail a guy, and now I’m not allowed to do this anymore? What? Am I fired? Is that what you’re trying to say?”

“No, I’m saying it’s pointless to teach you this stuff,” he said. “I’m just wasting my time.”

“Hey, fuck you,” I said. He started to walk away from me, but I followed after him. “I’m not the one who left me alone in a parking lot at three in the morning with a bunch of loaded guns. That’s all your fault, Slick.”

I tried to leave. I wanted to get as far the fuck away from him as I could, but he grabbed my arm and stopped me.

“Hey, just because you’re off the case doesn’t mean you’re off the clock,” he said. “If I call, you’d better come running.”

“Fuck you,” I said, shaking him off. “I’m going home.”

Perry laughed at me. “What are you going to do? Walk?” he asked. “It’s a four-hour drive. Don’t be an even bigger idiot than you already are.”

“Fuck you,” I repeated.

I did manage to walk away that time, and eventually found a huge fucking thing of stairs. There was probably an elevator somewhere, but I didn’t feel like looking. I just wanted to not be anywhere near Perry van Shrike for a long time. Not for the first time, I was tempted to quit, but then I remembered my million rejected applications and interviews from before and knew that I was stuck with the bastard whether I liked it or not.

Well, I didn’t go home. Or anything even close to it. I wandered around for a little bit, trying to find my way out of there, and sort of failing. While I was busy getting lost, I called Harmony, hoping she might still be up from the job she had that night, but the call went to her voice mail. I didn’t even think to wonder what that meant for the state of our relationship if she was getting home in the middle of the night and didn’t even care that I wasn’t there.

I left a message on her phone to let her know where I was and that I didn’t know when I’d be home, and then I texted Perry to ask what the fuck the plan was. He texted back almost immediately to say that I could pick up a room key from the front desk at the hotel. I hoped that meant that we got separate rooms, but somehow, I wasn’t hopeful. Perry can be such a fucking cheapskate sometimes. It’s unbelievable.

I finally found my way out of that concrete maze and wound up across the street at this noisy dive bar with an outrageous cover charge, but I went in anyway because I was mostly surprised that it was still open and busy. It didn’t really seem like the sort of thing you’d find in Vegas, but then again, I didn’t expect to see millions of little porno trading cards all over the sidewalk, either. There were guys just handing them out right there in front of the bar, so I took a few and put them in my pocket without really looking at them.

Anyway, I was in this place maybe twenty minutes, not really sure why I was there except to avoid Perry, when this chick came up and flashed her bellybutton ring at me. She wasn’t like, smoking hot or anything, but she wasn’t completely homely either, so of course I talked to her. What I didn’t mean to do was keep talking to her until they started kicking everyone out at like, six in the morning.

Me and Bellybutton Chick left together, and normally, I wouldn’t have let her hang off of my arm like that, but I didn’t expect that my girlfriend would be looking for me out on the sidewalk. Which, let me tell you, when Harmony gets pissed, she gets really pissed.

“Harmony? What the hell are you doing here?” I asked.

“I could ask you the same thing, Harry,” Harmony said. “Who the hell is she?”

I looked over at Bellybutton Chick, and before I realised that I never got her name, she managed to get away and disappear into the crowd. Not that I could really blame her, though. I wouldn’t want to stick around for someone else’s argument, either.

“She’s nobody,” I said. “I was just having a drink and she showed up. Kinda like you. Seriously, how did you get here?”

“You said Vegas, and I got on a plane, Harry,” she said. “And then I came over here to find you hanging off some skank. You stick your tongue down her throat, too?”

“Hey!” I thought that just wasn’t fair at all, because we weren’t even dating yet when I did that. “That still doesn’t answer the question. What are you doing here? Like, right here. At this place.” I pointed at the sidewalk for emphasis. Because seriously, it was starting to weird me out. Harmony being there; not the sidewalk.

“Perry tracked your phone.” She said it like there was supposed to be a ‘duh’ at the end.

