Rain pounded against my window, but it would clear up in a minute and the humidity would be higher than a Russian sauna. I was on my second glass of whiskey, contemplating how long I could sleep at my office before the landlord got wise that my office was now a residence. I could not make my apartment rent for the third month in row and there was a suspicious red envelop on my front door which I had avoided like a sinner avoids church. That is when she walked through my door. She was a brunette with long legs and a face that would have made John Smith question his love for the beautiful Disney Pocahontas. My front door was open, and she sauntered in like she owned the place. For an hour of staring into those big brown eyes I might have given her the keys.
“Are you Miles Mitchell, the private investigator?” she asked in voice that could easily be confused for an angel, but gave the hint of knowledge that would make a demon blush.
“That’s what it says on the door, but my friends just call me Mitch” She smiled with ruby red lips but not with her eyes. “Have a seat, Mrs.?”
She sat down in the seat in front of my desk with the smooth motion of a ballet dancer. I envied the arms of the chair as she placed her dainty hands on them.
“It’s Miss Fowler. Miss Felicity Fowler. I understand you specialize in cases concerning people involved with Disney World.”
I chuckled. “Specialize might be too strong a word, but I’ve had some success in Walt’s backyard.”
She nodded thoughtfully. “I want you to find someone, my younger sister, Fiona.”
I nodded and she continued. “She came down here for an Internship, but she had been talking about taking a job with Disney afterward.”
“The internship was over five weeks ago and she has not called or communicated with anyone in the family since. It’s very important that I contact her soon, as our mother is a very sick woman and wants to see her.” Her voice had the telltale quiver that comes right before a crying jag, so I grabbed a box of tissues from my drawer walked around the desk and offered her one. I did not return to my seat but leaned against the leading edge of my desk till she got herself under control.
“You say she has not communicated with anyone in your family. How about her friends, have they heard from her?”
Felicity looked up with a sad look on her face. “Fiona and I are not what you call close. She was away at school for the last four years and we’ve drifted even further apart. I don’t know any of her friends and she has not used any of her credit cards, I had our accountant check.”
I nodded knowingly. Not that I ever had an accountant; I had taken my tax returns to H&R Block last year and they felt such pity for me they took up a collection in their local office.
“The police, Orange County Sheriff’s Department?” I asked, though I knew the answer before she gave it.
She waved her finely manicured hand dismissively. “They said that since no foul play was suspected, and it was not a crime for a girl to not call her family it was not their concern.”
“Do you have her local address, where she was staying?”
Felicity pulled out a small notebook from her purse and handed it to me, gently brushing her fingers, which were warm to the touch, against me in the process. “Your hands are very cold Mitch,” she said.
“Well you know what the say, cold hands, warm heart,” I said, smiling. I took a few minutes looking over the notebook. It was all laid out for me there: Fiona’s information, the accountant’s name and number. It even listed the kid’s shoe size, a narrow size five. I was not sure how that would help, but you never know when even the most seemingly meaningless details may prove themselves crucial. I looked up from the notebook, quoted my billing price and my initial retainer, and she agreed to it without batting a pretty little eyelash, taking five crisp one hundred dollar bills out of her purse. She got up to leave and I saw her to the door of my meager little office.
“I am staying at the Gaylord Hotel. Do you know it?”
I nodded. I knew it. I had been in there a couple of months ago simply to use the bathroom and I swear security followed me around like they knew I was up to no good. They were technically right; I was a looking for a boss who had stepped out with his secretary, but the staff at that fancy hotel had no way of knowing that. “Please if you have any questions or you make any progress, please do not hesitate to drop by.”
I informed her I would be by with regular updates. She shook my hand in that fantastic ladylike way where I was unsure if I should shake her hand or kiss it. I stuck with the shake and she turned, walking away in that red dress which made me glad I was a man.
After the elevator door was closed, I walked to the hallway window that looked out onto the parking lot just in time to see a large flunky shut the door to a black town car, undoubtedly with Miss Felicity Fowler in the back.
An hour later, I was on the case; that is, after a quick trip downstairs for some Indian food. The smell had been tantalizing me for a couple of days and having my office above it was torture when all I had was two lonely George Washingtons in my money clip. But now fortified with savory Mango Chicken Curry, I dug into the case. I did the easy stuff first: phone calls and computer checks. Miss Fowler was correct Fiona had not been active on social media in about four weeks though; that was when she stopped posting on twitter and Instagram. I made a few phone calls to the boys in blue, old friends whom I owed a thousand favors to, and found that there were no cases involving her, and no reports filed with her name in them either. I thought about that. No reports… Felicity had said she talked to someone. Usually they at least put the name in their database. Maybe it was nothing, slow paperwork, lazy civil servants.
