I was expecting Peter Piper, because he’d called for an appointment that morning. It was still something of a surprise to see him when he came. Debbie opened the door, which I thought meant he had canceled since the time was close at hand. However I’d heard the outer door open, so it might be a package.
“This way please, Mister Piper.” Debbie then said and looked in my direction.
Debbie showed him how to walk through a door by preceding him in. The problem was, he didn’t have her hips and watching him walk I could tell he didn’t have her grace. Most people don’t have Debbie’s grace, because she is both athletic and aware of where men watch. He must have been in a bad way if Debbie had come around the desk and showed him in rather than just buzzing me to let me know he was here.
“Mister Collier?” He asked as they approached, he had brought up some speed and they made it to my desk almost together.
“That’s right.” I said, standing to show that I know what manners are. “Mister Piper?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I am Peter Piper.”
“Thank you Debbie.” I said flicking my eyes in her direction. “Why don’t you sit down? The red leather chair is the most comfortable.”
He did, I did. When most people walk into my office, they look anything but light and cheerful. Being a private investigator, I rarely see anyone who has just won the lottery, or been given a major award for the art of cheerfulness. This fellow, however, appeared to be under a strain that would have given even Atlas trouble. He sat for a moment, looking at left front corner of my desk. He bit his lower lip, without showing his teeth and then started to clasp clumps of his pant legs in his hands. I waited, deciding it would be rude to push him.
“My daughter has been kidnapped.” He said finally. “My little Jill.”
“Okay.” I nodded. “Do you have any idea by whom or for what reason?”
“No.” His voice was small and he cleared his throat to start again. “No I don’t. The police don’t even believe that she’s been kidnapped. They think she’s run away.”
“Why do they think that?” I asked, although I could sense that he was building up to a shout.
“Because it’s easier for them that way.” He snarled, and I could tell that I was going to be shouted at soon. “They think because a bag is gone and some clothes that of course she just left with a boy friend or something.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?” I asked.
“Of course not.” He snapped. “A fourteen year old girl doesn’t have boyfriends!”
I kept my thoughts on the idea of fourteen year old girls having boyfriends to my self. Suzy Jenkins certainly had boyfriends, as did many of the girls. However, I think fourteen was longer ago for him than it was for me, so maybe he didn’t remember those days as clearly. Maybe he just didn’t want to think of his little girl being felt up by some guy movie theater, even if it was some guy her own age. Fathers are funny like that I’ve noticed.
“Where was she taken?” I asked. “I haven’t seen any news paper stories about this.”
“There haven’t been any yet, thank god.” He said. “She was taken from our home, didn’t I say that? Some of her clothes were taken, a few other things.”
“Do you have her computer? Maybe her cellphone?”
“Why the hell do you need that?” He snapped again. “What are those good for?”
“Calm down Mister Piper.” I said, trying to be reassuring.
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” He shouted and stood up. “Why the hell does everyone tell me to calm down? My little girl is out there!”
“I’m trying to help you here.” I said, speaking calmly but firmly. “Shouting won’t help your little girl. She can’t hear you. She doesn’t know how much effort you’re putting forth. It’s wasted energy. Now please sit down.”
I snapped the last word at him, and that was almost as good as a slap. People do not talk to multi-millionaires like I was talking to him. They usually are supplicant and go a long way towards trying to make friends. I’m not intimidated by wealth though, it’s hard to be intimidated by a mere millionaire when you know damn well you’ve fathered a girl who will be a billionaire when she reaches the age of majority. Money isn’t going to do much to intimidate me. Since I was talking to him like someone who wasn’t intimidated by either his money or his power, he shut right up. That is one of the nice things about guys who came to their money honestly, they know that when someone isn’t impressed by them, that they need to listen.
“I’m sorry.” He sat down and had the good graces to look chastened. “Her cellphone was one of the things they took. Why would you need her computer?”
“She may have been talking to someone on-line.” I said, trying to form the sentences to make her sound as blameless as possible. “A lot of teenage girls do that these days you know. Someone tells them how mature they write, and then asks for a picture and tells them how pretty they look. It’s rarer that those things lead to kidnapping than the media makes it sound, but it does really happen. If we can get her computer I know someone who can check her chat and e-mail records. If you pay her cellphone bill we can get a record of her text messages from the company. Even if she was ignoring someone who was stalking her, we can find out if someone was sending her messages.”
I could see that I was getting through to him, because I saw him nodding.
“I’ll make a few phone calls.” He said. “I’ll make sure you get whatever you need.”
“I may need to speak to some of her friends.” I told him. “Can you help me arrange that?”
“She doesn’t have many friends.”
“Maybe someone from school?”
“Her mother insists on home schooling.” He made a face when he said that, I could tell he did not approve of that one little bit. “Two private tutors come. One in the morning one in the afternoon. The police have spoken to them, just to make believe they were taking this seriously.”
“I’ll probably need to talk to them as well.” I then considered that if I could really find her she might not want to be found. “I need to ask you something, and you’re not going to like hearing it.”
“Okay.” He nodded.
“If she did run away.”
“Okay,” I nodded, not arguing. “But if she did, is she to come back without question?”
“Yes, of course!” He yelled. “What kind of question is that?”
“It’s the sort of question that I need answered.” I told him. “If I find her in San Francisco living like a hippy, I need to know if I just make her call you or do I wrap her up and bring her home no matter what.”
It was the first time he’d considered the question, which was a bad sign. He’d never even let the idea that his perfect little girl would run away enter his head. Now that it had, he was having to consider the whys of that question pretty quickly. He nodded though and looked up at me with resignation on his face.
“Bring her home.” He said. “Whatever the cost. If she ran away, it would be because she didn’t want to be kept at the house all the time. If she ran away, we can discuss her going to a local school or a private boarding school or something like that so she can have some friends and some freedom.”
“Okay then.” I nodded. “I’ll probably need to ask your wife a few questions too.”
“She’s in Paris.” He almost spat that out at me. “She won’t even come home for our baby’s disappearance. She thinks selling jars of peppers to the French is more important.”
“My usual rate is two hundred and fifty dollars a day plus expenses.” I told him.
“Fine.” He nodded and took out a check book. He wrote a check, tore it off and placed the check on the end of my desk. “I’ll give you a retainer for a thousand. The cellphone is with Ding Dong Bell, the CEO Johnny Flynn is an old friend of mine.”
“I can come to your place and pick up the computer tonight.” I said. “I’ll want to look around her room anyway. Is it how it was left?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I haven’t let anyone clean it up yet.”
“Good.” I said. “Don’t until I get there. If someone else grabbed her things to make it look like she left they may have been less careful with her things than she was.”
“Her room is a mess though.” He stated.
“But the mess might look different to an experienced eye.” I told him, which is a load of crap. A mess is a mess, but I thought he could use the reassurance that he’d bought quality goods at a bargain basement price.