The fact that Perry could do that was a little scary though. I mean, like, did he do that all the time, or just when they wanted to find me? Jesus, either way, I didn’t want him doing that. Not that I have anything to hide, but fuck.

“That bastard!” OK, I admit, I may have sort of lost focus of what I was supposed to be doing.

“Yeah, kind of like you, Harry,” Harmony said, and then I remembered what was going on, but by then, she was already walking away as well. “You better start working on your apology. And don’t follow me. I’m going to bed.”

I didn’t follow her, but only because I was too busy trying to figure out what the hell had just happened. OK, not like that. But everything happened so quick that it was hard to figure out where I’d gone wrong in all that. I mean, not that I thought I did, or even now think so, but Harmony was obviously pissed off at something. Even though there were still some people out on the sidewalk, there weren’t a lot, probably because it was like, six in the morning, and all the sane people were going to bed. But I could see Harmony go into the Flamingo, but I didn’t follow after her because the last time I didn’t leave her alone when she said to, she cut off my finger.

Not sure what else to do, I pulled out my phone to see if I could tell if Perry was still tracking me. I never did actually figure it out, because I had three texts from Harmony that I didn’t even notice getting inside that damn bar.

“Fuck.” I kicked at some of the porno trading cards that were all over the sidewalk, but it wasn’t very satisfying.

But this was typical, though, wasn’t it? Harmony was pissed off at me; Perry had thrown me off the case. I was starting to wonder who else I could manage to piss off before going to sleep. Which, by the way, spoiler alert: that is a really stupid fucking thing to wonder, especially when you’re in this line of work. Also, for those of you who aren’t very genre-savvy, why the hell would I be telling you a story about the time I accidentally went to Las Vegas and nothing happened? I wouldn’t. That would be boring. Of course I managed to piss someone else off, because you all know that it wouldn’t have been Perry to get us into trouble.

I went back to Caesar’s and after getting lost again, I managed to find the front desk to get my key. I had to go through the casino to find the elevator to get to the room, and I’m just gonna skip all the boring shit and tell you flat out that I got so fucking turned around in there that it took me almost a half hour to figure it all out. It probably didn’t help that I was drunk and damn near exhausted, but there it is.

The room was up on the eighth floor, and I found Perry in it on one of the beds, fucking around on his laptop, doing whatever private investigator shit he had to do. Or maybe looking at porn. I don’t know. He was in his pyjamas, which surprisingly weren’t silk with a monogram on the breast pocket. Well, that’s what I expected them to be, anyway. Turns out, he sleeps in sweat pants and sometimes a T-shirt. Luckily, he went with the T-shirt this time, because I probably would have walked out of the room again if he wasn’t wearing a shirt.

“Oh, good. Two beds,” I said as I looked around the surprisingly large room. It wasn’t like the suite Dabney put me in when he brought me to LA, but it was still pretty nice.

“I wouldn’t share with you if you were the last man on Earth, Chief,” he said.

I know he says this stuff to make me feel better, and I’m not gonna lie. It does, sort of.

“Why’d you track my phone?” I asked, trying to decide what I wanted to do about it. At the time, not a whole lot. I was more interested in going to bed, to tell the truth.

“Because you weren’t answering it,” Perry said. He closed his laptop and put it on the little night stand thing. “Pissed her off already, did you?”

“Fuck off.” I still don’t know if she texted him or if he just did his Jedi mind thing to figure that out.

I started to take off my coat so I could just crash, and as I walked around to the other side of the bed, I tripped over something and almost fell. When I saw what it was, I felt like an even bigger jerk, which wasn’t fair, because I still don’t think I did anything wrong.

“Oh,” I said, looking down at my bag, which looked a lot heavier than it usually did with just my course books in it. Oh, yeah. I should probably mention that one of the things I was doing to try to work toward being able to do this PI stuff was getting my GED. I say ‘was’ because I’m not anymore. No, I didn’t drop out, thank you very much. I got it in October. And because I know you’re thinking about it, and probably laughing, I passed the math part on the first try.

