I kept myself ramrod as I marched to my car because I knew better than to show fear. Once I had driven out of eyesight of the detectives, however, I allowed my body to sag. I cursed Kayla under her breath for running to Matt with her problems, Matt for beseeching me to help out, and me for being such a sucker than I couldn’t say no. Everything about this case felt wrong, not to mention icky, and I wished I’d never agreed to help out in the first place. This wasn’t like Without a Trace where the problem of a missing person was solved in an hour with everything falling into place. No, this was like a serial that got canceled before the finale was shown. I had a hunch that there would be many twists and turns before the truth to this sordid matter came out.
“Well?” Matt asked the minute I walked into the apartment. Ignoring him, I went to the kitchen to see what was in the fridge. It was one in the afternoon, and I was starving—Matt’s pancakes notwithstanding. There wasn’t anything appealing, so I fell back on my last resort—a frozen Healthy Choice dinner. “What happened?” Matt asked as I placed the tray into the microwave. He had a look on his face that said he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I began telling him what I’d discovered along with my little run-in with the cops.
The whole story sounded more convoluted as I told it to him than it had when Kayla had told me, but that was probably because I’d had time to let it sink in. I was struck by the obstacles in this case, such as not knowing Alexander’s last name. Sure, I had his number—if Kayla hadn’t been lying about that, too—but what good would that do? All he had to do was refuse to talk to me, and there was nothing I could do to force him to do so. I could tell him I had his stuff, but he would see through that in a minute. I wondered if the FBI would be getting involved with the case, but I didn’t give it too much thought as there was little I could do about it. Just as I was about to tell Matt about Digger, my cell phone rang at the same time the microwave binged. As I answered the phone, I stirred my food before popping it back into the microwave.
“Scarlett! How are you?” It was my mother, of course, the only one who called me Scarlett. Rather, she was the only person I allowed to call me Scarlett without making a big deal out of it. “I have the feeling that something bad has happened to you. Am I right?” My mother had a touch of ESP herself which she attributed to being brought up in the old country.
“Not exactly,” I said hesitantly. Matt was making faces at me, but I waved him away. This was my mother, damn it, and she usually had good insight. I spilled the story as concisely as I possibly could, waiting to hear her words of wisdom.
“Oh, that was the front-page story of the Strib,” was her disappointing first response. I was about to say something acerbic when I realized that I had neglected the first rule of thumb—look it up on the internet. I cursed my self for my stupidity and made a mental note of it. “This is Matt’s old girlfriend, right? The crazy one?”
“Yes, Mom. Hold on a sec,” I said, walking into the living room. Matt followed me, so I kept going to my bedroom. He looked as if he were going to follow me there as well, but I shut him down with a frown. As soon as I closed the door to my bedroom, I continued the conversation. “She’s bad news, Mom, but I promised Matt I’d help her out. It’s his son, too.”
“What? Matt has a son?” My mother’s voice could be heard in Albert Lea, it was so loud. Oops, I had forgotten to tell her that part of the story. When I did, she was so flabbergasted, she couldn’t talk for nearly a whole minute. It’s the longest I’ve heard her keep silent, so I knew she was deeply shocked. “The unbelievable gall of the woman! How dare she do that to Matt? Oh, the poor dear must be devastated! You must bring him over for dinner one night soon.” My mom adored Matt and kept hoping that he and I would end up a couple. She was good about not pushing it, however, as she knew that the best way to get me to run in the opposite direction was to force the issue. “You have to keep at her, Scarlett. She’s the type of woman who only tells the truth under extreme duress.”
“Her son’s been kidnapped,” I exclaimed, finally able to vent some of my frustration. “What could be more extreme than that? It’s every mother’s worst nightmare!”
“Not if she never wanted the kid in the first place,” Mom said, her voice somber. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of that myself, but it made sense. Kayla was a self-absorbed woman who only thought of herself and what she could get from any given situation. Having a child was one of the hardest, most thankless jobs in the world. How would a woman like Kayla cope with such a thing?
“You think she doesn’t care if she gets Danny back?” I asked, my voice incredulous. Even though I didn’t want children, I couldn’t imagine being so laissez-faire if I had one.
“No, I think it’s more than that. I think she doesn’t want him back, but she has to go through the motions. That’s why she had Matt ask you to help, no offense. She thought it would look good without really getting results. She’s probably freaking out that you actually do have powers.”
“That’s insane, Mom,” I protested, not wanting to believe any mother could be so cruel. “No mother would do something like that.” Even as I said it, however, I knew it was strictly wishful thinking.
“It may not even be intentional,” Mom continued, trying to soften the blow. “It might be more a case of her subconsciously thinking how much easier life would be if she didn’t have a child.” I didn’t like what she was saying, but I couldn’t deny the veracity of her statement. We talked a bit more, but there wasn’t much more to say. I promised to go over soon, bringing Matt with me. As soon as I was done, I walked out into the living room where a sullen Matt was watching a baseball game.
“You care to share now?” He asked snidely, not bothering to hide his pique.
“Not if you’re going to cop an attitude,” I said back just as sharply. I was doing him a fucking favor, and I didn’t need him riding my ass about it. “And as soon as I retrieve my lunch.” I had no hope that my Healthy Choice selection would be edible, but I had to eat something. I pulled it out of the microwave, eyeing it in distaste. It was supposed to be chicken parmigiana, which was one of my favorites when it was cooked properly. Now, it was cold, but if I reheated it, it would taste like shit. I opted for cold and brought it—along with a Diet Pepsi—out to the living room. Matt was watching the Red Sox get clobbered by the Baltimore Orioles, which wasn’t making him any less surly.
