Inspired by the Treaty of Versailles, I decided to start to write this story. It has stalled a little in the gates, but if you have any opinions, let me know!
Below is the first chapter:
“I drove past your Mum’s memorial today, some arsehole has taken it away.” Adam looked at his son and watched his son’s face fall. It hadn’t been long enough for this to be anything less than a shock. Steven hung his head for a second and then looked up into his Dad’s eyes.
“Why would anyone do something like that?” Steven might have been a broody teen, and at the tender age of 19 he couldn’t be suspected of being the most emotionally stable person on the plant, but the blank stare Steven gave him as he absorbed the destruction of his mother’s memory made Adam feel cold inside. He looked away, the expression too much for him to look at for more than a moment; he saw the a small shadow move on the stairs and swore under his breath. His reaction caught Steven’s attention and the blankness slowly faded as the young man looked up at the stairs too.
“Emily?” Steven sounded worried.
“I think so. I didn’t want her to find out, she’s been bugging me to see that spot for nearly a week now; she wants to hold a vigil like the one she saw on TV. She can’t really do that if the memorial isn’t there anymore.”
“Then build her a new one.” Steven’s words were a bit callous but the look in his eyes betrayed a deep sadness.
“It’s not as simple as that. She’s been out to that thing every week for the last year, except for the last month when she’s been sick and I haven’t let her. You know she’s sketched it two dozen times, written short stories about it. She carries a picture of it in her locket right in front of where my picture used to be.”
“I know.” Adam could tell that Steven was tired of it. His mum had been dead a year and there wasn’t anything he could do about it but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t allowed to care. Quite the contrary, he was probably tired of caring.
“I’ll go talk to her. Can you set the table? Dinner should be ready soon.” Adam made his way up the stairs, the tantalizing odours of dinner fading away as the smell of pine filled his nose. Emily was burning her incense again; this was not a good sign.
“Sweetie, can you come down for dinner? We can talk about whatever you want honey. We could even eat in front of the TV if you want. Come on, let’s go down baby girl.” He felt like he was losing everything. His wife had been dead a year now and this wasn’t getting any better for his daughter. She was only fourteen but it was like she had regressed to some space in which her mother was still alive and she felt safe and loved. Why couldn’t he fulfill that need?
Silence answered him and he knocked on the door again, a little louder this time. Still nothing. He heard footsteps behind him and Steven appeared in his peripheral vision.
“Dad, is there something up? I heard a sound outside, like a coon in the bins again. Want me to call the pest people again?”
“I can call them from work Steve, it’s fine. I need you to look after Em again tomorrow, you know that. Maybe you could take her to Brodie’s farm again? She loves the horses and the goats.” Adam felt a bit better about using Emily’s moniker now; it had taken months for it to sound right coming out of his mouth after her mother had died.
“Yeah, I know, but it wouldn’t take me long to call them for you, isn’t work sick of you doing all this stuff while you’re supposed to be working?” The boy was too mature for his age.
“I can handle work Steve. Maybe go check the bins, just to be safe.” Steven left and headed for the front door, his steps quickening as he reached the bottom and toward the front door. Adam took a deep breath and sighed, reaching for the door handle. He had promised his youngest over and over that he would never force his way into her room. He hated himself for opening the door but he pushed it open gently and when it was fully open he stood on the threshold, waiting for the angry response or cold shoulder of a miserable teen. He got nothing.
The room was cold, bitterly so, and there was a smell in the air reminiscent of sleet and a breeze carrying the smell of the pine incense throughout the room like a supernatural force, distributing the cleansing nature of the odour. Emily wasn’t here.
“Dad!” Steven’s voice was full of fear and Adam rushed to his daughter’s window. He didn’t have to open it, it was already a portal to the outside, so he leant out, looking through the fine spray of rain and darkness to where Steven was illuminated by the rear porch light below the window. He stood next to the bins and he was holding the lid of the can in his hand and his eyes were narrowed as he scanned the darkness beyond the reach of the weak bulb on the landing.
“The racoon must have weighed forty pounds, maybe even more, to have caused the damage. He’s broken the bin, it’s split down the side.”
“Racoons don’t get that big Steven, you know that. Do you know if Emily leaves her window open a lot? It seems cold to have it like this. Have you seen her?”
“No, I haven’t. And I haven’t been in her room or even seen the inside for months. She doesn’t like me in there.”
“Can you come in and help me find her then? Maybe the storm, small as it is, scared her.”
