Charlie Kane had knocked back three fingers of bourbon and was down to nothing but ice when the girl came through the door. The bartender was counting the till and he paused mid-count with a handful of cash, watching her.
The girl was no regular.
She hovered in the doorway as if she had stumbled into a crime scene, as if she had used all her nerve just getting the door open and now there was no nerve left to go the rest of the way. Charlie watched her in the bar mirror. Petite, mousey. Red hair heavy with rainwater. Her blue eyes darted over the room until they finally settled in one direction.
“She’s lookin at me, ain’t she, Jimmy?” said Charlie. He said it with his head down, looking into his empty glass.
“Uh-huh,” said the bartender.
“Seen her before?”
Charlie rattled the ice in the glass. “Better hit me again, Jimmy. The drunker I am, the meaner I get and the sooner she’ll leave me alone.”
The girl leaned her umbrella against the wall and went slowly to the bar. She was spinning her phone in her hands.
“You’re Kane, aren’t you? Charlie Kane?” Her voice was quiet, but urgent.
“I ain’t nobody you want to meet, lady.”
“But you were a cop, right? A detective?”
“I used to be a lot of things. Say, you even old enough to be in here?”
“I’ll be thirty next month.”
Kane rubbed his eyes and squinted. “Guess the bourbon is doing what it’s supposed to. How’d you find me?”
“I asked around.”
“Yeah? Someone tell you to find the only black man in Boulder Creek and kill his buzz? I ain’t looking to be found, lady.”
The woman took a step back, closed her eyes. She looked as if she were about to run out the door, but she took a deep breath and thumbed her phone instead. “You’re the one that found the missing girl from Santa Cruz a few years back, aren’t you?” She pressed her phone in the air and there was an article on the screen from the Santa Cruz Sentinel with the headline Detective in Lacey Howell Case Honored.
“So what if I am. You want my autograph?”
“No. I want you to find my sister.”
Kane took a sip from his fresh glass of booze and bared his teeth after he swallowed, as if it hurt going down. “Look,” said Kane. He had swiveled the barstool so he was looking straight at her. “I’m going to give you some advice. Take it to the Sheriff’s Office and leave me alone.”
“I have,” she said. There were tears in her eyes now. “They won’t do anything. They say she’s voluntarily missing. But she’s not, I know it. She’s been taken.”
“Then I’ll put it another way. Leave me alone goddammit.”
The redhead’s face tightened and tears plummeted down her freckled cheeks. She didn’t say another word. She stuffed the phone into her coat pocket and ran to the door, briefly struggling with the door handle before fleeing into the afternoon rain.
Kane watched her go. He sucked on an ice cube and spit it back into the glass. A gust of cool air had filled the bar when she left, and Kane saw the umbrella still leaning on the wall over a puddle of rainwater.
He shook his head.
“Hey bartender,” said Kane.
“What is it, Charlie?”
“Tell me I’m an asshole.”
“You’re an asshole, Charlie.”
“I thought so.”
Kane set the drink down and went to the umbrella. He turned it over in his hands. It looked expensive. Waterproofed canvas with a polished redwood handle. There was a name stamped on a brass plate on the side of the handle: Moonriele. He tapped it a few times in the palm of his hand and shook his head again.
“Save my seat, Jimmy,” he said, even though the bar was empty. He turned and followed the woman out the door.
It was a steady, windless rain. The kind that comes up from the Hawaiian Islands and across the Pacific, somehow stripped along the way of all warmth and vivacity until it falls hard and cold like steel pellets. Kane found the woman parked along Central Ave in a white Mercedes, her face buried in her hands. He rapped the umbrella on the driver window.