Nothing I did was ever easy, and this case was not turning into the exception to the rule. I knew checking out her housing when she was a Disney Intern was pointless. That place had both tight security and high turnover; even if I was able to get in, all they would tell me is she had moved out, and I already knew that. So, I decided to head to a place I thought someone might have a personal relationship with her.
The Magic Kingdom, Walt’s bigger version of Disneyland copied and expanded in a Florida swamp. I had a lifetime pass, through no effort of my own, unless you call being born an accomplishment and where I was born was my mother’s call. Mom as far as I can tell was always a bit strange, doing crazy things and not caring what anyone thought. She had been pregnant with me, her one and only child, and she decided she wanted to give birth at the Happiest Place on Earth, so when her contractions started she hopped in her car, and even though it was closing time she somehow snuck down into the tunnels where she waited till the park was empty of guests. She then emerged, and by the time maintenance heard her giving birth, it was too late and I was born in Fantasyland right in the Teacups Ride. Which teacup, I am not sure of because she tells me a different color every time.
My story might have just been an interesting side note in the history books, but Disney had a new CEO who was visiting the parks for the first time and he made a big deal of it and bequeathed to me a permanent lifetime pass. Not many people recalled the story any longer, and for that I was grateful. There had only been one media reprisal of the story, and that was when I turned ten and there was a lavish birthday party at Pirates of the Caribbean, my favorite ride, with accompanying pictures.
I can’t give the pass away and I sure as heck can’t sell it, so I use it when I am working, like today. I arrived at the Ticketing and Transportation Center, parked my car in Hook and walked with the rest of the guests to the screening area. I went through the no bag line and did not see anyone in blues that I knew so I took the ferry across the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Happiest Place on Earth.
I walked Main Street USA to the last place Ms. Fowler had worked. I surveilled the store for a while, occasionally looking at the faces of the cast members. When she was active on social media, Ms. Fowler had taken pictures of her friends working in the Emporium and posted them online. It was then that I got a shock; there was Ms. Fiona Fowler, helping restock a display of stuffed animals. I watched her for a bit, made a pass checking out her name tag. The name tag read Chris from Orlando. I chuckled; it was a Cast joke. If you forgot your name tag, managers had a bunch of spares in their desk drawer, all Chris, a nice non gender specific name, and everyone that worked here at Disney technically lived in the Orlando area.
Despite the name tag I was sure that this was the younger Ms. Fowler; she matched the photographs perfectly, right down to the costume she was wearing.
I looked at my watch and hoped she would take her lunch soon or maybe she would get work so we could talk.
“Hi Ms. Fowler, you don’t know me but.”
In that split second I said her name I saw several looks cross her young face, the first shock, then anger, and finally resignation, as if she knew this was something unpleasant, she was going to have to deal with. She held up a hand to stop me. “My stepsister sent you, didn’t she?”
“Stepsister? Yes, she is worried about you?”
This was met with a quick snort, one that I am sure she had used before when talking about her sister. “No, what dear stepsister Felicity,” she said the words stepsister like it was a curse word, “wants is my money and my approval for the sale of my father’s company.”
“She also said your mother is sick.”
Again, a quick snort. “What my stepmother is sick about is not taking the company jet to Paris but having to fly first class commercial. Do you want to see her protesting texts where she pled with me to be irresponsible with the company funds and use the jet for her personal travel?”
I was about to ask her if we could talk somewhere when Fiona beat me to the punch. “I get off in thirty minutes. Gaston’s at two?”
I agreed and killed the next thirty minutes navigating around the castle and crowds via Liberty Square, I avoided the Teacups whenever I could, not for the reason you would think though. I was walking by the ride one time and a queasy teenager came off the ride and created a code V right on my shoes. The stain left behind showed he had been eating a lot of cotton candy.
At Gaston’s, I grabbed a very expensive Coke, took a booth in the back, and waited. With ten minutes to spare the younger Ms. Fowler showed up, sans costume and in street clothes. We talked for the next fifteen minutes, and she told me of her father, his company, and his 2nd marriage which came with a new stepsister, Felicity. She explained that her control of both the company and the family fortune was not contested and she had no intention of turning control of the company over to either her gold-digging stepmother or her minion Felicity. Fiona did not beg, nor did she attempt to pay me off; she simply asked that I do not report my findings to her sister. When I was non-committal about what I was going to do, Fiona gave me a phone number to text and tell her my decision. I promised her I would.
