ForewordBelow lies a tale of intrigue, deception and subterfuge. Proceed only if you are ready. Also I apologise if it makes no sense, I’ve never tried to do a mystery kind of thing before. Here we gooooooooooooooooooo…
Three weeks ago
A shallow pool, hurried footsteps. A quickly drawn breath, a thud on the bare earth. Retreating footsteps. Branches rustle, ripples break.
Ben sighed and looked up from his desk as the door opened. Perhaps this would be a welcome distraction from filling in police reports. The life of a PI could be rather dull at times; half the cases were lost cats or wayward husbands.
“You’re the detective? I’ll pay you 200 a day, but you’ll drop your other cases and focus on mine. This file should give you everything you need to know. Give me a call when you’re ready to start,” a young woman had opened the door, and having thrown a thick dossier on the desk, promptly made to leave. She paused at the door and turned back, “My number’s on the back.”
The door slammed shut, leaving Ben shocked and mouth agape at his desk, alone again. He looked down at the cardboard folder, then across at the reports, then swept them onto the floor. It had better not be a cheating husband, he thought, pulling the folder towards him and beginning to read.
Later that day
Opening the door of his dingy flat, Ben made a beeline for his phone. On opening the folder he had come across one of the oddest things he had ever read. It was a full profile of a woman, not the one who had given him the folder, but another, with nearly every detail from birth to present day. The last page in the folder was almost blank, with two words printed in faded ink in the centre.
Picking up the phone, he punched in the numbers scrawled on the reverse of the folder, and waited for the ring. There was none, and he heard the click as it was answered immediately. Nothing about this was normal. There was only silence, though he thought he could hear someone breathing at the other end.
“Hello? This is Ben, I believe you threw a folder at me earlier?” He continued to wait for an answer, and was about to put the phone down again when the reply came.
“You’ve read it?”
“Yes, cover to cover.”
“And you’ll do it?”
Ben paused, about to reply, unsure of how to reply. He had a strange feeling that things might continue to be as strange as they had begun. Then again, strange was better than dull.
“I’ll do it. You’re going to have to give me a little more to go on though.”
“Thank you,” the reply came back, no longer terse and commanding but full of relief and hope, “Meet me at the coffee shop on the corner near the Bank tomorrow at nine. The City makes even me feel innocent. I hate bankers.”
Then a click, and Ben was left with nothing but a dial tone and a sense of bewilderment. Tomorrow would be an interesting day.
The next day
Ben ordered an overpriced pot of tea, and took it upstairs to sit by a window. Looking out at the bankers scuttling about like identical black suited beetles, he wondered about what the young woman had said on the phone. The City makes even me feel innocent, she had said. Well, that was a clue, he supposed. If he ever found out who she was, he could bet she had a record.
With that thought just fading, someone sat down in the chair opposite him, and there she was. Short, determined and angry was perhaps the most apt description. Ben crossed his legs, steepled his fingers and looked across at her, waiting for her to speak. After a good few minutes of silent staring he decided that it might be better to start the conversation off himself.
“So, do you have a name?”
“Could you maybe tell me what it is?”
“I’m going to have to call you something. I can’t just wave at you every time I need your attention, and anyway, I don’t know semaphore.”
She looked at him still, bit her lip, and decided to trust him.
“Dragon? That some kind of nickname?” Ben said, quizzically.
“Something like that.” Still eyeballing him, she sat back slowly and crossed her arms, “You want to know more then? I hope you’re ready.”
Ben wasn’t sure if he was, but nodded anyway. It couldn’t be that weird, could it? She began.
“Three weeks ago, the person in that file went missing. I don’t know how, I don’t know where, but they’re gone. This is why I need you. You can come at this fresh, as someone with no preconceived ideas. You need to find her.”
“And why is she so important? What makes you think she disappeared in suspicious circumstances?
“Because she was closing in on the truth. We both were. And that’s why they got her.”
“Who did? Someone got her? Can’t you go to the police?” Ben leaned forwards, now genuinely intrigued by her caged responses.
“Yes. They got her. And of course not, they have the police wrapped around their little finger. No, I need someone clean to help me. And I looked you up. You’re about as clean as they get. Morally speaking…”
She trailed off, casting an eye at the stains on yesterday’s shirt. He pulled his coat across to hide them. This was all so impossible sounding, and yet he somehow believed her. Every clichéd and vague word of it.
“OK then, fill me in.”
And she told him of a world of independent truth seekers, people determined to bring justice to those who deserved it most, and punish those in the wrong. Groups, cells and organisations; loose affiliations of freedom fighters, dreamers and activists. Stories of cabals of businessmen, shady lawyers and corrupt judges; smugglers, drug runners and human traffickers. Names he recognised, and many more that he didn’t. Some of these wrongdoers were public figures, others were unassuming ordinary looking people, but all went unpunished, and so she had devoted herself, like so many others, to uncovering the truth and revealing it to the world.
A few months back, she said, her small group of researchers and activists had uncovered something huge. A terrible web of deceit stretching across the government and the public services. But their discovery did not go unnoticed, and they found they were being watched, followed. One by one, their numbers dwindled as her friends had got scared, and quit, forgetting all about what they had found in order to protect themselves and their families.
“Probably should have warned you, really. You know now, they’ll be looking for you too,” She said, entirely unapologetically, almost like an afterthought.
There were only three of them left by a month ago.
“And now there are two, which is why I’ve come to you. We’ve got to get her back. She knew something more than we did, she’d found something out, but they got to her first.”
Ben sat back again, trying to take it all in. It was a bit much for a Thursday morning really.
“Why did you give me the folder on your friend?” He asked. The question had been boiling up for a while now.
“Because that’s what they will have on her. I thought it might be useful for you to achieve the same perspective on things. Think like your enemy, kind of thing.”
“They aren’t my enemy though.”
“What have I been telling you? They’re everyone’s enemy, and now they’re definitely yours. Just because you know.”
“I don’t even know who ‘they’ are!” He exclaimed in response.
“Then suspect everyone. It’s for the best. I suggest going somewhere other than your own home from now on. I can find you a safe house if you like,” she said, matter of factly.
“Then why should I trust you? And why would you trust me?”
She smiled slightly, pouring herself a surely cold cup of tea from his pot.
“You can’t, I can’t. But we’re going to have to try” Dragon drained the cup.