No, I will not tell you how many times it took me to do the English part.

Four.

Anyway, fuck off.

« ||

High-Stakes, No Limit #1: You’re a Lucky Man, Mr Rothstein

“Fucking hell. God fucking damn it to hell.”

That was me, swearing. Sorry about that. You see, I used to be a magician, and some of the things you learn when you study magic turn out to be dead useful, especially in my line of work. If you can call it that. Which you probably can’t, but whatever. Shut up. I’m telling the story.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering why I was swearing. I do that a lot, by the way. But this time I was swearing because a dog ate my finger. You might remember that, actually. But I wasn’t swearing specifically because a dog at my finger. That was the, what is it? The indirect reason? The actual reason was because when a dog eats your finger, it leaves a pretty big gap where that finger used to be. And palming cards with that hand all of a sudden becomes a nightmare. So that’s what I was doing. I was trying to relearn how to palm cards and other things in my left hand now that I was missing half my fucking ring finger. It doesn’t seem like a very important finger, but you’d be surprised. It’s especially useful when you’re trying to palm a fucking card.

So. I was there in Perry’s office (the one in his house – not the one he meets clients in), swearing because I couldn’t palm a card anymore, when Perry came home from whatever the fuck he does when he doesn’t let me go with. Performing at BDSM clubs, for all I fucking know.

“What the hell is wrong with you now, screwhead?” Perry asked as he shoved my feet off his desk.

“This,” I said. I threw the card across the room, sticking it into the cork board he had on the wall. “This is my fucking problem. Right here. Fucking dogs. I can’t do this shit anymore because I’m not actually fucking magic which means anything I do, I have to do with my hands.” I threw two more cards at the cork board, which wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped i t was, even though they did stick into it pretty good. Goodly? Fuck it, I don’t care.

“Oh, is that all?” asked Perry. “And here I thought you were having an actual problem for a change.”

“Oh, you mean like trying to decide between Oprah and the View?” I asked as I threw another card at the cork board.

Perry stole my cards and locked them in his desk. “Yeah, nice try, dick. That was all you.”

Oh, fuck. Do you know what? Back up. God, I suck at this narration thing. I should mention that I sometimes live with Perry now, and sort of work for him. No, not like that. He’s still gay and I’m sort of dating Harmony now, when she’s not off screwing some other guy, thank you very much. And besides, I’m not even allowed in half of that over-priced house of his. That’s how much we aren’t screwing, because I know that’s what some of you were thinking.

You might remember that last Christmas, we both got shot. The case of the de ad people in LA, remember? Yeah. Well, anyway, it’s probably no surprise that I failed my screen test. The part went to Colin Ferrell after all, and after that, Dabney stopped footing the bill for my hotel room and I found myself out on my ass faster than you could say ‘fucking gyp.’ I couldn’t go back to New York, because I couldn’t afford to stay in some roach motel for the weekend, let alone get a plane ticket back east two days after New Year. Harmony had already gone back to Indiana to get everything ready for her sister’s funeral, and was gonna stay there for a few weeks after to sort everything out related to that whole mess, so I went to the only other person I knew in LA.

“No. Absolutely not. Get the fuck out of here.” I knew he wasn’t gonna be like, super thrilled to see me, but that was a little harsh. “If I wanted a lapdog, I’d get one that could fit in a handbag and didn’t piss all over everything.” Seriously. Ouch.

“What? Come on. You must need some help. I mean, you got shot,” I said. I thought it was a pretty good argument. Of course, sometimes I think Perry disagrees with me just for the sake of disagreeing with me.

“You? Help?” he asked. “How? Or do I have to remind you that you are just as wounded as I am?”

“No, not really,” I said. “The bullet went all the way through you. If anything, you slowed it down. And then Jonny Gossamer slowed it down even more. I’m fine. Just a little sore. I can help!”

