Rick Edelstein

M. P. F.

 

Can I help you?

We have an appointment. M-P-F?

Oh yeah, right, come on in. I was expecting a man.

Are we going to have a gender issue?

No, it’s just when I called I spoke to a man and assumed that…

My name is Sara Echevarria and of all the credentialed reps, my track record in the state is the highest rated but if you prefer a man I can always call the office, and they’ll probably send Ralph Greenland, who is a good MAN.
No, sure, no problem. Pull up a couch. So…can I get you a drink, coffee-black don’t have milk since well anyhow or maybe vodka, Stoli in the freezer, or…

No, nothing, thank you. I’ll just put this between us to pick up both of our voices.
A recorder, what is that about?

Company policy. I am going to ask you questions, and this ensures the accuracy of what may be relevant information as memory is not always reliable.

I do not feel comfortable being recorded.

We are recording now, and I, Sara Echavarria and please state you name…

James Thackery.

…are the only ones present. I, Sara Echavarria, guarantee that this recording is confidential, information contained herein which shall be the sole property of M-P-F, to be utilized exclusively towards fulfilling this particular assignment and that no information contained herein shall be released to any other source including print, the Internet, and/or shared with persons other than I, Sara Echavarria and…state your name, please.

James Thackery.

Good. When you called, Mr. Thackery, you gave Antonio your credit card number. May I see and verify, please?
Here you go.

Thank you. So verified. Understand, Mr. Thackery, that the initial charge assessed will cover this consultation. If at the conclusion of this meeting, you and I wish to go further in our arrangement, additional fees will be incurred. Acceptable?

Okay, yes.

I am going to ask you questions, many of which will be personal and to some they may even appear to be invasive but be assured Mister…

Personal in what way?

Private, subjective, even sensitive information may be involved, as in personal.

Well, yes, or maybe even no, I mean if it gets too personal beyond my comfort zone, well yours truly has the right, of course, not to answer.

This is not a court of law. No crime has been committed.

We don’t know that yet.

You may be surprised that information which might be considered personal has often been implemental toward fulfilling M-P-F’s promise. Trust me, Mr. Thackery, there is method to my madness.

We’ll see.

Yes, we will. How long has it been now?

Ten days and counting.

And how long was it before you realized something was amiss?

Amiss?

As in worrisome, wrong.

Oh, well, two, three hours I guess.

Which?

Which what?

Two or three?

Is this relevant? You keeping a clock on…

Which?

Well, okay, hmm, after an hour, I got, what’s the word, okay, concerned, I guess, so I called her. She never makes a move without her cell. Even when she goes to the bathroom.

Did she answer?

No. Just her message.

Did you leave a message?

Yes.

Saying what?

I said the obvious.

Which is?

I feel like I’m being grilled on picayune points. Is this the way you find…

What message did you leave, and be as precise as you can?

Simple. I said where are you, are you okay, talk to me.

Did she call?

No.

And then?

Well after two hours of hearing nothing I hit the panic button. Made some calls.

To whom?

First her sister who lives in the valley and then…

What did her sister say?

She didn’t. I got her voicemail.

Did she call you back?

Yes. In a couple of hours after my call.

And?

And what?

Your conversation with her sister.

Uncomfortable.

In what way?

Why is this relevant?

Some questions which may appear tangential are often contributing to…

Okay, okay, yes, what’s the question again?

Why does her sister make you uncomfortable?

Esther’s like an earthquake looking for fault-lines. Oh God, this is so…I feel like I’m stuck in the thick mud with lead shoes. I shower two three times a day in water hot enough to burn. I never did that. I feel like I’m in the middle of a human jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces.

Her sister, Esther, give you any information?

No.

Any hint, inclination perhaps, any subtext that might be of help?

Esther is a woman unfamiliar with subtext. It’s all on top, out front. Sister’s a mean-spirited bitch who in another life would eat her young. Excuse me.

For what?

Profanity. I don’t mean any disrespect.

No worries. I am comfortable with profanity.

Really?

I was raised with four older brothers and in a previous position, well, profanity is not an issue. More about sister-Esther.

We never liked each other.

I get that.

Esther often undermined me with Claire as if I’m the guy who took her other side of the street parking spot.

I gather she was no overt help but could you deduct, feel anything that she may have been withholding?

Other than human empathy? zilch.

Has she called or communicated with you since your conversation?

No. Why would she?

