Song: “Amelia” by Corinne West & Kelly Joe Phelps from Magnetic Skyline
Amelia’s mom stared at me, eyes hard but filling in like the valley during a hard rain. Her hands moved towards the photo but refused to take it. Her husband, wordlessly, reached forward and grabbed it instead. He shook his head immediately, his body folded like someone had rapped him in the ribs with a tire iron.
“Not her,” he quietly sighed. Relieved and not. Not for the first time, I tried to imagine what it must be like to be in a situation where the confirmation of your child’s death was better than the alternative.
“Ok then,” I replied after a moment, hiding the photo away. It burned in my pocket like some accursed talisman. I was already fantasizing about dumping in the trash of the first roadside gas station I could find.
“Sam,” Mrs. Dorsey said so quietly that it was more the short burst of air she expelled that called my attention. I met her eyes.
“If that’s not our girl, it’s someone else’s,” she offered. I grimaced. It was going to be this again.
“That’s right Mrs. Dorsey,” I confirmed, anxious to try and avert this inevitably.
“Frannie, please!” she said, sharply. Too sharply, I could tell, given her face after the words tumbled out. I nodded to let her know it was fine. Her daughter was missing. Getting annoyed at the P.I.’s insistence at being formal was hardly any sort of sin at all.
She continued, “Anyway, Sam, I can’t abide that. Find her parents, let them know.”
“Mrs—Frannie, we’ve been over this three times before. The girl in the creek, the burn victim, and the woman who was carrying around Amelia’s license—”
“Rebecca…she turned out to be such a nice girl,” Dr. Dorsey offered.
“Yes, Rebecca,” I acknowledged before renewing my argument, “Every time I look for their families, I’m distracted, divided. A distracted, divided investigator is not effective.”
“Oh come off it Sam,” she said with a trace of smirk. She got a weird kick out of this and I had a hard time holding against her. Any sense of humor under the circumstances was impressive.
“We have gone over it three times and three times we paid you to do it and you found those families. And you’ll do the same here,” she went on, “And don’t try to tell me about cost or anything of the sort. Money is no issue.”
“This could take some time.”
“So it does,” the doctor asserted, “But I doubt it. We know you’re good, Sam. You unraveled that nonsense in Chicago and you did it with a brain injury so bad you couldn’t remember who you were. You’ll find this poor girl’s parents and give them the piece of mind they deserve.”
The picture in my pocket grew hotter. I’d have to carry around this capturing of a corpse, this reminder of lost potential a little longer. For a moment, just a moment, I resented the absolute hell out of the Dorseys.
“Fine,” I sighed, “I’ll try to find them this week.”
“We know you will,” Mrs. Dorsey assured me, smiling kindly. I could not help but return it.
Later that night, alone in my hotel, I spread out everything on the bed again. Amelia, a natural raven haired beauty, but probably walking around with plantinum bleached hair (if she was walking around at all, I thought grimly.) 23 years old, a runner who apparently knew how to handle herself in a fight. Smart, just graduated from a college back east at the topic of her class. She had disappeared 4 months earlier, no warning. She woke up, went to work, took her lunch and said she was going for a walk in the park. A few hours later, her boss noticed she was gone and went to the park where he could find no sign of her. He, being a man who didn’t spend much time worrying about keeping his hands to himself figured she was yet another female employee who, in this guy’s words, “couldn’t deal with a little friendly office attention,” and just left rather than quit.
She didn’t come home that night or the next and her roommate got worried. She called her parents, who called everyone, including the police. A month later there was still no sign of Amelia and the Dorseys called me to “help out these idiotic public servants who prefer pulling over pretty young women to ogle above finding pretty young women when they go missing.”
They had money, more money than anyone I’d worked for before, a woman was missing, and, truth be told, after the mess in Chicago with the redhead and being Max Coleridge longer than I care to recall, getting to small town America seemed like a nice break.
So far, it had been anything but. And none of it made a lick of sense.
Amelia was smart as can be, loved the East Coast, and had a job offer she walked away from in Boston, the city her high school boyfriend had told me she’d been fantasizing living in as long as he had known her. She hated her hometown and yet she came back to be some lecherous guy’s Girl Friday in an office that worked with numbers. And she, according to her college roommates, hated roommates.
And I can’t find here. I’m not arrogant but I do know I can find damn near anyone. But not Amelia.
All I had for hints about where she went was the box of hair color in the park with her fingerprints on it, a witness who claimed to have seen her on a train heading west but could not see who was with her or if she was under duress. Along the way I’d hint a couple of false leads, the dead body in the creek, the scorched body found in a still burning car in Oklahoma, Rebecca, a 16 year old who tried to use Amelia’s ID to vote to buy booze in Arizona, and this latest, a suspected prostitute found in the laundry chute of some affair factory motel off the strip in Nevada. Nothing really though. Nothing solid.
Nothing except what I hadn’t told the Dorseys, that Rebecca described a woman who looked very much like Amelia finding her at a bus depot and handing her a wallet, filled with 200 dollars, the aforementioned license, and a slip of paper that read, simply, “Can’t say I didn’t warn you.” The possible Amelia’s only instructions? “Make sure you flash that ID everywhere.”
It’s then the fleeting thought comes to me. And stays. It takes up residence next to me on the bed and points to the pieces that don’t fit now but would fit if this fleeting thought was true.
It grows until it thunders between my ears. Loud and heavy and unassailable.
“What if I can’t find Amelia because Amelia doesn’t want to be found? What if the people I’m working for, her parents, are the exact people she’s trying to escape?”