"In The Dark" Contest
Pen Name: SophiaAnne
Summary: Eight years ago, Bella Swan's father was murdered, and she's determined to find out what really happened to him. But the private investigator she hires has secrets of his own to keep that may make him more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Word Count: 3,789
For Rules and Other Submissions, please visit: http://www(DOT)fanfiction(D0T)net/u/2003775/
Disclaimer: Twilight and its characters belong to Stephanie Meyer, I'm just borrowing for amusement. No copyright infringement intended.
The sound of a door slamming startles her, the loud bang alien here in the middle of the quiet woods of the Pacific Northwest. She almost screams, she's so nervous, biting her tongue instead. She can taste the blood in her mouth, thick and coppery. It makes her feel nauseous.
She doesn't understand why her dad sent her up here.
She hears a man cursing. It doesn't sound like her father. She shifts forward, peering between the uneven planks that side the old barn. There are two men. Both are dressed in black. She can't see their faces. They have on hats, dark ball caps pulled low. One gestures angrily at the other. She doesn't understand them.
The one who's being yelled at crosses to the driver's side, yanks open the door, and pulls out a duffle bag. He's wearing gloves. Her brain tries to process that. Why would he wear gloves in August?
He drops the bag, gesturing angrily back at the other man as he rips the gloves off, then pulls off his shirt. There's something still covering his back, intricate dark markings, elaborate and adorned with flourishes. He half-turns in a crouch by the bag, pulling out identical black clothing, and she sees the streaks then, coating the side of his cheek.
There's something dark on his face.
There's something dark red on his-
The scream catches in her throat again, as the pieces suddenly, finally, interlock into place. She scuttles backwards towards the ladder at the edge of the loft and feels a splinter stab her finger as she hurtles down, catching her foot on the last rung. Her ankle twists, gives way beneath her weight as she rights herself, but she lurches forward as she hears a car engine start and then pull away.
The old barn isn't far from the cabin, thirty or forty feet at most, but it seems miles as she staggers to the back door, fumbling with the catch on the screen door until it gives way with a creak.
The silence greets her and she moves faster now.
Through the kitchen, down the hallway. The living room is in shambles, chairs overturned, the coffee table smashed.
The door to the small study lies open and she sees the crimson spray stark against the white paint before anything else. She falls to her knees, gagging, as she crawls forward the last few feet and sees him.
The scream finally tears from her throat.
Bella sat up, panting for air, as she fumbled for the unfamiliar hotel lamp. Light flooded the room as she threw the twisted covers off. The bathroom was only a few feet away, and she edged her way there, limbs trembling. She found the small light switch, then leaned against the cool of the marble vanity, focusing on her breathing. Slow and steady. Breathe in. Count. Breathe out.
The small prescription bottle sat to the left of the sink beside her makeup case, inches away from her hand. So easy. Make it all disappear again. Wrap herself back in the cotton wool and forget this. Her fingers extended, flexed, then curled back into a fist.
Breathe in, breathe out. Slow and steady.
She met her eyes squarely in the mirror. Her reflection did her no favors. Her skin was pasty, except for two high spots of color on her cheeks, and her eyes were too bright, their darkness almost glittering against her paleness. She brushed at the brown hair tangled on her forehead, matted with sweat. Her face felt clammy, and she shivered, suddenly craving warmth as the images bounced behind her eyelids again. She fumbled for the shower, turning the water on to warm.
She felt her chest tighten and pinned herself in the mirror. She could do this. Breathe in, breathe out.
What had Dr. Hale told her? Visualize. Focus.
The sound of the falling water was soothing, the swoosh of droplets steady and constant. She closed her eyes again, calling up one of her favorite memories, the sunrise over the beach, tendrils of light edging over the horizon and chasing away the darkness. She stepped blindly into the water, letting the heat soak through her worn t-shirt.
She wasn't sure how long she stood there, but her heart rate finally began to slow. She sank down to the floor of the shower, the tightness in her chest loosening as she wiped at the salt tears lingering in her lashes. She tilted back her head and let the water wash them all away.
She'd selected the hotel because of its proximity to his office so she could be certain she'd be on time. It had been an unnecessary precaution. Even with a stop for the hot tea that was all that her nervous stomach could bear at the moment, she found herself nearly thirty minutes early.
