The beat up old station wagon pulled up to the posh townhome, swinging into a parking spot that seemed impossibly small for such a large car. From inside the car stepped two men, one a large man, bearded and staring up at the townhome through his sunglasses. The other was a young teenager, Asian, slender and looking awkward as he flipped through some pieces of paper he was holding.
“Pretty nice place,” Camen, the larger man, said around his cigarette. “You think our missing person helped set her up here? This doesn’t look like it’s in a cafeteria lady’s budget.”
“Miss Falchi isn’t a cafeteria lady,” Hiroki said. “She’s a caterer. A pretty well known one. She owns her own business.”
“Whatever,” Camen said with a shrug. “Food’s food.”
“I think you just like to piss me off,” Hiroki said. “You can’t actually pay as little attention to the facts as you let on and still be as successful as you are.”
“Never underestimate the power of underestimation,” Camen said as he threw his cigarette down and stomped it. The two of them climbed the stairs to the door of the townhome, Benjamin ringing the bell. There was a moment’s hesitation before a woman opened the door a few inches, peering out from behind a chain.
“Victoria Falchi?" Camen asked her.
“Who wants to know?”
“I’m Benjamin Camen, private investigator,” Camen answered, flashing her his credentials. “We’re here on behalf of Mrs. Patricia Wallace. Concerning her husband, Sam.”
“Oh,” the woman said. She pulled off the chain and opened the door. She was a tall woman, statuesque and olive-skinned. Hiroki tried hard not to stare. “Please, come in.”
They were ushered into a posh, modern-looking living space. She set them in the living room, sitting in a large black leather chair while Camen settled into the love seat, his big form and the bright colors of his shirt looking wildly out of place here. Hiroki did his best to look inconspicuous as he set up his laptop.
“My assistant here will be taking your statement, if you don’t mind,” Camen said.
Ms. Falchi crossed her legs and settled back in her chair. “No, I don’t mind, Detective. I assume this is about Sammy’s disappearance?”
“Yes, it is.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You know about his disappearance?”
“Of course,” she said. “I talked to Sammy every day, I knew when he was gone. Even if I didn’t, though, his hausfrau called me up and accused me of bringing some sort of harm to him. She’s a ridiculous woman.”
“Which means that you don’t know what happened to him?”
“I certainly had nothing to do with it,” she said. “I had a lot of fun with Sam. He was a good man, overworked and henpecked but he knew how to treat a woman. I wouldn’t have harmed him.”
Camen nodded, settling back into the loveseat. Hiroki, taking the extended silence as an invitation, spoke up. “Um … excuse me, Ms. Falchi, but … Mrs. Wallace said that the day before he disappeared, Mr. Wallace took several phone calls from you. Unusual calls that agitated him.”
“If he took any calls that day at home, they were not from me. I was willing to play the game. My calls were always at the office or on his cell when I knew he was out. It would have been inappropriate to call his home.”
“We could pull phone records to verify that,” Hiroki said quickly. Camen shot him a warning look. Threatening suspects was no way to get a job done. Hiroki seemed to realize what he had said the moment it was out of his mouth, and hesitated, gaping. “I mean … I just … there’s no reason to hide the truth.”
She looked at him, raising one elegant eyebrow in response. “No there isn’t. Which is why I have hid nothing.” She continued to glare at Hiroki as he tried to sink into his chair and disappear.
Camen spoke up, much to Hiroki’s relief. “You have a nice place here. Very nice. I can’t imagine what a place like this must cost.”
“Interested in real estate, Detective?”
“Just thinking aloud,” he said. “This really is a nice place.”
“Well, thank you. Was there anything else?”
Camen thought for a moment, shrugging his shoulders. “You have any idea what could have happened to him?”
“He was a powerful man, such a man makes plenty of enemies just by the nature of what he does,” she said. “Or perhaps the woman at home was tired of being treated like the other woman. I couldn’t really say.”
“You think Mrs. Wallace could have done something?” Hiroki asked.
