"I don't understand...why won't you help us?"
Her eyes were pleading but I could see the beginnings of anger in her body and face. The man stood abruptly and walked to the window, staring blankly out into the rain.
"You are the best at this, isn't that right?" she continued, "That's what we were told. You found the Tompkins girl after everyone else had given up, right? And the Miller twins?" She was trying to remain civil but frustration and anger compounded by the hell her life had plunged into over the last four days were cracking her shell. She was getting close to coming apart.
"Look, Mrs. Phillips," I said, "I've just been very lucky a few times with these cases." That was a lie, but I wasn't exactly going for straight honesty here, not if was going to get out of this one. "The police have their best people on this, they've got the whole city turned out looking for your little girl. I know some of the guys in Missing Persons, I've worked with them before, and I can assure you they will do everything they can to find her. And if you just give them..."
"The police are useless," the husband snarled suddenly from the window. I started to continue but the wife cut me off, "No! I don't understand! We need more than the police, and that's what you do! You find people!"
"Yes, that's true ma'am - I do find people, but it's usually guys who are running out on their wives or insurance scammers, that kind of thing." She started to protest and I went on, "Yes, I have found some children who have been abducted, and yes they've been exceptional cases in some instances." But I could see I wasn't getting through to her.
I sighed. "Okay, you want to know the truth? The truth is, I am good at finding people. Very good. Sometimes I find kids. But the fact is that seven out of ten times when I find them they're dead." She flinched as if I'd taken a swing at her. "It's just the ugly reality." I looked down at the single picture she'd placed on the coffee table in front of me, the little sun hat, the brown curls poking out, the big eyes squinting in the sun, and I remembered all the other ones - the ones whose lives I'd slipped into, whose faces I'd come to know as if they were my own kids. The ones who I found and brought back to their families - and the ones I couldn't find, who had disappeared into a world that swallowed them and left only snapshots and broken hearts behind.
"You have no idea," I said painfully, "how hard it is to do this. To get to know these kids, to sit on their beds and look at their toys. To come to think of them almost as your own. To love them." I could see she was starting to get it. "And to lose them."
"I just can't put myself through that again."