"We miss our daughter, and we are convinced she is in danger."
"I cannot even conceive the stress of your situation, Mrs. Gallagher."
Sunlight stretched into the cerulean sky streaked with tangerines as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The vivid papered lanterns strung across the diner patio sparked to life, and the customers hummed their appreciation. As the roaring of the ocean waves crashing to shore attracted the attention of most of the people eating, Calder made a point to listen primarily to the three family members appealing to his service for the first time in his young career.
"The authorities will take no part in helping us find our Lisa, on account that she is eighteen and left on her own accord," Alyssa Gallagher explained as she prodded her steamed carrots with her fork. "But we believe she has left with a rather untrustworthy boy she met at school. We're concerned for her."
"We want to know where they are living," Gerald Gallagher stated. "And we want to know the circumstances, such as whether or not she remains against her will. She left voluntarily, no doubt, but me suspicions lead me to believe he is the sort that will prevent her doing the same under his roof."
"Has she any involvement in social networking sites that you can check?" Calder asked.
"No, she never had any use for those."
"But the chap me parents mentioned is Dónal Doyle," quipped Joshua, who reached into his backpack and extracted a shred of note paper and a photo. "I searched for him on MySpace, and got this photo. He hasn't mentioned a thing about me sister, but she threatened to leave with him when our parents disapproved of him the first time."
"And the address?" Calder asked as he examined the photo of the lean lad with golden hair and a shrewd stare, as well as the address scribbled in pencil on the paper.
"That is an abandoned cottage he and his mates invade late every Friday. We know he would recognize us if he went, and we're afraid he might not return there if he knows we know he's there."
"Sensible," Calder praised drily and reached to slide the photo and address into his pocket book. He raised a spoonful of soup to his mouth and devoured its contents, aware somewhere in his mind of the peace the family seemed to have.
By this time, the aroma of rain preceded a soft mist released by the skies, recently darkened into indigo. Alyssa stared out to the ocean with the shadow of a smile as she swept the curls away from her gray eyes when a breeze sent them into a turmoil.
"We believe that God delivers those who are troubled, as He has rescued Josh when he was dragged out to sea as a lad," she said contemplatively. "He has provided us with quite the spectacle of his majesty tonight with that sunset and seashore."
"Yes," Calder agreed. "'He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.'" *
"We appreciate your help," Joshua extended his hand with frank blue eyes, and Calder accepted his grip with a single nod.
"And I appreciate the opportunity. Tomorrow is Friday, so I will contact you after I make me initial investigation."
. . .
The endless stars shimmered down to the empty cottage on the crisp summer night, where Calder crouched behind a stone perimeter with the salmon pimpernels, resting his arms on the cool stones to snap photos of the approaching vehicles. A harvestman spider crept across his sleeve as he squeezed his brown eye shut and stared through the lens with his cobalt one.
Even the crickets silenced themselves when several car doors creaked open and youths spilled out with a variety of crows, cackles, and six packs of beer. An obsidian Chevrolet Lacetti with blistered paint produced a gangly man with sandy hair and a girl with russet curls and a strained smile. They clustered with the rest of the youth and streamed through the back door as Calder managed to capture them in several more photos. Moment later, a fuchsia strobe light started flashing through the windows and the distant thump of music resounded from inside.
No one else arrived. Calder sneaked back through the brush where he stashed his car and opened the door to replace the Canon in the glove compartment, then shed his ebony Burberry trench coat and threw it toward the backseat.
At this moment, he envied Rearden and his ability to act. He straightened his turquoise plaid shirt, open over a wrinkled tee shirt, and stove to muss his coffee hair. The cold atmosphere poured down the shredding hole in his jeans. He breathed evenly and gained control of his own whirling mind. Then he climbed into the driver side and started the engine, praying no one would hear it over the music.
Most of the cars were parked against the back of the house. He crept his own around the Scots pine that stood at the right side and pulled into a slot in the back row. As he climbed out and shut the door, a bat plunged erratically around his head, and the wind picked up and rustled the pines. He weaved around the cars until he reached the Lacetti and stopped to evaluate his surroundings. The music was pulsing in such a manner that he was certain he could not be detected with hearing, but he could clearly see the movements and smiled of youths through the shattered windows. Already, the moon reflected enough sunlight to illuminate the property in an eerie manner.
Confident no one would see, he dropped to one knee and inspected the undercarriage of the car.
"What are you doing with Donál's car, mate?"
He startled and raised his eyes to see a young man leaning out the back door with one hand caught on the frame and the other wrapped around the neck of a beer bottle.
