Chapter 1: Clean Plate Club Murder Mystery

Thursday, with nothing on my schedule for Friday.  First time in a long time that I wasn’t going to be working a weekend.  So I certainly didn’t want to take Penny’s case, but the referral was from Charles Grimes, my father’s old partner on the force. 

“Hey Liza, I’ve got a case that I think might be right up your line.  It may be nothing, but it could be a juicy missing person’s case, and it involves some of Santa Teresa’s finest, so it might lead to something.  These were the kind of cases your Dad loved.”

“Charles, I have a hair appointment for tomorrow, and after that maybe a massage, and one of my clients gave me a gift certificate for a facial.”

“Now Liza, you are not going all girlie on me now are you?  All those years working with your father you should know to never turn down a case, and I am handing this one to you on a platter.”

I cold hear him tsking in the background, and knew that it was both good natured teasing and also the truth.  I had worked hard to keep the agency going since Dad died, but I had relied too much on his client list, and knew that I had to start developing my own.  Dad was a pro at networking, and knew exactly how to draw the line between a professional acquaintance and a friend.  He often told me that friends don’t hire their friends as  private detectives,  but they didn’t like hiring total strangers either.  They would hire someone who moved in that middle ground of acquaintances that could be trusted but not titillated by deep family secrets.  “I wouldn’t want my best friend to be your mother’s gynecologist, would I Liza?”, he said, “But I do want someone I could trust.  That’s the balance you have to strike.”

Dad always knew how to drive the point home.  I always knew that I had great instincts for the business and that my father often relied on me to see through the complexities of a case, but I hated the networking part of the business, and my roster of clients had slowly dwindled over the past couple of years.  The most lucrative clients were the ones that put you on a retainer, like law firms that needed an investigator from time to time.  But those clients only provided me enough security to pay the rent every month.  It was the “one-off” cases that were more interesting and more lucrative since you could bill by the hour, and who knows when those types of cases could turn into a retainer arrangement.  

“Okay, Charles, you are right as usual, give me the background details.”

“I have gotten a couple of calls from a young woman named Penny.  She says that she is a student at the University.  Nice sounding kid on the phone, but I haven’t met her in person.  She is worried about her room mate – says she has disappeared and that no one seems to care.  She called the room mate’s parents, but she told me that the parents brushed her off, told her the room mate had taken a leave of absence from the University and was on an artist’s retreat in Mexico.

“George, that doesn’t sound like much.  A college student – no corroboration from the family.  I can see why the police won’t get involved, but this hardly seems to be worth my while either.”

“Okay, normally I would agree, but here is the good part, Liza.  The room mate is Dessa Todd, her father is that developer that caused such a stir last year.  He lives up in that big place up in the canyon, his Skye Isle development.”

“Oh great.  It is one thing to be hired by the Todds, quite another to piss them off by showing up on their doorstep and insisting to them that their daughter is missing.  And this Penny, I can’t imagine that a college student could actually pay me.”

“Liza, just talk to her.  I told you, I liked her over the phone.  Nobody is forcing you to take the case, but it is the “you just never know” about detective work that keeps life interesting.  Here is her number.  I am going out of town for the next week fishing in Montana, no cell phone, no nothing.  I expect you will have finished the case by the time I get back.  I know you love missing persons.”

Charles was mostly right.  I did like missing persons, because usually they were quick and easy – not hard to track someone down these days.  But the real appeal of these cases was why the person went missing, and that was my particular expertise – mucking around deep dark and dysfunctional secrets, often in the decaying infrastructure of the booze-addled and idle rich.  It was satisfying if I recovered lost souls, but more often than not  I just shattered lives in the name of truth – and at the beginning of a case you could never tell which way it was going to fall.  

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