I like to make decisions and move forward. No hemming and hawing, and no second guesses. This means I run into trouble every so often, but I tried slow and deliberate, and I made just as many mistakes while wasting a hell of a lot of time. Now I make the call and act.
So, I haven’t spent a single minute of the six months since Joanna Hill walked into my office thinking about what I’d do differently. When a woman like Joanna asks a man for help, he has no choice in the matter.
She crossed her legs, and my eyes traveled from the tip of her red heel up past the curve of her ankle to a shiny nylon clad calf. She caught me looking and didn’t mind. She had something to sell. I had money to burn. “What can I do for you, Miss?
“Joanna Hill,” she said uncrossing her legs and shifting in the second-hand leather club chair I recently purchased to class up the joint.
I extend my hand across the desk, “Earl Town.” She leaned in, gave it a shake, then sunk back into the soft, worn cushion.
“I think my boss is in trouble. He’s missing.” That seemed simple enough, why the sales pitch?
I leaned back and pressed my fingertips together to show I was listening. Sounds stupid I know, but people react to these nonverbal cues, and it moves things along. I arched my eyebrows, and she continued.
“I work for Wayne Trust on Federal Street. My boss is James MacArthur. I think something bad may have happened to him.”
She turned and looked at the pictures on the rusty file cabinet to my right.
“Is that Clint Eastwood?”
“Yes, it is.”
“How do you know him?”
“It’s a long story. We go back a-ways.” Back to me watching his movies on tv. A friend sent the photo as a joke. The guy Clint had his arm around was my doppelganger.
“But, you’re not that old.”
“I’m old enough to have worn a few hats. How’d you hear about my services?”
“I see the sign in your window all the time. I live on Columbus.”
I worked out of my apartment in South Boston. The only advertising I’d ever done was placing a small sign in my window, but with all the foot traffic in the neighborhood, it drew a fair amount of walk-in business. It read Gumshoe for Hire. I didn’t care to work for anyone who didn’t know what a gumshoe was.
“Please, tell me why you think your boss, James, is in trouble.”
“Mac, everyone calls him Mac, was supposed to be in New York last Monday to give a speech that morning. He didn’t show up to the event, and no one’s seen him since.”
“That was seven days ago. Surely, you’ve contacted the police.”
She brushed her hair aside. She had thick, shoulder-length, auburn waves of it, which set off her emerald eyes. She was young, mid-thirties, and pale, and made even paler by the application of candy apple lipstick. She was all business. Black jacket and skirt over a white silk blouse, upon which lay an oversized stone necklace. Amethyst, perhaps? I don’t know. I find geology boring. A rock is a rock unless it’s used as a weapon, in which case it’s a more useful rock. Miss Hill was in fine shape in face and figure. She knew how to use both to her benefit.
“No, no one believes he’s in any danger. Except for me.”
“Why not, Miss Hill?”
“He sent his boss and me an email last Sunday that said he was taking a break and not to worry. That’s all, no other details.”
“Really?” I said.
She took out her cell phone, fiddled with it, then reached across the desk. I took it and read the message. That’s all it said. The sender had an email that ended in @waynetrust.com and the time stamp was 6:03 pm.
“This is not like him. Something’s wrong, I’m certain of it.” She lifted her purse from the floor and removed a pack of L&M’s and a lighter. “I see your ashtray there, okay if I smoke?”
“Go ahead.” I reached back and switched on the small air purifier I kept on a cabinet under the window behind me, which was also cracked open a couple of inches. I don’t smoke myself, but I don’t care if others do. I like that it puts people at ease. That’s why I keep the ashtray on my desk. I don’t like breathing smoke, and I certainly don’t like kissing a smoker, though I make exceptions for women like Joanna Hill. But what really pisses me off is how society treats smokers like serial killers. Therefore, I say smoke them if you got them. I consider this a public service.
She took a long pull, held it for a while, and let out a dense plume. I also loved watching women smoke. I guess I’ve seen too many old detective movies.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m not really a smoker, but when I’m stressed out.” She shrugged and looked around some more.
“So, the email was a week ago, any word from him since?”
“No,” she said defiantly, as though I doubted her.
“Have you spoken to his family, or gone to the police?”
“He doesn’t have a family. Well, he has two ex-wives, no kids though. Both exes say they haven’t spoken to him. I’ve asked them to call me when they hear from him, and neither has.”
I started on my next question, but she cut me off and added. “He pays substantial alimony to one and keeps the other, who’s remarried, in comfort. At least, that what he’s always complaining about. So, they have a vested interest in his safety, and would call me if they heard something.”
“And the police?”
“They told me there’s no evidence of a crime, and there’s the email.”
“So, they aren’t looking into this at all?”
“No.” she sighed.
“So, what is it you would like me to do?” Other than avoiding eyeballing your calves some more. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.
She looked at me as a mother to her confused child. “Well, find him of course. Isn’t that what you do?”
“Yes, finding people is part of the job of a licensed detective, which I am, but I’m not convinced he needs finding. Maybe the approach the cops are taking is correct, and he’ll turn up soon.”
“No! Something is wrong here. Mac doesn’t just disappear. He’s a top executive with a billion-dollar trust company. This is not normal behavior.”
“Okay.” I held out my hands in surrender. “I hear you. You mentioned his boss at, what’s the name of the company?”
“What does his boss at Wayne Trust say?”
She looked relieved. Like maybe this caveman is finally getting it.
“That’s another odd thing. Mac’s boss is Whitman Endicott. He’s the other person who received the email. Mr. Endicott is concerned, but not enough.” She stubbed her cigarette out, then leaned back into the brown leather.
“He told me Mac was probably worn out from a deal they’ve been working on, is just blowing off some steam, and will be back soon enough. He said he has people looking into it.”
“What kind of a deal?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it. It’s a merger, possibly with a foreign bank, but insider trading rules mean everything that can be kept secret, must be, even from co-workers.”
“So, is anyone concerned about James?” I caught myself and added, “other than you?”
“Mac,” she said correcting me. “Everyone calls him that.”
“Not really, no. But, no one else knows him as well as I do.” I raised my eyebrows, and she shot me down.
“We’re not sleeping together. That’s all you men think about.” Well, she didn’t say that last part, but I could tell she was thinking it.
“I’ve worked for Mac for fourteen years. He wouldn’t just run off and leave things like this. He takes pride in his work.” She reached over the desk and touched my arm. “Something is wrong.”
“My fee is $1,000 a day with a three-day minimum payable up front. If there are expenses, I’ll bill you for those later. If less than three-days are needed, I’ll reimburse you for the difference. If it takes more than three days, we can discuss an extension. Are these terms agreeable?”
She smiled for the first time, and it was a beauty. “Yes.”
She took out her checkbook and pen. It wasn’t even 9 am, and I had a case and an alluring new client. Not a bad start to the week.