Lost Causes

Here’s a little something at the end of the month:

Three rings, a pick-up click and then:

“Detective Brock speaking.”

“Allan, it’s Don.”

A pause, followed by a hesitant breath and the click of a lighter.  Smoking again, Donovan thought.  In the time he’d known the detective he’d tried to quit four times.  He never made it as long as two weeks before lighting up again.  He supposed that if his wife vanished off the face of the earth, he’d probably take up the habit too.

“Don Candle, how the hell are you?”

He listened to Donna’s crying from the next room over.

“Not good, Allan.  Not good at all.  You just spoke to my brother-in-law—“

“Right.  He mentioned you.”

“Look, I know the procedure, I know Quinn’s over eighteen, but—“

“Don, we’ve been over this before.  Too many times, I might add.  People up and leave.  Where do they go?  I’ve not the slightest clue.  It just happens.”

Donovan sighed.  This wasn’t getting off to a very good start.  Quinn’s age was a big factor in this problem.  The protocol set forth by the state mandated specific criteria when dealing with a missing person:  whether they are a child or an adult, and whether or not they are a danger to themselves or others.  Evidence of foul play sped up the process.  Generally, in Donovan’s experiences, this latter caveat was a rare exception, and the Amber Alert system was in place for a missing child.  Most cases fell into that resolute gray area in which the missing person is an adult who poses no danger to him- or herself, nor others, and has no other history that might call up a red flag.

These were the people whose files accumulated on Donovan’s desk in a pile six inches high.  They were those who’d fallen through the cracks.  The system said they’d disappeared of their own free will, but he knew better.  He’d never wanted to be so wrong about something in all his life.

“I understand that, Allan, but please hear me out.”

“Okay,” Brock said. “Shoot.”

“Quinn’s got no history of this sort of thing.  Hell, everyone’s freaking because this is so unlike him.  I understand he’s an adult, I understand the point of the protocol, but I’m telling you something has happened.  It’s a gut feeling.”

The detective snorted.

“Okay then, Sherlock, but gut feeling or not, my hands are a little tied.”

Donovan felt the wind rush out of him.  He knew Brock was telling the truth.  Cases like this were shrugged off all the time.  Sure, people were welcome to file them, but if the criteria wasn’t met, it sat in a filing cabinet somewhere while the posters reading “Have you seen me?” weathered and rotted on electrical poles around the city.

He clenched his fists together and spoke words that terrified him.  He took his first step.

“Then let me handle the case.”

“You sure about that?  I know you’re upset, Don, but you can’t let that cloud your head.  He could turn up today or tomorrow perfectly fine.  Maybe he just wanted to get away for a couple of days, you know?”

Donovan was silent.  He wanted to choose his words wisely.  He’d played the red tape game before, and he could already feel his frustration building.  After a minute of dead air, Brock cleared his throat.
“You’re welcome to file a report on Monday if you’ve not heard anything, but not to get your hopes up about any sort of investigation.  Our department got slammed this morning with a real whopper.”

“Oh?’

“Yeah.  A real shit-storm, my friend.  Does the name Richard Henza ring any bells?”

He thought for a moment.  The name did seem familiar but he couldn’t place where he’d heard it.

“Sort of.”

“It should.  He’s the guy behind that TV show everyone’s talking about.  Piece of shit if you ask me, but the kids seem to love it.”

“What happened?”

“That’s just it,” Brock sighed. “Nobody knows.  He hasn’t been seen since Thursday night.  His cleaning lady showed up and found his house empty.  The guy’s scheduled for court Monday morning.  Something about a lawsuit with the network broadcasting his show.”

“Awfully convenient.”

“You’re tellin’ me.  We’re getting a lot of heat to track this guy down as it is.  I hate to say it, Don, but your nephew’s not very high on the totem.”

He closed his eyes.

“Then it won’t be a problem if I handle it.”

Detective Brock sighed.  Donovan thought he heard the click of a lighter again.  It was customary to let the officials have their turn at the wheel first.  If they couldn’t turn up anything, private services were recommended.  However, given the sheer amount of cases in recent months, Donovan was allowed first dibs—though it often didn’t make much of a difference.  People who disappeared often stayed disappeared.  They were more of the rule than the exception.

“No, Don, it won’t be a problem.  But if you turn up anything suggesting more than a joyride and a weekend retreat, you be sure and let me know.”

“I will.  Thanks, Allan.”

“Keep your head on straight, Don.  Pretty soon I’ll have to start calling you St. Jude.”

Perplexed, Donovan stopped rubbing at his shoulder.  He’d heard that name before, but he wasn’t a religious man and didn’t catch the significance.  When he didn’t say anything right away, Brock chuckled and took it as his cue to explain.

“St. Jude.  Patron saint of lost causes.”

He waited a beat, then said, “Give Donna my regards.”

The line was dead before Donovan could say goodbye.

More soon.

TK