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Makaila stopped suddenly among the corn, towering over her five-foot four-inch form. She liked the corn, reaching high above her head, surrounding her, holding her in its belly. She lowered herself straight to the ground as if not to disturb the air, sitting on crossed legs. Makaila kept her eyes locked on the tan-red clay of the furrowed earth and the slight movement, just a hint. She then saw the small, perfectly round hole inches from the little creature.
Makaila didn’t know crayfish existed until she came to stay on her great uncle’s farm. Her first reaction was surprise, which sent her running from the field. She thought the rocks moved or worse: she was hallucinating. When her flight brought her clear of the corn, she turned back. After giving some thought to rocks moving without an applied force, she concluded this was not reasonable, thus hallucinations. She stood on the grassy slope trying to see beyond reality, shivering in the warm sun. Clenching her fists, she held the tears back.
A hand, strong from a lifetime of farm work, cupped her shoulder. “Problem, Makaila?” Joseph Carleton peered across the corn trying to see what Makaila saw.
She took a deep breath and fell against the man’s shoulder, still watching the field from the protection of his strength. “I’m losing it again, Pops.”
“I don’t really believe you lost it before.” With his left hand, Joseph removed his blue pinstriped engineer’s cap, ran his fingers over his thinning hair and tucked his cap back on his head. “Tell me what you saw?”
“Rocks. The rocks disappear.”
He squinted to the sun and then looked down on the top of sun bleached wicker head. “The rocks disappear, ah?”
“But, they can’t!” She stamped her foot. “They can’t!”
Joseph held tighter. “Now, now. Maybe they aren’t rocks at all?”
“Not rocks?” Tension drained from her shoulders, the shivering stopped. She looked up into the tanned, wrinkled and round face. “Not rocks?”
He let out a passionate little giggle, a giggle few men could get away with. “No sense getting yourself all upset thinking something fantastic until you look all around you, yes?”
Makaila, growing up, didn’t know she had a Great Uncle Joseph or any other extended relatives. Her parents lived isolated from family.
“Get dressed. You’re being released.” The director dropped the clipboard on the bed. “I think it’s a huge mistake, mind you, but I really have no choice.”
Makaila watched his eyes and face. She knew he was scared, but she didn’t know of what. “I’m not going home.” She meant the statement as a question.
She considered what her response should be and made calculations knowing the director watched her every move. “Why can’t I go home?” She feigned a whine. “I miss ‘em.”
“We decided it was best you stay some place else for a while.”
She knew he lied. All Makaila cared about was getting out. She didn’t care where. Anywhere away from the small pale green room with one small window high off the ground would do. The room, more like a prison, where the unspeakable visits as the world sleeps. She wanted to ask how long she’d been in, deciding not to.
In a small cardboard box with her name scribbled carelessly on the side, her sneakers and blue denim dress were returned laundered, the dress still dark with bloodstains. The dress, now much too small for her, had to do. Makaila didn’t ask what happened to her coat, underwear and socks. The director, like an automaton, led her to the front door and a waiting ambulance.
Without ceremony, he received a signature from the driver, took a copy of the form for himself and walked away, effectively erasing any evidence of Makaila’s stay. Just inside the glass doors, he glanced back. “Judge Bosch be damned. And, I didn’t have to bother Harshaw.”
Just out of view of the hospital, the driver pulled off the road. “This is going to be a long drive. Maybe ten hours and I’m going straight through. I really hate to do this. I have my instructions.”
For just under ten hours, Makaila lie staring at the ceiling, listening to the hum of tires on pavement while strapped to the bunk. She drifted in and out of a restless sleep, patiently waiting to feel grass under her feet and sky above her head. A hard turn and gravel kicking up in the wheel wells brought her back to full alertness.
Joseph stood from his rocking chair on the wraparound porch of the old farmhouse as the ambulance jolted to a stop in the circular driveway, raising a haze of dust in the calm evening air.
“Joseph Carleton?” The driver climbed from the vehicle. “I have a delivery for you.”
The driver swung open the backdoor and scrambled in as Joseph came around. The younger man quickly undid the straps and dragged Makaila like a crate of oranges out the opening. She looked like Harry Houdini ready to perform an escape trick.
“What the heck? Get her out of that this minute!”
“Regrettable, agreed. I had no choice. Please sign here.” He produced a clipboard, still holding Makaila by the back of the neck like a kitten.
“Fiddlesticks!” Joseph scribbled quickly on the paper. “Now get her out of this!” He pulled at the restraints.