"Was certain I saw some oil leaking out," he practically shouted over the music, "but I was mistaken."
The youth smiled and waved him toward the cottage. "Well, come inside, mate."
He remained frozen solid a moment until, with an impending dread, he rose and sauntered as much as his gait would allow toward the house. The youth wrapped an arm around his shoulders and swept him inside. Pine needles were scattered across the cracked wooden planks, and stars could be seen where shingles were missing. They were pressed against the edge to avoid being inadvertently assaulted by the people as they danced. Lisa danced among them with raised hands, but her expression seemed more sullen than celebratory, and the strobe light revealed smudged mascara beneath her eyes.
"Me name is Gary," the stranger shouted over the noise. "We have drinks, which are all around here somewhere, and plenty of music. Enjoy yourself!"
Yeah, right. He stood rigidly against the back wall, realizing he must lose himself in the cover of the crowd. Clenched fists shoved deep into his pockets, he shuffled onto the dance floor and attempted to convulse in a similar manner as what they entitled "dancing." Surrounding singles and couples jostled against him, even sloshing beer against the back of his plaid shirt at one point. It was all he could do to maintain his rising temper behind his pursed lips.
Lisa spent every minute beside Dónal, whose eyes never seemed to abandon her even for a second. As she periodically chattered with some girls and frequently returned to the middle of the room to dance, Calder noticed the leery glances that often flittered toward her date.
These sort of parties were known to continue until the sun arose, but a mere two hours of his presence was enough to produce a piercing pain in his temples. His absence would not arouse suspicion by this time, so he excused himself from the house with a drunken embrace from Gary.
The cottage had grown warm with the activity of many people, so the exposition of the open door released a sudden draft into the room that chilled him. The cars were spaced apart so that even one a couple rows ahead could exit, so he wound between the rows until he reached the one with the blistered paint.
He eased himself beneath the car to ensure his concealment and extracted his phone from his pocket. He pressed one button to release enough light from the screen to examine the undercarriage. A smooth, clean section of metal toward the edge on his right presented itself, so he withdrew a GPS tracking devise from another pocket and secured it against the surface.
Boots appeared beside the car, and his heart leapt into his throat. He heard no approaching movement with the music. Suede sandals approached at the opposite side and disappeared aloft, proving with the sway of the car that Lisa climbed into the passenger side. The boots disappeared as well, and Calder could hear the thundering of his own heart in his ears.
The engine started and a cold sweat broke out across his skin. Surely this was the end of him. Lord Almighty, deliver me from this crisis, please. I really don't want to end me life here, and in this way.
The tires crunched the earth beneath them as the car crept back an inch or two, then stopped. Yet another pair of shoes appeared at the driver side, and the engine was killed. Calder squeezed his eyes shut in relief, positive that he would be revealed by the sound of his heart beating or rapid breathing.
"You dropped one of your keys inside."
"Go raibh maith agat, mate," Dónal rasped as Calder rolled out from beneath his car to the undercarriage of the one beside them. "I would have gone mad to drive all the way home without it."
"See ya at the next meet!"
The engine started again and rocks crunched beneath the tires as it backed out of its corner parking slot. Calder rolled out from under the maroon car that sheltered him and into a kneeling position to retie his shoelaces. Then, after swiping the debris from his sleeves and side, he pushed to his feet and strode back toward his own car.
. . .
The aroma of strong coffee perked Calder's mind afresh as he set his mug on the cherry wood desk beside him. The crimson dot that indicated the location of his subject and victim had stopped at a residence at the middle of the countryside he had ventured into that night. He reached for the pen beside him and scribbled out the address on his notepad.
The sun would rise within the ensuing two hours. The entire flat was silent aside from the gentle tick of a clock as he shut down his computer and trudged to his arm and collapsed onto the bed, scarcely remembering to set his alarm for soon after sunrise.
. . .
Sunlight sparked against the azure river, which streamed steadily beneath a wooden planked bridge. Calder stood upon it, under the shelter of a dogwood tree with ivory petals drifting into the water. He positioned himself against the iron rail at the side of the tree with his Canon raised to snap photos of the Lacetti, which he discovered to be between the river and the back of a stone cottage with a white picket fence. He had a clear shot of the license plate and, satisfied, he started to back across the bridge.
But the slamming of a screen door caused him to hesitate. Dónal stormed out of the cottage and toward the car with Lisa rushing after him with a scowl and crossed arms.
"Do not leave the house!" he shouted, swiveling to jab a finger in her direction.
