Aphrodite's Husband

Of his five years as a private investigator, never had Gideon Thompson done any of the things people see private eyes doing in fiction. In novels, movies and television programs PI's were showed to solve challenging mysteries like murders, kidnappings, or the like. It is portrayed as dangerous work, which it is sometimes, though it's usually only because cheating spouses don't like finding out they're being followed and tend to resort to violence. It's rare, but it happens, as Gideon had found out his first week as a private eye, when a wife, naturally upset and suspicious over her husband's evasive behaviour and late nights at work, had hired Gideon to find out if he was being unfaithful. It had taken four days, but Gideon had obtained photographic evidence that he was indeed cheating on his wife. The husband however, spotted the flash from the camera, which Gideon stupidly had forgotten to turn off. Next thing he knew Gideon was being punched in the face and sporting a black eye before the day was over. Luckily Gideon had escaped from further harm, with the camera and it's evidence intact, but from then on he had learnt a valuable lesson, always turn the flash off on your camera. When he first decided to become a PI, Gideon knew it wouldn't be as glamorous as crime fiction made it out to be, but he had needed a job, and he was a naturally good investigator, it was the logical thing to do after a decade-long career in law enforcement. Anyway, enough about that, this story begins in the winter of 2017, in the city of Sydney. It had been a particularly strange winter, cold and wet for the most part, but here and there a couple of hot days, not summer hot, but hot nonetheless. It was during one of these hot days that Gideon was sitting in his office, doing nothing in particular. Unless you count drinking whiskey as doing something, in which case he was doing that. Drowning his sorrows, as they said, and he had many sorrows, too many to count, though if one were to try; they would be disappointed at their failure. He was drinking when the knock on the door came; Gideon was so startled that he almost spilt his glass over.

"Umm, in a minute" he called out to the door.

As fast as he could he stashed the whiskey bottle and the glass still with alcohol in it into one of the desk drawers in front of him. Next to his very illegal M1911 pistol which he had purchased from a shady dealer in King's Cross. In fact he was quite proud of his gun; it was stainless steel with a brown oak panel on the grip, not all black like every police model he had ever used or seen used by other cops. Once the alcohol was out of sight, Gideon called out for whoever it was to enter. One of the reasons he'd been startled was the fact that she had no appointments scheduled for today; another reason was that he hadn't had a case for a fortnight, business was slow. He couldn't compete with all these big private detective agencies that had offices in every state and territory capital and had hundreds of employees and the very latest in electronic surveillance, honestly it was killing him. The woman who came into the room looked stunningly beautiful in her red dress. A name came to Gideon's mind, Aphrodite. Or Venus, depending on which ancient religious pantheon you adhered to.

"You're the private detective, right?" her voice was smooth as silk, and as she came into the room she brought the scent of vanilla with her.

Gideon said something, then realised it wasn't loud enough for her to hear as she looked at him with a quizzical expression on her soft face. He was acting like a schoolboy in love. He cleared his throat and said, louder this time,

"That's what it says on the door".

She smiled and came closer to him, before settling into the chair across from his desk. The room he so humbly called his office was nothing more than an oversized broom cupboard, located above a barbershop in Ultimo, one of Sydney's inner city suburbs.

"So, what can I do for you?" asked Gideon, his nostrils now filled with the scent of vanilla, invading his scent, not that he minded. It had been a while since he'd aired out the office, and to be truthful, it had begun to stink.

"Well, you see it's about my husband"

Gideon understood immediately, another cheating spouse case. There seemed to be no shortage of unfaithful partners in this city.

"He's missing"

That was less normal, but not unusual or rare, Gideon had solved dozens of missing person's cases, half the time the people didn't want to be found, usually it was because of some kind of debt, or they were running from responsibility. Sometimes Gideon felt like running away too. In the PI business, finding these people was known as skip tracing, but Gideon preferred the term 'scumbag chasing'. Not as professional he had to admit, but saying it gave him a warm fuzzy feeling. Sometimes it felt better than getting paid for doing it. Sometimes.

"You want me to find him". It was a simple statement of fact, not a question.

She nodded.

"My name is Sandy Grenfell, uh, my husband is Jason Grenfell. He hasn't been home in a week, I reported him missing to the police but, so far nothing".

Gideon nodded, "I'm sure the cops are doing the best they can".

Even though Gideon had been a cop himself, he wouldn't bet his money on them finding the husband anytime soon. Cases like these took a while, even longer if they didn't want to be found. Why someone would leave this woman behind though, he'd never know. He was sure she could be a contender for Miss Universe, and he wouldn't be surprised if she was a model.

