Welcome to The Sims mobile voicemail service. You have two new messages. First new message, received on the seventh of May at three fifteen am *beep*
“Hello? Hello, Charles? Charles can you hear me? It’s your mother. Are you there Charles? Don’t you play silly beggars with me, young man; I saw our Melinda on the news. Hello? Charles? Are you there? Have I pushed the wrong button? Is it this one—” *beep* To listen to the message again, press one— message saved. Next new message, received on the seventh of May at eleven forty-two pm *beep*
“Hi Dad. I wanted to call you to let you know that I’m sorry I lied to you, and I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch, but I’m OK. Faith is OK. You probably know that we’re with April and she’s OK too.”
“Something has happened to the three of us and we can’t come home right now. Please try not to worry about us. We’re safe. We’ll be home as soon as we can.”
“I love you.” *beep* To listen to the message again, press one. To save it, press two. To delete it, press three.
Ralf approached Jessica’s cluttered desk with trepidation. The girl wasn’t one for coffee and he’d eaten his last croissant so he had nothing to offer her to stop her yakking. He’d considered simply running out of the building, but thought that was unprofessional, even by his standards.
“Jessica, I’m going to drop by Chase’s apartment, see what’s keeping the lazy so-and-so. I might not be back before the end of the day. Be sure to lock up, won’t you? Bye.”
Ralf turned away before Jessica thought this was an open invitation to chat, but she was already speaking.
“I will, Boss. It’s been super quiet in here today without him barking orders at me. I was looking through some old mispers, tidying some stuff up but don’t worry, I updated that case file for you; is there anything else you want me to do with it?” At Ralf’s blank look, Jessica tutted. “The assault allegation? Mystery man? Wow, Boss, you must be busy to have forgotten about that; it was only this morning! Good job you have me around to keep your little balls rolling while you focus on your big balls, huh?”
Ralf nodded. “Interesting choice of words, Jess. No, it’s fine, Chase can sort it tomorrow. Right, well, I’m off.” Ralf said and headed to the door before Jessica could open her mouth again.
Jessica wasn’t offended by Ralf’s abrupt exit; people often bombed out of conversations with her, she was used to it. Her mother had always told her that she should think more and talk less, as if one counterbalanced the other.
Jessica sat back on her chair and looked over at Chase’s empty desk, wondering again if she should call him. It wasn’t like him not to turn up to work, but then again their dates – or whatever they actually were – didn’t usually end on her terms. He was probably sulking somewhere, licking his wounds, trying to make her feel bad for ditching him.
Chase was the most strung-out, stressed person Jessica had ever met, constantly raging and cussing about one thing or another. If he wasn’t whacking his fist off his keyboard he was shouting at her, “Stop talking to that crocheted thing in that annoying voice! Make yourself useful, Jessica and get me a coffee.”
Jessica had eventually stopped correcting that the annoying voice was Turkle talking to her and that he was knitted, not crocheted, and just made the coffee. Everything always went Chase’s way; Ralf let him get away with murder, or at least, questionable interrogation techniques. He was ‘indispensable’ and Watcher, didn’t he act it.
She thought that Chase hated her but one day, when the patrol car wouldn’t start and he was so wound up that the vein in his forehead might have actually burst, he’d sauntered over, unusually friendly, and invited her out for a drink.
Childhood memories of cleaning up her mother’s whiskey-scented vomit meant that Jessica didn’t drink, but she wasn’t about to shoot Chase down if he was trying to make amends. That night had been a lot of fun, actually. She’d seen a whole other side to the surly man across the partition.
With hindsight, his charms might have been amplified somewhat by the half-strength lager she’d had. It had made her brain dive between her legs, as Chase had, the second she’d opened her front door.
He’d left before sunrise and she’d arrived at work the next day, full of regret and memories of him naked, thinking things would be weird now. But he was right back to snarling at her as if nothing had happened.
She’d vowed to never fall for his smooth-talking act again, but two weeks later, on a day when his computer wouldn’t work and he’d smashed his monitor to smithereens, Mr. Charming had made his reappearance, this time inviting Jessica to go bowling. She’d decided that bowling was innocent enough and agreed to go.
She wanted to say that the second time was the last time but… it wasn’t.
Jessica always tried to see the good in people, which was difficult in her profession. But even when they were likely using her, blatantly rude to her or had done something downright despicable, there was always a reason behind it.
Jessica reached for her phone.
“No!” Turkle’s squeaky voice piped up from the corner of the desk. “You’re not going to call him, Jessica. That’s what he wants! Don’t do it. Never again. Nope!”
“Thanks for looking out for me, Turkle,” Jessica replied.
She tried to put Chase out of her mind, brought her hands back to her keyboard, tapped idly. She re-opened the missing persons reports, as something to do, her eyes once again drawn to one in particular.
Rose Smalley, 17. Missing for 6032 days.
There were a few minors amongst the files, most were younger than Rose, but something was off about this girl, something was tugging on Jessica’s intuition… and her heartstrings. Why had no-one pushed for resolution to this? Why did no-one care about her?
Even the report was incomplete, like whoever was being paid to enter it didn’t care.
