The smell of fresh coffee teased my nostrils. I entered Daisy’s Café below the row of offices that overlooked a noisy intersection.
“Morning, Dave. The usual?” Daisy called.
“Yes, please. Any donuts?”
Daisy handed me the coffee then bagged the donuts while I guzzled down a few mouthfuls of the piping hot brew. “Just the way I like it. See you later, Daisy.”
I stepped back out into the din of the busy street and headed up the flight of stairs a few feet way. There blocking my way, sat a vagabond. A middle-aged man, down on his luck. He was known to every tenant on Ninth Street as Tom.
“Tom.” I tried to sound unperturbed. “I really need to get to my office.”
“Can I…I…I come up? I…I…I need to t-t-talk,” he stuttered.
I felt a little aggravated but decided if I wanted to get past, it would have to be. “Come on, then. I’ve got your favorite.” I shook the donut bag and he grinned.
I handed Tom the bag so I could unlock the door, stepped aside and let him enter. Closing the door behind me, I placed the coffee on my desk and opened a window.
“Now, what can I do for you, Tom?” I asked, watching him gulp down the last donut.
He choked slightly, spraying crumbs over my desk. I handed him my coffee. I would have to go without. Tom stuttered his thanks and drank before he explained his request.
He began by telling me his name was actually Thomas; not Tom. His problem was a simple one. Thomas needed bus fares to a canning factory where his friend John worked as a packer. Thomas needed to go today, preferably before ten o’clock because the cannery was employing staff this morning. He needed me to go along to speak for him. It was true enough, I understood his stuttering, but asking for a position would be difficult for both Thomas and the employer.
“Okay Thomas, you can’t go like that.” I pointed him to the tiny bathroom and told him to strip and shower while I checked the phone messages.
There was only one message. “Lord Bellamy, here; I need you to find someone. If you call before midday, the job’s yours.”
I looked at my watch. “Ouch!”
I could hear Thomas complaining in the cold shower. I fumbled around my closet where I kept spare clothes in case I slept at the office during a week-long investigation. I found an open-neck shirt I’d never worn and a pair of trousers. “Definitely too long. We’ll have to roll them up.”
The shower, a change of clothes and a comb through his hair, made Thomas respectable enough. His threadbare shoes were hidden by the trousers. I sprayed Thomas with cologne until we both choked.
Thomas's eyes widened with anticipation and excitement of being out of Ninth street. He obviously hadn’t been on a bus for a long time; maybe not at all. There was a lot I didn’t know about Thomas.
“Thomas,” I asked, as the bus neared the factory. “Where will you live if you get this job?”
“M-m-my friend, J-J-John, h-he let me stay for a-a bit,” he answered, his eyes still fixed on the view beyond the widow.
The cannery manager was sympathetic and understanding. “John would like me to give you a go,” he told Thomas. “I’ll give you a month’s trial. John’s a good teacher; I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
After handshakes all round, I left Thomas with the manager and returned to my office where Old Spice cologne still lingered in the stuffy air. I pressed the replay button on the answering machine and dialed the recorded number. I was pleased Thomas had the opportunity for a fresh start. I wondered now if I had a job.
“Lord Bellamy’s residence. May I help you?”
“Yes, this is Dave Strong, Private Investigator. Lord Bellamy left a message on my answering machine.”
“Yes, Mr. Strong, he’s been waiting for your call. I’ll put you through.”
“Hello, Mr. Strong. I need someone to find my brother.” Lord Bellamy’s voice sounded stately but urgent. “My brother and Father had a disagreement over 20 years ago. My brother left and we haven’t heard from him since.” He paused before continuing. “Our father passed away a few weeks ago and has left Thomas with half the estate. I need to find him. It’s time to bring him home. Can you help?”
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