John David Pears (JD) was a writer because literature allowed him to transform the black internal chaos of his days into something crafted and worthy. Although he thought of himself as a novelist he spent an inordinate amount of time playing drums with his group, Fried (not Freud) and the Behaviourists and for the past year he had been taking group tango lessons with a man called Ramon Bolio who had a dance studio in York, on the Hull road.
JD was not a diverted writer in the same sense as Kafka or Henry Miller or Robert Graves. He had a small talent and a strong will and brought these ingredients to the table every day, leaving behind him a humble collection of words to add to his store. Finally, when he had enough of them, he would hone them and shape them into the form of a novel. And he would know that sections of his novel were luminous and that the whole contained echoes and silences and a kind of eloquence in the play of light and shadow. He would ascertain that the novel had allure, a quality of seduction, and then he would let it make its way in the world. And he would make his way in the world as well. As a reader, perhaps, as a lover or a musician or an aid in the private detective business.
JD was never going to be a great tango dancer but he needed the exercise and he enjoyed the experience of his body and meeting new people, and there was always the possibility that, on the dance floor, he would find a woman who wasn’t also a groupie or a whore.
Ramon Bolio, with a distinct crack in his usually strong and confident voice rang him Wednesday morning and asked if they could meet. Yes, there was a problem, but the guy didn’t want to talk about it on the phone.
JD put the phone down and looked at the wall. He worked mornings. Most people knew that and didn’t ring him. Ramon obviously didn’t know; either that or his business was more important than JD’s work time. ‘You’ve got to be flexible,’ JD told himself. ‘This’s one morning out of the year; there’s still another three hundred and sixty four.’ His current novel hadn’t progressed to the writing stage, anyway. It was still in his head, an egg in the process of incubation. He was playing with the idea of Demeter and Persephone, but that was as far as he’d got. Until words had appeared on paper and taken on a rhythmic necessity there was always the possibility of abortion.
They met on one of those upholstered couches in the City Screen café under a laboured oil painting of a chubby nude on her belly trying to touch her head with her feet. JD went to the bar and returned with an Americano for himself and a Double Espresso for Ramon. He’d flashed his Friends card to get ten percent discount but the new barman asked him to take it out of the wallet so he could check it was still current. Didn’t seem to mind that the coffee was going cold.
JD wore a purple shirt and black jeans with highly polished black shoes. If you didn’t know you might think his beard and glasses were a set, something he’d hired at the fancy-dress shop. But they were pukka. The specs designed by Giorgio Armani; the beard home grown, organic and flourishing according to the principle of the Mandelbrot set.
Ramon Bolio was cool. Effortless. He was clean-shaven and wore a linen T and baggy cords under an unbuttoned vintage gabardine. His clipped black hair was oiled and his teeth white and even. Every move he made was related to the glide. If you blinked the guy had moved from one position to another without any visible means of locomotion.
‘Problem?’ JD asked.
Ramon sighed and it was like the source of a mistral. ‘Yes, big problem.’
JD shrugged his shoulders. ‘I hope I can help.’
Ramon fixed him with a stare for a moment. ‘My niece has disappeared.’ He stopped and licked his lips. ‘My brother’s girl,’ he said. ‘Sixteen. She went out to the shop last evening and hasn’t been seen since.’ His voice was low and controlled and while he spoke his eyes flashed around the room, as if he was afraid someone would overhear him.
‘Have you been to the police?’
‘Yes. They’re checking her friends, boyfriends. They think she’s gone walkabout.’
‘And you don’t?’
‘She’s done it before. This’s the third time. But it feels different. We weren’t worried the other times.’
‘Why are you telling me?’ JD asked. ‘What can I do?’ For a moment there he thought the whole thing might be an elaborate con. That Ramon was setting him up for a sting. Though, to be fair, the guy had always seemed solvent, often prosperous. He’d never asked for money. Never asked for anything outside the demands of the dance.
‘You are a friend of Sam Turner,’ Ramon said. ‘The detective?’
‘He could help us,’ Ramon continued. ‘Find her, make sure we get Hannah back. You could ask him.’
‘Sure, I could ask him. Sam’ll probably want to help. It’ll cost you, though.’