Runaways are easy to find. In the old days, you had to figure out how they got out of town – if they did – and from that where they went. Now, you just need the parent’s permission and a well paid hacker gets you everything they ever posted online – along with all the accounts their parents don’t know about. More often than not, there’s an address. Kids either want to be found or they are stupid – either works for me.
My well paid hacker is a sixty-five year old retired programmer who does endangered kids work pro bono – or stupid runaways for a reduced fee. The only development in the files Sonia had sent was that Max had returned the fee – Miss Allen was moving down in the world from ‘stupid’ to ‘endangered’. I skimmed the updates to find out why.
In the old days, a gumshoe didn’t really need to be told why – he knew. Fact is, I already knew, but thoroughness is a good way to do business. Nothing in the files that would alter my intended approach – I’d had a bad feeling about this one. Sonia says I have bad feelings about all of them – maybe so. Once in a while, it would be nice to be wrong.
I drove to where I planned to leave the car. Getting out, I started in the direction opposite of the intended destination. Streets have eyes, both human and electronic. No sense giving anyone a head’s up.
I bought drinks at a couple bars and schmoozed with girls too young to be doing this but too old to be illegal. I watered a few floors and even a waitress, making sure to have something on my breath and a quick dab in my eyes. No one believes a white eyed drunk, after all.
Took a lot longer than I liked – but no longer than I expected. A bartender scouted me out. A woman more than old enough to know better made the approach. Was I perhaps interested in something say a little younger? Sure, I might be. The kind of conversation that takes up two pages of dialogue in old mystery novels – all that’s changed is the slang and the price structure.
We negotiated. We settled on a price. She pulled out a tablet and we perused the available listings in a private booth. I took my time, wavered a bit between several similar looking babies and finally selected the one I wanted. I was given a hotel key for the agreed ten percent down. I paid and bid the madame a good night.
Walking the block to the hotel, I fiddled in my pockets like a nervous school boy. I’d seen eyes on me coming out which didn’t matter. I’d expected as much and hadn’t planned on using text anyway. Old school sometimes rules.
I let myself in, went to the minibar and poured a drink. Grabbed a Coke as well – might as well keep up appearances. I made a point to keep pushing back the curtains – a habit new clients often have while they wait. No point, I knew – they wanted the cash and wouldn’t have gone so far if they weren’t intending to complete the transaction. Now, that didn’t rule out larcenous and murderous sidelines but those tend to be self limiting. People who have multiple layers of security tend to be more business like.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock. Opening the door revealed a twenty something with greasy hair and dead eyes escorting my purchase. He shoved her into the room without a word and closed the door. He met my eyes only for a split second – he was carrying and knew I was. No trouble, please – too much hassle. I let him think there wouldn’t be any.
She looked stoned, which she no doubt was. She started shedding clothes but I told her I liked a little more lead up – she picked up her jacket and put it back on. Junior was no doubt listening in and probably bored. I made it worse. Sat her down, gave her the Coke, started rambling about my non-existent wife and kiddies. I swear I heard a disgusted sigh on the other side of the door.
Talkers are a thing – they just want to talk to a girl and will pay for the privilege – then roll in the hay as a bonus. I’d paid for two hours – a pretty good indicator I either wanted an ear or I was going to damage the merchandise. The price was high enough to cover either eventuality.
My pager finally vibrated – I silently wished that had happened before I gave poor little Marilyn the flu twice in one month. The girl just nodded absently as if she heard when she really hadn’t. My hypothetical kids could have all had cancer and been knife jugglers – she wouldn’t have cared. I doubted Junior cared, either, but he might be sharper than he looked.
She was still sipping her Coke. I got up and went to the door. I cracked it to ask about altering the arrangement for another 30 minutes. Junior said he’d check and started texting. He got an answer, told me, I agreed and he put the phone away.
Idiot. I tossed open the door and tossed Junior face first into the wall. The plain clothes cop that had been pretending to searching for his room grabbed the kid and finished the job. Cops were everywhere – Lt. Bartley had come through.
Miss Allen was still sipping her Coke, too drugged out to know where she was or what had just happened. I told her who I was and that she was safe. She just finished the Coke.
Two am, reports finished, interviews done, runaway safely in hospital waiting for Mom and Dad, I crawled back into my flophouse home, retrieved my property and checked out to go to a real hotel. By three, I had scrubbed my skin raw, gotten into PJ’s and was throwing myself at the bed. I didn’t want the particulars of what the kid had been through. I didn’t want to know if she could even remember. I knew enough to know I knew too much.
Then it was finally dark.