The courier worked quickly and efficiently on the straps, apologized again, and then wished Makaila well, adding a nod.
“Thanks for the ride.”
Joseph and Makaila watched the ambulance’s taillights melt into the darkness back down the lane. Makaila turned to the older man, reached up and put a finger to his lips. “Please, don’t say anything. I need a few minutes.”
He nodded blankly at his great-niece as she walked twenty feet further away from the house, fell to the ground on her back and stared at the stars like she never saw stars before. She cleared her mind like flushing a toilet. In moments, she felt reborn with the past placed far away.
She gained her feet, returning. “Hi. I’m Makaila Marie Carleton.” She smiled with a slight tilt of the head.
Joseph offered his hand. “You can call me Pops, everyone seems to. Welcome to our home, your home for as long as it’s needed.” He didn’t shake her hand, simply holding it. “I’ll bet you’re hungry, yes?”
She met his pale brown eyes with her bright blue orbs. “I’d like to pee, and you bet I’m hungry. They’ve been making me live on something like mush for-ever!”
He laughed a real laugh, a laugh like she’d not heard in a long time. “Of course, you can pee.” He put an arm around her shoulder, steering her toward the house. “And, you’re on a farm. One thing we got is plenty to eat!”
She was warmed in trust, something life taught her to ignore. She watched Joseph’s face and eyes. He was genuinely angry with the ambulance driver. He actually cared what would happen next. If he fooled her, which she didn’t discount, he was good.
They came up the steps.
“This is Ma. No time for pleasantries! We have to pee!”
Marcy smiled, chuckling. “Well, we all do now and then, don’t we?”
What a relief.
Makaila unlocked the control on her body. She learned to control her bodily functions hours upon hours tied to a bed, day after day. Sitting alone in a room with the door closed, on a toilet without someone staring at her was a nice feeling.
Makaila tried to remember the last time she was free, the last time she wasn’t either tied up or stared at, and couldn’t. She wanted to simply sit alone in the small bathroom for hours following the little chickens, cows and sheep designs on the wallpaper. She knew the two strangers expected something from her. She wasn’t sure what they wanted or expected. She was free and going to stay free.
Opening the door, she emptied her lungs, pleased no one hovered at the opening.
“We’re in here, dear.”
She followed Marcy’s voice, finding her new keepers at a large oak table in a spacious dining room.
Marcy ushered Makaila over with a bird-like hand fluttering in the air. Marcy’s gray hair hung in a single braid down her back, which made her seem older than her sixty years. She felt Makaila’s hair between her fingers. “Didn’t they wash your hair? When’s the last time you had your hair washed?”
Makaila looked toward the rich pine floor. “I don’t remember, sorry.”
Marcy raised Makaila’s face with a hand to her chin. “Don’t be sorry, dear. It’s okay. Then is then and this is now.” Marcy presented a heavy wool nightgown from the back of a chair. “You can change into this if you like.”
Without a thought, Makaila unbuttoned the front of her denim dress and let it fall to the floor as natural as spring rain, exposing her nakedness. As she took the nightgown, she surveyed the two faces, which showed surprise. She’d made a mistake, not eight minutes in the door. She quickly wrestled into the new garb and sat hard onto a chair, looking at the table. “Sorry.”
Joseph’s eyes showed rage.
Marcy smiled warmly, gently shaking Makaila’s arm. “It’s okay! Don’t be sorry.” Marcy raised Makaila’s face again. “Makaila, it’s okay.”
Makaila searched the face carefully for hints of deceit, finding none. She wondered whether the incident would be written in a notebook somewhere, used as evidence against her.
“You’re hungry. What would you like?” Marcy rolled her eyes. “Some eggs, bacon, toast, maybe some sausage? We have some corn-fed steaks around here. Potatoes, corn, string beans?”
Makaila looked at her great aunt with sad blue eyes from under her brow. “Okay.”
Joseph laughed his rich, deep, real laugh. “Ma, I think anything you put in front of her she’ll eat! Just watch your hands!”
Mesmerized, Makaila was infected. She smiled, then giggled and finally laughed herself. Unguarded with the release of tension, Makaila said around her laughs: “That story’s not true, you know.”
Marcy left for the adjoining kitchen as Joseph sighed. “What story?”
Makaila froze. She made her second mistake. Replaying the past few minutes in her head, she realized Joseph made a joke. She watched the probing eyes across the table and made some calculations. She tried her smile with a tilt of her head. “What did they tell you about me?”
