Waking up was more of a chore than I had hoped it would be. The late night combined with the visit from the goddess had led to some very strange dreams. Their vivid reality swept from my mind like a thousand amber butterflies across the morning sky as I struggled to open my eyes. The sun's light was like a dagger flying through my window aimed directly at the hangover centre of the brain. Eventually I managed to drag myself away from sleep’s tight embrace and preformed the bare minimum of morning activities to make myself somewhat presentable to the general population. My shower consisted of a few moments of freezing cold water pummelling my old and tired skin followed by a sudden burst of pure heat that scolded me red, when you don’t pay your rent on time you can’t really complain about the plumbing. Looking in the mirror I ran a wet hand over my already long stubble and decided an extra day wouldn’t hurt, who did I have to impress anyway? Breakfast always came in the form of coffee and whatever Earl had cooked up at the cafe across the road so I donned the clothes from the day before I took a chance and left via the main entrance. It was late enough in the morning that the landlord would be busy with other things rather than bothering to chase some lowlife across the road for a measly bit of rent.
Today’s breakfast offering was apricot danish, I threw a piece on the small alter Earl kept by the counter. It was dedicated to Zeus and I figured I could use all the help I could get especially when dealing with his wayward daughter. I sat outside and enjoyed the busy rush of the early morning urban routine. Well fitting suits rushed back and forth occasionally mixing with a tight pencil skirt or two as they began their commutes. My own journey would take mere minutes but I was putting off going back to the office, the mess didn’t bother me if anything it was probably an improvement. No, I was more worried that Pepworth’s men would be back. It wouldn’t take them too long to figure out that I lived upstairs and I’m sure that lousy landlord would sell me out for a bit of extra scratch, probably figures that with me gone he could get in an actual paying client. I sighed loudly into what was left of my coffee and knocked it back. I wasn’t going to find this missing kid sitting around feeling sorry for myself so I gave Earl a nod and headed off to find out more about the beguiling Scarlett and hopefully get a lead on the missing Rosie. Being more prepared than most of my clients the Oliver’s had already drawn up a surprisingly comprehensive list of places they thought Rosie could have gone. My main target today was her school, Cerauno College. Go thunderbolts.
I assumed the Oliver's to be of moderate means based purely on the fact that they came to me, however looking at the exclusive all girls school before me I may have been wrong. It was one of those old fashioned religious private schools. While they may have been trying to down play the strong religious feeling in the promotional materials I picked up from reception, the enormous bronze figure of the Father standing in the entrance hallway negated any PR spin. I stood gawking at the huge male figure before me, thunderbolt in hand and very little left to the imagination. The idea of an enormous male nude in the middle of an all girls school seemed a little on the nose. At any rate it set them up to be bitterly disappointed later in life, not all of us were built like gods. Just as I was beginning to feel woefully inadequate a cough sounded behind me. It was a noise I had heard many times in my youth before being sent to the principals office for some misdemeanour.
‘Can I help you sir?’ The sir came out with an air of disgust as if I was unsuitable for the title. I turned and was met by a middle aged woman of high standing. Her pitch black hair pulled back in a tight bun sat perfectly as she tapped her polished leather shoe on the floor waiting for my answer. Flashes of high school came flooding back, none of them good. I mumbled some story about being a friend of the family who was concerned for Rosie’s safety.
‘I wondered if I could have a word with some of her friends and teachers? Her parents told me she’s been good friends with a young Miss Oporto. I was hoping she would know something.’ I laid on the sob story to really sell the concerned friend angle, it’s much easier to get information out of people if they don’t know you’re doing it for money. She seemed to buy it for now at least and motioned for me to follow her.
‘I’m Ms Valentine, the headmistress here at Cerauno. We are of course very concerned for young Rosie. It is such a shame when young girls go off the rails.’ She stopped briefly, ‘you can usually trace it back to the parents of course, they don’t enforce proper discipline, let them get away with anything.’ Moving on Ms Valentine continued to speculate to the various reasons why a bright young thing like Rosie would run away. All of them absolving herself and the teaching staff of blame. She even blamed me at one point, not a strong enough male role model or some such.
By the time we arrived at the classroom I had been given an earful. As fetching as Ms Valentine was I was more than happy to depart ways and follow up with Rosie’s home room teacher. A large shift away from the headmistress, Mr. Strom or David as he insisted on being called, was a well meaning chubby fellow who beamed at you from behind his modest desk. We shook hands and I again introduced myself as a concerned friend of the family. He sympathised instantly and from then on he was a unstoppable fountain of knowledge.
‘To tell you the truth Mr Carol Rosie is not one of my top students, however she’s nowhere near my worst either. She would be one of those kids who could do well if they just applied themselves but she was, is more interested in the social aspects of life rather than academics.’ He smiled the entire time he spoke and I struggled to catch him blink. He did seem to hold a fondness for young Rosie as evident by the passionate way he tried to convince me she was good, truly.
‘What about her friends?’ I asked, ‘her mother said she was close to some girl called Scarlett.’
‘Scarlett Oporto.’ His smile dropped as he spoke her name.
‘That’s the one. Is she around I’d like to have a word with her if I could. Rosie may have told her something that could help us find her.’
‘I don’t say this very often Mr Carol, but Scarlett Oporto is a bad egg, she’s ridden her mother’s coattails all her life and won’t let anyone forget it. By all means you can try and talk with her but I doubt it will be of much help, she lies through her teeth at the best of times.’ He looked a little disappointed to me, possibly because he had failed to see the good in one of his students but my gut said it was more because he believed Scarlett to be behind Rosie’s disappearance.
