The morning light filters through the beige vertical shades, which shiver from the movement of the ceiling fan, casting ever-changing geometrical patterns of shade on the dingy carpet. There is the slight smell of dog, as if someone has made a Herculean effort to clean up an accidental puddle, but hasn't quite conquered the odor. The air shifts and the smell is gone. Then it's back, causing me to wrinkle my nose.
Everything is almost in its place, but there is just enough out of place that I know I'm in the house of someone who simply isn't that committed to a regular cleaning routine. The Arizona dust lightly covers the television stand and the shelves in the cubby whose door stands open, as if my arrival interrupted a search for an item. A blue exercise ball sits in one corner, an empty ceramic plant pot in another. A few scattered leaves are in the pot, suggesting the presence of a large plant that didn't make it.
From where I'm sitting, I can see tracks on the carpet where people have walked through the room. One track travels from the front door to the hallway, another from the front door to the sliding glass door and a trough just in front of the sofa. Besides the dirt, there are small pieces of debris here and there - a thread, a small, torn piece of blue paper and assorted unidentifiable pieces of dark stuff, all small enough to just barely be noticeable.
"Here we are," Jimmy carols, bringing in a tray. His magnificent orange and blue caftan flows around him as he moves towards me. I am so thirsty and am thrilled to see glasses of iced something. Is it tea? And a plate of cookies. They look like Pepperidge Farm. Things are looking up.
"Please look over my mess," Jimmy begs, "I have not given this place a thorough cleaning since I got back from the cruise. I haven't even done laundry!"
"You should see my place," I lie. "It's a complete disaster area. Stuff everywhere!"
"Oh, I'm sure your place is gorgeous." Jimmy hands me a glass. I take a sip. It's tea and it's sweet - but not TOO sweet. "I fixed it Southern style, just for you."
"Delicious." I say, because it is!
Jimmy hands me a paper napkin, then offers the plate of cookies. I take one - a Pirouette, my favorite. Jimmy lets out a trill of laughter. "One cookie? Don't make me look bad!" I take two more - a Bordeaux and a Brussels.
"Thanks," I say. "These are my favorite cookies." Jimmy nods.
I wonder how long it will take for the subject to come up. I'm not bringing it up. If Jimmy wants to talk about it, he'll have to be the one. I study his face. He is munching on a Chessman and studying the carpet. I bet he's thinking about how to start. Finally, he looks up at me and smiles. I smile too.
"Do you know why I invited you over?" Jimmy asks. Okay - here we go.
I take another sip of my tea. "I have an idea, but I was going to wait for you to bring it up."
Jimmy gets up and walks back into the kitchen. He comes right back, carrying coasters, which he places on the table between us. I put my glass down. It makes a click sound when the glass meets the coaster, which has a colorful sun face on it.
"I heard that you sometimes look into things for people." Jimmy says. I nod my head, waiting. "I need to know where Rico went." There it is. It was exactly what I was expecting. Ahead of me, I see hours and hours of crazy travel, including Brazil and all points between. I'm happy to take it on, but I'm not sure if Jimmy has the money.
"Jimmy, sometimes people don't want to be found. And finding a person who doesn't want to be found can be extremely expensive."
"I just inherited a lot of money from my grandmother. I can afford to send you around the world several times over." His hands flutter as he talks, like birds trying to get out of an aviary. He picks up a cookie, then puts it back down. "I just need to know. He doesn't even need to know that I was looking."
"Rico knows me. If he sees me, he'll know it's you that's looking."
Then Jimmy is crying, but just barely. Tears flow from his eyes and he carefully blots under each eye, trying not to smear his make-up. "I'm an idiot," he says. "But the heart wants what the heart wants." Emily Dickinson, no less. He's in deep.
Not a stranger to unrequited love, I nod. I know I'm going to do it, so I might as well get to it. "You know I'll help you in any way I can. Tell me anything you do know that might help me find him. Then we can calculate what the first few weeks will cost you. I can't travel right away because I have some other commitments, but I can do some work from here to get started. If you want to go forward, I'm committed."
Jimmy swoops me up into a bear hug. His caftan smells of L'eau D'issey and the material is silky against my face. He lets me go. "I knew you would." We both sit back down. He holds out the cookie plate. What the hell, I think. I take two more.