In August 2014 at a Book Bandit Meeting this story happened. It seemed pretty perfect for this TBP prompt so I’ve reworked it a bit and here it is again!
The prompts that day were:
Release the balloons
A pinch of cayenne
Templeton and Sons
The sign on the door said ‘Templeton and Sons, Investigations’. When it was just Dad the sign read ‘Templeton Investigations’. Then when my brother John got his license Dad changed the sign to read ‘Templeton and Son, Investigations’. I had just gotten back from my stint in the Navy and Dad had just gotten a third sign that read ‘Templeton and Sons, Investigations’. My first case was a missing person.
It started on a warm summer morning. He came into the office and sat down at my dad’s desk. He told us his name was Jimmy and he had a spot of something on the end of his nose. As he sat, he pulled a tin of McCormick’s cayenne pepper out of the pocket of his jeans and tapped a pinch onto the back of his hand. When he leaned in and snorted it, like a hit of snuff, his eyes began to water; but whatever had been on his nose was gone.
“Mr. Templeton?” he asked from behind the tears. “I need to hire you to find a missing person.”
Dad looked at him with distaste. He had never seen anyone snort cayenne before. “The police do missing persons. You don’t need us.”
“The police are not interested in this case.” Jimmy said. “It’s been over a month and the leads are drying up.”
“OK, tell us a bit about it,” Dad said. “Who’s missing?”
“It’s my friend Anita,” Jimmy replied. “She’s just vanished. Rumors have been floating around that she broke her leg but no one’s been able to confirm it. We’re all worried.”
“Do you have a photograph of Anita?” Dad asked.
“No, I don’t,” Jimmy replied, “but I’m a pretty good artist and I can sketch a likeness if you have some paper.”
Dad reached in a drawer and got a sheet of copy paper that he handed over. Jimmy pulled a Sea Green Crayola Crayon from his shirt pocket. He put the paper on the edge of Dad’s desk and went to work. Tongue protruding ever so slightly from the corner of his mouth. Jimmy quickly produced a sketch of a stick figure; identifiable as a woman only because of the triangular skirt he had drawn. She had corkscrew hair and dots for eyes. She was smiling. He handed the crayon drawing to Dad and said, “This is what she looks like.”
“She should be easy to find,” Dad said, “seeing as she has no nose and is about as skinny as a pencil.”
Time is up. Put down your writing implements and step away from the paper.
It began years ago; in a grimy cell, behind a wall, in Eastern Europe.
I woke with a start and opened my eyes. She was there. She was not more than six inches away from me; a mere waif of a girl. It was clear that she wanted quiet. Her face was caked with dirt or makeup; I couldn’t tell which, but camouflage was the aim.
She pressed a cool damp cloth over my mouth and nose. It smelled sweet and she faded away.
“Is she the one who got me out?” I asked. “Who is she?”
My questions were dismissed by the others, “You needn’t worry about her. She’s one of ours.”
Now I see her most nights. As I hover at the edge of slumber.