Users Who Spiked
(Part 2 of 3)
Beatrice woke with a start when someone slammed their car door next to her. She fumbled around in the dark for her phone with one hand and adjusted the seat's recline with her other. Her fingers found the smooth glass face of the phone in the crack between her seat and the center console. She attempted to get a grip on it with two fingers to slide it out of the crevice while she looked around the parking lot. There was no sign of the Lincoln. She peered through the windshield up at the room where she'd last seen Rick Stephans and his companion. The lights were out.
"Dammit," she whispered.
Finally succeeding in rescuing her phone, she pressed the on button, but the screen didn't light up. She swore again. The phone was dead. Getting out of her car and casting a wary look around for the maroon jacketed man, she headed up to the registration desk to ask Rodney a few questions. When she got there, she saw that Rod had been replaced by another man who looked to be about 45, bald, and around 300 lbs. Beatrice didn't have any rapport with this one, so she swept past without a word and pretended to be perusing the vending machines. She must have slept past the shift change.
An hour later, she was in a line of cars at a roadside coffee shop. It was less of a shop, really, and more of a small trailer someone had parked in a strip mall parking lot. But, it'd been there steadily for over a year so it was as good as a permanent structure. Beatrice squinted against the sunrise and pondered whether it was a double shot day or a triple. She yawned. Definitely a triple.
She was a little perkier when she strode into the office, intending to pull up any info she could get on Gillespie's bar. She stopped at Andrew's desk and deposited a triple espresso. But as soon as she sat down at her own desk, she swore again.
Her computer still wanted a password she couldn't supply. It was going to be hard to get much of anything done until she did. As a private investigator, Beatrice was familiar with all the dumb things people did with their passwords. Give her two minutes at a person's desk and she could locate the passwords to let her into all sorts of accounts, photos, and private messages. That's because people wrote them on sticky notes, in the corners of their day planners, and behind photos on their desks. Consequently, she didn't do any of those things herself. But another thing she hadn't done was come up with a viable alternative.
She squeezed her eyelids shut and sipped what remained of her coffee. What had she been thinking about the other day when the computer prompted her to update her password? She never used the names of pets, the make of her cars, or birthdays as passwords. Never had she entered her favorite color, her favorite movie, or her middle name. Even if she did fill out those ridiculous info prompts on social media, she'd never use those answers for her passwords. That was, after all, a tool she used to get information herself, just like the sticky notes. No, it had to be something random, a connection in her mind that nobody else would make. As she was squinting and sipping, Andrew walked into the room and sat at his desk.
"Still can't remember it, eh?"
"No. How do you remember your passwords?"
"I'm not divulging my secrets to you of all people. Thanks for the coffee."
"Dammit. What if you were investigating me? What do you think my password would be?"
"Probably something profane."
Hmmm. There was a chance he was right. She once chose the password Ih8computers! because she was so frustrated with the one she'd been using. The trouble was, her vocabulary was so diverse when it came to creative profanity that guessing her favorite phrase was almost as hard as guessing any other combination of words. She typed, ********. The screen refreshed, this time saying she had only one more guess before she was locked out. A string of profanities left her mouth.
"Yeah, something along those lines," said Andrew.
"What do you know about Gillespie's?" Beatrice asked.
"That bar down on First Avenue?"
"That's the one. Tailed Mr. Stephans there last night."
"Not much. It's a shady joint, but I'm pretty sure it's legit. The owners seem to be law-abiding even if most of their customers aren't. It's beers and cheap cocktails. Sometimes they host a jazz band, or they used to. Haven't been in a while."
He was distracted with his own research and his black coffee. Beatrice decided there was still plenty of work she could do without a computer. After all, there were PIs long before there were laptops. She picked her keys up from the desk and threw her jacket back over her shoulders. In ten minutes, she was at the county courthouse, in the basement. It felt good to be digging through paper files again. Maybe, she thought, she could adapt to being unplugged. There was something to be said for "good ol' fashioned detective work." In a crisp brown cardboard box on a bottom shelf in the archive room, she found what she was after. She withdrew a manilla folder with a hand-typed label that matched Gillespie's address.
Pulling a hard aluminum chair up to an abandoned old desk in a corner of the archive room, Beatrice sat and opened the file. Gillespie's was owned by a local man who opened the bar fifty years ago. A collection of old permits, a newspaper clipping announcing the bar's opening night, and a list of dates and performers were in the folder, along with the records of a lawsuit. It seems the bar had been shut down twenty years prior for alleged illegal gambling on the property. The authorities, however, had failed to provide compelling evidence in court and the charges were dropped. The owner then filed a suit against the county for loss of reputation and sales. There was no more recent information. If there'd been anything since it was probably on a computer somewhere.
Beatrice closed the file. It hadn't really told her much of anything, except that there wasn't much to tell. She walked back to the shelf where it came from and put the folder back in its place. Then, she strolled down the aisles of boxes until she came to one that held Sandoval, Brian through Sumpter, Elizabeth. She pulled it down onto the floor and opened the lid. The box was only half full. The front half was filled with Sandoval through Stenwick, then there was a huge gap until the last two files, Sullivan and Sumpter, at the back. If there'd been anything on Stephans, it was gone now.
She put the box back on its shelf and headed home. If she was going to tail the Lincoln again tonight, she would need some shuteye.
Hours later, she was looking at the back of Rick Stephans's head as the two of them drove down the winding streets of a rundown suburb. Beatrice had to follow several blocks away this time. She didn't have the city traffic and the darkness to hide in. The sun had started its descent, but it wasn't dim enough to necessitate headlights yet. As soon as the Lincoln pulled into a driveway, Beatrice pulled over behind a white SUV parked on the curb. She watched Rick get out of his car. He was alone this time. He walked up to the house, pulled open the garage door, and went inside. After a moment, he came back out of the garage and drew the door down again. He was carrying a duffel bag that he threw into the Lincoln's trunk before getting back behind the wheel and backing out into the street.
They drove until they were back on the highway, but it was only a mile or so until Rick took an exit ramp onto the access road. They pulled into a pothole filled lot in front of a dilapidated strip mall. Only two businesses appeared to be still in operation: an Army surplus and a massage parlor. Beatrice left the parking lot, circled the block, and parked in the back of the mall. The building was shaped like a giant letter L. Peeking out just a little from one edge of the building, she had a good view of the parlor at the other end. She killed the engine and unzipped her camera bag.
The camera shutter whirred as she captured Rick and his duffel bag entering the establishment. Almost all of the windows were blacked out. Two red lanterns hung from the awning and a cheap plastic OPEN sign flashed white LED lights from a single clear window above the front door. Beatrice had a pretty good idea of what Stephans was doing inside. It wasn't the kind of place that focused on salon-grade beauty supplies and hot stone therapy. She wondered, though, what the bag was for. When he came out twenty minutes later, he wasn't carrying it. She took a few more snapshots before securing the camera safely in its bag and starting her engine. The Lincoln departed from the other end of the lot and Beatrice pulled around and across the lot to follow.
As she steered around the potholes, she happened to glance at the Army surplus shop. Inside, pushing against the glass door and stepping out onto the sidewalk was a man in a maroon leather jacket.
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