by Ian Sanquist

The woman is dressed in black. She's wearing black stockings, a black skirt, a black coat, a black blouse, and a black hat. She's holding a plastic bag. The man is wearing a brown leather coat and blue jeans and he's looking around the room like he'd rather not be here. But the woman looks like she wouldn't rather be anywhere else. She has a look of desperation that's ideal for my purposes.

"Welcome," I say. "I've been expecting you." Of course, I say that to everyone who comes in here. It's a good opener, however transparent it may appear to anyone who's actually looking.

I recognize her from a picture that was in the newspaper a few months ago. I read the local newspapers religiously, every section. I have to know every angle, every possibility. I followed her story closely. I had a suspicion she might come in sooner or later.

"You're here about your son," I say. "Please, sit down."

The woman sits immediately. The man is looking at the pictures on my wall. He glances over and narrows his eyes at me. He thinks this is a waste of time and money. But the woman doesn't care about the money. She wouldn't have come in if she did.

I charge $90 an hour for consultations. I started my clock as soon as they walked through the door.

"The detective hasn't found anything," I say. "Not a scrap of clothing. Not a strand of hair."

"No," she says. "No, he hasn't."

"He has a gift for following the paper trails. Also, the footprints. But not the marks that spirits make. He does not have insight like I."

The man is still pacing around impatiently. He's waiting for me to slip and say something wrong so he can call me a fraud and pull the woman out of here.

I notice that she's wearing a wedding ring, but he's not, so I decide to take a risk and say, "Your son was upset by your divorce." Now, directly to her, I say, "And your remarriage."

The man turns and eyes me, and then sits down at my table. He still doesn't say anything, but he's easing up a bit.

"Your son had been going to college up north when he disappeared," I say. "Will you please tell me a bit about him?"

The woman starts to talk like a truly proud parent. She tells me what a talented writer her son is. She tells me he'd fallen into a bit of trouble with some soft drugs, but other than that he's a good kid. I ask what he was studying, particularly. Writing, she tells me. He loves literature and poetry. Walt Whitman, Allen Ginsberg. Jack Kerouac and Julio Cortazar. J.D. Salinger.

"What kind of contact did you maintain with your son while he was in school?"

Now the man speaks. "He didn't call often. He called when he needed money, but that was about it."

"That's not true," the woman protests. "He called me to talk about Pablo Neruda once."

"Once," says the man. "He once called me to talk about T.S. Eliot. He didn't call often."

"And he was in his second year when he disappeared?"

"That's right," says the man.

I have a crystal ball on my table, but it's just there as a prop. I have tarot cards, but those wouldn't do any good. I could try some automatic writing, but that's not what these people came here for.

"What did your son say about college," I say. "Did he enjoy it?"

"He had a lot of friends," says the woman. "But he didn't tell any of them he was going."

"Well," says the man, "They say he talked about going. But not anywhere specific. Just going."

"I think he felt his classes weren't what he was looking for," says the woman.

"He felt his time could be better spent elsewhere?"

"Yes," she says. "Exactly."

"He was concerned he may have been wasting your money."

"He never said anything like that explicitly."

I repeat what I just said with more emphasis on the word was.

"Your son ran away," I say. "He was not kidnapped or murdered."

"We've thought that for a while," says the woman. "Do you have any insight into where he may be?"

I close my eyes. When I open them, she's put her plastic bag on the table and gotten a felt hat out of it. "This was his," she says. I take it from her. I hold it in my hands, I put it on my head. I don't feel a damn thing from it, but all the same, I say,


"The detective already nosed all around Vancouver."

"He's gone farther north. He wants you to know that he's all right. He doesn't want you to worry. He'll be in touch soon."

"When is soon?"

"It could be months. It could be another year."

"Why didn't he tell anyone where he was going?"

"He wanted to disappear. He wanted to leave everything behind."

"But that's not possible," says the man. "No one can leave everything behind and expect it's going to be the same when they get back."

"He does not expect anything to be the same when he comes back," I say. "He's excited to see how it will have changed. Your son is safe."

I don't know how much longer I can stretch this consultation out. All they want is a new lead, something to tell the detective to keep looking for. Maybe they'll send him further into Canada. I hope they drop it. I hope what I've told them will make them drop it and allow their boy to come back to them when he's ready. He was recognized by law as a man, and I believe it's within the rights of a man to disappear if he chooses. Of course, it's also within the rights of society to hunt for that man. But the police gave up a long time ago. The story in the newspaper said that his suitcase was missing from the room, along with a lot of his clothes. The police don't spend too much time looking for adult runaways. I don't know if he's safe or not. I don't know if he's got a place, or if he's sleeping on the streets. I don't know what else to tell his parents. I really don't. So I fold my hands on the table and look into both of their eyes and say to them, "Is there anything else you'd like to ask me?"

BIO: Ian Sanquist lives and writes in Seattle. His work has appeared in various venues including Juked, Word Riot, kill author, and decomP. Visit him at