June 16, 2006

"Well, of course, the first thing we must do is check with his hotel," I said, doing my best to maintain a rational tone. After all, there was no reason to bug out and go koo-koo. Perhaps Karl wasn't feeling well, or was catching upon sleep in his room.

"Headquarters tried. No luck," Lois muttered.

"But a concierge is hardly a babysitter. Perhaps we should call Karl's room, or his cell phone. I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation." I said this, although even I was unconvinced. Instead, my mind produced images of Karl lying in the gutter outside Steve's Big Game Processing with antlers strapped to his head. Or, cornered by the Faith Lutheran proselytizers outside the preschool. Or, surrounded by little yappy dogs and their grizzled owners on the green belt. Oui, oui, Arvada did indeed hold any number of horrors.

With trepidation etched on her face, or perhaps that was ink (Lois always did have a bad habit of chewing on pens), she picked up the phone and dialed. When that attempt was unsuccessful, she dialed another number. That was a dead end, as well.

"What say we drive over to Fritz's hotel and beat down the door?" Taffy pumped her arms as she said this, and even though she was an expectant mother, she had never looked more ready to bust some plywood.

And then a soft, reedy voice spoke up from the corner. It was only then that I realized that I hadn't heard Suzette's voice in this debate, even though she had been so sweet on him only the day before. "We're going to have to split up. He's out there somewhere, I just know it."

Lois' eyebrows were up in her hairline at this remark. "What, you're suggesting we leave the store?" She shook her head slowly, as if she were trying to shake a water parasite out of her ear, and continued, "We can't leave the store."

Suzette replied, "One of us would stay here and mind the store; Karl might come back here. The rest of us would take different parts of town. Taffy might take Olde Town."

Taffy smiled and said, "Mmmm, gelato."

"I could take the area around Jo-Ann, see if he's scoping out our competition. And, Mrs. Filthy would take," and here she paused as if unsure, "her own neighborhood."

Mes amis, I didn't know what to say to that one. "My neighborhood? Why would Karl be roaming around there?"

Suzette lowered her eyes, an attractive and ladylike gesture. "Maybe he never left. Maybe he couldn't bear to leave."

That statement, of course, made Taffy snicker, but I had to accept that Suzette might be onto something. I could remember only too well that uncomfortable moment in the kitchen when I thought Karl might scoop me up and carry me away. If he had been wandering the streets of Arvada Heights all night, my nosy neighbors would have seen him. I could only hope that was the worst of it. I don't know, Filthy and I have some pretty weird neighbors.

This Week, Mrs. Filthy's Reading:

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood