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Authors: Jonathan Valin

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General


BOOK: Missing
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Jonathan Valin


To my mother, Marcella Valin
and my wife, Katherine

’ ‘

"How can we hang a murderer who doesn’t
Our answer could be put in this
form: "I can’t hang him
when he
doesn’t exist; but I can look for him when he doesn’t

Ludwig Wittgenstein, The Blue Book


THE woman on the phone, Cindy Dorn, had given me
elaborate directions to her house in Finneytown, but I got lost
anyway in a maze of twisty side streets named after birds and lined
with identical yellow-brick, two-bedroom, split-level houses that
began to look, to my jaundiced eye, like yellow-brick bird-houses on
yellowing patches of lawn. It was a Saturday afternoon in July, so
the householders were out in their swimsuits, the kids six inches
deep in the round plastic pools with the hoses in them. I kept
driving by in the rusty Pinto—a big sweaty stranger staring
sullenly out a car window. It was just a matter of time before the
cops were called.

I was kind of wondering what I’d say to them, when
I got lucky and turned left at the end of Oriole Lane. And there it
was, Blue Jay Drive. The same damn street I’d been driving down for
thirty minutes—only this one was called Blue Jay Drive. The Dorn
house was third from the corner on the left. Two-bedroom split-level
with the bedrooms over the garage, the picture window looking out on
a tiny lawn, the dead hawthorn tree in a bed of mulch, like a spade
in a freshly turned grave.

I parked on the street and walked up the cement path
to the house. A tall, athletic-looking woman in a sweat shirt and
jeans came out on the stoop. She was about forty. Attractive,
weather-beaten face, curly black hair, green eyes, big smile. I liked
the smile so much, I smiled back at her.

"You got lost, didn’t you?" she said.


The woman laughed cheerfully, showing a lot of teeth.
"It’s always tough the first time. The houses look the same."

"The streets, too. Those names."

"The developer liked birds, I guess." She
laughed again. "He didn’t like people very much, that’s for
sure. See for yourself."

She waved me through the front door into the living
room. It was oblong and incredibly narrow, with a spackled ceiling
that dropped so low, I found myself stooping.

"It’s like incoming fog," the woman said,
pointing up. "The whole subdivision was built for a different

She flopped down on a brown tufted sofa, dug a loose
red sock from under her butt, and draped it over her knee. I sat on
an armchair across the room from her—about eight feet away. It was
like sitting in a Pullman car. There were a couple of framed movie
posters on the walls—Chinatown and Last Tango. No other furnishing
or decorations—no room for any.

"I’m not much on housekeeping," Cindy
Dorn said, toying with the sock as if it were the pet cat.

"There doesn’t seem to be much house to keep."

She stretched one arm lazily above her head. "It
seemed like heaven when Randy and I first moved in, fourteen years

"Randy is . . . ?"

"My ex. He lives in Denver now with a
stewardess. Good old Randy." She made a fist with her right hand
and popped it into her left palm. "The son of a bitch broke up
with me two weeks before our tenth wedding anniversary. We were in
Scotland on vacation. Scotland, for chrissake! I said, ‘Randy,
we’re Jewish. Why Scotland?’ Well, it’s different, he says.
Besides, he wants to see Nessie. So I take a leave of absence from
grad school and off we go to the Highlands. We’re there about a
week, hopping from pub to pub, when he says to me, ‘Cindy, I had an
amazing experience last night. After you fell asleep, I went back to
the little pub we were in and started talking with this old
fisherman. We had a few drinks, and he begins telling me about his
life. It turns out he’s been all over the world. Done things you
wouldn’t believe. And he’s still going strong at ninety. So at
last call I ask him, 'What’s the secret?' You know what he says? He
says 'The secret is doing what you want to do, because you only pass
through here once.'

"Now Randy just can’t get over this—that you
can actually do what you want with your life. Of course, for a Jewish
kid from Roselawn, maybe it was a revelation. Anyway, it’s all he
talks about for the next week. And a week after that, as we’re
driving to Edinburgh, he tells me he’s made up his mind. From now
on he’s going to do exactly what he wants to do with his life. And
he’s going to begin by divorcing me!"

Cindy Dorn stared at me incredulously. "I mean,
there are epiphanies and epiphanies. But when a ninety-year-old
alcoholic from Aberdeen and a schmuck accountant from Cincinnati
start playing darts with my life . . . a sense of unreality doesn’t
cover it. It didn’t start to come clear to me until a year later,
when I found out about his stew honey-bunny, who just happened to fly
the transatlantic route to Scotland. My guess is that most of those
long lunches weren’t spent with his aged guru. In fact, I don’t
even think the old man existed."

Cindy Dorn stopped talking just long enough to catch
her breath. She had a low flip voice, and she spoke the way youngest
children eat—urgently, with both hands, as if she’d never gotten
her fair share of the words in.

"That’s how I inherited this house," she
said when she’d gotten her second wind. "And the car payments
and the student loans. They apparently weren’t covered by the
‘doing what you want to do’ philosophy."

I glanced at the Tango poster and said, "I hope
you’re not hiring me to kill Randy."

She laughed. "It’s a thought, but no. I got
over him years ago. It’s Mason."

"Who’s Mason?"

"Mason Greenleaf is my lover," she said


"And he’s disappeared. He’s been missing for
three days."

We retired to the kitchen—another box within a
box—where Cindy Dorn made coffee and told me about Mason Greenleaf.

