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Episode 2

I stopped three blocks and around the corner from the bar.  I knelt down next to a puddle of runny ice and dirt to tie my shoe.  I had almost tripped and killed myself twice.  Embarrassing for a full grown man.

I stood up again, checking and re-checking that the envelope was still in my pocket.  Again and again, until half a mile later I was home.

The apartment was owned by a couple named Hoffman.  Him, you never saw, but her more than you ever wanted.  She was a tiny old lady with steel-wool hair and scratched-record voice.  She was always in the doorway, greeting or berating everyone according to her personal justice.  Thankfully it was three in the morning, and she had yet to take her post.

I creeked up the stairs, all five flights, and quickly barricaded myself inside my one lowly room.  Just who I thought was following me, I hadn’t a clue.  Half my brain was still convinced the whole thing was a farce.  The other half was a paranoid nut-job, already knee deep in a case.

Dumping the contents of the envelope onto board I called a table, I watched the rabbit-hole open up before me.  Each page of wrinkled note paper was covered top to bottom with cyphers and symbols, phrases meaning nothing.  And the picture.  The kind of face that’s usually pinned up in lockers.  I laid her right in the middle of the chaos.

Right about then I started to realize how hopeless it all was.  I didn’t even know what I was looking for.  Is she in trouble?  Kidnaped?  Dead?  Or is she trouble maker?  Law breaker?  Heartbreaker was obvious enough.  The whole thing was a mess and wouldn’t untangle easily.

I put a pot of coffee on and started to wade through the riddles.

When I woke up, the sun was on my face and Mrs. Hoffman was pounding at the door.

“Johnny!…Johnny!”  She screamed.  I pulled my head up, swatting the stow-away paper from my lip, and looked at the clock.  Eight thirty.

“Johnny!” She wailed.

“What?”  I called back out to her.

“Are you cooking in there?”

“No, Mrs. Hoffman.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah!”

“It smells like you’re cooking!”

“I promise ya, I’m not cookin’ Mrs. Hoffman,” I yelled as I rearranged the notes in front of me.  The stale coffee looked even worse cold.

“Then why it smells like—“

“Please, Mrs. Hoffman, I’m very busy.”

“Yeah, yeah.”  I didn’t hear it, but I knew she was cursing me under her breath. She started to teeter away, her deflated slippers shuffling on the floorboards.

“Oh by the way,” she called back, “There’s somebody here to see you.”

“Yeah?  Who?”

“Don’t know. Little guy… in a coat.”

I stumbled out of the chair and flew down the stairs as fast as I could.

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