John listened intently, leaning his elbows on the edge of his cluttered desk. Irritating diesel fumes from a passing tour bus had somehow found their way in through the air conditioning vents. It had happened before and the odor always made him feel sick. He apologized for the smell.
She crossed her legs and tugged on her skirt again. She seemed guarded and uneasy with telling him anything.
"Well, guess I should ask you a few things."
"What kind of help do you need?"
"I just need someone to find information for me. And it's information I don't really have the experience or connections to get on my own."
He couldn't see her having trouble getting information from anybody. "Is the information you need legal?" John leaned back in his chair. The old springs squeaked and it pitched a little to the right.
She pursed her lips. "I think so. See, I'm just trying to find someone."
"A missing person investigation?"
"Well," she said as if to stall their conversation, "this person's dead."
"Sure makes my job easier," John remarked.
"It gets complicated," she admitted. "I hope your humor holds out."
The crazy thought popped into John's head that this woman had killed the person herself. She probably ran some guy over on a dark road and forgot where it happened. Now feeling guilty about it, she needed help. "Most of my jobs get complicated at some point," he confessed as the remnants of the morbid thought trailed out of his mind.
She stood, pressing her palms to her skirt front as if to dry them off. She gazed for a few minutes out of the front window at the busy intersection of Baltic Avenue and Shore Drive. John found himself staring at her. "Let me open this back door," he said. "The smell of those busses makes me sick. You smell it?"
John opened the back door to the sights and sounds of the waves splashing up onto the sand and children laughing. He didn't stand in the doorway and daydream like he usually did because he wanted to keep her talking. He needed to keep her interested in using him. He nudged the red brick doorstop around with his foot to hold the door open and he could feel her watching him.
"Tell me more about the dead," he said on his way back to his chair. He picked up a pen from his desk and pulled a yellow legal pad out of the top drawer.