Gusty Hardwell - Chapter 1

Chasing someone across rooftops, while great cardio, can be quite a lonely exercise. Sure, you get to see the city in ways you never expected and the air is cleaner, but it’s just you and some guy who probably doesn’t want to talk to you. Also, I hate heights.

I had been chasing this guy for about fifteen minutes. God, I hope he was the guy I was looking for or else I really wasted my afternoon. Supposedly, he had stolen something very dear from a client of mine. I was getting paid 200 bucks to get it back. I really needed the cash.

All of a sudden he tripped and stumbled, so I went into sprint mode and caught him by the collar. The roof we were on had an entrance, so I threw him against the door. If anybody needed to get up here and feed the pigeons or kill themselves, they were going to have to wait a little bit longer.

“Alright, buster, where is it?” I tried to sound really stern, like a guy who would really rough you up.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Wrong answer. I pulled back my arm and really threw my weight into it as I slugged him across the face.

“Don’t play cute with me, bucko. The porcelain doll. Where is it?”

He stared into my eyes and grinned. “Fuck you,” he said, then spit in my face. I think there was blood in it. I didn’t know how to feel about it. On the one hand it was really gross. On the other hand, it meant my punch really did some damage and that I was right to use that Groupon for boxing classes.

I really wanted to get back to my office to see if there any new cases, so I decided to wrap this up quick. I also don’t appreciate swearing and something told me this guy spoke fluent sailor.

“Ah, a wise guy, huh?” They always say this in the movies. What a great line. I decided to direct a few blows right to his stomach. When I hit him a third time, I heard an unsettling crunch. It was a familiar sound, the breaking of porcelain.

I hit him in the face one more time for good measure. He was out of it. Man, I love Groupon. While he was dazed, I went through his jacket pockets and found the shattered remains of a porcelain unicorn. My client wasn’t going to like this.

I tossed the goon to the ground and went to open the door behind him. It was locked so I went down the fire escape.

I went to a coffeeshop near my office to meet up with my client. She wasn’t going to be happy about the porcelain doll. Maybe I could blame it on the goon. I mean, I asked him nicely. If he hadn’t tried to be all tough, I wouldn’t have had to punch him so much. Damn my super muscular build!

I ordered a coffee for me and my client and sat down at a table next to a window. I started really freaking out about the shattered unicorn when my client came in. She was an older woman, the kind who collects porcelain unicorns. In her prime, I’m sure she turned a few heads. Now, she was sporting a short haircut of strawberry blonde, with grey roots peeking out. She was wearing a floral pattern shirt and mom jeans. Now that I think about it, she was wearing a floral pattern shirt when she came to me with the case.

“Take a seat, mam.” I motioned to an empty chair in front of me and she pulled it out and sat down. “So… I have your unicorn.”

She looked like she was about to burst. “Oh thank goodness! Where is it?”

“I’ve got it in my pocket here. Man, I gotta tell you, this was not easy to get. I had to chase a guy across the roofs of a few buildings.”

“I’m sorry. Could I see the doll?”

“Yeah, I think I may have bruised my heel after jumping across so many alleys. You know, that kind of pressure on your foot really builds up. I may need to buy a Dr. Scholl’s pad or something for my foot.”

“Mister Hardwell, the doll?”

“Oof, and did I mention I’m afraid of heights? I gotta tell you this was one of the most thrilling, nerve-wracking cases I have ever had. I gotta ask you: why is this doll so important?”

“Well,” she started, avoiding eye contact with me. “I’ve been something of a porcelain collector ever since my husband passed and-“

“Oh, so you’re single? Have you tried online dating? You know, it’s never too late to put yourself out there, and I think you have a few good years left. I’m something of an expert on how attractive a woman is.”

She gave me a blank stare. Women. “Anyway, the unicorn I sent you to get is part of a set. Individually, the dolls are worth very little. But together, they’re worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I was planning on selling them all and retiring when the unicorn was stolen. Now that you got it back for me, I can finally sell them.”

I reached into coat and grabbed the porcelain pieces and dropped them on the table, slowly, with each piece making a clink sound as it hit the table. “Well, here it is.”

She stared at the pieces in disbelief. People are always shocked when they witness a job well done.

We sat in silence for a few seconds before I started up again. “So, as per our arrangement, my fee is $200. Will that be cash or check? I’d really prefer cash. Heh, I guess you won’t have any trouble with money now that you got your doll back, right?”

I walked back to my office. My client had refused to pay for the broken doll. I reminded her that she hadn’t clarified what condition she wanted the unicorn in and that superglue could probably fix that unicorn right up. She told me I was a lousy detective and that I was insane to expect any payment for what she considered an unsuccessful case. After tense negotiations, she agreed to pay for the two coffees and not write a negative review for my practice on Yelp. I would have preferred a positive review, but hey, sometimes no reviews are better bad reviews.

After a few blocks, I was at the building that my office was in. I went inside and walked up the stairs to my door of my practice. The sign on the door read “Augustin Hardwell: Private Detective and Public Notary”. It was a tricky door. You had to lift and push in in order to open it. I made a mental note to call the super about it.

My assistant, Alice, was sitting at her desk, talking on the phone, filing her nails.

“Afternoon, Alice. Any calls?”

She looked up from her nails, gave me a cold look and went back to her nails. After several years working together, I had deduced that that meant “No calls, Mister Hardwell”.

I walked into my office and shut the door. I sat in the swivel chair behind my desk and looked at my calendar on the computer. Blank. It was going to be a tough month. I started making bubble noises with my lips and slapping the desk with my palms. Then I spun around in my chair a little bit until I got dizzy. I went online and printed out a few Sudoku puzzles and worked on those until I heard a buzzing sound. It was the doorbell to the building, meaning someone needed to come up to my office. It rang again.

I called out to Alice but there was no answer. I walked out and saw that she was gone. There was a post it note on her phone that read “LUNCH”. Dang. Wish she had asked me if I wanted anything. I didn’t, but the gesture would have meant a lot to me. I tell you, it’s times like these that make me wonder how she keeps winning employee of the month. I gotta get on the committee that hands out those awards.