"Tell me, Sandy, did your husband have any debts?"

"Not that I know of, though I suppose it's possible, he used to be a gambling addict, before we met, which was probably six years ago. He told me he'd given up for good but" she shook her head and looked at the floor beneath her. For a second Gideon thought she was crying, and then her head came up again, eyes dry.

"What does your husband do?"

"He's a banker; he works in the Pinnacle bank in Redfern"

Redfern, it was just ten minutes away by car.

"And you?"

"Me? Umm, I'm a banker as well, that's how we met, we both worked at Pinnacle"

She was a banker. Even as she said it Gideon couldn't believe her, someone as attractive as her didn't hide her body behind a counter in a bank for all hours of the day. Most of the attractive women Gideon had known liked showing off their bodies, wearing short jeans that barely reached their thighs, and shirts that didn't leave much to the imagination. But Sandy, well she was a different kind of woman, the kind who respected her own body, liked it but didn't show it off. She was, quite simply, unique. Gideon refrained from scoffing.

"Where was the last place you saw your husband?"

"Last Tuesday, he was leaving for work, and he just never came home in the afternoon"

"You said you both work at the same bank, why did he leave and not you?"

"Last week I came down with a bad case of the flu, I was off work for a week".

Gideon nodded, it was flu season, after all.

They talked for another couple of minutes; mostly it was just Gideon asking questions about her and her husband, such as dates of birth and the such. Sandy handed him a picture of her husband, taken a year before after Gideon asked if she had one of him. The man in the photo was tall dark and handsome, he struck Gideon as being the kind of man who never settles down, though he knew it wasn't true. Two stunningly beautiful people, both working boring jobs at a bank in inner Sydney. Not that Gideon wasn't handsome. He was around six foot three inches, with dirty blonde hair and a scar on his chin, but he was rugged, most females nowadays prefer what can only be described as effeminate males. It helped that a lot of the men born in the past two decades were pretty instead of handsome. Sandy asked what his rate was, because it wasn't anywhere on his website or business card.

"One-hundred dollars an hour plus expenses" he told her, after she had taken a cheque book from her handbag. She flipped it open and scribbled in it for a minute, before ripping out the paper and handing it to him. It was made out to him, in the price of just over five-thousand dollars. He had to check twice to make sure he hadn't misread it.

"That's for the first week. Please find my husband". With that, she stood and walked out of the office, leaving Gideon to his own thoughts, which was always dangerous in his opinion. He contemplated opening the drawer and resuming his drinking, then decided against it and instead reached for the phone on his desk. Punching in a number he held it to his ear and waited.

"Detective Sergeant Patrick Dunlop" came the gruff voice on the other end

"I must have the wrong number, I'm looking for a good copper" Gideon said.

Silence. Then laughter, from both of them.

"Gideon, you old coot, I was sure you'd be dead by now"

"Me, don't be silly, I'll live forever".

"Yes I'm sure, so is there a reason you're wasting my time or do you just enjoy annoying me?"

"Actually I'm looking for information on a case I'm working on"

There was a sigh from the other end, and then Patrick spoke again.

"What kind of information?"

"Can you run a name for me? Jason Grenfell, born 17th of June 1985 in Port Macquarie".

Gideon heard the sound of fingers hitting a keyboard, then a minute later, Patrick said

"Jason Grenfell, charged with vandalism in 1991, let off with community service due to his age. It says here that he also had some gambling trouble with, Jesus, with Antonio Romano".

Antonio Romano was the most feared crime boss in Sydney, if there was something illegal going on in the city; chances are he had something to do with it. Back when Gideon had been a cop with the Organized Crime Squad, Romano was suspected of nearly ninety-seven murders; most of them rival gang members. Nothing had been proven, but everyone knew it was him. Apparently he also controlled all illegal gambling and loan sharks in the city. A new market, Gideon thought.

"Is that it?" he asked.

"That's all we got on him. Gideon, if this guy is associated with Romano, maybe you should back off"

"I can't back out on a client, I've been working this case for a while now and I think I'm onto something"

"How long have you been working it?"

"About three minutes".

"Smartass" said Patrick, and then the connection ended. The bugger had hung up on him. He considered ringing back, just so he could hang up on Patrick in retaliation, then decided against it. Instead he sent him a text informing him of what his mother had said to Gideon last night in her bed.

