Lilah was the one who let Richard into the building. They had their polite greetings – Richard was somber and Lilah attempted to be her usual perky self, but she knew something was terribly wrong. She led him down the hallway to George’s office in silence. She had left the door open and George saw them coming. He stood, buttoning his suit jacket as he walked around to the other side of his desk, and stuck out a hand for Richard. He took it, they dipped their heads as Lilah always saw men do, and then they took their seats. George at his desk, Richard in the client’s chair, and Lilah beside George.
“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.” Richard began.
“Of course. I’m glad we had an opening.” George replied cracking a small smile.
Lilah wanted to mention they’ve had plenty of openings lately, but she knew well enough when to bite her tongue.
“So, uh, do I just start explaining?” Richard asked. “I’m sorry, I’ve never had to do this before.”
“No worries. Starting at the beginning is helpful, but tell us what you like and take your time. There’s no rush.” George said soothingly.
“Well,” Richard cleared his throat and shifted his weight in his chair, “I don’t really know where to begin, actually… my wife, Beth, she started acting strange a couple weeks ago.”
“Can you be a little more specific than a couple of weeks, please?” George interrupted. He opened his notepad and began scribbling down what Richard dictated.
Richard turned his chin to the ceiling. “Three weeks? I had gone away on a business trip and the day I came home she was acting strange. I had thought she was having an affair. I honestly thought there was a man inside my closet or something and she was nervous I’d find him. I didn’t think she’d ever do anything like that though. We’re very open and honest with one another so I felt comfortable asking her about it.”
Lilah’s draw dropped. “You mean to say you just asked your wife up front if she was cheating on you?”
“Yes,” Richard said matter-of-factly. “Everyone should feel comfortable talking to their partner about anything and everything.” He sighed. “Which is why I don’t understand why she would keep secrets and then disappear into thin air.”
“Wait a minute,” George held up a finger, “has this talk about anything and everything thing mutual between the two of you? Or would you say you’re more of the talker and feelings one in the relationship?”
“So, how did she react when you asked if she was cheating on you?”
“It was weird,” Richard began, “she laughed. It wasn’t the kind of laugh where she thought of question was ridiculous or the kind of laugh that’s nervous as she tries to cover it up. Her laughing was filled with relief. It was almost as though she thought I was going to accuse her of something else.”
“Do you know what that something else could be?” Lilah questioned.
“No idea,” Richard shook his head.
George drew in a sharp breath. “So, what did you mean when you said she disappeared into thin air?”
“She vanished.” Richard said, his solemn gaze at the ground. “I woke up one morning and she wasn’t in bed. I thought she had to go into work early so I drove by her work to bring her a coffee. On my way there, I got a phone call from her boss. Beth never showed up to work and never even called. They had called her cell phone a couple of times but she didn’t answer. I lied to Beth’s boss. I told her Beth was sick.” Richard paused. He closed his eyes. “I didn’t want to lie but I didn’t want them to think something was wrong. I didn’t think anything was wrong at the time.”
“It’s okay, I would have done the same thing.” Lilah said quietly. George glanced at her and she shrugged. She felt awkward and wanted him to feel better. She didn’t want him thinking this was his fault, but what did she know? Maybe it was his fault and he either didn’t see it or he was lying to them as well.
“When did you wake up and Beth was gone?” George asked.
“Three days ago.”
“She had been acting strange for nearly three weeks, you didn’t do or say anything about it other than asking about a possible affair, and then she just got up without a trace?” George rehashed.
Richard nodded. “I went back home and found all her things including her wallet and phone. Her car and keys were gone, that’s it. She didn’t take anything.
“And I did ask her what was wrong occasionally. She wouldn’t tell me. She asked for space and said she’d tell me when she was ready. So, I stopped asking. I wanted to respect her request.”
“That was nice of you.” Lilah piped up.
“But now your wife is missing so maybe not so much?” George said bluntly. Lilah elbowed him, but he didn’t so much as flinch.
“Richard,” George leaned forward, “did you know that Beth made a call here a week ago?”
Richard’s head snapped up and he stared at George with wide eyes.
“No, I didn’t think so.” George sighed leaning back into his seat.
“What are you talking about?”
“We knew who Beth was when you called. As soon as you mentioned her name, we remembered her phone call from a week ago.” Lilah explained. “She didn’t give us any information though. She wanted our help but was unsure if we could help.”
“It was almost as though she was at war with herself. She wasn’t sure if calling us was the right thing to do. I asked if she’d come in, but she refused. I told her when she was ready, she was more than welcome to stop by. She said she would think about it and that was it.” George clarified. “She originally called asking if we were taking on more clients but never stated whether she was the one who had interest in hiring us. I wondered if she was calling for you, but obviously that’s not the case.”
Richard remained silent. He turned his gaze to the floor again.
“Now that I think about it, and after hearing your side, I’m sure now. The tone in her voice.” George said cryptically.
“Share with the class, George. There’s no need for secrets.” Lilah deadpanned.
“She was afraid. She was worried about something. Whether she was afraid for herself or for someone else, I’m not sure. It seems as though she ran away, so she must be afraid for herself. She’s scared of something. She disappeared with the intention of not being found.” George explained.
Lilah elbowed him again. She noticed he was staring off into space as he spoke and realized he was getting carried away with his thoughts. Meanwhile, Richard looked like he was about to explode in a waterfall of tears at any second. She was blunt, she knew that much, but George sometimes had no emotional tact.
Her nudge nabbed his attention. George looked up at Lilah in wonderment and she nodded her head to their potential client. When George noticed Richard trying to keep his emotions in check, he sighed.
“Richard, do you need a minute?” he asked. “You can tell us what you’re thinking.”
“I’m…” Richard mumbled something, but Lilah didn’t make out what he said. She leaned forward.
“I’m sorry?” George said leaning forward as well.
Richard lifted his head, his face filled with sorrow. “I’m disappointed.”
“Disappointed?” Lilah repeated in a snarky tone. Now George elbowed her and she waved him away. Disappointed was not the exact emotion she thought Richard would be feeling.
“I’m disappointed because,” Richard sniffled, “Beth felt the need to come to you. Why didn’t she come to me?”