I got the call on July 4th, 2020. He had been all over the news in the past weeks but nothing much had been found. Andrea Clifton had disappeared in the wake of his father’s death before his funeral could even be planned. He was set to inherit his father’s business. A company worth millions of dollars that made from creating art galleries buying and refurbishing art to display. The wealthy paid hundreds of dollars to get into the art galleries they had. They rarely sold pieces they acquired unless they trusted the person to take care of the art.
The police thought he was just off grieving the loss of his father. People do weird things when people die. But the company couldn’t move forward without Andrea’s guidance or opinions. After all, he owned the company now.
“I need you to find my son,” the woman stated over the phone.
I didn’t recognize her voice over the static phone connection. Mind you, she never spoke much at the conferences she’d attended with her husband. Mariana Clifton.
“Can I have his name?” I ask.
“Andrea Clifton,” she responded matter-of-factly.
She seemed surprisingly calm considering she’d just lost her husband and her son was missing.
I paused my writing trying to take in what she’d said. Surely, there were better private detectives than me. No offense to myself, but I’d only been in the game for six years, and even though I’d located forty people in that time my track record wasn’t impressive or anything.
“Right,” I replied. “Are you aware of the hourly wage payment?” I ask.
I had to make a living somehow.
“One-hundred-twenty-five, right?” she inquired.
“Yes, I’d like you to come so you can tell me all you know about your son and what might have happened to him,” I continue. “Do you need the address?”
“No, I’ll be up shortly,” she said in a sickly-sweet voice and hung up.
I looked out my office window and down. There was Mariana Clifton standing on the sidewalk below. A young man was with her and a limo was parked on the street behind them.
They were both dressed in seemingly expensive clothing, not unusual for people of their status. I unlocked my office door. Found my notebook and pen and settled into my desk to wait. A few minutes later a knock came on the office door. I could see their shadows through the frosted glass on the door.
“Come in,” I called.
I stood up as they entered.
“Hello, Mrs. Clifton, I am Jairo Cambridge. Please take a seat and tell me everything. The smallest things could help us find Andrea,” I introduce myself and assure her. Trying to build trust and rapport with her.
She shakes my hand.
“This is Henry, my younger son,” she introduces the young man.
He seemed a lot more concerned and worried about Andrea than Mariana did. I noted this for later.
“When was the last time either of you saw Andrea?” I asked.
“The night we were told our father was dead,” Henry replied. “The lawyer showed up with the will and read it to us. We were discussing what to do with the company. The next steps.”
“And you Mrs. Clifton?” I questioned.
“Oh, me?” she said quickly. “About the same time. Late that night, maybe 11:00 pm. The lawyer left at 11:45, right?” she continued turning to Henry.
“Yeah, we all went to bed and the next morning he was gone,” he replied.
“And you didn’t hear or see anything? Hear him leave? Sound of a car? Breaking glass? Footsteps? Nothing?” I asked.
“No, I’m a pretty heavy sleeper,” Henry admitted.
“I take sleeping pills, so I was out like a light pretty quickly,” Mariana replied.
“Did he take anything with him? His wallet, phone, money, anything of significance?” I continue.
“No, all his personal possessions are at home,” Mariana replied.
“The credit cards, too?” I asked.
Maybe Andrea wanted nothing to do with his family’s business. Maybe he wanted to start a completely new life. Withdraw cash, use it to buy a new identity, and move on. It wasn’t like they couldn’t afford it.
“No, everything was left behind,” Henry said sternly as if to emphasize the seriousness of all this.
I studied the young man with dark brown hair and eyes. He was still lanky, like he’d never grown into his height after puberty. I studied Mariana as well.
“Do you have a picture?” I asked.
Mariana reached into her purse and pulled out a photo of a young blond-haired, green-blue eyed man. He looked the same as all the news videos I’d seen of him and his father over the past years as the news kept up with the company’s progress.
“Did Andrea have any enemies? Or Angelito, they may be after the company’s money now that Andrea is in control,” I continue.
“Have you received a ransom note or anything?” I asked.
Henry shook his head. “No, I don’t think he had enemies, and there has been no ransom note.”
“Can I see his room?” I ask.
“Sure,” Henry replies.
