The phone vibrated and rattled across the bulkhead for the sixth time in half as many hours. I know, because I hadn't slept since the first time it happened at three thirty-seven this morning. I was sleeping then. Fish, my giant, slobbering Newfoundland hound woofed a wake-up, just in case I hadn't heard it buzzing against the wood like an agitated wasp’s nest. Fish knew who it was. I didn't, but in my defense, I was mostly asleep when I mumbled a blind, “Hale” into the phone. That’s me, Joshua Hale, personal detective, and in my business, you never know who's going to call or when. There had been a long silence, the kind that lets you know the line is still open, but the creepy heavy breathing is missing, and then the line went dead. I looked at my watch and then I looked at Fish, who gave me bright eyes in the darkness. I didn't bother to check the caller ID, it would be blocked, as usual. We both knew it was going to be one of those nights.
The Coconut Attitude rocked gently with the waves and bumped softly in its berth. Nearby, a fish jumped and from somewhere in the marina a woman's giggle was carried to me over the water. I tossed the phone back on the bulkhead and lay back on the pillows. The boats motion, the sound of the water and wind, none of it was enough to lull me back to sleep. Lying there staring at the ceiling, feelings of loneliness and relief washed over me like waves on the beach. I reviewed cases in my head, would the Mason's pay their bill, had Carson taken on the client I'd sent his way, should Lucy and I look at expanding our team, what was Lucy doing...
I never really made it back to sleep and I didn't bother to identify myself the next time the phone rang, or the next time, or the next, it didn't matter. It didn't matter this time either. I grabbed up the phone and brought it to my ear, silence for dozen heartbeats, the sound of what may have been a muffled sniffle, and then the line was dead. It was six in the morning and I might as well be awake.
“She’ll have to get ready for work too. That should be it for a while. First we run, then we eat,” I said to Fish, nudging him with a foot to get off the bed.
Fish stood up, turned around thrice and lay back down on the corner of the mattress. His tail thumped loudly on the bed and he gave me a tongue lolling grin. He was ready to go. Me, I still needed to find clothes and shoes. I climbed out of bed and rubbed his pumpkin-sized head roughly as I went by. He didn't mind. I could probably punch him in head and he wouldn't mind. You probably shouldn't try that, but I could probably get away with it.
Fish is a monster. He’s a Newfoundland, black as night, and he’s the size of a small bear. People see him and the first thing they do is comment on his size. All one-hundred and eighty pounds of him, he’s a big dog. A damn big dog. Then they make some crack about it being cruel to have something that big and that furry in the Florida heat. The poor thing will die in this heat. These are the same people who will tell you that it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Whatever. People are very concerned about the dog. Not so much about the poor guy who has to live with this great slobbering beast. Well, put your mind at ease, Fish does just fine. He loves to swim, and living at the marina, he gets plenty of opportunity to get wet and to get everything around him wet. He'll be fine. Has been for years now.
Once I was ready, we started our morning with a five mile run, Fish doesn’t do so well if we go running later in the day, so I run in the mornings or evenings when the Florida sun isn’t so hot. I change up my route as the mood strikes me. Sometimes, when I'm caught up in my thoughts, I let Fish lead. Today, I went south on Buffalo Avenue, past Panama Park, and then along the east side of Jennings Park, back across Winona, and then north up Main until we hit Trout River Drive and then followed that back to the marina. Jogging lets me eat pizza and wears Fish out so that he'll leave my neighbors alone for at least part of the day. The locals claim not to mind, but I try not to take advantage, unlike my dog.
Afterwards, I hit the marina shower facilities and Fish collapsed on the aft deck in the shade. In case you hadn't gathered, I live at a marina on a boat. A thirty-eight-foot Chris-Craft Commander that was new in nineteen seventy-two. That was three or four owners back, but I like to think I put enough work into her that she doesn't look her age. And when you live on a boat, you take advantage of the marina's showers. There's only three of us living here full time right now so it's not too bad. Coconut Attitude has a shower but using it and the head mean I need to have the tanks emptied with regularity, so most days I use the marina facilities.
After making myself presentable I dumped food into the dog's bowl and headed out leaving Fish to take care of the boat. On the way I grabbed a breakfast of pancakes and eggs at Uptown Kitchen, I debated getting something for Lucy, decided against it, and finally headed into the office.
We rent space in a downtown building near Hemming Plaza on West Adams and Hogan. We share the building with an assortment of other tenants, most notably a cafe, a sandwich shop, legal aide, and an architectural firm. They give us two offices, a small waiting room, a place to have our mail delivered, and our name on the directory plaque in the lobby. You go up to the third floor, if you go up the back stairs, we're the first door on the left. You go up the front way and we're not. We've got ourselves a dark wooden door set with a pebbled glass window, Hale & Bianchi Investigations and the hours are lettered on the glass. I paid for the door, I'm a traditionalist, the plate glass door that was there looked nice and modern, but that's not the look I'm going for. I wanted to reverse the names on the door, make it alphabetical, ladies first and all that. I lost that argument. The rents not bad and the location is good, I guess that's why I've been here four years. Lucy was already there, waiting for me when I walked into the office.
Beyond my vintage door you get a pretty typical office space, could belong to an accountant, lawyer, or a dentist. The walls are beige, the carpet is office brown, and the lighting is fluorescent. Lucy picked out a couple of padded chairs and a small couch for anyone who comes in to wait. I think we've both spent nights on that couch, it is not comfortable. There's a bookcase, a small desk, a plant, and all the usual stuff you'd find in a small office; coffee maker, fax machine, copier, blah, blah, blah, need I go on? I'm sure you've been in a small office before. Two doors lead off to a coat closet and to Lucy's office respectively. There's a framed picture of the Jacksonville skyline on one wall and a very large clock on the other, just in case anyone wants to know how long they've been waiting, I guess. Lucy's office is a clutter free zone and everything is sleek, modern, and black. My office is, well, my office is more personal.
“Rough night?” Lucy said as I came through the door, and at my questioning look she added, "saw you dragging yourself across the parking lot." She bobbed her head toward the window in her office and put a cup of coffee in my hand.
Lucy Bianchi is my partner, and a damn good one. She’s a good looking, long haired brunette. I love the long hair. She’s maybe a hair over five seven and is all tight muscle and olive skin. I’m not sure if that’s natural or tan, but I have not seen any tan lines, not that I've had an opportunity to check. I tell people I handpicked her. She tells them nobody else wanted the job. She’s a former marine, one of the few women that actually saw combat, and saw it on more than one occasion.
After spending time in Kuwait she came home and put three years in on the police force in Grand Rapids, Michigan before she was dragged two blocks behind a Buick. That damn near killed her. But she’s tough, hell of a lot tougher than I am. She pulled herself back together, with a little help from the doctors, retired from the police force on medical leave and took herself off to China or India or some such and started helping build earthquake resistant housing for disaster victims.
When she finally came home, she spent some time out west before I managed to convince her to bring her daughter to Florida and help me run the agency I'd started two years before. She wouldn’t take the job, something about working for a grease monkey didn’t appeal to her feminine nature. I was able to change her mind on that, but to do so I had to sell her half the place. That was four years back. I still ask myself if I knew what I was doing.