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Rain pounded the windshield and the wipers worked overtime as Mercado drove the Hummer H2 along U.S. Route 201 in Maine. The Hummer was spacious, which made riding in it more comfortable for his long legs, broad shoulders, and meaty thighs. The SUV had power and size, just like it’s driver. Mercado would have to consider getting one of his own.
The seventeen inch Goodyear all season tires gripped the road well for such wet conditions. Mercado had the road to himself on the rainy night. But he wouldn’t for long. He was quickly closing in on his target.
Mercado had already laid out his plan for when he spotted the young woman’s car. For the time being he thought about the beaches, swimming holes, camping, and boating so popular in Kennebec and Moose River Valley. Mercado once kayaked in the area.
When he was a boy his parents took him leaf peeping along the Old Canada Road, as Route 201 is also known. He was innocent then. Mercado had not been innocent for a long time.
As he traveled south he followed the old river trading routes along the Kennebec River. Mercado once killed a man who lived near the river’s source of Moosehead Lake. He then thought of another body he had dumped where the river empties in the Gulf of Maine. His current hit wouldn’t even require him to get out of the Hummer.
Mercado considered the young woman as she drove not far up ahead. The picture he had been given was of an attractive young woman in her twenties. She had soft features and vibrant eyes. Soon those eyes would be empty.
He wondered, do the eyes of the dead look empty because the soul has departed? Mercado didn’t like to think about the soul. If he had one, he didn’t think anything good would come of it when he was dead.
Mercado had done many bad things in his life. He was about to do another in completing the job he had been hired to do.
Mercado could not have asked for more ideal conditions for his assignment. He played out the news report in his head: Boston woman loses control of car on stormy night and plunges to her death. It would be ruled as nothing more than a tragic accident. It was what his client wanted.
Tail lights blurred by rain appeared ahead. Mercado pressed on the accelerator to get closer. The car was a small sporty model. A BMW Roadster. The car model was a match. So too were the letters and numbers on the Massachusetts license plate he had committed to memory.
Mercado pressed the gas pedal to the floorboard and felt the power of three hundred and ninety-three horses as the Hummer’s V8 engine roared. The front grill of the massive SUV quickly closed in on the bright tail lights of the young woman’s car. Mercado felt the bump as all 6,614 pounds of his ride slammed into the rear of the Roadster.
The BMW swerved before its driver regained control. Mercado sped forward once again. The Hummer slammed harder into the back of the car and it fishtailed on the slippery road. Mercado pressed the Hummer forward and made contact with the Roadster as it spun out of control.
With that final push the car slid off the road and hurdled over the edge. Mercado continued driving as he heard the crash and explosion. He glanced into the rear-view mirror as a fireball lit the night sky. Drops of rain captured the orange glow.
The Hummer’s wipers swept away the hard rain as Mercado continued along U.S. Route 201 toward I-295. He once again had the road to himself. Mercado thought about the job that awaited him in Boston.
“Are you a serious detective Mr. Patrick?” Cynthia Holland asked as she considered my office. She paid no attention to my Beagle-mix, Dash, as he slept in his corner of the couch. Surprisingly, Dash showed no interest greeting her when she entered the office. He had looked at her and then went back to sleep. His reaction told me a lot.
Cynthia Holland’s eyes rested on the Red Sox bobble-heads on my desk.
“Give-away nights at Fenway Park,” I said. I tapped the bill of the hat on the Mookie Betts doll and its head bobbled. “Arriving early can have its perks.”
“Yes,” she said, “I suppose it can.” She tried to force a smile. Or maybe it was gas. Hard to tell.
Cynthia Holland looked like she needed reassuring, and I needed a case, so I answered her as seriously as I could muster, “I’m a former special agent with the FBI.” I tilted my head toward my diploma from the FBI Academy, which hung next to my Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern University. Perhaps those pieces of parchment would offset the bobble-heads.
Cynthia Holland shifted her dark eyes toward my office wall as she looked at the framed diplomas. Her eyes scanned like an x-ray machine. I wondered if she thought they might be fakes. She then looked at me without blinking.
“I know full well you were with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and now you own this detective agency,” she said.
“I even have my name on the door,” I said. “And business cards printed on heavy stock.”
She frowned, and I wondered if I blew being serious. I waited a moment and then she sat down in one of the client chairs opposite my desk. My keen powers of observation told me she was staying. A regular Sherlock Holmes.
“Can I get you anything to drink? Water, coffee, or tea?” I said.
“No, thank you,” she replied.
I sat behind my desk and gave her my best GQ smile. She did not smile back. Maybe it had been gas earlier.
While lacking in warmth, she was not an unattractive woman. I guessed she was in her early 50s. Cynthia Holland was thin, of average height, and had a perfect complexion and expensively styled shoulder-length brown hair. She was exquisitely dressed in a knee-length skirt and matching blouse from a designer boutique.
She placed a Gucci purse on her lap and rested her hands on top. She probably needed to rest her left hand throughout the day given the size of the diamond ring on her finger. Cynthia Holland looked me directly in the eyes and let out a deep sigh.
“My husband should be here any moment,” she said. “We’ll wait until he arrives to begin.”
“Sure thing,” I said. I flashed another of my winning smiles. No reaction.