Joseph sat back. “They told me what sounded like a bunch of fiddlesticks and a pile of horse hockey.” He leaned his elbows on the table, placing his chin in his hands. “Psychobabble. I didn’t give it any mind.”
Carefully watching his face, Makaila judged the statement true. “You do know what I did, don’t you?”
“No.” Joseph didn’t hesitate. “I know what people say you did. None of the stories agree by the way, so no. I really got the impression that none of them cared a lick about you or even knew who I was.” He smiled. “I figure if someday you want to tell me, you will. If not, you won’t. All that doesn’t matter.”
Her eyes narrowed. “It doesn’t?”
“Nope. Not a lick. You’re family. That matters. You’re in trouble. That matters. You need a hand – this hand. That matters.” He placed his hand, palm up, extended across the table. “And, here it is. No questions asked.”
Makaila hesitated briefly, placing her hand over the large, calloused hand. “I guess we’re going to be buds?”
“We’re going to try real hard, Makaila. We’re going to work this thing out. I’ve yet to find anything in this world that can’t be beat if we throw hard work at it.” He squeezed her hand. “We’ll find a way.”
Makaila took her hand back with a guarded smile as Marcy sat hot chocolate and a plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, home fries and three biscuits before her. “If you eat all this and want more, I can fix it up.” She disappeared back into the kitchen. When Marcy returned with silverware, she found Makaila shoveling food in her mouth with both hands as if someone was going to take her plate.
Marcy set the utensils on the table without a word, retaking her chair.
Makaila looked at the silverware and then at Marcy and Joseph in turn. She emptied her hands onto her plate and wiped them on the nightgown. “Sorry.” She fumbled with the fork and counted mistake number three.
Marcy looked at Joseph with tears in her eyes.
“Don’t be sorry, Makaila.” Joseph took a turn. “Really. And, take your time. You can take all night and the rest of the day to eat that if you wish. And, you can have more if you want.”
She slowed the pace, savoring each flavor. “I wasn’t allowed forks and stuff,” she said with a mouth full of egg.
Marcy placed a hand on Makaila’s arm again. “I can’t imagine what it was like.”
“I can.” Joseph stared at Makaila, not seeing her in the moment. His awareness snapped back. “POW.”
Makaila gave a short, understanding nod. The three fell quiet as Makaila cleaned the plate, doing her best to eat slowly and remembering how to use a fork.
“More?” Marcy stood.
Makaila looked up. “My stomach’s cool, but my mouth says bring it on so I think I’m okay for now.” She nodded. “Thanks lots. That was the best food I think I ever – ever put in my mouth!”
Marcy smiled. “You are more than welcome.”
Far in the darkness of the house, a grandfather clock played the prelude and finished with eleven slow, deep chimes. Joseph glanced at his watch. “It’s late. Are you tired?”
Makaila stretched the stiffness from her muscles. “Not really. If it’s okay, I’d really like to ask some stupid questions so long as you’re not going to hold them against me.”
Marcy offered some wisdom. “The only stupid question is the one that isn’t asked.”
“What do you mean: hold them against you?” Joseph straightened on his chair. “You can be perfectly honest. Everything you say and do will be kept among the three of us.”
Makaila leaned her head on her hand while stirring the hot chocolate with her finger. She pondered where to draw the line. The last time someone said: you can trust me, cost her more than a human being should pay. She calculated how fast to dance, outcomes and eventualities. Makaila didn’t know what the rules were or even who made the rules.
She didn’t know, nor had she heard of these two people claiming to be relatives. Makaila had no way to confirm the truth of the claim. Yet, the subtle body movements of these two people told her they were tentative and unsure, which certainly didn’t mean deceit.
Makaila wasn’t about to be candid because, in general, those around her proved to have too much arbitrary power over her. She needed a test and she needed a good one. “Can I make a phone call?” She locked with Joseph’s eyes.
Joseph looked at his watch again and back to Makaila. “It’s kinda late.”
The clock sang eleven o’clock and the darkness told her it was night. Eleven o’clock could or could not be considered kinda late. She countered the argument. “Not for who I want to call.” She held his eyes, analyzing every abstruse muscle movement of his face.
The test came. “Dr. Charles Zogg.” Dr. Charles Zogg had been her therapist for the past three years and grew to be much more than a therapist. He was the only person Makaila trusted. She felt he was the only person capable of fully understanding her. He was the only person she knew who didn’t betray her in one way or another, but for maybe her brother. She hadn’t heard Zogg’s voice since before the day she was arrested even though, at first, she asked repeatedly for him.