A light mist was falling, and she popped the small travel umbrella she'd remembered as a necessity when visiting this part of Washington as she paced up the block, mentally rehearsing everything in her mind once again, her terms, her conditions.
If only he would agree.
She double checked the address, then glanced at her watch again, wondered briefly if it had stopped working. She deciding that waiting in his office couldn't hurt. At least it would be dry.
The doorway was set between two larger buildings, a narrow entrance that seemed to have weathered better days. She climbed the worn steps carefully, reaching the landing with four sets of identical office doors, each painted red, each with a frosted glass inset listing the occupant. An accountant, an psychiatrist, an attorney. She walked past each and stopped in front of the one in the far right corner, reading the script on the door.
She took a deep breath and turned the knob.
Inside, she felt a little as though she'd stepped back in time. Dark wood paneled the walls, and an old-fashioned sofa sat pushed against one wall. A small lamp graced one side table, the light reflected through the shade warmed by the stained glass.
The one modern touch was a young woman perched behind a desk, earplugs to an iPod tightly in place as she typed at a report, her mouth full of gum pounding in rhythm to her fingers on the keyboard.
Keys continued to fly. She took a step forward closer to the desk and leaned into the secretary's line of sight. "Pardon me?
The girl started and yanked the plugs from her ears. "Who are you?"
"I'm Isabella Dwyer. I have an appointment at 11:00 with Mr. Masen?"
The girl shrugged. "Oh, right." She glanced up at the clock. "You're early. He's not in yet."
Bella nodded. "I know. Would it be alright if I wait?"
"Suit yourself." Headphones were about to be inserted when a thought seemed to strike the secretary. "Wait, fill this out." She shoved a clipboard across the desk with a pen attached.
Bella took the form and made her way back over to the sofa, sinking down on the worn springs that creaked as she glanced around the room again. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but a battered waiting area that had seen better days and a rude receptionist weren't it.
He's the right one for this job, she reminded herself.
The paper work was minimal. Brief biographical information, payment options, description of the case. She left that area vague purposefully. The minutes ticked by after she returned the form to the desk, where she was ignored, and she found herself growing restless as eleven o'clock rolled to quarter after. Just as she was about to attempt a second inquiry, the door to the office opened.
The change in the secretary was immediate. Bella watched in amazement as the girl flipped the headphones away, smoothed her hair, stood and adjusted her cleavage and offered a rather unmissable wiggle of her rear as she poured a cup of coffee and turned to present it with a flourish.
"Good morning, Mr. Masen."
He was here. Bella's gaze swung back towards the door, where he was hanging a dark trench on the coat rack. He turned and she watched as he gave her a quick glance, a brief assessing one over that seemed to miss nothing, before he walked past and took the cup the secretary was still patiently holding like the sacrifice of a supplicant.
"Two sugars, just the way you like it, boss."
He grabbed the clipboard and glanced at the heading. "Ms. Dwyer? I'll be with you in one moment."
The door shut, breaking the spell, and Bella sucked in air, suddenly aware that she'd stopped breathing for a moment.
He settled into the worn seat of his office chair and took a swig of his morning coffee, letting the slightly too sweet liquid slide down his throat. His head throbbed and he rubbed a hand over the slight scratch of his jawline. He'd half-assed shaving this morning. He snorted as he pulled the trusty bottle of aspirin out his top drawer and shook two into his hand. He half-assed it most mornings these days. Good thing people didn't seem to care if a P.I. looked a little disreputable. Went with the image – Marlowe and Spade and that gumshoe shit.
He could work with that. Better than the alternative. At least this way he was his own man.
He pulled the clipboard to the edge of the desk and looked through the paperwork. Isabella Dwyer. Dwyer. That name sounded familiar, though he couldn't quite place it. Listed Tampa, Florida as her primary residence. Curiouser and curiouser. What brought her to Seattle? The spot on the form for description of investigation was vague. Background investigation and closed police file. Nothing more.
He'd had these clients from time to time. The ones that couldn't put it in writing, as though it might make the thing they feared reality. Like the spouse worried their significant other was cheating – the few who didn't want it to be true, that is. His mouth twisted as he took another sip of the coffee. Most of them just wanted proof to beef up the divorce settlement.
But a closed police file . . . that could be trickier. Nothing to do but talk with the enigmatic Ms. Dwyer.
