The call I wasn’t expecting came while I was at work. My phone showed “Miranda Lee,” so I took my second break of the day to answer it out on the smokers’ balcony.
“Chelsea’s missing,” she said, instead of “Hello.”
“What happened?” I asked. Chelsea was Nick’s sickly friend-with-benefits, who had roped Miranda into that night at the bar.
“I’ve been trying to get hold of her all week. Now her phone’s off. She was going to meet me for lunch today and didn’t show. I was just at Chelsea’s house. Her housemate hasn’t seen her since Saturday.”
“That’s four days ago.”
“We had plans for Saturday but Chelsea bailed. She said she was doing something with Nick and his friend instead.”
“She didn’t mean me. Maybe Sig? The blonde guy who gives him rides?” I didn’t think Nick had any other friends.
“I didn’t think it was you,” Miranda said. “I’m sorry. I’m just figuring this out myself, and I’m pretty freaked out. I didn’t know who else to call. I hoped you knew something.”
“I don’t,” I said, “but maybe I can find something out.”
I could find Nick at the Grappling Club. I’d been on the fence about training that night. Pete had recently, inexplicably, moved the early Wednesday class to 9:00 at night. Now, if I was right and he was avoiding daylight, he’d be able to make the Wednesday class year-round.
Not many people were at the late class that night, but Nick and Sig were there. Pete ran the class. We spent most of the night on matwork, drilling pins.
Afterwards, I delayed in the changing room until it was just me, Nick, and Sig. I said to Nick, “I never thanked you for hooking me up with Miranda.”
Nick smiled. “The Chinese chick? Glad I could help.”
“I appreciate it but… the truth is it didn’t really work out. I was wondering if maybe you could get me in touch with that other, uh, chick—the brunette.”
Nick’s eyes widened. “Chelsea?”
“She’s been on my mind since that night,” I said.
I expected Nick to look uncomfortable. Sig looked frozen.
“The truth is,” Nick said, “it’s been a while since I’ve heard from Chelsea.”
“Not since we were out with you,” he said. “Maybe she moved.”
I doubled down. “I was really hoping I could meet her again.”
“I guess it’s not meant to be,” Nick said. “You should forget about her. Forget Chelsea.”
I felt that same mental Judo flip Nick had used before. I was braced for it now—to work, a throw has to catch you off-balance. I felt my determination wobble, then right itself. It didn’t look like Nick could tell.
I left the changing room, and sank backward against the wall on the other side. Was I ready to tell Miranda that Chelsea was probably dead?
“This is your fault,” I heard Nick saying through the wall. I tried to listen and keep still.
“It was your idea,” Sig shot back (muffled through drywall and hanging coats). “I didn’t ask for it.”
Then there were thuds—the sounds of a scuffle. It took an effort for me not to jump away from the wall and either intervene or run away.
“That’s what you’re asking for,” Nick’s voice said. “Don’t forget you need me.”
I’d heard enough. I ran across the mat as quietly as I could, picked up my shoes by the door and didn’t even put them on until I was outside and a block away.
Submitted by Corodon Fuller