Joseph let out a long sigh, looked at his wife and then back to Makaila. “I have been given instructions. I got a note somewhere here.” He scratched his chin and then ran his palm from his forehead to the back of his scalp. “That under no circumstances should you be allowed to speak to Dr. Zogg. Not that we’ve been given direct instructions. No one’s said anything that even made much sense in this matter but for the lawyer.”
Test failed. Makaila didn’t let her subtle body betray her. She began to calculate her survival plan, which might or might not mean the death of Ma and Pops. She needed more information.
Joseph ran his palm over his head again as if the action would bring an answer to the surface. “However, we have no reason to believe the people who gave us those instructions have anything close to your best interest in mind. Matter-of-fact, they’ve demonstrated differently, in my opinion.” He rolled his eyes. “It’s a short file.” He continued as if to himself: “Those book-worshiping eggheads think just because we’re farmers and have dirty hands, they’re so much smarter than us. I know when someone means to do harm to someone without reading all those books of theirs.”
Makaila remained unmoved. “So I can call him? Now?”
Joseph dropped his palm on the table. “Absolutely! If that’s what you really want or need to do, then you do it!”
Test passed. Calling Chuck can wait. It might be a long conversation. She relaxed into her thoughts and ordered her questions. “What month is this?”
“Why, it’s May. The sixth of May.” Joseph leaned forward a bit. “You don’t want to call?”
“Day of the week? Told you I had some really stupid questions.”
“It’s Tuesday,” Marcy offered.
“Tuesday, May sixth – nineteen ninety-nine.” Makaila stated the date as if planting a flag in the ground. She watched the ceiling. “It’s only been eighteen months.” She paused. “Where am I?”
“On our farm, close to the center of the state of Ohio.” Joseph answered as completely and accurately as he could, guessing at the information his great-niece was looking for.
“Who holds my legal guardianship?”
“Your parents, of course,” Marcy answered without hesitation.
Makaila expected that answer. “Are you one hundred percent sure?”
Joseph ran his hand over his head again. “No, we’re not. We’ve just assumed as much. I never asked.”
Marcy put a hand on Makaila’s arm again. “If not your parents, then who?”
“More like what, not whom.” She needed to know who pulled the strings of her life. “This’ll be a matter of public record. We can find out. Might even be in the papers you signed to accept me. If you want to keep me here because I’m so cute and adorable, we’re going to have to know who can yank me outta here.”
Joseph looked at his wife. “Never thought of that.” His eyes went wide. “I thought once we got you here, it would be up to the three of us.”
“Think again. I don’t care what stories you heard or what you think. You really have no idea what I’ve been through.”
Joseph’s eyes watered, looking into the soft white face of the child. “Understood. And, you can understand this.” He took his wife’s hand. “Not while we have breath.”
Dismissing the vow as close to meaningless, Makaila pressed on. “Why am I here?”
Joseph answered quickly. “Because we thought it was wrong for you to be where you were. It just wasn’t right.” Joseph heard Makaila was bright, he hadn’t guessed just how bright. He was spellbound by the interrogation coming from the thirteen-year-old. He understood why she could instill such fear in so many people.
“That’s the short answer.” Makaila finished her hot chocolate. “Any chance of getting some coffee? It’s a passion of mine and it’s been so long, I can’t remember what it tastes like.” She waved her cup. “Please. I really need to understand the long answer.”
With a nod from Joseph, Marcy left for the kitchen. He ran his hand over his scalp again and rolled his eyes. “I’m your father’s-father’s brother.”
“My great uncle.” Makaila pulled her feet onto the chair to get comfortable for a long story. She nodded with her chin on her knees.
“We get a family newsletter about once every two months, but it’s not really news. More like gossip. Everyone who gets the letter, just about, will let your Aunt Harriet, my cousin, know news in and about the family by phone, letter or who-knows-what. She types it up and sends it to family.”
Makaila bit her lip with a nod. “I think I’ve seen one of them.”
“Musta been a while ago. Your dad had a falling out with his dad and kinda withdrew from the family. Years ago. Gossips have their ways and your story hit the letter with no details at all and not even your name. Ma and I were concerned. Made some calls, wrote some letters and hit some walls.
“I don’t know how or why, but a lawyer contacted us. He must have danced naked under the full moon and sacrificed the right animals because, here you are.” Joseph laughed. “He was really a godsend because we had no idea what to do.”
“Why did you even care?” Makaila shifted on her chair.