Well, you must have said that you were wondering if Claire was visiting or did she call Esther and or…
I said exactly that.

And her response?

Her response? You’d think I was a spam caller interrupting her game of solitaire. And I’ll bet she cheats.

How often did Claire talk to her sister?

Rarely. Claire was the baby of the family and big sister Esther felt her parents loved Claire more than Esther, which is not hard to believe.

Have you called her parents?

It would be long distance. Bad taste. They have long since departed from the planet. Why do we do that?
What?

Euphemize…easier saying than they’re dead.

I’d like Esther’s number when we’re finished.

No problem.

After you called Esther?

I become the cliché stereotype of confusion. Called 9-1-1. A woman talked to me as if she’s a programmed robot. I expected her to say push number one if…no help. I went to the police station. Sgt. McElwaine asked me a dozen questions including my social security number. What the hell does that have to do with…

He was filling out form DPS 159-C.

He was reluctant to file a report until more time passes, but I became an enraged citizen. You should have heard me. But he was either calm or bored when he said in a kind of tired rasp that I needed to cool down. Police! When you really need them…

Don’t blame the police, Mr. Thackery. They are often overwhelmed with demands beyond their capacity.

The news lately reveals some of them going beyond their capacity.

A few bad apples don’t make…

What are we talking about and why are you defending the police?

I was once a police officer, so I appreciate the pressure they are under. More than 800,000 people are reported missing and entered in FBI’s NCIC.

NCIC?

National Crime Information Center. The undermanned police departments are faced with extreme challenges with thinning resources in manpower and equipment.

Just the same, I…

When your wife left did you…

She’s not my wife.

Antonio gave me that information and he’s very reliable.

I said yes my wife because I didn’t feel like giving a personal history of my relationship with Claire. We have been living together for three, three and half years.

In this house?

Yes.

Do you own or rent?

No. It’s mine. And the bank’s.

Your title, not including Claire’s?

Yes. I bought this eight years ago. Good investment.

The evening when Claire left, what time was it?

A little just before six-thirty when the game was about to start.

Where were you when she left?

In the den. TV for the game.

Did Claire say anything before she left?

I don’t know.

Yes, you do.

Okay, yes, she made some snide remark about men fascinated by putting a ball in a hole.

What did you say or do after her ball-in-a-hole remark?

I don’t know…okay, yes, I do. And what does that have to do with…

People disappear for many reasons. They are mad and need a cool down period, or they are depressed and want to be alone or some other reason not always apparent.

Not always apparent. Meaning what?

Not always apparent.

Intimating something you’re not saying.

Mr. Thackery, it is not against the law to be missing but if we…

We? You and me or you and…?

M-P-F, Missing Persons Found is not just a clever name. Our track record is beyond comparison. Our…my ability to achieve closure often depends on little things that lead to discovery. So, Mr. Thackery, what did you say after Claire’s remark about men putting balls into holes.

Okay, okay, I said don’t belittle them because two of your clients are playing tonight. In fact, I suggested she might want to watch the game with me. She said ex-clients. I forgot.

Forgot what?

She sold the company, closed the deal maybe three, four weeks ago.

What was the company’s purpose?

Business Managerial, handling the humungous earnings of professional athletes who, yes, throw a ball in a hole making them millionaires times ten. Claire walked away with three and half large.

Large meaning?

Three and a half million.

How did that make you feel?

How should I feel about that? Great.

What is your financial arrangement?

Don’t even suggest it. Listen, Mz. Echavarria, I am not, now anyhow, in Claire’s league financially, but I handle my expenses, and even some of hers and she also has a great health plan which includes me even though I offered to pay half she generously refused. We’re both comfortable financially. Listen to me. I’m talking as if Claire is in the next room. What the hell happened to Claire!

You mentioned two of her clients.

Ex-clients.

They were playing that night.

Yes, the great Livinus, six-ten and moves like a swan on speed.

And the other?

Butch Gerson, six-two, great, as a point guard, not so much as a person.

Why is that?

Is this really…okay, okay…surprising information gives clues or something. We had Butch over for dinner. He never looked at me no matter what I said or asked. He was hooked on Claire.

And Livin…what was his name?

Livinus Magdebuna. Nigerian. Charming dude, one of the best in the league and quotes Shakespeare. He’s been over a few times, we all enjoyed each other.

Can you get me their phone or email?

I guess, okay, yes.

