I awoke in a cold sweat again. I lazily turned my head to check the clock. Three in the morning. It hadn’t even been an hour since the last time I woke up in the middle of the night. I looked around my room, eager to find something to fixate my vision upon that would then hopefully lead me back into slumber. I hadn’t been sleeping so good recently, having no work does that to me. I would pick up a construction or a painting job now and again, but nowadays there wasn’t much left to paint or construct that was nearby. Mainly, though, I subsisted on money I made through my private investigation. There are some real fat cats with pockets full of dough that’ll surprise you with how much they need to know something, and fast. Or there’s the grieving spouse that offers you all they can give when the authorities fail them. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy helping those who really need it, but I loved the cases with the fat cats far more, they were just harder to come by.
I tossed off my blanket to get up. I had a feeling that I wasn’t about to get a good night’s sleep. That was fine by me; I both appreciated and loved the charm that was brought upon by the veil of a pitch-black night. I threw on my sandals, and grabbed my tattered box of cigarettes along with a tarnished zippo lighter. I noticed Mako awaken to the sense that his master was up, but he promptly fell back to sleep. I stepped out into the crisp night air of San Francisco, sparked my lighter, and drew a deep breath of cigarette smoke. I wasn’t even into my second puff when I saw him.
He always came bearing gifts, whether it was a 6-pack of beer, a bottle of wine, or even the ribs that his father prepared. This time was a little different though. My buddy Hugo showed up to my door with some papers and a proposition. A Latino man of about 26 or 27 years (hell, I forget his age, I forget my own age sometimes), Hugo grew up in a rough neighborhood and had more street smarts than I would probably ever have. Him and I were roommates in a tumultuous year of college, where we subsequently became best of friends. Hugo then proceeded to take the blue after college and wound up in detection. This was a man I entrusted my life with, to the point where I didn’t even need to say it, and I know he thought the same. Hugo would throw me a bone sometimes with these investigations, referring those aforementioned fat cats and widowed spouses to me. Hugo was a great guy, and widely misunderstood. People were aware of his background, and accordingly treated him with some sort of discretion or reverence of his tough childhood. In reality, Hugo was just a thoughtful goofball who would prefer to spend all day writing poems than working at the precinct. I think it was this fact that he was in tune with his feelings that allowed him to empathize with myself and others so much; a reason I really appreciated the guy. After a long day of investigation, it was nice to hang out with someone who would throw you the questions. The man knew exactly when to talk, and when to be silent; he valued every word that came out of his mouth and wasted none.
“Hey there neighbor.” Hugo approached with his usual brand of pleasantries. “I knew you’d be awake, figured I’d stop by and give you a heads up.”
“How’d you know? It’s three in the morning, I wouldn’t put money on something like that.” I retorted. I was oddly curious as to why he’d show up to my home on just a hunch.
“Easy. You haven’t done any snooping lately, nor are you covered in paint like you usually would be.” Here I was thinking I was the P.I. “Anyways, it’s a lead on a case. Figured you’d want a reason to get outta the house and get back to snoopin’. Pretty ugly too, some couple found dead overdosed on drugs with a suspicion of foul play. We’re not sure though, because of the drugs. Think the file said heroine or some trippy shit like that.”
“Jeez,” I responded, “sounds rough. I’ll get to work first thing tomorrow.” This was exactly what I needed, a motivation to get my ass to bed and be prepared for the day ahead.
“Let me get a drag.” Hugo said. I passed him my cigarette. He inhaled, made a face as though he tasted something sour, then passed it back to me and looked up. We had a brief conversation about our lives before we naturally ran out of things to say. “All right then, I’ll catch you later. I need to catch some Zzz’s.” We exchanged a handshake, and with that, Hugo took his leave. I watched him make his way out of my driveway before tending to my own affairs. I took a final drag of my cigarette, flicked it out into the street, then retreated back into my home. Mako was sitting obediently by the door waiting for me, his golden fur glistening against the yellow motel light flooding in through my window. I closed the blinds.
I slowly strolled back into my bedroom and crashed onto my bed. God, I loved my bed. I’m not one who researches my purchases, so when I walked into the mattress store, I picked the first one that felt comfortable. I’m a man who enjoys quality things. So coupled with the 800-thread count Egyptian cotton linens I bought, my bed wasn’t just a platform, it was an experience, the portal to a realm of ethereal subconsciousness. I found that I dreamed about my cases quite often, and even found clues while sleeping that I normally may have missed. So whatever I could do to enhance my dreams, I did. I didn’t question it, because it worked. A common mantra I practiced since I was a kid: “If it works, don’t fix it.” Thoughts raced through my head as to where I would begin the case. Before I could delve very far, I was overcome by sleep. The fog outside my house had seemingly invaded my head and knocked me out.