He laid the form down and stood, rolling his shoulders as he walked to the door.
Jessica perked up as always, ready and alert as a puppy begging for a treat as he poked his head back out the office door.
"Do you need something, Mr. Masen?"
"I'm ready for Ms. Dwyer now."
Jessica's face fell, and she turned to the woman, gesturing to the door with a nod of her head. "You can go in."
Ms. Dwyer rose to her feet, carefully smoothing the dark skirt and straightening her suit jacket. Business-like. Straightforward. He watched as she walked across the room, a small stumble at the edge of the rug. She quickly righted herself, a flash of crimson across her face.
He watched, fascinated, as she seemed to concentrate for a moment, her face gradually relaxing as she took a deep breath. She moved forward again, hesitating in the doorway, as though almost afraid to take the next step. He stepped back, motioning her in and closing the door behind her.
She was beautiful in an understated, classy kind of way. Not the kind of woman most guys would deem hot, but there was a fineness to her bone structure, her porcelain skin that evoked something primal and protective.
He reached out his hand to her, a small handshake to break the ice. "Good morning, Ms. Dwyer. Anthony Masen."
She took his hand, thin fingers wrapped around his calloused tips, and he jolted at the pure energy that seemed to surge through him as her light touch caught him off guard. He heard her gasp, and knew it wasn't one-sided as she stepped back quickly and disengaged.
He met her eyes and found himself unable to break their stare. They were fathomless, wells of pain and misery and anguish that he'd only seen in the mirror late at night. She was haunted.
He needed to run like hell away from this one. He had rules. Don't get emotionally involved with clients was near the top of the list. Don't sleep with clients wasn't far behind. She was already making him want to burn the list and she'd done nothing more than touch his fingertips and give him doe eyes.
He tore his eyes away from her and cleared his throat as he gestured her to the chair in front of his desk. He reseated himself on the other side, the wood a comfortable barrier between them. She perched there, sitting on the edge of her seat, looking as though she might bolt at any minute, or possibly upchuck on his worn rug. He could see the pulse fluttering widely at her throat.
He picked up the interesting case now and then, but most of the time it was the usual that paid the bills – cheating spouses, insurance frauds, that sort of thing. He wondered if she'd been wronged in love, if that could account for the depth of pain in those eyes, or if there was abuse in her past. He glanced as her hands as she smoothed the leather of her bag like a talisman and noted a worn gold band on her ring finger. He paused and looked again. On her right hand. Her left was smooth, unmarked. Had she been widowed? He'd seen a few women wear a band that way, but she looked so young to have lost someone that way.
"Ms. Dwyer, what can I do for you?"
He leaned forward, pulled out a fresh notepad, gave her his undivided attention. She sat up straight and met his eyes again.
"Eight years ago, my father was killed. The police closed the case as a burglary gone wrong, but I think there was a reason. I'd like you to investigate, to find out whatever you could about both my father and who may have killed him."
Her voice was firm and unwavering, and he could see the determination in her eyes. He put down the pen.
"Ms. Dwyer, I have to tell you, a case that old . . . other than reviewing the closed case files, I doubt there would be much to find. And the cost . . ."
She nodded. "I understand that, Mr. Masen. But I'd still like to hire you and see what you can uncover." She took a deep breath and plunged on. "I'd like to retain you full time while you work on this and I'd like you to start as soon as possible. I can assure you that money isn't an issue – I'll be happy to pay twice your normal fee."
She paused and dug in her bag, pulling out a folder. "I didn't know my father well. He and my mother divorced when I was very young, and he travelled often for business. I . . . I need to know more about his past, and why someone might have wanted to murder him."
He studied her across the desk. She was nervous still, her hands clasped tightly over the folder in her lap, her posture a touch too erect. She seemed to be holding herself together by sheer force of will, tightly contained. He wondered for a moment what she'd look like if she lost that control.
"May I ask why you're certain he was murdered, Ms. Dwyer?"
She closed her eyes, a drop of delicate eyelids with a faint purple smudge that spoke of exhaustion, and inhaled deeply.
"I was there, Mr. Masen. I saw the men leave, and I found his body."
Fuck. Now he felt like an ass. That explained it then, the sorrow in her eyes. Losing a parent young, it hit some people hard. But seeing a parent killed – that would shake most kids up, put them in therapy for awhile. She'd probably see her fair share of the shrink couch.
