It was a cold, grey day and I hadn't brought my jacket. It was freezing in the station because the HVAC systems were still set for AC. That's how the Fall is in Texas. Hot one day, cold the next. It's impossible to adapt unless you watch the news every day, and I don't.
I was on the way to the lobby to meet some guy with an "urgent" issue, but I stopped by the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, hoping it would warm me up. I like good coffee black, but I could tell by the smell that it would take a lot of sugar to get this stuff down. I filled my mug a little too full. It was my white Dallas Cowboys mug with the blue and silver star on one side and the "8", good old Troy Aikman, on the other. Coffee sloshed over the sides as I walked and left a little trail of drops behind me.
When I got to the lobby, Alicia at the desk pointed me toward a well-dressed man seated in one the chairs against the wall.
"Hello, Mr?" I said, walking over and holding out my hand.
"Montagne," he said, standing to shake my hand. "My name is Louis Montagne."
"Mr. Montagne, I'm Detective Al Hall. Follow me," I turned to lead him back to my desk. "What is the nature of your situation, Mr. Montagne?" I asked while we were walking back.
"Please, yes," he said. "I think something might have happened to my wife and daughter. I can't find them."
There was something funny about his voice, a lack of the kind of urgency we usually hear in complaints like this. Sometimes that doesn't mean anything. People cope in different ways. I made a mental note, nevertheless. We arrived at my desk in the Detective Farm as we called it. "What do you mean, you can't find them?" I asked, taking my seat and indicating that he should sit in the seat across from mine.
"Well, I went to my wife's shop yesterday - she's a butcher, has her own shop - and she wasn't there. No one was there. The place was still closed."
"Right," I said. "What is your wife's name, Mr. Montagne?"
"What? Darla. Her name is Darla."
I wrote the name down. "Go on," I said.
"Yes. Well, I tried to call her cell phone and her home phone, but she did not answer. So, I went over to her house. There was no one there. My daughter should have been in school, but I called her school and she never showed up."
"What is your daughter's name, Mr. Montagne?"
"Amy. Amy Montagne."
"And how old is Amy, sir?"
"Eight, I think. Maybe nine now. She'll turn nine this month, but I don't remember the day."
'So, they don't live together and he's not that involved with them,' I noted. "May I ask the status of your relationship with Darla, Mr. Montagne? I noticed you said, 'her house.'"
"Oh, right. We are separated, but we are still married."
"And would you describe your relationship as civil? Are you on good terms with each other?"
"Yes, I think so. I mean, we don't always agree. We are separated, after all. That usually implies some disagreement, I believe."
"Right." I paused. "Any chance they went on a trip that you didn't know about?" I was using my professional voice and smile.
"What? No, I don't think so. I called Oscar, my nephew - he works for her at the shop - he said she was supposed to be there yesterday."
"And also," he interrupted, "the door was wide open when I got to the house. I have a license plate number here," he said, digging a small scrap of paper from his pocket. "The neighbors said they saw this car in the driveway for a little while yesterday."
I took the paper. It said "blue, two-door, Monte Carlo" and had a license plate number. "Thanks," I said. "Did they say what time the car had arrived or how long it stayed?"
"They said it arrived early, before work, and stayed for a couple of hours."
I turned to the computer and ran the license plate. "Mr. Montagne, do you know a Simon Sayer?" I asked.
He shook his head. "No. I've never heard of him."