Marcy placed a mug in front of her.
Makaila held her hand up to stop the conversation. She closed her eyes, inhaling the rich aroma of the coffee. With a sweep of her arms, her hands came to the mug and moved the mug to her lips. With wide eyes, she proclaimed: “There is a God!” She nodded to Joseph. “Why did you even care?”
Joseph smiled, understanding the joy of simple pleasures sometimes denied. “I told you already.”
Makaila looked toward the ceiling. “Because I’m family and I’m in trouble?”
“I don’t understand.”
He leaned on his elbows. “Then just accept it for the moment and trust understanding will come.”
“I’m not sure I can trust anything for now.” She squirmed again on her chair.
Joseph smiled. “All you really need to do for the moment is relax. If you have no more questions, Ma and I are going to get some sleep. We’re farmers and you’ll find out soon that means it’s well past our bedtime.” Joseph stood up. “Your room’s at the top of the steps. Ours is right there.” He pointed to a door a few feet off the adjoining living room. “If you need anything at all, don’t hesitate to come right in and wake us up.”
Makaila felt she must have betrayed her surprise. Joseph added with a laugh: “No, we don’t have locks on the doors.”
Her new caretakers left her alone at the table with her thoughts.
“You are a crayfish.” Makaila nodded to the creature on the clay two feet in front of her. “You’re not a rock that disappears.” She watched the crayfish watching her. “You’re like this crab that lives in fresh water so there’s like mud not too far down, huh?” The crayfish didn’t answer. She was glad for small favors. “I’ve seen you guys in the creek but didn’t realize you’d be like in the cornfield.” Makaila nodded twice, firmly, to the crustacean. “And, you’re just as scared of me as I was scared of you!” She reached for the crayfish. The lobster-like creature moved so quickly into its hole, it seemed to disappear.
Over the next hour, Makaila sat on the clay pondering the crayfish, watching its head peek out the hole and disappear again. She wondered why the creature would be afraid of her and wondered what that fear felt like. “What does a crayfish think about, if a crayfish thinks at all?”
The farm was a different world. Makaila could imagine the farm a different planet. They didn’t have television or Internet access. They had one old radio, a small county newspaper, which came once a week by mail, the nearest neighbor was two miles north and the house was so far off the road, when a car was heard, the beat of gravel meant a visitor. At night, the air came alive with the sound of insects and the sky radiated a canopy enriched with stars like she had never seen before.
Standing, she checked the late August sun’s location, reached out and carefully snapped off an ear of corn. With her back to the slope and the house, she continued on her way, letting the firm kernels burst sweetness in her mouth. When she first arrived on the farm, the cornstalks barely reached her knee. She was amazed watching the stalks race toward the sky. She saw corn in cans and even on the ear, boiled in a pot of water or wrapped in tin foil and placed on a grill. She never imagined where corn actually came from. Corn was a living thing coming from the dirt under her feet and the efforts of people like her great uncle. In a limited way, the field, which she watched each day while drinking her first cup of coffee in the dimness of early morning, was brought forth by her efforts, too.
Tasting the corn was like tasting her life and the lives of Pops and Ma. In her mind, her life and the life of the corn started at much the same time. She knew she had a life before she was pulled from the ambulance and she knew someday she must turn around and face that life. She also knew as she moved quickly toward the creek, she didn’t need think about it.
Makaila pulled her shoes off, sat on a grassy overhang and dropped her feet into the cool water of the creek. She watched the minnows, sunfish, crayfish and occasional small snake in the water. In the distant background, she listened to the tractor far off. She knew Pops was cutting the south field and by the sound, she followed him in her mind. With her eyes closed, she could see Pops and the pattern he cut.
Then, the tractor’s engine puttered once and fell silent.
Makaila put her mind around the missing sound of the distant engine, imagining why Pops would stop. She grabbed her shoes and set out at a dead run across the creek and through the woods. She could think of no reason for him to cease his work. When she broke the woods, she saw the reason.
Josephine sat alone at the picnic table watching her family. Old men tossed horseshoes while younger people ate and danced, mostly danced. Children jumped in and out of the wading pool. As a teenager, she couldn’t not dance. Now in her mid-thirties, she couldn’t disconnect her body from her mind and let go. She almost didn’t feel part of the family any longer – almost.
A voice followed a nudge on her arm. “Your mother tells me congratulations are in order.” An elderly man dropped down beside her, offering a cold beer.
She smiled shyly, accepting the bottle. “Yeah. Made detective last winter.”
