“Isn’t it funny?” Says Linette skipping along behind JoeHammer as his long legs power towards the Rogues Café, “how you can be tweeting with someone for months and not have the first clue about them.”
Her high wheedling voice gets on his nerves, along with her inability to make decisions and her cloying need to have contact several times a day. As well as following him on Twitter she has befriended him on Facebook, against his better judgement he accepted. Of course the logical thing to do would be unfriend her but he thinks the impact on her apparently rock bottom self esteem would make things even worse.
Softly he murmurs, “You are right there.” His eyes roll heavenward. Linette sent him a message when she saw his plan to meet MilestoneMilly, idiotically he had not thought to make it a direct message and within seconds the plea for him to pick her up had arrived. He couldn’t get out of it; there wasn’t an excuse he could conjure up in such a short amount of time. They’d parked about a mile away, some event in town meant all street spaces were taken. So he’d listened to the usual moans about her flatmate, her insane theories on the disappearance of Romana and her speculation as to what MilestoneMilly would have to say about it, for a full ten minutes he’d walked faster and faster in the hope she might run out of breath and shut up at some point. He’d failed.
It turned out Linette used to be a cross-country runner who’d been county champion. Her lungs apparently could expand to expel words at a phenomenal rate and at any speed.
Just as they reached the café door, fat splotches of rain began to pelt them. “Well timed us!” Squealed Linette.
Not quite believing Romana isn’t there waiting for them, her shiny black hair swishing back and forth with impatience, Linette scans the tables hoping to see her checking her nails or Blackberry but no, a couple of attractive business women murmured over a laptop in the corner by the bookshelf and an older man with a girl young enough to be his daughter argue quietly near the bar. JoeHammer snaps at Linette “what do you want to drink then?”
Barista boy gives him a sympathetic smirk “not seen your friend in here for a while.”
“Nooo, we’re really worried about her, you mean the gorgeous girl with the long black hair don’t you?” Linette’s eyes widen, ready to bore this new pair of ears with her theories.
“Yup. Thought she probably on holiday or something, or travelling with work, I mean I guess she’s a model or actress int she?”
Linette nods and JoeHammer scowls.
“We really are worried, she’s disappeared off Twitter and Facebook, people only usually do that if they’ve fallen out with people or are being bullied, and we can’t think that has happened. We’re hoping one of our other friends has heard from her or else we don’t know what we’re going to do.” Linette spoke so excitedly JoeHammer begins to wonder if she isn’t in fact thrilled by Romana’s sudden absence, after all it meant Linette had finally gained some attention. This irritates him even more; he grips her elbow and steers her to the table furthest from the bar.
“You don’t have to go telling complete strangers about Romana.” His words come out in a hiss of anger, “she might just be taking some time out from social media, God knows, wish I could.” He takes a deep swig from his glass of dark frothy ale and fixes Linette with a forbidding stare.
The light outside has begun to fade to dusk; being summer it will be quite dark before streetlights light up, people hurry by the café window, huddled under umbrellas or with jackets over their heads. Linette falls silent, hurt by JoeHammer’s remonstration, piqued by his obvious feelings for Romana over hers. In uncomfortable silence they sit, gazing at their drinks, wishing MilestoneMilly didn’t always have to be so late.
Lost in thought, JoeHammer doesn’t notice MilestoneMilly waft in, wearing a crème caramel colour raincoat with a huge fur lined hood. Flicking back the hood to reveal steel colour curls she heads straight to the bar. “Brandy, a double please.” She swivels on her four-inch heels so sharply you would expect a hole to be severed in the floorboards. “Ah there you are!” Her lips stretch to an unfelt smile of greeting, no warmth reaches her eyes. No apology for her lateness of nearly forty minutes. JoeHammer looks up at her then takes another swig of the ale he’s been nursing.
Linette is desperate for another drink but has hardly dared mention this in the atmosphere of quite desperation. “I’m going to get another wine, or do I want beer? Oh I don’t know.” She moves towards the bar ignoring MilestoneMilly’s pained expression.
“Well I haven’t heard a thing.”
Barista boy brings her brandy over, presenting it with a flourish he must have practiced in quieter hours. He lurks for a moment but realises his company is not welcome.
“Nothing.” JoeHammer remains expressionless. “I thought you two were close?”
“Well, as close as you get in the fashion world.” She sips at her brandy and pulls a face of disgust. “Oh boy” she calls out “get me a drinkable brandy will you, not the cheapest poison you have in house.”
JoeHammer can’t help but grin at her unashamed sarcasm. This is a woman used to fancy hotels, fine restaurants and doting staff. Spotty, awkward Barista boy will never cut the mustard.
Barista boy pretends deafness as he takes a food order from the man with the young girl.
Linette returns clutching a large white wine, her bitten nails scratching at the glass. MilestoneMilly regards her with a sigh and turns back to JoeHammer. “She did call me, but my ex husband unexpectedly called in with some work problem, he is terribly demanding and I couldn’t give the poor girl my full attention. She sounded upset but I said I’d call her back and then forgot. Oh my, I feel so guilty darling, you can’t imagine!” Her hand rests fleetingly on JoeHammer’s arm before she waves it in the air at Barista Boy. “Can’t we meet somewhere the brandy tastes like brandy and with proper service?” She shoots a withering look over at the bar. “So, you tried calling her back eventually right?” Linette gulps at her wine.
