The next installment from Amanda Hester.
When he got to the councilman’s office the girl was there. She was shuffling through papers at her desk in a hurry, and her cheek, where Ginger had hit her, was beginning to bruise and swell. Her eyes were red, maybe from crying, but she looked angry and dangerous.
Sydney put on his most official and innocuous tone, “You Sally Shields?”
She looked up, startled and defensive. “Yeah, who wants to know?”
He pulled out his notepad and pencil, “I’m detective Wolfe. Mrs. Daniels asked me to look into her husband’s disappearance. I just wanted to ask you a few questions if that’s alright. Maybe we could go somewhere more private to talk?”
She stuck her lip out sulkily and hunched her shoulders, “Sure, of course I’ll help however I can. If he is disappeared or whatever, but I don’t know what help I’ll be. It has nothing to do with me, I’m sure of that. Here, we can go into his office – you’ll probably want to see that next anyhow.”
“Yes, thank you that would be perfect. Just routine questions, you understand. Like you say, we can’t be sure that he’s even missing at this point.”
He followed her into the room. Most men would have said she was an attractive girl; she had the perfect balance of fragile and crazy to drive most men wild. Sydney wasn’t fooled though. He’d met her father a few years back during a job that nearly killed him, a nasty piece of goods. She had the Turner nose, and he imagined that wasn’t the only thing she’d inherited from her father. She was relatively skinny, but strong, and her clothes were strategically chosen to hug her best features as she walked ahead of him into the Councilman’s office and sat down.
“Mind if I smoke?” He asked her, sitting down in the second chair.
“There’s no smoking in the building. But I don’t care if you want to. There’s no detector in this room so it doesn’t matter.” She looked at him as he lit a cigarette and made a slight show of thumbing through his notes. Her eyes were blue. “You don’t look like a cop” she said.
“Yeah, I’m not. Not anymore anyway. Private detective. Mrs. Daniels hired me this morning, she didn’t want to bring in the police just yet.” He looked at her straight.
“Sam’s a bitch. But she’s not dumb, probably doesn’t want any of her secrets getting out. She’s a total control freak you know, I bet she’s just using you.” The girl pouted a little and crossed her arms in front of her. “I told her, and I told you, this has nothing to do with me. I don’t know nothing about it. He probably just went away on business and didn’t tell her. That’s what I’d do, all the time if I was married to her. What do you want from me anyhow, Private Detective?” She spoke the last two words with an insulting sneer.
Sydney smiled at the young girl. He liked her, she was neither bright nor stupid; pretty enough, but not beautiful; mean and self centered, but not cruel. She reminded him of girls he had grown up with in Truro; girls who mindlessly pursued any avenue of escape from the tedious suffering of their lives.
“Yeah, okay. Where’d you get the chip for the Mrs. from, she not like you or something?” His eyes mocked her. The girl continued to make faces at him.
“Yeah, she don’t like me much. So what? She’s one of those women, I told you, a real control freak. She’s always coming into the office checkin up, even when Mr Daniels was out, looking over his shoulder, messing through files and stuff. You know the type: no one can do anything as well as she can, that kind of attitude. Doesn’t want her little pet husband embarrassing her or something, sure, I don’t like her, but I’m stayin clear of it.” She slumped in the chair, looking over her crossed arms at the detective, her eyes sulky and stubborn.
The detective looked back at her smiling still, his eyes were mischief. “So what is it Ginger’s cut you out of Sally? You get the Councilman hooked on drugs, or something deeper? You don’t know where he is? That’s fine. How’s your daddy doin up in Glace Bay? I owe him a couple inches of steel, and maybe a right cross. But you deal straight with me little girl, maybe I’ll forget I owe him anything.”
The girl’s face turned bright red and ugly. She leapt out of her chair at him trying to claw her way through him to the door. He grabbed her by the waist and pushed her roughly back into her chair. He growled at her while out of nowhere he pulled a cold black .38.
“Come on now sweetheart, play nice. Let’s just sit down here and calmly have our little conversation. I’m just trying to do my job, no reason why it needs to bring any trouble to anybody.”
She sat very still, her hands holding the arms of her chair, as she eyed the gun in the man’s hand. It was unexpected. She moved her gaze from the gun to the man’s eyes. He sat down across from her and smiled, the gun on his lap still aimed at her. He didn’t look like a man who carried a gun; those were just the kind of men you didn’t want to cross. She wondered if he was right in the head. She licked her lips and smiled, she tried to pretend to relax.
