I met this woman twice. The first time was in a café in Prague, where she told me that the Norwegian Mafia had abducted her son and asked if I would help her track him down. The people who owned the café knew I was a skiptracer, so I figured they had told her about me. I had had enough trouble in my life, professional and personal, with beautiful mental cases. After they were gone, there were always loose ends, which I hate. I like things tied up in a good, solid square knot, labeled and put on a shelf where I may or may not have to find them again some day. Why I’m like this is a story for another day. So I gave her a five koruna note, told her I was too busy, and walked away. I’ve wondered since why I gave her money, but she didn’t chase me down to give it back, so she must have needed it.
The next time I didn’t actually meet her. The following summer, I saw her on a street corner in Vienna, staring with a sort of sad intensity toward the opposite corner, the same la la land stare I saw on her face when she told me about her problems with the Norwegian Mafia the summer before. At first I thought she was waiting for the light to change so she could cross. The intersection was very busy, one of the main ones in the city. But she didn’t cross. She stayed while perhaps ten or eleven swaths of people flowed across the avenue when the light was green. I was standing in a doorway, tiny camera in hand, only a few feet away. Crazy, I thought, all beautiful women are either crazy or dumb.
I was complimenting myself on my wisdom and good judgment along these lines when a man in a black suit approached and took her by the arm. She looked at him quickly, smiled and patted his hand. No words were exchanged. When the light changed, they crossed. I followed them as they made their way into a leafy residential neighborhood where three-story townhouses stood shoulder to shoulder. At one of these they turned and went down some steps that I assumed led to a basement apartment. I crossed the street and waited. A black suit, I thought, on a hot summer day? Have I wandered into a scene from a bad movie? Men In Black meet The Pink Panther? Or was there really a Norwegian Mafia? Ten minutes later, I left. I was working on a case and had other things to do.
I saw her one last time, but not in person. Her picture, a passport photo by the look of it, was in the paper two days later, next to a picture of a metro station platform with police tape around it. She had thrown herself under an approaching train. I went to the police and told them what I knew. They took my passport and told me not to leave Vienna. Two days later they gave it back. The townhouse I saw her enter was owned by her parents. She lived there with them and her brother. Did she have a son? Yes, he was with his father in Norway. Did her brother wear black suits in July? They looked at me like I was crazy, so I let it go.
The next day I went back to the townhouse and spoke to the mother, a handsome gray-haired lady in a black dress with a rose embroidered on the shoulder. Paranoia, she said, in excellent English. Severely manic-depressive. The drugs didn’t work. The basement? Yes, we have one, but you can’t enter from the outside. We keep the dust bins under the front steps.
When I met Prague Blond, I was looking for a guy who had stolen his kids’ inheritance and thought he could disappear. I found him a few days later living in Paris with a nineteen year-old French girl. I’m headed back to Vienna. The man in the black suit comes in and out of my dreams. As I’ve said, I hate loose ends.