Many people pass through Grant Township. It’s more than just the spectacular view of the lake that is nestled on the east side of the upper-peninsula’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The lake lies at the bottom of mountains that may not reach 2000 ft. in altitude, but yet are still considered mountains. It’s filled with water that glistens from Lake Superior’s waters.
Things aren’t always as they seem to be or as perfect as people would like to appear to be. Behind every door is a story or a lie someone is trying desperately to hide. Time passes and memories fade, but some things are too hard to let go of. Times change, thoughts change, way of life changes for some, but people don’t change. A version of their true self always remains.
Grant Township is populated with less than eight hundred people. As families pass by one another they know each other by name and of any hardships they may have endured over the years. They had to work hard for their privacy in Grant Township, few of them did. Secrets had a way of revealing themselves.
The railroad used to pass through Grant Township and over the years as the railroad expanded so did the routes the trains would take. The tracks would remain as well as the old train depot. The train depot would transform into the local diner and the tracks would become over run with new vegetation growth.
Being on of the smaller townships the forests were full and plush and with the demise of the factory the town would open their lands to the logging industry, acting as a saving grace to many.
A sheriff who held the respect and admiration of many would leave behind a legacy for his son and pass down the reins, not many are sure he is capable of holding. As the seasons change so do the reins of power. A town of little excitement would soon erupt into devastation and expose A Small Town’s Façade.
Jennifer walked through the grocery store purse in hand and headed toward the exit. People were still piling in and she was thankful it was someone else’s problem. A full day of stocking shelves, cleaning the restrooms and running the cashier was enough. Her feet ached, her patience had been pushed to its limits and she needed to get home to Karen.
It seemed as if Karen and Jennifer were fighting every day and the stress was taking its toll. She glanced in her rearview mirror and looked at the wrinkles around her deep brown eyes. She took note of the dark circles under her eyes and tried to rub them away with her finger. She knew Karen was going through puberty but she couldn’t remember a time when she, herself had been this irritable. She had her rebellious streak herself, proof was Karen. She had fallen hard for the bad boy in school and thinking their relationship was going to last ended up pregnant and left to raise their child alone.
Her parents had been so angry with her and less supportive and tried to convince her that having an abortion was the way to go. Jennifer having absolutely refused forced her parents to do what they could to help.
She decided to put her worry about her looks aside for the evening and pulled out of the parking lot hoping Karen would be in a good mood. She thought it was ridiculous to dread going home as much as going to work. She loved Karen but she was pushing her limits. She knew their life wasn’t easy and she hadn’t been able to give her the things her friends had. She was sure that was where a lot of the resentment and rebellion was stemming from. Jennifer was working as many hours as she could but it was still only enough to cover their necessities.
They lived in a trailer off a long dirt road isolated from everyone in town. Jennifer pulled in the driveway and turned off the engine, unbuckled her seatbelt and sat there a few extra seconds taking in deep breaths. She got out of the car and could hear Karen’s music playing. Karen absolutely loved Richie Valens’ song “La Bamba” and Jennifer would catch Karen singing along and dancing in front of the bathroom mirror every so often. She loved watching Karen during those carefree moments.
The sun was already going down, the bulk of the day behind her. She could hear the crickets and frogs begin their evening duet. The weather man wasn’t calling for rain nut she took notice of the cumulous clouds lingering in the distance. She pushed a strand of her long brown hair behind her ear and sighed.
Jennifer walked into the house and decided she would get dinner started before she went in to check on Karen. She rummaged through the freezer to see what she had that would be quick and simple. She decided on pigs in a blanket with some fries was the best option and realized they didn’t have any biscuits. She really didn’t feel like showing her face back in the grocery store. Her feet ached and she was just plain tired. Jennifer walked down the hall and poked her head in Karen’s room. She was sprawled across her bed doodling in a notebook.
“Can you run to the store for me?” she asked leaning against the door.
“Are you serious? Can’t you see I’m doing something and besides you just left the store,” Karen mouthed off.
“I understand that but I really need some biscuits to finish dinner. Come on it won’t take you long then you can go back to whatever you are doing.”
Karen jumped off the bed mouthing off and fussing. She grabbed her shoes from the closet put them on and stomped her way to the front door, opened it and then slammed it as hard as she could causing the latch not to catch and the door to swing back open banging against the frame of the door. Karen got on her bike and headed toward town, pedalling as hard as she could.
Jennifer watched Karen ride off and then shut the door. She had debated on calling after her and scolding her for her attitude and mouthing off but she didn’t have the energy to continue the fight. She took her shoes off and fell back on the couch. Before she knew it she was sound asleep. She didn’t wake up until it was morning and not having been awake when Karen came home she decided to go and check on her. Jennifer poked her head in Karen’s room and she wasn’t there.
Jennifer had spoken to Deputy Howe and reported Karen missing. The idea of sitting and waiting for the sheriff to pull into the drive was enough to send the panic inside her to a whole new level. She knew it would take Sheriff Ratcliff some time to get to her house but inside anger just kept building and fuming inside her. She knew every second was crucial. She picked up the coffee cup she kept beside the coffee maker and threw it against the wall. Putting her fingers in her hair and holding her head she began to scream. She let go of her hair and still screaming took her hands and shoved all the bills that had piled there onto the floor.
She continued to condemn herself for being so tired and closing her eyes instead of being sure that Karen had returned home safe and sound. Had she taken the time to get what she needed from the store before she left she was sure Karen would be with her now rolling her eyes at her or even playing her “Big Bopper” record. She paced the floor for what seemed like hours but at a glance at the clock only a couple of minutes had passed which was just enough time for all the personal blame she could impose on herself.
She glanced down at her floors, looking at how worn and dirty they were. She knew she hadn’t been the best mother and cried at the thought of not getting another moment to show Karen she could do better and would do better. She walked down the hall into Karen’s room and stood in the doorway. This wasn’t the room of a happy little girl. She walked in and sat on the bed grabbing the teddy bear that laid there. She held it close to her and went over and over in her mind if Karen had run away or if someone had taken her. Either way she felt there was no one to blame but herself. A deep anger rose inside of her.
“If they had helped me the way they had Patricia Falcone I wouldn’t be here now looking for my little girl!” She had resented the way the town had created a circle around Patricia, a safety net of sorts when her parents died.
