The sun was rising bright and early in Colston City when the beat up old station wagon pulled out of the parking garage and onto the street. The sun was still struggling to get up over the horizon. Inside the car, Hiroki was struggling to keep awake.
“I can’t believe you got me out of bed on a Saturday. You know I need a day off sometime.”
“This is your day off,” Benjamin Camen said from behind the wheel. He didn’t seem phased by the hour. In fact, he looked fiercer than usual. “You have days off from school, because it’s exhausting. This job doesn’t have time off, because it’s empowering. When work comes, we do it. Or did you want to go back home?”
“No,” Hiroki said. Camen had called his bluff. He wouldn’t give this up for anything. How many teenagers got to be the assistant and protégé of Colston City’s most notorious detective.
“Good,” Camen said, and reached back into the back seat of the station wagon. He tossed a foil-wrapped package at Hiroki. “Cereal bar. Eat it.”
“I’m not hungry,” Hiroki said.
“Eat it anyway. I don’t want you fidgeting when we meet with our new client because you suddenly woke up enough to realize you were hungry.”
Hiroki took the cereal bar and opened it, picking it into pieces and eating them slowly as he looked out the window. The city was much more empty than he usually saw it. With Camen, he saw all sorts of sides of this city that he didn’t otherwise know.
Their client was in the Terrace Heights part of town, secluded houses tucked away from the main road dotting the mountainside. There was money here, and you could feel it in the insistence on space and privacy in a city as big as this. Camen buzzed in at the gate, a female voice coming in over the intercom.
When they parked at the house, Hiroki was paying a lot more attention. This was a nice place and he suddenly felt very out of place standing in the driveway in a beat up old car and Camen ambling up to the door like he owned the place.
A woman answered when he rang the bell. She was small in both size and bearing, looking up at Camen with hesitation. He had that effect on people. His presence was intimidating all by itself, but his size didn’t help. “Mr. Camen?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said with an easy smile, extending his hand. She shook it, her own hand disappearing in his. “I’m Benjamin Camen. You can just call me Ben if that’d make you feel better.” He gestured over to Hiroki. “This is my assistant, Sugoi. He’ll be taking your statement and helping out on the case, if you don’t mind.”
She led them into a well-furnished parlor, decked out in dark woods and hundreds of thick leather books. It had a masculine feel that was at odds with the delicate looking woman before them. “Please, sit,” she said, and Camen collapsed heavily into the nearest chair while Hiroki took the one closest to that, reaching into his bag and pulling out his laptop.
“So, to begin with, why don’t you tell me your name and why you called today?” Camen said.
“Well, my name is Patricia Wallace. My husband’s name is Samuel Wallace. Sam’s … well, Sam’s gone missing.”
“If he’s missing, you should go to the police,” Camen said.
“I thought about that, but I don’t want this spread all over town as gossip. My husband is a junior partner at Barston & Chase. He has a reputation to uphold. And I think that he might have gone missing because of another woman.”
“You believe your husband was having an affair?”
“I know he was having an affair,” she said with a shrug. “Men like my husband always want something more than they can get at home.”
“You knew about this and did nothing?”
“What was I going to do, get mad?” She shook her head. “He would have done it anyway, and I love my husband despite his faults. Accepting it made it easier to keep him at home, he wasn’t feeling pressured to live a double life and sneak away.”
“Until now, of course,” Camen said.
“I know it has something to do with that woman. She’s been calling more frequently, sometimes four or five times a day. Every time my husband answered, he seemed agitated. Yesterday he didn’t come home from work. His secretary says he left for a long lunch.”
“Why suspect the other woman, then?”
“Where does a man go when he has a long lunch scheduled but nobody written in to meet with? It’s not like this was the first time he wandered off for a mid-day liaison.”
“So you suspect…?”
“That this woman wanted something else from him. Something that made him upset. And he went to see her and something happened. Either they ran off together or she … hurt him.” Patricia Wallace looked ill at ease, sitting there in her missing husband’s study. She picked at the hem of her shirt. “I just need to know what happened. I don’t suspect that Sam would run off without saying something. He’s not that type of man.”
Later, when the terms had been decided and the details given, Hiroki and Camen stood on the deck of this beautiful house. Camen had asked to be excused to smoke, and here they stood overlooking the forest that surrounded them.
“What do you think?” Camen asked.
“She might have killed him herself,” Hiroki answered, trying to draw conclusions for himself. Camen always asked him what he thought, a training exercise to sharpen his skills.
Camen puffed on his cigarette, smoke wreathing around him. “She did it? She doesn’t look like the murdering type to me. She seems resigned to the way her life was. Besides, why call us?”
“Makes it look like she’s trying to find her husband when a body floats up in the bay next week or next month or whenever it does. The police will buy the argument that she wanted to be discreet. It’s not like you aren’t dragged into secret investigations all the time.”
“Clever, but I still don’t think she did it. And if she did, we should probably still check out the mistress and his office. You need to do your usual digging on Mr. Wallace, see what you come up with.”
“Of course,” Hiroki said. “Don’t I always?”
“Be careful,” Camen said. “There’s something she didn’t mention that’s worth paying attention to.”
“Which is?” Hiroki said, trying not to look annoyed that Camen suggested he wouldn’t otherwise be careful.
“Barston & Chase are mob lawyers. Their money isn’t exactly clean or safe. So for all we know, this might have nothing to do with the mistress and everything to do with business. There’s more reasons to step out on meetings that don’t get put on a calendar than a woman on the side.”
Camen put out his cigarette on the wood of the railing, then flicked the butt into the forest. Hiroki watched it tumble end of end before it disappeared into the trees. “You shouldn’t do that. Hits some dry foliage, you could burn down this entire place.”
“This isn’t California, it’s too wet for that. Besides, I put it out first. And besides again, its not your place to question my methods. I let you come along only so long as you agreed you’d be a good boy scout and do as I said.”
“Yeah, well, you said I could speak up in private.”
“Sure, kid. But last and most certainly not least,” Camen said as he turned away from the railing to head back into the house and continue digging into Samuel Wallace’s personal files, “is I never claimed I didn’t want to see this all burn straight down. Don’t act like it’d be such a tragedy.”
Hiroki paused for a moment, looking down at the forest below them, then headed in after Camen. There was investigating to do. He could worry about the mental stability of his boss on his own time.