He just stared at me, and I knew that he’d already made up his mind, but fuck, I had no idea what else to do. I was starting to get pretty fucking desperate, because I didn’t want to resort to my next option. Although, at that point, I was seconds away from being perfectly willing to trade another misdemeanour charge for roof and a hot meal. Real fucking glamorous, I know.

“Go home, Harry,” he told me.

He started to shut the door, and I still can’t believe I did this, but I wound up all but baring my soul to the smug fucker.

“I can’t,” I said quickly. “I don’t… I don’t have one.”

Perry opened the door again and stared at me. You know, that sort of stare that makes you think the person can see straight into your head and know exactly what you’re thinking? Perry’s a fucking champion at that stare. I don’t know how he does it.

“What the hell do you mean? You live in New York. Go there. Here, fetch!” Perry picked up the newspaper that was on his front step and threw it across the lawn. Ha ha, yeah. Real funny.

I shook my head and knew what I had to do, but I swear to God, I’ve never been more scared of anything in my life. Guns pointed at me? Scary, yeah, but keep in mind, I was stealing X-Boxes and PlayStations in New York. Christmas wasn’t the first time I’d had one pointed right at my face. But telling Perry why I was stuck in LA was fucking terrifying, man. And I don’t even know why.

“I can’t afford the ticket back,” I said. “In New York, I shared a tiny little apartment with three other guys. Which, I don’t know. It’s probably just two now. I think one of them got killed that night I accidentally auditioned for that part. I can’t even sell anything for money, because everything I own is in this fucking bag, and it’s mostly clothes I stole from everyone else before I left.” I kicked at the bag I’d brought with me from New York, hoping to make the point. “And if you don’t let me in, I’m seriously considering knocking over the nearest 7-Eleven and hoping that the clerk is in a generous mood and only calls the cops instead of blowing my fucking brains out.”

Perry just stared at me some more, and I considered changing my plan and just running for it right then and there.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t want to go to jail. Just let me in.”

Well, that seemed to do it, because Perry finally let me in and told me about his no shoes in the house rule, which I know is fucking bullshit, because he wears shoes inside all the time. Although, he has lightened up on that a little bit since then. But what the fuck ever. That’s not the point. The point is I didn’t go to jail that night because I made myself look like a pathetic loser in front of Perry. Terrific. That’s just what I needed, right?

“You can sleep on the couch,” he said, pointing at the thing like I wouldn’t know what he was talking about. “I don’t want you anywhere else in this house. Not the kitchen, not my bedroom, not anywhere. Got that?”

“What about the bathroom?” I asked. Which, I don’t know. Maybe he was high as a kite on morphine for all I know, but that seemed like a pretty big oversight. “What am I supposed to do? Piss in a potted plant?” Or, I don’t know. Maybe t hat’s what he expected me to do anyway. I’m pretty sure he still thinks the whole corpse thing was on purpose.

“Fine. Whatever,” Perry said. “Down the hall there. First on the right. You are allowed nowhere else, got that?”

“Yeah, got it. Fine. I’m not stupid.” I have to admit, if he said anything else after that, I didn’t exactly hear him because I was too busy looking for the remote for his fucking huge television. I swear, this thing is taller than I am. You should see this fucking thing.

Anyway, before I could grab the remote, Perry snatched it up from the table and waved it in my face.

“And listen to me, Mr Priors Back East. If I even think something’s gone missing, I will drag you down to the police station myself.”

“Right. Yeah. Don’t take anything. Easy,” I said, a little offended that he even felt the need to tell me not to. I’m not a fucking idiot, despite what he thinks. “Like I’d go snooping thro ugh your place anyway. I don’t want to wind up scarred for life when I accidentally find your massive dildo collection.”

“Oh, I keep those in the second drawer of my dresser, next to the gimp mask and the spread bar.”

“Really?”

“No!” He finally gave me the remote, but by then, I was starting to seriously question my decision to crash at his place. Not that I thought he’d do anything to me, but still. The man has a gimp mask somewhere.