“Of course. Emily isn’t scared of storms though,even the really big ones. You know that Dad.” Steven was right but Adam didn’t want to think about it. If she wasn’t hiding, scared of some imaginary foe, then where was she? She was never out of her room. She didn’t even go to school anymore, refused to do anything and if she did come out it was like a wild animal, nervous and shaky and prone to bolting back to her hole as soon as she finished her food. Even how much food she ate had changed too, she ate less and less, and sometimes when someone questioned how much she was eating she would simply leave her food and walk away, not to come down for days at a time.
Steven appeared at the top of the stairs and together they searched each of the bedrooms and the linen closet. Adam noticed his son’s reticence to enter the parental bedroom so he sent him downstairs to scout out the basement and kitchen. She wouldn’t be there but Steven clearly didn’t want to see any of the pictures he knew sat on the bedside table, pictures of a wedding and glorious days filled with love and joy. Adam found everything as it usually was except there was a picture missing from its frame on the mantelpiece near the permanently closed window seat. It had been a picture of Emily and her mother the day of her birth, Em’s face still sheened with amniotic fluid and traces of blood. It hadn’t been Adam’s’ favourite picture of the daughter and mother together, but it was a picture that meant a lot to Emily. She had drawn a copy for her room, but she had never done something like stealing. Adam knelt by the empty frame and bowed his head, pleading with his late wife to give him the strength to keep going and to find his wayward daughter.
“Dad?” The sound of Steve’s worried voice and the squeaking of floorboards just outside his door broke Adam’s reverie.
“She’s not here.”
“What do you mean she’s not here?” The chill Adam had felt spilling down his back now seemed to spread, and his face felt slightly numb. Missing? Gone? How could Emily be gone too?
“I checked everywhere downstairs, she’s not in my room or her room or the bathroom or the backyard or the tree house. She’s not here anymore.” Steven sounded numb. He couldn’t believe what he was saying either.
“She can’t just not be here, you know that’s not possible.”
“Well then where is she? The shed is locked and your keys are still hanging by the door. There’s nowhere else for her to be.” Tears were welling out of the corners of Steven’s eyes and his face seemed to be getting paler as he spoke, like the turn his thoughts were taking was making him feel ill.
“We’ll find her, come on, buck up Steve. She won’t have just disappeared. You call the neighbours, I’ll call the police, maybe they will help.”
“The police?” Steven sounded scared now. “You think someone kidnapped her?”
“No, I just think them and their dogs and all that might shorten the search. She’ll be around somewhere, believe me.” Adam squeezed Steven’s shoulder and passed him, heading for the kitchen where his phone sat charging near the modem. The little blinking lights led him to it and he picked it up, dialing 911 and waiting for the operator.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“Uh, my daughter is missing.”
“How long has she been missing Sir?”
“Probably half an hour.”
“Sir, I know you must be worried, but after half an hour she can’t be considered officially missing. I’m sorry Sir.”
“You don’t understand, she never does this. Can you at least send a car our way? My son and I are really worried.”
“Sir, I’m so sorry. My name is Carmel, what’s your name?”
“Adam Blaine. I’m at 45 Tinbrook Lane, near the river.”
“Well Adam, I’ll send a squad car around to help you out Adam. I’ve got officers Small and Rory about twelve minutes out, and coming in fast. Do you want to stay on the phone until they get there?”
“Thank you, but no, I think I’ll go find my son and tell him they’re on their way. Thank you Carmel.”
“You’re welcome Adam.” Carmel hung up and Adam out his phone down. He leant forward and rested his forehead against the cool wall.
“They’re on the way. Carmel, the operator, said that they would be about ten minutes away. We should have help before we know it. How about you go grab your coat and boots and we can get ready to start the outside search.”
Steven nodded and left, heading for the coat cupboard. Adam rubbed his face. Dinner was forgotten, the set table was empty and the glasses were glistening, like the cover of some Hallmark Card for celebrating the quintessential family holiday. Something bumped against his shoulder and he took the proffered jacket from his son and slung it over his shoulder.
“I’m going to head out and start scouting the riverbank. Can you let them know where I am when they get here?” Adam began to make his way to the back door, pushing his arms through his sleeves and zipping the front up in one swift angry motion.
“Shouldn’t you wait until they get here?”
“I can’t stand around and wait Steve.”
“And I can?”