“What made her so special?”She said as she stormed out of the room. She walked to the window again and peered out wondering where the sheriff could be.
Jennifer Robinson and Marc had grown up together the same as he and Joseph had; they just didn’t run in the same circle of friends. Jennifer had a natural beauty and didn’t feel the need to dress up like a Barbie doll to get attention. She had drifted off into the roughneck crowd while Marc and Joseph were the center of the jock crowd. She had met her boyfriend in high school and thinking they were madly in love with one another became pregnant. She found herself dropping out of school in the eleventh grade and life had gone into a downhill spiral from there.
Jennifer found herself hanging her head and dodging as many people as she could when she ventured into town. She knew what her boyfriend had done to her but the embarrassment of the whole town knowing it as well threw her into a very lonely existence. She had confided in her parents and in turn they had confided in their friends. The circle continued until the judgmental stares were too much to bare. Jennifer’s struggle with her daughter was known by everyone. Their public spats made it impossible not to notice.
Marc Ratcliff was sitting at the counter of the diner enjoying a cup of coffee before going to the station. His deputy Joseph usually arrived early to man the phones until Marc came in. Marc would sit and enjoy conversations with many of the old timers in Grant Township. He enjoyed their tall tales and animation while telling them.
Marc Ratcliff and Joseph Howe had grown up together, even attended the police academy together. Joseph wasn’t as outgoing or the social butterfly that Marc had been but he managed to get by and make friends where and when he needed to. Mark had been in all the major sports in school and was quite the girl magnet with his dreamy deep blue eyes and wavy blonde hair. He was tall and lean but extremely muscular where it mattered. Joseph was tall and lean as well with a short military style hair cut and green eyes. He had his fair share of ladies to choose from.
Marc had been the high school quarterback and the pitcher on the baseball team. Joseph was the major hitter on the baseball team collecting quite a few homeruns for the team. With Marc and Joseph being the only two candidates running for Police chief the town chose Marc and in turn Marc chose Joseph as his deputy. Marc had big shoes to fill as his father was the police chief stepping down and retiring. He had watched his father over the years always from a distance. His father was always engaged with everyone in the town it seemed but never with him or his mother. He both admired him and resented him at the same time.
Marc was enjoying Mr. Ramsey’s extended version of how he caught an eight pound fish yesterday. His hands were growing farther and farther apart as he was showing Marc how big it had been. Marc watched as Mr. Ramsey left his seat a couple of times to show the fight the fish had given him. Mr. Ramsey’s story got cut short when the radio attached to Marc’s side beeped and Deputy Howe called Marc to attention. It seemed as if the whole diner had gotten quiet all at once.
“Sheriff Ratcliff..Come in please..”
“Go ahead deputy.”
“What is your current location?”
“I’m at the diner. Is something wrong deputy?”
“I’m coming to you. Please stay where you are.”
“10-4 Deputy Howe.”
Marc picked up his coffee cup and waited for Mr. Ramsey to continue his tall tale while he waited for Joseph to come in. The weight of the fish had changed from eight to nine pounds and it seemed as if the fight had went on for a while as the time of day changed from day to night in an instant. Marc turned just as the bell above the door began to ring and Joseph walked in. Marc threw up his hand to show Joseph where he was seated.
“Mr. Ramsey can you excuse us for a moment?”Marc asked as Joseph approached the table.
“Sure Sheriff,” Mr. Ramsey said getting up from the table leaving his seat available for Deputy Howe.
Marc waited for Mr. Ramsey to walk away from the table before he asked, “What’s going on Deputy?”
“I just got a call from Jennifer Robinson. She says her daughter Karen is missing.”
Marc sat up straight and adjusted the belt at his waste. “Is she sure?”
“I’m afraid so Sheriff. What do you want me to do? How do you want to handle this?”
Marc stood and pushed in his chair. “Let’s go to the home and see what exactly is going on and take her statement.”
Marc left forgetting to pay his bill with Joseph tight on his heels.
Marc noticed Jennifer standing in front of the window as he pulled up to her house. Marc walked in and Jennifer motioned toward the sofa for him to sit. He looked around at the small living room and took note that she was a busy mother working long hours and didn’t spend a lot of time cleaning. The house smelled musty and of stale cigarette smoke. There were crumpled up tissues on the floor and tables, along with dirty dishes sitting everywhere. The outdated, flowered wallpaper had yellowed and began to start peeling off at the corners. It couldn’t have been easy for Jennifer trying to raise Karen on her own. He didn’t notice any trinkets sitting around, as he assumed was typical of women to collect. He did notice a few school pictures of Karen sitting up on a corner shelf. Marc walked over to the sofa and picked up a small stuffed bear and moved it to the side as he took a seat.
“Mrs. Robinson, Jennifer. Can I call you Jennifer?” She shook her head yes and he continued. “I need to ask you a few questions.” He was trying to sound as personal and sincere as possible.
“Go ahead,” she said, as she continued to wipe at her nose.
“Can you tell me what happened last night just before Karen went missing?”
“I was trying to fix us some dinner. I needed a package of biscuits and went to Karen’s room to see if she would go to the store and get some for me. I had just gotten home from work and didn’t want to go back out. She got angry with me, of coarse. Karen seems like she is angry with me all the time. Anyhow, she stormed out of the house and got on her bike. I assumed she was going to the store even though she was mad. I laid down on the couch and fell asleep waiting for her to come back. I guess I slept through the night. I have pulling long hours lately and extra shifts. When I got up I went to her room and she wasn’t there. I went to look in the yard for her bike and it was gone too.”
Jennifer began to cry uncontrollably. Marc reached for another tissue and handed it to her. “I know this is very difficult Jennifer, but you do understand that I have to ask these questions. Anything that you can tell us may help us find her.”
Jennifer coughed and wiped at her nose with the tissue. “Go ahead,” she said, “Its fine.”
“Do you think it’s possible that she may have run away?”
Jennifer looked up at Marc with a tear stained face and snapped, “No Sheriff Ratcliff, I don’t. It isn’t the first time she has gotten mad and rode off on that bike. She has always come back. Jennifer looked back down at her hands, evened her tone of voice and continued, almost pleading. “Look around sheriff, there isn’t anywhere for her to run to in this town. She is twelve years old.”
