By: S.J. Harper

The reply comes from just behind the partition we’ve paused in front of. A woman steps out. “Amy’s most definitely influenced by Pollock’s techniques. Incorporating her own individual style, of course. She’s studied many of the Impressionists. Notice the short, intense brushstrokes.” She holds out a hand. “I’m Bernadette Haskell.”

Zack grasps it. “Agent Armstrong. This is Agent Monroe.”

Haskell gives us both the once-over. “I’m glad to see the DA has taken me seriously.”

It’s not hard to understand why he might. Haskell’s presence screams no-nonsense career woman. I’d guess her to be in her early fifties, dressed in an expensive tailored suit made of black lightweight wool. Under the jacket is an open-necked shirt of white poplin. The cuffs of the shirt are adorned with black onyx cuff links, matching her earrings. Black suede loafers and frameless glasses complete the ensemble. Her hair is silver, feathered at the sides to accentuate piercing blue eyes.

She fixes those eyes on me. “My office is in the back.”

We follow her through the gallery to a door at the very back. Her office is ultramodern, all polished chrome and glass. She motions us to sit in two white leather chairs across from her desk. When we are settled, she starts right in.

“Something has happened to Amy. I know it. She would not have left town without telling me. And before you ask, she didn’t have a boyfriend she ran off with, either.” She opens her top desk drawer and retrieves a set of keys. “These are the keys to her apartment. I haven’t touched anything since the police conducted their search.”

When I take the keys from her hand, she slumps back in her chair. “The police went through everything on her computer, checked her phone records. They didn’t find one single item to shed light on Amy’s disappearance. But I’m certain someone’s taken her.”

“What makes you so certain?” asks Zack.

“Look around the gallery, Agents. Amy’s career is flowering. She gets so many inquiries regarding new commissions, we have to turn some away. She has a show opening in New York in two days. Her reputation is growing. She wouldn’t walk away from it. It’s what she’s worked for all her life.” She draws a quick, sharp breath. “And, quite honestly, I can’t bring myself to consider the alternative—that something worse has happened to her.”

“You seem very close to Amy,” Zack says.

“We are very close, Agent Armstrong.” She waves a hand. “Amy is reclusive. Doesn’t make friends easily. Her work really is her life. I am the only person Amy has let share that life since her parents died two years ago. I do more than manage the gallery. I am her friend, confidante, personal assistant, and, dare I say it”—she smiles here—“biggest critic. She looks to me to keep her grounded, on track.”

“When did you realize Amy was missing?” I ask.

She answers without hesitation. “March twenty-ninth. She had an appointment here at three that she missed. I called her cell, her home number. There was no answer. I left messages, spent the next two hours checking my voice mail. As soon as the gallery closed, I went over to her apartment. That’s when I really started to worry. Her car was there, but no Amy. By that time, my calls to her cell started to roll straight into voice mail. Either Amy had turned it off or she’d let it run out of battery. Again, uncharacteristic.”

Zack leans forward, listening intently. “Is that when you called the police?”

Haskell nods. “Yes. They told me I had to come to the station if I wanted to file a report. I was torn. I wasn’t sure I should.”

“Did you?” he asks.

“Not that night. The police suggested I call the local hospitals, the coroner’s office, the morgue. By daylight I was frantic. I called a friend in the district attorney’s office and begged her to convince the police to help. She promised she’d get SDPD to come, told me to stay put. I waited for hours. They took my statement, gave the apartment a quick once-over, then left. They’ve done nothing. Nothing. Someone needs to take this seriously. It’s been almost two weeks. I had to get you involved.”

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