This week’s Friday Flash Fics struck me as exactly the kind of guy I pictured as Luke, from ‘The Psychometry of Snow’ (one of the stories in Of Echoes Born). So I rolled with that. The mountains in the background made me think of B.C. again, where Luke likes to visit between his other work, and from there I ended up with this piece. Lau and Friesen were a pair of missing persons detectives I’d toyed with when I was working on a piece for Men of the Mean Streets, but that story fizzled out and I ended up writing something else instead. So they’ve been in my head for a while, waiting for a chance.
The rumble of a motorcycle came before he caught sight of it. When he did see the motorcycle—and the driver—Friesen turned to Lau and frowned.
“I know, but trust me.”
They waited for the man to pull in. Despite the warm August day, he wore a full set of denim and what looked like an antique of a helmet, which he pulled off once he’d turned off the bike and flipped the kickstand into place.
“How old is he?” Once the helmet had come off, the result was sunglasses, and a shock of dark hair on a lean baby-face.
“He’s older than he looks,” Lau said.
“I don’t think he’s older than his bike,” Friesen said, lowering his voice because the kid—okay, maybe “kid” was pushing it—was approaching now. He joined them at the top of the small rise at the lookout, a pensive tightness around his mouth. When he finally took off the sunglasses, tucking them into his pocket, Friesen decided Lau was right. The smudges under the man’s eyes, the small lines around his mouth…
He was older than he looked. Also familiar in some way he couldn’t put his finger on.
“Thanks for coming,” Lau said, with genuine warmth.
Friesen still wasn’t clear what this guy was going to do for them, but there was a missing kid at play, so he’d shut up and let his partner take the lead.
The guy nodded tightly at Lau, eyeing the area. “There’s a lot of traffic here,” he said, as though two missing persons detectives wouldn’t have considered that.
“Whatever you can do.” Lau opened his hands in front of him. In the two years they’d worked together, Friesen hadn’t seen Lau act this deferential to someone, ever. Not even that time they’d had to speak with the damn Premier of the province.
What the actual fuck? Friesen tried to get Lau’s attention, but Lau wasn’t looking at him. He might as well have been invisible.
The guy blew out a short breath. “Okay. Where?”
They led him to the spot. Everything had been documented, photographed, and taken away, so they were just standing in the middle of an empty parking lot now, albeit one that was marked up and bordered with tape.
The guy took another breath—it looked like he was steeling himself for some reason—and then he took off his motorcycle gloves and knelt down on the asphalt.
Friesen blinked, and frowned at Lau, opening his mouth.
Lau slashed with his hand, scowling.
Friesen bit his tongue.
The guy put one hand against the ground, pressing his palm down.
The three of them stayed like that for a few long minutes. Friesen was just about to speak up—Lau be damned, he had no idea what the hell was going on here, and he might be the junior partner, but this was just too much—when the guy shook his head.
“Nothing. I take it this is a make-out point for locals?”
Lau sighed. “Yeah.” He eyed Friesen, then pulled out a bag from inside his coat.
“Lau—” Friesen said, stunned. It was an evidence bag, and if Lau had signed for it, he’d eat the kid’s motorcycle gloves.
“Not now,” Lau said, and then, adding to the already beyond the pale action, he opened the bag, and turned it to face the kid.
“Jesus fuck,” Friesen said, but he didn’t stop him.
The guy rose, and bit his bottom lip for a second, making him seem all the younger again.
The familiarity clicked. Friesen had seen this guy on television. Some archeology show his girlfriend liked—he told stories around things they dug up. There was a whole series around them. Days in the life of archeological finds, or some shit like that.
He couldn’t remember the guy’s name though.
Friesen watched as the guy put one fingertip into the bag. There was reluctance and care in equal measure in the movement. The barest touch of his finger to the ribbon—the ribbon that had been in the kid’s hair, if they could trust the social media snapshot taken that morning of the kid—and then the guy’s eyes closed.
It was like he was listening. Friesen found himself going as still and as quiet as he could, even though this was off the damn rails and would get him and Lau both fired and what was he even thinking?
“Grey hair. And she knew her,” the guy started saying. “Went right to her. Put something in the drinks, I think—both she and the dad drank them and then she got dizzy. She didn’t want to go, but she couldn’t put up any fight.”
“Grey hair,” Lau said, and he was taking notes. “How old?”
“Fifties, maybe. Strong enough to carry the girl, didn’t seem put out. She had a necklace, too, a medallion…” The guy frowned. “One of those medical alert things, maybe?” He bit his lip again. “There are no other cars, but she didn’t come here with them.” He opened his eyes. “The ribbon fell off when she was carried off that way.” He pulled his fingertip out of the bag and pointed to where the walking trail led off among the trees.
Lau turned to Friesen. “How closely did we look at the grandparents?”
“Pretty damn closely,” Friesen said. “All their alibis checked out.”
The guy closed his hand into a fist. “The girl was crying. She was really upset. Before the grey-haired woman showed up.” He swallowed. “She was in pain.”
That was enough. “Okay, someone needs to tell me why the T.V. archeology guy is here telling us what happened when he wasn’t here.”
“Not now, Friesen,” Lau said.
The flare of temper was so unusual, Friesen fell silent.
“If her father was hurting her,” Lau said, in a low, even voice. “Then we need to go over the grandparents again. Didn’t they babysit?”
Friesen nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
“Thanks Luke,” Lau said.
The guy smiled tightly, then went back to his motorcycle. It took him no time at all to be on his way again.
“Lau,” Friesen said. “Help me out here. Who was that?”
“I’ve got three weeks left before I head to the Kootenays and never look back,” Lau said. “And over the years, I’ve met a couple of people like Luke. We don’t put him on the record. We don’t mention this ever happened. And I don’t call him unless… Well. This is a kid, and if it’s a kid, I can call him. If Luke says we need to look at a fiftiesh woman with a medic alert medallion, we’re going find a reason to do it.”
Friesen swallowed. “Ex-wife’s mother. Not the kid’s mother, the step-mother. Grey hair. Epilepsy.”
Lau regarded him for a long moment.
“It seems to me we have no other leads, Friesen. Girl went missing, father isn’t likely to wake up, according to his doctors. Seems to me like maybe we should start over. Maybe check out the grandparents first, this time.” Lau put the bagged ribbon back in his jacket. “What do you think?”
Friesen knew what he was really being asked.
“Sure. Sure. Let’s…” He cleared his throat. “Let’s start with the ex-wife’s mother. Maybe we didn’t look at her so hard because she didn’t have a driver’s license and it would have been a hell of hike.”
“Yeah,” Lau said. “Let’s do that.”
They headed back to the car. Lau drove.
“How..?” Friesen wasn’t even sure where to go with the question.
“When we close this one,” Lau said. “You and I are going to celebrate with a dinner. And over dinner, I’m going to tell you about a missing person’s case I had a couple of years ago, and a tip I chased down to its source.”