Gerald So, author of Fred, has published mystery and thriller short fiction at Mysterical-E, Shotgun Honey, BEAT to a PULP, and other venues. He is the the editor of crime poetry site The Five-Two and a former editor of Thrilling Detective.
Florida sun shining, Lisa Regina saw herself in car windows. Cat-eye shades, crop top, short shorts. Twenty-eight trying to feel eighteen. But hey, it was her day off, and ten years as a PI had bought her Fred, a “Firecracker Red” Jeep Wrangler Sport.
Out of habit, she stopped by her old Honda Civic. The space next to it was Fred’s.
The empty space, it hit her.
Someone had snatched her new toy.
Before she called the police, she had her own suspect. He often ran before dawn. While she slept in, he could’ve swiped her spare key, stolen Fred, and cabbed back for his car.
The spare key should’ve been in her bedside drawer. She didn’t see it. Who else but he could have it?
“You’ve reached Josh Wallace’s mobile. Leave me a mess–“
Nope. She wanted to yell at him, not his voicemail. Searching “josh wallace environmental law” got his smiling face and office phone.
“Mr. Wallace is out,” his secretary said, “with a personal emergency.”
She had a right to know if the emergency involved Fred.
Lisa tensed. “What emergency?”
“He didn’t say. If you’d like to leave your name–”
“No need. Thank you.”
She had a right to know if the emergency involved Fred. Her old Civic could reach Josh’s apartment in half an hour. She freshened up and wore a business suit.
Neither the jeep nor Josh’s Prius was in his parking lot. To be sure he wasn’t home, Lisa had to do more.
No response at Josh’s buzzer. She tried others until she got into the building.
Josh’s door, 3A, was intact and locked. Mrs. Ruiz from 3B caught Lisa with her hand on the knob. “What are you doing?”
Lisa faced the older woman. “Have you seen Josh today, Mrs. Ruiz?”
“He skipped work and isn’t answering his mobile.”
“Maybe he’s avoiding you.”
Lisa held up her PI photo ID. “He was fine with me last night. Today he’s missing. I know he gave you an emergency key.”
Mrs. Ruiz drew back. “He said you were a travel agent.”
“He was fine with me last night. Today he’s missing…”
Lisa nodded. “That’s what he thinks.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“I hope not.”
Mrs. Ruiz relented, knocking on the door. “Josh? It’s Mrs. Ruiz and Lisa Regina.” After two minutes without response, she used the key.
Lisa followed her in, noting both Josh’s bicycles on their wall mounts. He had a good sofa. Where others might put a TV, various books filled four IKEA Billy cases. He kept the kitchen nook spotless.
They surveyed the bedroom, the bathroom, the closets. Furtively, Lisa looked for her missing key, too. No luck.
“It’s all the same,” Mrs. Ruiz observed. “He’s just not here.”
Lisa agreed and thanked her.
Back in the Civic, she checked her phone. Nothing new from Josh. His mobile rang and went to voicemail again. Neither ready to report Josh missing nor Fred stolen, she drove home.
Pulling into her condo lot, she saw Josh’s Prius in a guest space and Josh himself parking Fred. All three looked fine.
She parked and got out of the Civic, meeting Josh on his way to her.
“Sorry, Lisa,” he said. “I thought I’d be back before you got up.”
“Back from where?”
“Orlando Auto Glass. A storm blew through overnight. An oak branch smashed Fred’s windshield.”
He pointed to the tree. “I saw it at sunrise. Lucky your landscapers came around then. I asked-slash-paid them to remove the branch. Then I had Fred towed to the shop. They replaced the windshield in an hour, but advised waiting two hours for the adhesive to cure. I did, and here we are.” He offered her the spare key.
She took it, torn between kissing him and punching him.
“Want to drive?” he asked.
“Not just yet.”
Back in her condo, he said, “I saw your calls. I thought I’d spare you–”
“You told me squat. If your car and I went missing, what would you do?”
“Call the cops. Did you–?”
“Wait. Why didn’t you?”
Lisa held up her PI photo ID and told him, better she than Mrs. Ruiz.