Marc took a deep breath and continued with his line of questioning taking note of everything she had to say. “Can you tell me what she was wearing?”
“Yeah, um, a pink sweater and some jeans.”
“Do you have a recent photo that I can take with me? We need to get her picture out there and circulate it to see if anyone has seen her.”
Jennifer reached in her purse pulling a photo from her wallet and handed it to him.
Marc knew this was extremely difficult for her and tried to be as compassionate as possible and do his job at the same time. “If there is anything you need or anything we can do please let us know. I will do everything in my power to find Karen. I’m going to get this photo out and coordinate with the surrounding towns and hopefully someone has seen her. I just have a few more questions. Do you think you need a break? Maybe a glass of water?”
“Just continue please. I would like it if you would get what you came here to do and get back ou there and find my daughter!”
“Okay, is there a possibility she went to a friend house?”
“No, I have checked with all of her friends and spoke to their parents.”
“Has she been in contact with her father by chance? Is there any way she could have contacted him and maybe he picked her up?”
Jennifer looked up at Sheriff Ratcliff with hatred in her eyes. She stood and walked over to the shelf that held her daughters photo. “I haven’t seen or heard from him since before Karen was born. He has never sent as much as a dime to help care for her. I never even told Karen his name. She has no father as far as I’m concerned. Besides I don’t have a way of contacting him even if I wanted to.”
“I’m sorry I have to ask you these questions. We need to exhaust every possibility at this stage of the investigation. I’m going to need the names and numbers of her friends so that we can check in with them again to see if anything has changed since you last spoke to them. One more question, did she take anything with her when she left? A purse maybe?”
“No, nothing that I noticed.”
“Okay Jennifer, I have what I need at this time. If you get me those names and numbers as soon as you can I would appreciate it.” He stood up and not knowing what else he could possibly say to her, walked towards the door.
Jennifer just shook her head in acknowledgement and continued looking at the picture on the shelf. Marc let himself out. After the door was shut he grabbed the radio and made the call to dispatch. He was going to need all the extra hands he could get.
“3-0 to dispatch..Can you call and have a unit with a patrol dog sent to this address as soon as possible?”
“10-4..I will notify.”
Marc heard the screen door creak as he ended his call and saw Jennifer standing on the porch, cigarette in hand. She lit it, took a log drag and folded her arms as she stood there in the doorway. He walked back to the steps and informed her of what he was doing. She just stood there, tears in her eyes and a blank stare. Smoke floated in the air making a cloud ring around their heads. Jennifer took another puff and thumped the cigarette over his shoulder walking back in the house letting the door slam behind her. He grabbed the door and opened it slightly poking his head inside.
“Jennifer, Ms. Robinson?” he called out.
Jennifer walked around the side of the kitchen counter and stood in front of him, clutching he sweater tight to her.
“I need to take a look at Karen’s room.” Jennifer held the door open with one hand, letting go of her sweater and motioned in the direction he needed to go.
Marc walked down the narrow hall. There wasn’t much room, just enough space between the two walls for one person to walk through. He felt along the wall for a light switch but there wasn’t one. He walked a few more steps and to his left was Karen’s room. The door was open so he walked in. On the walls were posters of Buddy Holly and Richie Valen along with Chuck Berry. Her bed was just in front of the window with a hand- made quilt covering the mattress. It was worn but may have belonged to her grandparents. The window was covered with a beat up blind. There were two or three pieces that drooped where she obviously held them down to peer outside. He noticed some yellowed stuff animals lying on the floor, discolored from her mother’s cigarette smoke. On her dresser were a few tubes of lip gloss, a hair brush and some hair ties. Tucked into the corner of the mirror were some pictures of Karen and her friends. As he looked he spotted her book bag in the corner of the room. He walked over and picked it up looking inside. There was nothing out of the ordinary. She had some notebooks and textbooks along with some pencils and a worn book that appeared to have been read a lot. The cover was worn and a couple of the pages were ripped at the edges. There wasn’t anything in her room he felt he could use to help find her.
He stood in the center of Karen’s room and looked all around. There were no notes hidden under the mattress or cigarettes that she might have taken from her mother. This little girl had left no clue behind. He took his hand and slowly ran it down his face. Was he missing something? He walked over to the closet and again there was nothing just clothes and shoes. It was clear Jennifer hadn’t had the means to spoil Karen. He walked out of her room shutting off the light behind him. He felt as empty as this little girl’s room had been.
Marc walked back down the hall into the living room and saw Jennifer sitting on the sofa rocking back and forth holding herself. “Jennifer, I’m going to step back outside. Thank you.” He walked back onto the porch trying not to make too much noise as the door shut behind him. Mar decided to take a look around the outside while he waited for the unit with the patrol dog to arrive. There were a few potted plants just off the front porch steps. They didn’t look as if they had been watered in quite some time. The leaves were wilted and the flowers had been dead a while but never cut off to inspire new growth. He didn’t see a shed in the yard for the mower or other lawn tools. Jennifer and Karen didn’t have very much at all. He continued to walk around noticing a couple of rusted chairs sitting out by the trees with a table and ashtray. Karen’s bicycle was missing too. Marc wondered how Jennifer had ended up like this. This had always been a tight knit community and yet somehow Karen and her mother had been forgotten. Walking back to his truck he grabbed his radio.
“Dispatch this is 3-0. What’s the ETA on the patrol dog?”
“ETA is five minutes.”
Patricia Falcone had grown up in Grant Township with Marc. After the deaths of her parents Marc’s father had become somewhat of a surrogate father for her as well as a few of the other residents of Grant Township. They had all rallied together and taken her under their wing as she was too old for the orphanage and she would soon be able to be on her own. Patricia hadn’t felt she needed looking after, other than clothes and food. She had spent most of her time sitting on the porch swing reading her books or joining Marc and some other friends at the lake. Mrs. Ramsey ran a beauty salon that her mother frequented almost every day. Patricia had the impression that her mother and Mrs. Ramsey were quite good friends with Mrs. Ramsey taking over in the mother department.
