“They won’t talk to you.”
I look around, trying to pinpoint the voice offering that insight.
I spot her in the window. A tiny face with giant eyes and bouncy dark pigtails. She has a stuffed elephant clutched tightly in her arms.
“They don’t like cops,” she says solemnly.
I look down at myself, confirming what I know. I’m not wearing my police uniform. I’m not on duty and despite what this little sprite seems to think, I am aware that the street kids and working girls I’m trying to talk too aren’t big on cops.
“They can tell,” she informs me. “You’re a cop.”
If this kid, not more than seven or eight, has me pegged than she’s likely right and none of the others around here are going to talk to me.
I rub a hand over my head in frustration, scowling at the short length. Academy cut. I can’t wait to let it grow out again.
Sighing in resignation I turn and face the little girl in the window. “Any suggestions?” I can’t believe I’m asking advice from a kid.
I hear a voice calling from farther inside the apartment. My new friend turns back and screeches, “I’m here! I’m talking to the police officer.”
Well. Anyone who hadn’t already ID’d me now definitely has. Who knew such a small body could produce such a loud sound?
A young woman, hardly more than a girl herself, comes racing forward and pulls the little girl out of the window frame. She eyes me up and down suspiciously.
I nod and smile, trying to appear non threatening. Normally, my height makes this tricky but she’s half a floor up in her apartment so looking slightly down on me. “Evenin’” I offer lamely.
Still stiff with tension she asks, “Can I help you?”
My little friend pokes her head around the woman and inform her, “He’s trying to talk to people.”
She smiles tightly down at the kid. “Why don’t you go read Mr. Elephant his bed time story? I’ll be up in a second.”
“It’s not Mr. Elephant’s bed time yet! The little hand is only on the seven.”
“Tonight it is,” she says firmly. “Go. I’ll be there in a minute.”
I hear the slap of small feet hitting the bare floor inside. The young woman watches her go before turning her attention back to me.
“I haven’t seen you in the neighborhood before.”
I shake my head. “I’m looking for someone.”
She hesitates, hanging back a bit while she considers me. Something she sees causes her to step forward and slide the screen up so she can duck her head outside. “Got a picture? Who is it?”
I pull Cheri’s picture out of my jacket pocket and hand it over to her. “Friend of the family. She’s been missing a couple months now.” I watch her carefully, but she remains expressionless.
“Months? That’s a long time to be missing.”
I know what she’s saying. Missing this long usually means dead.
But I promised her family I wouldn’t give up until we knew. One way or the other.
She hands the picture back, eying me thoughtfully. She doesn’t say anything for a long moment just continues to study me. Something, some instinct tells me to stand still and stay quiet. Don’t spook this one.
“What are you going to do if you find her?”
I tuck Cheri’s picture back into my pocket. “Hopefully bring her home. Back to her family.”
“Don’t think she’d like that plan.”
My heart thumps wildly. No way.
“Have you seen her?” I hardly dare to ask.
“I’ve seen her,” she confirms.
“Where? How long ago?”
“You have a card or anything?”
I don’t. I find a scrap a paper in my pocket and scribble my name and number on it.
Taking it, she starts to lower the screen back into place. “I’ll let her know you’re looking for her, if I see her again.”
She doesn’t, moving to lower the window itself.
Stand still. Stay quiet. Don’t spook this one. I force myself to follow my instincts and not press for more information. I know where to find her.
“What’s your name?” I ask instead.
She pauses with the window half way closed and studies me again with those assessing eyes.
And then she closes the window, pulling the drapes for good measure.