And what did Claire say after your remark about her ex-clients?

Nothing. Just I’m going for a walk, and she left.

What was she carrying?

Carrying? She was just going for a walk after an early dinner.

Women most often carry a bag wherever they go.

I have no idea if and or what bag she may or may not have been carrying.

How many bags does Claire have?

How many bags? I don’t know. I mean…a man doesn’t take inventory of a woman’s bags.

Which do you remember?

This is really weird.

What is?

The way this conversation or investigation is going. Claire’s bags. Please!

Which do you recall?

Which…let’s see…okay…she has a black one with silver buckles and a zipper; and oh yeah, a gauche red job which is just big enough for a cell, inane, and then the big one, which she picked out and I bought it for Christmas, a brownish tannish canvas bag big enough to carry a little dog. Claire always wanted to get a little dog.

And you?

To me, a dog is…well the idea of a dog is more fun than having one which I experienced before Claire. A mutt. I’d walk her to pee or poop, clean it up, come home and she would sleep between walks. Boring.

Can we go to Claire’s closet and see which bags are here and which may be gone?

Follow me. Okay, here’s where she keeps her stuff. Walk in.

I see the black bag with the buckles and there’ te little red one. I don’t see the big canvas bag.

I guess she took it with her although I have no idea why she needed that mondo bag for a walk. She probably left it in the car.

A woman doesn’t leave her bag in the car. Care to make a guess as to why she was carrying the big bag?

What are you implying?

You know Claire, I don’t. You may have a sense, a feeling, an intuition if you will, as to why she would carry such a big bag to go for a walk.

Maybe she was carrying her pillow.

What?

Stupid. Ignore that.

No, I won’t. Pillow?

She did not stuff her pillow; it’s still on the bed.

Why did you say that, though?

Way back when we were living together maybe three or four weeks and had some stupid disagreement. She got up and stormed out to sleep in her girlfriend’s house. She took her pillow.

Have you called her girlfriend?

That was three years ago. They had a dispute over something and are no longer friends.

What was Claire wearing?

Clothing.

You really want to do this, Mr. Thackery?

Okay, okay I have no idea what Claire was wearing.

You didn’t see her leave?

No, I was glued to the TV. She just left. Ten days ago and I’m swinging between freaking out and totally freaking out.

Did you fight, argue?

You know any couple that doesn’t?

You and Claire, Mr. Thackery.

Can we drop the ‘Mister’? James. J-T is even better.

Okay. Sara. So J-T what did you and Claire fight about?

I don’t know, nothing specific. Just occasional stuff.

Like what stuff?

Over breakfast, omelets which I prepare pretty damned good if I say so myself, out of the blue she said, lately you’re taking me for granted.

What did you say?

What’s wrong with that? I take for granted that I love you, that you love me, that we’ll share stories about our day, our life, I take it for granted that we love reruns of particular TV series. In this fucked world where violence has become a way of life, taking you for granted is a security blanket, why are you making that wrong?

Her response?

She said she had an important meeting and didn’t want to be late. Got up and left.

When was that?

A few months ago give or take.

When was the last time you had an argument, more recent perhaps?

It was…no, not necessary, pass.

When and about what?

It’s not germane to what we’re dealing with.

I have to be the judge of that. J-T, trust me, unexpected things, conversations, events often turn out to be pertinent. Please, I am not the enemy. I am here to find out what, if anything, happened to Claire and to locate her. When was it and what was the fight about?

You’re like a pit bull.

J-T?

Okay, I reached out for her in bed one night and…do we have to do this, really?

When? How long ago?

As a matter of fact just last week. Tuesday I think it was.

And?

She said the cliché, not tonight, which did not sit well with me. That not tonight I got a headache shit is a total turnoff for a man. It’s primeval. If he reaches out and she says no too often, he’ll reach out beyond the bedroom. And if that bothers you as a woman, well, welcome to the different planets we come from. Mz. Echavarria.

Did you say that to Claire?

Are you just being…I mean the next thing you’ll ask about the details of our sex life which I am not about to share.

Did you say all that to Claire?

Okay, yes.

What was her response?

I knew what she would say, and she said it.

Which is?

That she has the right to choose, to not feel like it just because my dick is hard. A woman’s equal in the…God, this feels like a women’s lib seminar. I’ll stop now.

No, please, don’t stop, this may be relevant.

