The Disappearance of Patricia Clark Part 1 — A Langston Grimes Story

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Photo Originally by Scott Schumann at The Sartorialist

I blew cigarette smoke at the barrel of the Beretta 92F and gave the man holding it a smile. A dry western wind carried a lilting melody from an Italian mandolin. The smell of smoked meat and diesel fuel from the street reminded me that not everything is a happy fairy tale in Italy. The man holding the gun had his teeth bared and sweat was poring down his face. A gunshot echoed out from the small square where four Italian streets met. A second gunshot echoed in my ears that was closely followed by a third. I thought about how not wanting to eat a turkey sandwich had taken me halfway across the world to a showdown in the middle of Florence.

A week ago I had been avoiding eating a sad looking turkey on rye that I had picked up from the bodega at the floor of my building. My office was a small cramped space that held a desk that listed to one side and a lamp with a broken bulb. Business was slow in the winter months when unfaithful husbands were digging out snow instead of their mistresses. The thrill of catching a spouse in the act with his camera had fallen off a few years ago, but it paid well. Private detective had never been my first choice as a career, but it was the one that had stuck the longest. A blocked number showed up on my phone’s screen and I look at the sandwich and then back at the phone. I answered the call.

“This is Langston Grimes,” I answered putting my cigarette in the ash tray.

“I need to hire a detective who won’t ask too many questions.”

“How many questions do I get?” I asked with a smile. Who leads off with a line like that? Probably some punks trying to hire me as a prank.

“Do you want to make a ten thousand dollars for investigating the disappearance of my sister?” The voice asked.

“When do we start?” I asked while trying not to fall out of my chair.

“Under the arch in front of Prospect Park in an hour.”

Ten thousand dollars was enough to see me throughout the rest of the winter without having to take some shit job from a jealous husband or wife. I could take a quick trip to Barbados and be back in time for the spring background check season. Suspicious fathers looking into who was marrying their kids almost paid well enough to take summers off.

The February evening sun threw long shadows across the plaza where young couples took brisk strolls in dark jackets with upturned collars. My half empty dollar coffee no longer gave off heat through my doe-skin gloves signaling that it was too cold to drink. The first rule of standing outside waiting on a sketchy client meeting was to look like I was doing something other than waiting. Drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes was perfectly acceptable to most people. They didn’t give me a second glance as they hurried by in the cold.

A tall awkward form ambled towards me from the direction of the number 2 train stop. He was dressed head to ankle in navy blue. A red scarf was thrown around his neck and flapping in the wind behind him. His navy blue beanie hung off the back of his head and his eyes were squinting in the evening sun. I could hear his dark brown leather boots made audible clicks as he approached.

“Are you Langston?” He asked in a soft voice

“Yeah, I’m Langston Grimes. Private detective. You the one who called about the job for the ten thousand?” I asked with a bit of suspicion.

“My employer called. I’m the one who is here to give you the details and half of the payment upfront.”

I tried not to show my surprise. Half of the payment upfront was a bit unheard of these days. Clients wanted milestones set-up in the form of weekly reports and photo dumps. They typically had all the control and a job that I thought was done in a few days took longer than needed because everyone always wanted to make sure.

“Ok, so what’s the job?” I asked trying not to let my excitement creep through my voice.

“My client’s half sister has gone missing. You are to go to her apartment, figure out what happened, and report back what you found out. Your job could be extended with additional compensation and expenses provided you come up with a good lead,” The lanky man said while holding out a slightly bulging manila envelop.

I took the envelope off his hands and looked inside. A tight stack of Ben Franklins stared back at me. A scrape of paper with an address, a set of keys , and a phone were tucked next to the cash and bound together with a red rubber band. I let out a low whistle and looked back up at the navy blue lanky fellow.

“So I guess I call the number that’s probably programmed into the phone when I got something right?”

“You might just be worth all this money after all if you were able to deduce that one so quickly. Good evening,” He said and started walking in the direction of the park entrance.