I got back to my car via the ferry boat, walking to the top deck for the most air flow to clear my head. By the time I got back to my 1996 Buick station wagon I had come to a decision. I had taken Felicity’s coin to do a job, I had done the job, and she would get her information, or at least what I had gathered so far.
I navigated to the Gaylord Hotel and smirked at the on-duty security manager when he pointedly asked what my business was. When I mentioned my client was waiting for a report in a suite upstairs, he nodded curtly with his eyes pointed towards the elevator. I was not happy that the job was over so soon, but hey, maybe something else would pop up to keep the wolves at bay.
Knocking on the door I heard a bit of shuffling in the room and the beautiful Ms. Fowler answered the door. I followed her into the room, glad she was still wearing the red dress. She sat in the living area of the suite and asked me to do the same.
“I did not expect you so soon Mr. Mitchell.”
“Remember. you can call me Mitch.”
“Of course, Mitch. I hope you have good news.”
I looked into those beautiful brown eyes and realized that hopeful look she had in her eyes currently might be greed and wondered if they would be so beautiful when I told her I was dropping the case. “I found your stepsister.” At the words stepsister the eyes opened a little wider. I was not sure if it was anger or surprise, but I continued. “She’s fine. She’s now working full time for Disney in retail, but,” that one word ‘but’ confirmed my earlier suspicion that that look was greed, “she does not want to have any contact with you except through her attorneys.” Felicity’s lips said a word that would never be said in a Disney movie and she stood. I stood as well.
“I am taking it you no longer wish to work for me,” she said in a hostile tone.
“No, nothing more to report.” I was about to turn when I saw her eyes flick to something over my shoulder, and that is when the lights went out.
If you have ever woken up after being knocked unconscious, let me tell you, I do not recommend it, but it is better than not waking up at all. Luckily, I had some experience with it and wisely stayed very still while keeping my eyes closed. There were two voices in the room with me. The one was Felicity and the other was a man with a heavy New Jersey accent with the warmness of a gravel truck barreling down a mountain road with bad brakes. He sounded like the kind of a guy who would cold cock a guy from behind.
“That was stupid,’ Felicity said.
“He knows where she is and now, and now she knows we are looking for her,” Gravel truck replied.
“And how was clubbing him in the head going to fix our situation?”
“I can make him tell us what else he knows,” Gravel truck said, his voice coming from somewhere above me. I decided at that point to remain ‘unconscious’ because it was hard to question a sleeping person.
“And when we get what we want from him?”
“I get him out of the hotel. The security manager is one of my guys from back in the day so there’s nothing stopping us from making sure this private eye becomes gator food.” There was some movement around the room. “Time to wake this bum up.”
I thought quickly about my options and moaned when I had made my plan.
“I think he is coming around,” Felicity said.
I risked opening my eyes, knowing the pain it was going to cause. Sure enough, pain shot thru my eyes directly into my skull and I let out another moan, but I was rewarded with seeing the legs of the man coming towards me. I know my next move would have to work otherwise I was going to end up in the belly of a gator, so I did what came naturally; something I had been suppressing since I came to. I created my own code V all over the man’s shoes.
“Son of a.”
“That is gross,” Felicity said from across the room.
I agreed with her; my lunch of curry and now digestive juices was now all over this guy dress shoes. Luckily this distracted him and I moved quickly but painfully, desperately kicking and knocking him down. I got extremely lucky and he fell, head hitting the edge of the coffee table. I hoped he would get a concussion and a headache like the one I was going to be fighting. I stood over him, waiting for him to get up, but he did not but he was breathing. Felicity ran out the door. I was in no shape to give chase, but found my phone and dialed 911.
Six hours later I was back in my office with a bottle of aspirin and an ice pack. Felicity had gotten away, but the cops were looking for her. It seems there was a warrant out her and Gravel truck up north, something about counterfeit Disney memorabilia. Gravel Truck was now sitting in the Orange County Jail but Felicity had gotten away. There was talk of a reward, but I was not counting on it.
The phone began ringing and I cursed the noise, but picked it up anyways.
“Hello, Mr. Mitchell?” the voice on the other end said.
“This is Miles.”
“This is Fiona. I understand that my sister is on the run again?”
“Yeah but her partner was arrested.”
“I also heard you were injured was that because you did not tell them where I was?”
“Just a little, but it’s no big deal in the greater scheme of things.”
“Thank you anyways.” There was a pause. “The real reason I called was I wanted to know if you were available to work for a friend of mine. They want to hire you to find something that was stolen from them, are you available?”
My ears perked up. “A job, sure I’m available.” I smiled even though it hurt. Maybe I would be able to afford another bag of ice.
Other Miles Mitchell Mysteries: