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12

It was dark when Detective Cziemanski found me at Grounds, a coffee shop in West Hollywood. Meeting on my side of the hill was his idea; Grounds was mine. Annika and I had met here for so many of our tutorials it seemed some part of her might linger. I was doing pencil drawings while I waited, but when I saw Cziemanski in the doorway I closed my portfolio and smiled. He smiled back, oblivious to the attention he was getting from the mostly male clientele. He stopped at the counter to order a drink, then joined me.

Nice shirt, I said.

He nodded. Glad you like it. Nice decor.

I looked around at the putty-colored walls, floors, and ceiling, devoid of decoration, and wondered if he was being sarcastic. Glad you like it, I said. Heres the photo. Will it help, Detective Zhe-Che-

If you cant say Cziemanski-Shum, not Chum-youll have to call me Pete. Photos always help. He studied the picture. I wanted him to comment on Annikas prettiness, but he didnt. Especially when you have a sketch youre trying to match to-

What kind of sketch?

He pulled on an ear. A greeting card began to take shape, a little boy pulling on his ear at school, then going home to a long-eared family, all pulling on their ears. Sometimes the coroner will come up with a drawing, he said, reconstructing a face from bones. Or we get a witness, we put them together with a sketch artist.

Youre saying youll only find her if shes dead?

Or robs a bank. He paused. Having second thoughts? You only want the happy ending?

I saw myself telling Mrs. Gl"uck to come collect her kid in the county morgue. Or in twenty years, after her release from prison. I gazed at my decaf cappuccino. No. Yes, I want the happy ending, but mostly I want to know. I just-Im not sleeping well.

I dont suppose you have money to hire a private investigator?

I smiled. If I scrimp, I can just about cover the double espresso you ordered.

Youre not paying for my espresso. Im paying for your-whatever that is.

Thats not how it works, Detective. I was the one who asked to meet.

At the station. Where the coffee wouldve been on me.

Well, anyway, I said. Your paying would make it like a date.

No, when its a date, youll know it.

I studied my hands. They had paint on them around my nails. Green. I was experiencing a combination of pleasure and alarm. Actually, I dont. Date. Except on national TV.

Everybody dates. Youre not married, right? Not that thats always a deterrent, but some people are put off by it. Im not married either, in case youre interested.

I was interested. How interesting. The thing is, Im behind on a job Im doing involving amphibians, Im working every other spare minute on my greeting cards-

You dont date public servants.

No, I like public servants. I looked at him. Okay, the real thing is, I was engaged. Recently. Well, three months ago. So Ive been-depressed and I need to-

Eat bad food, rent videos. I can help you with that-whatd you think I had in mind? The philharmonic?

Well, yeah, I said, laughing. Youve got to impress girls. At least at first.

For how long?

Depends on the girl. Anywhere from an hour, hour and a half, to seven years.

Cziemanski cleared his throat. I was counting on wowing you with my police scanner and portable siren.

Okay, fine, I said. Well meet late at night and drive around looking for criminals. Meanwhile, though, I found Annikas boyfriend. Rico. He doesnt know where she is, which means theyre not off for a weekend in Bali. Which is what you said probably happened. I paused. Cziemanski did not look excited. And he remembered her watch was a Fossil.

Finally. He went for a pen. A what? Fossil?

Its a brand. Fun. Affordable. I finished my cappuccino as he wrote on the back of Annikas photo, in small letters. I know its not feasible for you to get hysterical over each case, but somethings weird here, not-evidence of a crime, just a feeling of-

What?

Doom. I looked down, ill at ease. Cops, with their civil codes and case numbers, probably didnt deal much in doom. I studied the sticky white residue in my mug. I recalled how Ruta, my childhood babysitter, would read the future in her coffee cup. Shed used an old tin pot that left grounds everywhere. Anyway, I just want you to know.

Cziemanskis cell phone rang, giving me the chance to go to the counter and pay our tab. He gave me a hard time about that a minute later, but I told him to consider it a bribe. Im grateful for whatever effort you put into this, I said, and pulled a business card out of my portfolio. Call me anytime, day or night, Im always up. These days.

I am calling you. You owe me a date. He looked at my card, then slid it into the inside pocket of his beige windbreaker with Annikas photo. I had the whimsical thought that Annika was warm in there, next to his chest.

Cziemanski and I parted ways in front of Grounds, he heading to his car, me turning left, toward Larrabee Street. He apologized for not walking me to my door, being in a hurry to get to some top secret detective-type meeting, but I told him the chances of me being accosted in the six and a half minutes it would take me to get home were slim to none.

I was wrong.


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