“My mom thinks Kayla might not want to get Danny back,” I said, preempting Matt. “What do you think of that?”
“I think I want to know what else happened at Kayla’s,” Matt said through gritted teeth. “I won’t bother to tell you what shit I think that is. Kayla loves Danny.” He said it perfunctorily, though, as if by saying it, he could make it true.
“Wait a minute,” I exclaimed, setting down my fork. The parmigiana wasn’t too bad cold, though it tasted better hot. I went to the front hallway where I retrieved my bag and brought it back to the living room. “Look here.” I pulled the manila envelope out of the bag and waved it at Matt. “I found this inside one of Danny’s stuffed pigs in his toy box. He loves pigs. I bet this contains a clue as to Danny’s disappearance.” I sat by Matt and opened the envelope. Matt wisely decided to forgo his snit in favor of seeing what I had found. He didn’t even reproach me for taking it which showed how concerned he was. Normally, he was the most ethical person I knew, which meant he would have ordered me to give it back to Kayla. Once, he had driven back to a store twenty miles away because they had given him too much change, and he didn’t discover it until he returned home.
“Hurry up,” Matt said impatiently, looking as if he were itching to take the envelope from me and do it himself. I finally had to get my utility knife to slice open the heavily-taped envelope. The first thing I pulled out were photos of a man in his late forties with girls in their early teens, if that.
“Must be the gentleman caller,” I said, handing the pictures to Matt. He made a face after looking at the first one and didn’t bother to look at the others. “What’s this?” I pulled out a sheaf of papers that looked official with their legalese. I tried to skim them but couldn’t make heads nor tails of them that way, so I had to actually read them. The papers seemed to be outlining some kind of agreement between a Mr. James Ronald Digs and a Mr. Harvey S. Tosca. It had something to do with money and girls and other things I couldn’t understand. I handed them to Matt who read through them, then whistled out loud.
“What’s it mean?” I asked, curious to see what Matt made of the information. It seemed to me that Digs was procuring for this Tosca guy, but I couldn’t be sure.
“Digs and Tosca have some illegal dealings going on,” Matt said, shuffling the papers around. “The girls in Digs’ club are mostly Tosca’s girls—his stable, I mean. This is a way for it to be all legit. The girls strip at Digs’ club, which is how and where they meet their clients.”
“Who is Tosca? Should I have heard of him?” I wasn’t the most knowledgeable person in the world, but I think I would have heard of a Mafia connection in Minnesota if there was one.
“Just some guy,” Matt shrugged. “Oh, wait, here it is. He’s based in New York. Digs is his Minnesota guy.”
“That could be what Kayla was hiding about Digger,” I mused, forgetting that I hadn’t told Matt about Digger. The look on his face reminded me that the phone call from my mother had interrupted me giving Matt the lowdown, so I finished telling him what I’d learned. After I was done, I added, “The question is, how did Kayla find these papers? These have to be copies, don’t you think?”
“How does Kayla get anything she wants?” Matt asked wearily, passing his hands over his eyes. “Through fucking, that’s how. She probably had a thing going with Digs, found this shit somehow and used it to her advantage.”
“We have too many suspects, Matt,” I groaned, kneading my temples. This case was giving me a fucking headache and if I wasn’t careful, it would turn into a migraine. “We have got to make Kayla tell us everything. I thought she had this afternoon, but I guess I was wrong.” I fell silent for a minute before reaching my hand into the envelope again. This time, I withdrew a slim, black journal—the kind people used to use as a diary before online journaling became such a big deal.
“What’s that?” Matt asked, setting aside the contract between Digs and Tosca.
“A diary of sorts,” I said, my upper lip curling in disgust as I paged through the journal. “It seems your Kayla got her kicks out of finding out shit about her coworkers and trying to blackmail them.” I tilted the book so he could see it, then continued to read.
Ellie Mae—cheating on that hick boyfriend of hers with one of the bouncers. Threatened to tell boyfriend. Twenty per week.
Glitter—stealing things from the other girls. Threatened to go to cops. Twenty per week.
Chiquita—doesn’t have her green card. Threatened to call immigrations. Twenty per week.
“Shit,” I exhaled, feeling an urgent need to shower. I stopped reading after the third one, not wanting to see any more of Kayla’s filth. “She’s blackmailing the other girls over these infractions. I wonder how she found out all this shit.” I scanned the list as I talked, wanting to see if any name stood out, but none did.
“I wish to hell Kayla had used real names,” Matt growled, echoing my own thoughts exactly.
“That would make things way too easy. I don’t like this,” I said, rubbing my hands on my thighs. Matt patted my hand sympathetically, but pointed to the envelope. I rolled my eyes at him because the last thing I wanted was to discover more dirt in Kayla’s sordid life. I did my duty, however, and reached into the envelope again. There was nothing left in it, to my everlasting relief. It looked as if we were going to have to talk to the girls, but that wasn’t tops on my list. I knew for sure one of the kidnappers was male, and I wanted to focus on that.
“Ok, that’s it.” Matt’s voice was quiet, which meant he was especially upset. “Kayla has more explaining to do.” He was about to say something more when the doorbell rang. “Are we expecting anybody?” He asked, looking startled.
“I bet it’s the cops,” I said with a groan. I had forgotten that they were going to get in touch with me after talking to Kayla. I hurried to stuff everything back into the envelope before placing the envelope back in my bag. I didn’t want the cops to know about the stash yet. Once I was through, I nodded at Matt to answer the door. Might as well get this over with.