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Excerpt from 'The Disappearance of Natalie Firth'

Chapter One

I woke up wondering why Penny was licking my nose, only to discover that it was Sally standing astride my chest and trying her best to drown me. I spluttered something like ‘Blurggg’ and lifted her to one side, and then the reason for my rude awakening became apparent as the sound of the office phone impinged upon my consciousness. I could hardly hear it through the quite solid door of the bedroom, but Sally had no such problems, and felt that it was a human thing that needed human intervention.

I had been wrenched out of the middle of a weird dream, and the fact that I was having one was weird in itself. I don’t normally have odd dreams. My dreams are invariably of me, much younger and sandwiched between two naked beauties that are bent on jumping my bones fatally. But this dream had only just started and Sally’s licking had pulled me away from it. I had been dreaming that I had just got up, and there was a timid knock on the door. I looked over to the monitor and could see no one there, but then the tap came again. I opened the door to see a young boy of about seven or eight standing there. At that point the dream was interrupted by Sally waking me up. As I say it was very odd, but I was not going to knock myself out trying to analyse it.

It had been several months since the debacle of the Home Secretary and things in the world were slowly getting back to normal. The US had been given permission to re-establish a single base in the UK, even though Britain was no longer a part of NATO, and happily agreed to all of the new restrictions that had been applied. The UK had stepped back from actually withdrawing from the UN, but had resigned from the Security Council. The date for the referendum on Europe had been fixed, and the British Justice bill, had been passed, compelling Judges to only consider British law in their deliberations.

But right now, I had no time to dwell on politics, because the phone had been ringing for an inordinately long time. Penny had become the object of Sally’s attention, because I had slipped out of bed and was struggling to pull up my trousers and operate the door handle at the same time, and she also spluttered into consciousness.

I reached the phone and it stopped ringing. I’m not quite sure how that works. It rings for any length of time from a few seconds to several minutes, but then still manages to stop just as you reach for it. It is definitely one of those mysteries of technology that I am far too old to understand. I have examined it carefully, but I can find no hidden cameras, so it’s certainly not deliberate, but probably just the fates having a laugh at my expense. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to the bedroom.

Penny was sitting up in bed, totally naked with the covers around her waist, her breasts were quite beautiful, and I licked by lips at the sight.

“Now that Sally’s stopped licking you, can I take over,” I asked.

“As long as it’s not my face that you want to lick,” she said.

“Certainly not,” I replied.

“Good,” she said, and placing her hands behind her head, she leaned backwards and stretched luxuriously in the bed, “Please be my guest.”

When we eventually emerged from the bedroom, Neil and Denise were already at their desks poring over the files of a number of open cases that we were investigating.

I had suddenly found that I was getting far more cases than I could handle, and making more money than I ever had, leading me to believe that I might just get rich before I died. But it was how to cover the cases that concerned me, so I asked Neil, who was a PI himself, if he would work for me full time, and he agreed. I split the profits, after operational costs had been deducted, to twenty-five percent for each of us. I had found out that clients were happy with whatever I charged them, so I introduced a sliding scale depending on how much they appeared to be worth.

Our last case had been to do with industrial espionage, where a software developer kept finding that his ideas popped up all over the place with no help from him. It didn’t take us long to find out that his partner in the company was making more money from selling his ideas than he was from the company. The damages that the developer got, wiped out all of that, and he was so grateful that we received a cheque for fifty grand even though we had only asked for ten.

There was a timid tap on the door, and I looked over to the monitor and there was no one there, but then came the tap again. It was Déjà-vu. I knew who was there, but I couldn’t believe it, so I just walked over to the door. Penny slipped her hand into her desk drawer and around the handle of the Glock that she kept there. I could have told her that it was OK, but I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t believe that I was reliving a dream. I opened the door and a young man of about seven or eight was indeed standing there looking up at me. For a second, I couldn’t say anything, but then I recovered my composure,

“Good morning Sir,” I said grandly, “what can I do for you?”

“Are you Larry Dexyman?” he asked.

“Well nearly,” I said, “It’s Dexxman with two X’s.”

“Oh, sorry Mr, I didn’t know people could have two X’s in their names. My name is Harold Firth, but my dad calls me Harry. I did phone earlier, but no one answered.”

Well that solved the mystery of the phone ringing, and the length of time it had taken for me to get to it must have exceeded Harry’s attention span and he had rung off.

“Pleased to meet you Harry; I’m sorry that it took me so long to get to the phone, but I’m afraid I was still in bed.” I replied, “My name is Lawrence, but you can call me Larry. Won’t you come in? Perhaps you would like a coke or something?”

“Well I would like a cup of tea, and don’t worry about the phone, I realised that it was much too early, right after I had made the call.” he said, endearing himself to me immediately.

Sally is not keen on children as they are too close to her own size, and was eyeing him dubiously, and rumbling softly to herself.

“Is this the famous Sally?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, then to Sally, “this young gentleman is Harry.”