Patricia loved Mrs. Ramsey but her need to care for her had always seemed a bit odd to her. It was as if it were her way of apologizing for something. She and Mrs. Ramsey had no interactions before her parent’s deaths. She felt a combination of resentment for her need to take care of her now instead of when her parent’s had been alive and gratitude for all she had done for her.
When Deputy Howe came into the restaurant and sat with Marc, having what appeared to be a serious conversation, she didn’t think twice about him not paying his bill at the diner. The older customers had been coming in for years as a ritual ordering the same breakfast sitting at the same tables. She knew each of them as if they were family. Patricia would get the latest updates on the gossip around town each and every morning as she made her way filling coffee cups and serving plates of eggs and bacon.
Mr. and Mrs. Sampson were going back and forth about their vegetable garden; discussing how to plant and what to plant where for the fall and winter season. It was more Mrs. Sampson than her husband discussing the matter. He would nod his head in agreement and raise his eyebrows and then roll his eyes at Patricia as she filled their cups. Patricia would give him a grin and then pat him on the shoulder as she moved on to the next table.
Mr. Ganes was embellishing a bit to Mr. Hawthorne about the huge fish he had caught out at the lake. Patricia knew the fish was more a third of the size that he had suggested it was but the light in the man’s eyes while he told his tall tale was very satisfying. She never commented on what she heard as it was a small town and very little for the old timers to do. The conversations were already changing and she could hear questions float through the diner about Marc’s sudden departure.
There once had been a famous writer who had passed through looking for a quiet place to work on his novel. He would sit and sip his morning coffee behind his newspaper and listen hoping to get ideas for characters. The town had been a buzz for weeks wondering what the story would be about and if any of them would become one of those characters. Each customer coming in and introducing themselves inviting themselves to sit with him and sip coffee and inquire about the book as if they were old friends., throwing out little bits of information and gossip , hoping something they have said might make it into an excerpt of the book. As it had turned out, it was a love story of a man who had lost the love of his life and had escaped to a small town trying to pick up the pieces of his life and find himself again. After he left, the town had gone back to normal and his presence had become a tall tale for their morning coffee.
Once the morning rush had cleared out and people went to doing their usual errands and chores Patricia made the round clearing tables and filling ketchup bottles for the afternoon. Marc still hadn’t come back to pay his bill and Patricia could only assume things had been more serious than she had originally thought. Rumors and gossip had begun to float through town, everyone’s eye on the person next to them or whoever should walk through the door. Being a simple, quiet place, a distraction such as this was beginning to make headlines in neighbor’s homes.
Patricia pulled her hair down from the bun she had it pinned up in and let the long curls drape down her back and shoulders running her fingers through it to release whatever knots there had happened to be. She was startled when the bell behind her rang indicating the next order was up. She jumped and turned looking at the plate behind her on the counter waiting for her to deliver it staring back at her. She looked at the cook with her huge brown eyes and long lashes, let out a huge sigh, and began to pin her hair back in place.
Mr. and Mrs. Brookes owned the diner. When the railroad shut down and started moving through the larger cities, the tracks were left behind as well as the old train depot. They had decided to invest their money into transforming the old depot into a diner. It was a couple of years before Patricia was old enough to work full time but they had taken her under their wing and decided to give her a job waitressing after school. Mr. Brookes was the type who made you see more in yourself and had a way of getting your attention.
“Patricia, get the home work done and then, only then, you can start your shift.” Mr. Brookes would say, always giving her that stern look that only a father could give. Only the Brookes hadn’t had children of their own so she felt she was possibly the child they never had. They had refused to let her see herself as a victim of circumstance and to always push forward even when she felt she couldn’t. After she graduated they had tried to convince her to take some community college courses, all expenses paid if she would consider it, but she couldn’t accept and wouldn’t.
Her feet had already begun to ache and all she wished for was to curl up on the sofa with her cat Freckles. Mrs. Ramsey had given him to her after her parent’s deaths and she had gotten the apartment thirteen years ago, hoping she would find some comfort and companionship with him and he had done the job. She grabbed the plate of fried chicken and potatoes and gravy and went back to serving her tables, taking note that Freckles would be happy with the dinner she would be bringing home tonight. A little chicken and gravy would fatten his belly nicely.
Patricia put a few coins in the jukebox and instantly “Chantily Lace” began to play. The conversations surrounding her began to seem redundant and if she was going to finish the day here of all places she decided a little music would be just what she needed. A few quizzical heads turned in her direction but were soon followed by nods and smiles as they finished their evening meals. Patricia didn’t think she could ever hate the smell of fried chicken more than she did at that moment. The crackling of the grease coming from the kitchen and the smell of gravy filled the entire space. She couldn’t remember the last time she went home smelling of something other than a fried animal. Everyone wished her a good evening as they left to watch television in their homes always leaving more than they should on the table for a tip. She put on her smile as usual and wished them a good evening sliding the money deep inside her apron pocket. After the last of the customers had left she went to the kitchen to gather what she could of the leftovers to take to Freckles and readied the restaurant for the next day. Turning the sign to closed she said her goodbyes and could almost feel her couch sitting beneath her almost swaddling her, enveloping the day’s cares away.
Marc knew that the patrol dogs were only centered in the big cities so tracking a department down that had one available was going to take some doing. He knew once the department was notified that it was a missing child case there would be little in the way of hesitation.
Marc stood in Jennifer Robinson’s driveway and looked around him. There was a slight breeze blowing through the trees that stood just beyond the trailor. They were situated in straight lines as if they had were soldiers standing at attention, saluting their commanding officer. It was as if they had been planted in rows purposely. He wondered if the trees could talk what would they say? What could they have possibly seen?
Outside of the occasional breeze the quietness that surrounded him was eerie. Although they were quiet birds when feeding, he thought he could hear a Pileated Woodpecker off in the distance. On a rare occasion, when he was nine or ten, he couldn’t quite recall, his father had taken him out bird watching. His father had told him to be extremely quiet as to not scare any off.
His father had spotted a Pileated Woodpecker which was hard to do. He motioned Marc forward and then put a finger to his lips to remind Marc to be quiet. Marc had been mesmerized with the black and white stripes on the bird’s head, while the rest of its body remained solid black except for a small white patch on the tip of its wing. Marc had made too sudden a move trying to get closer and the bird let out a loud, somewhat maniacal call before it flew away.
