The Night Is A Harsh Mistress
by A. Catherine Noon
The phone rang, startling her a little. “Rachel Carmichael,” she greeted without looking at the Caller I.D., her cigarette bouncing in the corner of her mouth. She slipped off her shoes and shrugged out of her jacket. The gun went on the desk for a moment until she could unload and clean it and she moved around behind the desk.
“Missus Carmichael?” The voice sounded young, and panicked.
“Speaking. Who is this?”
Rachel almost fell getting into her office chair. David was the name of the missing teenager. Her luck couldn’t be this good, could it? “David,” she said more warmly. “You’ve worried a lot of people, David. Not least of which are your parents.”
“Are they okay?” David asked wildly. He sounded breathless and not as relieved as Rachel would have expected.
“Are your parents okay, David?” she echoed, mostly to buy time to think. “Of course they are. They’re very worried about you.” She paused. “Where are you?”
“No!” David shouted. “I can’t tell you that,” he said more calmly. “I just need you to stop looking for me, okay?”
Of all the… “Your parents hired me to find you, David. You’re underage and missing. That doesn’t give you a lot of options in the eyes of the law, you know.”
“You’re not the law, though, are you?” David countered.
That seemed to Rachel to be a little too astute for a fourteen-year-old. “What makes you think that, David?” she hedged.
She heard his panicked breathing on the other end for a moment. “Please,” he whispered. “Please, just stop looking!” The line went dead.
“David?” she called futilely. “Dammit!” She resisted slamming the phone down only because, if she broke it, she’d have to replace it. What she really wanted to do was throw the stupid thing out the window.
She sat back in her chair and put her legs up on her desk. She caught the ash of the cigarette before it landed on the carpet, but only just. She finished that one and started another one without getting one iota of inspiration.
She fished out the contract from her inbox, the one that Doug Greene and his mousy wife Constance signed. Mr. Greene’s signature was loopy and illegible, the scrawl of a busy man. Mrs. Green’s was more controlled, precise and neat. Rachel ran her fingers over the signatures absently. They both were indented slightly, like they had been pushing down with some pressure when they signed.
What that meant, Rachel had no idea.
Dammit! She hated it when cases refused to be clear. Why would David want his parents to stop looking for him?
Then her mind, up until now fuzzy with the desire to sleep, kicked awake.
The first thing David asked wasn’t ‘Why are my parents looking for me,’ like most runaways would ask. It was, ‘Are my parents okay?’ Why wouldn’t they be? What would make David worry that his parents, who did the expected thing of hiring someone to find their precious teenaged boy, might not be okay?
That didn’t really have an answer yet. But Rachel was determined it would. She got up, resolute now, and got ready for bed. She set the alarm for eleven and turned off the ringer to the phone. At least the rent was paid, so she could afford to take a day or two looking into the Greene’s background.
Besides, she thought as she had a final cigarette before bed, you could never be too careful about your clients. It paid to know who Mr. and Mrs. Greene were, and why their fourteen-year-old would be worried for their safety.
Rachel got under the covers on her couch gratefully. She finally had a case worth waking up for.