I can see Mariana’s hesitation and unsureness.
“I just wish to help you, Mrs. Clifton,” I reassure her.
She nods, “Very well.”
I follow them downstairs to the limo.
The three of us sit in the back, I’m closest to the door. The drive is quite quiet.
When we arrive at their mansion, it looks so much bigger than what the TV interviews depicted. Henry helps his mother out of the limo and then it pulls away to park. They lead me inside.
“Henry, show him to Andrea’s room, I’ll make us some refreshments,” she replies smiling and fixing his collar.
She steps away and disappears and I watch her.
“This way,” he says leading me in the opposite direction of where Mariana went.
I follow through the grand halls, that seem very white and barren. He leads me to the end of one of the side halls and opens a door to what seems like a completely different world. The room is splattered in different colors of paint. Drawings litter the walls and floor. The bedspread is an endless black hole and little light is let in through a window.
I start looking around as Henry stands in the doorway. I spot a picture of a woman holding a toddler on his bedside table. I pick up the photo expecting it to be Mariana, but it’s not. I study the photo. The toddler looks like Andrea.
“Who is this?” I ask holding the photo up to Henry.
“Andrea’s mother,” he replies.
“Mariana’s not his mother?” I ask.
“No, she died when he was two,” he answered.
“My mother and Angelito met when he was five. They’ve been together ever since. I guess she sometimes forgets that there was another family here before us, another person,” he replies sadly.
“So, you’re his stepbrother?” I ask.
“Technically, I’m not related to him at all because we don’t have the same mother or father. I was born before my mother and Angelito met,” he continues.
I set the photo down. I thought it was odd Mariana wouldn’t include this detail. That Andrea had experienced the death of a parent before, whether or not he was old enough to remember or understand the concept.
“Um…I’ll be in the living room if you need me just holler, okay?” Henry tells me before stepping away.
I had no idea where the living room was in this massive mansion. I looked around more. I opened a drawer on his other bedside table and found a gay porn magazine. I wondered if they knew about his sexuality. Maybe he left because he was worried if he became the head of a company, even an art gallery company he wouldn’t be able to be who he truly was.
I placed the magazine back and closed the drawer. I wondered if he had any ex’s that things had gone sour with. I went over to the window to see if there was evidence of use. It was still locked which probably meant he didn’t go out that way because you can’t lock a window from the outside.
Which means he either left and was taken or someone else here was involved or invited in and took him, that was if he didn’t leave of his own accord. Which in his situation I could understand, too. Why would Angelito leave his company to his son and not Mariana? Surely, since he married her, he loved and trusted her enough. Andrea was young, like me, young people made mistakes, sometimes horrible, irreversible ones. I guess it was normal for a son to inherit the company but normally they were older when it happened.
That made me question how Angelito died at the age of sixty. Most men lived to at least seventy. From the TV interviews I’d seen, Angelito didn’t have any unhealthy habits that could have affected his health that I knew of. I was pretty sure the coroner had said he’d died of natural causes but considering the following events, I wasn’t so sure.
I made a mental note to request the autopsy report. I moved into Andrea’s walk-in-closet. He was a stylish person, well he owned rich clothing he was much bolder with his clothing than his stepmother and brother. Lots of brightly colored clothing, I remember his platinum blond hairstyle he’d had earlier in the year.
Nothing really stuck out in his room. I stepped back out into the hall. I followed the hall back to the main foyer. I wasn’t really sure where to go from here. I wanted to ask Mariana about Andrea’s exes. See if there was any chance this was a domestic quarrel.
“Mrs. Clifton?” I called out.
“Yes, Jairo?” she said appearing pointedly.
“Does Andrea had any ex’s that had ever displayed any signs of domestic violence?” I ask.
I guess this would also tell me if they knew about his sexuality.
“He used to hang out with this girl, Nicky Hernandez, she didn’t speak highly of us. I tried to tell Andrea she was a bad influence. He also had this friend Trent Rivers, they seemed close, I guess you could talk to them,” she replied.
She had said Trent was a friend, did she sense he was more, maybe?
But what I was really concerned about was her use of used to. Past tense. Like she knew Andrea was dead. I wasn’t sure if she was using it because they were no longer friends either though.