|A deep throbbing vibration, more of a feeling than a noise, brought the familiar sounds of the night to an instant cessation. Within the clearing of an old and dense forest which had been there before the coming of man, vague outlines began to materialize through the mist. With the passing of the minutes, more and more of the shape of a vast stone building became apparent. With a final shudder, the dark structure finally becomes solid. Two cloaked figures supporting a third motionless figure move swiftly from the outskirts of the clearing and climb the five stone steps leading upward towards two large imposing wooden doors. Pausing before them, the shorter one utters words in a language which no modern linguist would be able to recognise. A glow becomes apparent as ancient symbols surge with an eldritch light. Slowly the doors swing open with silent majesty. The three move into the darkness beyond them. The door’s close behind them. Hours later, before the first rays of the morning sun are even glimpsed on the horizon; the doors again swing open. Only two cloaked figures emerge and both disappear swiftly into the trees. The vibration is felt once more and what was material, is once more immaterial. With the coming of the sun and the dispersion of the mists, the clearing is once more empty. From behind one of the older gnarled trees, a watcher appears.
My private investigators license hung crookedly behind my desk. I had been a PI for 53 days five hours and 12 minutes; but who’s counting. The sum total of my many cases consisted of the location of a missing pet (which I may say, ended successfully) and a divorce case (not so successfully). My small claustrophobic office consisted of a desk, two chairs, a filing cabinet (all of which had seen better days) and a small wheezing refrigerator in the corner. A square of paper stuck to the door bore the legend,
Out of desperation I had scribbled a note under this.
“No job too small”.
My savings which I had used to fund this enterprise were almost gone. My pension was barely making ends meet. My resignation from the Metropolitan police force was now starting to look like a mistake. At the time though, it had felt like the right option. I had served 12 years in the homicide division before unluckily catching a shot gun blast, resulting in my leg looking like raw hamburger. After many operations and months of bed rest, followed by even more months of physiotherapy, I was walking again, but with the use of a cane. They told me I was lucky. I was given the option of a desk job or retirement.
My 54th day was coming to an end, when there appeared a shadow silhouetted against the frosted glass of the door, followed by a tentative knock. The knock came again.
“Come in”, I said in a rush.
The door opened slowly. A small elderly woman poked her head around the corner.
“Excuse me; I’m looking for Mr. Flynn”.
“I’m Flynn. Please come in and sit down”.
She moved spritely towards the desk. Her appearance was everyone’s idea of a “grandmother”. She barely came up to my chest and I was no giant. Graying and wrinkled with a wealth of living in her face. Two sparkling green eyes looked up at me as I maneuvered the spare chair to opposite the desk. She settled herself whilst clutching a large handbag to her chest. Her eyes moved steadily around the room taking in the magnificence of my ‘palatial’ office, before finally coming back to rest on me. I’m sure they had missed nothing.
“I was expecting someone taller”, she said with a laugh in her voice.
I laughed with her. Throughout my life, I had always been ‘vertically challenged’. At a shade over 5 ½ feet and of slim build, I had been one of the shorter members of the police force. Many times overlooked and underestimated, I had often used this to my advantage.
I sat there quietly with a smile on my face, waiting for her to start. Her face assumed a more serious set.
“Mr. Flynn, my name is Mrs. Anne Richards and I am in need of your help. My granddaughter Rachel has been missing now for over two weeks. I’ve been to the police station every day since, but I have had no word or news of her whereabouts”. There was a small tremor in her voice as she related this.
“Sergeant Reynolds on the desk, who I’m sure, is sick of the very sight of me, recommended that I come to see you”.
It was nice of Dan Reynolds to throw some business my way, but I had to admit to myself that finding a missing pet does not necessarily qualify me to help find her granddaughter.
“Mrs. Richards I am sure that the police are doing their best….”
“I know that Mr. Flynn”, she interjected. “But it’s your services that I require. I have asked others at the Police Station about you and inevitably the same comment came from them all. Dogged and determined. These are the qualities I need to find my granddaughter”.
I sat back and stared thoughtfully at her. I could see that she was a woman who knew what she wanted and what she wanted, she got.
“All right Mrs. Richards, I’ll look further into it for you, but no promises”.
“That’s all I can ask”.
She reached into her bag and handed me a large envelope.
“These are details that I have prepared concerning Rachel. Pictures of her and also her friends, their addresses, her likes and dislikes. My phone number and address are at the top of the page. I can be contacted at any time”.
She once more dived back into her bag and extracted a smaller envelope.
“This is for expenses. I need my granddaughter back Mr. Flynn. Please find her”.
On that note, she rose, nodded and left the room, leaving me staring after her. It was obvious she was not one for small talk.
I felt as if a force of nature had just blown in and out of my office!
I had a case.
I up ended the envelope onto my desk. The photographs of Rachel showed a small slim girl with pale ivory skin. She had long red hair which framed her face and offset green sparkling eyes which she had obviously inherited from her grandmother. A light dusting of freckles over her nose and a generous upturned smile gave her a look of someone who enjoyed life. The detailed listings of Rachel’s life leading up to her disappearance would have put many of my colleagues’ on the force, efforts to shame. They included names, addresses, and Rachel’s movements up until a few hours before she disappeared. Her biography also indicated that her parents were dead and that she had been living with her grandmother since the age of three. She was to turn 21 in just over two weeks on Christmas Day.