Anyway, he went to bed after that, and I was still awake when he got up the next morning, but only just. I was kind of hoping that since he’d banned me from the kitchen, he had plans of making breakfast, but he just left without saying anything, so I made myself a sandwich and went to bed on his couch. To hell with his fucking rules, since he didn’t seem to care about making sure I didn’t have to break them in the first place.

When I woke up, he was back and staring at the plate I’d left i n the sink like he was trying to set it on fire with his mind. Which, I don’t know. He’s Perry van Fucking Shrike. Maybe he can do that. How the hell should I know?

“What other rules did you break?” he asked. “Did you take anything?”

“Yeah,” I said, getting up to see if maybe I could get away with making some coffee. Which didn’t work because he wouldn’t let me back into the kitchen. “I completely cleaned you out, and then I realised that I’m fucking homeless and had nowhere to stash it all, so I put it all back. No, you jackass. I made a sandwich and went to bed.”

He started washing the plate, as though it being there offended him to his very core. Which, again, I don’t know. Maybe it did.

“I told you not to come in here,” he said.

“Yeah, I know, but you didn’t make breakfast,” I said. “Fucking homeless. No money. Remember? Your rules suck. You’re like a big, gay Hitler.”

“Sieg heil, b itch,” he said. “Now get out of my way and learn to clean up your messes.”

“What messes? It was a plate. Hardly any mess at all. Who taught you how to count?”

And it was, too. Just a single plate. I didn’t even leave it on the counter; it was just there in the sink. I mean, ya know, I could maybe understand it if, like, I’d unpacked all my things and just left it lying around, but I didn’t. I didn’t even get anything out of my bag at all. I watched Leno and Conan and then flipped around his four-hundred fucking channels until oh-god-o’clock when Perry woke up and abandoned me. Then I made a sandwich and went to bed. No mess.

Fucking drama queen.

“What the fuck is your problem, anyway?” I asked. “I’ll buy you a new loaf of bread if that’s what you’ve got your panties in a wad over. Or are you worried about how I don’t match the décor?”

Perry sighed and rubbed his forehead. “It’s not about the food o r those ugly fucking hoodies you wear; it’s about you being a wanted criminal. How the fuck did you think this was going to work out?”

I shrugged. “What? That’s in New York. They’re not gonna look for me out here. Anyway, you already said I’m not going to jail.”

“That was for you pretending to be Frank Castle’s wimpy little brother out there on the 405, dipshit.”

Huh. I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I guess I kinda was like that. Although, I always saw myself more as, like, the Tony Stark type. Only, you know, without all the girls and money and… fancy beard.

“Are you even listening to me?” Perry asked.

“Yeah, yeah, fine,” I said quickly. “No. What?”

Perry covered his face with his hand and sighed, and I knew that he was about ten seconds away from starting in with the shouting.

“Look at me and listen to the words that are coming out of my mouth,” he said. “I have a reputation to maintain. Dabney isn’t my only client. If word gets out that I’m associating with a known criminal, I’m out of business. So stop stealing shit, stop breaking the law, and try to behave like a responsible adult and stay the fuck out of trouble, all right?”

Well, fuck. When he put it like that… I mean, I knew he didn’t have a whole lot of faith in me, but what really hurt was that he didn’t trust me either. I mean, I thought we were friends. What kind of asshole would I have to be to deliberately fuck him over like that? But it was pretty fucking clear right then that he only let me stay on his couch because he knew it would get back around to him if I did anything to get arrested.

“Yeah. Fine. I get it,” I said. “I see how it is. I save your fucking life, and all I get in return is you accusing me of stealing your shit and telling me to I’m not allowed anywhere in the house except for on your couch? What the fuck? Thanks for the gratitude, princess .”

“You hypocritical little pussy,” Perry said. “Talk about gratitude, you’d be in fucking prison right now if not for me, so why don’t you try showing a little respect for myself and my business?”

