He cut himself while shaving. With terror he looked at the small incision, watching the leaking blood he would much rather keep inside his body, thank you very much. He grabbed a roll of toilet paper, ripped off a few sheets and pressed them against the gaping wound.
No need to panic. With 1.2 to 1.5 gallons of blood at his disposal, it would take a while to bleed out, enough time to find a more permanent measure of containing the spill. The medicine cabinet behind his mirror exposed a myriad of vitamin bottles for any and all circumstances, some Aspirin and antihistamines, and five packets of band aids in ten different sizes and shapes. By the time he had opened one, the cut had already begun to crust.
Gus wrinkled his nose at the tiny blotch of red soiling the crispy white, 5-ply toilet paper. Soft to the touch and lightly scented. He didn’t care about Shawn’s ridicules.
Inspecting his jawline, Gus decided no one would notice his little mishap. More careful than before he finished grooming, hissed his way through a splash of aftershave, shined his head with his trusty lavender oil, and finished off with just a couple drops of eau de cologne. The secret lay in applying just the right amount. Enough to leave an impression, not a trail.
Gus checked himself over in the mirror. He hadn't quite been able to shed the routine that years of working as a salesman had ingrained in him. But then you could never go wrong with a simple shirt and slacks combo, the upper two buttons left open for the casual chic look. A visit to the museum did not require his Sunday best, but that didn’t mean he had to run around looking like a lumberjack like some people he knew. Especially since he hadn’t had much sleep.
After dropping Shawn and Juliet off at the airport for their spur of the moment Caribbean cruise, he had been stuck in traffic for three hours and only made it back to San Francisco by nine, allowing a total of three more hours of sleep before he had to get ready for his unofficial, maybe a little bit official date. Years of failures in that department had made him first desperate and now somewhat jaded. He didn’t want to get his hopes up, and Eve had become a good friend he wouldn’t want to lose because of his unwanted advances. He couldn’t quite believe it himself, but he took a page out of Shawn’s book and showed patience for once, enjoying the friendship he had build with the woman, and see where it led. He could do platonic. Probably.
Eve was five minutes late, strolling up in a pair of sunglasses and colorful balloon pants. A bandana kept her frizzy hair out of her eyes. Countless bracelets jingled when she leaned in for a hug. Her heels brought her on eye level with him. She was quite a different sight from when he first met her in her nurse gown two months ago.
“Where’s your significant other?” she quipped as she led the way into the brick building on the corner of Hyde and Pine street. The San Francisco Historical Center was located in a good neighborhood as far as museums went, close to the Japanese American Historical Society, GLBT History Museum, and a bit further away the African American Art and Culture complex. Gus felt right at home here, although to his dismay he was pretty sure he would never be able to afford an apartment anywhere close by. For now, he had set up shop in a tiny flat on the border of Merced and Ingleside, from where it was only a short detour to pick up Shawn in the morning.
The building looked to be a relict of more industrial times and had probably been repurposed at a much later date to exhibit the historically significant treasures of San Francisco. He thought it felt more appropriate to house an art gallery rather than a museum, what with its low ceiling and stark artificial light. The lobby was a bit cramped as if the people running the museum had tried to stuff as many and different objects into it as possible to create a preview of the exhibitions awaiting any casual visitors.
“Vacation,” Gus answered Eve’s question as they walked up to the short queue in front of the reception desk, which turned out to be an actual desk. Mahogany, late 1800’s by Gus’ estimation. “He and Juliet went on a cruise to Saint Lucia for some R&R after…” He trailed off. Eve knew about the house invasion, but Juliet had asked to keep the details private. “They got a sizeable compensation out of the whole ordeal.”
“Cruise ship, huh?” Eve said, glossing over the momentary awkwardness. “My parents did that once, too. Dad’s got some relatives in Martinique. And a year ago they went sailing around Turkey and Greece for four months. That’s retirement for ya.”
