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He was late again. It was going to be another long night.
Dacy frowned slightly as she took another look at her progress on typing up the weekly Case Report for their client. She was almost done, and then what would she do? She needed to find something else to occupy her time. She glanced involuntarily at the slight smudge on the window that indicated the spot where, if she pressed her forehead to the glass and looked to the left, she could just barely see the entryway to the building. It was a lot of effort just for a glimpse, she chided herself. What, am I a schoolgirl who has to sit by the phone in case he calls? Dacy realized with some irritation that she was playing with her hair, and placed her hands firmly back on the keyboard. All right, so maybe the schoolgirl comparison wasn't so far off the mark. Silly thing, focus on your work! He's not coming back any time soon.
Well, this job sure hadn't turned out to be like anything she'd expected. Actually, looking back, she wasn't sure what she had anticipated. Seeing an ad in the paper for an assistant for a detective whose last name was the same as her first, well... that had just seemed too much like Fate to her. Even if it was a made up name (she was fairly sure "Trick Dacy" had to be a made up name, but had never gotten up the nerve to ask), it was just too much of a coincidence for her to ignore. So, she'd stopped by the office, just out of curiousity. The office was fairly forgettable; your typical run-down and poorly lit hole in the wall detective agency. The man sitting behind the desk was definitely NOT forgettable. Tall, dark, and handsome was the oh-so-applicable cliche that sprang to mind, but Trick was no cliche. He certainly had a distinctive style! His trademark yellow suit was definitely out of the ordinary, for one, and he often used phrases and references that sounded like they were straight out of a 20's speakeasy, even though he himself couldn't be more than 30. These things set him apart from anyone Dacy had met before, but it was his intensity that really caught her interest. Such a lot of fascinating characteristics, all rolled up in a package that was very easy on the eyes! Intrigued, Dacy filled out an application on the spot. She'd thought Trick must have been just as taken with her, because he'd interviewed her then and there, and hired her as quickly as she had filled out the application.
Okay, so you didn't realize that the ad had been running for six weeks. Dacy's mouth twisted almost into a smile at herself. Only, it wasn't funny. Well, not at the moment. She shook her head, gave in, and allowed herself a chuckle. Much to her disappointment, hiring her immediately was the most interest Trick had shown in her up to this point. She gave a mental shrug and returned to the report in front of her. Well, at least the work was interesting. It would be more interesting if she could go out in the field with him. Dacy chafed at the restrictions, because she had always loved excitement and the idea of helping to chase down the bad guys had a lot of appeal to her. Thus far, she hadn't been able to convince him that that would be a good idea. In Paragon City, where they lived, he knew it was dangerous to be on the streets. The city had undergone a series of cataclysmic changes that had brought all kinds of evil to its doorstep, but also a large population of heroes who used their various powers to fight this evil. Neither he nor Dacy possessed any sort of special ability that would help them in the event of meeting up with the powerful villains at large in the city, so he was unlikely to want her to come along. He maintained that the risk was bad enough for him; he wasn't adding her to the equation.
Dacy looked over the report. Unfortunately, the information on it was rather sparse. The client, a Marcus Solomon, had hired Trick to recover a stolen vase, reputed to be quite valuable. The vase had been taken right off the ship it arrived on; the cargo hadn't been unloaded yet, and the rest of the cargo hadn't been touched. Naturally, no one had seen anything, and although the police had to be alerted, Solomon had been clear that he didn't expect any results from their investigation, and so, was hiring a private investigator. So much for the information their client had shared with them. What was more interesting, was what he hadn't shared with them. Perhaps, if Solomon had told them a little more, Trick would have been able to solve the case by now, instead of spending yet another night out on stakeout!
Trick had quickly become suspicious of the nature of the item because nothing else had been touched, although there were quite a few valuable things on the ship. The fact that there were items listed at over twice what the vase's reputed value was, in the very same hold as the stolen item, pointed to a specific reason that item was taken. Putting that together with the fact that there was no real physical evidence, and the reliable guards' memories were suspiciously fuzzy on any details of the entire evening, and Trick had deduced that magic was involved. This was, after all, Paragon City, and magic was almost commonplace. The artifact was likely taken for its magic. What magical properties those were, was still quite unclear. Solomon had admitted the vase was magical, but claimed he'd been importing it for study, not to use it for magic, and so had no real idea what sort of powers it had. Dacy doubted that. You didn't become as rich and powerful as Solomon was and buy something that expensive, without knowing why you were buying it. He knew, she was sure. Trick was sure, too, but obviously, his client did not wish to tell him that information, and so, he would not press it further.
