I sat at my desk, frozen, my phone against my ear. I had to have misheard, right? There was no way I’d just stumbled on a former companion to Howard Weiss being missing for two years. It was like something out of a made-for-TV movie.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Vinarisky. Did you say that Patricia was missing?” I hoped my voice sounded more natural to him than it did to me.
“Two years ago last month,” Frank Vinarisky said. “Are you seriously trying to tell me that you didn’t know? Why would you be calling unless you knew something about her kidnapping?”
“She was kidnapped.” I made it a statement rather than a question because I had a feeling Frank would think I was patronizing him, but he still took it poorly.
“Of course she was kidnapped! My daughter is a sweet, innocent girl. She wouldn’t have run away, no matter what anyone says.” His voice was getting louder and more intense.
“I truly am sorry, sir. I didn’t know.”
“Bullshit!” Frank practically shouted the word, and I winced. “You have to know something! How did you find out about my daughter? How did you know to call me?”
“I’m sorry.” I repeated the only thing I could say. I couldn’t tell him that I’d been led to his daughter’s name through a client. I might not have been Howard’s actual attorney, but I was still a part of the law firm that represented him and I couldn’t violate attorney-client privilege, especially when it was just based on speculation.
“If you know something, you have to tell me!”
I didn’t say anything. What could I say? Sorry, sir, I found your daughter’s picture when I was researching the possibility of affairs for a rich, womanizing client. I didn’t think that would go over well.
“You tell whoever you work for that I will find out what happened to my daughter, and they’re going to pay.”
The line went dead as Mr. Vinarisky ended the call. I set down my receiver and stared at the phone for nearly a full minute. That hadn’t gone like I’d thought it would at all. A missing daughter and an angry father. Files on ordinary women who were seen in pictures with Howard, but didn’t seem to have any other sort of media presence. In this day and age, that alone was suspicious.
I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly, calming myself. I hadn’t been afraid – no point to that on a phone call, since it wasn’t like he could’ve hurt me – but my heart was racing nonetheless and my hands were trembling. I counted to twenty, then opened my eyes. Better. I still felt a bit shaky, but I was in control.
I needed to figure out what was going on.
I went back to the stack of magazines and began to look for Patricia’s picture. I needed to know when she’d been photographed with Howard. The picture or pictures were probably in Gavin’s file, but I wanted to find my own copy. I needed a file that I knew hadn’t been tampered with. Not that I was accusing Gavin of doctoring photos. He wouldn’t do that, but I wasn’t sure I could put it past Howard to hire someone to plant false information if he’d had anything to do with Patricia’s disappearance.
It took me a few minutes, but I finally found the magazine I’d been looking for. The picture was huge, taking up half a page. The caption didn’t mention Patricia by name, but it was her. And the date of the event she’d attended had been two and a half years ago, months before she’d disappeared, according to her father.
I breathed a sigh of relief. None of these no-name women had appeared with Howard for more than a month. He’d moved on by the time she’d vanished. Maybe that was why she’d disappeared. Maybe she’d left the city because she’d been heartbroken. Her father had said she was sweet and innocent. I could only imagine what Howard’s indifference would’ve done to a girl like her. It could have been enough to make her behave contrary to her usual manner.
My eyes fell on another picture of Howard with an unnamed woman. She, too, was in the files Gavin had given me. A horrible thought struck me. What if she’d disappeared too? What if all of these no-name women had vanished after their encounters with Howard? They weren’t celebrities. Only their families would miss them – if they even had families – and who would take a distraught father seriously? I could hear the police telling parent after parent that their twenty-something daughters were just out having fun, that there was no reason to suspect foul play. With so many obviously violent crimes to solve, these missing girls would just get shoved aside.
What did it mean if more of these women were missing? I leaned back in my chair. Did that lead directly to Howard, or could it be a bizarre coincidence? And what about Gavin? What was his role in all of this?
As always, when I thought of him, the image of his face floated through my mind. The way his eyes darkened when he was aroused. The smile that wasn’t slick and charming, but boyish and sweet.
No. I shook my head. No, he wouldn’t be involved in anything so shady. I was speculating rather than letting actual evidence lead me to a conclusion. I wasn’t a detective. I was a lawyer. I had to go where the facts led me, and the fact was, Gavin wasn’t stupid. Why would he give me a file on Patricia if he knew anything about her disappearance? That wouldn’t make any sense. If I was going to accuse anyone of anything, I would need a hell of a lot more proof than what I had here.
I closed the files and put everything into a nice, neat stack. I had a report to type and I had to include only facts, not speculation. I pulled up my program, sat with my fingers on the keyboard for a moment, and then began to type. As uneasy as I felt about Howard, I had to be honest and conclude that there was no evidence of infidelity. If I hadn’t found receipts or records about any of these women, celebrities or otherwise, I doubted Howard’s soon-to-be-ex-wife would be able to find anything either. I wrote out all of my findings and conclusions, sent a copy to the printer, and emailed the file to Mimi. I really hoped this case closed quickly. I was tired of researching Howard Weiss.
My head was starting to hurt. I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. I had far too much going on in my head at the moment. The initial disappointment when Gavin had to cancel our plans, then the excitement of him asking me to come with him to Miami. Then his titillating conversation, which had been interrupted by Frank Vinarisky. That had thrown a whole other set of emotions and thoughts into play. And now a missing girl.
I was starting to miss my boring old life.
I opened my eyes again. I may have finished my report for Mimi, but I wasn’t done with those files of Gavin’s. I needed to find out more about Patricia’s disappearance. It could lead nowhere, or it could lead back to Howard, but it didn’t matter. I just needed to know what had happened to her. Part of it was because I couldn’t stop thinking about Mr. Vinarisky and how much pain had been in his voice, but another part was just who I was. One of the reasons I’d wanted to become a lawyer was because, eventually, I wanted to be able to take on cases for victims and families of missing and exploited women. The cause had always been close to my heart, and Patricia’s disappearance was striking a chord with me. I might not be a lawyer yet, but I could still investigate and see if I could find something.
I just needed a better place to start than Frank Vinarisky’s phone rant, or even Gavin’s file. I needed to know about the actual disappearance, and that meant police records. If the case was still open, there was no way I could get to them short of a subpoena, but I didn’t have anything close to enough evidence to make that kind of request, even if I had been a lawyer. I frowned. How could I get those files?
Suddenly, an idea popped into my head. It was crazy, but it just might work. I picked up my phone and crossed my fingers.