I stared at three photos of a woman I’d placed side by side on my desk. Flame red hair and green eyes. A very attractive woman. Michele Saunders, age 43, last seen in Boynton Beach, Florida. At least, that’s what her husband told me. He came to the office of Earl Winchester, Private Investigator, to find his wife. I’m Earl.

I ask Robert, my “silent” partner, “What do you think? Any ideas on this one?” As I speak, he rearranges the photos in chronological order. He is very astute with details. Now I can see the difference. In the first two photos, Michele is pale, but in the third and latest photo, Michele sports a copper tan. I take this to indicate serious sunbathing. Michele and David had been on vacation in Boynton Beach. Two weeks ago, she went to get a manicure. She never returned. There had been no sign of her and she hadn’t returned his calls. David checked the hospitals. According to Dave, her credit card had been used only once, to rent a car. A silver, late model Lexus. Her husband seemed clueless. He also seemed pissed that his wife would “pull a stunt like this.” His words.

“So, Robert, we have here a pretty woman, who goes off without a word, rents a car and vanishes. She wasn’t kidnapped and her body hasn’t been found. What now?”

Robert’s #2 pencil points to the most recent of the photos. He taps it, to get my attention. I look closer. Michele’s face is clear, but the background is grainy. I squint. “Hmm. I see what you mean. Maybe a bar? But where?”

I get out my magnifying glass. Straight out of Sherlock Holmes, I know. I can barely make out the name of the bar, but it looks like “The Royal Palm.” I’m thinking there’s got to be a slew of bars with that name in Florida. “It’s worth a shot, Bobby-boy. We find the bar and maybe find someone who’s seen Michele.”

Time to hit the “World Wide Web.” I begin searching. Several hours later, I hit pay dirt. There’s a bar named “The Royal Palm” in Key West. I compare the photo, as bad as it is, to the website picture. A longshot, but It looks the same. I call and reach a guy who identifies himself as Matt, the manager. I identify myself as Earl, the P.I. “I’m trying to find a woman,” I begin. I hear a snort. “Aren’t we all, Earl, aren’t we all?”

“No, seriously, I’m looking for a pretty, red-haired, 40-something woman, named Michele. She might be driving a silver Lexus. She disappeared two weeks ago. I have a photo of her standing outside of your establishment.”

Silence. Then, “Can you email me her photo? Not saying I seen her, not saying I didn’t.”

I took a picture of Michele and sent it to his cell. A few minutes later I heard a sigh. “I don’t know if I should tell you or not, but she comes in nearly every night. She sits at the bar and drinks ginger ale. Sometimes she orders food. Then she leaves. She’ll probably be here tonight. She seems sad, but kinda nervous, you know?”

I looked down to where Robert had written a note to me. “Could she be running from her husband? Maybe she doesn’t want to be found.”

I nod. I knew that could be true. “Matt, thanks for your help. Please don’t tell Michele about my call. I’ll be there in four hours. I need to talk to her and I don’t want her spooked so she goes on running. Which is what I think she might be doing.”

“Okay. But I don’t want to see her hurt.”

“Neither do I.” I hang up. “Okay, Robert, it’s off to Key West we go.” My jacket is lifted off of the coatrack and dropped on my chair. I pick it up. “Thanks, Robert.” Then I watch as my office door opens. I get up from my desk, slide the photos into my briefcase and lock the door. Before I get to the elevator, the down button has already been pushed and the door is open, waiting for me.

“Thanks buddy. Now it’s off to the Keys. And no, you can’t drive.”

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