She looked at me. “High. I’ve been in recovery ten years. I know when I’m talking to somebody who’s fucked up.”
She shrugged. “I’d guess a hard upper. She’d get that edgy motormouth vibe cokeheads get. I’m not saying it was coke, but it was something that jacks you up.”
“She ever mention Zippo?”
“Boyfriend, yeah. Sounded like a beaut. She was very proud of his connections to some Russians.”
“As in the Russian mob?” Angie asked.
“That was my inference.”
“Joy,” I said. “How about Amanda McCready? She ever mention her?”
Elaine whistled. “The goddess? The idol? Everything Sophie wanted to be? Never met her, but she sounds . . . formidable for a sixteen-year-old.”
“That’s the impression we get. Sophie the type of girl who looks for a leader?”
“Most people do,” Elaine said. “They wait their entire lives for someone to tell them what to do and who to be. It’s all they want. Whether it’s a politician they’re waiting for or a spouse or a religious leader, all they really want in life is an alpha.”
“And Sophie,” Angie said, “found her alpha?”
“Yup.” She stood from her chair. “She sure did. She hasn’t called me in . . . Since July, maybe? I hope I was some help.”
We assured her she was.
“Thanks for coming.”
“Thanks for talking to us.”
We shook her hand and followed her and the dog out of the barn and down the dirt path to our car. Dusk was settling into the bare treetops and the air smelled of pine and damp, decaying leaves.
“When you find Sophie, what will you do?”
I said, “I was hired to find Amanda.”
“So you won’t feel obligated to bring Sophie home.”
I shook my head. “She’s seventeen now. I couldn’t do anything if I wanted to.”
“But you don’t want to.”
Angie and I spoke at the same time. “No.”
“Would you do me a favor if you do find her?”
“Tell her she has a place to stay. Any hour of the day. High or not. Angry or not. I don’t care about my feelings anymore. I only want to know she’s safe.”
She and Angie hugged then in that unforced way women can pull off that eludes even those men in the world who are at ease with the bro clench. Sometimes, I give Angie shit about it. I call it the Lifetime Hug or the Oprah, but there was no easy sentiment powering this one, just a recognition, I guess, or an affirmation.
“She deserved you,” Angie said.
Elaine wept silently into her shoulder and Angie held the back of her head and rocked her a bit the way she so often does with our daughter.
“She deserved you.”
We met Andre Stiles out front of the DCF offices on Farnsworth Street and the three of us walked down along the Seaport in a light flurry to a tavern on Sleeper Street.
Once we were settled in our seats and the waitress had taken our orders, I said, “Thanks again for seeing us on such short notice, Mr. Stiles.”
“Please,” he said, “don’t call me ‘Mister.’ Just call me Dre.”
“Dre it is.”
He was about thirty-seven or thirty-eight, brown hair cut short, the gray just finding its way along the temples and along the edges of his goatee. Well-dressed for a social worker—black cotton crewneck and dark blue jeans far nicer than anything you’d find at The Gap, black cashmere overcoat with red lining.
“So,” he said, “Sophie.”
“You met her father.”
“Yup,” Angie said.
“What’d you think?”
The waitress brought our drinks. He plucked the lemon wedge out of his vodka tonic, stirred the drink, and then placed the stirrer beside the lemon wedge. His fingers moved with the confident delicacy of a pianist.
“The father,” I said. “Piece of work, isn’t he?”
“If by piece of work you mean douche bag, yeah, he’s that.”
Angie laughed and drank some wine.
“Don’t sugarcoat it, Dre.”
“Please, don’t,” Angie said.
He took a sip of his drink, chewed a chip of ice. “So many of the kids I deal with, the problem’s not the kid. It’s that the kid drew an asshole in the parental lottery. Or two assholes. I could sit here and be all PC about it, but I do that enough at work all day.”
“Last thing we want is PC,” I said. “Anything you can tell us would be greatly appreciated.”
“How long you two been private investigators?”
“I’ve been on a five-year sabbatical,” Angie said.
“This morning,” she said.
“You missed it?”
“I thought I did,” she said. “Not so sure anymore, though.”
“You?” he asked me. “How long have you been at it?”
“Too long.” It unsettled me how true those words felt. “Since I was twenty-three.”
“You ever think of doing anything else?”
“More and more every day. You?”
He shook his head. “This is my second career.”
“What was your first?”
He finished his drink and caught the waitress’s eye. I still had half my scotch and Angie still had two-thirds of her wine, so he pointed at his own drink and showed her one finger.
“My first career,” he said. “I was a doctor, believe it or not.”
Suddenly the delicate grace of his fingers made sense.
“You think it’s going to be about saving lives but you find out quick it’s about turnover, just like any other business. How many services can you deliver at a premium price with the lowest expenditure on supplies and labor? Treat ’em, street ’em, and upsell ’em when the opportunity presents itself.”
Angie said, “And you weren’t any more PC then, I take it?”
He chuckled as the waitress brought his drink. “I was fired from four hospitals in a five-square-mile area for insubordination. It’s a record of some kind, I’m pretty sure. I suddenly found myself unhireable in the city. I mean, I could have moved to, I don’t know, New Bedford or something. But I like the city. And I woke up one day and realized I hated my life. I hated what I was doing with it. I’d lost my faith.” He shrugged. “A couple days later I saw an ad for a human services position with the DCF, and here I am.”