"Just get away from me!" she shouted back with equal vigor. Calder snapped photos of their exit from the cottage and reported the description and time to his recorder. Dónal climbed into the driver side of the car and slammed the door, peeling around the cottage to leave. Lisa threw a glance each way and turned to stomp back into the house. Calder reported the action into his recorder and peeked into his cell phone to see that Dónal was leaving rather speedily toward town.
The ash trees across the bank rustled with a gentle breeze, and a blackbird skipped across the bridge beside him with an optimistic chirp. He then erupted into the air with a surprised song that alerted Calder to the sensation of being observed. He raised his eyes as a shadow splashed across him to see Lisa with fierce hazel eyes and a baseball bat raised over one shoulder.
"Who are you?" she demanded. "And what are you doing here?"
Calder raised his hands with the camera still in his right one. The idea of presenting his planned cover story as a friend of Dónal with the camera yet in his hand seemed to be a potential disaster in the making. "Me name is Calder McCallister. Your parents hired me to investigate your disappearance."
"You're a private detective," she confirmed suspiciously.
"Yes. And this conversation is being recorded."
She pursed her lips and maintained a steady position. All at once, she dropped the bat and threw her arms around him with a strangled cry, scattering the pair of loons coasting down the river beneath.
He clasped his arms gingerly around her shoulders with an awkward "Erm…"
She withdrew suddenly and swiped a hand across each teary eye. "You haven't the slightest idea how relieved I am to see you! I wanted to be with him at first, you see, but he started isolating me from everyone as soon as we arrived here together. He started to get suspicious that I was starting to fancy other men when we went out, like we did when you saw us last night. He almost knocked me out last week when I smiled at one of his mates. See," here, she pointed to a shade of violet and yellow beneath one eye. "I was sure he would do something to me or me family if I left him."
"Did he say something to convince you he would?"
She nodded tearfully and withdrew a cell phone from her pocket. With the pressing of a couple buttons, she raised the screen to him and said "Here, he said he would come after me if I went home again. And that he would 'take care of things' if I said a word to anyone."
"And what is this cottage to him?"
"A colleague of his father goes on holiday around Christmas and comes here," she shook her head dismissively. "At least, that's what he said when he convinced me to leave. Please, you have to help me get out of here. He will not let me leave unless he accompanies me, and I'm terrified he's going to stop letting me leave altogether soon. This is not what I thought it would be."
An alert on his phone made him check the screen. The cherry dot that indicated the suspect's vehicle was returning to the cottage, and was a quarter of a mile away. There was no time to consider options.
"He's returning at this very moment. We have to go," he caught her arm and rushed with her across the bridge and through the brambles, where his car was positioned on a dirt road with shallow tire tracks. Headlights flashed as he unlocked it several feet away, and the two darted into the driver and passenger seats.
"You will have to leave going the opposite way, or else he'll see us!"
"You show me the way," he answered calmly as he spun the car around and rattled up the path with mud speckling the air behind. Lisa grasped the handle with white knuckles and sucked in a deep breath as she pointed to the right when the road split.
"There," she said. "What will happen when he sees I'm gone?"
"You use me personal mobile to phone your family and tell them to get to somewhere Dónal has no knowledge of. We will meet them there after we phone the Gardaí. I suspect he will run when he realizes you are gone and the authorities will be after him, but we must take precautions."
His phone beeped and he threw a glance at the screen to see the pulsing dot moving steadily in the opposite direction. He extracted his personal phone from his suit and passed it to the girl as she made the appropriate calls. Her parents and brother relocated to the home of her aunt and uncle, and that is where Calder pulled up his car and started assembling the evidence he possessed to compose a report.
"Well, go," he said with a nod toward the quaint country home.
"Aren't you coming?" she asked with her hand on the door.
"I'll meet you inside when I'm done."
She pushed the door open as her family emerged from inside and rushed toward her with outstretched arms. She smiled and ran to receive them, content to be spun around by her father before being consumed by the embrace of the entire group.
Calder smiled and chuckled as he returned to his report. The pinnacle of these recent events and late nights was worth the exhaustion caused by the commotion of an erratic schedule.
. . .
Waves crashed against the rocks and sprayed into the salty air. The breeze agitated the black trench coat Calder wore as he stared across the horizon and raised the glass of wine to his mouth. Raspberry and spiced rose Sangiovese with a smooth vanilla aftertaste.
The case at this point seemed promising, and he was assured his evidence would assist in the conviction of Dónal Doyle and the deliverance of the Gallagher family from their security concerns.
Wind scattered ivory sand across his shined black shoes, but a smile spread across his lips.
. . .
* Job 9:8