Picture this, folks. New York. January. Cold like a loveless marriage, the sort that turns around and shivs you just for something to do. Snow gone brown and mushy. Grey sky, and the clouds look like tobacco smoke against it. Probably taste like it too, and piss out bourbon when they rain - the city’s got that kind of feel to it. And me, traipsing through the alley like a damn schmuck on a case that’s locked up tighter than a whorehouse to beggar. I’ve been on this thing for thirty six hours and it’s gone straight to hell with a manic grin and a trail of bodies to mark the way.
Am I being screwed over? Like a choir boy on an altar, but a case is a case. You don’t hire a guy like me if you’ve got an easy one and this is so far from an easy one I may as well get a new passport and emigrate. I’ve had two guys try to drop me and I’m getting fucking sick of being shot at, and the church that was supposed to be my next lead is a pile of smoking rubble with a corpse or two thrown in as a fun freebie to brighten my day. Nothing cheers you up like learning that your kidnapping case went murderous on you. Better than Christmas come eleven months early and leaving a pipe bomb in your stocking, and Santa being a dick who drank the last of the booze and stuck an IOU note to the empty flask.
How did I get myself here? Well. It started with this dame. Scamander, that was the name, friend of Queenie’s sister, something like that - Queenie comes over to my desk all smiles like she couldn’t stick a stiletto through your heart and twist it. Says she has a case for me, says I’ll like this one. Says I should open the window and let some sunlight in the room before I choke on the gloom, but all that would do is swap the smoke from inside for the smog from outside and it’s high quality smoke in my office. I ain’t trading that for the cheap shit they breathe in the street.
“Don’t be shy honey,” she says to the dame. “Graves don’t bite. He talks big, but he’s a real softy on the inside.”
You’re a star, Queenie. A real diamond in the shitpile of life. God only knows why I keep you around.
She ushers the dame in, and I prepare myself for the usual schtick. Been doing this job for long enough now that I know the trope: red dress, killer heels, flashier jewels than a doll their age could afford but the kind of makeup that says exactly where they got the money from. Drop a bit of leg on the desk, bat their eyes and take the sort of drag on their cigarette that a guy would usually pay to see, dump a case on me that no sane detective would ever take.
Joke’s on them; they can lean forwards all they want, but this detective is as bent as politician’s morals. Nice assets darling, but they do exactly squat for me. I take the cases. I solve the cases, because that’s what I do. And then I charge them through the fucking nose for the privilege and drop their pretty jewels off at the pawn shop on my way home. It pays the bills.
So I’m sat there, bracing myself for more of the same, and Queenie steps back as the dame comes through.
I swear my heart took one look and decided to do the fucking charleston against my ribs. One of the routines which is all kicks and flailing like an epileptic flamingo and some idiot shredding a ukulele in the background.
“Take a seat, sweetie,” Queenie says, and I can see on her face that she knows exactly what her new case is doing to me. If I wasn’t so close to cardiac arrest I’d say something about that, but I focus on remembering to breathe instead. “You want anything? Coffee, tea, can I get you a slice of something nice?”
“Whiskey,” I croak out, and Queenie ignores me.
“Oh,” the dame says, and fuck if his voice isn’t liquid honey and ice cream in summer. Fuck. “No, I’m good. I wouldn’t want to be a bother.” He ducks his head and looks up through a curly ginger fringe. Pain starts shooting down my left arm as my heart gives out.
“Don’t be silly,” Queenie scolds. “I’ll get you a tea, you just wait right there.”
He smiles, all bashful and shy, and I start praying because I’ve lived through a lot in the comedic shitshow that’s my life but this? This is what’s going to kill me.
“So Mr Scamander,” I say in a strangled attempt at a drawl. “I hear you have a case for me?”
He nods, quick and jittery like, and reaches into his pocket for a photo. When he unfolds it it shows some miserable fuck with a haircut not even a mother could love and I swear, this better not be his boyfriend. My life is trouble enough without the inevitable fallout when I steal the guy’s dame from under his nose. Because I will. I’ll feel bad about it, sure, but morals are a luxury I’m miles too broke to afford and opportunities like this don’t come often enough to pass them by.
“This is Credence. He’s my…” He pauses. It’s a long pause, one that drags on too long as he searches for the words, and I can tell you this because I wasn’t breathing during it and my chest was on fucking fire by the time he picked up again. “He’s family. And he’s missing, and I wanted - I was hoping - you think you can find him, Mr Graves?”
And see, you don’t come to a dive like this with a basic missing person’s case like that. My brain’s as pickled as my liver from all the spirits I’ve soaked it in, but I ain’t blind enough not to spot that there’s something more going on here. I shoulda chucked the dame out the window and told him to keep the change for trying to pull a fast one on me, or at the very least grilled him like a flambe steak until he spilled the beans.
He leans forward and bites his lip, big eyes all wide and bad news writ over him like a twenty foot billboard and fuck me sideways with a jazz band.
My will’s in my left shoe and Queenie, the traitor, is inheriting the business and every dime of the debt that comes with it.