It was a dark and stormy mid-afternoon. Ellen was sipping her Starbucks caramel macchiato right across the street from Seattle's Best Coffee shop, and the irony of the dueling coffee joints struck her yet again. In younger years, she had made a joke of it by asking the Starbucks baristas where Seattle's best coffee was, to which they had to direct customers across the street. Starbucks had won her over today, however, because of the prominent building overhang which protected her from the latest passing drizzle.
She lifted her sunglasses to check for her contact...then lowered them again to maintain her anonymity. She thought through the data she had researched yet again. It wasn't a big surprise for her to discover that it was the Mayor himself that had been embezzling money from Fit for Life. She had suspected for some time that the company was merely a front for his wealthy campaign donations. What had confused her was how he was able to keep his fingerprints off the evidence so well. Now she knew, though, there had to be someone on the inside. Someone had to know how to maneuver the accounts so there weren't any red flags. Ellen fished through her fanny pack for some lip balm, so she would look a little more put together when her contact arrived. She should have fished for some breath mints, too.
The conspicuous clearing of a throat got her attention just as she was recapping the wintergreen Blistex. She looked directly into the eyes of Herman, the night janitor.
She put on her business tones, "Hello, Herman. I'm so glad you were able to come. I know your shift begins in a few hours and I'm glad you could make the time to help me out."
He shifted his weight, then demanded of her, "Are you going to sneak in the snacks to work tonight or what? Because I'm not helping you unless you bring the goods first. I have a lot of other things to do than work extra and spy on the Accounting room for you. I don't mind, though, if you can sneak in the snacks for me."
"Yes, yes, Herman, just give me your list and I'll find a way to make it happen. I just need to know that you can watch who goes in and who goes out all day. If anyone from outside Accounting goes in and uses the computer, I need to know. It's really important, okay? If they see me standing there, it'll be a dead give away."
Herman sat down in the wicker chair then nervously began popping his knuckles. "Okay, here is my price." He handed her his snack list.
Ellen glanced over the items in shock.
"One, two, three, four boxes of pizza rolls, bean burritos, nachos...drinks...Why in the world would you need all this food just for yourself?" she queried with animation.
A slight smile crept onto his face. "Well, you know, I'm not always by myself, I have some friends. Besides, tomorrow night is the beginning of football season, and Margarita was wanting to do some tailgating. She said she'd come into work with me as long as we could have snacks and watch the game, you know...".
She did know. Herman and Margarita were an odd pair, he was nineteen, she was fifty-seven. Ever since Herman's mother had passed, Margarita had stepped in to fill in the nag gap. She yelled at him for scuffing his shoes. She got angry at him for dropping out of college. She insisted that he present all girls for her approval before they were accepted for dating. They were close, and they couldn't stand each other. Sports had always been a common bond for them. They argued over their conflicting favorites on a regular basis.
Ellen sighed. It would be up to her to get the snacks past security, which was no small feat. The security guards would never spot a bomb or gun, but they had been trained to meticulously uphold the standards of nutritional health the bilious Mayor had set. She would have to wrap everything magnificently well to cover the scent of the heated food through the hallways of Nutrition...there was no way she could use the microwave there without detection. She could pull it off...she had to pull it off, because she needed the information Herman could provide. Once she knew who the accomplice was, all the pieces would be in place to complete her mission.
She said good-bye to Herman, and began to walk down the splashy sidewalk toward the grocery store. She pondered the complexity of the case, and wondered if she should raise her rate. She had a client who was an embezzler, she had an unknown accomplice, she had a bitterness-filled blackmailer, and she had a man from her past with serious questions about what was going on. Ellen smiled to herself as she passed into the small store and breezed past the produce section. It was a lot to handle, but she could do it, for after all, she was Seattle's premier private investigator...and she knew mysteries as well as she knew the fat content of a Hershey's bar.