“Isn’t that something. Of all these low-lifes.” He waved his hand over the gathering. “Someone besides me makes good.”
She laughed. “Well, I can arrest ‘em and you can put ‘em back on the street.”
“True story, Josephine. Dirty work, but someone’s gotta do it.” He leaned toward her. “Seriously though. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you in a white-centric and male-centric world.”
She pulled long on her bottle. “It works both ways, Uncle George.” Her eyes narrowed. “I’ve earned everything I’ve gotten, yet sometimes people think I’m not qualified because they think it was handed to me. A lot of times I get dismissed because I’m black or a woman.” She paused. “Or both.”
“Or you get dismissed because you’re just plain wrong?”
She smirked grimly. “That too, but keep that under your hat.” She drained her bottle. “The official policies offer at least the semblance of respect, so it really works both ways. It’s just sad we have to have rules and regulations to force people to be civil and do the right thing.”
He put a hand on her knee. “If you ever have someone cross the line and need a lawyer, you know who to call.”
“Never been a doubt.”
“So how’s your love life? Do we have a wedding on the horizon or anything?”
She rolled her eyes at the question she heard a dozen times in three hours. She hadn’t had a serious date since a week before she entered the academy over sixteen years before. She let out a long sigh. “No, nothing like that for me, not in the near future.”
George pointed toward the group of children in the wading pool on the far side of the yard. “That’s too bad.”
“I just don’t want to be distracted right now.”
“From?” He leaned back, watching her.
“I joined the police so I could make a difference in the world.”
Elbows on her knees, she looked toward the ground. “Maybe not as much as I thought I would.”
“I worked my butt off to get through law school and become a lawyer so I could change the world, really make a difference. And, I have, but not near as much as my youth told me I would. You do the best you can, and that has to be good enough.”
“Grandpa!” A child ran up. “There’s a man with ice-cream out front! Can I get some!”
Josephine grabbed the child by the arm. “Stay here.” She rushed to the front of the house, producing her .38 on the way. When she saw the ice cream truck, she tucked her weapon behind her back and approached through the small group of children.
She showed her badge. “I want to see some I.D. and your vendor’s license.”
The operator, no more than twenty years old, waved a hand. “Get outta here. I’ve had this route all summer and no one’s said a word.”
Josephine, keeping eye contact, told the children to get back. In one motion, she spread her feet and leveled the .38. “Let me see your hands and make sure I keep seeing ‘em.”
The man froze.
George came up behind Josephine. “Problem?”
“Wait! I have a permit and a license!” He moved just a little.
George stepped between Josephine and the truck, pushing the pistol down. “Relax. This is Larry. He’s been on this route all year. You’re making a mistake.”
Josephine glared, then softened. “I still want to see the paperwork.”
She checked the paperwork, got in her car and left without saying goodbye to anyone. She knew she’d hear about it Monday morning, but she also had the excited face of the child burned into her mind as the child said: There’s a man with ice-cream out front can I get some?
She meant to go home, instead she found herself saying: “Bourbon, rocks. Make it the good stuff,” to the bartender at Charlie’s, one of the local cop bars.
“We got nothing but good stuff, Jo.” The bartender placed the glass on the bar. “Don’t usually see you until the sun goes down. You okay?”
“Right as rain.” She drained half the glass and placed a finger near the bottom. “When it gets down to here, fill it.”
After two hours and an uncounted number of refills, a large bulk of a man dropped down on a stool.
She laughed a little. “I was wondering when you were going to find me, Sarge.”
“I tried the house first. This was my third guess.” He didn’t turn from Josephine. “Draft, Mike. You want to tell me about it?”
“No. I don’t.”
“Too bad. You got no choice. You got lucky. I talked the lieutenant into letting me handle it.”
She leaned her elbows on the bar and looked him square in the face. “You’re loving this, aren’t you?”
“Let me tell you what’s going to happen. You’re going to tell me the story and explain why you did what you did. I’m going to tell you you’re a bad girl and not to do it again. Then, you’re going to say, okay, I promise.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “No one’s out to bust your chops, and you’re not getting anything in your jacket.”
Josephine produced a wallet-size school picture. “Sharon Watson, November 4, 1986. She was ten years old.”
The sergeant rolled his eyes and did his job: he listened. “What about her?”
“This was the first call I took point on. Missing child.” She drained her glass, signaling for a refill.
“And, I was young. I promised her mother and myself I’d find her kid.” She waved the picture. “This kid.” Tears welled in her eyes. “The only place I found her was in the dairy case.” She balled a fist of hair. “Hey! Where’s that drink?”
