"Finders Ltd. - San Francisco"
Original fiction - short story
Disclaimer: This is just a short story. Sorry, no sex and no romance. (at least not yet) The main character is a lesbian - of course!
Note that the characters of Anna and Sevita are not mine. They were created by twistedserious and Myrrh respectively for a Writers' Round. Both have granted me free permission to use them.
Thanks to -
Twistedserious for beta'ing this and Zero for her continued encouragement.
Most importantly, the person without whom nothing else would matter: The person who encourages me, gives me strength and holds my heart; my life-partner, Vic.
The 3 c's - Comments, critiques, and of course compliments can be sent to me at J_Rosestar@yahoo.com
Sitting in a cheap looking diner, Anna Grace Weaver, or Anna as she preferred to call herself leaned back in the red plastic covered booth, sipping her tea. This is heaven, she thought. She was lost to the enjoyment of the warm tea, the smell of Chinese cooking and the sound of many voices speaking in a variety of languages.
It was her first vacation from Finders Ltd. since she began working for them three years ago. Finders is a private detective agency that specializes in finding missing people. They also assist in retrieving kidnap victims and snatching members of religious cults. Usually they are the place of last resort for many families because their services are not cheap. They are a worldwide operation with a physical office in London.
Anna did a bit of everything for the company and as a result often found herself in exotic places. Chemistry was her specialty and often she would be summoned to far-away locations to provide an immediate forensic lab. She could have chosen many places for her private getaway. She chose San Francisco because of its large gay community and gay friendly attitude. It was the one place where she could feel comfortable, among her own people. Of course, the fact that her favorite Chinese restaurant was also located in San Francisco didn't hurt.
She sniffed as she thought about where she was. Of all the Chinese restaurants she'd been in throughout the world, this cheap looking diner was her favorite. Just off the main street of China Town, the storefront consisted of a glass door leading down five steps and opened into the restaurant. Inside it looked like a diner from the 1950's. Red plastic booths or wooden chairs with red plastic padded seats, Aluminum tables with a phony white marble top. There was even a matching counter with red covered stools. It wasn't set up as Art Deco, even though it appeared that way, Anna was sure it was built in the 1950's and was just never updated. However, the food was the best she had eaten anywhere.
Anna allowed her mind to wander to her plans. She'd booked a hotel in the center of San Francisco's gay community. Last night she'd walked to a near by lesbian bar. She didn't usually frequent them and spent her time sitting at the bar sipping coffee and watching the array of people around her. Anna wasn't there to pick anyone up, not that she didn't do casual sex on occasion, she just didn't want to spend this relaxing week dealing with any of the locals. She was more than happy just to watch and feel comfortable being among her own people.
Footsteps approaching her booth brought Anna back to the present. The small Chinese waitress placed her plate in front of her. "You want anything else?" She asked. "No, this is fine." Anna replied.
With the waitress gone, Anna closed her eyes and inhaled the aromatic smell of pork, garlic, and vegetables all mingling together. Picking up her chopsticks, Anna mixed the Garlic Pork and began eating.
Anna stopped the chopsticks inches from the her mouth. "Shit" Anna muttered at the pork, as if the food were responsible for the vibration she felt at her waist. Returning the chopsticks to her plate, Anna reached with her left hand to pull her cellphone from its pouch attached to her belt.
"I'm on vacation." She spat at the still unanswered phone as she saw the name showing. She'd thought about leaving it at the hotel, but one never knew when a phone would be needed. Pay phones seem to have disappeared in this age of cellphones. With a roll of her eyes, she gave in to the inevitable. If she didn't answer it the phone now, they'd just keep calling until she did. Finders didn't give up even in 'finding' their own.
"Yeah Sevita, what is it?" She spoke into the phone.
"I have information on a case I'm working that suggests my prey might be in San Francisco." Sevita replied. Sevita was second in command to Walter, the head of Finders Ltd. 'Prey' was the generic term they used for the person they were trying to locate.
Anna's active mind automatically conjured a picture of Sevita. Slightly shorter than her own 5' 6", with dark brown, thick shiny hair; a sharp contrast to Anna's blond wavy hair. Sevita kept hers braided down her back, giving her a severe look as opposed to Anna's which flowed loosely to her shoulders. She allowed the vision to complete itself with a view of the sinewy muscular body, a body she'd fantasized about often - a fantasy she knew was useless. Her radar pinged when she was near Sevita, and they often spoke in innuendo; but even if she were gay Anna knew there was no chance Sevita would have an affair or even a fling with a co-worker.
