Joe was an old friend of mine. I haven't always been a Private Investigator. I used to work as an exterminator, and Joe and I spent a lot of late nights together. I'd be trying to eliminate some kind of infestation or bug-proofing somebody's kitchen or something. Joe just came along for the fun of it. I often suspected that he brought more bugs with him than I could eliminate in a lifetime, but we were buddies, so I never called him on it.
After that, we worked together for a while as detectives. I called the shots; he did most of the grunt work. I'd ask him to give me all he could find on some serial killer or something like that. Boy, could he find data. I never could figure out his filing system, but if I asked him nicely, he'd usually pull up lots of good stuff. I'd put all that raw data into some kind of usable form. Every now and then I'd help him reorganize all his files so he could be even more efficient and useful. A heck of a digger, that guy.
Notis had pretty much retired a while back, although he still took calls from a few old customers. His last few accounts moved on just a few weeks ago. I've been working with a new partner since Joe retired. The new guy is good. His files are all logically organized, and he can fit them all into a box less than a fiftieth the size of Joe's files. Plus, he works 24 hours a day. Heck, he chunks out data so fast and so well organized, half of my old clients get their facts straight from him and don't even call me anymore. Not that I mind. I've got more work than I can handle, anyway.
Still, I was surprised to hear that Joe was dead, and I frankly suspected foul play. The guy that ran the warehouse where Joe hung out had threatened to pull the plug on Joe's whole operation. I'd heard him tell people he'd like to take Joe apart. In fact, there were plenty of folks who'd been burned by Notis in the past. I'd threatened him myself now and then. When a guy has that many enemies, you gotta check out the murder angle.
I went over to the warehouse to nose around. Joe's body was still there. I brought along some guys to check everything out. The coroner thought his death had something to do with a slipped disk. Joe died on 20 January 1999, and the coroner had established the time of death as 17:17:17. That looked just a little too perfect to be a coincidence. I wanted to check a few things out.
I looked around for signs of violence or forced entry. Nothing doing. The other tenants in the building hadn't seen or heard anything and were carrying on their work as if nothing had happened. Most of them hadn't paid any attention to Notis for a long time. He used to pay two or three guys to work all night, copying and updating files for him. Those guys hadn't worked with Joe for a long time. He used to ship a lot of data out to some remote connections, but most of them had found new suppliers, like I had. I hadn't been by to see him myself very often. He never complained, and was always happy to talk when I did visit, but I figure he must have been a little lonely.
I went to Joe's autopsy. Once they opened him up, the cause of death was obvious. His poor heart was broken, probably from loneliness. It was a hard way to go, but I guess it wasn't such a bad thing. I looked at his calendar and saw that he had a date with Dr. Kevorkian on February 1. There was nothing on the calendar for February 2 or after. This may have been the first time Joe ever did anything ahead of schedule.
I'll miss old Joe Notis. My new partner, N. Deavor, is really slick. He can run circles around Joe any day. And maybe when I've been working with him for ten years, like I did with Joe, I'll feel the same way about him. But for right now, there's this big empty place--about 400 square feet, I'd say.
Alan Manifold, PI