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Unhanged Arthur: Last of the Independents by Sam Wiebe

This week, we are publishing excerpts from the five manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel. 

In today’s excerpt… a private investigator gets a warning from his pastor about the man looking to hire him to help find his son.
an excerpt from Last of the Independents, by Sam Wiebe

“Cliff Szabo is a difficult person to maintain a friendship with,” the Pastor said as we crossed the parking lot in the direction of the mission.

I drank some of my London Fog. “Long as he’s somewhat close to sanity, I can work with him.”

The rain had abated by the time we started back from the café. The Pastor had ordered a pumpkin soy latte and a whole grain fudge bar without a hint of shame. Vancouver. Water droplets from leaky awnings hit our shoulders as we walked along Cambie Street.

Over my shirt and jeans I was wearing a tan trench coat liberated by an ex-girlfriend from the wardrobe department of a local television show. I’d inherited the coat of the show’s tough-as-nails, murder-solving coroner. Forget that in the real world coroners don’t usually solve murders—neither do private investigators for that matter. The coat had taken a beating over the years, and I’d lost the belt, causing it to billow out unglamorously as the Pastor and I walked into a strong wind. “I didn’t mean to imply Cliff isn’t a good-hearted person,” the Pastor said. He rolled up his sleeve and tapped the face of a large-dialed, numberless watch that looked out of place on its simple leather band. “My father’s. When it was stolen Cliff tracked it down and paid for it out of a pawn shop window. He wouldn’t let me reimburse him.”

“If he called the cops he could’ve got it back for nothing.”

“That’s what I’m getting at. Cliff can be suspicious. Truculent. Especially with agents of authority. He will scorn your help, he will make this about anything other than the matter at hand. Just bear in mind, Michael, that whatever he says comes from a man dealing with unfathomable heartbreak and pain and guilt.”


“I’ll let him tell you, if he decides.”

* * *

Szabo tested the bench before sitting down. “What can you do the cops can’t?”


“Nothing,” he repeated.

“That’s right. The police have resources and connections I can’t begin to compete with. They’re your best hope to get your son back. Any PI who’s not a fraud will tell you the same.”

“So why hire you?”

“Because statistically speaking, the more people looking, the better. And because sometimes people get lucky.”

I gestured at the kettle. Szabo shook his head. 

“Most missing persons the police find, or they come back on their own. Of the three I worked where that wasn’t the case, I found two. And both were due more to luck and patience than skill.”

“You said three.”

I nodded at the Loeb file on the corner of my table.

“I want you to understand,” I said. “The best I can do is work this efficiently and diligently. I can’t make your son appear. When you feel that what I’m doing isn’t helping, say so, but know going in that it’s expensive and time-consuming, and there are no guarantees.”

He produced a thick roll of twenties, stretched the elastic around his wrist, and began counting out piles of five.

“You don’t have to pay up front,” I said.

He didn’t reply until there were six piles of five, fanned across the table like a poker hand.

“Six hundred is all the money I have,” he said.

I was going to object, because I didn’t want his money and because it wasn’t nearly enough. It was an insult to say anything either way. I nodded and brought up an empty file on the Mac.

“Tell me everything,” I said.


Sam Wiebe’s short story “He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn Can He Take a Punch” won second prize in the 2011 Scene of the Crime contest and was published in Thousand Islands Life magazine. Another story, “Black Light Marker,” was published in the Winter 2012 edition of Spinetingler, available on Amazon.com. Sam’s current projects include Last of the Independents, a novel about an iconoclastic private eye’s search for a missing child, and radio adaptations of Frankenstein and Hamlet, available on iTunes and at samwiebe.com. He lives in Vancouver.

Established in 2007, the Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel is one of the prestigious Arthur Ellis Awards. Bestowed each year by the Crime Writers of Canada, this year’s winner will be announced at the Arthur Ellis Awards Banquet held on May 31 in Toronto.

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