Sally was still looking dubious even though she’d been introduced, but then she seemed to make up her mind, and leapt on him hell bent on licking every bit of skin that showed.

“You’d better let him up for breath Babe,” I said, “I don’t think he came just to see you.”

“No sir, I didn’t,” said Harry, “it said on the tele that you are a famous detective, and I wondered if you could help me.”

“Where are your parents Harry, and how did you get here?” I asked.

“I may only be eight,” he said, “but I know how to buy a tube ticket and get on a train. And I can read the signs. I came on my own. It’s safe enough.”

In my mind, I reviewed the many unpleasant things had happened to me during my life, and thought that it must be very nice to view the world as just somewhere to play. Kids never seem to worry, it’s just us grownups that do that.

"Won't your parents be worrying?” I asked, “Perhaps I should phone them for you?"

"That's what I came to see you about. My mum is missing.”

Penny closed her drawer and came round the desk, took him by the hand and led him to an armchair that we reserved for clients,

“Sit here Harry,” she said, “and then you can tell Larry the whole story, while I make us some tea.”

“Thank you miss,” he said politely.

I sat down in a chair just opposite Harry,

“Ok Harry, go ahead, I’m listening.”

“My mum has gone away. She didn’t tell me where she was going, and Dad won’t tell me either. He just doesn’t seem bothered. She always said she loved me, but you don’t do that to people you love, do you?”

“No you don’t, but you do know Harry that I do this for a living, and people pay for my services.”

“Yes sir, I do,” he said seriously, “my allowance is two pounds a week, and I would be happy to give that to you every week if you find her.”

Penny came into the room bearing a tray of mugs, which she passed around after first giving one to Harry. She had overheard the last part of the conversation, and was giving me the look. You know, that look that says be nice or no sex for a month.

“No Harry, that won’t do,” I said, and then added as Penny’s mouth began to open, “it’s far too much money, and I can’t leave you without any allowance. I’ll tell you what. You pay me twenty five pence per week for four weeks, and we’ll call it quits.”

Penny face lit up, and she started to grin, the grin that says you’re a lovely man and you get sex at the very minimum of twice tonight.

“Yes sir, I think I can afford that,” said Harry.

“Alright then, you go and sit in front of that lady there,” I said pointing to Denise, “she’s Denise by the way, and she will get all of your information down on paper. Once we have that, we can get to work. But you must understand that we have to ring your father to let him know where you are. Give Denise your number, if you have it, and she’ll phone him when you’ve finished.”

“Oh yes Mr Dexxman, I have it on a label sewn to my jacket.”

Once we had extracted as much information from him as we could, Denise phoned his father. He sat watching the daily operations of a detective’s office for at least forty-five minutes, drinking the copious quantities of tea that Denise supplied, until Penny announced that his father was at the bottom of the stairs. I escorted him to the door, and watched until he was safely at street level with his father. As I was turning away, I saw the disturbing vision of him staggering forward from a sharp smack on the back of his head. Not a lot I could do from here, but I sure as hell would remember it. I turned back into the office and called for everyone’s attention,

“All other cases are on hold. If any of them don’t like it tell them to find someone else. From now on, we concentrate on Harry’s mum. All of the resources of this office will be used for just that one purpose. Are there any questions?”

“I was hoping you’d say that,” said Neil, “If you didn’t I was going to volunteer to do it in my own time. If you need any help with the running costs, you can have whatever I have left. It’s not much but whatever I have, it’s yours.”

“You can have mine too,” said Denise.

“That’s twice in four years that you’ve done something nice,” said Penny, “you need to watch that it doesn’t become a habit.”

I ignored her, and continued with my instructions,

“Thanks for the offers guys, but I think I have enough salted away to keep us going, well for six months at least. I think that we need to find and contact as many of her relatives as we can, and make a few discrete enquiries. From what Harry has told Denise, his mum didn’t go out to work, but she must have some friends that we can talk to. We have to bear in mind that she might have left deliberately, and if that’s the case and we do find her, then her wishes must be respected.”

“I just find it odd that any mother can just walk out on her son like that,” said Penny, “Yes, I can understand her walking out on her husband, but not a little cutie like Harry.”

“It happens,” said Neil, “and sometimes for reasons that just don’t make any sense.”

Perhaps I should tell them about the dream, I thought, but then dismissed it. I was not sure I could cope with the amusement that they would inevitably show, so for the time being I thought I would keep it to myself.

The rest of the day was taken up with tracing friends and relatives of Harry’s mum, and making arrangements and appointments to talk to them. We didn’t tell any of them the reason that they were being contacted, because we didn’t want people worrying unnecessarily before we had a chance to see them face to face, and explain what had happened.

That night, I dreamed again, but this time it seemed to be an after the fact dream. In the dream, I was showing Harry to the door, and watching to see that he safely made it to street level, and then I turned back into the office and heard myself saying,

“All other cases are on hold...”

It faded away after that, and I reverted to my normal naked sandwich. It was still a bit weird, but not as much as the previous night, because this time, at least, it could be put down to a simple reprise of what had already happened.

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