He leaned forward. "Ms. Dwyer, why have you decided to pursue this now?"
"My mother . . . thought it was best to just leave things alone, after what happened. I didn't want to hurt her, bringing up memories of my father for her. So I did as she asked." She gave a low sigh. "She and my stepfather passed away last year in an accident. I want to request her wishes, but that day . . . it eats at me."
She leaned forward and slid the file she'd been holding onto his desk with hands that were almost steady, barely betraying her. "I've been trying to collect the information I could find, from files my mother had kept."
He opened the folder, flipping through the pages with a practiced hand. Military records for a man named Charles Swan. A marriage license between Swan and a Renee Higgenbotham. Divorce settlement of the same from a few years after. Some employment information, a sales position with a medium sized electronics corporation. A copy of a property deed to a place in Forks, Washington. He recognized it as a small town to the northwest, near the coast.
He flipped the last paper and froze as a photograph beneath was revealed. It was a younger version of the woman before him, grinning as she sat next to an older man who shared her dark eyes and hair and fair skin. He took a slow breath, fighting to keep his face neutral with the help of long years of practice, and stared into the past as he studied the picture more closely.
He knew exactly who the man who called himself Charles Swan was and why he was killed.
She sat across the desk, her hands returned to the clasped position, almost in supplication. How much did she already know? Or at least suspect? Out of all the private investigators in Seattle, why him? He could feel cold tendrils of fear wrapping around his spine, warning him to run. Walk away and not look back. Find a new city. Somewhere warmer. Less rain. Start again.
And then she raised her eyes again and he saw the desperation there. He closed the folder. "Ms. Dwyer, can I ask why you came to me?"
"You had a client a couple of years ago – the Fletchers? You helped find their daughter when she was kidnapped."
Not what he'd been expecting. The Fletcher case had been one of his first when he set up shop, and he'd caught a lucky break, managing to stumble on the kid's whereabouts before the sick bastard that took her did more than scare her. He'd asked the parents to keep his name out of the paper though, to give the cops credit.
"How did you know about that?" he asked.
"My mother was friends with Brenda Fletcher a long time ago. She called her up when she read about what happened to Katie. Brenda told my mom you found her when no one else could."
He shrugged and looked away. "We were fortunate to find her in time," he murmured.
He glanced down at the folder one last time, then closed the file over the image of Charles Swan. Coincidence was a bitch. But this way . . . this way he could control things. Give her something to satisfy her, some closure, then make her go away. He owed that.
"Ms. Dwyer, I'll take your case."
The first genuine smile he'd seen today graced her face then, small and hopeful, and her eyes glowed like he was some kind of savior. It made him sick inside. He needed her to be gone now.
He rose to his feet, signaling the interview was over and she followed obediently as he led her to Jessica's desk to make further arrangements.
He sat in his office, listening as the door closed, giving her time to walk away before he was on his feet. Jessica glanced up, eager as always, as he strode by.
"I'm going out."
"You have Mrs. Jensen at one," Jessica said.
"Cancel," he replied. "Reschedule for the end of next week. Tell her I'm working on her case."
Jessica raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. "When will you be back?"
He shook his head as he grabbed his coat from the rack and slid it on. "Probably not today. Probably not for a few days while I'm working this Dwyer case – I'll be out of town. I'll call, check in."
She pouted a little and he ignored her as he walked out the door.
He'd had few criteria for office space, but proximity to a good bar had been one of them - a hole in the wall where a man could drink alone with the hell of his own thoughts without interruption. He walked the few blocks down the street and through the door of just such a place, settling on to the familiar stool at the end. At just shy of noon, he didn't lack for privacy.
"Whiskey neat," he ordered, nodding a thanks as the taciturn barkeep slid the drink in front of him, then returned to his own absorption with cleaning the glasses at the other end of the bar.
He stared into the smokey amber. Whiskey had been Archer's drink. His one indulgence, he'd always said.
Archer was tough. No nonsense. Knew the job, understood what needed to be done. He'd been, in some fucked up way, the father he'd never had. The man who managed to turn a green, wet-behind-the-ears kid named Edward Cullen into a precision killing machine.
He'd never known his real name until today.
And tomorrow he'd have to face his daughter and make sure she never knew the truth about her father. Or him.