Marc’s father had been annoyed with him but he had stayed where he was to show Marc the distinct sign that the bird had been there. It had left a large rectangular excavation in the tree trunk. Marc hadn’t shared many moments like that with his father and he wondered if it had been the same for Karen and her mother.
Marc had hoped the sound he would hear was Karen coming out of the woods having gotten lost after wandering too far trying to avoid her mother, but she didn’t. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but when he saw a patrol car with a dog in the backseat drive up the drive he figured the patrol officer had exceeded the speed limits to get there as quickly as possible.
Once the Patrol dog unit positioned his car just behind Marc’s and got out Marc spoke with him to give him the information he needed to conduct his search. The handler opened the back of his police cruiser and a beautiful Belgium Shepherd got out. The handler began to play with him with a ball getting him excited for the job he was fixing to undertake. When the shepherd was ready the handler pulled out a 25 ft leash and attached it to the dog’s collar. He then took the leash and put it under the dog’s left front leg and bent down patting at the ground saying “Zook”. Making a sweeping motion with his hand the search began.
Putting his nose to the ground the patrol dog began going back and forth in the direction his handler had made with the sweeping motion of his hand. It was quite incredible to watch marc thought. Marc could tell the dog was becoming frustrated and continued to look at the handler waiting for more direction because he had not found the scent he was supposed to find. The handler looked back at marc shaking his head indicating they had found nothing as they finished combing through the woods surrounding the trailer. The handler took the toy back out and played with his partner some more letting him know he had done a good job before putting him back in the cruiser.
As Marc’s attention had been concentrated on the patrol dog, behind him Jennifer’s driveway and lawn had accumulated over fifty of the Grant Township citizens. Marc approached the growing group and raised his voice, trying to speak over the crowd. “Can I have your attention? Please, quiet down!” The group quieted and turned to look in the direction of the Sheriff. “What are you all doing here? We are conducting an investigation.”
One of Karen’s friends father stepped forward, “We are here to help search for Karen, Sheriff.” Marc turned toward Jennifer’s house and saw Jennifer standing at the window clutching her sweater. He turned back to the crowd, “First let me say thank you. I am sure Ms. Robinson will be grateful that you all have come to help. With the lack of resources at this time I am going to allow you to help in the search for Karen, but we need to do this in an orderly, organized fashion.” Sheriff Ratcliff walked over to the area where the vehicles had accumulated. “This area here,” he said placing a hand on the hood of a truck, “is where I will set up a command post. I need everyone here to sign in. I will assign a team leader who will divide you into groups of four. We will rotate each group every twenty minutes so that a fresh set of eyes has a chance to search for Karen. I ask that you please stay with your assigned group. If you need to leave I will need you to sign out.”
Marc listened as the patrol dog officer spoke with his commanding officer. He requested to stay and assist in the search efforts. Marc was grateful for the added resource. Marc shook hands with the handler and then made his way back to the trailer to speak to Jennifer. As he walked up to the door he drew in a deep breath. He made a fist and began to knock on the door. Jennifer was already waiting there tissue in hand.
“Jennifer, Ms. Robinson,” he began, “the patrol dog has combed the woods and the area around your home and has found nothing that we can go off of at this time. We are going to continue to look for Karen and use all the resources at our disposal.” Jennifer just gave him a blank stare and nodded her head in acceptance. “These people have gathered to help look for Karen.”
Jennifer stepped outside and walked over to the command post and signed her name to the sign-in sheet. A mother of one of Karen’s friends wrapped her arm around Jennifer and ushered her into her group.
Karen’s name rang out over and over. People walked in every direction surrounding the Robinson home. Marc was worried about the possibility of the area becoming contaminated but the urgency of finding Karen was more pertinent at the moment.
“Sheriff Ratcliff, come in Sheriff,” it was his deputy, Joseph Howe.
“Yeah Deputy Howe, go ahead,” Marc said heading back to his cruiser.
“We have something I think you need to see. Can you meet me at the General Store?” Joseph asked.
“I can’t leave right now Deputy Howe. Have Mr. Johnson close the store until I can get there. I need you to meet me here at the Robinson home. I need you to oversee the search teams that are here and I will go to The General Store once you arrive.”
“10-4 Sheriff, I’m on my way.”
Jennifer’s voice rang out louder than all the others. There was the sound of pleading in her voice as she called her daughter’s name. Marc’ heart sank. It wasn’t long until Deputy Howe arrived. He immediately got out of his cruiser and made his way to where Marc was standing coordinating the groups.
“What’s going on Sheriff? What are all these people doing here?”
“They’ve volunteered to help. I need you to stay here and keep this search as organized as possible and if anyone else comes to join in the search have them sign in and if anyone leaves have them sign out. This is our command post for the time being.”
Deputy Howe nodded in agreement. “What do you have over at The General Store?” Marc asked.
Joseph walked with Marc to his cruiser and spoke in a hushed tone. “A bike was found behind The General Store. It matches the description Ms. Robinson gave us of Karen’s bike.”
Marc stopped and placed both of his hands on the hood of his cruiser and inhaled a deep breath. Realizing what this situation could possible mean he searched the crowd for the patrol dog officer. Once he spotted him he called out to him and waved him over to where he stood with Joseph.
“Yes sheriff, what’s going on?” the patrol dog officer asked when he arrived at Marc’s cruiser.
“We have a situation at The General Store. I could use you and your dogs help,” Marc replied.
Deputy Howe walked back to the command post and Marc and the patrol dog officer climbed in their cruisers and exited trying not to draw attention to themself.
Patricia walked the steps up to her apartment. The paint was peeling on the walls in the hall and the paint on the handrails had begun to chip away. She ran her hand up the rail as she ascended the steps getting black paint chips on her finger along the way. When the factory had shut down it had hit the owner of the apartment complex pretty hard and the funds to fix the place up hadn’t come in quite as quick as he had hoped. There were three apartments upstairs and three downstairs. It wasn’t a huge place but a place she could call home. There was a laundry room around the backside of the building. The washers were old and squeaked when they were in use and the driers had seen better days. It normally took her two cycles to get her clothes dry.