I awoke the next morning and was greeted by the densest fog I had seen in years living in San Francisco. Looming thoughts that this was a foreshadowing to the case raced across my mind, but were quickly disbanded by my morning routine. I poured out some food for Mako before tending to myself. I poured some cereal into a bowl, the sound of it puncturing the silence enveloping my home. I was in the middle of making coffee when I stopped, abruptly. “I never eat cereal and drink coffee.” I thought to myself. This would not do. I had to get myself in the proper frame of mind before tackling this case.
I decided my first stop would be at the precinct to see if I could uncover some information from the police. Don’t get me wrong, I had earned the trust of the police during my times in investigation. They had not earned mine. Those assholes are ready to pounce on every unsuspecting kid smoking a joint on the corner. They make it seem like they’re your friend, they abuse your rights, ask you a bunch of questions until you’re thoroughly confused, and only then do they tell you, “You have the right to remain silent.” Sometimes they won’t even tell you that part, but they’ll get away with it, just because they are the system. How are the police going to police themselves? Simply put, they don’t. Hugo was the only decent cop I knew, and I know he felt like I did. There were some real jerks working there, but I largely stayed out of the way. Last thing I would want is the rage of the police on my hands, I have enough on my plate as it is.
I hopped out of my car after a short ride, and walked up the stairs. I entered through some regal double doors, examining the hallway on my way down to the coroner. I made it into the coroner’s, the characteristic pale white light flooding the room and still as bright as ever. “Looking for Linda Fernandez.” I told one of the two coroners who were usually there. This guy’s name was Anders, if I recall correctly. Never got to know them too well, they always just gave my info and I was on my way. I need more people like that in my life. Anders pulled Linda out and I made my assessments. “Drugs, right?” I asked Anders. “Yeah, methamphetamine was found in their bloodstream.” Great. In my experience, meth made people do some wacky things, this case was gonna be nice and turbulent. What caught me off guard was the phrase “their bloodstream”. Their bloodstream? Who are they? To my surprise, Anders then proceeded to roll another man out. “Who’s this?” I inquired. “Her druggie partner.” He informed me. “Her husband?” I asked. “Actually, no,” said Anders, “He’s back home, but we’ve had him under close supervision lately.” “What’s he said? How’s he feel? Does he know this guy?” Every answer I got prompted 3 more questions in my head. “He’s holding up, says he’s grief-stricken and claims he doesn’t know this guy.” Anders calmly responded. “Where is he?” said I. He was released from custody the day after this happened. “He’s back home now, 473 45th Avenue, in the Sunset.”
I inspected their bodies on my own. Some bruising around both their necks was odd. Usually I found it was one person choking the other, not both at the same time. Linda’s eyes were yellow, with dark bags underneath. This told me that this probably wasn’t her first time smoking meth. I looked at her hands. No wedding band. The alerts in my head were starting to go crazy at this point. I headed over to the evidence room to see what they had on file. Not much, Mrs. Fernandez’s wedding band, and a characteristic tin that was used to store the meth. The little bears on the tin made an impression on my mind, something that I remember to this day. Whatever the situation was, I needed to have a word with Mr. Fernandez. I headed back by the coroner’s room, “Hey, thanks.” I tipped my hat to Anders, appreciative of his no-nonsense and punctual attitude, and headed out.
Next stop was 473 45th Avenue. My favorite place in San Francisco, the Sunset district was largely a residential area with a very quaint and quiet vibe. 45th Avenue happened to be 2 blocks away from the beach. Cruising down the road, I checked the time. It was closing in around 1 o’clock, I figured this would be a perfectly acceptable time to drop by. I began formulating in my head the best way to answer any potential dodges of his, the best way to present a question where lying would be near impossible. I was halfway into this mode of thinking before I noticed I was already there. I parked in his driveway, and got out. Soon as I stepped out, I got an eerie feeling crawl down my spine. I considered carrying my piece into the home, but I disregarded the idea. I didn’t need Mr. Fernandez to see me, a private investigator, barge into his home with a gun and a ton of questions.
I knocked on the door before realizing there was a bell. When no one responded to my knocks, I rung the bell, though I had a feeling no one would come either way. I retreated down the stairs and decided to check out his house. Immediately I noticed his side gate was unlocked and open. I seized this luck in an instant. I made my way into his backyard, a cluttered mess of ceramic garden gnomes and half-kempt grass. There stairs in the backyard that led up to the house. “Mr. Fernandez!” I called, hoping for both a reply and no reply. When I got nothing, I decided to push my luck. I ascended the stairs and tried to pry my way inside his home, but my luck there had run out. I came back down the stairs, and noticed a grungy basement door whose hinges were broken. I made my way in, a stale and slightly rotten smell filling my lungs. Nothing out of the ordinary in here, just his water heater, pipes, and other assorted things one keeps in a basement. I then noticed a thin plywood door on the side of the basement. I pried it open, and was greeted with stairs that went up towards the house. I slowly and quietly made my way up towards the house, listening for any sort of sign that Fernandez was here. I carefully opened the door, and made my way into his home. I knew I probably head only precious moments in his house, as was usually the case, so I bolted towards his bedroom. I figured this was the best place to look for anything incriminating. Again, I slowly opened the door to his bedroom, and made my way in. I was examining his desk, when I found a pink slip in his first drawer. It appeared as though he had been laid off at his job at a factory downtown. Before I had a chance to inspect it closely, I seemingly heard a door close somewhere in the distance, so I bolted out of there. I took my leave in the same way I came, leaving every thing intact, and heading back out of the side gate. I figured I would wait in my car for a bit before Fernandez showed up.
I observed him come up to his driveway from the safety of my car. He carried with him a large brown paper bag, like the ones they use for groceries. I knew this neighborhood, though, and knew there were no grocery stores within walking distance. I presumed he had been to a corner liquor store, and that there was alcohol in the bag, not groceries. Though a man who just lost his wife (and job), could care less to differentiate between groceries and alcohol.
We locked eyes as I proceeded to get out of my car. “Mr. Fernandez, I’m with the precinct, I just wanted to ask you a few quick questions if you don’t mind.” I wasn’t with the precinct, nor would my questions be quick, but I had to butter him up just the right way to gain permission to interview him. I doubt he would let some random investigator interrogate him. “Let me see your badge then,” he responded. “I’m in plainclothes today, Mr. Fernandez, no badges, no gun, nothing. I believe, however, that you’ve spoken to my partner Hugo Luna?” His apprehension, though understandable, already set me onto some sort of guilt. It was natural to be defensive, but this always made me suspect something. “Uh, yeah, I have, but I’ve answered all of his questions, I don’t see how I can be of any more usefulness.” There was definitely something up with this guy. “It’ll be quite quick, I assure you,” I answered. I could see the cogs in his head turning, and eventually he beckoned me up the stairs with a confused look on his face, “Come on up then.”
We entered his home, a scene that I was already familiar with greeted me, little to Mr. Fernandez’s knowledge. I immediately cut to the chase. “How long had you been married to your wife, Mr. Fernandez?” I asked. “Year and a half,” he answered. Interesting, they hadn’t been together for very long. “Where did you meet? Where did you get married?” He responded, “I met her in Vegas a year and a half ago, and we ended up getting eloped there and then.” Not a good sign. You tended to hear about these Vegas marriages not working out very well. This one certainly didn’t. “How long did you and your wife live here? Did you move in together immediately?” Fernandez responded with, “Yeah, after I made a little cash in Vegas, we headed here and rented out this place.” I questioned him further, “Did you know the man she was found with?” I asked. “No, I’ve already told Mr. Luna all I know, why am I being asked again?” He responded. Uh-oh, his rope was getting short, I had to get in my last few questions. “What do you do for a living Mr. Fernandez? Where do you work?” He responded, “I work down at the steel plant in South San Francisco.” I answered him, “You work at the steel plant?” I stared intensely at him, almost indicating that I knew exactly that he didn’t work at the plant anymore. I remained silent, making sure he was the one to speak next. “Well, I worked there. I was laid off recently. Look, it’s a hard time for me right now, ok?” He attempted inconspicuously to slide his paper bag behind his back as he said this. “Are we finished here? I just want to relax.” I noticed at this point that his eyes were rather wide, his pupils dilated. Deciding not to push my luck, I responded, “Yes Mr. Fernandez, sorry for bothering you, and thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.” There was no response from Fernandez, he simply turned his back as I made my out of his house.
As I descended the stairs, multitudes of questions were still circling around in my head. When was he laid off from his job? How did a man with no income afford to pay his rent? Was he already slightly drunk when he arrived? Is that why his eyes were looking crazy? I had to find a way to get back into his house to dig around some more. I resolved to return that night in my car and wait until he left somewhere.
