Elizabeth sat comfortably at a corner booth, and looked over the expansive park just outside. In the distance, high-rises poked out from above the treeline. There was all sorts of activity going on in between: people jogging, buskers performing, muggers doing their dastardly deeds, and those who spent their days feeding the pigeons. In the background, she heard quiet lounge music and the chitter chatter of people busy with their meals.
What a shame that she could not order just yet, since she was famished. Elizabeth looked down at her phone and saw that it had been a half-an-hour since her arrival. Unfortunately, Anne would be a while yet before making an entrance. To kill time, she enjoyed the view, thought about her never-ending caseload, and eyed the phone for notifications. This was nothing out of the ordinary when dealing with Anne, but she nonetheless resented that woman for making her wait.
It had been years since Elizabeth last visited this particular restaurant, and truth be told, it was too rich for her blood. Her career as a social worker, one spent dealing with runaways and abused children, did not grant her a membership to the one-percent club. Places like this trendy restaurant, with its breathtaking view, were nothing more than an indulgence. It was unfortunate that to get Anne’s attention, she needed an appropriate venue to lure her in. That, and pick up the tab.
After an additional thirty minutes and three visits from the waiter, Elizabeth lost patience and ordered a dry martini to go with her chicken Caesar salad. She reasoned that Anne could order once she arrived, whenever that happened to be.
As fate would have it, just as she handed back her menu, a tall rotund brunette came through the front door dressed in designer clothing. Clearly, that dress had to be couture, because it did a wonderful job of drawing the eyes away from certain attributes while focusing them elsewhere, in this case, that rather generous cleavage.
Elizabeth, in contrast, was a graceful and a modern woman, at least when judged by her haircut and mixed-race facial features. She had once been described as striking, a flawless beauty despite that slight scar just above her left eyebrow. While nearly invisible to most, it was a constant reminder about children and the dangerous games they played.
Anne looked around the restaurant until she caught a glimpse of Elizabeth waving. She then flashed a fake smile before sauntering towards the corner booth.
“Lizzy!” Anne exclaimed.
Anne reached out for Elizabeth who got up in time to hug. Despite Anne wearing heels, Elizabeth towered over her friend, even in flats.
“Anne! Always a pleasure. Was it a busy day at the courts?” Elizabeth asked.
This would give Anne the chance to come up with an excuse for being over an hour late. Elizabeth often wondered why she did not set appointments with Anne an hour earlier. That way, Anne would be on time, or at least from Elizabeth’s perspective.
“You know how it is,” Anne said in reply while perusing the menu nonchalantly. “What are today’s specials?”
Anne used that question as a way to change the subject. She also noted that her friend had ordered without her, a trend she found disturbing.
“I can’t, for the life of me, remember what the waiter said,” Elizabeth replied thinking that the lunch specials were no longer being offered, seeing how they ended at two. “I just ordered a salad and a drink.”
Hopefully, Anne would get the hint that this was not a sky’s the limit type of outing, Though she feared there might be some sort of penance to be paid for ordering early.
Fortunately, the waiter showed up just in time to break up the conversation. Elizabeth took in a quick sip of her drink and enjoyed how the alcohol burned the tip of her tongue. It had been a while since she last indulged in a stiff drink, and she would need a few more before this day was done.
Nonetheless, she watched with interest as Anne ordered a soup and sandwich special, along with a cosmopolitan. That choice had been appreciated, since it softened the blow to her pocketbook.
“Is that a ring on your finger?” Anne asked, noting the simple white-gold band.
Elizabeth smiled warmly and blushed before replying, “Yes. I got married a few months ago.” Her smile grew exponentially before she continued, “I married a lovely singer-songwriter named Mary Scott. We met a few years back at one of her concerts.”
In fact, this was something that Anne should have known. Had she bothered to look at Elizabeth’s Bealzabook profile.
Elizabeth digressed and added, “She’s on a country-wide tour, so we’ve not seen much of each other lately.”
“Hmmmmm,” Anne replied, the look on her face, making it clear that she was bored. “Sorry to hear… So why did you want to see me today?”
Quick and to the point. A refreshing change for her friend, but where did that come from? Throughout college, Elizabeth had never known that woman to be straightforward on anything.