"Anna? Did you go off into the clouds again?"
Sevita's voice pulled her mind back to the present. "No Sevita, I'm here. And I'm on vacation, which means no calls, no work, and no prey. " She reminded Sevita again. She could hear Sevita chuckle through the phone lines.
"You know Anna, most people just do what I ask. But no, you have to be difficult."
"Maybe you're not asking right." Anna teased into the phone.
"Please miss, would you do me this favor." Sevita replied in a very submissive tone.
"And what do I get out of it?" Anna questioned.
"What would you like?" Sevita said with a hint of suggestion.
"What are you offering?" Anna asked back.
"If you find my prey, you'll get a hefty bonus along with the usual pay." Sevita was back to business.
"Bonus? Money?" Anna sniffed with mock disappointment.
"All right," Sevita conceded, "I'll throw in my first born child as well." She laughed.
"Agh! Child? What would I do with a child? No way, you promise to keep the kids and I'll search for your prey."
"Really Anna, this case means a lot to me. So if you find the prey I'll owe you big." Sevita returned to the serious discussion at hand.
"Why is this case special?" Anna asked. Sevita rarely made any indication that something was personally important. The long silence that followed her question reinforced Anna's belief that this was something personal for Sevita.
"My mother asked me to do this." Sevita finally replied quietly into the phone. "The mother of the prey is someone she met when she was visiting the states on one of the promotions she did for one of her groups. My mother found out her daughter was missing and she offered up my services."
"Oh," was all that Anna could say. It was so rare for Sevita to provide any information about her family. "So is this one off the books?" The silence that followed answered Anna's question. "Okay," Anna conceded; she really didn't want to cause Sevita any more pressure. "Just give me the information you have and I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks." Relief flooded through Sevita's voice. "And thanks for understanding."
"That's what friends are for, isn't it?" Anna half-jokingly replied into her phone. "This does make us friends now, doesn't it?"
"Sure." Sevita acquiesced. "Just don't go spreading that news around." She laughed.
"Give me the scoop." Anna replied, back to business. She had pulled a small spiral notebook and pen from her purse. Shoving aside the plate of food, she began taking notes.
Getting a refill on her tea, Anna allowed the waitress to remove the now cold plate of food. She reviewed the notes she had written, trying to decide her next step.
Jessica Walters - age 41
Missing 27 months
5' 5" tall
Home - Salt Lake City, Utah
Brown hair, straight, just below the shoulders with bangs.
Dark brown eyes
Religion - Mormon
Last seen 2 years ago
Listed as a missing person, but police weren't pursuing
Bank account cleared out, car left at the bus station
Police figure she's run away - not a crime for adults
No indications of foul play
No known enemies
No close friends, but was engaged to a co-worker
Worked as a computer programmer at a local company
Parents don't think co-worker involved with her disappearance he is a good church going man. (Parent's term)
Friend of the family, visiting in San Francisco last week thought she saw her in front of a flower shop on Castro Street. Called Jessica's name, but the woman fled.
Sounds to me like she wanted to disappear. I certainly wouldn't want her life. Anna shook the thought from her head. Some people like that lifestyle, she scolded herself.
Well, at least my hotel is near Castro Street. Sevita is going to fax a picture of the prey to me. I'll go back there and start checking out the local shops.
Anna sat in her hotel room staring into the face of the faxed picture of the woman. Unfortunately pictures don't fax well, but Sevita was overnighting her a color picture. It should be clearer.
From what she could see the woman was indistinguishable from a million other very religious, middle American women. Average looking, average hair, glasses, no makeup, and no smile.
"Did you leave on your own?" Anna asked the picture. "If you did, why?" Staring into the eyes of the woman in the picture, Anna thought she knew why.
Anna couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman whose picture she was holding. There were some people with genuine faith. She'd met them. People that glowed with a shine from deep inside, brought to them through their true belief in God. Those people, she envied. Those people were genuinely happy in their belief.
From the way she looked in the picture, this woman wasn't one of them. She was a woman oppressed by her religion. Or at the very least, oppressed by the religious people around her. Anna tried to imagine what Jessica would look like with a smile; but she couldn't bring that picture into focus.
