Self's deception

1

A passport photo

She reminded me of the daughter I've sometimes wished for. Lively eyes, a mouth prone to laughter, high cheekbones, and rich, brown curls hanging down to her shoulders. The photograph didn't indicate whether she was tall or short, fat or thin, slouching or poised. It was only a passport photo.

Her father, Under-Secretary Salger from Bonn, had called me. For months he and his family had not heard from Leonore. At first they had simply waited, then they put in calls to friends and acquaintances, and finally notified the police. No luck.

“Leo is an independent sort of girl who likes to go her own way. But she's always stayed in touch, visiting, calling us. We were still hoping she might turn up for the beginning of the semester. She's studying French and English at the Heidelberg Institute for Translation and Interpretation. Well, the semester started two weeks ago.”

“Your daughter didn't sign up for her courses?”

His voice sounded irritated: “Herr Self, the reason I'm resorting to a private investigator is because I'm hoping he might be the one who will do the investigating—not I. I have no idea whether she signed up or not.”

I patiently explained that every year thousands of people were reported missing in Germany, but that most of them disappeared and then reappeared of their own free will. They simply wanted to get away for a time from anxious parents, husbands, or loved ones. As long as you don't actually hear anything there's no reason to worry. When something bad does happen—an accident or a crime—that's when you hear.

Salger was aware of this. The police had already gone over it. “I respect Leo's independence. She's twenty-five and not a child anymore. I also understand that she might need some space. In the past few years there has been tension between us. But I have to know how she is, what she's up to, if she's OK. I don't suppose you have a daughter, do you?”

I didn't see that this was any of his business and didn't answer.

“It's not only me who's worrying, Herr Self. I can't tell you what my wife's been through these past few weeks…So I want quick results. I'm not asking you to confront Leo or embarrass her. I do not want her or any of her friends to know that there's a search on for her. I'm afraid she would take that very, very badly indeed.”

This didn't sound good. You can tail a person in secret once the person has been located, and you can look for a person overtly if you don't know where that person is. But not to know where a person is and to look for that person without her or her friends catching on is difficult, to say the least.

Salger was growing impatient. “Are you still there?”

“Yes.”

“I want you to start right away and report back as soon as possible. My number is …”

“Thank you, Herr Salger, but I must decline. Have a nice day.” I hung up. I don't really care whether my clients' manners are good or bad. I've been a private investigator for almost forty years and have come across all types, those with proper upbringing and those without, timid types and audacious types, poseurs and cowards, poor devils and big shots. There were also the clients I had dealt with back in the days when I was a public prosecutor, clients who would have preferred not to be clients. But indifferent as I was, I had no wish to dance to the tune of the imperious under-secretary.

The following morning when I arrived at my office