I didn’t ask questions why they hadn’t gone to the police. I didn’t really care. All I could see was another five thousand dollars being handed over once I finished this job.

The address belonged to a third floor walk-up in Prospect Heights. The building’s facade screamed, “New, expensive, and elitist” with it’s steel and plate glass construction. There was no doorman, but the key fob got me into the lobby and access to the stairs. A dark walnut door with the number 3789 in embossed gold plate stared at me as I tried the two keys until the door knob turned with ease.

The apartment smelled like someone had left food in the trashcan for too long. The hardwood floors gleamed from the light of the street lamp outside. A granite counter-top with a gas range and a stainless steel espresso maker shouted out that this person had a lot of money. One wall of the apartment was pure glass and gave unobstructed views of the park and the Brooklyn Art Museum. Two couches flanked a large coffee table constructed from the cross section of a tree and a massive flat screen television loomed over the room. A small walnut stained dining table held some half burned candles in the center with two chairs tucked underneath. She didn’t throw a lot of dinner parties.

I walked around the apartment and peaked into the cupboards, the desk and underwear drawers, and behind the large prints of Impressionist art hanging on the walls. All people hid things in the same spots. Aflash drive was taped to the bottom of the underwear drawer. She favored shear red and black panties. A subscription to The New Yorker gave me the name of my girl: Patricia Clark.

I kept poking around and eventually found a laptop under the bed next to a half empty cup of coffee mug that had NYU printed on the side. The coffee inside had started to grow mold. I blanched at the smell and put it back under the bed. The gold colored MacBook lit up and I was taken straight to Patricia Clark’s desktop without the need to punch in a password. I took off my gloves and tsked under my breath at her lack of security. The flash drive plugged into the lone port with ease and the drive opened up automatically on the screen.

There was a series of photos and I opened all of them. I scrolled through them and it was typical hidden camera stuff. A girl who I guessed was Patricia was laying plastic laid over the immaculate hardwood floors from the living room. A naked man with a deep orange tan stood over her. I winced at the graphic details and it made me think of my own work when I was catching a cheating husband or wife. 80% of the time infidelity happened was because the other spouse didn’t want to do fucked up shit to the other person.

I kept flipping through the photos and I stopped when I saw the man’s face. The current president of the United States was standing over Patricia and he was doing some fucked up shit that made me turn away. And I thought I had seen everything.

I finished scrolling through the pictures and looked at their date. These were all pre-election. I felt sick and scared at the same time. I had a feeling of what happened to Patricia and why I was being paid so much money to find out where she had been shipped off to. I opened up my Google drive and Dropbox from her web browser and copied the files over. I could feel the pictures burning a hole through the internet as they uploaded. They were likely to get me disappeared just like Patricia, but it was also what might keep me alive if I was compromised.

I dialed the number on the phone and the initial voice that asked me about the job answered. The voice didn’t belong to Mr. Lanky Navy.

“You got something already?”

“I’ve got photos of who I think is Patricia Clark in a compromising position with someone in a place of great power,” I answered.

“Who?” The voice asked in a sharp tone.

“I don’t think it’s safe to talk over the phone. Can we meet?”

“Fine — tomorrow. Go to the back room of a restaurant in the Upper East side called Pig Belly. Tell the hostess you are there for the finger painting event and she will take you back,” The man said and the line went dead.

I gathered up Patricia’s mail, her MacBook, and what looked like a journal in her nightstand drawer. I wiped down where I had been touching even though I had gloves on and looked around for any stray hairs I might have left behind. I wanted to be as unconnected to this girl as possible.

I lit up a cigarette outside and walked to the subway station. I felt like Patricia might be dead and I didn’t want to end up being laid down next to where she was buried. I thought about just getting the five grand and booking a ticket to Barbados and getting a new identity. There had to be cheating husbands in the Caribbean too.

Part Two Here

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This is my first attempt at crime noir. Thank you for reading!

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Writer of The Polymerist newsletter. Talk to me about chemistry, polymers, plastics, sustainability, climate change, and the future of how we live.

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