She was old. Most of March’s clients were. Foxy chicks walking into a private detective’s office with lots of cleavage showing and feathered Farrah hair, that only happened in the movies.
"Do you have a recent picture of your niece you could let me have?" March asked, and the old woman seated across from him, on the overstuffed sofa that smelled like old telephone books—or anyway March imagined it did—blushed pink under her powdered cheeks and her thick glasses. She looked uncomfortable. Embarrassed.
"I’m afraid I do, Mr. March."
March sighed. "You must have something. Any photo at all will be—wait, what?"
The old woman began rummaging in her bag, a yard-wide batik thing with macramé
handles that looked as though it could be hiding a family of Chinese immigrants. "I’m very sorry to say I do." From the bag she took a lipstick container, a compact, a plastic packet containing a folded up rain bonnet, and set them one by one beside her on the sofa. "Misty was such a good child, such a sweet girl, never a bad word out of her mouth. We all expected her to become a nurse, she loved caring for her animals so." The cushion beside her now held a notepad showing Scrabble scores, a tin of lemon pastilles, a spritz bottle of 4711 Eau de Cologne.
"One moment, young man. I have it here somewhere."
March allowed himself to slump back in the chair. Fuck posture. If a foxy chick ever hired him, he’d sit up straight.
The old lady finished digging in her bag and came up with a folded sheet of glossy paper, like a page torn from a magazine. She unfolded it and held it out to March.
March sat up straight.
The girl in the picture looked to be about twenty-three years old, though it was hard to be sure, with the lighting and the makeup and the feathered Farrah hair. Not to mention the fact that you couldn’t look at her face for very long because your eye kept getting drawn lower down to where, holy Christ, were those real? Fuck. It looked like an ad for a porn movie. It was an ad for a porn movie. There, in the corner, it said I Am Sensuous, Lilac. Starring Mi— The rest was torn off. March forced himself to look away, to look up, to take the photo of the girl in the practically transparent dress with the triple-D bosom and fold it back up and put it in his pocket and say in his most professional voice, "Thank you, Mrs. Glenn. That will be very helpful."
"She told her mother she was acting in movies," the old lady said. "We thought she meant the sort we watched with her growing up. The Wizard of Oz. The Sound of Music."
"Well," March said, "some of these sorts of movies have music in them."
Lily Glenn fixed him with a stony stare.
"You didn’t mention that your niece was an…adult performer," March said. "What name did she work under?"
"Oh, Misty," Mrs. Glenn said. Her voice fell. "Misty Mountains."
At which point something clicked in March’s brain and he sat up straighter still. He didn’t watch all that much television, but every so often he caught a glimpse, mostly in bars, and one glimpse he’d caught a few days earlier had been a local news report about a porn actress who’d died in a rather spectacular car crash somewhere near Coldwater Canyon. He hadn’t focused on the name, these porn chicks all had similar sounding names, but now that he heard it again, well. Mountains. Misty Mountains. No doubt a reference to her love of the great outdoors.
"I’m so sorry, Mrs. Glenn," March said, and it sounded mechanical, and he felt a little bad about that, but he barreled on. "I’m sorry for your loss. But didn’t you say you saw your niece just the other day?"
"You mean before the, um, before the accident?"
"But…Mrs. Glenn…didn’t your niece, you know, die in that accident?"
The old lady meticulously gathered up the things from the sofa, dropped them one by one back into her bag. "Obviously not," she said.
"Obviously not," March said. "Obviously not."
"I saw her, Mr. March. Plain as day, Through the window of her house, sitting at her desk, in a blue pinstripe jacket, writing something. But when I knocked…"
"When you knocked?"
The old lady shrugged, and all the air seemed to go out of her. She was a deflated balloon, tethered by one hand to the batik monstrosity beside her. "She ran away. Out the back door. Jumped in a car and raced off. I called to her, you understand, I shouted, but she didn’t hear."
Or heard and didn’t want to stop, March thought.
"Can you describe the car?"
"It was red," Mrs. Glenn said.
She shrugged again and looked helplessly at March.
"Four doors? Two? Little Japanese job? Big old Detroit gas guzzler?"
"Don’t you remember anything about the car at all, Mrs. Glenn?"
"Well, there was one thing," the old lady said. "I don’t know if it’s helpful, but I wrote it down." She went rummaging in her bag again. "I think you call it the license plate number?"
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