Nickel and Dimed

I always fall for the wrong kind of guy.

The kind who gets you kicked out of an all-boys Catholic school because he can’t handle a steamy French kiss under the bleachers. Or the kind of guy who says he’s your best friend but ruins your Army career by outing you to your commanding officer.

The bearded man standing in front of me was a wrong kind of guy. I could feel it in my bones. If nothing else, being a private investigator had honed my intuition of people. The burly man just inside my office door was a bear country dime. Big around the chest and upper arms, and hairy there as well. His dockers hid what looked like chicken legs, but I didn’t mind. I tore my eyes away from his chest and looked him in the eye. The sadness and desperation there hit me like a M100 GREM. I took a deep breath. This would not end well.

I motioned for him to sit, and took refuge behind my desk.

“Mr. Nickel, my daughter’s missing. My ex-wife thinks she’s involved in a cult,” he said without doing much more than making sure I knew his name and looking around the empty office.

I suppressed a groan. A few years ago I’d managed to pull one young man from a New Mexico-based group that preyed on cancer patients. I’d destroyed the cult in the process and now everyone thought I could rescue and deprogram their loved ones. I really only had a fifteen percent success rate, but I had a big reputation.

I didn’t want to see him go just yet, though I knew I’d probably have to turn him away. Maybe I’d offer him some advice or a referral. It couldn’t hurt to hear him out.

I jotted some notes on my iPad as Bayle Jenkins told me his story. His daughter Amy had disappeared from Cal State the previous Monday, a worried roommate had hacked her Skype account and contacted Amy’s mom. The roommate didn’t know anything other than the guy Amy had been seeing, Rodney No-Last-Name, had been one of the cult elders called a Spark.

“When I think about it, my daughter’s been vanishing before my eyes for the last year. Acting different. Quiet where she used to be bubbly. I thought she was just maturing.”

I nodded with a sympathy I didn’t have to fake. His daughter was involved with a group that self-mutilated with fire for some sort of spiritual high.

“They say you’re a cultbreaker.” Bayle’s voice was hesitant.

I winced. Cult cases were awful. And one whiff of me in their business, the damn cults went on lockdown.

“I’m not sure I can help you.”

Bayle Jenkins stared back at me, his sad, vulnerable eyes doing all the talking. He didn’t beg or plead his case.

We sat, staring. I looked away first.

“Alright, Mr. Jenkins. I’ll do it.”

Always such a fucking sucker.

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Wordage: spark, vanishing
Genre: Neo-noir
Wordcount: 494


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