It was another rainy, mid-autumn day—the kind that affects more than just the bustling life outside your window. This was one of those storms that made you antsy; it made your office stuffy and uncomfortable. And, worst of all, it made you think. The pitter-patter of raindrops on my windowpane was like the ticking of a time bomb I couldn't defuse; I was powerless to do anything but sit at my desk and listen to that incessant ticking, and with every splat came a fresh wave of tension. Little by little, raindrop by raindrop, I was being driveninsane.
To say that work had been slow lately would have been an understatement. Work had, in fact, been painfully lackadaisical for the past month or so. Cases were becoming so few and far between that I was beginning to take certain weekdays off. Couldn't afford to keep the office open—pay utilities and all that. And the select few cases that did come to my attention were so insignificant that they were hardly worth my time. My latest case, as much as I hate to admit it, went a little something like this.
"Oh, Agent Coons! Agent, it's just awful! I seem to have lost my precious diamond ring. I can't find it anywhere! Please, you simply must help me! Someone may have stol—"
"Calm down, ma'am." The woman came storming into my office like a crazed bat out of hell. "Relax. What were you doing just before you noticed it was missing?"
"Well, I was... Oh, yes. I'd just put my little darling to bed," the lady muttered aloud. She tapped her chin, squinted her eyes at nothing and scratched her head. She was thinking hard. "A-And then I... I went downstairs! Yes, that's it. I went downstairs to wash the dishes. They were still dirty from dinner, you see. And then—"
"Did you check the plumbing, ma'am? Did it occur to you that your ring might have accidentally slipped down the drain?"
Her expression suddenly turned stony and blank—unaffected. All traces of distress drained from her face as she contemplated the possibility; one could practically see the gears turning in her head. When her smile finally returned, her face filled with an inexplicable sense of relief and enlightenment, it was clear that was the end of it. "Oh, of course! That must be it. I must have knocked it down that blasted drain!" She chuckled at her own stupidity—that is, for lack of a better word. "Agent, thank you so very much! I'll go home and have my husband fish it out right away!"
And that was the end of that.
Although, now that I think about it, I was never paid.
But all that aside, my point is this: the most dramatic part of that case was the woman's entrance, the way she burst through the door of my office with a look of utter distress plastered across her face. That was as hair-raising as my cases ever got nowadays. And listening to that incessant rainfall outside, I was finally beginning to realize the fact that I'd been pushing aside for so long. It was inescapable, and I had to admit it:
I was falling off the map.
My golden reputation as a detective was dissipating amongst the public… and fast. My title was escaping the minds of the people, my name having gone unspoken for far too long. The last big case I finished—the one that got my credibility circulating around the entire city—was over a year and a half ago. I should have known better than anyone; the mind of the public is fickle, indeed.
Fact of the matter was, I needed a new case. A big case. One that would get me back on the map and back in business. I needed something that this generation would tell stories about for years to come—something so big that it would be impossible to push aside and forget.
And then came the phone call.
His voice was deep, cold and unwavering. "Is this Agent Coons?" It was more of a statement than a question, really.
"It is," I answered after hesitating a moment, my tone equally as steady.
"I've a job fer ya. You gon' accept?"
This was certainly atypical protocol. Phone calls usually began with an introduction and a statement of case before anything else. I had to be careful, getting caught up in a conversation like this. "I prefer to understand the situation and set terms before committing myself to any particular case," I answered vaguely, still on the fence.
"Oh c'mon, Coons. We both know yer lil' business is done in if ya ain't gonna pick up yer game none."
Suddenly, his tone was unsettling; his speech was no longer so unaffected. It almost felt as if he was poking fun at me now, and he spoke as if he was privy to something I was unaware of. As if he doesn't know too much already... I thought. "Who is this?"
The funny thing was, I could have hung up at any point. If I had wanted to, I could have let the whole thing go… and I didn't. Perhaps I should have, but I didn't. There was just something about his voice, the mysteriousness of it all… It had been so long—so incredibly, painfully long—since a worthwhile case had crossed my path. And as terrifying as this one had the potential to be, it was just the dose of excitement I had been lacking. Perhaps I would regret it later, but there was no way I was letting this case slip by me.
"Hello?" I repeated after a pause. "Who is this?"
"Doesn' matter. I've a case fer ya that I'm sure ya can't refuse. Meet me 'hind the Civic Center in Kixville and we'll, as you say, 'set terms' there." I could practically feel his devilish smirk from across the phone line. "I'll be there at midnight… Don't be late."
And that was the end of that.
I was left sitting solemnly at my desk, with nothing to fill my head but the pitter-patter of raindrops outside and the maddening dial tone of a one-sided conversation.