She gazed into the distance longingly for a moment. Then the small group of tourists buying tickets before them left and made way for them to walk up to the ticket booth.
“My parents rarely ever leave the city,” Gus said, shaking his head. “They haven’t even come up here to visit yet. I think mom’s still mad about me up and leaving without further notice.”
Eve showed her annual pass to the cashier. Gus had ordered his own ticket online, accepting the card handed to him.
“Planning to come back already?” Eve mused, side-eying his shiny new pass adorned by one of the many photos Gus took for that dating website once. At least they were useful for something.
“Just because I have an uneducated friend doesn’t mean we’re cut from the same cloth. What’s your excuse?”
Eve pointed up to the portrait they passed on their way into the next room showing an elderly white man with light thin hair balding in all the usual spots. “That's my great-grandfather, Michael Alper. You could say I’m a bit more invested in this museum than the regular visitor.”
Gus nodded appreciatively. “So the ‘private museum tour’ was not a joke?”
He almost waggled his eyebrows, but then he remembered how stupid Shawn looked whenever he did that and went with a nose flick instead.
“I asked Richard, the current director, if he could spare a minute, but I’m afraid he’s out today. Something about a new acquisition he was very excited about. But then he’s getting excited about anything. So I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with my incompetent explanations.”
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Gus waved off her concerns. “Sounds like your family is part of some national treasure hunter society. Do you have a cousin that looks like Nicolas Cage by chance?”
Eve laughed brilliantly, cutting herself off with an embarrassed hand over her mouth when she saw other patrons stare.
“Afraid not,” she said in a more somber voice. “My great-grandfather was an anthropologist. He started the collection with a few friends as a university club, which later became the historical center it is now. His offsprings gradually fell off the bandwagon, but maybe it just skipped a couple generations. I actually did a few semesters of history at UCSF while in nursing school.”
“I was pre pre-law,” Gus said apropos of nothing and slapped himself inwardly. Smooth. He wondered if this would be a good opportunity to tell her about his collection of Buffalo Head nickels. He had recently obtained his 53rd coin.
Is there ever a good opportunity for that? a voice sounding much like Shawn’s popped into his head.
Bro, the good genes we got from our parents only get you so far, another voice, this one with the biting sarcasm of a 15-year-old Joy, piped up.
Burton, his mother joined the party, you’re a good boy, but I worry about you. You can’t live vicariously through Shawn and Juliet your entire life.
Gus grimaced more than smiled at Eve, wishing his internal monologs would stop taking on the characteristics of the people closest to him. It was college freshman ball all over again.
“Seems like you always had a sense for justice, then,” Eve said. She beckoned him to follow her and took a right, crossing through a small corridor adorned with various photos depicting the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. A sign above the entryway to the next large room read “Historical figures”. It was divided into various sections depicting different topics from science to politics to local personalities. One section was separated from the rest by two puppets clad in tattered police uniforms – almost 100 years old according to a plate. The mannequins guarded various showcases displaying ancient looking police gear, from radios to guns to intricate forensic instruments.
Eve waited for an elderly couple to retreat and stepped in front of the photograph of a gentleman wearing a uniform much like the ones on display, and a cap depicting the word “Chief”. The plate read “Isaiah W. Lees, SFPD Chief of Police, Police Commissioner, Founder of the Rogues Gallery.” Underneath the portrait a newspaper clip informed of the man’s demise in 1902, praising him “one of the most skillful detectives of the century.”
“But no pressure?” Gus quipped, smiling at Eve.
“I thought you’d be interested in the other famous detectives in San Francisco,” she said with a smirk. She pointed at the adjacent wall which showed more photographs of other people. “Over there we have Raymond C. Schindler who was said to have been a brilliant private investigator. He started out as an insurance agent.”
“I actually heard of him,” Gus said. He remembered Whip Chatterly and his True Crime bookshop. Schindler’s accomplishments were among the many stories Whip told them during their mercifully short time working that one case together. “He later became head of the Schindler Bureau of Investigation in New York..”