Knowing the item was magic was one thing, but proving who took it was quite another. Marcus didn't want an airtight case; he simply wanted the vase back, quickly, quietly, and no questions asked. But, even had Trick been inclined to cut corners and not build as complete a case as possible (something Dacy very much suspected was not possible for him), it still had taken painstaking old-fashioned detective work to dig up any evidence as to the identity of the thieves and the possible location of the vase. Dacy skimmed over the report, checking for typing errors as she reviewed the case. This week, Trick really had made quite a bit of progress. It was entirely possible, she thought happily, that this would be the one and only case report she would need to type up. She glanced around at the shoddy office, at the walls in need of paint, at the furniture that had seen better days, been retired, and then wound up here, and tried not to wonder once again exactly what those stains in the carpeting were. Oh, yes, it would be good to get a nice paycheck from this one! Solomon was bound to be happy with this. Trick had started with no leads to anything, and with careful research into any and everything remotely connected to the ship, the docks, the guards, the warehouse the cargo was destined for, and all of the connected companies and the lists of their partners, had managed to come up with some names of people who were suspected of being associated with the Circle of Thorns, which pointed to their involvement. Dacy's eyes closed for a moment as she remembered the hours of research she'd done, trying to uncover all of the shell companies that might be hiding criminal connections... That hadn't been very fun. While Trick had been out hitting his contacts and informants to see if any of them could shed light on the heist, she had been pouring through pages of information, comparing names to a list of names and known aliases of known or suspected Circle members. Once she had found some names, Trick again hit the streets to shake loose some information to connect the dots between the names they had and the theft. She got to work her way through mind numbing manifests and inventories, tracking possible places the vase could have gone. They suspected that the Circle was using warehouses owned by seeming legitimate businesses, but controlled in fact by the Circle through shell corporations. It felt like they were getting closer, but they still had nothing concrete...except some confirmation of what they already knew, that the Circle was a magical organization with vast resources that hid its tracks very well and was exceedingly hard to pin down. It was also very dangerous.
Dacy jumped as the phone rang. Thinking about the dangers involved with the Circle had left her on edge. She gave herself a mental shake and took a deep breath to calm her now racing heart. She picked up the receiver.
"Trick Dacy Investigations, how may we help you?"
"I have information I know you would be interested in." The male voice on the other end wasn't particularly menacing or notable in any way, and yet, Dacy felt her skin crawl.
"How do you know we are interested in what you have? What information? What is this concerning?"
"It concerns a vase that Mr. Dacy has been showing a particular interest in. I am interested in exchanging my information for an appropriate amount of money.This is not the sort of information I am going to give to anyone else, especially not over the phone. I am sure Mr. Dacy would be interested, if you would be so kind as to tell him."
Dacy decided that what she didn't like about the voice was its utter lack of any hint of emotion. She blinked. Distracted by her reaction to the caller, she'd almost forgotten a basic detective rule: get all the information you can! Trick wouldn't be happy with her if she screwed this up. A possible lead could not be ignored. Still, best to play it cool. "I don't know why you think Mr. Dacy would be interested in your information. Still, I'll pass along your message. May I tell him who called? And where you can be reached?" Dacy held her breath, hoping this was a good lead.
The caller laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "If you are to pretend disinterest in the vase, well and good, but then Mr. Dacy should not be asking so many questions from so many. It would not profit him to ignore my information. Has he so many leads he has no reason to seek further?" The dry voice mocked her. "Surely you know of the vase of which I speak? Or do you not share confidences with your employer? Perhaps I should only speak to him, then. How may I reach him?"
Dacy gritted her teeth and did her best not to sound rufflled. "Perhaps he would be the best judge of whether or not your information is valuable. Perhaps it is worthless, perhaps it is of some small value." There, take that! "I will give him your name and where you can be reached, and he can decide if it is worth contacting you. If you can tell me that small information, I will tell him. If you are still interested in the money you think it is worth...?"
The caller was silent for a moment. Dacy wondered if perhaps she'd played this one wrong, and felt a pang of anxiety.
"Tell him Paul Manitoba called. I know where the vase is, but he'll have to move fast." Dacy quickly wrote down the cell phone number he rattled off, her mind racing. Oh, please let this be legitimate... She quickly hung up and dialed Trick's cell number.
Trick took a few moments to answer. His answering 'hello' was quiet and cautious. Dacy swallowed. She hoped this wasn't a particularly dangerous stakeout.
"I may have something for you, Boss. An informant called, wanting a payday for some info he had. Wouldn't give it to me."
"This could be good...who was it?"
"Said his name was Paul Manitoba. Didn't want to tell me anything. Gave me the creeps, honestly."
Trick chuckled. "Probably means he's legit, Dollface. Informers are rat-fink double-crossers who'd sell their own mother if you offered 'em enough dough. Still...I don't recall a Manitoba from my contacts. An informer calling me, when I never heard of the joe before...I don't like it. Not in connection with this case. It was the vase he was calling about, wasn't it?"
"Yeah. Said he knew where it was, but you'd have to hurry. I got his cell phone number."
"Knows where it is, but I have to hurry. That's convenient," Trick growled. "Liking this less and less...did you by chance look him up on my contact list, or do any searches on him at all, yet?"
Dacy's fingers flew to the keyboard. "On it, Boss. You want that number?"
Dacy rattled off the cell phone number as she scanned the search results. "He's not in your database, that's for sure. Searching out who he is, that will take longer. You want me to call you back when I have something?"
Trick hesitated for a second, and then said, "I'd appreciate that, but, don't you need to be getting home soon?"
"I don't mind," Dacy said, biting her lip. She was not going home!