The next morning brought with it a grey sky and, eventually, rain. Gideon had fallen asleep in his office, again. His bottle of whiskey lay on the floor next to his chair, the glass still in the drawer, untouched since yesterday. As soon as he woke up he wished he could slip back inside that dreamless black void he had been enjoying. But the damage was done, a pounding headache began in his temples, and he knew immediately that it was a hangover. He stood up, and nearly fell flat on his face; there was a darkness at the edge of his vision. He made his way out of the office and down the staircase at the end of the corridor where his office was located. The barbershop below the office was open, but there was only one person inside, a short man, somewhere in his mid-sixties, Lou Bronson, the owner and head barber of Lou's Barbershop, opened in 1986. He was sitting in one of the chairs reserved for clients, reading a newspaper. When Gideon came down, he stared at the private detective who occupied the room upstairs.

"You got any aspirin?" asked the PI.

Lou nodded and said, "In the employee lounge"

Gideon made his way through a door labelled: Employees Only, and found himself in a room that very much resembled a teacher's lounge, counters, a fridge, cupboards, and everything else an employee might need. Gideon ransacked the cupboards looking for the medicine, and finally found it above the microwave. He took two and put them in his mouth, swallowing without water, which was a big mistake because of his parched throat from the night before. Mentally cursing himself, Gideon took a glass and filled it up with water from the tap, before drinking the entire thing in one large sip, nearly choking to death in the process. When he was finished and had put everything back in place, he went back out into the barbershop. A customer had arrived, a young man with shoulder-length red hair, and Lou was preparing his tools while the man sat in one of the chairs in front of the wall-length mirror that every barbershop had.

"Fun night?" asked Lou.

"Yeah, thrilling. Got a new case at least."

Lou nodded in approval, "How long has it been since your last"

"Two weeks".

The old man's head snapped up to look at Gideon. "That's not what I meant"

Gideon understood.

"A month since my last cigarette, see?" He lifted his sleeve and showed Lou the nicotine patch stuck to his upper arm.

Lou nodded again.

"So, I have to go out today, got to talk to some people about a missing husband".

"Why are you telling me? I'm not your wife"

Gideon smiled, "just thought I'd let you know in case any clients came looking for me"

Gideon went back upstairs to fetch his coat, which was hanging up on the coat hook in the corner of his office, before leaving again. The chill in the air was a stark contrast to yesterday's heat. It was a welcome change from yesterday, but Gideon got the feeling that soon he'd be regretting it. His first stop was the Pinnacle Bank in Redfern; he walked there, which took him a little less than thirty minutes. He had a driver's licence, but it was Sydney, nobody drove in Sydney, much like New York. The roads were always congested with traffic, one of the beauties of living in a 21st century city. The bank was tall; it looked more like a church with its spires and arches. The only thing informing people of its true purpose was the sign above the door. Gideon walked inside, the air conditioners were on full blast, and it was freezing inside. There were about a dozen people, either in queue or sitting in one of the chairs at the back. Gideon joined the queue and waited five minutes until he finally reached the front. There were three tellers working today, and Gideon was motioned forward by a young woman with dark skin, her nametag read Janice.
"How can I help you today, sir?" it was an automatic response, from years on the job.

Gideon pulled the photo of Jason from his coat pocket and showed it to her.
"Do you know this man?"

Janice looked unsure of herself, and then she said

"Yes, he works here, his name is Jason Grenfell"

Gideon nodded at her honesty.

"His wife, Sandy, hired me to find him, he's missing, do you have any idea where he might be?"

She looked unsure again, like she didn't know if he was lying or telling the truth. Gideon pulled out his CAPI licence from his wallet and held it up for her to see. Satisfied, she said

"No, but I heard he was in trouble with some guy named Romano"

"What kind of trouble?"

She shrugged, "I don't know, maybe someone else knows?"

Gideon nodded, looked to his left, another teller was available, but an old man was walking towards him. Gideon half-ran half-walked to the next teller, beating the old man by a few seconds. This teller was a man who seemed to be in his early-forties, with dark hair starting to turn grey.

Gideon informed him of everything he said to Janice, and the man, Barry, said

"Yeah, I heard about Jason's troubles. He was a gambler, got lent some money, lost it all, couldn't pay it back, simple as that".

"Antonio Romano?"

"Yeah, that was the guy's name. Jason told me that he used to meet up with him at a bar in Darlinghurst, called The Pit".

The Pit, Gideon had never heard of it before, but he knew the way to Darlinghurst.