Relevant? You got a dirty mind. Okay, okay I said yes, you do have the right, but fuck me anyhow. She said that makes me angry, and I said great, fuck me angry, fuck me mad, sad, whatever, just don’t say no to the male animal because a rejection is a visceral thing and the next time I want to reach out my dick will sag in fear of being rejected again. I’m doing a macho editorial, so I’m going to stop.

Did you have sex?

Yes. And it was great.

For you or…

For both of us.

How do you know it was great for her?

A man knows.

Uhmm hmmm.

I feel like our conversation is see-sawing between gender differences and porn, but then again it may be significant according to Sara Echavarria, right?

Are you angry with me because I’m asking sensitive questions or because I’m a woman.

A dentist and a manicurist got married and fought…

What?

It’s a game Claire and I played when we got tired of arguing. One of us would set the other up to try and finish the sentence with a pun. We’re both good at it.

How does it start?

Really?

Try me.

Okay, a dentist and a manicurist got married and fought…

A dentist and a manicurist got married and fought…tooth and nail.

Hah. Score one for Sara. You haven’t asked for a photograph.

You sent two to Antonio. I have them.

Okay. Now what?

Before Claire left, how would you rate your relationship?

Here we go, this is beginning to sound like Psyche 101-A freshmen class. We were living together because we like each other, love each other, I guess.

You guess?

You keep poking, searching for an open wound. What is that about?

In this kind of search, there may be value to poke into an open wound.

You sure you’re not one of those sadists who…phone. Hold it. Hello. Hello. One of these robocalls. Okay, you were saying…shit, there they go again. Hello, hello…I’m going to report you for spam calls so if you call again…

It’s me.

Claire…what…how are you, are you okay, where are you, what happened?

Yes, I’m okay, fine, okay, nothing…

You’re okay? Are you sure? You’re not sitting there with someone’s gun to your head and calling for ransom or have I seen too many movies? Talk to me damn it!

No, I am all right. Really. I have not been kidnapped, just needed some alone-time.

You needed alone time? Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been freaking out for ten days. Jesus fucking Christ, Claire, I called 9-1-1, went to the police station, and you know what I’m doing right now? I am sitting with Sara Echavarria from the M-P-F, Missing Persons Found, but you have already been found, haven’t you? And you just took a hike because you needed some alone-time? I am on the edge actually over the edge. The woman I love disafuckingppears to be alone without a call telling me that…okay, ofuckingkay, there’s more to it than alone time. Come on, Claire, what the fuck is going on. Talk to me, damnit!

I…I fell out of love with you, James.

James…no longer J-T, huh? When my father yelled from the other room in thunderous accusatory, James, I knew I was in trouble. So the woman of my life fell out of love. That is what you said, right?

Yes.

Well fuck me. She fell out of love. How bloody quaint. You had to put me thorugh this panic room in worry, fear, that my honey is…you couldn’t tell me face to your nasty face?

I didn’t want to deal with your rage which is almost strangling me through the phone right now.

My rage. Yes. I should be calm and reasonable and okay; I am calm. Tell me, Claire, when exactly did you fall out of love with me?

It’s…evolving…or devolving…going on for a while…I just didn’t have the courage to face it and tell you what was happening inside of me. I’m sorry.

But you had the courage to disappear for ten days. Yeah, that takes some balls. Didn’t stop, take a minute to consider that the man who you fell out of love with may be worried, may be losing his mind? I always knew you were self-absorbed but not mean-spirited as to…okay…okay…where are you staying and don’t tell me with your sister who loves you so much that she didn’t even bother to call me back when I told her you disappeared. Where are you?

It doesn’t matter. I would like to come by this weekend to pick up my clothes, laptop and stuff if that’s okay with you, J-T?

Ah, back to J-T, uh huh, yeah you can come by this weekend and bring a marshmallow because we’re having a fire sale. All your clothes will be burning nicely in the front yard. Does a laptop melt in the fire?

Come on, J-T, we don’t have to part like this. Please, let’s just handle this maturely and who knows, in time we might even be friends.

The infamous f-word, friends. Have you lost your deranged despicable mind? You split for ten days leaving me crazy, worried, panicked and you’re talking friends-shit! No, do not come by because at this moment, I am not responsible for a craving to smash your lying face in and…

I need my belongings.

Your belongings. I thought you belonged here. With me, with…fuck this shit, okay where are you staying goddamnit, I’ll have some company pack everything and deliver so I do not have to see you again. Friend.