“Very good,” Eve said, looking properly impressed. Gus always knew his random treasure trove of trivia would come in handy at some point.
“There’s also Dave Toschi, of course,” she continued.
“Marc Ruffalo’s character in Zodiac,” Gus offered. He couldn’t help it, it was a reflex.
“Also currently still alive, the only person in this gallery by the way.”
“So there is hope for Shawn and me yet to make it onto one of these walls in our lifetime?”
Eve laughed and walked up to the desk next to the portrait of Chief Lees to look at the few personal items of his that had been preserved over the last century.
“I have to admit I see you more as the sales rep than a famous private detective.” She declined her head somewhat, as if sharing something private. Gus had told her before about his previous other job but may have made it out to be the less important one of the two he’d had back in Santa Barbara. Of course he didn’t mention the “psychic” aspect of his and Shawn’s old agency, but if he had learned anything over the past eight years, it was that women usually were more intrigued by his murder and mayhem stories rather than the next big thing on the hemorrhoid market.
“I can’t really imagine you out in the field, guns blazing and taking down the bad guy of the week.” There was an amused undertone in her voice that made Gus bristle.
“There’s no need to worry about me, we usually end up on the other end of a gun anyway.” Realizing that his phrasing was painting the picture rather worse than better, he clarified. “What I mean is, we leave the taking down part to Juliet and her people. Being a private detective isn’t actually as action-filled a job as TV and movies might make you think.”
“Oh?” Eve said, sounding genuinely intrigued. Gus saw his opening.
“The uninteresting stuff just never gets told,” he continued. “No one wants to hear about the 500th case of one spouse cheating on the other, or the hours and hours spent in court to testify on behalf of some child in the middle of a divorce war. Those people working the Zodiac had other cases, too, but they insignificant in comparison.”
“Huh,” Eve said. “That actually sounds rather bleak.”
Gus shrugged. “The cases we do for the police are usually the most interesting. Other than them, our biggest employees are law firms and people looking for their lost pet.” He regarded the handwritten notes and books cluttering the desk, and the rotary phone he was pretty sure didn’t exist yet during Lees’ time. A corkboard mounted to the wall the desk was facing displayed names and the case file numbers they referred to.
“Usually we work on several cases at the same time. I do most of the research and correspondence with our employers, Shawn likes to be out and about, talking to witnesses and neighbors to paint the big picture and collect the appropriate evidence. We used to have bigger and fewer cases that allowed us to do more of the work together, but since our new business here is still young, we haven’t really had much run in with the SFPD yet to get us some proper paying jobs…”
Eve looked at the mountains of paper on and underneath the desk, the manila folders and family friendly crime scene photos, and huffed.
“Thanks for destroying all of my illusions,” she sighed. “Seems like I did have quite a romanticized vision of your job, then.”
“I’m not sure I would call murderers and robbers romantic,” Gus said lamely.
Eve chuckled. “No, of course not. But then I didn’t depict you to be the hardened, world-weary detective brooding in a smoke filled office anyway.”
Before Gus could point out that, ultimately, it was in court that the bad guys were brought down, he got interrupted by his phone. He groaned, debating simply ignoring it buzzing in his pocket, but then he remembered that Shawn had not checked in with him in the past couple hours and made an educated guess as to who was trying to ruin his date. Unofficial or not.
“If you would excuse me for a second,” Gus said in the smooth voice he had perfected during his short stint as a radio host one and a half years ago. Eve furrowed her perfectly shaped eyebrows, a confused smile on her lips. Maybe he should turn it down a bit.
Gus left Eve to look more closely at some of the documents of early San Franciscan history displayed along the walls and went into an empty corner so as not to bother the other museum goers.
“Dude, worst timing ever,” he began without even waiting for a hello from the other end. “Eve was totally stricken with the intricacies of our job as private detectives.”
“Stricken, Gus, really?”
