Based in Seattle, Washington, J.L. V'Tar is a storyteller who enjoys cooperative and emergent narrative. Her work is an effort to explore and normalize elements of trans, queer, kink, and polyamory in everyday life, couched in different kinds of adventures.

Myra K. Sonders

Myra K. Sonders

[suggested reading music]

Smoke curled tightly around her finger before it drifted up toward the ceiling. It seemed to cling to her skin, like it didn't want to let go. I can sympathize. Sadie's hands are my favorite part of her. They're not small, but she's got long delicate fingers and the softest skin in the world. I empathized with the smoke. I've been wrapped around Sadie's finger for eight years.

Looking at her now, I still feel like the luckiest girl in the world. She's sat on the corner of my desk like a model, leaning back on one arm while her other sends incense smoke dancing in circles. Sadie always seems comfortable, no matter what's happening. I know it's an act, I know how anxious she gets, but I admire her for it. I've seen that woman come out of a mugging looking like she just stepped onto a red carpet in California.

"Something on your mind?" Sadie lifted an eyebrow when she looked at me. That's her little way of telling me she thinks I'm being moody.

"Just wondering when our clock died." I glanced at the wall clock again. Four past four, way past when my supposed client was gonna get here.

"The clock is fine, and she'll be here." She smiled when she said it, but I could hear the same worry in her voice. Rent was due in three days, and we only had half it. Sadie hadn't had a client in a week. We'd been counting on this. Her reassurance was more hope than confidence, but it was a nice gesture.

I sighed, and turned around in my creaky old office chair. Sunlight stabbed in through the slats over our window, and it took me a second to adjust. Outside, 103rd Street was busy as ever, and just as dangerous. The moving sidewalks were broken again, so people had to walk, but they were crowded anyway. Car traffic moved quickly, a mix of old gas chuggers and beaten down solar cars. Some kid on the corner was hawking newspapers, probably stolen from the news bot down the street.

It all looked normal, but I know the truth. Can't go anywhere in this neighborhood, something bad isn't happening. Behind the foot traffic, in those quiet little alleys, who knows what's happening. Any number of muggings, drug deals, or worse, all just under the surface. Normal as any other day.

I cursed in three languages, but I didn't realize it until Sadie lightly slapped my shoulder in recrimination. Before I could apologize, the buzzer rang.

Sadie's eyes met mine, and I saw cautious hope. Neither of us spoke, but we moved. We've done this enough times we know the routine. Sadie gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze, then picked up her drink and went to the door. She paused a moment, her hand on the handle, and looked to be sure I was ready. I couldn't help but admire her, looking so calm and cool. The slinky dress, and a cocktail in one hand, didn't hurt.

I faced my desk, leaned forward, and pretended I was writing something. I tried to look professional. It helped that Sadie had lent me a dark blue blouse; all mine were in the laundry. After a second to take a breath, I nodded to her.

When Sadie opened the door, all I saw was trouble. Trouble stood just over five feet tall with a stylish and immaculate coat, big round sunglasses more expensive than my outfit, and hair done up in ways I could never afford the time to have. Myra K Sonders, the daughter of Herman K Rutherford. Daughter of the deputy mayor.

She walked into my office like she owned it. When she glanced around, I could feel her judgment. I look at this office I see home; comfy old beaten couch, bookshelf with mismatched knowledge and scattered notes, and a painting of the city my grandpa gave me. Myra probably just sees the dust and scuff marks, the old worn carpet, and that permanent coffee stain on my couch. I can already see her second guessing herself. That little pause in her step, the way her hands clutched her sunglasses when she pulled them off. I need to calm her nerves before she turns around.

"Welcome. Tea?" Sadie saved it before I could even think of something to soothe the frightened rich lady. She moved quickly to the bar, stocked with random cheap liquor and an assortment of tea. That was probably some kind of social faux pas in her circles, judging from the look that flashed across her face. But it did the trick.

I gestured to the chair across my desk, and Myra sat down. None of us said anything. We all knew why Myra was here. If she's in trouble, I know she can afford any kind of detective, private or official. But here she is in the south end. She came to me. I'm not on any books, and I don't keep records. I didn't need to ask her why she came to me.

"Whenever you're comfortable." I said. I smiled at Myra, and thanked Sadie after we all had some tea. It was the expensive stuff, our favorite. Hopefully our guest liked it too. She drank silently.