“Alright then,” she said, “let’s talk.”
“Yes, let’s.” He continued to smile slightly at her. She wondered why, the gesture looked incongruous in his tired ugly face.
“Who’s Ginger? I don’t know what you’re talking about” she started.
“Clearly.” He teased her. She chewed on her cheek unconsciously. Sydney found it cute.
“Alright, fine. So, you’re so smart then,” she said with forced lightness, “you should know I’d rather take my chances getting shot by you here, than give up Ginger and his business. That’d be suicide, and not just for me. I ain’t stupid you know. We can sit here, and you can shoot me as you like, but I ain’t talkin about nothing that ain’t you’re business.” Her eyes moved warily back and forth between his face and the gun. She sat perched on the edge of her chair; her hands, now in her lap, twitched and fidgeted betraying the action of her mind.
Sydney looked easily around the room. It was rather typical, some papers on the desk, a framed degree on the wall bragging of an MA from some prestigious university. A few photographs set around, of Councilman Daniels with the Mayor playing golf, or with the Premier. He wondered if he would find any liquor in the desk. He got up and began to look for it. The girl just continued to sit there, she watched him out of the corner of her eye.
“What has the Councilman been working on lately?” He asked her as he broke into the locked side drawer of the desk, and pulled out the scotch and glasses that lay within. He poured them each a drink, and put the files that he found beside them in the large pocket of his overcoat.
She hesitated, but then took the drink and replied. “I don’t know. He does stuff with construction. I just answer the phones, and make appointments, and sometimes I do filing. I don’t really understand most of it.”
Sydney wondered if that was true. Sally’s type was used to people thinking she was dumber than she actually was. She may or may not have graduated high-school, but he was fairly certain she would be able to grok anything important.
“When was the last time you saw the Councilman?” He asked her.
“Monday evening, I told Mrs. Daniels that, I had a dentist appointment the next morning and he had appointments all that afternoon so I didn’t see him Tuesday, I don’t even know if he came in. He hasn’t been into the office since.” She looked at him steady and calm.
“So you didn’t see him at your apartment Tuesday afternoon?”
“No, why should I have? And before you ask, no I don’t know where he is. I wish I did . . . it’s been very awkward.” She finished her drink and let him pour her another.
Sydney put the gun away and smiled at the girl, his eyes still teasing.
“So you weren’t sleeping with him then?”
She rolled her eyes and smiled slightly, “Sure I was, but not Tuesday, and I still don’t know where he is.”
“What about Ginger? He know?”
The girl’s eyes snapped toward the detective, cold as ice.
“I told you I wasn’t telling you shit about Ginger. What’s he got to do with it anyway? You should be careful asking around about him. But then you do look stupid, maybe you are.” Brassy now that the gun had disappeared, she downed her drink and glowered at the detective. “I’m done talking to you anyway. The Councilman doesn’t even bother to come into work, I’m going home.”
He nodded as she tentatively got up to leave. He got up, leaving the scotch and glasses on the table. He followed her out to her desk. The papers she had been collecting when he arrived where sitting there. Like she’d said, they related to various municipal contracts for projects in and around the city. She put them into her bag as he leaned against the office door and watched her put her coat on getting ready to leave.
“What would the Councilman be doing tonight, if he hadn’t taken a powder . . . you?” He asked her, still teasing. Despite herself she smiled.
“Ha, no. He and the Mrs. had some big charity fundraiser or something, over at the Lord Nelson at 7pm. Who knows, maybe he’ll show up and I won’t have to ever see you again.” She winked at him, “happy thought.” She walked away, swishing her hips like a girl pretending in her mother’s high heels. Sydney continued to smile at the retreating figure and lit a cigarette.
He smoked as he went back into the office, looking through files and papers and drinking the Councilman’s scotch. He went out and riffled through the girl’s desk, pocketing cigarettes from a pack found in the left hand drawer. Aside from these he also found a receipt from the previous Monday for what looked like drinks at a hotel bar, across the top someone had written “T. Grey” in pen. Sydney guessed it had been Daniels, even though the receipt was found in the secretary’s desk along with various other business notes and invoices. Wolfe tucked it into the pages of his notepad and decided to head over to the Lord Nelson.