When she reached her apartment she could hear the bell on Freckles collar jingle. The smell of his dinner must have wafted under the door. Freckles rubbed up the length of her calves as she quickly shut the door and relocked the door. She emptied his dinner into his dish and rubbed him as he lapped at the gravy covering his chicken. He would stop every so often and let out a purr she assumed was his way of saying thank you for dinner. She walked away leaving him to enjoy the rest while she went to the bedroom. She looked at the bed and could see the dent in the blanket at the foot of the bed where Freckles had obviously spent most of the day. The image of her mother’s face as she lay bleeding on the bed where she had been shot was as vivid as the day that it happened and her father lying in his easy chair with his throat cut. It wasn’t a sight that she believed she would ever be able to erase. She couldn’t escape her memories; they paralyzed her with fear.
The apartment wasn’t big. The living room and kitchen shared the same living space only separated by a small island. She had a tiny bathroom that adjoined the bedroom. Mrs. Ramsey, the salon owner had helped her furnish the apartment so things looked a bit old fashioned for her taste but coming from donations she couldn’t find much room to complain. She didn’t spend much time at home and rarely had visitors.
The news of the missing girl had quickly spread through town and Patricia couldn’t help but wonder how Jennifer was handling it. Patricia knew the feeling of isolation all too well. She had done that to herself time and time again only to have Marc pull her from her thoughts and drag her out to the lake with him. Patricia wasn’t an affectionate person. Her mother hadn’t delivered hugs on a silver platter and her father’s affection for her had deterred her from ever wanting a man to touch her again. Not wanting to give life to the thoughts and memories that dwelled in her head she took and shower and washed the smell of chicken from her hair.
She walked into the kitchen where Freckles sat next to his dish licking his paws. She let out a soft giggle and walked past him to the refrigerator and grabbed a soda. “I’ll take it your day wasn’t very eventful,” she said looking at how his belly had expanded. She turned on her black and white television and flipped through the channels. “What do you think we should watch tonight, huh?” Only receiving a slight purr coming from her companion, she finally settled for the evening news. Before she could hear what the weather man was forecasting she was sound asleep and back in her childhood bedroom where all her nightmares had began.
She could hear the Ed Sullivan Show playing on the television and the crack of the can of beer her father was opening. The walls were thin but somehow her mother never heard what was going on just down the hall from her own bedroom. Patricia grabbed her blanket and pulled it tight around her. She had practiced how to breathe slow and deep to give the impression of being asleep. Often time is deterred her father from coming in and other times he could hear a hitch and he would enter, but that night after the crack of the can all she heard were footsteps and then the bang of a gun. She had no idea her father lay lifeless in the other room. She pulled the covers over her head as footsteps walked down the length of the hall passing her room. She could hear her mother’s bedroom door open but no words. Only a few seconds had passed when the footsteps retreated back up the hall passing her room once more and finally the front door closed. No engine revved. There was just the sound of Ed Sullivan on the television. Patricia lay there shivering in her bed scared to come out to what she might find. The thump Freckles made as he jumped from the couch to the floor startled her awake. She jumped from the couch and scanned the entire length of the living room and kitchen before she noticed Freckles on the floor at her feet. She went to the door and checked her locks again.
Deciding it was clear and okay she walked into the kitchen and grabbed her bottle of vodka she stashed on top of the refrigerator for nights such as this and went back to the living room switching the channel from what was now The Honey Mooners to I Love Lucy. She grabbed the blanket covering the back of the couch, took a swig from the bottle and grabbed the book she had been reading, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. It had been one of her favorites as a teenager. It helped take her mind off what was going on and escape if only for a moment. She curled her feet beneath her and opened to the page she had last stopped reading hoping the pages would offer some sense of normalcy to her redundant life.
Marc headed toward The General Store which was on Main Street. It was going on lunch time and he knew the street would be full of patrons doing their shopping or grabbing something to eat, possibly just out for a stroll. The air was getting cooler and the sun was sitting higher in the sky preventing the warmth they had grown accustomed to. It still wasn’t bitterly cold as the next few months would quickly become but the breeze in the air was causing everyone to drag out their sweaters and light jackets to provide some warmth from the chill.
As Marc pulled up in front of the store he could see the necks craning on the passerby’s trying to catch a glimpse of what had brought Sheriff Ratcliff to the store.
Marc put a hand on Mr. Johnson’s shoulder. “Can you tell me what you have found Mr. Johnson?”
“Yes, I found a bike out by the dumpster, it looks like a girls’ bike. Sheriff, do you think it could belong to that missing girl?” Mr. Johnson asked appearing shaken at the thought.
Avoiding Mr. Johnson’s question, Marc asked him, “Did you touch the bike or move it Mr. Johnson?”
“No sir sheriff! I knew better than to do that. I called Deputy Howe as soon as I found it.”
Wanting to give Mr. Johnson a job to occupy him, Marc motioned toward the building crowd in front of the store and asked him to help keep the crowd away from the store. Marc knew there was no way to hide what was going on. Whether they had all the facts or not small town gossip traveled faster than the speed of light it seemed and they would be making their own conclusions.
Marc walked toward the back of the store, the smell already filling his nostrils. Trash pickup hadn’t yet begun and the trash from the weekend had already begun to sour from the heat of the sun’s rays. Flies and bees swarmed the dumpster. Laying just a couple feet from it lay a bike with pink handle bars and white tassels. A basket was fastened to the front. Joseph had already been given a description of Karen’s bike when Jennifer first made the call into the station.
Marc walked over to the patrol dog officer and asked him to have his dog search the area. The patrol dog unit repeated the same procedure they had at the Robinson home and again was left empty handed with anything they could go off of or use. Marc thanked the officer and gave the shepherd a scratch behind the ear before he was loaded back into the cruiser.
Marc walked over to the crowd Mr. Johnson was holding at bay with his notebook in hand and began asking routine questions. He ended up avoiding their inquiries more than gaining any information.
Marc saved Mr. Johnson for last as they walked into the General Store together. Mr. Johnson walked over to his stool behind the counter and sat down. The delightful ear to ear smile Marc had always been greeted with as a child while he pulled his little red wagon behind him with his recyclable bottles in exchange for his choice of any of the candies he chose, had vanished. Marc placed his elbows on the counter and folded his hands, trying to give Mr. Johnson the ease that he needed to answer a few questions.
