The Way of the Word

12. January 2010

Preview: The Coldest Blood – Chapter 1

Filed under: books,workblog,writing — jensaltmann @ 12:38
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„Mr. Shaw, I need your help.“

People who called this number usually did.

„My name is Osborne, Kate Osborne.“ the woman at the other end of the phone didn’t sound old, but she sounded scared and uncertain.

„That’s what I’m here for. What can I do for you, Ms. Osborne?“

“I… I don’t know, I…”

“Take your time,” I told her. “I’ll still be here when you’re ready.”

“It’s my sister,” she blurted out. “She’s missing.”

“Did you go to the police?”

“Yes. They filed a report, but…”

I nodded to myself. Thousands of people vanished in the Big Apple every year. The cops didn’t have the resources to find them all, try as they might. That didn’t even count those who actively wanted to stay vanished. Or those whose disappearance went unreported. Sometimes, when people got fed up with waiting for the authorities to get their act together, they came to someone like me.

“I understand,” I said. “Now you want to hire me to find your sister.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“I don’t come cheap.” I told her my rates. I could hear her swallow at her end of the phone.

“I can afford to give you $2,000,” she said. I thought about the size of my checking account, and about all the bills that were due.

“We should discuss this in person,” I told her. “Do you know Fulci’s?”

“No…?”

I gave her the address and told her how to get there. I could hear her make the little noises that people make when they take notes.

“I can be there in an hour,” she said.

“Okay. I’ll meet you there.”

I clicked the cellphone closed and put it on the counter in front of me, right next to the coffee mug. Lucio ambled over. The diner wasn’t busy. It was too late for the breakfast crowd and too early for the lunch crowd. My favorite time for breakfast. With not much to do, Lucio was bored and up for a chat. He refilled my mug. Over the years he had learned that some caffeine tended to improve my mood.

“Work?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I thought for a second. “Probably.”

“Good. You’ve been hanging out here too long, Shaw.”

“Tired of my company?”

“Nah, I just don’t wanna see you get rusty. Things you do, you’ll get some serious hurt if you get rusty. Is she a looker?”

I gave him an almost-glare.

“Lucio, all I know is her voice.”

“Yeah, so?”

“She sounds youngish.”

“Good enough for me.”

“You’ll know when she gets here.”

“I should charge you, you know. The way you use my diner as your office…”

“You do charge me, buddy.” I tapped the fork against the plate. “Last I checked, you didn’t hand out free meals.”

“Not to you, anyway,” Lucio said. The corners of his mouth twitched, and he left to attend to another customer who walked into the diner.

The coffee, some scrambled eggs and Lucio’s famous turkey bagel kept me occupied until the woman walked in. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. She was easy on the eyes, tall, well-built. She had a fluid, supple way of moving. How she clung to her purse didn’t quite match. It looked nervous, afraid. The way she looked around, with an uncertain look on her face, told me that this had to be Kate Osborne. I pushed the coffee away, straightened my tie, checked my hair in the mirror behind the bar, got up and went over to her.

“Ms. Osborne?”

“Yes?” She tried to keep her face neutral, but there was some hope shining through. Damn. I hated it when that happened.

“I’m Shaw.” I held out my hand. She took it, just brushed against it, really. Then she pulled her hand back in to clutch the purse once again. I gestured at a table.

“Let’s sit.”

“I had expected an office,” she said.

“I’ve found that first-time clients prefer to meet in a less, well, formal environment. Would you like something? Coffee, tea, water?”

“Coffee would be fine, thanks.”

I went to the counter to fetch two coffees.

“She’s a fine-looking woman,” Lucio commented.

“Why don’t you ask her out, then?”

“Gianna would never let me.”

We shared a grin and I went back to the table. I placed one of the cups in front of her.

“You mentioned something about your sister,” I prompted.

“Yes. Steff. Stefani. She’s a bit younger than I. It’s like this: when we talked on the phone, on Friday, Steff told me that she would meet her boyfriend for lunch.”

“What’s the boyfriend’s name?”

“I don’t know. She didn’t talk much about him. I think…” She lowered her voice to a whisper. “I think he might be married.”

“Did she mention which restaurant?”