It was almost 11am when Anna stirred in her bed. It was unusual for her to sleep so late. But she had allowed herself the opportunity of staying until closing time at a nearby lesbian bar. A few women had tried to strike up a conversation but Anna couldn't find herself interested. Damn Sevita, she thought. Because of you, I'm now working a case and that always makes my libido dry up. Is that it, or is it the thought of Sevita back in the London office? Anna shook the thought from her head. That's hopeless and so are you, Anna admonished herself. Hung up on a possibly straight woman. Hell, for all I know perhaps she is asexual. Anna grabbed onto that thought. Well, that's better than being straight, at least I don't have to imagine her with a man.
Usually she was up early to take her morning run. She'd been very lax about doing that since she'd been in San Francisco. Running was something she loved, but somehow here, with all the people everywhere it didn't provide her with the solitary escape she sought from her early morning run. She had settled for doing laps on a machine in the fitness room.
She was back from the fitness room, and freshly showered. She thought about going downstairs and roaming Castro Street looking for Jessica, but realized that waiting for the color picture might be better. Looking at the phone in the room, she saw the message light flashing. She picked up the phone and called the front desk. There was a fax waiting for her.
Weather in San Francisco called for a change to her usual attire. Anna had forgotten how cold it could be in San Francisco, even during the summer. Her first day here she went shopping and bought clothing quite different from her usual attire. She smiled inwardly as she wondered what the people back at the home office of Finders would think if they saw her. She was wearing a dark green velveteen hoodie layered over a tightly fitting cream tee-shirt, matching green velveteen jogging pants and black rebocks. Her hair was pulled back into a pony tail and she'd even left her usual dangly earrings in the hotel room and put on a pair of simple gold posts.
She wasn't sure what it was, but there was just something freeing about this city. Maybe I'll even get a tattoo, she thought wildly. Sevita has a military insignia tattooed on her right arm. Maybe I'll get one of Finders' logo. Well, it's not like I'm going to get a playboy bunny, what's up with that anyway? Sevita had a playboy bunny tattooed on her left ankle. Anna couldn't imagine what could have possessed Sevita to get that tattooed on herself. It seemed so out of character for her.
What has come over me? Anna thought to herself. I'm sitting here thinking like a kid with a highschool crush. I haven't once thought about chemicals, chemistry or anything else. It's like this city takes over your mind. Hmm…I wonder if something like that could have happened to Jessica?
Her mind back on business, Anna looked at the color picture that she'd picked up from the front desk on her way outside. It was the same picture as she'd seen on the fax, but now with color. Anna decided the color picture really wasn't much different than the faxed black and white one.
She was sitting at an outside café sipping tea. Looking at the picture, she scanned the faces walking past. The thought of the Jessica in the picture being in San Francisco was about as unlikely as - well as Sevita having a playboy bunny tattoo. Who know what goes on inside people's heads.
Picking up her notes and the picture, she left a tip under her cup for the waiter and headed out. Looking up and down the street in front of her, Castro Street, she sighed. Who knew there would be so many shops?
"Have you seen this woman?" Anna asked for about the twentieth time that afternoon. Handing the man at the counter the picture, she caught recognition reflecting in his eyes for just a second. He was not the first person to show recognition. She realized that Jessica must be nearby. She just needed someone to open up and tell her.
He covered it well. Giving her back the picture, he shook his head. He put his hand on his hip with an exaggerated air. "Nope, honey. No one looking like that has been around here. She your girlfriend?"
Anna hesitated for a moment. Would he open up if she said yes? She looked at him, deciding on the best tactic. "No, not my girlfriend. Someone's hired me to find her because she's inherited some money."
"Inherited? Like from her family?" He asked, suddenly interested in what she had to say.
"Sorry, I can't divulge any information." She pulled a card from her purse. "Here's my cellphone number. If you do see her.." She hesitated a minute, her eyes telling him she knew he'd seen the woman. "If you see her, please have her call me." Leaving her card with him, she walked on to the next shop. She knew he'd be watching her.
Coming out of the shop, she looked toward "Shanti's Flowers," the store where she had left her card. Across the street from the store was a coffee shop. She went inside, ordered a tea and sat where she could look out the window and into the flower shop.
