Doing A Ghost
The name’s Grady. I’m a PI in the ATL – that’s Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve done a few things before that. At 18 a judge gave a choice between a tour of duty in the Army or a year plus in lockup. I took the Army. I was a scout and spotted Saddam’s soldiers for armored units. I made it out of there in one piece. Then I used my benefits to go to college in Atlanta. Decided to join the campus PD. Liked the police academy. Joined the City of Atlanta Police. Did patrol for a good while. Then I got on the Red Dog Unit. It was kinda like SWAT. Liked the job okay. Left to marry a rich guy’s daughter and work for him. Had a kid. Got a divorce. Didn’t want to go back the APD. Set up my PI shop. Every now and then a cop buddy throws a bone my way. Got to know a local mover and shaker. She throws me a bone now and then. Make some good cash sometimes. Go through some dry spells. I was in a dry spell when I got a call. Here we go again.
I headed my CLK350 over to an expensive hotel. The call had given the hotel and room. A valet took the car. I heard the wheels squeal as soon as it was out of sight. Figures. I wandered in. I thought at least I looked like I fitted – until I saw the rich transitioning the lobby. Here I am in my suit – bearable because the summer weather had a cold snap – it would only be 85 today. Looking at the rich, I thought some of them looked more like the homeless than the homeless. The first time I saw pink camo was a little more than I could handle. The men’s pants were cut too long and rolled up to go with sports coat too tight, which makes me think of the way I dressed growing up with hand-me-downs. In my tan, Italian suit, I began to feel more like a salesman and expected to be directed to the buyer’s office.
Spotting the concierge, I walked over. I recognized him from his previous career with less posh surroundings. “
“I’m here to see Mrs. Bhat.”
I wasn’t in police gear like when I knew him before. He must not have recognized me.
“Oh, you mean Doctor Bhat,” he replied in his most condescending tone.
“Funny thing, Freddie, when I was with the Red Dog Unit, you seemed to be rounding up party favors and call girls as I recall.”
He looked over reading glasses and recognized me. He turned ashen.
“Officer Grady. I heard you quit.”
“Not officer, but it doesn’t mean that a little birdie couldn’t whisper in the manger’s ear and maybe mess up this deal.”
“Yes Officer…I mean Mr. Grady. Dr. Bhat is expecting you. Would you like me to announce your arrival?”
“You can, but I think I can find my way up.”
I turned and wandered off. It never hurts to remind a potential source of his or her place in the food chain. He might come in handy later.
I arrived and raised my hand to knock. The door opened before I could. A young woman in traditional Indian attire ushered me in.
“Dr. Bhat awaits you,” she said. “This way please.”
Dr. Bhat did await me. She was seated in the living room of the suite. She nodded by way of greeting and indicated an overstuffed chair with a wave of her hand. I sat and waited quietly – a skill that I am trying practice more.
I took the opportunity to study Dr. Bhat. Her age was difficult to gage. Mid-forties maybe. Her face was round and her hair lacked any gray. As with the woman who admitted me, she wore traditional clothing of India. Her clothes appeared more expensive. I’d read somewhere that they could have real gold woven in the pattern – I wondered if those did.
“Thank you for responding so promptly,” she began with perfect diction. “Our daughter Akuti is missing. Akuti means princess and she has been treated as such in our home.” She passed copies of a photo with a dark skinned teen dressed as American teens dress including some bare midriff.
I slipped a small pad from my coat.
“She is only fifteen. As you see, she had adopted your American ways.”
“Dr. Bhat. There’s many American ways – some of them not too American, but I’m 34. These kids are strange to me as if they came from the dark side of the Moon.”
She considered this and then said, “Her father and I are both physicians in Miami. We are devoted to our careers. We must rely upon employees to maintain the safety and order of our home. The disappearance of Akuti was a failure to carry forth their duties. Even those of our ancestry seem to take their duties less seriously than in my homeland.”