“Why not?” Victoria stood up, looking down at Hiroki. “She was the one who threw the blame in my direction. Good cover, for a killer, to have a mistress that she can paint in jealous terms. I was not jealous of her role. I’m happy being my own woman.” She looked over at Camen. “If there’s nothing else, you’ll have to excuse me.”
“Of course,” Camen said, standing up. He pulled out a business card, handing it over to her. “If you think of anything else, let me know.”
“I’m sure that there’s nothing else I could tell you, but feel free to call on me if there are any more questions you have.”
Hiroki sank into the seat as the car pulled away from the town home, trying to disappear. Not that there was anywhere to go. It was just him and Camen and the soft wheeze of the old car's engine. They were quiet for a long moment, Hiroki waiting for some sort of chastisement from Camen for his outburst.
Finally, he could take it no longer. "Ben, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't have--"
Camen looked over at Hiroki, silencing him with a glare. They fell into silence for a while longer. Hiroki waited for Camen to break the silence, which he finally did after they had made their way back to the apartment where Hiroki lived with his mother.
"Look," Camen began. "I told you when you started that if you were going to do this job, you had to sit there and shut up and do what I told you. I was very clear on this, was I not?"
"No buts. This isn't us running around playing Scooby-Doo. This is my life. If you can't follow the rules, then I don't need you there. I don't need an assistant that badly." He reached over Hiroki and pushed open the car door. "Now get out."
"No, get out. I have real work to do. When you can act like an adult, you let me know." Hiroki got out and grabbed his laptop bag. He shut the door behind him and watched as Camen sped off.
Then, shouldering his bag, he trudged up the five flights of stairs to his home. His mother, as usual, was out working. Hiroki set the bag down on his desk and climbed onto his bed with a defeated sigh. He stared up at his ceiling, berating himself for being so childish. Camen depended on him to act like he was worthy of his job. He had fought so hard to have Camen show him the ropes and bring him around. And he had blown it by being too hot-headed when it wasn't even called for.
If he failed now, how would he ever become a private detective himself?
Dreaming of the future, of how he'd get back on Camen's good side and how great it would be when he finally was on his own, calling the shots, Hiroki fell into the deep sleep of the mentally overworked.
Hiroki's eyes opened to darkness. The room was warm, the air heavy and still. He wasn't sure what time it was, but he lurched out of bed at the sound of his mother's voice. He was still dressed. He glanced at the clock--eight--and realized it was night and he had been sleeping for several hours.
Stumbling to his feet, sweaty and slow from the lengthy nap, he staggered out into the living room. "Yeah?"
"Phone call," his mother said, holding out the phone for him.
"Who would be calling the house?" he asked, picking up the receiver.
"It's your employer," she said. She didn't exactly approve of Camen, and she certainly didn't know everything that he and Hiroki were up to, but the checks were good and as far as she knew, Hiroki was getting great experience running a client database for a small company.
"Ben?" Hiroki spoke quickly into the phone. If he called the house, it had to have been important. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, seeing that there was a missed call from 20 minutes ago.
"You weren't picking up, I had to call the house."
"Yeah, I fell asleep," Hiroki said.
"Well, I hope you're rested. I'll be there in five minutes. I need you to be ready."
"What?" Hiroki was suddenly alert, his eyes wide. Camen was conscious of the fact that his assistant lived at home and was still technically in school. Sudden nighttime excursions were nearly unheard of.
"I told your mother that my server melted down or something. She seemed to buy it."
"Yeah, that'd be bad. So what can you tell me?"
Camen paused. Hiroki wondered how much he'd tell him over the phone. He had to act natural, whatever it was. His mother was still lingering, half watching TV and half eavesdropping on his conversation. Even know that, it was hard to control himself when Camen finally spoke. In four short words, Hiroki felt his mouth dry up and his stomach tighten.
"Victoria Falchi is dead," Camen said.
Hiroki was already on his way to grab his bag and meet Camen outside.