Chapter 8: Call of the wild speculation

In which a kind of contact is surprisingly established and the greatest of asses is revealed.

Just one look at Marianne's smug grin was enough to convince Anne-Linn that her friend and coworker had succeeded in her quest. Marianne may be talented in many ways, but she would never make a good poker player. Well, except perhaps strip poker. "What have you found? Come on, spit it out!"

"Ha! Admit that I am the most talented sleuth in this town!"

"You are the most talented slut in the whole country! Now, what do you find?"

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have a name!"

"And what is that? Besides Jon, of course."

Marianne grinned even wider. "Not so fast, my impatient friend! Thereon hangs a tale..."

"Tails are for cats! Is he alive? That's what matters."

"Well, I haven't come quite that far yet..."

"Wake me when you know something, OK?"

"OK, OK! I'll give you the Reader's Digest version. This friend of mine has a sister whose boyfriend had heard something. We found out where he worked -- her boyfriend, not yours -- and..."

"Hey! You know as well as I do that Jon is not my boyfriend! That's just in your lurid fantasies, if at all. We are researching a mystery here, a missing person, disappeared in plain sight... all according to you, mind you."

"I was just trying to be nice to you. At your age, any boyfriend is better than nothing. But anyway, it turned out that he has done some work for these guys. And I managed to get my hands on nothing less than his business card! Taa-daaa!"

With a flourish worthy of a stage magician, Marianne produced a small black and white printed business card. "Jon S. Rye, Software Developer. We've got his PO box and his phone number. No address, but that should be easy if we need it."

"Rye? That's pretty uncommon."

"Right, there can be no mistaking him. One of the guys had even seen him. Thin, black hair, dark blue eyes. Nobody forgets those eyes, it seems."

"So how can we find out whether he is still alive?"

"Our whether he spontaneously combusted after accidentally touching your hand."

"You're the one who says that the disappeared. And he didn't show up on Saturday."

"I'm just as baffled as you are. But as they say, there is no murder without a corpse."

"So how do we find out?"

"You can find out right now if you have your mobile phone with you."

"Well, of course! I have it right here."

Anne-Linn was trying to memorize the number while a flight of thoughts flittered though her brain. "But what should I say?"

"I just call to say I love you?"

"No, seriously!"

"The same as everyone else. 'Sorry, wrong number.'"

"Marianne, you are a genius!"

"We already established that at the beginning of this conversation, remember?"

"But what if I meet his answering machine?"

"Well, then we still don't know if he's alive. But we don't know he is dead either. You will just have to sneak up to his house and peep in through the windows ..."

"Eep! I wouldn't do that!"

"For a good cause? Of course you would!"

"But what if someone else takes the phone?"

"You mean like his cute live-in girlfriend?"

"He has a girlfriend??"

"Not that I know of, but then again we haven't even called yet."

"I guess it could happen."

"Then you just say 'Listen, bitch! I challenge you to a duel over the love of Jon S. Rye! Choose your weapons and meet me at high noon ...'"

"You can never be serious, can you?"

"Not while you are scared like a kitten before the vacuum, just to call some customer to hear if he's OK."

"All right, move back now. I am calling."

Breathe. It's just another customer. Who disappears into thin air. Who zones out when I try to give him his change back. And who answers a question I didn't ask. Come on, come on! It's just some guy.



"Yes?" It could be his voice ... then again, perhaps not. It sounds different on the phone, and with only one word to judge by ...

"Jon S. Rye? Software developer?"

"That would be me." Now she can hear it clearly. It is him! "What can I do for you?" His voice is low, friendly, comfortable, a voice to put a customer at ease. The problem is, she is not a customer. In fact, she is not anything at all. Certainly not supposed to call. Right! Now she remembers.

"Sorry! Wrong number! Bye!"

Her head stops spinning as she breathes again. "He's there! He's alive!" She looks up and sees Marianne collapsed on the floor, struggling for air. And then howling with insane mirth. "What's so funny?" A sudden suspicion breaks the surface where it has lurked for the whole weekend. "You mean he never disappeared in the first place? You made all this up just to make me call him and make a fool of myself??" She is filled with righteous anger, standing up ready to smite the traitor. But Marianne shakes her head, unable to answer.

"What is it then?" Anne-Linn demands. And then she finally reads the expression on her friend's face. For a few seconds she is absolutely still while she replays the phone call in her head. And slowly it sinks in. Her ears start to heat first, then her whole face, until she feels like a bonfire ready for the marshmallows.

"Oh my dog. Oh. My. Dog."

"That sums it up nicely, I think."

"Dear sweet saintly Hanna-Barbera on a budget. I asked for him by name and then I said 'wrong number'."

Marianne dries tears from her eyes. "That's exactly what you did." She gurgles again, kinda like a small brook.

"I am the greatest ass in the known universe and then some."

"So it would seem."

"I am going to die!"

"And be buried outside the cemetery fence. No one will come in your burial."

"I can't believe it. Please, please, someone wake me up!"

But nobody does.

"Thus was the word fulfilled" said Marianne when they parted for the day, "that says: Verily, no good deed shall go unpunished."