I’ll arrange for the company to do that. I’ll give them your number and you can let them in and…

Where will they be delivering your goodies? I mean in case, I ever want to get in touch with you again for some ugly reason.

I’ll continue to carry you on my Health Insurance Plan.

I’d rather you shove it where the sun don’t shine than carry me as a favor. Let’s cut this close to the bone. Where should I forward your mail and other stuff which may require an address?

1825 Billsmore Heights.

Billsmore Heights…Billsmore Heights…nothing but mansions up there.

That’s the address.

Oh fuck…Billsmore Heights…you’re staying with that asshole who so glommed onto you as if I wasn’t in the room. Only pros can afford Billsmore Heights. You’re with Butch Gerson.

No.

Don’t bother lying. We’re a done thing, Claire, so you may as well tell me the truth.

I’m staying with Livinus.

Livinus?

Yes, Livinus Magdebuna.

Fuck…at least Butch Gerson is an asshole. I like Livinus…liked, past fucking tense. How long have you and Livinus been sneaking around behind yours truly?

I’ll arrange for the company to call and pack my things.

Just like that, huh? Listen you bitch…she hung up. Well, what the fuck. A job well done, Mz. Echevarria.

Yes, I guess that’s a wrap.

You don’t look surprised.

No, I expected as much. Sorry, J-T, I’ll be leaving now.

No, don’t, please, stay a while.

There’s no reason to…

Yes there is. Right now I am damaged goods, a package of rage, and if someone doesn’t talk me down from this cracked place, I might just hit that little old lady across the street whose dog shits on my lawn. Please.

A thief who stole a calendar got…

What?

Finish it. A thief who stole a calendar got…

A thief who stole a calendar got…twelve months. It doesn’t work. I am beyond crazy at this moment and just want to…

I know what you’re going through.

I feel like I’m experiencing whiplash from the inside, and no way could you know.

Yes, I do.

Is this your learned method of talking down to a crazed man like a grad student who just got her Masters in Psychology?

My husband disappeared. I found him in a tacky motel with not one but two bimbos.

Jesus. What did you do, say, what was his reaction to…

I hurt him for hurting me.

How?

Left him with some bones broken?

Really?

I was still on the force, so I had some equipment that…he reported me and I was given the opportunity to resign.
My mother said God is making me suffer because I don’t believe in him. So yes, J-T, I do know what you are going through.

Fuck…I wouldn’t’ mind doing some damage to Claire or at least that fucker Livinus but he’s too big…ain’t this the shits…I’ve been with Claire for three years now…and all I feel is the rage. I understand all those killings now, in a pain filled rage, a betrayed man will…it’s good that I don’t have a gun.

Yes, it is.

I can’t believe this. She takes off for a fucking walk and ten days later…what foul, offensive, ugly…I think I’m going to smash her laptop and then soak her clothes in a tub of lye and…

We’re not faultless.

And the bitch can…what did you say?

We’re not all faultless.

You saying that Claire’s disappearance act is because of something I did or didn’t do?

I’m just saying…what Manny, my husband did, what Claire did, the way they did it sucks, yes.

But what are you not saying?

Months later, alone and making it okay to be alone, I took a long hard, uncomfortable look and realized that Manny and I were distancing ourselves long before…

I had no hint, no inclination that Claire was…

For Manny to descend down to a miserable motel with two bimbos rather than be with me…he was already long gone before that motel scene but I was just too…to what…thickened…stubborn, tough, strong, all those things that made me good police officer but not necessarily…

You letting him off the hook as if you catered that motel party? Please!

No, Manny and Claire could have, should have been more honest out front from the get-go, but maybe you and I didn’t want to see the signals.

What kind of signals?

That they already left before they left if you get what I’m saying?

I do and I don’t, maybe, I guess, I don’t fucking know anything anymore. But the way she did it…I feel like a kid grounded because he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar whining it just ain’t fair.

Who says life’s supposed to be fair?

***

Rick-EdelsteinRick Edelstein’s writing career includes Stage-Plays and TV series. In Los Angeles he won the Dramatist Award for his stage-play, “Human Scratchings” with Anthony Geary. Recently his focus has been in prose writing novellas and short stories, many published in Print and Digital. Never forgetting his roots, his work often reflects the nitty-gritty of the Bronx streets with a sophisticated humor and important humanity.

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