Andrea watched the seating of the alternate jurors with unmitigated fascination and ever-rising respect for her lovely lovers brilliant mind. Shed always known that Leah was smart, but on her turf, "smart" was a hopelessly inadequate word. Perhaps this is what Blue had sensed when he asked her to represent him. Perhaps it was why she had remained the undisputed leader of his defense team after legal scholars with impressive credentials and decades of experience came aboard. In fact, there seemed to be something extraordinary about everyone associated with the Blue Monday defense, including his new friends, Glen and Vera. Even Kimberly Fleetwood, dazzlingly beautifulin a fragile, white porcelain sort of wayhad something exceptional going for her.
Andrea was the only one who didnt.
With the court in recess, Leah had reopened the demographic program to show Andrea how to adapt it to her investigative needs, but Andrea had trouble concentrating. The thought of where she stood with people who met with her in the space bubble VRS, plunged her headlong into a state of dejection. Never, in her life, had she felt inferior to everyone in any assemblage of people. The wretched sensation was more painful than a bruised ego. It was more like a shattered sense of self-esteem, the sudden stop at the end of a long free fall; the worse feeling there could be. It was what people who committed suicide must have felt in the hour of decision when they could see no hope of recovery. If so, it was a state of mind Andrea could now commiserate with.
She squirmed uncomfortably in her chair, trying every mental trick she could think of to pull herself together. Was it so bad to be something less than extraordinary? No, not if youre an A among A pluses, B pluses, Bs and Cs. But to be the only A minus or B plus among five A pluses was different. Anyone asked to pick the least remarkable person in the bubble would have pointed a finger at her. A tight knot formed in her gut.
"You all right?" asked Leah, clearly concerned about her friends tortured demeanor.
"Sure. Yeah. Im all right. Im fine."
"You dont look it. Why are you holding your stomach like that?"
"...A little gas," she said with enough real discomfort where it counted to sound convincing.
Leah smiled, "Were not gonna have to call in the bomb squad, are we?"
The knot in Andreas midsection melted like a snowflake in a warming sun. Two seconds before, she would not have believed that she could ever laugh again. But she did. The way Leah said what she had, struck Andrea as exquisitely funny. Before she knew it, good feelings about herself were flowing back into her body, as though they had all been trapped in the knot and were now set free. Laughter truly was good medicine. She was giving herself a healthy dose.
"Enough of that," said Leah, "We only have a fifteen minute recess. You wanna learn how to do this or not?"
Andrea sighed, not wanting to think about Arnold Travis, but having no choice but to use any tool available to locate him. "Im ready," she said. "Show me how to find a missing person."
"All Right," said Leah. "Remember what I said about constructing a profile of the person you wanted to find?"
"You said I could do that for finding a place. I said he could be anywhere and you said that was a mistake. But then you got into the jury seating and I never did see how I could use what you did to locate my patient."
"First of all, youd better tell me his name."
"I shouldnt have told you so much about him before. Now, if I tell you his name"
"You might save his life," said Leah. "That is what youre worried about, isnt it?"
"Yeah. It is...His name is Arnold Travis."
"Okay, Andrea. Heres what were gonna do. Its a trick I learned from one of our private investigators a couplea days ago. Been meaning to tellya about it. Were gonna assume that Arnold is not living on the streets and hes not staying in any of the places his wife or daughter might look for him."
"The police havent been able to find him either."
Leah mimicked one of Andreas favorite expressions, dipping her head to peer up at her friend like a civics teacher at a student who had just named Abraham Lincoln as the first President of the United States. "Do you honestly think that anybody but you and the other two women in his life are making a real effort to find him?"
Andreas chagrin confirmed Leah's assessment.
"If the cops fish has body out of the Detroit River or catch him looting an appliance store on this side of a DZ, theyll be interested. Otherwise, you can forget it."
"So the police arent helping?"
"Not in the way youre thinking. The fact that theyre involved tells us a lot about where not to look. From what you told me before, Im guessing hes either staying with a friend that his family doesnt know about, or hes in a DZ motel with a big screen T-window. We can build test profiles of friends and acquaintances until we have one we think we can work with. Then we look at the people and match them to residential property through their addresses, their jobs or the people they work for."
"This could take forever."
"Thirty minutes, tops. Here, let me download the program..."
As Leah spoke, she clicked her armrest cursor control. A few seconds later, one of many hidden compact diskettes stacked like bullets in the magazine of an assault rifle, popped up from an ejection slot in a panel on the arm of her chair. Leah pulled it out and handed it to Andrea.
"You dont expect me to do this myself, do you? said Andrea, pointing the diskette at Leah.
"If we cant find him before the court reconvenes, youre gonna have to. But I got a feeling it wont take that long."