"He’s probably the sweetest man I’ve ever
known," she said as she set a teakettle on the range. "And
I’ve known a few guys. After Randy split, I kind of overdid it with
men. You know, drowning my sorrows in flesh—trying to prove
something. Anyway, it got so that I really didn’t like my new life
much at all. And then I met Mason." She glanced at the teakettle
and adjusted the flame. "You’re not supposed to use boiling
water for coffee. Did you know that?"

"I’ve been boiling mine for years."

"Well, you’re not supposed to." She came
over to the little Formica breakfast table and sat down across from
me. "It’s tough for me to tell you about Mason. I mean, how do
you explain why you love someone?"

"I could take your word for it," I said
with a smile.

She smiled back at me. "But I want you to
understand what a good man he is."


"Maybe I think you’ll do a better job."

"I always try to do the best I can."

"I’m sure you do. I can tell that about you.
You’re steadfast."

I didn’t say anything.

"That’s a terrific quality," she said.
"Take it from someone who knows. That’s part of why I love
Mason. He’s always there when I need a friend. Not just someone to
sleep with. If you’re moderately good-looking and have a taste for
it, you can always find someone to sleep with. But you can’t always
find a friend." She shook her head. "See what I mean.
That’s so trite it makes me shudder."

"I can handle it."

The teakettle began to shriek. Cindy Dorn said,
"Crap!" and leaped to her feet. She went over to the range
and flipped the burner off. Then turned back to me.

"I’m sorry. I screwed up. I’ll start a fresh

"I’m used to boiled coffee."

She sighed. "All right. But I can do better."

She poured two cups of her second-rate brew and
brought them back to the table.

"I met Mason in 1990," she said, sitting
down again. "At a teachers’ conference in Louisville. I teach
preschool up here. He teaches at Nine Mile. I’d gone to that
conference to get away from a man. He was . . . he’d hurt me. So I
went away for a few days to get my head straight—not in the best
shape of my life—and I met Mason.

"Right away he started looking after me. The way
I felt, I could’ve been had for a kind word. But he didn’t take
advantage. He just stayed with me in my room, where I bitched and
moaned and shed a few tears. When we got back to town, Mason let me
stay at his place in Mount Adams for a week. The week became two and
three. And then I lost track of the time, and the other man. Mason
and I have been together ever since."

Cindy Dorn cocked her head to one side and stared at
me searchringly, as if she’d just then noticed that I was sitting
in the room with her. It was a funny time to start wondering who I
was, considering how open she’d already been about her life. But
then, she was the kind of person who sat down to candor the way older
generations used to sit down to the piano in the parlor. It was a
peculiarly sixties kind of social grace.

Whatever it was about me that had been hanging her
up, she got over it. She stopped staring and smiled at me with her
big, engaging smile. "What I am going to tell you . . . well,
it’s just between you and me. Because I promised Mason I wouldn’t
tell anyone else. Ever."

"It’ll stay between us," I promised her.

Cindy Dorn took a deep breath. "Mason is
bisexual. And I’m worried that . . ." She waved her hand as if
she couldn’t summon the right words. "I’m just worried."

I’m not sure what I was expecting the woman to say,
but that wasn’t it.

"That bothers you, doesn’t it?" Cindy Dom
said nervously.

"About him being bisexual."

"I would think it would bother you more."

"You mean because of AIDS?"


"We practice safe sex, and I have my blood
tested every six months. Mason is even more fanatic. So far, we’re
both HIV—negative." She put her fist to her chin and chewed on
her knuckles.

"That doesn’t help though, does it?"

"Genera1ly I don’t like taking cases that
involve homosexuals."

"What you really mean is that you don’t like
homosexuals, right?"

I told her the truth. "Queer-bashing’s not a
religion with me, but no, I’m not crazy about them. I had a case a
few years back that left a bad memory."

"Would it help if I told you that Mason is a
great lay?"

"Not a whole lot."

The woman dropped her hand to the table and opened it
in a frank appeal for help. "Well, do we go on with this? Or do
I get out the phone book again and start over with someone else?"

"Let me think about it, Ms. Dom."

"I’d say you know me well enough to call me

I’d been there less than a half hour, but she was
right. Cindy Dorn brewed another pot of coffee—unboiled, this time.
While we sat at the table drinking, she picked up the story of her
love affair with Mason Greenleaf.

"The funny thing about Louisville was that Mason
was on the rebound, too. He’d just broken up with this guy—Del
somebody. Del was the one part of his past that Mason would never
really open up about. It was not, as they say, a healthy


"I think it had gotten a little rough," she
said softly.

Great, I said to myself. "Do you have any reason
to believe that Mason might be back with this guy Del?"

"As far as I know, they haven’t seen each
other in four years."

"Then why are you worried?"

"I don’t know why, for sure," she said.
"I do know that for the last week Mason hasn’t been himself."

"In what way hasn’t he been himself?"

She shrugged. "I can’t put my finger on it.
But when you know someone as well as I know Mason, you sense when
something’s wrong. And something was wrong. I finally asked him
about it on Wednesday night—if anything had happened at summer
session to upset him. But he said that it wasn’t a school thing, he
was just feeling a little low and it would pass. In fact he made an
effort to be cheerful for the rest of the evening. We had supper,
made great love, watched a little tube until Mason fell asleep, then
I came back here."

BOOK: Missing
2.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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