She had me from the first teardrop.
Now, I’m not one of those sensitive, softhearted guys who gushes over babies and puppies and flowers. I’m a hardnose. I survived two rough tours in Afghanistan, six years on the Fort Worth PD, and five months of rehab after they amputated the bottom half of my right leg. Once I got the prosthetic and learned how to use it, I chased a purse-snatcher for three blocks. Caught him, too.
But I’m a pushover when a woman cries. Especially, a little old lady like Mrs. Jackson. Well, she was thin and petite but not really that old. Maybe sixty.
She was standing outside my office on the second floor of an old storefront building on the edge of downtown Fort Worth at ten-fifteen that morning. Her hair was gray and short and neatly done. She wore an old-fashioned flowery dress and black, laced sneakers. As soon as I got close enough, she tossed a thumb at the sign on the door. “You this Private Investigator fella, William Meadows?”
I flashed my brilliant smile. “Yes, ma’am.”
“The sign on your door says you open at eight thirty.”
My smile was a bit less brilliant this time. “Sorry. I’m running a little late this morning.”
Actually, I was early. I hardly ever get to my office before eleven. It’s not like I have people lining up to hire me every day. Fortunately, with a few insurance companies as clients, a wife or husband here and there needing a spouse followed and photographed doing the dirty with someone else, and my disability pension, I get by okay.
“How come you limp like that?” she asked.
My smile was barely a grin this time. “Bad leg. Is there something I can do for you?”
“You did a job for my neighbor ’bout a year ago. Got pictures of her husband cheating on her. She dumped the louse and got a right good alimony settlement. She says you’re good. I want to hire you.”
I unlocked the door and stepped aside for her to enter. “Would you like to come in and talk about it?”
I followed her in and gathered up a week’s worth of mail off the chair facing my desk so she could sit down. My coffee pot was still half full from yesterday, so I filled my mug and stuck it in the microwave on the credenza.
That’s when I remembered my manners. “Would you like a cup of coffee?” I asked.
She looked at the cold pot, at the chipped cup she’d have to use, and said, “Thanks. I’m good.”
When the microwave stopped humming, I retrieved my mug, settled in my chair, and revived my brilliant smile. “Now, what’s on your mind, Mrs. …?”
“Jackson, Alma Jackson. I want you to find my son. Something’s happened to him.” She reached in her pocket and brought out a picture and handed it to me. “His name is Alex. He’s twenty-two years old. This was taken three months ago.”
I looked at the picture. Good-looking boy. Dark hair, clear blue eyes, a little on the thin side, looked younger than twenty-two.
This was not the kind of job I wanted. I’d had a few missing persons cases before. They’re a pain in the butt. Especially young people. They take off one day to get away from whatever’s bothering them at home and when they run out of money, they come back.
I’d have to think of a way to politely get out of taking her on as a client.
“He’s been working on a farm in Tyler to make money for tuition,” she went on. “He planned to go back to college in the fall and get his degree. He always called me every night so I wouldn’t worry. All of a sudden, a week ago, the calls stopped. The people he worked for said he decided to go to California and just took off. He wouldn’t do that without telling me. He tells me everything. I want you to go to Tyler and find out what happened to him.”
“Did you file a missing persons report?”
“Yes, for all the good that did. The Tyler police didn’t do anything. They said they sent information all over Texas and other states, but they didn’t come up with anything. I don’t think they want to be bothered.”
“Did you contact his friends and family to see if they’d heard from him?”
“I did that right away. No one has seen him or heard from him. That’s why I need you to look into it.”