‘She should be in economics class right now. I’ll have her sent here so you two can talk away from the other students.’ He lent into the microphone on his desk and called for Scarlett to report to the home room. Within a few moments she was standing in front of us, her uniform on the shorter side of decency. Every ounce of my instinct told me to run, this girl was trouble and she knew it. Pure red hair ran freely down the length of her back framing the alabaster skin of her face and matching the cherry red lipstick that adorned her perfect, youthful lips. She obviously took fashion cues from her mother and goddess, no wonder Strom gave that look before it wasn’t disappointment it was agony. Imagine teaching this bundle of temptation day in, day out. It was enough to drive a sane man to drink. Good thing for me I was well and truly past that point.
‘Scarlett, this is Mr Carol. He’s a good friend of Rosie’s parents and he wanted to ask you a few questions if that’s ok?’ David sat back in his chair and with a slight nod gave me the go ahead. I folded my arms and lent on the edge of his desk trying my best fake smile. She saw through it straight away but seemed to kept up the charade of the innocent school girl.
‘Rosie’s never mentioned you before Mr Carol.’
‘I’m an old friend of her father’s, we go way back.’ Or we will, once he coughs up for my expense account.
‘When was the last time you saw Rosie?’ I asked, careful not to push the interrogation angle too much. ‘Did she mention anything about taking off, perhaps to meet with someone?’ I watched the girl’s face furrow for a moment no doubt planning her words carefully. I got the distinct feeling I would have to watch her or I could be the next one to end up missing. When Scarlett eventually spoke her voice was soft and rhythmic, every word a poem in itself.
‘The last I saw of Rosie we were hanging out near the temple, nothing special just talking.’
‘Aphrodite's temple out on Market Street?’
David coughed subtly, this was a Zeus school after all and while the goddess had her charms everyone knew the best schools were in the Father’s domain.
‘Yes,’ she continued ignoring her teacher. ‘As you probably know my mother is the High Priestess there.’ She was very proud of this fact and accented her mother’s title when she said it.
‘You two usually hang out there?’
‘It was just something to do after school.’ She said seeming disinterested already.
‘I hear that Rosie wasn’t really into the religious stuff, despite what her parents would like to believe.’ I gestured around the class room and it’s various religious iconography. I was trying to push her, just a little to see what kind of reaction I would get. So far her face was a pretty blank slate.
‘In fact,’ I went on, ‘I don’t think she believed in the gods at all.’ That got her. Scarlett turned the colour of her namesake as she fired off at me.
‘Rosie was a believer alright, she believed more than anyone I’ve ever met.’
Never say I couldn’t push a woman’s buttons, I tried my luck and kept on prodding. ‘From what I could see, she was just trying to piggy back on your popularity best friend of the High Priestess’s daughter, Hel you’ve been doing it to your mother all your life. Nothing more.’ It was a good thing David was in the room else I really believe that Scarlett would have flown at me from across the room. Her fists clenched at her sides as she tried to control herself.
‘Rosie was going to enter the order after she left school you know. My mother was going to sponsor her so don’t tell me that she was doing it just for the Hel of it!’ She spat her words out. ‘Mr Strom, can I go now?’ She was on the verge of tears, not from grief but out of sheer anger. David dismissed the girl with a quick nod, thanking her for her time.
‘Do you think she knows?’ He asked me after the door closed.
I shook my head. ‘No, she spoke of Rosie in the past tense “was going to join the order,” if Rosie had simply run off to do just that then Scarlett would have been proud of the fact.’ She’d have rubbed my nose in it I thought to myself. It hadn’t been a total waste of a trip though I now knew Rosie was wrapped up in the temple and while Scarlet did come across as seemingly innocent I think there is something else going on there. I needed to mull this over.
‘Thank you for your time Mr Strom, David. I’ll leave you and your fine school alone for now though I may be back if that’s ok with you?’
‘Please do, Mr Carol. I hope you find her, I really do.’ He tried for a smile but it became more of a grimace. Poor guy was probably too soft for this job, he’d be dead within a week in mine. I took my leave and headed back into town. I urgently needed to see how my car was coming along, hoofing it around the place was becoming a joke. If I smoked I’d would probably have busted a lung by now.
The guys at the garage had managed to recover my poor Buick with minimal fuss. Pepworth’s men were indeed waiting for me to come back and had apparently given the mechanics a bit of a hard time. They were good guys though and spun some web about being paid by the city to remove an abandoned vehicle, they even offered to leave the car there if Pepworth’s men offered to pay the very expensive fine for dumping within city limits. Not surprisingly they declined and left them to haul the wreak away. I slipped the owner an extra hundred for his troubles and offered to buy him a drink the next time he found himself in the Black Raven. The bad news was that it was going to take a few days to repair the damage. Those mob wannabes had gone to town on my poor old car, all the windows were shattered and the body looked like it had tried to implode of its own accord. I ran a sympathetic hand along the heavily dented bonnet. She was the only thing I could rely on, which in itself is the saddest thing a grown man should ever have to admit. Seeing the pain on my face the owner offered up a rental for the time being and led me to an even older Dodge that had seen better days. The faded lime green paint job flaked and puckered in the various dents and bruises. I had trouble picking out which car was more in need of repair, mine or his. Reluctantly I accepted and told him to invoice me. I would get the Oliver's to pick up the cheque or even try to get Pepworth to foot the bill, it was his fault after all. Taking the keys I pulled the rental out of the car park and headed back to the office, it was growing late and I needed to make a few calls before the day was through.