Shawn’s tired voice immediately quenched any arguments in favor of his wording floating around his head.
“You okay?” Gus asked, wondering what might have happened since their last phone call to elicit such a change to Shawn’s previously bubbling excitement. Apparently, the captain had told them with some luck they would get to see dolphins. Gus had made sure to warn Juliet just in case Shawn was wearing swimming trunks underneath his jeans.
“Promise you won’t laugh,” Shawn said. Which was all Gus needed to know to put two and two together and figure out the problem.
Thankfully he didn’t have to repress the growing smirk and didn't even try to sound anything but smug. “So you’re enjoying your cruise then, eh? How’s the wind, are the waves huge?”
He laughed at Shawn’s pathetic mumbled reply. His schadenfreude was more than warranted.
“So did you bring the Benadryl I gave you yesterday?”
“No, Gus, I did not.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Shawn grumbled some more and then said: “Well, those people Jules and I met at the pool earlier gave me some Dyphenmentazol or whatever, so I should be good in a few minutes.”
Gus had been distracted by Eve looking over at him for a second, but his ears pricked up at the mention of the drug.
“What did you say the name was?”
“Dyphenmentazol,” Shawn repeated. There was some rustling on the other end, and then a confirming hum.
“Can you spell that for me?” Gus asked.
Shawn huffed indignantly but complied. Gus suddenly felt what must be very similar to Shawn’s current condition, forgetting all about his date/not-date.
“Shawn, Dyphenmentazol was put on the list of banned drugs last year.” Gus forced himself to stay calm. Already there were people shooting him dirty looks for holding such a long phone conversation in the otherwise rather quiet room. “It was contaminated with god knows what other substances, so they recalled it immediately.”
Shawn didn’t need to know he was still subscribed to Pharmaceuticals Weekly.
“The only place that’s still allowed to sell that drug is India. Unless those people you met are actually Indian, don’t trust them. And get rid of whatever you took right now.”
Silence followed on the other end as Shawn likely tried to make sense of whatever he had learned about those new friends of his and what giving him illegal drugs meant for their relationship.
“Get rid of it, Gus?” he finally said, his voice strained – which was a good thing, because it meant the drug was likely not working yet.
“I don’t know, drink a glass of salt water or–”
A clutter interrupted him, and then the faint sounds of retching came through the line. Gus almost followed suit but thought it probably wouldn’t make the greatest impression on Eve who had started to wander towards him, likely to come check what was taking so long. If Shawn weren’t already paying for his stupidity, he would make him do so as soon as he got back from vacation. He heard Shawn picking up the phone again and sighed in relief.
“You should eat something as soon as possible to keep up your metabolism. And Drink lots of water,” he said, “just in case there’s some residue left.”
“That won’t be a problem, “ Shawn muttered, sounding even more miserable than before. “I better go get Jules, seems like we’ve got ourselves a case.”
Gus disconnected the call when Eve came within hearing distance and smiled at her as if nothing was wrong.
“Sorry about that,” he said, trying to come up with something to change the topic before she could even ask who had been calling. Eve didn’t need to know he couldn’t spend half a day without talking to his friend. Sometimes he himself thought that their relationship and dependency on each other was quite unhealthy.
“But coming back to the more exciting part of my job, did I ever tell you about the time I got cursed by a mummy?”
Eve shook her head, amused. “You did not, but I definitely want to hear that story. Actually, we have our very own mummy in this museum, would you like to see it?”
“How about we go look at the San Francisco mint’s Gold Rush collection instead? I hear they have a 1854-S ten dollar Eagle,” he suggested, smile turning into a grimace. He was cursed enough as it was. Better play it safe. “And speaking of coins, there was also the time I discovered Bouchard's hidden treasure and then got hunted by Uncle Jack’s criminal partners. And I have to tell you about that time I used a rusty old dagger to uncover a long-lost collection of paintings with an internationally wanted art thief...”