The glass was refilled.
Josephine turned on the stool to face her friend. “Carl, when the kid at our cook-out said there was a man out front with ice-cream, I thought it was him.” She grabbed his shoulders. “I thought it was him!” She shook his arm.
She produced another picture. “Lisa Rosato, age eleven, November 4, 1988.” She sighed. “I didn’t investigate this one, but I found it after this.” She placed another picture on the bar. “Georgeanne Crane, age twelve, November 4, 1990.” She put a finger on the picture. “This I investigated.” She placed three more pictures. “These weren’t mine either, but they’re all the same. Tracy Schoenfeld, age thirteen, November 4, 1992; Debbie Powers, age eleven, November 4, 1994; Carol Abbot, age twelve, November 4, 1996.” She slammed her hand down onto the pictures. “There’s a predator out there!”
Sergeant Carl Hagan scratched his chin. He was aware of her theory and the connections had been looked into. The thing all the cases had in common, other than the date, was absolutely no clues. The girls disappeared without a trace and without a witness. Also, though they were within a one hundred mile radius, they certainly weren’t in the same neighborhood.
He pulled on his beer and set the glass on the bar. “I follow that, but – and listen carefully to me – you can’t go pulling your gun on kids driving ice cream trucks. How much did you have to drink before this happened?”
She looked at him sideways. “A beer or two.” It was closer to six.
“Okay. I understand why you did it. Now understand this: this is not the Wild West and you must act with more restraint. You better get your thinking cap on and keep it on.” He tilted his head at her. “Got me?”
“Yeah. I got you. I was a bad girl, and I’ll never do it again.”
“Good. Now let me take you home.”
The numbness brought about from alcohol didn’t do any good any longer, but the habit was driven by failure. She kept returning to the dry well over and over again. With bourbon over ice next to her and Internet access, she once again cross-referenced missing children reported in November 1998 and didn’t find anything to fit the profile. She again checked November 1997 with the same result.
Maybe he got a different hobby.
She stared at the map on the wall behind her computer and for an uncountable time, tried to figure out a pattern in the locations of the missing girls. She was sure they were linked but just didn’t know how. November 1999 raced at her and she knew another girl would go missing.
She sipped her bourbon as she sent the computer into sleep. “I’d sell my soul to solve this case.”
On the first night at the farm, after her new keepers left for bed, Makaila found her way to the upstairs bathroom and retreated into the warming comfort of a hot shower. The smell of clean water, shampoo and soap was like the balm of an ideal mother’s touch. She hadn’t been allowed a simple bar of soap.
“Someone could swallow it and choke to death,” she was told without asking. The showers, she thought hard and counted the number on her one hand she’d had in the past eighteen months, were cold water because: “We have found that hot water excites some of the patients.” Again, she didn’t ask. She often received invasive sponge baths, not meant for her benefit.
Patient was a public word only used in a formal setting and on the charts, reports and forms. Informally, the patients were referred to as slugs. With a group of odd medical students gathered around Makaila’s bed in the early morning, the director would say: “This slug has exhibited extreme antisocial behavior, violent in nature. The course of treatment is restraints, aversion, medications.” He’d show the list on the chart. “And, group integration and interaction.”
Group integration and interaction was a biweekly note, a mark on paper, on her chart, which went into her permanent record, a record of interest to no one. She wasn’t given many, if any of the medications. Medications were listed. Aversion was a catchall for any method of corrective and behavior modification techniques from speaking harshly to electrodes on the forehead. Restraints were exactly what restraints were, which she spent more time in than out of for no obvious reason.
Screams, shouts and voices day and night told Makaila she was not alone, not the only patient. She never saw anyone but stone-faced men, young and old, in white jackets.
Once in a great while, a naive student would ask: “What is the progress of her recovery?” or a question like it. The doctor would address the question with a look over his glasses as if he didn’t understand. After a brief moment of silence, he’d continue where he left off.
As the water caressed her, she was taken up into the dream. Makaila always had an overactive imagination, which certainly was not abnormal for a child. However, when she was six years old, her parents became concerned she didn’t understand imagination was not reality. She became disruptive in school and in the home. Makaila saw and heard things other people could not.
After a battery of tests and parade of therapists over the next three years, she was diagnosed as anything from a slightly abnormal child to paranoid schizophrenic with psychopathic tendencies. Her parents, mistaking myth, madness and trend for science, believed the worst. Programs were designed and drugs were prescribed. Any method put into place didn’t make a difference.
