Borlaug looked down at the street, streetlights illuminating the cars that rolled through water that cascaded to either gutter. Rain fell onto the hot pavement, the smells of trash, oil, and unvarnished humanity rising up and through the open window. Well, almost unvarnished humanity. He turned back into the darkened room and pulled out a cigarette, putting it to his lips as he unsuccessfully fished for the lighter in his pocket. He glanced around the room, eyes straining for detail as they adjusted to the darkness. A faint glint appeared on his desk and Borlaug reached for it and held it to his face. His pupils constricted in the sudden light and then, with his first breath, relaxed. The glowing tip of the cigarette floated on the edge of his vision as he sat down in the chair and started shifting a few dust-covered folders from one side of his desk to the other, eventually uncovering his quarry.
He rearranged the folders into a jumbled stack, then leaned back and opened the file, taking pensive drags on his cigarette. Inside a photograph of an elderly asian man and his two daughters was clipped to a small stack of papers. Borlaug took another pull on his cigarette as he unclipped the photo and read the sheet underneath. Mary Yu—she was the woman on the left—29, single, journalist, last seen at a coffee shop two blocks from her apartment. She'd been reported missing by her sister eight years ago but the police closed the investigation after they found the suicide note in an unsealed envelope on the table in her apartment, despite the fact that no body was ever found. "The River," they'd said. "She must have jumped into The River and drowned."
Borlaug grunted. He didn't believe in suicides; they were too clean, too open-ended, too easy to fake. Which is why he'd taken the packet of information from the other woman in the photo, Mary's sister. Her hands had trembled as she handed him the file, her face a mixture of anger and determination. The tear stains on the photos were the only witnesses to her grief.
"I can't promise you anything, you know that. I don't have much information to go on and without a body..." Borlaug trailed off, unsure if he'd been too callous. Thirty years as a P.I. tended to leave one inured to death and the darker aspects of humanity. Sometimes he wondered if he even cared about the people he tried to find or if he was simply drawn to the complexity of the puzzle, the challenge of the search. The woman had shaken her head, eventually speaking two words in a quiet but firm contralto: "Find her." It wasn't a demand—it was an instruction.
But Borlaug hadn't found her. Worse, he hadn't even found a good lead on her. Mary's bank accounts hadn't been tampered with and her apartment was undisturbed. The suicide note was in her handwriting and was consistent with her word choice and writing style. There was even extra food in the cat's bowl in case it took the police a couple of days to get to the apartment. It looked for all the world like suicide. And now it was eight years later and he was exactly where he'd been that night her sister had walked into his office. Borlaug growled around his cigarette.
A sudden gust of wind rattled the window panes, the swish of rain intensifying as droplets were driven against concrete and glass. Borlaug closed the file and tossed it on his desk, looking at the Paper that had made him pull out a case that'd been cold since it had begun. A picture of an attractive asian woman around 40 years old looked back at him, sitting above a narrow column of text. He crushed the remains of his cigarette into the ashtray and pulled another from his case.
Now Mary's sister was dead too—there was no body. The police were calling it a suicide. Borlaug growled as he lit another cigarette. He didn't believe in suicides.