When I got back to my office Rebecca was waiting. Which wasn’t surprising, since I had asked her to drop by. I needed to know what she knew.
“You wanted to see me Mr. Smellephant.”
“Yeah, I’d like to talk to you about your sister.”
“You’ve found Louisa?”
“You could say that.”
“Then I assume you can tell me where she is.”
“Well, not exactly. You could say I found her and then I lost her again. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Mr. Smellephant, you have a strange way of conducting a missing person investigation.”
“Sister, you don’t know the half of it. Don’t worry, you’ll get your money’s worth. Meanwhile, I’ve got a question for you.” I took a folded piece of paper out of my pocket.
“Of course, if there’s anything I can do to help with your investigation. I suspect my sister is in trouble, and I believe she might even have killed our father. She may require our help.”
“Yeah, maybe. We might have a clue in the murder case. What do you make of this?” I held out the piece of paper.
Rebecca took the paper and unfolded it. She stared at the nine numbers and scowled. Then she looked at me with an unreadable expression. “What is this supposed to mean?”
“It seems to mean something to you.”
“What it means to me,” she said, after a pause, “is an unreadable string of digits. Is this all a big joke to you?”
She didn’t let me finish. “My father is dead, my sister remains missing, and you are playing games with numbers. Do you take me for a fool?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. What could I say? “Can I offer you a drink?” I knew she didn’t drink, but it was the best I could do.
She sank slowly down into a chair, crumpling the paper into a ball. “I’m sorry Mr. Smellephant, I … I don’t know what came over me. The stress, I suppose. These recent events have been very difficult. Have you ever lost someone near to you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “and I know how hard that can be.”
“Thank you for being understanding. I believe I will take that drink. Please make it — how do you say it — a stiff one.”