It was the end of a dry, hot summer in Central Valley. Everything was dusty and reports of fires in the mountains were on every newscast.
In Tranquility, California, a small Central Valley town, Sam Reynolds stared at the morning news with a scowl. The paper was spread out on the kitchen table and he turned the pages with a listless finger.
“Jesus, nothing.” Even the sports page was boring him.
Staring into space, Sam finally had to admit it to himself.
“I’m bored as shit,” he told the still morning air.
His last case had left him feeling flat. Plus, his long-time girlfriend, Kristie was out of town for two weeks on a cruise with her two adult daughters.
“Uff,” he shook his head. Sam, sixty-six years, was a self-employed PI. Recently he had successfully completed a missing-persons case. A missing person who had wanted to stay missing.
At sixteen years, Thomas Dolby, had run away from home. A pair of concerned parents had hired Sam to find him. Tracking Thomas to a dive in the southeast section of town, Sam parked his truck, being sure to lock it carefully, and walked to the run-down, clapboard house.
In his white T-shirt, blue-jeans and cowboy boots, he was aware that he was still better dressed than many residents of this neighborhood. He knocked on the door. He could hear some shuffling inside. The door eventually opened.
“Yeah?” came the desultory inquiry from behind a tattered screen door.
“Sam Reynolds.” He held out his wallet with the PI license tucked behind a plastic sleeve. “Like to speak to Thomas Dolby.”
“What’s you want him for?”
“Just want to speak to him.” Sam looked around. Neighbors were peeking at him as he stood on the porch. There was a small pistol in his right boot, but he really didn’t want to have to use it. “I have something for him he’d like to have. From his parents.”
Sensing money, the shabby young man unlatched the hook on the door and pushed it open. Sam grabbed the door and went in. The living room was an indescribable mess of clothes thrown everywhere and bits and pieces of food, drinks, empty bags of chips, trash and clutter. His host was shuffling away toward the kitchen. Several other teens were lying on old sofas, half-asleep.
“He’s in there,” his greeter waved down the hall.
Sam had several pictures of the boy and knew he would recognize him. He got to the second bedroom and pushed open the door. Thomas Dolby was lying on a mattress on the floor, in his boxers. His arm was around a skinny red-headed girl with impossibly white skin. His eyes were closed. Sam went and stood over the two. He nudged Thomas with the toe of his boot. The kid opened his eyes.
“I’m Sam Reynolds and I’ve been sent by your parents to bring you home.”
“Fuck off.” The dark-haired youth rolled on his side toward the girl.
Sam looked around the filthy room. A pair of new looking jeans were thrown in a corner along with a pair of very expensive Ugg boots. He grabbed the jeans and threw them at the kid.
“No!” the kid rolled into more of a ball, clutching the girl who mumbled protest.
Sam came over to the side of the mattress and squatted down. He tried to not touch anything.
“Thomas, it’s like this. You get out of that bed, put your pants on or I’m calling the police. They will come and arrest you, your little girlfriend and everyone else in this flea-bag dump for being under-age and on drugs. Then, your parents can pick you up at County jail.”
Sam stood back up. “I’ll give you ten minutes to decide. I’ll be outside.” He turned and left the room. Picking his way gingerly through garbage and bodies, he pushed through the screen door and stood on the sagging wood porch. Some people on the sidewalk had paused to gawk at him.
Jesus, I could use a cigarette right now, he thought to himself. And, I don’t want to be here a minute longer than necessary.
“Shit!” erupted from inside the house. There was some mumbled conversation and a very angry Thomas Dolby banged out the screen door, pulling up his boots.
With no further conversation, Sam walked off the porch and headed toward his truck. He didn’t even bother to look back. He unlocked the passenger side and open the door and the kid got in. Getting into the driver’s side, Sam put on his seat belt and started the truck.
“Fasten your seat-belt.”
“I don’t want. . ..”
Sam gave the kid a long cold stare.
“Crap!” Thomas grabbed the belt and jammed it in place.
Sam smiled pleasantly and pulled from the curb. “Starbucks?”
Forty-five minutes later, they were both nursing tall Starbuck’s coffees. Thomas had wolfed down two large scones at Sam’s expense.
“Good to see you’ve still got an appetite.”
The kid was sullen and said nothing.
They pulled into the huge drive of the giant home on the northeast section of town. Sam had already texted the mom that he had the kid and they were on their way.
An anxious, but ecstatic mother burst out the front door and grabbed the boy. He allowed himself to be hugged and hustled inside. Dr. Dolby was standing at the front door watching this scene. He waved at Sam.
“You found him,” the man said simply putting out his hand for a shake.
“Yes, Dr. Dolby, I found him.” Sam shook hands.
“Let’s go into my study.”
Sam followed the doctor past the grand foyer into a smaller, side room. They went in and his host shut the door.
Dr. Dolby went and sat behind his desk and pulled out a large check book. Sam sat in an ox-blood leather chair with brass stud details. He liked this chair. In fact, he liked the entire office. Sort of an Old World, navigational feel to it. If only I could decorate, he mused to himself. If only I had the money!
“So, give me the details,” the doctor asked. Sam did.
Frowning, Dolby busied himself writing out a check for Sam’s fees. He looked up and handed it to him.
Sam looked at the check and his eyebrows shot up. “Well, thank you, sir.”
Dolby waved his hand dismissively. There was a sad, pained expression on his face.
“Like I told you before, Sam. I don’t know what I am going to do about my son. His grades, his friends. Now this. . .running away, not answering his phone. His mother half sick. . . not knowing what had happened to him. He’s in the best school in town.” He shook his head. “I’m at my wits end.”
“Are you asking me what I think, sir?” Sam folded the check and put it in his shirt pocket. Dolby nodded in the affirmative.
“If it was my son, I’ll let him flunk. Start to appreciate some of the consequences of his actions. Keep the curfew going. If he doesn’t comply, take away his key. Then, if the drugs and alcohol thing keeps on, he’s seventeen, right?”
“I’d stick his ass in a rehabilitation place and maybe they can talk some sense to him.”
Both men got up. “That’s a thought, Sam.”
“Yes, sir.” Dolby reached for the door. “Finding him this time was easy,” Sam added. “Next time. . . might not be so easy.”
They walked to the front door and went out.
“Thanks again, Sam.” Dr. Dolby held out his hand again. Sam shook it.
“I love your money, Doctor, but really, I hope you won’t need me again.”
The doctor sighed and shrugged his shoulders. Sam gave a little wave and left.
Continued Part II