Charlie is sweating and swearing when I walk in, muttering under his breath. “Can’t… fuck… stupid pigs.” He has an unlit cigarette between his lips, worn and wilted around the edges of the filter. He doesn’t look at me, just the floor, and he is gone before I have put my stuff away.
Not GONE gone. His car is still in the parking lot. He is still here somewhere. Maybe he is in the back room, or in his cave of an office. Whatever. Either way, he is gone but he is here. It happens like that sometimes. He’s still here but he’s disappeared. When he reappears, it will be on the sly. He is quite stealthy for an overweight middle aged man.
There is a business card on the bar, next to the event log which is open and my entry from three nights ago is underlined in red. No issues, Tina. The card is white with blue lettering and a gold facsimile of a badge. Detective John Lin it reads. Keizer Police Department, Missing Persons it says.
My heart races. My hands shake as I pick it up. Turn it over. The name Celia Perez is scrawled across the back. I think I am going to throw up.
Then Charlie is there. I didn’t hear him walk up. Didn’t know he was there until he spoke, “He wants the tape from a few nights ago.” He nods at the card in my hand.
The color has drained from my face, I am sure, and I am afraid he can see the panic in it instead. I take a deep breath and try to compose myself.
But Charlie doesn’t notice. He is too flustered. “He said if I don’t give it to him he’s going to investigate me on conspiracy charges. Says he thinks I’m covering for someone.” He crosses his arms over his chest and sighs loudly. Everyone knew he had done it in the past… “But the thing is it really is gone.” It really is. Destroyed forever. No one would ever find it. I made sure. I cringe at the thought of my boss taking the fall. I cringe again after what he says next. “That detective might be back. He said he would be back for the tape around seven.” Charlie shrugs. “I don’t know what to do, I’ve got to leave and it’s nowhere to be found.”
“Wh wh wh,” I stutter. “What should I tell the detective?” My heart pounds in my chest.
“The hell if I know…” and he throws his hands in the air and walks out, leaving me to figure out what to say.
I know it’s him the second he walks through the door in his untailored two for one clearance Men’s Warehouse polyester blend suit. He is short and squat but he still commands the room, still scares the shit out of me. He introduces himself and I explain about Charlie not being able to find the tape. He huffs and rolls his eyes, “Yeah I figured so much.” He pulls a notepad and pen from the pocket inside his cheap suit. “Do you mind answering some questions?”
I choke back my alarm and try to nod, try not to look suspicious. His black eyes bore into me, just like my father’s used to when I would tell him I was going to the library but really it was football games and house parties. He asks me my name and if I was working that night. He asks me if I saw Celia. It’s trap. He knows she was here. I’m not the first person he has talked to and there’s an electric record, seeing as how she used the ATM. “She was here, yeah. I don’t understand. What is this all about?” I lie. “Did something happen to her?”
“She never made it home,” he says. “Did you see her leave with anyone?”
I shake my head no. Keep it simple. She left. I don’t know anything.
“Was there anyone suspicious hanging around the bar? Anyone that could have followed her?”
Again, shake my head no.
“Was she drunk when she left?”
No, she was dead. I say to myself. This guy must think I am stupid, why would I convict myself of over serving?
“Her friends seem to think maybe her ex is involved. Did you see a…” he flips through his notes and then reads a name, “Ramon Guitierrez?”
I shake my head, “I don’t know who that is.”
The detective finally gives up, hands me his card, and says, “Tell your boss I’m losing patience. He better come up with that tape by this time tomorrow or else.”