I returned home briefly, as the sun was setting, to say hello to Mako and give him some food and water. After this case, I’d spend more time with him; I hated leaving him all alone at home. I composed my thoughts on Fernandez and the case at hand. Why would Mrs. Fernandez feel the need to cheat on her husband? Well, their marriage clearly was somewhat superficial, it’s not as though they spent a great deal of time together before getting married. Why would her lover choke Mrs. Fernandez? Conversely, why would she choke her lover? Were they even lovers? People on drugs can be irrational, certainly, but I had never heard of anything like this before. If the chronicles of Walter White had taught me anything about meth, it wasn’t that couples choked each other out while high. I needed answers.
I gave Mako a gentle rub on the head, and proceeded to make my way out. This time, I ended up being sure to pack my strap. I ended up parking across the street from Fernandez’s house, with the prototypical hat and sunglasses on as to conceal me. Sometimes, it just felt fun to play the detective and adhering to these classical rules established by the past. There was a charm about the solitary stake-out, being locked both in your head as well as your subject’s. I was lucky this time, it was barely half an hour before Fernandez made his way out. He went in the same direction as he had arrived from last time, so I assumed he was headed back to the corner store. The nearest corner store was on 42nd Avenue, 3 blocks away. I knew my time was limited, so as soon as I thought he was far enough, I bolted out of my car. First, I tried the front door. Locked, no luck. I made my way to the familiar side-gate, but no luck again, it was also locked. No matter, I lodged myself between the opposing wall and the gate, and climbed over. I made for the same basement door as I had used previously. To my delight, it was still open, as was the door leading into his house. I made my way quickly back towards his bedroom, and tried to find the pink slip. I looked in the same drawer initially and found it, almost undisturbed from the last visit. I scanned it frantically and came upon a very compelling result. Fernandez had been laid off almost 3 weeks ago, and I knew rent was due every month. I knew from the police and my own observations that he wasn’t going to any sort of job, so where was his income coming from? How did he afford to live here, where rent was through the roof? I knew I was running out of time, so I made my way towards the basement once more. Then it caught my eye. Those cartoon bears. I froze in my tracks when I saw it. Nestled on a shelf between the door and his washing machine in the basement. The tin with the bears on it. I approached slowly, opened it, and saw exactly what I expected. Next to it was a sizably larger tin that I progressed to check. More meth than I had seen before met my eyes. Then it all clicked.
He paid for his rent by selling drugs. He and his wife probably met in Vegas where they eloped, and ended sharing a wild lifestyle together. She took a share of her own drugs in her tin and shared it with her lover. Fernandez must have found out, showed up, and strangled the both of them. A man who lost his job and the fidelity of his job, in a methamphetamine induced rage, was easily capable of strangling the two of them. Fernandez was a big guy, for me at least, and I was nearly six feet tall. Mrs. Fernandez, in comparison was about 5’4”, and her lover much shorter than Mr. Fernandez. I wondered where to go from here. I was headed out through the backyard when I was surprised by Fernandez. As though he knew exactly what I had found, he rushed me, tackled me to the ground, and took a blow at my head. He connected on his first strike, and damn, that son of a bitch hit hard. I struggled to throw him off of me, but I was largely unsuccessful. He landed a few more blows to my head, before I grabbed a rock off the ground and connected to his temple. I was starting to feel a bit woozy from taking three good shots to the head. Fernandez recoiled from taking the hit to the temple, but quickly composed himself and wrapped his hands around my throat. In the same manner he must have killed his wife, he began to squeeze the air out of me. I fought hard to throw him off, but gravity and his weight were against me. My vision was starting to blur and go hazy, before I realized that my dumb ass brought a gun with me. I reached for my piece, and clipped Fernandez in the bicep right before I completely ran out of air. He howled in pain before I popped him again in the leg. He got off of me, while I gulped down the cold San Francisco air. I knew time was limited, so I got ahold of myself as quickly as possible, stood up, and kicked Fernandez in the ribs. He fell over onto his side, beaten up, but very much alive. I frantically reached for my phone, and with shaking hands dialed Hugo and the police along with an ambulance. From here, I kept my eye on Fernandez before the authorities arrived.
I told Hugo and the rest of them exactly what had happened. The evidence I found, the connection to Mrs. Fernandez, and Fernandez’s attempts to choke me out. I remember everything about that night, considering I came close to death. Everything I said seemed to check out in the present, and within a few days, Fernandez’s confession came out. It was another case closed, though this one came a bit too close for comfort. My throat and black eye were healed within a week, and I received a nice comp from Hugo and the precinct. I spent the next days relaxing with Mako just as I had planned to do, waiting for the next case to come my way. After a while, I found a few jobs in painting and construction, but those came and went. Then some time passed, and I found myself waking up in a cold sweat.