The message on his voice mail is scratchy but Harold hears the words, “I miss you,” and decides to investigate. Harold double-checks his call log on his cell phone but that is no help. Voice mails don’t show up as missed called.
That is definitely Darla’s voice he heard. He is sure of it. Harold had not seen Darla for years. Not since she'd run off the night they were supposed to get married. And to make matters worse, she took Steve, Harold's former best friend, with her that night.
How dare she call me up and whisper, “I miss you.” It’s not as if I’ve been waiting to hear from the likes of her. What if she needs help? Darla always did attract trouble…And she expects me to rescue her! The nerve….
And what about Steve? Where is Steve?
Grumbling and stomping, Harold makes his way to his home office. He listens to the voicemail one more time. “I miss you,” whispered so low, he can barely hear it.
“Yep, that’s Darla. DANG IT!” Harold slams his fist down on his desk, takes a deep breath, and visibly collects himself. He hits the button to return the call; “Harold Jones, Private Investigator. How can I help you?”
"Bless your heart, sweet Harold," Darla's voice has gone Southern since the last time he'd talked with her. "I just knew you'd call me back. Why, I jus' told Jesse you would."
Harold's ears were ringing. She's gone Southern and must think everyone is deaf, she is nearly yelling into the phone. Jesse? So, she's hooked another sorry soul. Steve must be yesterday's news.
"Harold? Harry? Harry-love? You still there?"
"Yes, Darla, I haven't hung up yet," he answered.
"Oh, sweet Jesus, Harry-love, I do need your help," her voice drips like honey. Where, how, when had this all happened? “Now I know you must have all sorts of questions for me," she continued, not letting him get a word in edge-wise, "but hear me out first. Or, at least, let me confess."
"Harry-dear, I mean Harry-love," Darla hurriedly corrects herself, for whatever reason. "Might could you be a dear. I believe I killed Steve and you're the only one I could think of to figure this whole sorry mess out."
"Steve's dead?" Harold collapses into his recliner. He experiences a wave of sorrow for his old friend.
"Well . . . maybe."
"What do you mean, maybe? Is he dead or isn't he?"
Dropping the southern accent she spits out, "If I knew for sure I wouldn't have to call you, would I?" She gave a deep sigh and once again the accent. "Harry, be a dear and ask the policeman, ah, detective -- I have his number here -- and see if you can't straight this little misunderstanding out."
"Well, before I call the police why don't you tell me your side?" Harold tries to sound as patient as he possibly could with his eyes rolling.
"Oh, fine. It seems that . . . I may have . . . misplaced Steve and now the police are asking me all sorts of silly questions. As if I had something to do with it!"
“Darla, first I want to hear about how you MAY have misplaced Steve.” Harold sighs a long suffering sigh.
Dropping the southern act again, Darla blurts out in one long stream; “Fine, it’s really simple. Steve was drinking and decided that a midnight boat ride through the swamp would be romantic. I disagreed, all those bugs and dripping moss, and critters that scream in the night, and all. Anyway, Steve was half in the bag when he dragged me into the airboat, how is it my fault that he fell in while he was shining gators. I didn’t want to be there to begin with, so I left him. He’s a smart guy; he should have been able to find his own way home. It’s not my fault that some ignorant ran over that big gator on the highway. And it’s not my fault they found Steve’s wallet inside the gator. How do I know how it got in there?” She finishes with a wail.
Wait, what? Darla can pilot an airboat? Steve is missing and his wallet was found inside a big gator?
Harold tries to process all the new information. Why is he getting sucked in by Darla again? No, this has to stop. I haven't heard from Darla in years and yet, who does she call when she's in trouble with the law? Yeah, then she thinks of me. This is where I tell her off. Never call me again! The nerve! Yeah, notice she didn't call on Steve to help her out. Oh, that's right, because she misplaced Steve in the stomach of an alligator! Hmm, that could have been me.
