In my business, being told you're paranoid is a compliment. Taping a small hair along the bottom of your doorframe every time you leave so you know if someone's broken in while you're out isn't just a precaution; it's a matter of survival. So when I find that strand of hair broken, I check the door for traps.
And when I find no traps, I know better than to relax my guard. I head up to the loft's roof, pop open the secret panel, and crawl in from above.
An attractive woman in a suit and tie is waiting for me, her pistol pointed directly at my descending torso.
"Oh," I say as I land in the middle of my living room. "Hello. You must be Agent Duncan."
"Evening, Jack," she says. "Thought you might be a burglar."
"Nope," I say. "Just, y'know. Breaking into my own loft."
"I see." She doesn't holster the pistol. "Thought I'd drop by, take a look at what you were up to." She gestures to the immense wealth of newsclippings, photographs, and documents I have plastered to the far wall. They form an impenetrable puzzle of information--indecipherable except to the trained eye. Some of them refer to armed robberies--others refer to mysterious disappearances. Some are just missing pet notices.
"Oh, you know," I tell her. "Just the usual."
"You in town for long?"
"Just a visit," I tell her. "Surprised you managed to find me. Anyway, now that you know I'm not a burglar, would you mind lowering the gun?"
She doesn't lower it.
Most investigations rely on your target being oblivious to the fact that you're watching him. But if Agent Duncan's read my file--and I'm sure she has--she knows that's not going to work with me. The same skills that make you good at surveillance also make you good at noticing surveillance. I figure she's here to try and shake the tree and see what falls out.
So I decide to do some shaking myself. I throw off my coat and start undoing my tie. "Well, if you're going to stick around, can I get you something to drink? Something to eat, maybe? There's PB and J in the fridge."
"You know, I could make a lot of people happy right now. Wouldn't take much," she tells me. "Just a few pounds of pressure."
I throw the tie up near the mirror and start unbuttoning my sleeves. "You won't," I tell her, not bothering to look up.
"Hell, I make it look good enough, they might even give me a medal."
"You're not the type, Agent Duncan," I tell her. "When I heard you'd been assigned to my case, I did some research. You're a boyscout. Girlscout. Whichever."
She narrows her eyes. "You don't know me."
"Yes, I do. Well enough, anyway. Your hands are shaking. You've been here for a while, judging by the cigarettes in the ashtray besides you. The fact that you've even been tempted to do this terrifies you." I look at her. "You're not a killer."
She meets my stare. "You are," she says.
When you've been doing this job as long as me, you have to learn how to read people. And when I look at Agent Duncan's face, it tells me everything I need to know. Which words will get me out of here, and which words will get me a bullet between the eyes.
For a moment, the latter tempts me.
"Yes. I am."
She holsters her pistol. "There was a disturbance tonight around the south end of the city, not more than two hours ago. Can you account for your whereabouts, Jack?"
"Selling cookies to old ladies to support the local orphanage," I tell her, and then I smile. "You know me, Agent Duncan. In the end, it's really all about the kids."
"We found an empty SUV outside of a warehouse, set on fire. Someone had doused it in gasoline and planted a remote-activated bomb under it," she said. "Soon after, we got an anonymous tip that lead us to another SUV full of armed bank robbers, all with warrants out for their arrest. You know anything about that?"
"Bizarre," I tell her. "Have you looked into the local groundskeeper? Old Man Withers seems mighty suspicious. I hear he hates kids. Dogs, too."
"I don't know what you're playing at, but whatever it is, I'm going to take you down," she says. "And when they put you in the ground, I'll be the first one to spit on your coffin."
I turn back to the mirror and start to unbutton my shirt. "You better start camping out at my grave now, then," I say. "Line's gonna be long."
After she leaves, I finish getting dressed, pull out the laptop hidden beneath the floorboards, boot it up, and start pulling up intel on Nova's next public appearance.