“If you blame this culture, why did you have her in the US?”
“We wanted her close to us. We will not have her much longer. A marriage has been arranged that would require her go to the UK with her new husband.”
“But she decided to a ghost,” I said, using a street saying that had stuck with me.
“I’m afraid that I am not familiar with such an expression. Please explain.”
“It means to leave – disappear. Like a thousand other sayings and customs, it makes up the culture.”
“I see. You seem to have an understanding of such things. Yet you dress as would a professional. Would not more fashionable clothes instill trust in dealing with young people?”
“I deal with many kinds of people – few trust me, but most know that I won’t cause them problems unless they do me.”
“Like a crocodile basking in the sun,” she said, smiling for the first time. “You live life on your terms.”
“As much as I can. They see the clothes, my car, they know I’m not the police or a process server. I might be a lawyer, but most of the element I deal with are barely scared of the police and not a bit scared of lawyers.”
“So they won’t do a ghost,” she finished.
“You’re catching on,” I said. “Why do you think that Akuti would come to Atlanta?”
“She had a friend in Miami – an American - who moved here. They stayed in touch.”
“There’s a large Indian population here. Have you tried the temples or other organizations?”
“No. We are in an awkward position. As permissive parents we might appear unseemly to some of our social acquaintances. We have an image to maintain.” The rich always do.
“I’ll need any info you might have including a way to contact her friend. Write down anything you can think of – other friends, interests, fears, illnesses, anything.”
“Here is locket she did not take,” she said handing me a necklace. “She will recognize and know that I sent you.”
I nodded and dropped in my pocket.
“Here is a retainer check. Will that be sufficient?” It was.
I left. In the lobby, I dropped by to visit Freddie again. He didn’t look thrilled to see me. Go figure.
“You still have contacts in the adult entertainment industry?”
“I have reformed myself. That is in the past.”
“Yeah, whatever. If you’re not useful to me, I might as well get in good with the manager and clue him in about you.”
“Well, I might still have some friends involved.”
“Good,” I handed him a picture. “See if anyone has seen her. Tell them to keep their mouths shut except to me and it will be worth their trouble. Run their mouths and I’ll make sure they get some heat. Call me in three hours with some info.”
“But I’ve got to work.”
“ Stop whining. Tell them you’re doing something for Dr. Bhat. I’ll square it with your boss – make you look good.”
I handed him some business cards along with a couple of hundred for goodwill. Then I squared it with his boss.
I dialed my cell while I waited for the valet to bring my car. Talked to a social worker I knew and arranged lunch. She named a vegan place – oh well.
When I got there she already seated – drinking something that looked like carrot juice. There was a glass of the same in my spot. I’d rather have a beer or bourbon neat, but maybe my liver needed a break – besides I had a pint back at the office. I tasted the drink – amazing what enough Tabasco sauce can fix. The same for the food – there’s a reason for spicy seasonings – to cover up the food.
“Well, I assume that you want something more than the pleasure of my company,” said Cali. She and I had an on-again, off-again thing from time-to-time, but we were too far apart for a long-term thing. Besides, I’d been called a dog by more than one woman.
I slid the picture of Akuti across to her. “Nice girl – runaway?”
“Yep and mom’s not the kind that would want her mug on a milk carton.”
“You’re so yesterday. They have missing persons data bases now,” she said with a smile. Nobody gets my humor.
“Circulate it, will you – Mom could afford a nice donation to your shelter.”
We parted with her giving a kiss in the parking lot that hinted she might be ready for on-again romance. We’d just have to see.
Detecting is a lot like fishing – the more lines you put out, the better your chances of getting a bite. Eddie was one and Cali was another. I swung over by the Akuti’s friend’s address. A new Lexus sat outside the garage, so maybe somebody had just gotten home. I rang the buzzer.
A girl of about 15 answered.
“Who is it?” asked a woman’s voice from within.