"Fine, give me the detective's name."
"Thank you, Harry-love. I always knew I could count on you. I was always telling Steve that I could count on you . . . unlike him --"
"What's the detective's name, Darla?" He was not getting sucked in again.
"Well, if you want to be that way about it!" she snarls. "His name is Jesse McKenna." She quickly rattles off the phone number. "Be sure to tell him that I wasn't anywhere near when that gator got hold of Steve, you tell him --"
"I thought you just said you were with Steve when he fell in."
"No, I said -- what I meant was, I didn't see any gator grab Steve. I was long gone when that happened."
Harold frowns. "You know exactly what happened that night, don't you?"
"Oh, now you sound like that detective! Everybody is against me! I could never hurt a fly, you know that! When did I ever hurt you that you would turn on me so?" Darla whimpers.
Are you kidding me? He wants to yell. How about running off with Steve the night of our wedding? You don't think you ripped my heart out then?
"Never mind," she snaps. "I don't want your help. You shred up that name and number that I just gave you. You hear me? Don't help me at all! I don't want it."
"Darla," Harold says calmly, "I'm going to do as you say and not help you. But I am going to investigate the mysterious death of an old friend. Thanks for the information. Someone will be in touch with you." While he can still hear her talking -- yelling in her natural voice -- he clickes his cell phone off.
Heaving a great sigh, Harold lowers himself back into his chair. Darla always did know how to get a rise out of him. He barely settles in, though, when his phone rings. Glancing at the caller ID, he sees that it is the Collier County Sheriff’s Department, but that doesn’t mean that he needs to let on that he is expecting this call.
“Harold Jones, private investigator. How can I help you?”
“Jones, this is Detective Jesse McKenna of the Collier County Sheriff’s Department.”
“I’m sorry? Is that supposed to mean something to me?”
“Yes, we have reason to believe that you may have information that is pertinent to an ongoing investigation to a missing person’s case here in Ochapee, Florida.”
“I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” Harold replies cautiously. “I haven’t been anywhere near Florida in the past decade or so.”
Noting his hesitation, the detective answers, “Well, that’s not what Darla told me.”
Harold chuckles before agreeing. “Darla always has been a bit of a drama queen. She has a tendency to exaggerate wildly, as I’m sure you quickly realized.”
“Yes, well, I highly doubt that she imagined that wallet turning up in the belly of a gator. There’s no denying that was where it was found, strange as it may seem. The only question left is where is Steve?”
“Like I said, I can’t help you. I wish you the best of luck, though. You’re going to need it where Darla is concerned!”
Harold sits at his desk mulling over the facts. Fact number one: Darla is nothing but trouble. Fact number two: Steve is missing. Fact number three: Darla claims to have left him ALIVE in a swamp. Fact number four: Darla can drive an airboat. Fact number five: Steve’s wallet was found inside a large gator. Fact number six: Detective McKenna thinks that I’ve been in Florida lately. Fact number seven: Darla is mixed up with someone named Jesse and the detective's name is Jesse....
Harold takes a deep breath. “Detective McKenna, I want to know what happened to Steve in that swamp and I want to know how long you've 'known' Darla.”
“What, what, what do you mean…. How long I’ve ‘known’ Darla?” Detective Jesse McKenna sputters… “My relationship with Darla isn’t part of this investigation.”
Darla muses as she is taken into custody. If only they had emptied his pockets before feeding him to the gators; they would have got away with it. A gator and that meddling SOB Harold. He just had to call in Internal Affairs….
The ongoing Internal Affairs investigation later proved that Darla and her new beau Detective Jesse McKenna murdered Steve. Darla had married Steve shortly after running off with him in the hopes of living off his inheritance. When she discovered that Steve’s family lost “their money” in a Ponzi scheme gone wrong; she seduced the new detective to help her enact her plan, cover her tracks, and run away to Argentina with her with newly minted false identities.