“Just do as you’re told.” Adam was getting antsy. He needed to be doing something. He knew he was being rude and he knew that Steve would take it the wrong way but there would be time to mend bridges later when his daughter was safe and sound. He stalked out, turning his collar up and trying to hunch his shoulders to protect his throat from the icy rain. Why would Emily have gone out? It was so cold, and wet. She hated weather like this; she would always say that the sky should just open up and be done with it, rather than dribbling and moaning all the live long day. Thoughts began to crowd Adam’s mind and he shook a sob clean from his throat, taking deep breaths and trying with all his might to focus on the fact that he would find his little girl. He’d lost his wife, he didn’t want to lose the only woman in the world that looked like her too. He got to the bank and looked down, peering down into the coursing river and seeing the frayed reflection of his worried face gazing back at him. It was too dark; he should have brought a flashlight or something. The reeds were tall further up the river; too tall to be seen over from the bank. There was a pool about thirty yards downstream with a big tree the overhung the water. Emily often went there because no one else was brave enough to climb all the way out and disturb her. He would need a flashlight for that too then. This was so stupid. He was stupid. How had he forgotten a flashlight? He turned to begin jogging back to the house when he spotted a light swaying back and forth about thirty yards to his left. He called out, demanding to know the name of the intruder, and the light made a beeline for him. It resolved itself into a man in a reflective vest and police checks.
“Aye. You must be Officer Rory.” Adam read the man’s badge as he spoke and shielded his eyes with his hands
“Ah yes. Sorry; Mr Blaine, do you want a flashlight? I’ve got a spare. Your son said you would be out toward the river.”
“That would be wonderful, thanks. The river is a bit hard to look at in the dark.” Adam took the outstretched device and flicked the switch, bathing the lower half of the helpful officer in a white glare.
“Well then let’s go.” Adam led Officer Rory to the bank and together they let their lights play across the surface. It made beautiful patterns but apart from that the expanse of water was empty.
“Emily! Emily Blaine!” Officer Rory shouted out across the water and Adam felt a bizarre sense of offence at the words and they way they cut through the air. His daughter was missing. This was real. This was actually happening.
“Emily!” Adam’s throat felt like it was lined with sandpaper. He didn’t remember it hurting this much to make noise since his wife’s funeral, when he had to give the eulogy.
“Adam, you should probably give a few minutes in between calls, we don’t want her to call out only to be muffled by one of us calling again.” That was a sound idea.
“Ok.” Officer Rory began to move the long grass around with his long poking stick, maybe searching for footprints or strips of clothing; anything that could tell the searchers where to look next.
“Is there anywhere along here that she might be? Maybe out of eyesight or earshot?” Adam explained about the tree that overhung the river and Rory decided it was a good idea to search the immediate area. The pair strode along the bank, making as few detours as possible, shouting every minute or so and stopping to listen for replies. Through the rain and the burbling of the running water and the sounds of wind in the reeds there wasn’t much of a chance of hearing a weak cry. “Is this it?” Rory pointed his torch into the middle of the pool and highlighted the branch, empty, where it hung apparently in space.
“Yes. She’s not here though.”
“Sir, how old is Emily?”
“14 last month Officer.”
“Please, call me Peter. She must be a skillful climber to get into a spot like that.”
“She is Peter.” Tears welled up in Adam’s eyes and he tried to hold his breath to stop any sound coming out.
“Well Adam I think if she’s strong enough to do that she’s got a pretty good chance of not getting stuck in the river.”
Adam knew that wasn’t strictly true; he wasn’t stupid, he knew what icy flowing water could do to a full grown man. If his daughter had hit the water and not expected it, or even if she had, the cold would paralyze like a dart and she wouldn’t have a chance. Adam heard a sound and looked at Peter; Peter was removing his walkie talkie and bringing it to his face, the little screen cast a disturbing green light against Peter’s lips. Adam couldn’t hear what the other man was saying – it was like the sound of the water that might have sucked his daughter away was filling his ears, stopping the rest of the world from entering. Peter touched Adam’s shoulder and Adam jumped a little.
“Sorry Adam, but more officers have arrived at the house. I think we should head back and regroup. I don’t want to be pushy but more people searching might be a good idea. We also have a specialist team in bound from Baton Rouge, they’re real good at this kind of thing.”
“Ok.” Adam didn’t seem to be able to construct a full sentence. Why was this happening now? Why this?