Leah highlighted a menu pick called "PROFILE," which turned one of the six blank circles arranged in pairs above the bar graph, into a pie of fifty-two colored wedges. "Lets call this one friends," she said, toggling the voice command on before the word "friends," and off after it. The name appeared in a box over the multi-colored pie. She repeated the procedure with the right-hand pie of the second pair, calling it "ASSOCIATES," and with the right-hand pie of the last pair, calling it "ACQUAINTANCES."
"Now," said Leah, gesturing for Andrea to use her armrest control, "Go down to where it says, Chronological Age, and do a voice control for 13 to 95. Then do one for BIRTH Sex, Male."
Andrea followed her friends instructions. Within the next five minutes, they had picked off the last item in the last category to create their profile, which showed up as dark violet with all of the influence of the variously colored bullets thrown into it.
"Is this where we match the colors?"
Leah nodded and watched her friend move with one eye on the clock. Shed already warned her to be more systematic, so she didnt expect a promising result. When they looked at the people in the profile, Leah could tell right away that there were only 25 by the pattern of squares. But two of them looked like women. Well, almost like women.
"That one!" said Andrea, picking off the most masculine-looking female impersonator, a grossly overweight, light-skinned Afro with pink lipstick, long false eyelashes and a curly blond wig.
Leah shook her head. "You cant do it like that. You may already have eliminated the one you need. You have to work the numbers down from a more comprehensive list. Then you have to checkem out, one at a time."
"If Arnold is staying where somebody might guess what hes doing behind closed doors, itll be somebody he feels morally superior tosomebody whose judgment of him wont be threatening. This may not be the right person but Im sure Im on the right track."
"If you wanna do it that way, fine. But Im telling you now, itll probably be more time consuming than going the systematic route." Leah took back the diskette in Andreas hand, saved off the information in the window and handed her the new one. "The court is gonna reconvene in a little bit. Youd better take this back to your office."
"Right," said Andrea, getting to her feet. She held up the diskette. "Thanks."
Andrea rushed excitedly out of the room, remembering to wave at the young receptionist only when she was past her.
She walked quickly down the hall to her outer office. Her secretary was the brown, white and blue blur she didnt remember to acknowledge until she was at her desk in her inner office with the door closed and the diskette plugged into the computer. The telewindow in her wall was automatically activated with a flashing icon that signified a new program. She brought it up with a floating desk-top control button. Two menu picks later, she was where she left off in Leahs new office.
The man in the wig was a desk clerk in a Chicago DZ rooming house. He was on the job when Andrea called and identified herself as a doctor looking for a patient. He recognized her from all the publicity surrounding the Monday case and happily agreed to help in any way he could.
"Hes a white man," said Andrea. "53-years-old, five nine, a hundred and forty-five or fifty pounds. Keeps to himself."
The desk clerk pursed his lips, "Soun like Mr. Baxter."
Andrea blinked in surprise that the first person she talked to might know where the missing man was. She wished Leah had been there to see it. "How long has he been there?"
"Bout two munts. Came here in a Blue Toyota. Somebody stole it though. Dont make no difference, really, cause he dont never go nowhere. You got a picture ofem?"
Andrea fumbled excitedly for the menu pick that would access her computer picture file on her patients. "Ill have it for you in a minute."
"Who tol you he was here?"
"Nobody. Im just going through a systematic list of places he might want to live."
The man in the wig guffawed. "Honey, dont nobody wanna live in no place like dis. The only thang we got das better dan nothin is, electricity, hot an cold runnin water, an good locks on the doors." He slapped the desk and wagged his head as though hed said something terribly cleaver.
Andrea didnt get it. She did get the picture and brought it up in a corner of the window."
"Yeah," said the clerk. "Das him."
Andrea was giddy with joy, wishing only that Leah was there to share it.
"You wont me ta tellem you callin?"
"To tell you the truth," said Andrea, trying to catch her breath, "I dont know. I didnt expect to catch up with him this quickly. I just want to be sure hes all right."
"I know what you mean. I been worried boutem myself lately."
"Aint seenem in fo, five days."
Andreas heart sank.
"You said he doesnt go out much."
"Cept ta check his mail. Gotta see me ta do dat. Want me ta use da pass key, doctor?"
Disregarding the eagerness in the clerks face and his clumsy use of her title for permission to be nosy, she said. "Knock on the door first. Be sure you give him a chance to answer."
"All right, doctor. Ill do dat."
The man trying to look like a woman, shuffled off out of sight. His high heals clanked on the tile floor as the window he deserted now framed the drab lobby. A beige, Early American couch in reasonably good condition and a second-rate oil painting of a galloping white horse took up most of the space.
Andrea heard the raps at the door reverberating through a hallway. "Mr. Baxter?" After a short pause she heard the man knock and call again. Then she heard the jangle of keys and the fitting and turning of a key into a substantial-sounding lock. The door creaked open. The clerk screamed with a cry so loud and agonizing that it could only have meant the worst. Andrea sat stiffly, trying to brace herself for the words that would confirm it.
"Lawd! He done hung hisself!"
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison