My name is Camille Bishop.
I might be just like you.
Only, I’m not.
Jane Lowry fidgeted nervously, twisting the brightly coloured beads on her Pandora bracelet. She would look at me, and then quickly look away like she was somehow not confident enough to speak to me. There was a thin sheen of sweat on her forehead by her hairline. She blinked a lot. I wondered if she thought it would stop her pupils from dilating.
All it did was make her look more nervous.
She couldn't have been more than eighteen years old.
"Why don't you tell me why you are here, Miss Lowry?" I asked. She turned her body towards me. My office was so small there wasn’t much room. The sides of my desk each touched a wall, and the only way around it was to climb over it.
"I want to find my real father," she said, making eye contact then immediately looking away. "I believe the man who I've always thought is my father....isn't. But I have to prove it on my own. Can you help me?"
I started making notes. For my first case this seemed pretty standard.
"Well, we need to gather some DNA so we can run a test," I began. I made sure that I kept my eyes on her, regardless of if she turned hers away from me. She reached into her purse and pulled out four zip lock bags, two with toothbrushes and two with hair. All labelled.
"Oh. Well, you're efficient. Aren't you?" I continued. "Now, what can you tell me about the man you believe to be your father?"
She touched her face nervously. "I don't know anything about him except he's....."
She moved around uneasily, returning to fidgeting with the beads on her bracelet. I'd been around the P.I game since I was young and I'd heard a lot of craziness. I would be impressed if she shocked me.
"I think he's not of this world, you know? With these health issues I have it would explain a lot," she blurted out. She went from relaxed and looking around the room to nervous again when she looked at my face.
"You have to be more specific."
"I think he's a....creature of the night."
She couldn't be serious.
I started to wonder if Jane Lowry was a prank set up by my cousin to torture me. I tried to keep my expression level but prepared for this to turn shitty in an instant.
I cleared my throat. "Excuse me?"
"I think he's a creature. Part of a bigger network of creatures, actually.”
I wrote it all down. I wasn't sure what she meant by 'creature'. Some people called prostitutes creatures of the night. I wasn't about to mock my first client, though. Besides, there was a time when something unexplainable consumed a large part of my life.
"Does he have a name?" I asked. She looked uncomfortable again, and my instinct said she had a name but didn’t want to give it to me.
"No. That's another reason why I am here. I need a name and I want to know exactly who I am dealing with before I approach them - if I even can."
"Okay. Well, I will send these samples off and we should know in a few days,” I said, “but with the info you gave me I can do some poking around. Now, we need to talk about fees. The DNA test is not cheap."
She pulled out a rolled up wad of cash a few inches thick. She smiled, clearly proud of her achievement.
She blushed. "I knew it wasn't cheap so I've been saving. I'm not sure if you can understand what it's like to know that something went on with your parents that regular minds can't grasp. You can't talk to anyone about it."
I smiled at her. My parents had been killed by the mob when I was thirteen years old. What I saw often haunted my thoughts. Visions of death and ghosts that took me years to suppress.
"Don't worry, Miss Lowry. You don't have to justify anything to me. Hopefully I can find you some information that will set your mind at ease."
When I was really little I wanted to grow up to be a Princess. My Mother told me the legend of King Arthur, and I thought I was destined to live in such a grand and exciting world.
As I got older and figured out Canada didn't have Princesses, I changed my goal to a crime fighting super hero. Which was sort of like what my Dad and most of the Bishop family did; for a long time the Bishops were the law. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, all cops of one flavour or another. And now most of their children.
But then, ten years ago, my parents were murdered. Mob hit was the official story; the crime remains unsolved. When I told them what I saw, they brought in the doctors. I didn’t witness it directly, but I saw things.
In the house.
In my dreams.
Every time I closed my eyes.
I went to live with my Uncle Ted and stopped talking about it. I tried to settle into a somewhat normal existence. I learned to keep what I saw to myself.
The law loving Bishop's became rather jaded after what happened to my parents. Uncle Ted and his partner Chris Lewis quit the police force and started a P.I firm, Ted's wife, Cindi, didn't take it well and took off not long after.
Ted took me to work with him, and I started learning the P.I biz. It was actually kind of brilliant; no cheating spouse would suspect a teenage girl was running surveillance on them. It may not have been entirely legal but it worked, enough that I went and got my college degree in private investigation. Since I had so few friends my Uncle Ted became so much more than an uncle and friend. He’s the best man I know.
