"Here's our completed file on the Cooper case. See that the cops get this so they can make the arrest. We were right, Donna did her hubby in with a butter knife," Marcus Ryan, an extremely weary private eye muttered as he strode briskly into the serene atmosphere of Frank's private office. Halting in front of the cluttered desk, putting down the manila folder, he half smiled at the comfortably seated man. Then rotating on his heels, he began slowly sauntering toward the vacant reception room, and the corridor door beyond. His plan was to enjoy being begged to stay, while not looking at who was doing that begging. He'd simply continue his leisurely escape toward what he considered was a well earned rest.
"Where the blazes do you think you're going?" Detective Frank Curtis shouted after him, dropping what he'd been holding. The pen and doughnut smacked onto several computer leaflets. As an equal partner in Sunset Investigations, he sometimes felt there was an unequal workload distribution. This was definitely one of those times.
"On a vacation," sighed happily over one shoulder. "Your whimpering protests aren't going to do you any good, they'll be music to my ears!"
"You can't do this," squeakily squeaked. "Not yet."
"Oh, no? Someone took his wife and trotted off to the Bahamas last fall. Now it's my turn for a vacation."
Frank raked the fingers of both hands through his thick, black hair in frustration. "You can't do this. We're in the middle of redecorating the agency. There are decisions to be made. We have to pick out..."
"Your idea. You follow through with it."
"Well, okay," he agreed begrudgingly, folding his arms across his chest and casting a glance around stodgy surroundings that definitely needed sprucing up. "There's also a stack of reports to organize and file because we haven't bothered to hire someone to take up our slack."
"Who skipped out on an interview with a person that might have been an acceptable girl-friday?"
"So guess who should line up someone else."
"Me. But, well hell, if I've gotta take care of all that stuff, my lazy partner has to handle..."
"I'm on vacation as of when that folder hit your desk!" said in smug determination as his snail's pace finally got him out of Frank's office.
"We have a new case."
That was enough. Reversing directions, marching back to the desk and leaning halfway across it, Marcus squinted, his upper lip twisting into what he hoped was a savage appearing grimace. "I'm thirty-five years old! My..."
"So am I!"
"...retirement isn't for three decades yet! I haven't taken time off in well over seven years!" bellowed as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Do you expect me to go that long, again, without getting a lousy couple of days off?"
Hesitating to reply, Frank calmly slouched back in his comfortable swivel chair, picked up his powdered sugar doughnut, took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. Without swallowing, he muttered, "You're gonna really like this case, partner. It's something to sink your teeth into."
"Wouldn't count on it," snarled in reply. Having been friends since high school, Marcus was perfectly well aware that nothing on the face of the Earth could prevent Frank from tossing out the known facts. It was far better to let him, and then leave. That way he'd be able to concentrate on hiring the girl-friday they were in such desperate need of.
A successful grin easily went from ear to ear across Detective Curtis' face. "A guy by the name of Walter Scott came in late yesterday, after you'd already left. He wants us to track down his mother-in-law. It seems that she kidnapped her own granddaughter."
"Did you say that the grandmother is a kidnapper?" croaked in disbelief.
"Yes, because it appears as if just that has happened."
"So what's the kid's mother have to say about it?"
"Nothing at all. She's an institutionalized fruitcake. Mrs. Scott is in a private sanitarium in Phoenix. It's run by a Doctor Dugins. Petro Dugins," stated casually.
"Let me get this straight. The mother was committed, dad had custody of their baby, and granny gleeped the kid and headed for the proverbial hills?"
"We won't know for sure until you solve the case, Marcus. Although, considering that the suspect's hobby is camping, it's a distinct possibility. Your proverbial hills, camping ... get it?" Frank grinned, bit off another chunk of powdered doughnut, then setting the rest aside, selected a chocolate frosted raspberry doughnut from the open box on his desk. He gazed calmly at the sweet treat and sighed in anticipation.
"Haven't you got anything better to do?" Marcus surveyed the office. "Your nook in our agency needs help, good buddy. The knotty-pine paneled walls are ugly, the built in bookcases on either side of the door are coming apart."
"Your idea for a dummy window turned out halfway decent, though."
"Couldn't have a real window on that wall, it would have opened into the next suite. Our tenant would be able to ogle me," said with a laugh.
"The blinds you hung would have prevented that. Actually, you could have saved money by skipping the window, and just hanging the blinds. Nobody can see the window, anyway."
"I wanted the option of opening the blinds. How much fun would that be, if all I saw was the wall?"
"This way you'll see the wall behind glass. Considering your appetite alarm, a painting of doughnuts would be a better choice than the fake window."
Frank cranked his neck around to look at the closed blinds for a few seconds before turning to stare at his best friend and partner. "I kinda like that idea."
"It figures. So, when are you having the carpeting replaced? The gray color barely shows. There are enough stains to look almost like a design." Marcus was on a griping roll, and didn't care to stop rolling. After unloading, he'd feel better about having to cancel his vacation. "This large wooden desk I've been leaning over should be refinished, or trashed. The wide drawer filing cabinet over in the corner should be donated to Goodwill..."
