Day Forty-three: Investigations
“Welcome to SmackyBurger, how can I help you?”
Her smile was cold and plastic, the kind of smile you saw in deserted online games. The greeting came out in a single, memorized flood of sound, and her right hand was poised over the simple pushbutton register. I pulled out my badge, and her smile faltered for a moment.
“Taylor Petraglia,” I said. “Private eye. I need to speak to your manager.”
Her eyes darted between the ID and my face. Then she half-turned to look behind her. “I don’t know where-”
“Yes you do, honey,” I said. “Just point me to Mister Stringer’s office and you can get back to shelling out the burgers.”
She looked towards a door behind the counter, and I started walking. “But you can’t-”
I held up the badge again. “Yes I can, sweetheart,” I said. Technically she was right. I wasn’t a cop, and I didn’t have a warrant. But the day I stop being able to intimidate teenagers is the day I give it all up and move down to Phoenix. I pushed open the door.
The man in the office was in his exhausted middle age. He looked up at me without any sense of surprise, and I can forgive him for that. I’m a private eye. It’s not good for us to be too shocking or conspicuous. Makes the whole business harder if you’re some lumbering giant in a greatcoat. I wore an off the rack suit that would have done for any low-level drone in any company. It was the standard uniform almost everywhere I went, and it granted me entry more often than not.
“What do you want?” he asked. Even in his question there was barely a hint of curiosity or anger.
“Mister Stringer,” I said, pulling the badge out again. “I’m Taylor Patraglia, private investigator. I’d like to ask you a few questions.” I pulled the other chair in the room over to the desk.
“What is this about?” he asked.
“Well,” I said, sitting down and pulling out my notebook, “it seems that your ex-wife has run off with a half million dollars from her employers, and is currently nowhere to be found. I thought I’d talk to you a little and see what we can find out.”
He shook his head. “Annetta,” he muttered. “Sounds like the kind of thing she’d do.”
I raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
He nodded. “Yeah. She was… impulsive.” He said the word like it tasted bad. “She had this dream. To buy a boat, sail around the world.”
“I see,” I said. As far as dreams went, it wasn’t bad. It certainly wasn’t the kind of dream an ex-wife of a burger shop manager could fulfill on her own. “Did you think she was serious?”
He shook his head. “She dreamed about a lot of things,” he said. “Opening a restaurant of her own, going to space, running away with her sister’s husband…” He grimaced. “She got that one, anyway.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I said. “This sister’s husband – what can you tell me about him?”
Stinger leaned back in his chair and started rolling a pencil between his fingers. “I hated him the moment I laid eyes on him,” he said. “Of course, he was boning my wife at the time, so I shouldn’t be surprised.” He sighed. “When I came home and found them, he came at me like it was his house I’d broken into. Like I’d been the one screwing his wife. He yelled and screamed, and then he decked me.” He looked up at me. “Ever been beaten senseless by a naked man, Mister Patraglia?”
“Can’t say I have, no.” Not entirely true, but I didn’t want to derail the conversation.
“By the time I came to, they were both gone. I wouldn’t hear from her again until she filed for the divorce.” The pencil snapped in his grip and he looked almost surprised to see it there. He dropped the pieces and they rolled off his desk. “I didn’t contest it.”
“I can’t blame you.” I clicked the pen. “What’s the name of the sister’s husband?”
“Mark Malloy,” he said, and I could hear the anger in his voice. Before I could ask, he added, “Taller than me, built. Brown hair and a some kind of tribal tattoo down his side.” He smirked. “And bruised fists.”
I jotted the description down in my notebook. “And do you have any idea where your wife and Malloy might be headed?”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to know. The less I know of them, the better off I’ll be.”
I snapped the notebook closed and stood up. “Thanks,” I said. “If I have any more questions, I’ll give you a call.”
Stringer nodded, but didn’t stand. “Good luck,” he said. He opened the drawer, took out another pencil and started spinning it in his fingers. “You can find your way out.”
Outside the restaurant, and away from the haunted expressions of the counter-workers, I watched the place for a little while. Something didn’t feel right here, and I figured it would be in my best interest to find out why. I texted a request to the local cops for info on Malloy, but didn’t figure on hearing back for a while. If I did get info on him, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be what Stringer had supplied.
Stringer was stringing me along. That, as many a would-be criminal knew, was a bad move.