Uncle Ted came in about an hour after Jane Lowry had left with two mugs of coffee. He handed one across my desk to me.
"How'd it go?" he asked.
"Good," I replied. "Seems like some simple paternity stuff."
"Really? Ramona said the girl seemed odd."
Ramona, the agency's long suffering receptionist slash assistant, was really good at reading people. She'd tried to teach me but I didn't have that level of talent. But I practiced; it was a tool I really wanted to master. She and I had spent a lot of time together over the years, and she taught me a lot about people and the world.
I smiled at him. "People say I'm odd, Uncle Ted."
"You're not odd, Cas. The amount of therapy you've had, you're better equipped to deal with life than ninety five percent of the population," he made himself comfortable in the chair Jane had sat in, not bothering to adjust it.
"Thanks, I guess," I said. "She wants a paternity test done and she thinks her real father could be identified by strange medical issues she has."
"What sort of issues?"
"She didn't elaborate. She is probably just being paranoid and the DNA test will reassure her."
He smiled and nodded, his big hands enveloping his coffee cup as he wrapped them around it.
"Well, if you need any help," he began, but Ramona's appearance in the doorway stopped him from continuing. Her curly red hair with silvery streaks was especially bouncy today.
"Your next client is here," she told him, smiling at me before she disappeared. He sighed, waving as he walked out.
I got on the computer and started running background checks on Lowry and her family.
Her Facebook family photos were heartwarming. The man she called Dad was a leather- patches- on- the- elbows- of- his- jacket kind of guy; Thomas Lowry was a university professor and an all in all respectable dude. He had never been in trouble, had no dirt that could be easily found.
Jane and her mother Benita were an interesting duo. Benita was a very thin, wiry woman who clearly took great pride in her appearance. Now, I had no issues with thin people but I could see that she was so thin as a direct reaction to spending much of her younger years heavy. And Jane, who was quite pretty, looked heavier than she was standing next to her.
Benita, maiden name Collins, wasn't as clean as her husband. An arrest for disturbing the peace in the 1970's was from some kind of protest....and some gaps.
Gaps in a standard background check could mean a variety of things. She could have been pardoned for a crime or crimes, she could have fallen off the grid, and she could have been a mole woman literally living underground.
But the timing was weird in terms of Jane's conception. There was no record of Benita from about a year after she finished college until Jane was almost two years old, which spanned about four years. Jane's birth certificate wasn't registered until then.
I thought about asking Ted but that seemed silly. I couldn't justify asking for help with the easy stuff. It was essential that he and Chris respected me as an investigator, and that they took me seriously. I wouldn’t ask for help unless it was something major.
So I decided to call my cousin Kiera.
Explaining my relationship with my cousins wasn’t easy. There are a lot of us, twenty one or so I think, and after my parents died they became really divided.
Those who believed what I saw made up one small group. Those who didn't believe me, but didn't hold it against me another and those who not only didn't believe me but decided to mock me at every opportunity made up the last group. I called them Team Poppy because they were led by Ted's daughter, Poppy.
Kiera was a non believer but didn't hold it over me. She was quite a bit older, eight or nine years depending on the time of year, and had no interest in the petty bullshit. This worked out great for me because I respected her as a person and a woman. Ted even said she was a pretty decent role model.
Hearing her answer her phone always made my heart sink. There had only been one other Detective Bishop in the family and that was my Dad.
"Hey Kiera. It's Camille."
"Hey kiddo, how's your first day of clients going?" she asked.
"Good. I have a question that I think you might be able to help me with," I began. "I'm running a background check and there are some gaps."
"It could be something unexciting. What's the name?" she asked.
"Benita Lowry, maiden name Collins. She had some priors, nothing too serious."
"Alright. Let me take a look and I will call you back. If it's after hours I will call your cell. I don't want to call the house because I might have to talk to Poppy."
I groaned loudly. "I haven't seen her yet today. She'll probably have a lot to say when I see her."
"Doesn't she always? Just ignore her. You're good at this. Do you think Chris would have taken you on just because you're Ted's niece? Fuck no. Chris Lewis is a serious hard ass. He wouldn't bring in a woman willy nilly, and especially another Bishop."