"Yeah, but the new, two cushion, brown plaid sofa along the wall opposite my ugly desk looks inviting."
Ignoring that truthful remark, "The overhead lighting is dangling from the wobbly ceiling fan. If you were to set the fan on any other speed but slow, the blades would shoot off in all directions."
"My personal clutter is at a minimum. Keep in mind, that your office isn't quite a carbon copy of this one, since not only is your window real, but there's an adjacent bathroom."
"Jealous?" Marcus inquired, the tactic of unloading well on its way to working. He was already feeling in a better mood.
"Nah. Both of our private offices have been stripped of their wall decor, and that means we'll get to enjoy picking out new stuff to hang on them. After you take care of painting the walls, that is."
"Me? Awl, no! Paint rollers don't fit my hands. I'm a desk jockey!"
"You're feeling better, I presume? Not so uptight about having to cancel your time off?"
"Only because the reception room has already been painted cheerful yellow, by the same crew who is going to be painting our offices. We should close down for a week or so, to let them..."
"That won't work, lazy bones. There are clients depending on..."
"Several quality oil paintings of desert scenery are arranged attractively on two of the walls in the reception room," declared to swing the topic of conversation back away from business. Loitering here, in Frank's office, might be the extent of relaxation for some time to come. The Scott kidnapping case would see to that.
"There isn't one stick of furnishings in the reception room. Straight forward business. No one entering this second floor suite would get an impression of haphazard professionalism. They'd have to assume careful consideration is being given to all options."
"Good buddy, the agency is the best epitome of mass confusion in Tucson. I've had the place right smack up to the gills. I definitely need a temporary change of scenery. Maybe by the time I get back, you'll have everything in order," said without any hope at all. He figured that a fast foods meal, and a couple of hours in a movie theater, would have to do until after he'd wrapped up the Scott case.
"Walter Scott's toddler daughter is waiting for you to rescue her," Frank stated as a pointed reminder. Belatedly thinking to take a bite of the raspberry doughnut that he'd picked up many minutes ago, he saw that it was now ringed around his index finger, with chocolate frosting smeared from the center knuckle, to his fingernail.
Observing the sticky dilemma, Marcus couldn't resist being more of a pain in the rear than he'd already been. "You accepted the case, you solve it. I'm outta here!" he stated as he once again turned and headed toward the door. Up for debate, cheeseburger vs. sub sandwich.
"Scott swears that his mother-in-law is crazier than his wife. He says she has an inherited mental disorder, that she hasn't been locked away because she'd, so far, appeared harmless to herself and others. He is convinced that her behavior could take a turn for the worse. Scott fears for his child's life."
Having made it only as far as the doorway this time, Marcus felt as if his six-foot frame had just shrunk to a fraction of that size. This wasn't the first time Frank had made him feel like a worm. Wouldn't be the last, either. The man really knew what strings to pull.
"Scott is frantic," Frank added, nodding to agree with himself.
Marcus had already pictured his trip to Alaska melting away, like an iceberg would if it were tossed into a microwave and zapped on the highest power. And now his lunch was also nothing but a fond thought. He didn't turn around when he posed a question. "So ... what can you tell me about Granny?"
"You'll take the case then?" chortled in smug satisfaction. Shaking the raspberry doughnut from his finger, and back into the box, for the time being, Frank grabbed a paper napkin. After hastily wiping off his finger, he yanked open his center desk drawer and removed a file. It was a sign of success that Marcus hadn't already barreled out of the agency.
"I don't seem to have any choice, do I?" sniggered helplessly as he shuffled in place. He stayed put in the doorway, his bent elbows lightly brushing the jamb on both sides.
"Sure you do," Frank declared to his back. "Just trot off on a vacation, and don't give any thought at all to the eighteen month old baby, who's in the hands of a crackpot. Enjoy. Have a great time. Send me a post card." A knowing grin escaped, again.
"I hate your guts!"
"Likewise, I'm sure," chortled softly.
"Tell me what you know about Granny," Marcus asked over one shoulder, squaring both of them.
"She's fifty. Collar length graying brown hair. Five-foot six, and wiry. Has that inherited mental disorder I already mentioned."
"I don't think mental problems can be passed down from one generation to the other," muttered in disagreement. He turned halfway around, but remained in the doorway.
"I'm only repeating what's in the file," said assuredly, waggling the folder for emphasis. "Anyway, our suspect used to own a pet shop ... reptiles a specialty. You know, snakes, lizards, that sort of thing. She likes to go camping, alone, especially near water, but she can't swim a stroke."
"I'm assuming the baby was kidnapped here, in Tucson?" Marcus asked. Finally reversing direction back into his partner's office, again, he began to pace thoughtfully in circles.
"Yeah. Last Tuesday."
"This is Friday. Why'd Scott wait so long to contact us?"
"He actually only waited till late Thursday," corrected automatically. "Said he was hoping his mother-in-law would bring the baby back. Only he hasn't heard squat from her."
"How upset is he?"
"Concerned, but not panicked. Which is understandable. Our suspect isn't exactly Lizzy Borden."