December 11, 2022

Double Bubble Chapter 2: Coffee Time

This entry is part 2 of 14 in the series Double Bubble

Rated: R

My office is located in a rundown, one-story brick building at the edge of Ottawa’s downtown core. The building had once been used as some kind of warehouse back when the trains in Ottawa still ran along the east-west corridor of what is now the Queensway. But where the rest of the city has gradually been gentrified by land flippers and developers, this patch of Catherine Street has yet to be bulldozed and has become a stubborn holdout against progress in the city.

I had bought the building at a cutthroat price not long after my fall from grace had landed me in the gutter just outside its front door. It wasn’t large or opulent or pretty, but I had needed a place to hang my hat and shingle and a derelict building on a derelict street was about all I had been able to afford. It had the added benefit of being zoned both commercial and residential, which meant that I could live in the back and work in the front. That was 18 months ago and I have been living and working here ever since. As it turns out, I like living here. It suits my compulsion for a hermit-like existence. Its location practically guarantees an absence of foot traffic or random drop-in visits, and its distance from the glut of downtown office towers to the north means I never have to worry about running into anyone I know or would rather not see. And there are a lot of those.

I can see the sun is still creeping up over the horizon beyond the highway just outside my front door, but it’s already heating up the air and sidewalk as I make my way on foot toward Bank Street. It is still early even for a government town, and I’m in no particular hurry since it is doubtful this flower shop will be open before nine-thirty or ten. According to Jean, the flower shop is located in Old Ottawa south, about a 20-minute walk from my office.

As I take the corner on Bank Street and start trudging south toward the flower shop, I come to my senses and stop. What the hell am I doing? What the hell do I care about Danny or his mother or whether he was murdered by his girlfriend or committed suicide? I barely knew the guy. None of it has anything to do with me. I’m not an investigator, and even if I was, Jean Piggott hadn’t offered me so much as a nickel to look into her son’s death. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a greedy guy. I am happy to sing for my dinner, as they say, but I am not a sucker and gone are the days when I will work for free on some notable cause. Chivalry is dead. And desperate as I am for cases, I don’t make a habit anymore of tilting at windmills.

I stand idly on the sidewalk, trying to decide what to do. People are bustling past me, heading north to work. A few rummies are milling around on the sidewalk under the bridge ahead. I watch them for a minute and try to ignore the buzzing in my brain. But I know it won’t stop until I do something. Crazy Jean has certainly done a number on me this morning. The old woman was so certain she knew me and so certain Danny liked me that it triggered some weird sense of duty or obligation or some other fucking pointless emotion. Logically I know she’s full of shit since I can’t imagine, even after everything that has happened, that I would forget knowing someone like her. And if Danny and I had ever spoken more than two words to each other during high school, it was fucking news to me.

No, she’s crazy. Has to be. She probably just picked my name out of a fucking hat of lawyers in the city, although, since I don’t advertise, that also seems doubtful. Not that it matters, I guess. She found me, and now I have to decide what to do about it. Fucking hell. Jean Piggott is fucking crazy, and now her fucking craziness has infected me.

I need to think. I need a coffee. Fortunately, the Glebe is straight ahead, just beyond the bridge, and there will be no shortage of coffee shops to choose from if I just keep going. So I walk on. The bridge forms a short tunnel under the Queensway, its walls coated and smeared with graffiti, pigeon droppings, and ugly chemical stains. I keep a wary eye on the rummies as I walk along the cracked and narrow sidewalk. I know they’re basically harmless, but between them and the deafening roar of the cars zipping along eight lanes of traffic over my head, I can’t help but feel like I’m walking through a part of skid row. It’s not a long walk, but it is always unsettling. One minute you’re immersed in this dystopian hellscape, the next, you’re standing in sunshine on the sidewalk of one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods in the city. It’s like a metaphor for my life.

I walk on for another half block before finding a coffee shop that suits my fancy. Its chief recommendation is that I’m guessing it’s empty. I don’t see a single person go in or out as I approach. I suppose I could check online for a Yelp review, but I don’t honestly care. If it’s open, it’s quiet, it’s perfect.

I pull open the door and step in. As I expected, the place is empty, and I can see why. There are six round tables pressed against one wall, each no wider than a toilet, with two tiny chairs to sit at. Opposite the row of tables is a narrow path from the front of the shop to the back, where I can barely make out the coffee counter in the dimly lit interior. The front wall of the store is fashioned out of glass, but it’s so grimy only patches of foggy light penetrate more than a few feet inside. I can see what I assume is the proprietor sitting against the back wall. I can’t make out their features, so I wait half a beat to see if they will get up. But they don’t. So I make my way past the tables to the rear of the store and find myself staring at a squat pudgy parrot-looking man reading yesterday’s paper. He looks up briefly, nods at some coffee pots warming on a burner on a table beside him, and goes back to reading his paper. As a guy who loathes small talk, my Yelp rating on this place just went up half a star.