I couldn't help but smile.
"But I gotta go, Cas. I'll let you know what I find," she spoke quickly and hung up so I didn’t have a chance to thank her.
She called me back about an hour before I was going to leave.
"You got quite the doozy on your hands Cas," she said, chuckling to herself. "Where did you say this came from?"
"The daughter wants a paternity test, and if that's not her father then she wants me to find the real one," I replied.
"Well, I'm glad you called me. Benita Collins was involved in a massive lawsuit against a man named Elliot Kinkaid, and the whole thing doesn't show up on a check because someone made it disappear."
I thought I should be honest. "I don't understand."
"Have you ever heard the name Elliot Kinkaid? Of course not, you're too young."
"Is he a mobster or something?"
She laughed. "He is not a mobster, he is the mob. Or was when this all went down. He has moved up the pyramid since then so he's under the radar. But Benita Collins was involved in a massive lawsuit against Kinkaid. Several women who worked for his corporation accused him of 'sexual misconduct', rape from Collins specifically. He was a prime suspect in a string of unsolved rapes that happened in the vicinity of his office and to a large number of his female employees."
"So he threw some money at it and it got wiped clean?"
"Looks like it. Interesting tidbit, these cases resulted in multiple pregnancies. Most of them ended up in the foster system. Four of the twelve stayed with their parents."
"Also? Benita Collins had the only girl."
I wrote everything down in my notes. There had to be some information about the cases somewhere.
"You might want to talk to Ted about how to handle this one, honey," she continued. "Because if it turns out that your client is this girl, and there is a chance she might not be, she might not take it so well. I cannot imagine how I would react if I found out I was the product of rape."
"Great. Thanks Kiera."
I won't say this out loud, but my friend circle is very small.
Having a cousin who was the same age at the same school who wanted to destroy you doesn't exactly help the cause. The few friends I did have were great.
But I did have Jesse.
Jesse was all kinds of wrong for me. I knew that. We met in the seventh grade, and I took one look at him and decided I wanted him with me.
He was a bad boy. He got in trouble, sold drugs, hung out with rotten people; I wanted to save him.
I love him, and have loved him since the first moment I saw him. And he loves me.
Having a guy like Jesse love you is interesting for a huge nerd like me. At school I got more second glances than I probably ever would have, and the torment stopped when he was around. I kept him in school and made sure he graduated. He took me away when I needed to go. Which was probably more than you might think.
Ted was gone when I was ready to leave for the day so I called Jesse as I walked out to the bus.
"Hey. How did it go?" His voice immediately put me at ease.
"Good. Weird, but good," I replied. "How are you?"
"Five by five. You home?"
"No I'm heading home from the office now. Ted is out so I'm heading for the bus."
"You look cute today. The office gear is hot."
I stopped and turned in a circle looking for his car. "Where are you?"
"You're the P.I. You tell me."
I smiled to myself. "You're two blocks back on my side of the street."
He laughed. "How'd you know?"
"Because that's where you always park."
"You want a ride home, love?"
I hung up as I started jogging back towards him and Jesse laughed when he saw me. My laptop bag was bumping into my leg and I hugged my purse to me so it wouldn't jangle. He leaned across the passenger seat to open the door for me.
"So were you just randomly sitting outside my office?" I asked. He pulled me to him and we kissed. My body instantly relaxed as he touched my cheek, brushing my hair back behind my ear. The warmth of the car and his smell enveloped me.
I couldn’t help but smile as we separated.
He smiled back, his blue eyes sparkling. "No. I called the office earlier and you were on the phone. Ramona said Ted was gone and you would probably need a lift."
"Thanks. Taking the bus home would've been a bitch.”
I curled up in his front seat as I normally did, Jesse put his hand on my knee and we started driving.
I watched him as we drove. He had the sleeves of his hoodie pulled up over his hands with his thumbs sticking out small holes in the sides. I loved his hoodies. When I wore one I felt like he was hugging me all the time.
"Hey, you ever heard the name Kinkaid?" I asked.
"Yep. They've been running shit for years. First it was the daddy; he's a pretty serious dude. From what I heard his sons are nuts. Like cut off your ear and dance around while doing it. They don't fuck around. Why?"
"Whatever the story is, love, you need to be careful. These people don't like games. Speaking of games,” he continued, “I saw Lisa today."
