It was the balloons that always got to me. What kind of little girl doesn’t like balloons? Yet from the look on the kid’s face, she could care less; hunched over, chin in her hand, barefoot. Gray clouds loomed ominously in the back ground.
I threw the picture back into the folder. It was the last time anyone had seen her. Ten years had passed; most missing person cases didn’t bother me, but this one did. How did a little girl from a respectable family just vanish into thin air? It was almost as if those balloons had been caught by a strong breeze and took her away.
I heard a noise from outside my office. The new temp was closing up shop for the day. She was young, with a body that made good on every promise. Quiet, with long brown hair usually covering her eyes, she was a wiz with the computer, coming up with all kinds of spread sheets and invoices and other business paraphernalia. Didn’t like to wear shoes though; as soon as she got into the office, she’d kick off her sandals and pad around the office bare footed, which normally would have annoyed me, but with her, it gave her a hint of the exotic. Like Ava Gardner in The Barefoot Contessa. The film, not the television cooking show.
“Is there anything else you need, Mr. Dawes?”
She was leaning against the office doorway, her hair loose, the bare toes of her right foot curling sensuously around her left ankle. Mr. Dawes; Christ, make me feel older than dirt. I looked over at her, drinking in her youth. Tempting, but there’s something about coming to terms with your own mortality that stops you from making an ass of yourself. I pushed the folder towards the edge of the desk.
“Just file this for me in the cold file.”
I shoved the folder too hard; it flew off the desk, the contents scattering as they landed on the floor. I cursed softly and started to apologize as she bent down to pick everything up. I came around the side of the desk and stopped as I caught her staring at the photo; she was crouched down, her ass balanced on her heels. I was sure the intensity of her focus would burn a whole in the picture. She started to rock gently back and forth.
“Where did you get this?”
I sat on the corner of the desk, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. I folded my arms across my chest, trying to get a read on her reaction.
“Her parents give it to me. It was the last picture taken of her; she disappeared twelve years ago. Her name is . . .”
“Ramona. Ramona Banks.”
What the fuck, I thought to myself? A missing person case that’s been in the deep freeze for over a decade and now my temp is telling me the kid’s name? I spoke very softly and slowly, trying not to spook her.
“Did you know her?”
She shifted her weight, letting her ass sink to the floor, her legs wrapped around the side of her hips. She glanced up at me; I could see the wheels spinning furiously in that little brain of hers, trying to decide what she should spill. She looked at the photo once more, then let her gaze drift off to another time and place.
“Ramona had it rough; her dad drank too much and her mother never forgave her for being born. She’d spend a lot of time out of the house. She said she had a pirate twin, that she just needed to find her other half. She wanted to run away, maybe to Los Angeles, maybe grow up and be famous.”
She stopped talking, a sad smile forming at the memory. I thought I saw tears begin to sparkle in her eyes.
“So what happened to Ramona?”
She took a deep breath, trying to gain hold of her emotions.
“It was her thirteenth birthday, that’s when this picture was taken. Her mother couldn’t stand the idea of Ramona growing up, because it meant she was getting old, so she always treated me like a baby. I hated balloons, yet my mother always insisted that we have them at the party, that I parade around with a bunch of the damn things. My dad was useless, always too wasted to care. My mother always insisted that I have my picture taken with them. I made up my mind that night to leave. I never went back.”
I stared at her, saw the tension envelope her like a passionate lover. I bent down and kneeled next to her, taking the picture out of her hands.
“You never went back, Ramona?”
She looked up with a blank look, and then shook her head as if she were trying to wake up from a bad dream. A sly look appeared on her face.
“You won’t let them know you found me, will you Mr. Dawes?”
I considered her request. Her parents had just asked me to find her; I didn’t have to let them know I was successful. I took the picture from her hand, placed it back in the folder, and handed it to her.
“File this away in the closed case drawer. I’ll see you on Monday, kid.”
She stood up, taking the folder out of my hands. I watched her bare feet pad towards the cabinet, then make their way to the door of my office. She stopped, turning her head over her shoulder, her long brown hair hanging in her eyes.
“Thanks, Boss. See ya on Monday”.
She never came back. The temp agency said she moved out of town, didn’t leave a forwarding address. I guess she’s still searching for her pirate twin.