“Come on Adam.” Peter nudged him again Adam followed his lead toward the house. Adam trudged behind. He could hear less of the river, more of the people in the house. It reminded him of walking towards the doors of the wake. The same kinds of hushed voices, general milling bodies and nervous, sad or terrified faces. He didn’t want to do this again.
“Not again.” He whispered, tears beginning to flow freely as memories flooded every particle of his being and even his legs became shaky.
“What was that Adam?” Peter pulled him to a stop and bent forward a bit to look him in the eyes. He had the look in his eyes that Adam had only associated with the funeral and immediate aftermath. He didn’t want to see it again. He didn’t want to have to see it again. No more funerals.
“Nothing. This is just very…”
“I know what you mean Adam. Come on inside. No judgements here, we want to find your daughter.”
“I know I know. Let’s go in.” Adam walked past Officer Rory and opened the back door, letting himself into the tumult. Instantly Steven was at his side.
“Dad, Officer Small took one look around the house and called for backup. There’s like thirty officers now, and apparently some geniuses are coming down from Baton. They reckon they’ll find her in no time.”
Adam couldn’t respond. What made the officers so jumpy about her room? Did they find something that told them she’d been kidnapped?
“Everyone, this is Adam Blaine, the missing girl’s father.” Officer Rory was standing on a chair by the now un-set table. Every officer in the room turned and looked at him and Adam raised one hand, ever so slightly, to acknowledge the introduction.
“Emily Blaine is a 14 year old girl. She’s strong, well mannered, and very quiet. We’re worried about her because nearly a year ago her mother died.” A general murmur of condolence spread through the room and Adam saw Steve’s eyes go misty with unshed tears. Poor young man.
“This information has been forwarded to the Special Assessment team in Baton Rouge and they have decided to give us their full and undivided attention. The whole team is coming down.” This raised more murmurs, but this time they had a considerable volume change. Clearly this team, whoever they were, was a big deal.
“And now, I think we need to start an initial search while the team gets here. Who here has been on shift for more than four hours?” Roughly half the group of police officers raised their hands.
“Right, you guys can take the inner perimeter. Go only as far as the river to the south and the road to the north. Comb through everything with a fine toothed comb. Maybe Steven Blaine, Emily’s older brother, could help you.” Peter looked between Steven and Adam and when he got nods from both of them he nodded himself.
“Now, for everyone who hasn’t been on shift for more than four hours, we have a harder task. Some of us are going to scour bus stations, taxi ranks, even the ferry terminal. Anywhere like that. It’s important that we also find out as much as we can about the neighbours. the houses are not close together but someone may still have seen something. So some of us are going to do that. I want every neighbour in a two mile radius checked on. Adam, as the father you have a very important role to play. I’m going to work with you to find out everything I can about Emily. We are going to do some solid groundwork for the specialist team so they won’t have to start from scratch.” The group disbanded; Steven was ushered away from the kitchen, led into the front room where already it seemed a large number of the officers were already assembled to begin receiving instructions from Officer Small. Adam looked around and suddenly Peter appeared by his side.
“I thought this was the best way to work everything out. You might be the best person to help with the specialist team, but if you want Steven to do this and you help the search teams around the yard if you would prefer that kind of arrangement.”
“No, this is okay, I think Steve will do better with yard duty anyway.”
“Okay. So the team should be here soon, but you and I need to work some things out first. If I showed you a map, could you mark everywhere she’s been in the last month?”
“I could tell you right now; she’s left the house five times in four weeks. Twice for the library, that’s two blocks away at the high school, and three times for the grocery store with me because I made her. She doesn’t go to school, she doesn’t have friends or playmates or even acquaintances. She must talk to people online but I don’t know who they would be; she doesn’t talk to anyone.”
“Well that’s a good start. It will be important to keep all that kind of information fresh in your mind for when the team get here.”
Adam found himself reflecting on the loss of his wife and the effect it had had on Emily’s behaviour. Had anything major changed? She’d never been overtly social, open or particularly sharing. Was all this just an amplification of her old ways? Or was this symptomatic of some huge personality shift brought about by the loss of her mother?
“Rory. The team has just pulled up. I’ll bring them into you?”
“Thank you Manny, bring them here.” Officer Manny left and the crowds made a passage for him to the door. Through the hustle and bustle Adam could hear the sounds of big cars, and what sounded like a motorbike. He saw the top of the door swing clear of the jam and then the front room fell silent. The first three men who strode in looked seriously impressive; their suits were so black they filled Adam with confidence. That was a certain aura about their attire and their stance that made it seem like everything was going to be alright; the professionals were here now. Behind the first three a woman pulled a motorcycle helmet off of her head and her hair fell in messy bangs around her face. It was like it was in slow motion; was he about to pass out? The darkness was beginning to get fuzzy around the edges, but he didn’t feel like he was going to fall over or anything. This was surreal.
“My name is Agent Kelli, I’m here to help you find your daughter. This is my team; Agent Fain and Agent Cobalt.” Kelli pointed to the two men who had accompanied him through the door. “And this is Agent Rose, making her way direct from the airport in a real rush to be with us.” Rose raised a hand to acknowledge her introduction. Unlike the others she was in jeans and a heavy duty leather jacket with a long sleeved green shirt underneath. The shirt was the same colour as the nightgown that Emily had been wearing; it made a lump form in Adam’s throat and he bit his lip trying hard not to make a sound.
“You must be Adam, the father. I’m terribly sorry to meet you under these circumstances.”
“Yes, I’m Adam.” Adam held his hand out and Agent Kelli took it and gave a strong handshake.
“Can you show us your daughter’s room? I think that will be the best place for us to start. You said it was the last place you saw her?”
“Not exactly. I saw her going towards her room, but since her mother she’s been very withdrawn.” Adam swallowed another sob and scrabbled for composure.
“I don’t go in her room anymore; I thought I was respecting her privacy.”
“That’s a very mature attitude to take for a grieving father Adam. Do you mind us looking now?” The agent stood at the threshold to the room, his hand resting on the doorknob. Adam got the distinct impression that this request was a formality only, but that he really did have a choice. He liked this man.
“Of course, whatever you need.”
“Thank you. We will do everything we can to find your daughter alive and well.” Agent Kelli smiled reassuringly at him and then the team descended through the doorway like vultures heading for a carcass. Adam stood back and watched as the agents swarmed across every inch of his little daughter’s bedroom. The woman, Agent Rose, seemed to be particularly interested in the window.
“Was this open when you came in?”
“Yes, it was.”
“What are you thinking Rose?” Kelli sounded intense now, like suddenly he was on the clock.
“Look at the drop Kelli.” Kelli went to the window and looked out and then down.
“It’s certainly a long drop, what are you thinking?” Wait, wasnt Kelli in charge? Adam was confused. Now he was deferring to the woman who wasn’t even dress appropriately for work?
“Look, if I was taking a kid I certainly wouldn’t be jumping down this with her in my arms or strapped to my back; it’s way too far to fall and I risk damaging myself and the haul.”
“Check out the damage to the bins.” The damage to the bins? Oh. Adam remembered the racoon.
“My son found those dents earlier, when he went outside to see if she was there. He said it was like a large racoon had done it.”
“A large racoon weighs like twenty pounds, give or take, that damage is more in line with a mass of sixty pounds, depending on how that weight landed. I think she jumped.” Rose sounded sure of herself.
“My daughter would never try to commit suicide, she knows it would kill us.” Rose suddenly looked up at Adam, as if just remembering that he was there. That reaction made Adam angry.
“I didn’t mean she was jumping to kill herself Sir. I was suggesting she either left of her own accord or was pushed or forced out the window by a more skillful jumper who managed to clear the trash cans.” Adam must have looked angry because suddenly Agent Cobalt appeared next to him.
“How about we head outside? The team could be in here a while and it’s worth trying to stay calm and clear headed, okay Sir?” Adam just nodded blankly and was lead away toward the kitchen.
Rose and Kelli waited for the sounds of his footsteps on the stairs before talking again.
“He is not a father who is ready to lose his daughter Kelli.” Fain sounded grim.
“Are they ever ready Fain?” Rose was cool and professional as she peered once again into the darkness outside the window. She could see the lights moving through the underbrush just beyond her field of vision in the yard.
“I don’t see a way the kidnapper could have gotten into the house to remove her, no matter what maneuver he used to to actually remove her.” Kelli had a good point. The stairs were noisy and the corridor wasn’t silent either. There were no trees against the house or convenient ladders lying around; no way to really get in from the outside. And the top floor was only accessible from the the creaky staircase. This house was a kidnapper’s nightmare. Add to that what seemed like a hypervigilant but privacy respecting father and a son that obviously had some form of post traumatic stress disorder relating to the death of a maternal figure, and this screamed an inside job. Or a runaway.
“I don’t want to be the one to say it, but what if she just ran away?” Cobalt had arrived back and closed the door behind him.
“She lives in an environment that continually reminds her off a deep loss, and both of her surviving immediate relatives are handling the loss separately, not including her in the family.”
“He said he didn’t get in her way because he wanted to respect her space.” Rose sounded a tad defensive, but mostly curious. Cobalt often had some pretty far out but not unbelievable ideas.
“Have you seen a picture of her? Emily is the spitting image. Same eyes, same ears, same nose. Even the distribution of freckles is the same across the cheekbones. I would say Mr Blaine isn’t trying to give her privacy, he’s trying to move on and he is probably pushing his daughter away even if he doesn’t realise it.”
“You think he might have something to do with his daughter’s disappearance?” Rose didn’t sound as incredulous as she usually did when faced with possibilities like this; she was the newest on the team and clearly the reality of the acts people were capable of performing was beginning to sink in.
“Hold your horses there guys, I think we really need to look into this if we’re going to investigate with that theory in our heads.” Kelli pulled his ‘I’m the boss’ card and brought the bandying of ideas to an end.
“Cobalt, you mentioned before that you thought there was a possibility of her getting away under her own steam. If you were a girl and you wanted to get out, what would you do?”
“Well, the obvious thing would be the window; it’s open despite the weather.”
“Did you see how far down it is?” Rose wasn’t giving Cobalt any creative wiggle room on the issue. “She’s 14.”
“You’re the one who brought this up with the father before Rose; he may have disagreed but one of the police officers said something about tree climbing to me on the way up. If she’s used to tumbling out of big trees, a fall from this height onto some garbage bins might not be such a scary prospect.” The team fell into silence. Kelli spoke up.
“What’s everyone’s gut feelings?”
“Runaway.” Rose and Cobalt spoke at the same time. Kelli looked to Fain; he had been quiet for a while and Kelli knew that meant the man was putting his substantial intellect to work.
“Why would she run away? I mean, I hear what you’re saying about the whole family thing and being shunned because of how much she looks like her mother, but have you seen how obsessed she was with her mother? I know it’s totally natural but she has sketches here, dozens of them. They’re all of her mother’s face, but there are also dozens of pages that have been roughly torn out. She removed something and some of the tabby things from inside the spiral binding are still sprinkled across the other drawings, also the desk and her phone and tablet. She didn’t clean them up, she didn’t even take the time to remove them from the face she loved and worshipped more than anything.”
“We need her father up here now; can you go get him Rose?” Kelli sounded tense.
“Of course.” Rose jogged across the room and out the door. The rest of the team could hear her footfalls on the creaking hall and stairs. She searched the crowds in the kitchen and dining room, searching for Adam Blaine. She did two circuits before she gave up and grabbed the shoulder of the first cop she saw.
“Hey, do you know where the father is?” She had to shout over the din of moving bodies and growled out orders, but the policeman heard her.
“Sorry Agent, I think he’s out with the garden crew. They’re taking a closer look at the river bank.”
“Could you please go get him? We need him upstairs.”
“Sure thing Agent.” Rose watched him run off through the crowd and out the back door, hoping he was carrying a flashlight. The crowded room began to thin out as more and more police officers got their orders. They departed through seemingly every door in the house, disappearing like rats from a sinking ship. She took a few minutes to examined this room; it was very midwestern, reminiscent of a log cabin or some large hunting lodge high in the alps. It didn’t fit on the bend of a river in Louisiana. She zeroed in on the pictures on the side table by the bench of the kitchen. There were pictures of the father and mother, the father and son, and then one beautiful one of the mother and daughter. Rose could see the resemblance now; she could also see that the daughter and father weren’t terribly close. This wasn’t going to end well, she could feel it.
“Agent Rose?” Adam’s voice was higher, and worried. She turned around and sized him up. His hair was wild and his eyes already had dark rings around them. He was breathing harder than he probably should have been and his clothes had leaves and small portions of grass stuck to them. If she had to call it right that second she would have bet anything that he wasn’t involved in the disappearance of his daughter. But her gut had been wrong before.
“Thank you Adam. Where’s the officer that alerted you?”
“He took my spot on the search group. He said it was urgent, what’s wrong?”
“We’ve got some questions for you upstairs, we’re beginning to get a good idea of what might have happened.”
“Really?” He sounded pathetically hopeful. He hated sounding like that but he couldn’t help it. Did that mean they’d found her?
Rose could see his thoughts as clearly on his face as if he’d spoken them out loud. She felt sorry for him but gave him a professional smile – not overly happy or friendly, but not her usual resting bitch face – and then gestured to the stairs. He scuttled toward them like a dog told to return to it’s mat. She followed him up the stairs and down the hallway. The whole house could hear him coming – his footfalls were heavy and urgent. Rose’s footfalls were, by way of contrast, steady and quiet. The rest of the team were standing to attention in a little half moon shape around the distraught father when she entered. She wondered for a moment if they realised quite how scary a sight that was.
“Thank you Rose.” Agent Kelli took a couple of steps out of the team’s formation and pointed to the sketch book.
“Mr Blaine, what would have been on these pages?”
“Um, I don’t come up here.” Adam was stuttering.
“But I think that sketchbook had all the sketches of her mum and her mum’s memorial.”
“The memorial?” Kelli glanced at each team member and each one shrugged; they hadn’t found any evidence of any memorial.
“The memorial on the roadside. That’s about the only place Emily ever wanted to go. Every time I took her she would draw it.”
“Has something happened recently there?” Fain suddenly spoke. He felt like the memorial had everything to do with this and if his suspicion was confirmed it was definitely not a kidnapping.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“What happened?” Kelli cut back in. Adam’s head was looking between Fain and Kelli in confusion.
“Someone destroyed it. I was telling Steve about it when I last saw her on the stairs.”
“And then she disappeared?” Rose joined in and now Adam looked like the spectator of a tennis match.
“Yes. I don’t see what this has to do with someone taking her.” He was getting hysterical. The entire team exchanged glances.
“We don’t think she was kidnapped Mr Blaine. I’m sorry, but we think she left of her own free will; could you give us directions to the memorial site? Given everything we’ve discovered about her, we think that’s the most likely place for her to turn up.”
“I could come and show you. She might be scared; she might need me.” Adam sounded strained, like he was holding back tears or trying not to shout.
“That sounds like a good idea.” Kelli sounded almost relieved; he didn’t really like the idea of taking the father along with them but the fact that the man was controlling himself and trying to keep rational meant he was probably capable of seeing his daughter and not scolding her. She needed love and hugs right now, not to be told that she was bad or irresponsible for running away.
Fain and Rose both thought Kelli had lost his mind; they had no idea what they were going to find when they, if they, found Emily. Cobalt also thought it was a bad idea, but he still wasn’t totally sold on the father being out of the frame; Adam seemed nice but there was something odd about the way he talked about his late wife, like she didn’t have an identity except as his lost love. That attitude would fly in the face of Emily’s obvious adoration of her lost maternal figure.
“Come down to the cars Mr Blaine. Agent Rose, ride with Agent Cobalt. Agent Fain you can come with me. Let’s go.”
The walk down the hall and the stairs and out the front door was like a procession by a royal prince. Adam strode in the center flanked by Cobalt and Fain, Rose took the rear and Kelli lead the way. The cars were parked right outside the house on the curb; two huge black trucks parked nose to tail, big and ominous and straight out of a classic cop show. The group split; Rose and Cobalt headed for the second car while Fain, Kelli and Adam headed for the lead car. Fain opened the back door for Adam and, seeing as he had no option to dispute the decision he climbed in. Fain joined Kelli in the front seat and Kelli turned around to his civilian passenger.
“Mr Blaine, where should we go from here?”
“Head out to Highway Junction and make a right, it’s not far from the turn.” Kelli pulled out of the curb slowly and the second car, with Cobalt behind the wheel, followed the suit. Together the convoy made its way toward the junction – famous for three or four way crashes with lorries and tractors – and when it got there they signaled and turned right. Kelli kept his eyes out and Rose pulled a pair of low-light binoculars out of the glove box. She scanned the roadside as they drove, searching for any sign of a child or of debris that suggested a memorial once stood there.
“There. It used to be there.” Adam suddenly pointed passed Fain’s nose and Kelli threw on the lights and pulled over sharply. The road wasn’t busy, making the maneuver a little safer, but it still rattled Adam. He slid sideways as far as his seatbelt allowed and then his head hit the headrest of the seat next to him. He straightened himself and rubbed his temple. Fain let his irritation go and pushed his door open, stepping out onto the wet tarmac and looking back at the second car, pulled off the road at an extreme angle onto the grassy shoulder because of Fain’s erratic halt. Rose and Cobalt got out of their car and bridged the gap between the two groups, coming to a stop when they looked down as spotted the small mess of debris that had been the memorial.
“Do you have an original picture of it?” Cobalt queried.
“No I don’t. I didn’t think anyone would ever remove it.”
“So Emily is the only one who would know exactly what it would look like?”
“She’s the only one who had a picture.” That was not a helpful situation for the team.
“Do you know if anything here isn’t from the original memorial?” Rose was looking around her but she turned her attention to Adam when she spoke.
Adam just shook his head slowly, looking out into the misty rain with a lost and vulnerable expression on his face. Rose felt bad for thinking the man might be somewhat to blame, but she just couldn’t quash it.
“Let’s spread out.” Kelli spoke up, his voice strong and commanding to get everyone’s attention. “Don’t get hit by a car or anything, but let’s search the area, looking for any sign at all.”
Rose moved toward the road, keeping an eye out for cars, searching left and right like a one-woman emu parade. No one shouted or even spoke; they were too intent on the task at hand. Rose briefly looked back and saw the others spread out in a radiating half circle, while Adam accompanied Fain into the brush. The whole thing felt futile to him but he was trying his best to keep the scowl from his face, just for the father’s sake. Fain and Adam had just crossed into the trees, swinging their heads left and right while staring intently at the ground when Rose’s strangled shout passed through the mist to their ears. Both men turned and ran back up the slope – an action ill advised by the number of roots and thorned bushes around their feet – and saw Rose kneeling in the middle of the road near the dividing concrete wall between north and south-bound traffic. Kelli was running towards her and waving his arms back at Cobalt, who was running back towards Fain and Adam.
Cobalt’s face was suspiciously blank. Fain knew that expression well, he saw it far too often on cases involving children. The only things all those cases had in common were that the victims were children, and that they were dead. Even Adam seemed to pick something up off Cobalt’s face. This was not good.
“No no no no no no no no…” Adam’s voice was hoarse and tired, with anger right beneath. Cobalt got to them just as Kelli got to Rose and knelt down next to her. Adam tried to get through his two bouncers and both Fain and Cobalt held him back, pushing him back toward the trees.
Rose could feel the cold wet gravel of the roadside digging into her knees as she rested two fingers against the little girl’s twisted neck. There was no pulse. She could feel Agent Kelli above her angle his body to keep the broken body out of Adam Blaine’s sight.
“Can you guess how long she’s been dead?” Kelli’s voice was hushed, but there was obvious emotion behind it; he couldn’t stand seeing dead children and seeing them like this, metaphorical and literal debris on the highway of life, was his personal kind of hell.
“I’m not a coroner, but I’d say not very long. She’s not wearing much, but she’s warm underneath her skin. She looks like she was hit by a car.”
“I’ve seen car accidents and hit-and-runs before Rose, this was a fleet at least. Speaking of the coroner, we need to call this in.”
“How do we call this in without freaking the father out?”
“We don’t have much of a choice. Call the authorities, I’ll deal with Mr Blaine.” Rose nodded and Kelli carefully stepped back from the body and began to walk toward the forest. Adam was struggling against Fain and Cobalt and Rose moved a bit so she was directly in the line of sight, preventing him from being able to see his very deceased daughter. This is not how he needed to remember her.
“What happened to you Emily?” Rose spoke softly, her fingers hovering above the little girl’s forehead, tempted to shut away the blank stare that death so often incurred.
*Nothing, I’m right here.* Emily stepped forward, trying to touch the lady’s head. What was she talking about? Emily growled in frustration and pushed at the lady’s shoulder. Nothing. Her hands met solid human body and it refused to budge.
“Oh you poor little thing. I wonder if we were right. Did your dad drive you away?”
*Why would dad drive me away? He loves me.*
“Maybe even you didn’t realize why you were running away.”
*I needed to rebuild it, I didn’t want anyone to forget her.* Sirens sounded in the distance and Emily slumped against the barrier. Help was coming. Maybe they would be able to fix the body lying on the ground; clearly it was badly damaged or she wouldn’t be having this trippy out of body experience. The lady rocked back on her heels and rubbed her hands down her thighs.
“I don’t know how we’re going to tell your dad Emily, but I promise I’ll find a way that minimizes his pain.” She made a vague gesture in the body’s direction and then got up, stretched her calves out and
*Tell my dad what? What pain? I don’t understand. You found me. I know it was wrong to run away but I didn’t mean anything by it, not really.* But the lady was leaving; walking away as if Emily didn’t even exist.