And by now, he was getting all up in my face like he was about to start something. And he’s a pretty big guy, you know, and I won’t lie, the son of a bitch could easily take me, and I already tried taking him on once, and well, you all saw how good that went.

“I don’t want anything to do with your goddamn business.” I tried to step back, but damn near fell over a small table instead. “I just want to get on with my life. Just give me some time to find a job and then I’ll be out of your perfectly teased hair forever.”

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because he thought I was a loser, or maybe he wanted to bone me. I don’t know, but Perry agreed to let me stay until I got on my feet. Harmony’s sister’s funeral was a few days after that, and Perry paid for my ticket to go out there and then tried to get me to stay in Indiana with Harmony, but when I said I didn’t want to, surprisingly, he let me come back to LA with him. Which, you know, I would have stayed back there if it didn’t mean putting up with my fucking brother for a month, who hates my fucking guts. Something about bail money or something. I don’t fucking know. But the feeling’s mutual. About the gut-hating, I mean; not the bail money. That one’s completely one-sided.

I should also probably mention that when I say that I work for Perry, I don’t actually mean that I’m a PI. I can’t get a license to do that sort of thing and I’m technically not even allowed to handle a gun because of a felony from when I was twenty-three. And another when I was thirty. So, really, I’m Harry Lockhart, glorified secretary. Perry found out about the felony thing when him and his police contact buddies or whatever they are did their thing and pushed all that Christmas bullshit under the rug. But I gotta admit, at the time, I wasn’t even thinking about that shit. I was just trying to solve the case. So, after I bombed more interviews and background checks than I could count, Perry started paying me to answer his phone calls and take down notes, and even though I’m not a PI, he does let me go on cases with him sometimes, if they’re short and simple enough. Which isn’t very often, since a lot of times, they just turn out to be long and boring. He even still lets me crash on his couch sometimes whenever Harmony throws me out.

And that’s how we got to Perry’s office with a deck of cards. Which sounds a little like a solution to Clue, now that I say it out loud, but what can you do?

“Yeah, nice try, dick. That was all you.”

Perry was on a case at the time, and he’d only come back to home to grab his camera and some other gear. Which I have to admit, did distract me from my original problem I was having.

“Oh, have we got a stakeout?” I asked.

“No,” said Perry. “I have a stakeout. You are going to stay here, answer the phone if it rings, and keep your feet off my desk.”

I got up to follow after him anyway, because I was sick of staring at the phone and waiting for it to ring.

“You said you were gonna teach me this detective stuff,” I said. “Come on, I wanna learn. I’m ready to get out there. You know, for real.”

Perry stopped and shook his head, and then nodded, which was really fucking confusing. “Yes, I’m going to teach a convicted felon how to be a PI,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s what you said,” I told him.

“No, of course I’m not!” And then he hit me on the side of the head. “It’s called sarcasm, moron. Look it up. If I keep taking you with me, I’m gonna in serious trouble because your little fuck-ups are bound to become massive fuck-ups.”

Well , that hurt. Not just the hitting, which also hurt, but what he said. He started to leave again, but I kept following.

“Come on, it’s just a stakeout,” I argued. “What can possibly go wrong? We’re just sitting there watching someone, right? Not a whole lot I can fuck up. Not that I do fuck things up anyway.”

Perry didn’t say anything until we got out to his car and he was loading his gear into the back seat.

“Why are you still following me?” he asked.

“Because I want to go with,” I said. I tried to get into the passenger seat, but the door was locked. “And I know you have your office calls forwarded to your cell phone, because that damn thing hasn’t rang in two fucking weeks, but somehow, you still have cases. So, explain that, MacGuffin.”

“MacGyver,” Perry said, looking at me over the top of the car.

“What?”

“A MacGuffin is a plot device used to get the story going. You’re thinking of MacGyver , dipshit.”

I had no fucking idea what the hell he was talking about, and won him over by sheer force of standing there. He finally unlocked the door and let me into the car.