The next morning I was up early so as to arrive at the shift change at the precinct. Sergeant Dan Reynolds had just clocked on. He had ruled the front desk with an iron hand for 30 plus years. Tall, with skin as dark as night and a face which could turn from welcoming to threatening at a moment’s notice. I was lucky. His face broke into a grin.
“Well, if it isn’t Jake Flynn. Gumshoe extraordinaire! I’ve been expecting you.”
He thrust out a hand which was the size of a baseball glove and enclosed mine with crushing force.
“Dan, it’s good to see you. Thanks for throwing some work my way”. I extracted my hand and shook it to get the feeling back into it. “Is Feeney still working missing persons?”
“Yes still here and still as miserable as ever, but he hasn’t arrived yet. Why don’t you go through to his office and wait for him there. I take it you’re here about Rachel Richards”. I nodded. “I hope you can find her. Mrs. Richards is here daily but there’s nothing new that I can tell her”.
As he finished saying this, his attention was taken by two policemen, walking a very loud and inebriated man through the door.
“I see business as usual”.
He just grinned and then his face changed to a ferocious frown before turning towards the drunk, who was now singing at the top of his voice. I moved down the corridor with the sounds of ‘Jingle Bells’ counterpointed by Dan’s voice rolling over me.
Detective Brian Feeney’s office was as small as my own, though mine still had some room to move around in; if you were careful. Feeney’s desk, filing cabinets and parts of the floor were piled high with case files; the walls were plastered with the faces of the missing. It was obvious that he was snowed under. I moved files off the chair in the corner and added them to the piles on the floor. I sat down to wait.
Feeney arrived one hour later. He carried with him another armful of folders. When he had first started, I remembered him as being a young, tall and gangly idealistic man who had hoped to bring closure in one way or another to those whose loved ones had disappeared. The person who entered exhibited none of these characteristics. His demeanor was now similar to those he searched for; lost and alone. He moved as though he was carrying a great weight. His once thick dark hair was now thinning with a streak of grey. The five years he had spent in this department, had aged him ten.
He dropped the files on top of those already on his desk and fell into his chair. Quietly, he stared blankly in front of him. I cleared my throat. After a moment he realised I was there and slowly and with considerable effort, he focused on me. You could see the gears turning within his head as he tried to put a name to the face. Standing up and leaning heavily on my cane, I offered my hand.
“Hi, my name is Flynn. I used to work homicide upstairs a couple of years ago.”
Still bemused, he clasped mine.
“Yeah, I remember you. You don’t work here anymore, do you?”
I gave a shrug and pointed to the cane. “No, I’m doing private investigations now. That’s why I’ve come to see you. The case I’m working on involves one of your missing persons and I’m hoping you can give me a ‘heads up’ on your progress.”
He slumped back in the chair and it seemed a cloak of quiet despair settled round him as he considered this request.
“When did she go missing?”
“Just on two weeks ago; her name was Rachel Richards.”
He leaned forward, slowly shaking his head.
“I’m afraid she’s an ongoing case. The detective I had working on her disappearance, met with an accident.” He pointed to the files which he had just thrown down. “I just collected these from off his desk. Her case is amongst them, along with 20 others. As you can see, this department is undermanned and people seem to be disappearing faster than we can keep up with. I can’t really help you. I cannot legally let you look at these files.” He slowly pushed himself to his feet and made his way to the door.
“I’ll go and check with the Lieutenant and see if he can authorize you to have access to them. At this time of day though, he’s going to be hard to find. I’ll probably be out of the office for at least an hour locating him,” he said in a slow deadpan voice.
“You’re quite welcome to sit and wait for me hear if you like”.
I noticed that there seemed to be a severe twitch under one of Feeney’s eyes.
I looked hard at him. I nodded to show my understanding.
“Thanks Feeney”, I said to his retreating back.
I moved round the desk and sat down to clear a space where I could examine the files. Each had a photo attached to the top so I quickly began flicking through them in order to identify Rachel’s. Just three down I found her. At least I thought it was her. It was my girl, but she had blonde hair. I opened the folder and discovered her name was Beth Andrews. I looked at the picture again. There was no doubt in my mind that I was looking at Rachel, except for the blonde hair. I checked the details. Lived on the other side of town, attended a different school and reported missing by her parents. She had been gone for 10 days. Then I noticed it. Her birth date was the same as Rachel’s.
I placed her to one side and continued sorting. Halfway through a sense of déjà vu overtook me. Either that or I was losing my mind. Staring at me again was Rachel, but this time as a brunette. Her name was Anne Parker. I quickly scanned for her birth date. No surprise really. Again it was the same. She had been missing for five days. I placed her with Beth’s. With some trepidation, I again turned to search for Rachel. Needless to say, it was the last one.
Placing each of the three files beside each other, I stared long and hard at each of the photos. Three faces stared back at me. The facial features were exactly the same. I sat back in the chair and looked at the ceiling. These three girls had disappeared from different places in the city, at different times; all three having different families, but the same physical features except the hair colour. This case had just become more bizarre. I gathered up the three folders and moved to the photocopier outside the office. I quickly copied the details, plus a colour copy of each of the photo’s. I returned them to Feeney’s desk and placed them on top of the pile along with a piece of paper with a big question mark. I hoped that it would bother him as much as it had me.
I had the awful premonition that this was going to be a long, long day.