Duncan Gage sensed a wrongness when he awoke. An absence on the other side of the bed when he’d been expecting to wake up with Marlene Hefter: the woman with whom he’d gone to sleep. Marlene and he had been seeing each other fairly regularly lately. He enjoyed her company and certainly enjoyed the sex. When she stayed over, he could almost predict that they’d wind up in the shower together in the morning and then go back to bed for a while before breakfast. That being the case, the blank side of the bed was as much disappointing as disconcerting. He listened, thinking she might have gone to the bathroom or even begun her shower, expecting him to hear the water running and join her. Then he realized that only the bedroom night light was on. The bathroom door stood ajar, but there was neither sound nor light coming from inside it.
Reaching out, he flicked on the bedside lamp. He sat up in bed and looked around. Marlene’s clothes lay undisturbed just where she’d left them on one of the chairs. Her purse lay on its side atop the chest of drawers, also just as it had been when they’d slid into bed together. Her see-through nightgown lay tangled in the sheets of the bed. More puzzled than alarmed, Duncan slid his feet over the side of the bed and stood up. He pulled on his robe and headed for the kitchen, but slowly, staring in all directions in case Marlene had gotten up and for some reason wandered into another room of the house he’d bought the year before. He found no sign of her.
Befuddled, he almost automatically went through the motions of getting a pot of coffee in motion. He left it to brew and returned to the bedroom, again gazing around in case she’d fallen or... hell, he didn’t know what. Frankly, he just couldn’t imagine her getting up during the night and walking away stark naked, leaving all her other belongings including her flimsy nightgown behind. They certainly hadn’t quarreled, so there was no reason for her to have left. It didn’t make sense. He felt distinctly uneasy but not yet really alarmed. There has to be a logical explanation, he told himself.
He entered the bathroom, shucked his robe and showered quickly. As he dried himself, he listened for sounds of Marlene stirring about, but he heard nothing. He dressed in jeans and shirt, ran a shaver over his face and combed his mass of black wavy hair into some kind of order. He went into the living room and sat down in his easy chair. He picked up the phone, held it a moment, and then dropped it back into its cradle. He had intended to call the police and report Marlene missing but hesitated, remembering how many times he’d read in detective fiction that adults wouldn’t be entered on a missing person’s list for three days. After all, he knew what they’d say-if his girlfriend decided to get up in the middle of the night and go somewhere, she was, after all, an adult and could do as she damn well pleased.
Except that it didn’t make a lick of sense. She’d never do anything like that, except under duress. She was level-headed-a senior editor at a major publishing company who, prior to that, had been a tenured professor at the university. She was no more likely to go wandering off in the middle of the night than baby not yet able to walk. Except that she obviously had-and from a home locked from the inside.
A horrid thought came to mind. Suppose she’d gotten up for some reason-maybe something as mundane as wanting a drink of water-and encountered an intruder with a gun who then silently took her captive. Duncan got up and went to the front door. The chain was still hooked in place. He checked the back door. Same thing. Becoming anxious now, he went around to each window. They were all locked by the little tabs which prevented them from being opened from the outside.
He returned to the living room, scratching his head. Shit, he thought. She couldn’t have gone anywhere! Am I going crazy? Once more, he made a circuit of the house, not that he thought he could have overlooked her. This time, however, he poked into the closets, opened cabinets, got down on his hands and knees and looked under both beds. He even explored in places where she couldn’t possibly have hidden, even had that been her intention.
It was at that point that he began doubting his own memory. He thought for a moment. So far as he remembered, he and Marlene had left work at Prince’s Publishing, Inc. and joined June and Les for drinks while waiting for the Denver traffic to die down to something more than a crawl.
Duncan waited impatiently until fifteen minutes after eight and dialed the firm. He asked for June, who answered promptly.
Before he could begin to explain, June was off and running in her usual peripatetic style of speech. "Dunc, you and Marly must have had a hell of a night after you left us. You’re both late! Better get a move on. The editorial conference starts at nine. And hey, I... "
"June, I don’t know where Marly is. She... she was gone when I woke up this morning, but all her things are still here."
"What? What do you mean?"
"She’s gone," he repeated. "All my doors and windows were locked form the inside. Her clothes and purse are still here, but she’s gone!"
"Duncan Gage, are you pulling some kind of bullshit joke? I don’t think it’s funny!"
"I’m not joking. I tell you, she’s gone!"
A silence ensued on June’s end of the line.
"June? Are you there?"
"I’m here. You’re sure you’re not joking?"
"No, damn it, I am not joking! She disappeared wearing absolutely nothing. All her clothes are here-even her nightgown."
"I think you’d better call the police, then."
"They’ll think I’m nuts if I tell them that my girlfriend disappeared and left all the locks intact. Even the chain on both doors."
"Even more reason to call, then."
He considered for a moment more and then gave up. "Okay, I’ll call. Tell Sid I won’t be in until late, if at all."
"Okay, I’ll tell him you have an emergency situation. I’ll explain to him later. Let me know, huh?"
"I will. Promise." He hung up. For a long moment, he sat in his chair reflecting, but no momentous new ideas occurred to him. Reluctantly, he reached down to the shelf below the top of the chair-side table and produced the Denver phone directory. He found the number of the police department and held his finger on it while he dialed. Reluctantly.
Duncan was surprised. His call was handled routinely at first, but after he described the circumstances, the operator asked him to hold and transferred him to someone else.
"This is Detective Jordon, Mr. Duncan. I’d be interested to hear you describe the circumstances of your missing girl friend. Would you, please?"
"But I just told someone about it!"
"Yes, but that person wasn’t a detective. Please, I really do want to hear what happened."
Patiently, Duncan again described the circumstances of Marlene’s disappearance.
"Are you at home now, Mr. Duncan?"
"Yes, I am. I haven’t gone anywhere since I woke up and found that Marlene was gone."
"Fine. Would you mind staying there until my partner and I can get out there? It will take about thirty minutes or so."
"No, I guess not. But what... "
"We’ll be there in a half hour, Mr. Duncan. Wait for us, please."