It was a forty minute walk to Darlinghurst, and when Gideon arrived he was out of breath and panting. He made a mental reminder to start going back to the gym. The sun was obscured by grey clouds and it had stopped raining, for now. The Pit was a small place, the front of it looked like an English pub, but when Gideon went in, he suddenly gained an uneasy feeling. The interior was dark, poorly-lit was better. There were half a dozen round tables spread throughout the bar, of which only one was occupied, by several men. Behind the counter was a door marked Management. The bartender was a large man, muscle-bound and with tattoos all over his visible body. Gideon sat on one of the stools in front of the wooden counter. The bartender came up to him and asked him what he wanted. Gideon showed the picture of Jason to him and asked if he'd seen him. When he said that he hadn't, Gideon ordered a whiskey.

"What about Antonio Romano, do you know where he is?"

The bartender shook his head, and brought a glass of amber liquid over to Gideon. For the first time since entering, Gideon noticed there was music playing, he didn't recognise the song but it sounded like it was thirty years old at least. One of the men from the table behind him came up to the counter, sitting next to Gideon.

"Why are you looking for Romano?"

Gideon looked him up and down, there was a crowned green serpent tattooed on his bicep, there were others, but that one caught Gideon's attention for a specific reason, it was a gang tattoo. Gideon had seen it many times before, on people who belonged to Romano's gang.

"What is it to you?"

The man shrugged, as if this were just a casual conversation between two friends.

"You a cop?"

Gideon shook his head, "just a PI looking for someone"

"Good to know".

That was when the first blow landed. Gideon was knocked off his stool; a blinding pain had made its way to his cheek, where the punch landed. As if on cue all the other men from the table surrounded Gideon. Strangely, Gideon noticed that a new song had begun to play, Cotton-Eye Joe.

If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe
I'd been married a long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?

Gideon stood up and threw his fist towards one of the men, hitting his nose. He felt it break and when his hand came back, it had blood on it. One of the attackers picked him up and threw him onto the counter, knocking the wind from him.

He brought disaster wherever he went
The hearts of the girls was to Hell, broken, sent

One of the attackers was standing in front of him, and Gideon punched his genitals. He bent over, clutching himself, and Gideon kicked him away.

They all ran away so nobody would know
And left only men 'cause of Cotton-Eye Joe

One of the attackers swung his fist towards Gideon but he dodged the punch and tackled him to the ground. Gideon cursed himself for leaving his gun at the office as a set of arms lifted him off the man and threw him across the room, knocking over a table in the process.

If it hadn't been for Cotton-Eye Joe
I'd been married a long time ago
Where did you come from, where did you go?
Where did you come from, Cotton-Eye Joe?

"STOP!" the voice was harsh and loud, with just the tinge of a foreign accent.

Painfully, Gideon stood, he didn't think anything was broken, but he'd definitely have some bruises tomorrow. There was a man standing in the bar, he was average-looking, with jet black hair and brown eyes. Wrinkles had begun to form around his face. Gideon recognised him as Antonio Romano.

"Boss, this guy was asking about you, says he's a PI"

"A private dick, eh?"

Gideon tried to say something, but it came out in a pained mutter.

"What do you want?"

Gideon sucked in his breath, and said "I'm looking for Jason Grenfell".

Romano recognised the name, he told Gideon to follow him, and together they walked into the room marked Management. The room was bigger than Gideon's office, a large oak desk was off to one die, but apart from that the room was bare and undecorated. Romano sat in a chair, and he gestured for Gideon to do the same. The entire time he was doing this he was in pain.

"Why are you looking for Jason?"

"His wife hired me, she's worried"

Romano nodded, like he understood, but Gideon knew he didn't.

"I haven't seen Jason for a week. He's disappeared on me too."
"He owes you money" it wasn't a question.

"Yeah, twenty-thousand dollars. He wasn't the best gambler, but he was an idiot"

A surge of pain flared in Gideon's ribs and he doubled over.

"As a token of apology for how my associates acted, I'll lend you a car and driver to take you wherever you want to go" Romano got onto his phone, talked to someone for a minute, then ushered Gideon out to the street, where a black BMW was waiting. Gideon got into the back seat, and told the driver his address in Ultimo. He needed to go back to his office.

It was half an hour's drive away, but when they arrived, the rain had begun again. Gideon dashed inside the barbershop, which was now packed with customers, with Lou attending to one of them. Gideon went up the steps, each one as painful as the last. When he got to his office the first thing that struck him was the man in his chair. Tall, dark and handsome, it was Jason Grenfell.

"What the hell" Gideon blurted out
When Jason raised his hand Gideon noticed he was holding a pistol, his pistol, the one from his desk drawer.

"What are you doing? Your wife hired me, she's looking for you"

"You goddamn idiot" Jason's voice was not at all how he had imagined it'd be, gruff, hard.

"I don't want to be found"

The last thing Gideon saw was the flash of the pistol's muzzle, then darkness.