This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 758 words.
Coastal Investigations was surprisingly located in the quiet seaside town of Frinton. That was over fifty miles away, and I wondered what had made mum choose that place. It was still operating, which was something. The basic website didn’t exactly entice customers, mentioning ‘Matrimonial’, ‘Divorce’, and ‘Fraud’ as it’s main specialites. Under the name, it had “Serving Essex for over forty years” as its tagline.
When I rang the number that morning at nine, I got a taped message. I didn’t leave my details, choosing instead to ring back once I had showered and dressed. A woman answered, her voice rather gruff, but her manner and tone respectful. I mentioned that I was following up on an old case they had handled, and had the name of their operative written down to tell her. His name on the report was Trevor Macmillan.
“That would have been my dad. I took over when he died, fiteen years ago now. If you want me to look into something that old, you had better bring the file to the office. Today at two alright for you? By the way, I charge two hundred a day, and that’s a minimum, but I will see you this afternoon for the consultation fee, seventy-five. In cash please”. Then she let out a series of hacking coughs, loud enough to make me move the phone away from my ear.
I told her I would be there at two.
Stopping at a cashpoint on the way, it took me almost ninety minutes to drive to Frinton. Their office was above a hairdresser’s shop, as the far end of the High Street. I pressed the intercom with the dymo-tape name above it, and was buzzed in with no questions asked. She was waiting for me at the top of the stairs, smoking a cigarette. I took her to be around forty, heavy build, and overdressed for a job like that. She looked more like she was on her way to a party.
“Come straight up. Mr Cook, is it?”
In the front room that served as an office, she pointed at a cheap plastic chair, indicating I should sit in front of her desk. Then she hauled her bulk in opposite me, and held out a hand. “The file, and the seventy five, please. I like to get the money out of the way”. I handed her four twenties on top of the file, and she hesitated over the change, probably hoping I was going to tell her to keep it. Eventually she dug five one-pound coins out from the bottom of her handbag, and slid them across the desk as she opened the file with her other hand.
As she read through the slim file, you would have thought she was reading War and Peace. She finished her cigarette and immediately lit another one, without offering me one. So I lit one of my own, and she moved the overstuffed ashtray into range for me. Still taking her good time over the file, I had almost finished my cigarette when she lit her third, and closed the file with a snap.
“Is this a complaint, Mr Cook? ‘Cause if it is, I should tell you now that will be down to my dad, and he’s long dead”. I assured her it wasn’t. I just wanted to know more about her dad’s investigation, and anything else she could tell me about the policeman and the accident. She gave a satisfied nod. “Okay then, let me go and look in the old files next door”. I thought the offer of a coffee might be nice, even water. But there was no mention of refreshments as she lumbered out the door, her shoes slapping against her feet as she walked, as if they were a size too big.
She came back holding a thick file that left me wondering how come her dad’s report to my mum had been so slim. Then she sat on the desk right in front of me, and seemed to be almost flirting, definitely suggestive in her body language. “I can probably help you, Darren. I still have lots of contacts in the police around here. My dad was a copper before he started this business you know. Leave it with me for now, and I will ring you tomorrow. If I take it further, then we start on the two hundred a day, okay?”
When I was sitting back in my car, I thought I hadn’t had too much for my seventy-five quid.