I pour some coffee into a thin paper cup, toss a toonie into an empty jar, nod at the parrot, who gives me an affirmative nod back, and head towards one of the tables. I take the one closest to the door, the better to maintain distance between the parrot and me and also because I’m feeling somewhat claustrophobic and being near the only exit provides some modicum of comfort.

I put my coffee on the table, which is surprisingly sturdy, pull out the chair, and sit down. The problem with shops like this is the coffee is usually disgusting. And since I drink my coffee black, there is nothing to mask the taste if it is. I look down into the cup, swirl it a bit, looking for some clue that I know I won’t find. There’s nothing for it except to take a sip. It’s hot but bitter but no worse than the shit I make in my office. I close my eyes and give myself over to thinking.

I replay the conversation with Jean Piggott in my head, trying to figure out what has me so bothered. Beyond the fact that she’s crazy or that she has, like my mother, basically guilted me into doing work for her for free, there’s something else that just feels wrong about the story. Or maybe it was the photographs. I take another sip of coffee and try and call up the photographs in my head.

I’m not squeamish about death, and I’m not particularly philosophical about the value of human life. Nor am I some goddamn prude who squeezes his eyes shut at the mere thought of unconventional sex or fetishes. Granted, I’m a pretty vanilla guy with pretty vanilla tastes, but I’m not troubled or offended that others have kinks. Of course, it’s easier not to be troubled or squeamish when the dead guy doesn’t have a pair of panties on his head or, for that matter, when his mother isn’t trying to talk to you about his masturbation habits. Still, I’m pretty sure it isn’t the photos or the subject that is nagging at me and causing this buzzing in my brain.

No, there’s something else. Something I am not seeing. I’m not Sherlock Holmes and don’t have any kind of photographic memory or encyclopedic knowledge of crime detection. Hell, most of the work I do anymore involves fender benders and trip and falls. But I have always rather liked being a lawyer. Or mostly so.

At first, it was driven by my love affair with arguing but soon after I started, I took on a case working for a woman who claimed that her dentist had sexually assaulted her while she was undergoing a procedure. She claimed the dentist had knocked her out with gas and proceeded to have sex with her while she was unconscious. It was a tough case with no evidence except my client’s say so. And she was admittedly unconscious. She had gone to the cops, but they hadn’t believed her, and by the time she retained me, there was no chance of getting DNA or other samples. But back then, before I fell from grace, I was still a tenacious son of a bitch, and I decided I would take on her case and see what I could. It was the first time I had experienced that nagging, gnawing sensation about a case. So I went to work. I grabbed my shovel and started digging and digging and digging until I found the evidence I needed. Turned out the dentist recorded all of his sexual sessions and had a secret fan page where he posted his videos. I got myself access and soon found the smoking gun I needed. It was the first big settlement I had ever scored and was the case that launched my rise up the legal ranks. It’s also the same nagging feeling I have right now. Crazy or not, there’s just something about Danny’s death that is off.

I take another sip of coffee when the first piece of the puzzle falls into place. It’s the panties around his head and the tube around his balls. According to Jean, the cops concluded it was suicide because they found a bottle of pills on the ground beside him. But I can’t see why Danny would tug a pair of panties around his head and tie a tube around his balls just so he could overdose on some pills. And that assumes he was the kind of guy who would commit suicide at all. I couldn’t rule it out since, contrary to his loony-tune mother, I didn’t actually know the guy. But what little I knew made me think he wasn’t the type to off himself. Everything I have ever heard about him suggested to me that he was rich and popular and had everything his little heart ever desired. Not that rich and popular people never commit suicide, but I can’t think of any that did so in such a humiliating fashion.

No, the photos from the scene just didn’t fit my idea of suicide. But so fucking what? If it wasn’t suicide, what then? Murder?

Even if Jean Piggott was right and Danny’s girlfriend killed him, what difference did it make?

Suicide or homicide, dead is dead, who cares.

And therein lies the rub, as my old man used to say. Even if Jean had actually meant to hire me this morning — and I’m pretty sure she hadn’t — there wasn’t much I could do to help her. Even if I could prove the girlfriend killed Danny, the case wasn’t worth fuck all. And without some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there was no way for me to get paid. And I sure as shit wasn’t going to take the case on for free, was I?

I sigh heavily and rub my eyes. Well, fuck, I guess maybe I am. Or am I?

As I take another sip, another thought bubbles up to the surface of my consciousness. Something so obvious I can’t believe it has taken me this long to see it. Danny had life insurance. If I can prove the girlfriend killed him, it would invalidate her claim to the money, but it wouldn’t invalidate the policy. The money would be paid to Danny’s estate, and that would mean the money would go to his mother as his surviving heir.

And if Jean got the insurance money, I would get paid. And since I like getting paid, maybe taking on this case wasn’t so fucking crazy after all. I start smiling. I like this plan. I must be a fucking genius. Things are finally looking up.

I take another swallow of coffee. And then my phone rings.

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