Mr. Johnson and his wife hadn’t had any children of their own. During the time that Marc and his friends would visit the store they served as surrogate kids for the Johnson’s. He had always been lively and the smile he wore on his face had left a deep wrinkle at the corners of his mouth and eyes. The deep line that now appeared between his eyebrows was all too evident of the stress and worry going on now.
“Mr. Johnson, You doing ok?”
“I’m fine Sheriff. I just wish there was something I could do. That child’s mother must be beside herself with worry.”
“Yes Mr. Johnson; understandably so. That’s why I’m here. If you could answer a few questions that would be help enough.”
“Oh sure, fire away.” Mr. Johnson’s eyes beamed with hope.
“What time did you close up last night?”
“Around nine as usual.”
“Did you happen to hear anything or see anything behind the store when you took the trash out for the day?”
“When I took the trash out there was nothing back there that I could see. You know the street light’s been out back there for months. I haven’t been able to get anyone to come out and look at it. “Mr. Johnson rambled. “I didn’t notice the bike until I opened up this morning. I did my usual walk around to see if the raccoons had gotten into the trash the way they’ve been doing since the lights been out.”
“I appreciate all your help. If you do remember anything that maybe you might have forgotten with all the commotion and all, just give me a call at the station.” Marc leaned up from the counter and turned to walk away when Mr. Johnson stopped him, putting a hand on Marc’s forearm. Marc turned and looked at Mr. Johnson and it was as if he could see the light bulb going off in the old man’s head.
“Sheriff, I do remember seeing a strange car yesterday. It was a green 1955 Chevy Classic. I know most the cars people around here drive and I don’t remember anyone I know driving a car like that. It was driving a bit slow. It didn’t stop anywhere, just kept going through town.”
Mr. Johnson rambled on about wanting a car of that caliber and trying to coax his wife into letting him purchase one. His wife had declined and Mr. Johnson was still driving his 1950 Crosby Station Wagon. Not wanting to indulge him any further Marc began walking towards the door.
“Thank you Mr. Johnson. I will definitely look into that. You’ve been a great help.”
Marc left the store and made a notation of the car in his notebook. He and the patrol dog officer spoke and decided to head back to the Robinson home where they were searching for Karen. He was going to need to send some of the searchers to the store and help conduct a search there as well after they remove the bike from behind the store.
Patricia got up from the couch leaving Freckles curled in the blanket and walked into the kitchen to grab a glass of ice. She had been sleeping less and less these days and the dreams were happening more frequent. She stared into her glass seeing things as clearly as if she were there in the moment. She could see embers dancing around to the choir of stars, singing in infinite patterns. The time their group of friends had spent in the canoes at night served as a reward of sorts, a restfulness to calm their souls. The blackness of the night sky wrapping around them, as if it were a cloak. In the dead of night, becoming one with nature, alive yet unfeeling. Shapes forming making it an ever changing puzzle. The mind becoming a blur with all the possibilities, each one more alluring than the next. The faint wind brushing against the water’s surface. The night bringing about solitude, hiding the flaws, the imperfections. Being able to do the things you would never do in the light for all to see.
She thought back to the night on the lake. Everyone pairing up in groups of two, piling into the canoes and rowing out first as a group then drifting of in separate directions. Everyone immersed in their own conversations. She could hear George yelling off in the distance, reaching into the water. Everyone changing course and paddling in George’s direction. There was a silence like no other when her canoe made it to George. Their friend had gone overboard and oddly enough never resurfaced. It was as if he had vanished into the depths of the unknown. George and his family left that summer and she hadn’t heard or seen him until her parent’s funeral and then he was gone again.
She looked up from her pool of memories that had found their way into the bottom of her glass as she heard a knock at the door. She wasn’t sure how long she had stared into that glass but the ice had begun to melt. She let go of the glass and the ice clinked against the glass in the pool of water beginning to form. She walked to the door and peered through the peep hole. Marc stood on the other side of the door and a wave of relaxation swept over her. She unlocked each lock as Marc stood patiently waiting. He knew how she needed the locks and wasn’t bothered as she went through the ritual. When the last lock was undone she opened the door and Marc held out his hand holding a brown bag. She smiled and grabbed it opening it as she walked into the kitchen leaving him to close the door behind him. It was just like Marc to come bringing snacks looking for a listening ear after a hard day. He had been doing that since her parents died, a way of looking out for her she suspected.
She opened a ring ding snack cake and leaned against the counter. “Want to tell me what happened today?”
“Not particularly,” he half smiled and walked to the living room grabbing her booze from the table as he plopped himself on the couch. “Today was a shit storm. We have nothing to go off of. Mr. Johnson did say he thought he saw a strange car yesterday. A green 1955 Chevy Classic. Did you happen to see it?”
“No, I can’t say I did, but then again I don’t have much time to observe passing cars. I will keep an eye out though.” She joined him on the couch. “Hey, can I run something by you?”She asked as she turned sideways putting an arm on the back of the couch to look him in the face.
“Sure,” he said sounding a little hesitant after the day he had just had.
“Did your dad ever talk to you about my parent’s or what happened the night they died?”
“Where is this coming from?”
“I guess I’m at a stage where some answers would be nice. Maybe a peaceful night’s sleep if I actually knew what happened. It seems the less I know the more questions I have. “Marc passed the bottle to her. “I can’t help but remember the footsteps I heard that night and the unfamiliarity of it. How could it have been ruled a murder suicide when I specifically heard the footsteps and someone shut the front door? I remember telling your father what I heard, but he never questioned me further and he never got back with me about any suspects. It just seems a bit off and I can’t help but wonder why, Marc?”
“Dad never said anything to me. I guess he figured the less I knew the less you knew. He’s protective that way. Besides, he never came home talking about the job. He would retreat into the den and we wouldn’t see him until dinner time.”
“I understand. I know you have this missing child case and I hate to add more to your plate, but could you slide me their file. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I won’t say a word and I will get it back to you before anyone notices it’s missing.” She looked at his face and could see the concern etched across his forehead.
“I’ll think about it okay.” He said grabbing a Yoddle cake from the bag he had brought her.
Patricia felt he was dismissing her request and only replying that he would think about it to pacify her. She let it go for the moment and thought she might perhaps do some investigating on her own.
