It was a simple job. But then again when they come through the door, it always is.
I lean back in my chair and light my cigarette. It hangs from the end of my mouth and smoke meanders toward the ceiling in a long trail, until it’s caught up in the currents of the rotating fan above.
Spooktown. Only once did I ever go into Spooktown, and that was enough. Lots of folks disappeared into Spooktown. Some on purpose. Some by mistake. But once you went in and that place got a hold of you, decided it wanted you, there was no coming out. No matter how hard you tried. No matter how much your loved ones missed you. No matter how many gumshoes like me crying wives with handfuls of hundred dollars bills – cashed-in life insurance policies, hocked jewelry, money saved for what would have been their first children – sent in.
Best just to stay as far away as you could. A hundred miles. A thousand. Why I hadn’t moved to the other side of the country? Put as much distance between myself and that godforsaken place as possible. Even it being the half-hour boat ride across the channel was too close.
Now there was another crying wife in front of me. Only this time it wasn’t about her husband. Because I knew her husband was dead.
“Please,” the dame wept, tears pouring down her red cheeks. “Sam, you’ve got to do this for me. You’ve got to. That’s where she went. I know it is.”
I blew smoke and gloomy lines of light coming in through the blinds and conspiring shadows in the corners watched.
“No way,” I said. “There’s not enough money in this world, Lila.”
“Please Sam, please. We’ve got to do something.”
I sat up. Took my shoes off the desk and leaned forward, crossed my arms and put them on the wood in front of me and the brass chain on the lamp danced back and forth.
“I don’t have to do anything, especially not for you, Lila. It’s hard to say no to money, but in the case of you and Spooktown I’m willing to make an exception. What could possibly convince me to go in there, of my right mind? What would make you think I’d be willing to do that, for you of all people?”
Lila sniffed. She took something out of her purse. A photo. Glossy 8×10. A pretty girl, young. Very young. Looked just like Lila when I’d last seen her so many years ago – same beautiful black hair, same high cheekbones, same alabaster skin.
“It’s our daughter,” she cried. “Sam, it’s got our daughter.”