NOTE: This is the second in a series of interconnected flash fiction noir stories. The first one is here.
I reached the bottom of my fifth cup of coffee and threw a $10 bill down on the counter. I grabbed the newspaper off the stool next to me and folded it under my arm as I headed for the door.
The kid disappeared from my apartment up north of here three weeks ago. She left without a word, as suddenly as she’d come into my life. I hoped it wasn’t what I thought, but this story in the paper didn’t exactly get my hopes up. The headline read:
Girl’s identity remains mystery
An unknown girl had washed up from the river in a park here in the city. The paper said she about the right age. I had to find out if it was Elizabeth.
This Powers guy, the newspaper reporter, I had to find him. He’d probably be a lot more forthcoming with whatever information he had then the cops. I couldn’t go to them anyway. There was no proof that she was 19 like she said, and if she wasn’t, I’d land myself right in the center of the investigation.
“Excuse me,” I said to a guy who bumped into me on the way out the door. The way he looked me up and down, I could tell he was a cop. The disheveled clothes and the bad aviator sunglasses didn’t hide it well. If he was working undercover, he was doing a pretty shitty job.
I stopped at the sidewalk and unfolded the paper to the inside page where they list the editors and all that. I looked for an address. 510 South 16th Street, Suite 100. Walking down the block, I went to a newsstand to buy a map.
When I was about to pay the little old man who ran the place, I saw I was standing on the corner of Park Road and 14th. If I headed two blocks south, I would find what I was looking for.
The newspaper office was in a big glass office building at the beginning of the block. Inside I found the paper’s office. The receptionist, a cheerful woman in her mid-30s stopped me at the door.
“Can I help you sir?” she asked.
“Well, I’m looking for someone, that’s all.”
“Who do you need? Are you here to place an ad?”
Her interrogation made me nervous. Maybe I would have been better off with the cops. At least I would know what they were getting at with all their questions.
“The guy I’m looking for … he’s a writer, a reporter. This guy … Powers I think.” I said, unfolding the paper again to look for the guy’s name at the top of the story.
“You’re looking for Clark Powers, the reporter?” she said.
“Yeah, that’s it. Clark. Like Superman.”
“May I ask what the nature of this visit is?”
Her questions were really starting to irritate me. I would have expected them from the newspaper man, but not the damn secretary.
“Look, Ma’am. I want to see this Powers because I think I might have some information for him on that girl the turned up in the park. The one who floated down the river.”
I didn’t like showing all my cards like that, but I figure if I didn’t I might not ever get in to see Superman and find out what he knew about this dead girl.
“I see, sir. Wait just a minute, please.” She picked up the phone and pressed a few buttons. “Hi, Clark, it’s Gina. There’s a man here to see you, he says he might know something about the girl from the park. … Ok, I’ll tell him.
“Mr. Powers says you should wait here and he’ll come down to meet you. Have a cup of coffee if you’d like.”
“No thanks, Ma’am. I’ve had enough already today.”
I sat down and wait for the reporter to come meet me. I skimmed the story one more time.
Police said the girl appeared to be about 19-years-old with short brown hair and a medium build. The body was found in badly tattered jeans and a torn blue t-shirt.
Elizabeth was wearing her favorite blue t-shirt the morning she left. It didn’t necessarily mean anything. A lot of people owned blue t-shirts.
I was asleep when I saw her and it didn’t occur to me that anything was wrong until she didn’t come home from work that night.
A young guy in his mid-20s walked into the waiting room. He was wearing a tweed jacket and a button-down shirt with no tie.
“Hello, sir. I’m Clark Powers. I understand you might have information for me about the girl from the park.”
“I might. And I was hoping you might have some information for me.”
Eating a frozen hamburger with tasteless
neon cheese, I wait
in line for the bathroom at a
dirty gas station somewhere between
Texas and dawn.
The lot is full of semis. Nothing is
open for miles around, except for land.
I step outside, but it's hard to
hear above the wind
sweeping over the plain. But I
make a quick call
before packing back into a Ford
Explorer with six other people,
our bags strapped to the top
under a silver tarp, like a giant
baked potato. It's 2 a.m.
and she is asleep, at home in Urbana.
I leave a message,
glad to hear her voice,
if only for five seconds.