“Hey, do you remember those late night bon fires out at the lake after your games?” she asked changing the conversation to a more pleasant one.
Marc glanced over at her with a smile. “Yeah, I do,” he said resting his head against the back of the couch. He began to laugh and then continued, “We thought we were actually getting away with something, all of us taking turns, sneaking booze in from the other towns thinking no one knew what we were doing.”
Laughter erupted and Freckles, obviously annoyed his sleep was being disturbed by the noise, got up and ran into the bedroom.
“We were quite the crew, you, George, and I. It feels odd without George here. The death of Sam must’ve shaken his family quite a bit for them to up and leave the way they did. Did you know they never sold their house? I peeked in the window one time and everything was covered in sheets and the doors were locked,” Patricia informed him.
Licking chocolate from his fingers Marc thought about her revelation. He replied, “It was pretty sudden wasn’t it? I never thought to go out there and look at the old place. Did he tell you he was leaving or stop and say good bye?”
“Peculiar, no me either.”
Karen sat chained to the post for what seemed an eternity. She had already soiled herself waiting for him to come home and let her go to the bathroom. There were no lights for her to be able to see around her and although her eyes had adjusted to the darkness she still couldn’t make out anything around her. She had been knocked out when he brought her there. All she could remember was a rag being placed over her face by someone behind her and not being able to breathe.
She could feel the dampness in the air and now that her pants were wet she was beginning to catch a chill. She felt lost to the world. She was being treated as if she were some animal, chained to a post, sitting in her own urin. She wondered if the beast would come and consume her soon. The argument her and her mother had seemed like small potatoes compared to this and yet her anger toward her mother still boiled inside her. There was no relevant reasoning for it but who else was there for her to blame? Her mother was the one who sent her to the store after all.
Karen remembered her mother reading her Cinderella and Snow white when she was younger and she would go to sleep dreaming not of the night on the horse but of the horse itself. She remembered him being large, muscular, and absolutely beautiful, with a long white main and tail. Tears began to flood her eyes. This time she wished for that night on the white horse to come and save her and ride her away from this awful place. She pulled and yanked on that chain as hard as she could over and over doing nothing more than tiring herself out. She sat trapped like an animal caught in a trap. All she could see was a darkness full of shadows. Everything having a shape with no face. A huge sadness filled her just under the surface of her being bus she was too frightened to examine it for fear of disappearing into the shadowy darkness and drowning in that sadness giving her no fight left to cling on to. She was acutely aware that things could change in an instant, giving her a glass that is both half full and half empty. Her tears became so gut wrenching that all she could do was cradle her legs and weep.
A flicker of light began to filter in through the floor boards above her. She listened to the creak of the boards as hard heavy steps fell on them. She could hear the faint sound of music playing. She recognized the voice as Tammy Wynette. Karen thought back to her bedroom where she spent countless hours avoiding her mother. She sat on the bed finishing her work for the next day as her mother played her records getting herself ready for bed. Tammy was singing “Apartment #9”. She longed to hear her mother’s voice. It wasn’t often she wanted to listen to her mother but now she yearned for it more than anything else. Karen closed her eyes and let the music dry her tears and lull her to sleep.
When she woke sometime later the music had faded. In front of her was a tray. She could smell the aroma of turkey and gravy and the sweet smell of apples and cinnamon. She could only recognize it as a Swanson dinner. Her mother used to stock the freezer with them when they went on sale. Beside the tray was a bucket of water and a rag. Karen supposed he had hated the smell of her soiled clothes as much as she did. Karen wasn’t sure if it was wishful thinking or if this was a sign he planned to keep her a while longer.
She realized the dim light would soon fade. She looked up at the post she was chained to. She did what she could to get her fingers underneath the chain and pulled as hard as she could scraping the wood with her nails, causing them to break and bleed. Having exhausted herself she quit trying to pry the links apart and stuck her fingers in her mouth hoping to ease some of the pain coming from the split skin at the tip of her fingers. She didn’t take the time to savor her meal. She scarfed it down as quickly as she could for fear if she didn’t he would come and take it away from her.
His hands were wrapped around her neck. He could see the veins popping out on his arms as he watched her eyes plea for him to let go. Her face was red as a beet, lips turning purple, as she tried to pry his grip loose and hold on to the last breath she had. He tilted his head from side to side in admiration of what he was doing. He relished at the site of her. It was as if he had put her lungs in a juicer and pulled the lever squeezing all the air out until she ran dry. He could take the life right out of her just like that if he wanted to but watching her fight and struggle as if she would win was much more thrilling. His heart pounding right through his chest with excitement as if he were going down that first hill after the long climb on a roller coaster. He breathed in a deep breath and let the feeling wash over him as he squeezed out what was left of the air in her. She went limp, eyes looking up at him filled with terror and panic. He let his breath out as the alarm went off and he opened his eyes.
Relaxation and a feeling of peacefulness filled him as he threw his legs over the side of the bed. He slipped his feet into his slippers, grabbed his robe and headed downstairs to start the coffee maker. The aroma of fresh brewed coffee filled the kitchen. He grabbed his cup and poured himself a cup and headed out onto the porch to grab the morning paper. The sun was just coming up giving off that pinkish, orange glow just above the tree tops. He sat in his rocking chair on the weather worn porch, opened the paper and read the day’s headliner:
Missing child in Grant Township
He let the morning breeze creep through the trees and bathe him like a protecting veil. He closed the paper, took a long sip from his cup and retreated back inside.
He had been there for his companion. He had pushed himself through allowing his companion to rest during the verbal onslaughts that were pushed upon him. He endured what his companion could not. To him, it didn’t appear that Karen had been able to create a safe place for herself as his companion had done.
He hadn’t been sure if Karen was the one he wanted or Jennifer, but when the opportunity presented itself Karen was the one he took. He had only wanted to release her from what he had observed to be her own hell, and in turn Jennifer Robinson would suffer a hell all her own. He hadn’t expected to enjoy taking Karen, but once he had her he couldn’t stop himself and didn’t want to.
A feeling he had become accustomed to began to wash over him. A feeling of heaviness, the eyes he watched through became blurry and he knew it was time for him to retreat back into the shadows. His companion was ready to emerge again and when the time was right he would finish what he had started.