Short Story about a detective and the disappearance of a woman.
It was a day like any other. The sun pummeled my brick office building until the heat swirled away like the smoke from a derelict cigarette after last call. My office, interior, the fan nagged me like a bad wife; the noise droning, the wind blowing. Nothing cools the place, it's an old building; built in the 30's with patina art deco on every wall. The place was left to rot, everyone loves it but nobody can be bothered to polish it. I'm finishing the paperwork for the Mr. Payne; the 'neck tattoo' type, their all the same. They scowl at the camera snapping the mug shot because it’s the only thing in the room they can intimidate. He skipped his court date; I had to 'persuade' him to do his civic duty. My ear is still sore. The bail bonds make ends meet but it’s the gum shoe work I like best. I take a break from my filing and lean back in that squeaky old chair with a sweaty glass of ice water when there's a knock at the door. "Come in" I say. The oak door opens and my secretary steps in. "A man just dropped off an envelope for you, he didn't stay though. He asked that you open it today." Well this was new. She hands me the dangerous looking envelope. My nerves stand on end, its instinct, like when you're walking into a trap. "Thank you Paige." I nod at her and she smiles as she leaves. I turn the envelope over in my hands a couple times, sniff it, there is water damage on one edge. I open it slowly, inside wrapped in a piece of blank printer paper is a photograph. It shows three young women in a bar holding drinks and smiling. What could possibly be special about this? A hundred thousand useless pictures just like this are saved for all eternity on the internet every weekend. I turn the photograph over, it was printed at local drug store but that isn't nearly as interesting as the handwriting on the back; feminine, with a forward slant; its cursive, ball point pen, a cheap one. It reads, "One of these girls is me, Barnaby's Diner tonight 1 am."
Barnaby's Diner was off 35th and Blake. I drove around the block a few times taking it in before parking. I parked on the street, the last space available; always park like you might need to escape. This far out east on Blake the parking is free. This portion of town used to be the slaughterhouse district. Its right near the tracks and all the buildings are wood and brick. The purple and red sort of brick, people don't know that Denver used to be famous for making brick industry. Blake Street is beautiful, in 20 blocks you have a major baseball park, a dozen breweries and you can walk its length on the rooftops of bars. These days you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a bar owner in Denver. This is old industrial neighborhood. Shops, factories, warehouses, most abandoned. Some have been turned into apartment buildings and restaurants. This is the sort of place most people would be afraid of, not me. I know all the trinkets in your house had to have the ugly polished off somewhere. Good men went home dirty from these factories....before the street lights quit coming on at night. I take one last look at the diner before going in; you would hardly know it’s open. Three light bulbs in the sign, one of them burnt out; my kind of place. I walk in and smell the deep fryer and the hash browns. I walk up to the hostess slowly; she starts with a corporate sort of speech about "Welcome to Barnaby's how many in your party..." I'm not listening. I pull the photo out of my jacket pocket and unfold it. I place it on the pedestal as her speech trails off. I push it towards her. "I'm here to meet one of the girls in this photo, she should be sitting alone. Look familiar?" She pauses a moment and taps the face of the girl on the left. "She is sitting against the far wall" she points over her shoulder but I don't look. I take the photo and fold it up again. "Thanks, I'll help myself if you don't mind." I walk past her and follow the wall around the perimeter. I see her, sitting alone, young maybe 23, soft features and brown hair she looks pretty put together for a move this desperate. I approach slowly, she sees me. I stand there silent and lay the photo slowly on the table in front of her. I push it towards her giving her my poker face. "Please sit down" the words trickle from her lips and splatter on the table. Suddenly I realize this isn't a trap and something has her scared out of her mind, my meeting her with my dukes up probably doesn’t help, I decide to drop the tough guy routine. She looks so frail I expect a hard word to strike her dead. I pull out a chair and sit down. I hang my hat on my knee under the table and help myself to the coffee in the pot. "So, d’they give you a name?” I ask. She nods sharply once and looks me in the eye as, “Bella” shoots straight out of her lips. I nod slowly acknowledging her preconceived and unoriginal alias. “Well, ‘Bella’ it’s pretty late and your note has me curious. Lay it on me.”