“…and so we’re not allowed back in that bar ever again.”
Sorayah stared at me in amazement. “…wow. Just, wow. I didn’t even know someone could do that with a martini glass.”
I shuddered. “Up until then, neither did I.”
From behind us came the sound of glass shattering, and someone yelling profanities at the top of their lungs.
“Did you get them?” I asked Kath as she slipped through the door we were standing next to.
She brandished a sheaf of manila folders in response, grinning broadly despite the fact that she had a large cut across one cheek, blood dribbling down her face. “All seven, bay-bee.”
“And the yelling was…?” Sorayah asked.
“Unrelated.” Sorayah and I jumped in shock as something shattered against the inside of the door. “Semi-unrelated.”
“Did you steal those?” I asked, glancing suspiciously at the files she held.
“Legally speaking? No.” She saw the look on my face and sighed dramatically. “It’ll be fine, she has copies.”
“Can you do… anything normally?” Sorayah asked as we began walking away from the social worker. “Like, is making a sandwich an hour’s affair with screaming and explosions?”
Kath gaped at her, eyes wide in mock-offense, while I guffawed. “You gotta admit,” I said through the chuckles, elbowing her in the ribs, “she’s got you there.”
She harrumphed, folding her arms. “I refuse to dignify this baseless slander with a response.”
I grabbed the folders away from her and began flicking through them until I found a familiar face. “Alex Couarde,” I read aloud. “Seventeen. Left home three years ago, abuse, kept leaving shelters because of the same.” I shook my head. “Jesus.”
Sorayah had one hand over her mouth, and looked like she was about to cry, so I quickly closed the folder and handed it back to Kath. “What now?” I asked her.
“So remember that dumb suggestion I made about going around and just asking people about the tattoo?”
I frowned, suddenly wary. “Yes…?”
I wiped the loogie off my cheek with the back of one hand, and flicked it the ground, trying to contain my annoyance. “Is that a no?”
“Fuck you, you dirty-” The rest of the sentence was mostly taken up by a mix of racial and gendered slurs, with a few all-purpose ones tossed in there for good measure.
I gave up, turning around to glance at where Kath stood near the end of the alley. “You’re sure we’re in the right place?”
She nodded. “Yeah, number… four, David Hussain. File says this was his main spot.”
“We could… wait around, see if other people show up?” Sorayah suggested.
I glanced back at the man, who was wrapped in multiple tattered blankets, and had one of those internet conspiracy theorist beards. He tried to spit at me again, and I stepped away and let it splat against the ground.
The elderly woman stared at us with suspicion. “You’re not with the police.”
“No, ma’am,” Kath confirmed, oddly respectful, “we’re not.”
“Why are you looking into my granddaughter’s death, then?”
“It’s a long story, ma’am, but if it reassures you at all, I’m a registered P.I.; you can look me up. We just wanted to ask a few questions about her… about her.”
The woman sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’ll be able to help. I may have been her carer, but most days it felt like I barely knew her. We hadn’t spoken in over a year. I tried, but…”
“…as far as I’m considered, he deserved whatever he got.”
I stared in wide-eyed horror, frozen in disbelief. I knew I needed to say something, to react somehow, but it-
“YOU’RE HIS MOTHER!” Sorayah screamed. “WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!” Her attempt to slap the other woman was somewhat undercut by her hand passing harmlessly through her head, but the intent was clear.
“We’re, uh,” Kath said, “just going to go.”
“Alright, fuck this.” I leaned in close to Sorayah, muttering so we wouldn’t be overheard. “This guy is obviously jerking us around. When I do it, run.”
“When you do what?”
“This.” Kath was still nattering on, utterly unconcerned by the knife the guy held, so I walked up to him and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Hey.” He turned around, towering over me with a snarl, and I slugged him in the gut.
He doubled over with a violent whoof as all the air was expelled from his lungs, and before he could react I grabbed Kath’s arm and sprinted away, dragging her behind me.
“Wh-” Sorayah stared at us, dumbstruck, as we passed.
“Move!” I yelled at her, and she jumped, before hurriedly floating after us.
“How did you- where did that come from?”
For the second time that day, we could hear the sound of profanity being yelled at maximum volume.
“It’s,” I replied through panted breaths, “a long. Story.”
“Come on,” Kath whined, “I had that guy handled.”
“Where did you see that?”
Kath whooped, pumping a fist in the air, as I sighed in tired relief. “Finally!” Sorayah exclaimed.
The girl looked at us like we were crazy. “Sorry,” I explained. “It’s been a very long day.”
She squinted suspiciously at each of us in turn. “You cops or something?”
I was still wearing my tanktop and shorts, along with some garishly bright sneakers and a baseball cap. Kath still had the cut across her cheek, and was currently trying to engage me in an elaborate victory dance. Sorayah was… Sorayah. “You tell me,” I replied.
Apparently, that was a sufficient argument, because the girl relaxed slightly. “Where did you see that?” she repeated stubbornly. “And why do you want to know.”
I sighed. “We saw it on the body of Alex Couarde, tattooed…” I tapped the spot on my own body with my free hand, “just here, underneath the armpit.”
At the word “body”, her eyes tightened and her teeth clenched. She wasn’t surprised, though. She’d known, or suspected.
“When?” she asked tightly.
“Two days ago.”
She sagged. “‘f course.”
“Listen,” Kath cut in, “I know it’s a lot to deal with right now, but it’s really important that you tell us everything you know. It could save a life.”
She hesitated for a moment. “Fine,” she conceded after a moment. “Fine.” Then, she turned, and pointed towards the storm drain behind her.
“I’ll show you.”