"Shabby old place, isn't it?" Josh remarked, scratching his head at the sight of the suburban residence.
I nodded. "It's pretty unlikely that she'll be able to offer anything actually worth our time... especially not money, that's for sure."
Josh turned to me and smiled briefly. "A job's a job, brother. Let's check it out."
I nodded once more and trudged up the steps. Josh rang the doorbell as I stood to the side. Always having been the observant one, I noticed that the white paint on the old wooden house was peeling off rather severely. "We're really desperate for work this time, aren't we?" I sighed.
Half a minute later, the client came to the door. She opened the first door, but the netted storm door remained shut. The greying brunette looked to be around 50 or 60. Just from initial observation, I could see that decades of smoking had taken its toll on her. The smells of the house slipped through the netted door like an avalanche. It seemed to be a cross between cigarette smoke and peaches. She was dressed in plain clothes, a heavy-looking blouse and a lengthy checkered skirt. She glanced over at me, then at my brother. "Who are you?" she asked.
Her voice was raspy, but not quite old yet. Her speaking was fluent and understandable, thank God. "Good afternoon; Mrs. Littleton, am I correct?" Josh greeted. He had always been the pleasant one in the family, the polite perfect child.
I stood a little too casually, leaning heavily on her shaky porch railing. "Yes, I'm Abigail Littleton. What is it you two need? You're not from the government, are you?"
Well, the suits are kind of official, I guess. Although, we only bought them to look professional. Oddly, the jobs we perform are typically anything BUT professional.
"We got the ad in the paper", I butted in, interrupting Josh.
Josh frowned, taking the newspaper cut-out from his chest pocket.
There was a small coffee stain on the ad (guilty as charged), but it was still moderately legible. Fortunately, she recognized it. "Oh, yes, please, come in!" she invited, unlocking the storm door and beckoning us into her second-hand-smoke death trap of a home.
The three of us sat around her coffee table. "So, what's the pay?" I asked bluntly.
Josh jabbed his elbow into my ribs. "Uh, more importantly, Mrs. Littleton, what are the details of this job?"
Cutting to the chase was my conversation speciality, but no one seemed to appreciate it. Especially not Josh.
She handed us a newspaper, turned to page 9.
Scientist Found Dead in Home, Foul Play Suspected
During the early hours of April 30, 2011, Abigail Littleton, 52, found her father Anthony Littleton, 83, dead in his West Distruct home, along with two shady looking individuals. The middle-aged woman was visiting her father to deliver a message from her mother: a Christmas invitation. When she got to the front door of her father’s rural residence, she noticed that the door was unlocked. Not thinking much of it, she went inside to look for him. To her surprise, the house had been turned upside-down, evidence of possible burglary.
When she couldn’t find her father anywhere in the house, she checked the laboratory in the basement, a hidden room where her scientist father often did experiments. The room was lit, leading Littleton to believe that her father was in the room. To her dismay, she found him lying on the floor between two tables. Moments later, a pair of thugs suddenly appeared from a cabinet and fled the house.
Police and paramedics came to the scene ten minutes later, but unfortunately could not do anything to save the man. Littleton doesn’t believe that anything was stolen and an autopsy revealed that the cause of death was most likely a heart attack. However, if you do have any information about these two individuals, please call 555-6663.
Littleton described the suspects as average height, both wearing torn brown jackets. A possible toque on one of them, both have blond hair. She doesn’t remember anything about facial hair, but it is a possibility The two men might also be linked to the Firebrand gang, but not much evidence was found.
A funeral service for Anthony Littleton will be held on July 7, 2011 in the Hillville Funeral Chapel.
"Cool story, grams. So what do you want us to do, kill these two? We're starving, greedy fools, not hitmen", I remarked.
Speaking my mind was another one of my amazing traits that people seldom appreciated.
"As much as I'd hate to say it, he's right, Mrs. Littleton," Josh added, "We don't kill."
"I'm not asking you to kill these two," she explained, "But they stole something from my father. I want it back."
"And this something is?" I inquired.
I scoffed. "Where would you get phoenix ashes in America? We've taken crazy treasure hunts before, but at least those treasures were real, as cheap as they were. A phoenix hasn't left Asia in over a century."
Josh remained silent. He had known me long enough to understand that sometimes, my mouth just couldn't be stopped.
"Well I don't know where my father got Athanasia, but I loved her. When I was a child, whenever I went over to stay at his house for the weekend, I played with Athanasia. She was one of the most cherished friends I ever had", Mrs. Littleton explained.
"And the payment?" I badgered.
If she's asking us to find dangerous criminals and take back something as illegal as phoenix ashes, she'd better have a sweet prize.
Mrs. Littleton nodded. She left the room, heading upstairs. "I think we should take this job", Josh whispered to me.
"What are you, crazy? Unless she comes down here with a million bucks cradled in her fragile little arms, I'm out. This is both stupid and dangerous", I retorted.
Just then, our client returned. In her hand was a picture of a young girl, around our age. She was almost unbearably attractive, even in two-dimensional photographic form. "This is my daughter, Alicia," she explained, "If you get the ashes back, I'll give you her number."
"I'm in", I decided in a heartbeat.
Outside, we waved goodbye to Mrs. Littleton and got into our four-door piece of junk hatchback. The car itself was over twenty years old, thus the once slick blue paint was now a dull, peeling blue. "I volunteered to do this job out of the good of my heart, but you did this for a girl's number?" Josh scoffed.
He had a cheeky side sometimes as well. It was a family thing, I just happened to inherit the majority of it. "Just be happy I accepted the job at all," I chuckled, "Or you'd have to deal with this "Firebrand" gang by yourself."
"Whatever. Considering I've never even heard of this gang, they're probably not that big of a threat anyway", Josh retaliated.
"Josh the gang expert now?" I grinned, starting the car.
With that, we left peaceful suburbia and entered America City. The central hub in this country, its crime was as great as its wealth and population.
"Phoenix ashes..." Josh muttered from the passenger seat as we entered the city limits.