My mother always told me I had a nice smile. Maybe it wasn’t true. I made a mental note to ask her later.
Being a private investigator I’m accustomed to long stretches of silence. But those usually occur when I’m alone on a stake out, not sitting in my office with a potential client. We were past the normal lull in conversation and well into an awkward silence.
It didn’t seem to bother Cynthia Holland. She sat expressionless. Maybe she was meditating. Or maybe it was relief from the possible earlier gas having passed.
I doubted another smile would help. I thought about whistling a nice tune, but I wasn’t confident we had the same taste in music. Given her reaction to the bobble-heads, I didn’t think talking about the Red Sox winning the world series was a topic we had in common.
“Hello,” a man’s voice said from just outside my open office door.
I looked up and Cynthia Holland turned around. Dash hopped down from his spot on the couch, stretched, and trotted over wagging his tail. Cynthia pressed herself deeper into the chair as Dash walked past her.
The man was two or three inches shorter than me at around five eleven or six feet. He was lanky with a perfectly tailored blue pinstripe Brooks Brothers suit, crisply pressed white shirt, with French cuffs, and a light blue domino patterned designer tie. He had neatly trimmed short brown hair, parted on the side.
I spotted a gold Rolex watch on his wrist as he reached down and scratched behind one of Dash’s floppy ears. My investigative prowess told me this guy was the source of Cynthia Holland’s diamond ring.
“You’re late, Jeffrey,” she said.
Bingo! Drew Patrick, detective extraordinaire.
“Sorry,” he said, “I wasn’t sure where on Brattle Street the office was located.”
Cynthia Holland rolled her eyes. If Jeffrey noticed, he gave no indication.
I stood and offered my hand. “Drew Patrick.”
“Jeffrey Holland,” he said taking my hand and shaking it. “Pleasure to meet you.”
“Likewise,” I said. “Please, have a seat,” I said as I indicated the empty client chair next to the one occupied by his wife.
Jeffrey Holland leaned over and offered her an awkward peck on the cheek. Then he sat in the chair. Dash resumed his position on the couch and went back to sleep.
“How about the Sox?” Jeffrey said as he eyed the bobble-heads.
“Alex Cora had a masterful first season as Manager,” I said. “Perfect complement to a team of talented players.”
Jeffrey Holland nodded in agreement. Cynthia Holland rolled her eyes again.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” I said.
Jeffrey shook his head. “No, thank you.”
“Now we can begin,” Cynthia Holland announced.
I placed a notepad in front of me and grabbed a pen, ready to take notes like a seasoned journalist. Or at least a half-decent private investigator.
“Mr. Patrick, we would like to hire you to find our daughter,” said Cynthia Holland.
There was nothing in her tone which suggested the seriousness of a missing daughter. None of her behavior since entering my office would suggest I would hear anything like what she had just said.
Jeffrey Holland leaned forward in his chair. “This has happened before,” he said. “Ashley will go off for a few days and not tell us. She won’t respond to texts or phone calls and then show up again.”
“Last month she jetted off to Paris for a long weekend,” said Cynthia Holland. “Was incommunicado for three days. Came back with shopping bags from Hermes.”
“She bought me this tie,” said Jeffrey Holland as he lifted up the end of his tie. He looked at a moment, lost in thought.
“If your daughter is prone to flights of fancy,” I said, “why the concern now?”
“She has been gone five days,” said Jeffrey Holland. I detected concern in his voice. “Ashley has never been gone more than four days before with no form of contact.”
I nodded my head.
“Have you gone to the police?” I said.
“No,” Cynthia Holland said. “We don’t want this in the media. Imagine the embarrassment when she turns up after a trip to Europe or the Caribbean.”
“I can take your case, but the goal is to find your daughter. The police can help.”
“We’ll take that into consideration,” Jeffrey Holland said.
“Do you know where she may have gone?” I said.
“Not a clue,” Cynthia Holland said.
“Actually,” Jeffrey said, “she mentioned something about a lake house up north.”
Cynthia Holland whipped her head in her husband’s direction. “Why on earth would Ashley tell you and not me?”
Jeffrey Holland shrugged. He probably knew, or had a strong opinion on the matter, but I didn’t blame him for wanting to avoid a confrontation with his wife.
“Do you know where up north?” I said. “New Hampshire? Vermont? Maine? Canada, even?”
“No, I’m sorry,” Jeffrey Holland said. “Ashley didn’t say where.”
“What about her friends? Have you spoken to them?”
“The ones we could reach knew nothing more than we do,” Jeffrey Holland said.
I asked more questions to establish the best profile on Ashley I could. I also had the Hollands text me Ashley’s picture and give me her detailed description, information on the car she drove, and contacts for known friends and associates.
We went over my daily rate, plus estimated expenses, and Jeffrey Holland wrote me a check to cover my first day. I’m sure he spent more on monogrammed hankies.
The Hollands didn’t strike me as the most loving parents, but they came to me to find their daughter. And even less than stellar parents can know when something is not right with their kids. The fact the Hollands hired a private investigator meant we were in that territory.
I would do my best to find Ashley. I’ve done this enough times to have confidence in finding her. I only hoped she would be okay when I did.
– END OF PREVIEW –