Chapter 1: Nice to meet you ma’am

The large man burst through the door of the wood-paneled office with a victorious flurry and trumpeted, "Hello Dorris!" A wide grin dancing across his face.

The ancient woman sitting behind the over sized computer monitor looked like she was hungover from drinking a little too much at her 150th birthday party the night before. “You got ‘em then sir?” she croaked, her voice was proof of her recently escaped smoking habit. She gave up smoking a few years ago and now she chomped on gum like it owed her money.

“Of course I did Dorris, don’t you know who I am?” Theo sighed, his grin unwavering, as he plopped onto the leather couch and began to prop his feet up on the neighboring coffee table as he leaned back contemplating his victory.

Theo was in his mid-30s and just over six feet tall, his daily uniform usually consisted of brightly colored Hawaiian shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops. He had shaggy light brown hair and scruff covering the lower half of his tan face.

Right in the middle of reclining, Theo saw an ancient hand come out from behind the astonishingly outdated monitor and give a single harsh snap. He immediately changed the trajectory of his feet placing them on the floor. Theo cleared his throat and without a trace of his previous smugness he reported, “It was the alligator wrangler's dentist”.

“Called it. Where’s my money, sir?” Dorris croaked, popping a hand out to receive her winnings. Theo rose from the couch and fumbled in his pocket to produced a $1.00 bill, then gently placed it in Dorris’ weathered but rock-solid grip. “You did,” his eyes narrowed, “how do you always know?”

“I don’t always know, I just only bet when I’m sure. Also, TV” she shrugged and pointed across the room. Theo looked where she was pointing and saw a small antiquated TV set that was supported by an old wooden TV tray with tarnished brass legs. The TV was in fact playing some old murder mystery show as always. “With that case closed, we have enough money until the end of the month”.

Then without smiling or breaking eye contact with Theo, Dorris fidgeted in her front desk drawer until she found what she was looking for, she brought her hands above her head and tugged on the string of a mini pull-string confetti cannon raining miniature streamers all over her hair and desk.

“Well, I’m not the one buying confetti cannons” Theo smirked then broke into laughter as Dorris even cracked a smile. “Well, is there anything else on the docket?”

“There are a few; a cheating wife, cheating husband, another cheater, hit and run, cheater, identity theft, embezzler, cheater...” She listed as she flipped through dusty files in the lower drawer of her desk.

“Good lord, is there anything that won’t, I don’t know, destroy what little faith in humanity I have left? How am I simultaneously bored and disgusted all the time?” he groaned.

“You took the wrong job if you’re after the warm and feelys sweety” Doris rasped as she flipped through the files for another few moments then picked up one, only to read it silently and slide it back into its original position. She continued, looking at 4 more files before replacing them until she came to one towards the back of the drawer, sighing in a way that Theo couldn’t tell was relief or defeat. “Here’s a murder, a patient in a, oh what’s the term, I think it’s ‘institution” she said as her hands lifted in mock quotations.

“Wait, did the patient murder someone or did the patient get murdered?” then he thought about it for a second and mumbled to himself “does that even matter?”

“He got killed in a” she raised both hands in more mimicked quotations “seclusion room” she put her hands down and flipped through more pages in the file. “It looks like there was no evidence of entry or exit, no weapon, nothing on the security footage. The police are lost, but..” she read on silently then remarked, “Yeah you’re doing this one.”

“What? Why do you say that?” Theo asked, impatient to learn the details.

“I was wrong about the victim. He wasn’t a patient. The police weren’t able to identify him at all. It says here that he was found in the...”, raising her hands a third time to make the quote gesture, Theo finally interrupted, “you really don’t have to do that”. Doris frowned, but received the criticism and lowered her hands and continued, “seclusion room dead without any evidence. Not only that, they don’t even have a sure cause of death. Says they can’t identify him either. No matches with face scanning, teeth, and, oh this is interesting, the machine they use for DNA testing errored out so they had to rule it as inconclusive”.

Theo’s expression shifted from excitement to confusion to determination. “You win again Doris. You win again. Where is this facility?”

“It’s called Shady Acres, it’s in a small town down south, Evergreen Louisiana.”

“Okay, let me get a shower and a fresh set of clothes and I’ll head that way.”

“You should pack some nice clothes too. A birdy told me there’s a lot of money hiding around Evergreen, just gotta know the right people to talk to.”

Theo looked down at his Baby Blue flamingo button-down, “What do you mean nice? What’s wrong with this? I always dress like this? It’s comfy and classy,” he straightened the cotton collar and ran his hands down the front of the shirt exhibiting his immaculate taste.

Dorris stood up from her chair raising a full two feet taller than she had been and locked eyes with Theo. Her voice rose and adopted a tone that resembled a mother scolding her child. “You are not wearing that for this case young man. This case could put us in the black for the rest of the year, so if you’re going to play the part of a professional private investigator, you best look it.”

Theo’s lower lip actually stuck out for a millisecond before he realized that his face was moving without his permission, he sucked it back in and straightened his back “I just had the best idea, you know what would be good for this case? A suit.”

Dorris smiled knowingly, “I think that is a wonderful idea sir.”

Theo rented a small apartment above a mobile wedding service, it had a small living room with a kitchen to the left and a messy bedroom to the right. The last time anyone had seen the floors of his bedroom was when they were installed. The suspected hardwood was littered w