“He looks like a salesman,” said the girl. “Are you a salesman?”
“No, but I bet you are Kelli?”
“Yeah, who are you?”
“I’m looking for Akuti,” I answered. “Her mom wants me to help find her.”
At that moment Kelli’s mom appeared, “May I help you?”
I showed my ID and explained again.
“We haven’t seen Akuti since we left Miami, have we Kelli?”
Something in Kelli’s eyes told me differently.
“Oh I’m sure of that,” I said, “But Akuti being Kelli’s friend, I bet she could tell me things that might help find her. As a mother, I know you want to help.”
“May I talk to Kelli? We can stand right out here by your car.”
“Well…I guess that would be alright.”
“Great, I know Akuti’s mother will appreciate it.”
When mom was out of hearing distance, Kelli said, “You’re good. You play the guilt thing like a teen.”
“Thanks. I had a feeling there’s something you didn’t want mom to hear.”
“You got that right. She’s kill me if she knew that helped Akuti find a place to crash and didn’t tell her.”
“So, when did you see Akuti?”
“It was a couple of days ago. There’s this woman down near the airport that helps girls on the run.”
“You mean like a shelter?”
“Not exactly. She takes girls in. You know she has these really cool parties with drinks and pot and everything. She even takes some of girls to get tattoos.”
“Do you know her name or address,” I asked, trying not to show any reaction.
“No, a friend took us. They just call her The Party Mom because she’s cool and has kids of her own. You think Akuti’s okay right? I mean the lady has teens of her own and all.”
“I’m sure she’s fine. It’s just her mom is worried and wants her back,” I said with more conviction than I felt. I thanked her, left a card in case she heard from Akuti and departed.
In the car my cell beeped. It was Eddie. He had talked with friends. The Party Mom came up again, but like Kelli, he didn’t know her real name or address.
I disconnected and called Cali.
“You ever hear of The Party Mom?”
“Have I ever. I’ve had a couple of girls that got away from her. She acts like the world’s coolest mom and then when she’s got them dependent, she turns them out - first as call girls and then streetwalkers. The cops have tried to catch her, but she must have someone on the inside, because every time they go, she’s clean. Is that where Akuti is?”
“Could be. You got an address?” She did.
I headed south of the city. I considered contacting the local cops since it was outside the city, but decided against it. I turned on to the street that Cali had given me. I found the address and parked in front of a brick ranch house with overgrown yard. At least the overgrown grass made the beer and liquor bottles less noticeable.
I walked to the door warped from exposure. Someone must have been watching because it was jerked open. Facing me was a tall guy in a sleeveless shirt. His overdeveloped neck and shoulders said gym rat.
“I’m looking for Akuti.” I said, hoping the direct approach might work.
He pulled a knife. So much for direct. I hit his hand and wrist from opposite sides with the heels of my hands. The knife went flying. Then I broke his wrist for good measure. Don’t pull a knife on me unless you can use it. I pulled a Colt .45 from my shoulder holster and pushed past. I checked two rooms and found nothing but battered bedroom furniture. On my third try, the door was locked. I threw my shoulder into it. It splintered and flew open. On a soiled mattress sat Akuti. I showed her the locket. She came with me without question.
We made it to the car and had her in. I thought we were home free, but out came The Party Mom complete with a shotgun. I raised the .45 knowing that I didn’t have a chance. Something in my eyes or the bore of the .45 convinced her that I’d take her with me if she fired. She lowered the barrel. I drove away expecting the back window to shatter. It didn’t.
Dr. Bhat was happy. Her lawyer sent a letter demanding a refund of the remaining six days on the retainer. I’ve been sued before. The only thing I own is debt. I made sure that Cali got some money for her shelter. I even slipped Eddie another hundred.
I never heard how Akuti did after that. I wondered how many more girls The Party Mom would recruit. I read somewhere that there were 1.5 million people missing in the US – a lot of them teen girls.