Sadie sat on the lamp desk next to me. Usually she'd sit on the couch, but we've learned not to make nervous clients even more nervous. People usually don't like having someone sitting behind them not saying a word.

"It's my husband." Myra finally spoke. Seemed like it was difficult for her to get out. I didn't say anything, just let her take her time. "Or, it's my brother. It's both of them, I guess."

"What does your brother do, again?" I already knew the answer, of course. Her brother is a known racketeer, running money with one of the local organizations. He's the shame of an upstanding family. But I don't like making my clients think I snooped on them before meeting. I didn't need to, in this case, but it makes them uncomfortable if I let on.

"He's in finance." Myra's lie was smooth and practiced. I just nodded. She took a sip of her tea, probably to collect her thoughts.

After a moment she closed her eyes, took a breath, and opened them again. When she started talking it felt like a floodgate opened. "My brother isn't in finance, he works with criminals. You can't tell a soul. He didn't like when I married Frederick, and insisted that I was only trying to make his life more dangerous. Frederick's a Deputy Chief of Police. But now whenever Frederick goes out, he won't tell me where he's going. And James suddenly stopped saying bad things about Frederick. Neither of them admits they're spending time together, but the other day I saw Frederick's car outside the same building where James pretends he works. And two weeks ago I'm sure I heard them talking on the phone."

She stopped very suddenly, like she'd hit a wall. I took a drink of tea and thought for a minute. It makes sense that she'd be upset if her husband got involved with her brother. Having a brother in the mob is bad enough, but if her copper husband got in bed with that kind of mess, Myra here wouldn't last five minutes in her social circles. If Freddy Narrow really was in cahoots with Jimmy Kicks, it could bring down the deputy mayor himself. It could even hurt City Hall.

I suddenly felt kind of sick. I was excited about a big payout, but this is way bigger than any case I've had. I don't have much left in the world to lose, but these people could take it. I glanced at Sadie, and I saw the same look in her eyes. But I also saw the calm look on her face, and that smooth movement as she took another sip of tea. That woman could calm me down from anything.

I let my face show that I was thinking, and I set my teacup down. "You want proof they're in cahoots?"

"What?" Myra blinked.

Internally, I cursed. "Business. You want me to find proof your husband is working with your brother?"

"No! I want you to prove that he isn't!" Myra sounded almost panicked. I was fucking this whole thing. Gotta get my shit together.

"My mistake, I chose the wrong words." I smiled reassuringly. "I understand why you're upset, it's a scary situation you're in. So you want me to find evidence that your husband isn't working with your brother. It'll ease your mind, and your family will be safe. Am I right?"

Myra nodded eagerly. "Yes. How long will it take?"

I decided to lead with what she wanted to hear first. "Not long. Though I can't say for sure, these things can be tricky. But you should have your proof before too long."

"Oh, thank goodness." She exhaled a tremendous sigh, like I'd just solved the case.

I leaned back in my chair, slowly so it wouldn't creak. "Just so we're clear, I charge by the day. Plus expenses, and a retainer up front."

"That's fine. But I won't pay more than five hundred a day." She reached for her purse. "How much is the retainer?"

I almost choked, and out of the corner of my eye I even saw Sadie's teacup wobble. My normal going rate was two hundred. "Uh...two days' worth." I answered Myra's question numbly, my standard ask.

The woman handed me a thousand dollars without blinking. There was a notecard with it. "Here's my personal number, and my wrist caller ID. I want to know the very moment you find proof. If you call the phone number, don't speak to anyone but me, and if you message the caller don't identify yourself or say anything obvious."

When I took the cash, I did my best not to let my hand shake. That was most of our rent, right there. "You can count on it, Miss Sonders. Do you know where your husband or brother are right now? I'll get started right away."

"Frederick is at the club, and I'm sure I've no idea where James is." She huffed when she said it. It felt like a lie, but I wasn't gonna question someone who just handed me a thousand clams.

So I just nodded, and I smiled. "You can count on me."

Sadie let Myra out the door, calm as you please, and the meeting was over just like that. My girl squealed when she leaped into my arms, and I almost cried. We were happier in that moment than we had been in months, and the job wasn't even done yet.

I'm sure I'll regret this job later, but in that moment it didn't matter.

Lights and Money

Lights and Money