Or cared too much.
Jessica looked over at the huge pile of case files on Chase’s desk. Everyone had a theory about the Forgotten Hollow mispers; weather anomalies, rabid wolves, a serial killer – who’d be about a hundred years old by now – or alien abductions. There was no evidence of foul play, no bodies ever found and often, sadly, no relatives demanding answers.
She walked over and thumbed through the poorly organised paperwork, watching the dust rise from the covers. She wondered how many missing people hadn’t been reported at all; how many people went missing in the world each day without anyone even noticing?
“Rose’s file might be in that pile,” Turkle said, temptingly. “Have a look; he’ll never know.”
“No, Turkle. I couldn’t,” Jessica replied, looking through the files until she found it. She pulled it slightly from the pile and hesitated.
“Chase would freak out if I went through his paperwork without his permission,” Jessica mumbled, but she pulled the file right out, placed it, unopened, on the desk.
“He’s not here to give permission, so tough cookies to him!” Turkle said. “Besides, you’re deputy today!”
“Yes,” Jessica said, picking up the file and framing herself in Chase’s mirror. “Yes I am!”
While Chuck had been drying out and charging his phone in the empty recovery room, Lilith had been with a client. She hadn’t heard him make his way back to the reception area, but judging by Penelope’s irritated thoughts, he’d been moping in here for a while.
“Charles? Did you manage to get your phone working?”
“Yes,” Chuck managed. His quiet voice a million miles from the warm, reassuring one Lilith was growing used to. “I had a voicemail message from Melinda. She told me not to worry. That she and her friends are safe but that something has happened and she can’t come home.”
“I see,” Lilith said coolly. “Did she say what that something was?”
“No,” Chuck replied. “What on the planet could have happened that meant that she’d have to leave? That she thought I couldn’t help her, or protect her? She’s a good girl, bright, very sensible. I can only imagine that they’re in some sort of trouble, perhaps they witnessed something happening to April’s mother and decided to flee. But why flee unless… unless they were the ones who… unless they were…” he couldn’t finish his sentence. “No. Not my sweet girl. Not Mellybean. I don’t understand.”
Lilith nodded in a sympathetic fashion, as if she didn’t understand either, as if this was all new information. “What will you do now, Charles?”
Chuck got to his feet; his shoulders heavy with the weight of his decision. “I’m going to head home. I’ll hand my phone to the authorities. Perhaps they can trace the call.”
“You’re giving up?” Lilith asked.
“I am. What choice do I have?” Chuck shrugged. “I’m not cut out for this; I couldn’t even locate a bar, let alone three girls who don’t want to be found. If I hadn’t been so keen to be the hero, I’d have been home to take her call, to listen to her which would have probably helped her more than me meandering around the forest or lying half-dead on your doorstep. I should let the police do their job, let you do yours and I should do mine. Thank you for all your help, Lilith.”
He extended his hand but Lilith did not take it, tucking her own into her pocket.
“Good luck,” she offered instead. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Lilith. It was a pleasure meeting you.” At Lilith’s complete lack of response, Chuck nodded politely and turned towards the door, almost bumping into a woman who had just entered. “Oh, please excuse me.”
The woman scrutinised him through her unnaturally coloured contact lenses and artificially lengthened eyelashes.
She shuffled around him as if he was diseased and settled on the chair furthest from where Chuck had been standing, grinning up at Penelope.
“Here for my two o’clock!” she chirruped to the receptionist. She watched Chuck leaving before she addressed Lilith. “You should have made him go out the back way. If it was my first visit and I’d seen that, I’d be over at Caliente’s in a flash. Not a great advert for the practice. Unless…” She thought for a moment. “He’s not rich, is he? Nigel’s gonna pop his clogs any day now. I need to get my next one lined up.”
Lilith stared at this god-awful woman before her, trying to slip into her professional mask.
Gertrude Bapflap was her best client, but she definitely wasn’t the best person. As she took in the woman’s over-inflated chest and lips, and impossibly tiny waist and nose she tried to remind herself that putting up with this bullshit and these toxic people was a better option than simply hunting.
“Ms. Bapflap!” Lilith managed some warmth from somewhere, probably the dregs of Chuck. “If it isn’t my favourite client.” It isn’t. “What will it be this time?” Lilith asked, as if she was offering a choice of sandwiches and not invasive surgical disfigurement.
Gertrude exhaled in a way that told Lilith that she should already know. She pointed to her forehead. Lilith watched as Gertrude’s eyebrows twitched slightly.
“Look! They’re moving again! Fix it! And while you’re at it, I want to try out that new blood drain therapy you’re doing. Oh! And I need another breast augmentation. I’m not getting the amount of attention that I used to, so obviously I need to go bigger! But only an inch or so; I don’t want to look ridiculous.”
Lilith knew that Gertrude didn’t need any of these things. What she needed was a good course of counselling. Fame that wasn’t dependent on her taking her clothes off wouldn’t hurt, either.
But none of this was Lilith’s problem and there was one thing she actually liked about Gertrude; she tasted great.
“Come through, Ms. Bapflap. You know the drill.”