Lisa was one of my only friends from high school and Jesse wasn't a huge fan. She was really good at attracting the wrong kind of attention and that worried him.
It wasn't her fault men liked her. She didn't go above and beyond to turn heads; she was way too absent minded. Space cadet was probably the right term.
“What did she do now?”
"I saw her at the mall with her latest geek of the week. I don't want you around that guy."
"What was wrong with him?"
"He looked like an extra in a 50 Cent video who chews glass for fun. Where does she find these guys? I don't want you around him or his friends."
I smiled and took his hand. "I don't spend that much time with her anyhow. Our schedules are too different. Besides, she knows I don't want to chill with her rando's and their buddies. She tried that before and it didn't go well."
She had tried to hook me up with one of her guy’s cousins a while back when Jesse and I were on the outs. It was an absolute epic disaster. I don't think I have ever disliked someone so much on first contact in my life.
"And where was I?" he asked.
"It was one of those times you thought you wanted to be with someone else."
Jesse kissed his teeth, squeezing my hand tightly. He'd had one of those moments recently during a drug fueled rampage. It took me several months to accept him back.
"I don't know why you put up with me," he said, kissing my knuckles. I had finally stopped picturing the crack whore I had found him with whenever I closed my eyes.
"Because I love you way too much," I replied. He pulled the car over and parked, pulling me into his arms again.
"I promise you won't regret it," he told me, staring deep in my eyes. "I know how badly I fucked up, Cas. And I will do everything in my power to prove to you that I am devoted to you and this relationship. I love you so much Camille."
His eyes glossed up and he shed some tears. It wasn't a full out cry, but it was the start.
I wiped his cheeks with my sleeve and kissed him. When we were apart, I felt like I lost a limb. I couldn't imagine my life without him in it. I wouldn't be a doormat, but I wouldn't let him go without a fight.
We drove the rest of the way home in silence, my hands wrapped around his free hand.
There were no cars in my driveway when we pulled up to my house.
"Looks like Ted isn't back yet," Jesse said.
"Poppy isn't here either so I'm good," I replied.
"Why don't you move in with me?" He smiled, and leaned over to kiss my neck.
"Not yet," I told him. I liked the idea of living with him but I just wasn't ready.
"Do you want me to come in?" he asked as his phone started to ring. I knew he wasn't going to stick around unless I had a fit.
He ignored it for a few rings then said, "I have to get this."
He spoke quietly enough into the phone that I couldn't hear him, an art he seemed to have mastered. I tried to pretend like I wasn't interested in what he was talking about but I was. I was worried. I didn't want to be but I was worried.
I hadn't gotten to the point where I felt the need to snoop. I wasn't against it.
He sighed and hung up the phone.
"Let me guess. You have to go?" I smiled as warmly as I could even as that knot formed in my stomach. The same knot I got every time he left me.
He kissed me deeply and passionately, pulling me to him like he wanted to devour me. We hadn't had sex since we reunited, I wanted to know he was clean first and we hadn't got the results from the clinic yet.
"I'm sorry," he said.
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders. "Hey, it's okay. Thank you for coming to get me."
"I'll call you tomorrow and see if you need a ride again," he continued. "I love you, Camille."
"I love you too Jesse," I kissed him again then got out of the car.
I watched Jesse drive away, the street cloaking in darkness and total silence. That was the only problem with suburban Toronto in my mind, when it got dark it was alarmingly quiet.
I noticed a man standing by the street light. I had no idea how long he had been there. He was hidden by the darkness, almost like he was made from it. The wide brimmed hat wasn't helping either.
I stood and watched him back; I knew I was braver than I should be. Being a P.I, people got super pissed at you on occasion, stalkers were not unheard of. Cheaters getting caught, either the catcher or the busted, made people insane. I'd seen some super angry people go in and out of L&B; it wouldn't shock me if someone finally followed Ted home.
I smiled my best happy smile and waved. I was about to cross the street to introduce myself when the man disappeared in the shadows like a puff of smoke. I paused and stared, confused. Did I need glasses?
I shook my head really fast, and when I heard a car pulling away I decided to leave it.
The dark must be playing tricks on me.
I turned and went into the house. If that dude thought I was weird it's a good thing he didn't encounter Ted.
Or my bitch cousin.