“Well of course but a couple of days later, I’ve had so much going on you see and the ex kept ringing wanting my opinions all the time, amazing how I still put up with him, we’ve been divorced nearly seven years. I only had her mobile number and it went dead, no dialling tone, nada. I tried texting, tweeting, Blackberry Messenger, the lot, but couldn’t raise her for love nor money. At first I thought she might be in a snot with me but that’s not like Romana, we speak as we find and there’d been no harsh words, no disagreement. I went round to her apartment, rang the bell, nothing, blinds were down, no sign of life.”
JoeHammer stares at MilestoneMilly trying to take in this information. It all seems very strange to him. Linette twists her wine glass at the stem, thinking instead of chattering on for once.
“There is one thing.” MilestoneMilly glances behind her as if someone might be listening. No one is. The businesswomen have left and only the man and girl remain but they are seated and engrossed in their food. “She saw a man here, got all paranoid. Went on about it a bit but didn’t seem to have any real idea of who he was. Recognised him from somewhere but couldn’t put her finger on it. I dismissed it out of my own mind, she often gets a bit paranoid about the press and ages ago she had a stalker who freaked her out for a while but I think he ended up with a restraining order.”
Linette’s eyes shine at this revelation “a stalker? Wow, I’ve heard of people having them, how scary!”
“What about that girl? You know, the new one on Twitter.”
MilestoneMilly and Linette stare at him.
“Oh you mean, @Abbee? Uses the profile picture of a cartoon bee, always asking questions but doesn’t tweet much about herself.” Linette always has a lot to say about her life; spouts endless opinions on the planet, injustices, animals and a never-ending list of other topics so can’t understand this tweeter at all. “How are you supposed to get to know someone when they don’t tell anyone anything?”
“Well she is following all of us and a few others who were following Romana. Not that it means anything, you know how it works; I don’t see how she would have any relevance to Romana disappearing.” JoeHammer glances at his watch, he is supposed to be meeting his girlfriend in half an hour. Maybe Romana had enough of us and couldn’t find an excuse to leave so just went. He looks pointedly at Linette.
MilestoneMilly thinks how much JoeHammer has changed in the last few weeks, when they first met he appeared to be such a mild mannered soul but now he comes across as moody and impatient. Although it is fairly obvious that being around Linette has a very negative affect on him. “At the risk of sounding like a very amateur Miss Marple, I suggest perhaps that we check the last tweets exchanged with Romana, they can’t have all been wiped off, perhaps they might give us a clue as to what may have happened. Other than that we could speak to her neighbours?”
JoeHammer looks uncomfortable. “Oh I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t go prying. Sometimes people choose to disappear, they don’t want to be found.”
“No Joe, that’s opting out of responsibility, Millicent said Romana sounded upset when she called. It gives me a bad feeling and if some bloke has been hanging around watching her that’s even worse! I’ve gone all cold thinking about it. You’re right Millicent we should all we can to find her and then if she doesn’t want to know us, then we’ll leave her alone.”
Barista boy wanders over to the table, MilestoneMilly coolly looks away from him, then her face changes and her chin jolts up in his direction. “You know your customers right?”
Taken aback by her rattled tone he fingers his lip nervously. “Uh huh.”
“A few weeks ago a man came in a suit, when our little group were here having a few drinks. Do you remember him?”
Barista boy rolls his eyes around the ceiling as if he might find the answer in flaky bits of paint. “Erm, nah, don’t think so.”
“Think boy think hard.” “Yeah well, there was this bloke who came back the day after and sat in the corner a while on his mobile phone. Made an Expresso last for an hour. Really annoying people like that.”
MilestoneMilly exchanges a look with Linette “so that must have been the Wednesday?”
JoeHammer sighs, “I’ve got to be going. You carry on your interrogation; let me know how you get on. Catch you laters.” His chair scrapes noisily; he waves a hand at them and leaves.
The early night air is damp but the rain has stopped. Cars tear through puddles splashing water his way as he walks quickly back towards the car park. He glances at his phone to check the time, it’s after eight, and he’s going to be late. Should he bother with a text or chance that she will be late too? She often is.
Every now and then he glances behind him and then across the street. He passes groups of teenagers, an elderly couple hand in hand, several singular young men, one pushing a bike, another staring at his phone nearly walks straight into him. “Watch it.” He growls.
Eventually he reaches the multi storey car park, the lights are dim and drips fall though cracks in the concrete. Opting for the stairs rather than the lift, he passes no one. The faint smell of half eaten chips lying in a corner reaches his nostrils, making him nauseous. His car is on the fourth level, row C, on one side there is still a parking space but on the other a granite grey Range Rover is parked, slightly at an angle. JoeHammer pauses a moment then strides round to the boot, opens it and drops his jacket in.
He can’t see if anyone is in the Range Rover, this makes him feel exposed. He admonishes himself for feeling spooked but nevertheless climbs in behind the wheel quickly and relocks all the doors. Turning on the ignition he looks up to check the way is clear to pull out and sees an envelope beneath the wiper. At first he dismisses it as some sort of advertising leaflet and starts to pull out thinking it will drop off with movement but on closer examination it obviously isn’t. He drives to the end of the aisle, stops, opens his door enough to get his arm out and reaches round to grab the envelope.
With a flick of the wrist the envelope lands on the passenger seat, he’ll open it later. He looks up to his rear view mirror to see the Range Rover lights are on; it is pulling out behind him. His heart beats faster, telling himself not to panic he pulls away jumpily; the car is still in second gear.
It doesn’t take long to reach the exit barrier; it is not until this moment JoeHammer remembers he forgot to pay the parking fee.
Copyright 2011 © Petra Kidd