Elizabeth began to question if Anne’s discomfort had something to do with her choice of spouse? Or was it the level of commitment and dedication shown for another? She had one sure-fire way to find out, so her eyes dropped down a few degrees and focused on Anne’s ample bust.
“When was the last time you remember seeing Victoria?” Elizabeth asked, all the while keeping an eye out for any telltale signs of discomfort.
True to form, Anne shifted slightly to avoid the gaze and uttered a befuddled response, “Not sure. I think it may have been a few weeks before the funeral.”
That question caught Anne off guard almost as much as Elizabeth leering. Why was she being asked such a question? Unable to ask without appearing insensitive, she tossed the ball back to the other’s court.
“You?” Anne asked.
“I was at the funeral. Do you remember how dreary it was that day? I don’t think anyone managed to exchange more than a couple of words with her. A handful of us were there for support, but she wasn’t really there,” Elizabeth said. “You know?”
Elizabeth paused to take another sip of her drink. She then looked towards the kitchen and wondered why their food was taking so long. After all, salad and cold chicken did not require a great deal of preparation.
“No one has seen hide nor hair of her since…” Elizabeth trailed off.
“No one has seen her since the funeral?” Anne asked with a hint of shock in her voice. “Wasn’t that last year?”
“Actually, it was two years ago. Shortly after the funeral, she moved out of the estate, quit her job, and then—poof!” Elizabeth said.
Since Elizabeth worked primarily with children who had a habit of running away, those actions showed up as red flags. Of course, one had to wonder what Victoria was running from.
“No updates on Bealzabook, her name isn’t listed in the phone book, her mobile was disconnected, and no one I know has seen her in years,” Elizabeth said.
“Really?” Anne asked.
The waiter brought Anne’s drink, who then gulped half of it down as a diversion.
“So why tell me all of this?” Anne asked.
Elizabeth sighed seeing as this would end up being another dead-end. Either way, she asked, “You’ve known her much longer than anyone else. I met her in college where we shared a few electives. That led to us teaming up for projects, and she ended up dragging me to those horror movie marathons. Still, you must know something? You’ve known her since high school.”
Anne sensed where this was heading and hated being lured here for this. Had it really been that long since she had last seen Victoria? While they were not the best of friends, the two had followed each other through the academy, college, and law school. She even took advantage of the vacuum Victoria left by quitting her law firm, even though several clients subsequently changed firms once they got their corrected bills.
To avoid the subject further, she deflected once more by asking something in return, “Perhaps she found herself a man?”
Elizabeth scoffed at the idea. Anne was lucky that her friend had not been sipping her drink in that moment.
“You remember what happened with Marcus back in college? I doubt she ever really recovered from that,” Elizabeth said. She then cocked her head and asked in return, “Weren’t you and Marcus an item?”
Anne turned white as a sheet and failed to reply. Elizabeth knew that Anne had been instrumental in getting Marcus away from Victoria, although that was not necessarily a herculean feat. Marcus was known for his fetishes throughout college, and since Victoria was not putting out, the rest was history. Anne was a woman who squirted on command, the least risqué of skills in her sexual repertoire, and that got his attention. In the end, it was a choice between gaining access to a family fortune in the distant future, or a quick lay. Funny how that choice seemed so simple in retrospect.
However, Elizabeth was not aware that Anne and Marcus were still a thing, available on speed-dial day or night, with no strings attached. Fortunately, Victoria never learned of the true reason of their breakup, but the way that man left her certainly merited him a special place in hell. Elizabeth had been the one left holding the pieces and spent more than her fair share of time watching horror movies with the devastated woman. Thankfully, the tapes had worn out, which granted her a merciful reprieve.
They ate in silence once the food arrived. Elizabeth was not yet done with this conversation, but felt that Anne needed to regain her composure. She kept busy by thinking back to her college days, specifically, when her interests in men came to an end and she realised how thankful she was for not ending up with her own version of Marcus. Sure, men were fine but none ever left her feeling satiated.
It was nothing more than a stroke of luck that she met her true calling for partners. Youthful, and full of spirit, a firecracker really, she had piercing green eyes and a smile that entranced. These were all traits typically found in a freshman art student. She was the reason Elizabeth liked women, along with a renewed appreciation for the arts.
Elizabeth had fond memories of that relationship, including one that involved a lot of paint, long rolls of paper, and their naked bodies. That summer had passed by like a dream and she often wondered what ever happened to her.