It was getting dark when her stomach loudly let her know it was time for her to eat. There was a Chinese restaurant near her hotel. She knew the food wouldn't be as good as the one in China Town, but she was determined to get her fill of Chinese food while in this town.
Ordering her food, she sat at a window looking out to the street. Across the street was a tattoo shop. A smile fluttered at the corner of her lips as she again considered getting a tattoo.
A commotion to her right, caught her attention. A couple of women had been sitting at a table when a third woman showed up and was screaming at both of them. The staff in the restaurant separated them as Anna listened to figure out what was going on. Apparently one of the two women was still living with the third woman, who was not happy about having her partner cheat on her. Anna turned back to the street. That's exactly why I don't want a relationship, she told herself. I don't need the drama.
A few cups of rice wine with her meal sufficiently relaxed Anna. She continued to look at the tattoo shop, considering her options. Hell, what am I thinking about, I don't even know what I'd want permanently tattooed on my body.
After paying her bill, Anna exited the restaurant and strolled casually across the street. I'll just look to see what they have, she told herself as her feet carried her to the tattoo shop.
Anna sat in a waiting area chair and perused the books of designs. Some caught her eye, they were Chinese signs. Looking up, she saw a woman behind the counter. She was discussing options with a customer. Something about her was familiar, but Anna couldn't put her finger on it.
The woman appeared to be about Anna's height. Her hair was cut short and spiky. Fillers enlarged her earlobes. She had colorful tattoos running up both arms. A fairy sitting on a stack of books caught her eye. Feeling someone watching her, Anna raised her gaze to look into the smiling eyes of the woman. She couldn't help but smile in response to the smile and wink.
"Looking to get a tattoo?" The woman motioned her to approach the counter. "I'm the best in town."
"No you're not." A taller woman, with short blond hair walked up behind her, possessively wrapping an arm around the first woman's waist. "But you learned from the best." Looking back at Anna, she asked "first time?"
"Yeah, and I'm really not sure if I want to do it." Anna said hesitantly. She was still trying to place the first woman. She knew that she'd met her before.
"It really doesn't hurt much." The spike haired woman told her. The blond haired woman kissed her partner on the cheek, making sure Anna was aware that the woman was taken. "I've got another customer." The blond left them alone to discuss the tattoo.
Anna snorted. "It's not the pain I'm worrying about, I'm just not sure I want something permanently on my body."
"You might try henna." The woman suggested. "It's temporary but will last several weeks if you take care of it properly."
Steeling her resolve, Anna shook her head. "No, if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it all the way."
"I hear you." The woman replied. "I'm Jess, by the way."
Anna closed her eyes for a second as her brain bounced the puzzle pieces into place. She reached out her hand, "Anna."
"Well Anna, are you going to do it?" It was almost a dare.
"What's that?" Anna pointed to a Chinese looking sign on the women's upper right arm.
"It's the Chinese sign for freedom." Jess put her hand under it, moving more forward so Anna could see it. "It's the first one I got." She confided.
"Freedom, yeah, freedom is nice." Anna replied.
"You have no idea." The woman looked at Anna. Her eyes sparkled. Behind her smile, Anna knew was the warmth of happiness.
"Do you have a Chinese sign for protection?" Anna asked.
"Sure." Jess pulled the book over on the counter. She pointed to one, underneath it was printed, 'safety.'
Anna thought a minute, then asked for a piece of paper and pencil. Using the utensils, she drew a quick sketch. "I'll take that." Anna smiled in determination. "Can it be combinations of green and blue?"
"It can be any color you want, honey. But what is it?" The woman looked at the array of letters and lines.
"It's the molecular structure of Salmiak." Anna responded. When she saw the woman's confused look she added, "It's a Dutch licorice powder."
"Oh," the woman laughed as she led Anna to a chair. "Now another important question, where do you want it?"
"What about on the back of my neck?" Anna inquired.
Jess shook her head. "I usually don't put a tattoo on someone's neck until they've had one already. That's a very painful area."
"In my profession, I'm used to pain. Please, I would really like it there. That way it's over my spine and will radiate protection through my body."
"If you're sure." Jess said hesitantly.
"Yes, I'm very sure." Anna replied
After shaving the area, Jess made a print of the sign and placed it at the top of Anna's spine. Anna looked in the mirror and agreed that was exactly where she wanted it.
