I told her I couldn’t take the case, that I wasn’t the one she wanted, but she just wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was scared. Worried. I could see it in the wrinkles that lined her eyes, in the dimples her own nails had left in her palms. She was trying to put on a brave face and hide the nerves under a thick layer of makeup and expensive clothing, but she wasn’t fooling me. Her family and friends, maybe, but this was my bread and butter – women who needed me and were never quite confident enough to know why. I’d seen them all – cheating husbands, lying partners, low-life deadbeats who just got bored and ran out, but this one was different.
“Here’s the photo you asked for,” she said, sliding it across my desk and letting her fingers linger over it as though she was giving up a part of herself. I kept my head down, refusing to meet her eye. I was sure that she could use every second of privacy that she could get, but I had my reasons too. So, instead, I kept my eyes on the prize.
It was the same picture that they’d been sticking on lamp posts and printing in newspapers, that had adorned every television screen in the country at every possible moment, that had flooded the public’s consciousness to the point where every shadow had started to mold itself into his tall stature and every stranger necessitated a second glance. I wished she could’ve brought a different one, any other, but I pulled it towards me anyway and stared at it, trying to see his face for the first time. Those green, bright eyes hidden behind low, dark brows and a tangle of brown hair that seemed deliberately nest-like.
“And you’re sure he’s missing?”
“Yes, she said without skipping a beat.
“Ma’am,” I said, taking a deep breath and preparing myself for the well-rehearsed speech, “do you know how many times I’ve asked that question?”
“Hundreds. And do you know how many said yes, just as surely as you did just then?”
“About all of them, I’d imagine.”
“Do you know how many were right?”
“It only takes the one,” she said after a minute, and I sighed, nodding.
There was no getting out of this one. She had me and she knew it. Thing was, she was right. About it all. She may have guessed it, but I knew it for a fact. Truthfully, I’d known it from the first second his face had popped up on his television, the moment those eyes had caught mine across the room, staring me down. I’d known before, but hadn’t been able to put a name to him. That was the first time I’d heard of Benny Prince.
“Dammit,” I muttered under my breath. “I’ll do it. But it’s gonna cost you.”
“Money’s no object.”
Good, I thought to myself, because I’m going to need a lot of it to get me out of this mess. Pinning a murder on someone was going to be expensive, but I couldn’t just come out with the truth of it, not even to her. I’d be hung out to dry.