Marcus was in his office typing up a surveillance report for another client, when the phone rang. He answered without taking his eyes off of his computer screen. The sultry voice immediately grabbed his full attention.
“Are you that bounty hunter whose been asking questions about my daughter,” it purred.
“Who is your daughter?”
“Her name is Cat.”
“Yes, I’m looking into her disappearance as a favor to your son.”
“Why haven’t you contacted me with questions?”
“Your son asked me not to. He thought it might upset you too much.”
The voice chuckled throatily, “He said that did he? Well, he’s mistaken. I want to help. When can you come and see me?”
“When are you free?”
“There’s no time like the present.”
Twenty minutes later, Marcus stood outside a row of brownstones, trying to find the correct address. He felt something tugging on his pantleg and looked down into the big soulful eyes of the cutest little girl he had ever seen framed by big sandy curls that spiraled to her narrow shoulders. In her eyes, he noted a strong resemblance to Cat and surmised that she must be a niece or cousin.
Wordlessly, she took his hand and led him to the correct building. The stairwell inside was dark and a little foreboding. She gave him one last penetrating look, with her strangely hypnotic gaze and left him at the head of the stairs. Marcus glanced around, saw an open doorway and walked towards it.
Mahogany bookshelves, filled with old tomes, ran along all four walls. In the center of the room was a long wooden table, surrounded by high backed ornately carved mahogany chairs. The room was so dim, that for a second, Marcus thought it was empty. His eyes slowly adjusted from the glaring sunlight to the interior gloom.
Marcus squinted and made out the silhouette of someone sitting at the opposite end of the table, cast in shadow by the large window behind her. He cautiously advanced into the room and took a seat at the other end of the table. Through a veil of cigarette smoke, he could see only that she was a woman of indeterminate age. Expressionless, she gazed back at him. They regarded one another for a few silent moments, and then she spoke.
“Did you actually go to college with my son?”
“Yes ma’am, we were roommates.”
“No offense, but you’re nothing like his other high-toned friends.”
“You’re not quite what I expected either ma’am.”
“I’m not surprised. Chester likes to put on so many airs, you’d think he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. That’s why he never brings his friends around here. He’s ashamed of me.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that…”
“Save your sympathy for someone who needs it Mr….”
“My name is Marcus ma’am.”
“Please stop calling me ma’am. You’re making me feel old. Just call me Aria. Chester has always tried hard to forget where he came from. For as long as I can remember, he wanted to be an average person and live a dull, predictable life. Imagine my surprise, when he went away to college and began honing his talent.”
Marcus was shocked, “Magic? You mean to tell me he has the gift? But I never…”
“Saw him casting spells? That’s because he goes to great lengths, in order to keep people from knowing about his gift. All of my children were born with abilities.”
“Now, I really have no idea why he wants me to search for your daughter. Seems like he could do just fine on his own. He did have one close call, but that happens sometimes.”
“Knowing him, he just doesn’t want to associate with certain…individuals.”
“What do you mean?”
“He didn’t tell you did he?”
“Tell me what?”
“That his sister… is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She likes to poke the bear, so to speak.”
“I’m not sure what you’re saying.”
“Please understand Marcus, I love my daughter very much. However, I have to be honest. If you are to have any chance in hell of finding her, then you must have all of the facts. I’m not sure how you young people would describe what she does. In my day they called it grifting…running the long con on powerful spellcasters.”
“So she scams them for…”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well when you find Cat, ask her to explain it.”
Marcus kept his expression bland to mask his shock. Two things Chester had neglected to tell him. Marcus hated surprises. What else was his friend keeping from him? Feeling Aria’s intense gaze, Marcus tamped down his irritation and got back on track, making a mental note to have a little talk with Chester later. He cleared his throat.
“Has anybody been giving your daughter trouble lately?”
“You’ll have to be more specific than that Marcus. There’s always drama swirling around Cat.”
“Was she being harassed by a victim or jealous boyfriend?”
“My daughter can handle herself. She would never let anyone harass her.”
“Then what do you think happened to her?”
“I’m not convinced that anything unintended did happen to her. It’s not unusual for her to drop out of site for days or even weeks. She’s a free spirit. Why does my son think something bad happened to her?”
“All he said was that she had gotten herself mixed up with some real pros. Her car appeared to have been abandoned and Chester had to get it out of impound. He tried to find out what happened to Cat and was attacked. He showed me a wound on his arm.”
Aria continued to gaze at him calmly as if to say, “is that all?” Marcus was taken aback by her apparent lack of concern. He deduced from Aria’s sedate gaze that she knew a lot more than she was letting on. Marcus asked a few more questions, received evasive answers and decided that Aria had already told him everything that she intended to share. When she started quizzing him about her son, asking the kinds of deeply personal things that a son would never tell his mother, Marcus thanked Aria for her time and let himself out.