Illustration by Adele Palmquist

Smoke wafted through my office as I sat in a saggy desk chair and pondered over the alarming amount of similar cases I had received over the course of a few days. The sign on my office door – Private Investigator – could hardly be read through the thick smoke in the air. I wondered if my skills were becoming cloudy for not getting a lead on these cases after my lunch break. Men and women of all ages were looking for the same broad. None of the schmucks knew her name and could barely give me a description – no height, weight, hair or eye colour – but they all paid me their month’s rent to sniff out this dame. What’s a starving P.I. like me to do? Maybe now I can catch up on my own rent…as soon as I buy another pack of cigarettes.

Over the next few nights I scoured through the pubs that are frequented by most of the scumbags I’m hired to hunt down. I caught glimpses of her in the shadows, in the dark corner, in the arms of a gangster, but she disappeared whenever I looked in her direction. She remained in my periphery; I was never to catch a complete glimpse of her. If only I could see her entire figure for a moment! She drove me to the whiskey bottle on the nights I tried to find her fox hole. After a few weeks of this goose chase, I started to think she was following me…or maybe that was the whiskey convincing me so. As I ate soggy sandwiches at run-down joints during my lunch breaks, I could feel her fingers smooth over my back and her sweet whispers in my ear: They are seeking truth. You are seeking me. When I turned around, her back was facing me as she walked out the door.

I changed my game plan. This doll wasn’t going to be found with people who aren’t worth the dirt under my fingernails. I checked out churches, libraries, and the halls of universities. I felt like a heel in those places because even I wasn’t worth the dirt under my fingernails, but this case had become the magnum opus of my P.I. career (I overheard the phrase as I walked in and out the doorways of classrooms). I couldn’t face my increasing number of clients and tell them I was a flop. P.I.s have pride and heart, too.

I still see her playing in the shadows of the alleys, running between the bookshelves at the library, and sitting in pews at churches. No matter how many tricks I play, I can never see her face. I’ve met a lot of people who claim to know her, but they can never set up a meeting so I can see her, talk to her, and ask why so many Johns and Janes see such a treasure in her. The smoke in my office is still veiling the view of my sign from my desk, and I know it won’t dissipate until I find the truth.