The man with the black velvety cap sat with his knee crossed over with one hand resting over it and a newspaper held in the other hand. He looked relaxed, as if he knew he would be waiting for a long time, so best to sit down already in anticipation. He wore a loose shirt; what looked like a combination of yellow and lemon green. It had little animal prints on it and a black trouser. Nice shoes too that glistened and probably smelt as new as they looked. There was no one else in the waiting room with fiery red sofas that looked like soft stains when contrasted with the extremely white walls, white artificial flowers on the side stools, the glassy table in the center and the white curtains that were a work of art on their own. Someone had had the idea to use tulle to design something that looked like a bride and managed to attach it to the windows. It had the appearance of two guardian angels standing guard to watch.
The tall, sleek looking receptionist with her hair colored pink and the other black, something that would have been appealing if he had been born in a time where plastic dolls over populating the earth was common, walked towards him and with a smile made a little gesture with her hands and told him that he could get in. She was finally ready to see him. When she, Annabel had been told that a man with no prior appointment wanted to speak to her, she’d almost screamed at the girl. For weeks she had the feeling of being watched, studied minutely as she walked in the park, as she went to the club, as she drove back home where she lived alone in an all-white apartment. She wore all white even though it was not her aim to be so conspicuous. She was very cool headed, it was what had allowed her to make it this far in her life, but fear had started creeping in bit by bit. The center was ceasing to hold.
She was about to hit the table when the receptionist dropped a card on the table saying it was from the man who wanted to see her, the one sitting with the newspaper sprawled on his knees. She’d gone up after opening the card to the secret part of the wall, where a book shelf had been constructed in the waiting room and looked at him to study his features. He did not strike her as a harmful man , the relaxed look on his face unsettled her but did not make her feel like running. Run to where? Why run anyway just because he had a picture of her from the past? She could pay him off or… No, there was no need to think of the extreme. She stood there for five extra minutes watching him flip the pages of the newspaper. He looked up suddenly to where she was peeping through the secret place in the wall and then returned back to staring at the paper. She went back to her office, twirled on her chair for twenty minutes as she watched the trees outside her window, thinking, remembering. She pressed the buzzer and asked for the man to be let in.
‘Please have a sit’, she said pointing to the white chair in front of her. He looked briefly around taking in all the whiteness. She must want so bad to recreate a heaven was what he thought. He stared straight at her. She smiled and waited.
“You have a picture of me Mr. Johnson’’, her voice sounded like it held an ‘Aren’t you just special?’
‘Mary’, he began. She jolted a bit in her seat. Last time anyone called her that was sixteen years ago. She was 32. There was silence as he watched her reaction.
‘What do you want? She asked placing her slender well-manicured hands on the table. They were red. As Annabel, she had red nails and wore white most of the time. As Mary, she had been different, so different that anytime she thought about it, she would laugh till she was almost red. It was unbelievable the changes that could occur in one’s lifetime.
‘You have been missing for sixteen years’, he said. Her hands reached for the cigarette case by her left, she drew out a stick and lighted it without asking his permission. It was her office.
‘You will be charged with murder if the police find you’, he continued as she took a puff.
She had thought of that. So far she did not know how much he knew or if he could be bought.
‘Not if I pay you off’
‘I am not here to be bought. In fact, I have no interest in reporting you to the police. My interests here are purely personal’. She looked at him sharply with a frown on her face.
‘You see Ms. Annabel, I am a private investigator and my work leads me to many places. I stick to what I am paid for and curiosity leaves me to explore other interesting things. Call it a dangerous hobby of mine. I could be killed’, he said.
She took another puff and asked ‘how did you find me?’
‘There is a woman who has been blackmailing men for a living. She charms them, finds her way into their homes and takes souvenirs. You know the kind, pictures, videos, just the kind to destroy a man’s political career. Your late father was a victim. Her finest. She took over his property and business and had your Uncle who was meant to be your guardian wrapped around her finger. That left you with almost nothing except a small business which had been your late mum’s. She could not touch that one. It had been willed to you.’’
‘No, she couldn’t’, she said silently.
‘A beauty this Lady was. Still young, she continued as you know with her methods, not yet satisfied. They never are until she met her end. She was found dead in a small hotel. She had become a cougar and was strangled. I was asked by the sister of this woman to find the killer. I did. I found the picture in his cabin. You knew him.’
“I am sure you have figured out the connection already. He was my boyfriend after I ran away from home to start a fashion business. He had connections. He knew which models to pick, helped me run the business, became controlling and I ditched him’.
‘How did you manage it? How did a famous fashion designer slip from the public’s eye after her stores had gotten burnt, leaving no trace?’ She dropped the cigarette in the ash tray and looked at him wondering why she had spoken so much already and if it would not be easier to send him away now.’
‘I don’t have to tell you anything’.
‘You don’t’ and he made to get up. He had prepared to leave if she ever resisted. So far she was doing well. Her curiosity had made her reveal far more than he had expected. And then she burst out laughing. Picked up another cigarette from her case and said ‘sit down, Mr. Johnson’. He sat down readily. Her eyes were a bit moist.
To be continued…