The first time Frank Garret sat down in the blue leather chair on the opposite side of my desk, I didn’t know he was dead. My cousin Oliver didn’t seem to pick up on it either, when he showed Frank in from reception. My new client wasn’t looking great, mind you; he was obviously a man who’d been through some stuff. But he seemed as solid and well, alive as any other client I’d ever had.
Hell, more alive than some. And I didn’t notice anything strange when we shook hands, except that his grip was cool and firm.
Oliver left us reluctantly, as usual—he hadn’t quite grasped the concept of “assistant” as opposed to “partner” yet—and the client didn’t waste any time.
“I need you to find my wife,” he said, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, hands twisting a battered Jays ball cap nervously.
I thought, another divorce case, here we come, but I didn’t say it. Before I could say anything, in fact, he held up a hand.
“I know what you’re thinking, Miss Sheridan, but it’s not like that. She doesn’t even know I’m looking for her. And I promise you that she hasn’t run away from me.” He paused and glanced out the window, although there was not much to see on the other side but a dingy back alley. “Not deliberately, anyway.”
The guy wasn’t making a whole lot of sense, but I decided to hear him out. I didn’t have much on the go, and these days I could track down a “missing” person in twenty-four hours or less if they’d used a credit card or checked into social media.
“Would you like a cup of coffee, Mr. Garret? Tea? Oliver will be happy to bring it.” Oliver would fume to me afterwards that he wasn’t the maid, but the clients don’t need to know that.
He shook his head. “Call me Frank. I’d love one, but it’s not possible. And I don’t have much time.”
“All right, we’ll get to business, then. And please, call me Acacia.” I pulled my notebook out of the drawer and wrote his name at the top of a blank page. “Your wife’s name?”
“Ellie Garret. E.P. Wyse-Garret,” he added. “The writer.”
I felt my eyebrows lift slightly in surprise. E.P. Wyse-Garret was the acclaimed author of the Frankie and Ellie mysteries, featuring a wise-cracking and lovable pair of middle-aged sleuths based loosely on herself and her husband. Something tickled the back of my brain. She’d been in the news a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t remember why. I’d been in the middle of the Medstrom case without a lot of attention to spare for local celebrity news.
“How long has she been missing?” Funny there’d been nothing on the newsfeeds about her disappearance.
“A month now,” he said, misery twisting his features as he continued to mash the hat. “But look, you gotta understand, no-one else thinks she’s missing. It’s only me who can’t find her.”
I squinted. “So, she’s on vacation? Or a writer’s retreat or something?” I cudgeled my brain. What had that news item been?
He shook his head. “I don’t know. She’s not home, hasn’t been there since just after—well, about a month. I don’t have any way to contact her, but I need to. She needs me to. She just doesn’t know it. And I don’t have much time!”
His voice rose to a despairing wail and I stared at him, trying to get that news story back from my recalcitrant memory. And then the right mental file drawer opened. Weeks ago, Ellie Garret’s husband Frank, inspiration for the beloved sleuth Frankie Pasquale, had been killed in a car accident.
He must have seen the penny drop behind my eyes, because his shoulders slumped even further. He seemed to … shimmer … a little, and for a second the chair back wavered into view behind him. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m dead. And the Frankie and Ellie series will be dead, too, if I can’t find Ellie. And you’re my only hope.”