“No matter what happens, you stay in this fucking car,” he said, pointing a very mean-looking finger at my face. “Now, why are you going to leave this car?”

“Uhm…” Seriously, was that some sort of trick question?

“You’re not,” Perry said. “You stay here until I tell you to get out.”

“Right. You said that,” I said. And just to keep him happy, I even put on my seatbelt.

“Good. Glad to see you’re keeping up.” He started the car and took us to wherever it was we were going. Somewhere in Fullerton or something. I don’t know; I still get fucking lost in this city just trying to find a Starbucks.

The client was some yuppie chick called Janet Rothstein, and had hired Perry to track her husband. She thought he was having an affair be cause that’s what people in LA do for fun, or something. But like most idiots Perry investigates, he sucked at covering his tracks, and his wife noticed a lot of spending that she never saw anything from. I’m talking like, thousand-dollar withdrawals and shit, and then nothing to show for it. I mean, how stupid do you gotta be?

Apparently, Perry had been trailing this dick for about a week, and he was certain that it was gonna be this particular night that he finally got photographical proof of the affair.

We were parked about half a block down the road from their house, watching a whole lot of nothing going on for about two hours. After a while, I got bored and took the binoculars from Perry’s glove box and tried to see if I could see anything going on inside the house.

I couldn’t, but I did see what their neighbours were up to, which involved high school mascot costumes or something.

“Perry, check this out, man,” I said, pointing at a house closer to where we were parked. “Two-sixteen is into some pretty wild shit. Is that a squirrel?”

Perry looked at where I was pointing and then slapped the binoculars away from my face. “Would you knock it off and pay attention,” he snapped. “This. Right here. Potential fuck-up waiting to happen.”

“Killjoy,” I said.

I turned the binoculars back to the house we were watching, and that’s when I saw her. She wasn’t like every other Hollywood Diet, bottle-blonde girl I’d seen in LA. For one, she looked fucking real. And I mean every part of her, right down to the D-cups.

“Oh, fuck. Who’s this?” I asked.

“That’s my client,” Perry told me. “She gets off work at ten. I knew she’d be here tonight.”

I nodded and watched her go inside.

“You’re a lucky man, Mr Rothstein,” I said. “The chick he’s banging on the side had better be a fucking porn star or something. Seriously, this guy’s an idiot. I mean, just look at her. Did you see the rack on that?”

“Really?” Perry asked, giving me that look that said he was about two seconds away from calling me an idiot.

I rolled my eyes so hard that I thought they might fall out. “You’re such a gay.”

“At least I’m not a pervert. Give me those fucking binoculars.” He grabbed them away from me and tossed them in the back seat. “Wait, hang on.” He leaned forward and pointed out the window. “That’s him, right there.”

“Are we gonna follow him?” I asked, trying to see where he was pointing. A guy was just coming out of the house, so I assumed it was him. Which, if it was, he must have been the biggest idiot in the world to be going out to meet someone else with his wife right there.

“No,” Perry said. He grabbed his camera. “I am. Don’t move.”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it. Sit. Stay. Don’t chew on the seatbelts.”

Perry actually fucking smiled at me and ruffled my hair. “Good boy,” he said. What a goddamn prick. I knew I could handle this stuff, but he still seemed determined not to trust me at all.

I watched him go off to do whatever cool shit he was no doubt doing while I was left in the car like some annoying yappy dog that you can’t take into the store with you. You know, like one of those fuzzy little fuckers that barks at everything? I swear to God, that must be how he sees me sometimes, because it’s sure as hell how he treats me.

But I stayed in the car, because I wanted to prove that I could do something without fucking it up. I didn’t even grab the binoculars, which he left in the back seat. If this was a test, I was going to fucking ace it. I’m nobody’s fucking lapdog and I needed to get off this goddamn leash before he strangled me with it.

There’s a good chance that in not doing anything at all, I may have fallen asleep.

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