"So what is your profession?" Jess asked, as she began tattooing the outline of the sign.
"I find people." Anna said matter of factly.
"Find people?" Jess' voice was slightly hesitant. "What about people who don't want to be found.?"
Anna thought about it. She realized that Jess had stopped tattooing her.
"Well?" Jess asked again.
"If they are old enough to make their own decisions, and I knew they were safe and happy…well, I suppose I'd return their money and say she couldn't be located." Anna had to think out her reply, because this situation had not happened to her before.
"What would it take to convince you that she's happy and safe?" Jess asked hesitantly as Anna felt the pain of the needles striking the back of her neck again.
Anna thought about the picture in her bag. "If I saw a sparkle in her eyes and happiness behind her smile."
"I see." The tattoo artist replied. "So, someone like me seems happy to you?" Her voice reflected a forced disinterest.
Anna closed her eyes and smiled. "Yes," Anna replied with sincerity "You seem very happy. So very unlike a woman I'm looking for. In the picture I have of her, her eyes are dead."
"I suppose perhaps that woman is dead." Jess said quietly. "But won't her family send others?" Her voice once again reflecting subdued disinterest.
"My company is usually a family's last resort." Jess contemplated the rest of her response. She couldn't say too much. "I understand that, in the case I'm working on, the police refused to get involved because it appeared the woman left of her own free will."
"So no one else will be coming?"
"Probably not. But even if they did, the woman can just say she won't return. No one can force an adult to return, that would be kidnapping." Anna replied.
They continued chatting about different subjects while the tattoo artist completed the work. "All done." Jess said as Anna felt the end of the irritation caused by the needle.
Anna stood, walking to the mirror. Jesse held a hand held mirror so Anna could see the sign. "It's beautiful." She proclaimed in an awed whisper.
They walked to the front of the shop. Anna pulled out her wallet to pay. Jess put her hand on Anna's stopping her. "It sounds like you may not get paid for the job you were sent on. Let's call the tattoo a favor. Perhaps you can do a favor for me sometime."
"Perhaps." Anna said quietly. She returned her wallet to her bag and walked out of the shop. Without looking back, she knew that Jess had gone immediately to find her lover. Anna guessed that they would be leaving town soon anyway.
Anna forced herself to wait until it was a decent time in London before she called Sevita.
"Tell me you found her." Sevita said into the phone. Only silence followed her request. "Anna, what is it?"
"She doesn't want to be found." Anna replied.
"That doesn't matter, it's your job to find her." Sevita demanded, although both knew this had not been an official job.
"Sevita, you saw the picture. You know her background." Anna told her. "I found a woman who looked nothing like the woman in the picture. She was immensely happy, covered with tattoos and very much in love with her lesbian lover."
Anna listened as Sevita sucked in her breath.
"Even if she wanted to go home, her family wouldn't have her now." Anna continued.
"What do I tell my mother?" Sevita asked quietly.
"Tell her that she couldn't be located. Tell her that all information indicates that Jessica Walters is dead."
"You want me to lie to my own mother?" Sevita sounded shocked.
"No, I'd never suggest that. However, I will tell you that the Jessica Walters in that picture is dead. She no longer exists and will never return." Anna placated her conscious with the knowledge that it was the truth.
"All right." Sevita replied quietly. "I'll figure something to tell my mother. Something she can pass along to Jessica's family."
"Thank you." Anna said sincerely.
"But this means I don't owe you." Sevita had returned to her usual self.
"Don't owe me?" Anna demanded. "You took a couple of days out of my vacation. Maybe you should come over here and make it up to me."
"No," Sevita returned. "I'll just send you my first born when it arrives.
"Nope, just tell me why you have a playboy bunny tattooed on your ankle and we'll call it even." Anna teased back.
"Not a chance."
"Okay then, I won't tell you what the symbol on the back of my neck means." Anna said smugly.
"A tattoo? You got a tattoo?" Her surprise reflecting in Sevita's voice.
"Yeah, I did. You really need to come to San Francisco. I found it - freeing." Anna told her.
Sevita chuckled. "Yeah, that it is. San Francisco is where I was when I got that tattoo."
"Maybe we should visit San Francisco together." Anna invited again.
"I don't think so. That city can be far too dangerous."
"Too dangerous or too freeing?" Anna asked. She wasn't surprised when there was no answer.
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