Oddly enough, the musical tones in Mary’s voice had the same intoxicating effects on her. While a coincidence, it created an immediate bond with Mary, a secret that Elizabeth would take to her grave.
“So, I hired a private investigator,” Elizabeth said.
She was about finished eating the last leaf of the salad. In some cultures, it was seen as a sign of respect to leave something on the plate, and she began to wonder if Anne had ever heard of that particular custom.
Anne put down her fork and sighed, All the while trying to come up with an excuse that would get her out of this. Unfortunately, nothing she thought of, would let her off the hook, or at least not without painting her as some sort of monster.
“Why are you so worried about her anyway? People like her don’t just disappear, you know? The media would be in a frenzy if she did,” Anne said.
“I thought of that. Still it doesn’t make sense that she would just drop.” Elizabeth said after she polished off her drink.
As though reading her mind, the waiter brought in a fresh martini.
“I asked the foundation looking after her parent’s affairs about her, but they refused to tell me anything. Mind you, this company is renowned for protecting the privacy of their clients,” Elizabeth said.
Before Anne could reply, Elizabeth added more to the narrative, “I came across a car salesman at a local bar. He kept on bitching about some frost queen that almost got him fired. So I flirted a bit, and he confessed that Victoria bought a car! That one nearly blew my mind.”
“No doubt,” Anne said nonchalantly, but she did agree in retrospect.
“Even that was over a year ago. So when I asked the PI, he looked into the matter and found out that her car was registered to the foundation. The address also matched the one for their corporate headquarters,” Elizabeth said.
Elizabeth began to question why she even bothered to tell Anne any of this. Could this woman to be more self-absorbed? Nonetheless, she carried on because it felt more like a confession at this point.
“That, in itself, is not out of the ordinary for those who are well off,” Elizabeth said. After a brief pause, she added, “Eventually, he managed to break into the foundation’s computer system and found the address for a unit along the park. When I visited, the place looked deserted, but there was a pungent odour coming from a broken window.”
Elizabeth was parched, so she finished half the glass and noted that Anne had made no progress on hers.
“I tried to tell the doorman, but he insisted everything was fine and not to worry. That’s the most tight-lipped bastard I ever met… then I read the newspaper.”
“News?” Anne asked, this time appearing to be genuinely interested, but Elizabeth found it difficult to be certain.
Elizabeth nodded and said. “Remember a few weeks back, some news about a car bombing in a parking garage near here?”
“That was him?” Anne asked loud enough for most of the restaurant to overhear. Then she covered her mouth, calmed down, and spoke in a hushed voice, “I thought they said it was a gas leak?”
“One of the investigators on the case is a big fan of my wife’s music. So he let me in on some of the details,” Elizabeth said.
To fuck with Anne! Elizabeth began to stare at her cleavage and this time with far less discretion. In itself, that was not a difficult task, since the woman was facing forward.
“To his knowledge, Russian anti-tank mines and ruptured gas mains are not normal occurrences in this city,” Elizabeth added.
This time, Anne said nothing, nor did she move to avert Elizabeth’s gaze. The social worker grinned, finished off her drink, and set the glass down loudly on the table. To watch Anne jump. For a moment, they laughed, but it was obvious that their nerves were frayed.
In trying to calm her nerves, Anne said, “You can’t be serious!”
“Ah, but I am,” Elizabeth replied. “Two days ago, that doorman went missing,” she added realising how ridiculous this all sounded.
Anne’s eyes grew wide before she stuttered, “Really?”
She then looked at her own phone and triggered an app that made the phone vibrate.
“Oh look at the time!” Anne exclaimed while she got up and smiled meekly. “I have a very important appointment with a client. It’s been a pleasure. So, next time lunch is on me?”
Of course, Elizabeth knew this was nothing more than an excuse. Should she expect any different from Anne? Truth be told, this had been the fourth friend she sought in as many weeks. Every time she was met with the same detached attitude, and nonchalance, always coming up empty handed.
“With friends like you, why would Victoria need any enemies?” Elizabeth shouted as Anne left the restaurant.
Frustrated, the social worker ordered another drink, and dropped her card on the table to pay her tab. With no desire to see the tally, she told the server to add up the gratuity himself. That way, she could avoid seeing the damage until her credit card statement arrived. Bored, she went back to people-watching and nursed her drink.
Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!