“Yes.” Kate told me the name. I made a point of writing it down. Not that I needed to. My memory is good enough to remember such things. But it made the clients feel better.

“While we’re at it,” I said, “I’ll need your sister’s address too.”

he told me. I wrote that down as well.

“When was she last seen?”

“On Friday. When I didn’t hear from her again, I went over and talked with her neighbors. One of them mentioned that she saw her leave.”

“You mentioned the boyfriend. Don’t you think it’s possible that they just went off on an extended weekend? Maybe Steff will come back by herself later today.”

“I don’t think so. Steff never goes anywhere without her cellphone, you see, and I texted her several times yesterday, telling her that I worry. If she were just away for the weekend, she would have at least sent me a short message to stop worrying.”

“Is it possible that Steff and her boyfriend ran off together? That they eloped?”

“No. Definitely not.”

“Because she would have told you?”

“That, too. She would have said something. She knows I tend to worry.” If she thought that far in the proverbial grip of passion. “There’s something else as well,” Kate continued. “Steff had been unemployed for a while. When we telephoned, she told me that she had finally found a new job.”

“Where?”

“She didn’t say. She didn’t want to jinx it.”

A new job was a much better reason to not run away than a worry-wart older sister. I tapped the pen against the pad.

“Did you talk with her friends? One of them might know more than she told you. Like her boyfriend’s name, for example.”

Kate nodded.

“I know most of her friends, and I called them all. But nobody knew anything.” She rummaged in her purse until she found a little pink address book. She put it on the table between us. “This is Steff’s address book. This one lists her friends and family. She has another one that she calls her ‘business directory.’ That’s where she keeps phone numbers and addresses of her insurance agent, her landlord, her doctors, her gym and all that.” Kate smiled. “Steff’s a real organizer nut.”

“Did you call them all?”

“Yes. But now I’m all out of ideas about what to do next. Can you help me, Mr. Shaw?”

I put the pen down, folded my hands and looked at her.

“I could tell you yes, but I’d be lying,” I said honestly. “Missing persons cases can be difficult. There’s no telling if anything happened to her, or what. If she doesn’t want to be found, she would have taken steps to prevent it.”

“Oh, I’m sure that…”

I held up my hand. She shut up.

“Just saying. If she’s the victim of a crime, the perp might have hidden her body where it won’t be found for a while.” She turned pale at that. “Again, I’m not saying that she is dead. I’m just listing the possibilities. We won’t know until we start looking. Do you have a recent photo?”

Kate opened her purse and pulled out a piece of paper that she gave me. I looked at it. Steff Osborne was a cute blonde in her early twenties, with freckles on her nose and a sparkle in her eyes that was noticeable even on a photograph. The family resemblance was obvious. The picture had been taken at the zoo, and the young woman was petting a goat while laughing at the camera. The smile on her face was infectious.

“I took that picture two months ago,” Osborne said. “It’s a printout. I still have the file on my computer.” I nodded, folded the sheet and pocketed it. “As I was saying, I can’t give you any guarantees that I can find her. It depends on what happened, and whether or not she wants to be found.” “I understand,” Osborne said. The hopeful look on her face told me she didn’t, not really. The cops couldn’t help her, she figured, so she went and hired a PI as a miracle worker.

“What I will do is give it my best shot. The one advantage I have over the police is that I can give your case my complete, undivided attention. For as long as you’re willing to pay me.”

“As I said on the phone, I have $2,000.”

“For that, I will give your case my undivided attention for one week, and I will do everything I can to find her in that time. That, I promise. More than that, I can’t promise.”

“That’s okay,” she said. “Just do your best.”

“I always do.”

She rummaged through her purse again, until she found her name card. She held it out to me. I looked at it.

“I would appreciate it if you would keep me informed of your progress,” she said. I nodded.

“Not a problem.” I slipped the card into the jacket’s inside pocket. “ If I find out anything, I’ll let you know.”

Osborne nodded and got up.

“Thank you, Mr. Shaw. I hope you can bring this to a quick conclusion. I’m worried about Steff. This really isn’t like her at all.”

“I’ll let you know what I find out.”

Osborne nodded, turned around and left. I let my eyes linger on the view of her rear for a moment, then I looked at the pad.

The starting point was obvious.

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