"Ok. I'm going to see what this joker has to say. Call me when you have something. I got a bad feeling about this whole set up."
That makes two of us. "Be careful, Boss," Dacy said, as he hung up. She went back to the computer screen, to start her search.
* * * * * * * * * *
Trick continued to watch the warehouse he'd been monitoring, cell phone still in hand, as he considered the situation. This was the third night in a row of tailing likely suspects and investigating possible locations for the stolen vase, and as much as he hated to admit it, he hadn't made much progress. Solomon was becoming understandably more anxious, as the trail grew ever colder, and the chances of recovering the vase grew more remote. He needed a break. But, this joe, calling out of the blue, offering information...this was either a gift from heaven, or a set up. Still, if it was a set up, it meant he'd shaken the right tree. That alone could be a break. Now if he could just figure out which tree it had been. He dialed the number.
"How badly do you want the vase, Mr. Dacy?" No greetings, no confirmation of identity, and Trick knew his phone didn't give away his identity; it was blocked. Cocky sonuva...he was playing power games.
"Just how is it you know I want a vase, Manitoba? I don't recall asking you."
"As your assistant will no doubt confirm shortly, I am a paralegal in the law office of Jenkins and Gooden. We have handled many cases for the Circle. This has put me in the position of being able to obtain information, which I would like to use to supplement my modest salary. As to how I have become aware of your interest, let's just say, your questions have not gone unnoticed by the Circle. I also know you are nowhere near to finding the vase. My price is not inexpensive, but not unreasonable. Are you interested?"
"And you are willing to violate your clients' confidentiality? Why should that make me more likely to trust you?"
"Ahh, but you see, I'm neither a lawyer, bound by confidentiality, nor is this information something that was confided to me. It is something I was fortunate enough to overhear, thanks to having the foresight to capture a conversation with a listening device. And I have no illusions, Mr. Dacy, that you trust me in the slightest. However, I do have an idea what this vase is worth to your employer. Your goal is to recover it, is it not? You may not trust me, but you can rest assured, this is not an arrangement I want to destroy, when I have gone to great pains to establish my access to information. This is something I see as a way to raise my own income. And, if it happens to hurt the Circle, so much the better. What you get out of it is a happy client, who gets his vase back. Everyone comes out ahead, except for the Circle. Would that upset you?"
"Naturally, that would be quite...a good outcome." Oh, this guy was smooth. He'd covered all the angles. He was also apparently unencumbered with any ethics, as dubious as confidentiality to a criminal or law firm was, as far as ethics went. If he was to be believed, he'd planned to use his position to sell what information he could get, from early on. What a slimeball. He might just become a valuable source; he could also bait for a trap. Trick wasn't happy with weasels who had all the angles covered. Weasels usually didn't plan that well. But, he also couldn't afford to ignore the possibility that it was a real lead. "What would this information cost me?"
Trick let out a low whistle. "What makes you think I can pay that kind of dough? My informants never get that much money. Hell, I rarely see that much money, and that's for a whole case!"
"Given the value of that vase, I have no doubt your client would be willing to pay. And, Mr. Dacy, this IS your whole case."
"There is the possibility he would pay, yes," said Trick, trying to unclench his jaw. "But he's not going to pay money like that unless recovering the vase is a done deal."
"Understandable. I'd be willing to give you the information for a down payment, of, say, 10%, in the interest of developing a more trusting relationship for future business. It's in my best interest to do so, after all."
Trick sighed. This was going to cost him, and he still wasn't sure he wasn't buying himself a nice trap. "$200. That's all I can lay hands on until I lay hands on the vase."
"I will trust that you are a man of honor, Mr. Dacy. We have an agreement, then. Meet me at Tabitha Fabish's on Justice Road, in Independence Port. I will be waiting. Time is of the essence."
"How will I know you?"
"You won't. You, however, are unmistakeable."
Trick had barely put his phone away when it buzzed again. He checked the caller. This would be Dacy.
"Hey, whatcha got for me, Doll?"
"Not a lot. Our Mr. Manitoba isn't what you'd call a public personality. No public phone listing, no address, and the cell's a throwaway. Employment records list him as a paralegal at Jenkins.."
"..And Gooden," Trick finished for her. "So, our rat checks out, hmm? At least, we know what he told me matches with the quickly available facts. Not exactly a surprise, that." He grew silent for a moment, as he mulled things over. "I don't have a lot of options. I'm meeting him. And hoping for the best."
"I don't like this, Trick. Please be careful."
"What's to like?" Trick chuckled, "It stinks. And don't worry, I always am. If you've found all you can on him in the public records, give a call over to Danny in Precinct 12, and see what he can dig up."
"Already tried him, Boss, he's off tonight. And Brady was tied up, couldn't be reached."
Trick swore creatively under his breath. "Then try Lee in 7. Or Roger in 8."
"Will do. Count on me, Boss. Where are you meeting Manitoba?"
"That medium's magic shop in IP. I'm almost there now." Trick thought he heard some words muttered that he'd not suspected Dacy knew, but they were too faint and indistinct to catch. "I'll update you after I meet with him."
* * * * * * * * * *