At one point, they even tried an exorcism – twice.
Makaila’s father would say: “I want her to be like the other children.”
Makaila’s mother nodded.
Soon after her ninth birthday, Makaila sat in the office of Doctor Charles Zogg. Dr. Zogg listened intensely to the parent’s request and nodded, dismissing them to the waiting room.
“Why are you here?” Zogg asked Makaila.
She fidgeted in the oversized leather chair in front of the large desk, Zogg towering over her like a judge from the bench.
“Don’t know.” She watched the floor.
Zogg chuckled a bit. “I don’t either.” He stood, spreading his arms to his sides. “Have a good look at me.” Zogg stood six-foot and stout. His hair was like rich walnut with gray on the sides, cascading two inches below his ears, thinning on top. “Retreating hairline,” he called it with a laugh. He wore a conservative dark blue suit, plain gray tie and white shirt. In his mid-fifties, he carried himself with conservative dignity and respect.
Makaila looked him over as requested.
“When your mom and dad come through the door, this.” He offered his palms. “Is what they want to see.” He removed his jacket and threw it on the floor soon to be followed by his shirt and tie. He stripped to his boxer shorts, his pants following the shirt and tie. From a nearby closet, he donned faded jeans and a red, yellow and black Hawaiian shirt. He sat on the floor next to Makaila, winking up at her. “I’m more comfortable. How about you?”
She climbed around in the large chair and looked toward the door. She laughed. In a moment of pure joy and epiphany as she never had in her short life, she said: “I think I get it.”
Zogg taught Makaila the dream. “Normal people develop a sense of right and wrong, and act on it without having to think about it. They think they know how they’re supposed to act and simply act that way.”
“Acting normal. Within the environment, sure. What you need to do is study people and see how they act. You have a short-circuited brain and don’t have a natural sense of right and wrong. You have to think about it and make decisions.”
Often life and events are too complex to understand at a glance with too much coming in all at once. As a tool for understanding the complex nature of what flowed around Makaila, Zogg taught a meditation he called the dream. Using her natural talent of imagination, she was able to remove herself from the environment, to a safe place, where she could work out questions.
The rhythm of the water pounding her, with the release of tension, launched Makaila into the dream. She stood, the lake behind her, her hiking boots in the sand. She wore her red plaid shirt and denim bibbed overalls. The canoe sat on the sand as always. Makaila thought about taking the boat out on the lake but was anxious to share the news with Cat. She went up the hill toward the one-room cabin.
Off the sandy beach, the bright sun in the clear sky overhead danced through the tall pines. The air smelled rich with the musk of moisture and decay. The slope wasn’t steep, still challenging to the legs, which helped a good deal in the months of atrophy. The doctors and attendants in the institution couldn’t understand why Makaila’s body and muscle structure didn’t waste away like the other patients.
Cat, sitting on the low porch of the cabin, smiled as Makaila approached. Cat leaned back in her chair with her feet on the rail, dressed similar to Makaila, her plaid shirt blue. “I missed you yesterday. Everything all right?”
“Everything’s dandy.” Makaila dropped onto the second chair. “I got sprung – surprise me!”
Cat, who could have been mistaken for Makaila’s twin sister, nodded. “It’s about time. So you won’t be coming as often?”
“Don’t know. Haven’t talked to Chuck yet.” She reached over and took Cat’s hand. “But, listen to this! I’m on this farm with my aunt and uncle.”
Cat stared down the slope and across the lake. “What do you make of that?” She rolled her eyes up in her head, just a moment. “Okay. I never realized you had an aunt and uncle with a farm. Now, I can see it.”
“You do! I don’t know much, they kinda like popped out of nowhere.”
Cat smiled. “Oh, you do and they are what they say. Nevertheless, watch your back anyway. Few people really own themselves.”
“That I’ve learned!”
“It’s great you’re out.” After you talk to Zogg, there’s some work we have to do.”
Makaila watched the sun through the trees. “What work?”
“It’s not important you know that now. You really need to get your feet back on the ground.”
The cooling water pulled Makaila back to reality. With her body scrubbed and hair clean, she shut the water off. “There is a God!”
About a year after learning the dream, within her imagination, Makaila climbed the hill to find the cabin and Cat. Makaila asked her name. Just Cat. That’s all you need know.
“You didn’t tell me there were other people in the dream, Dr. Zogg!” Makaila could barely contain herself. Zogg’s subtle body betrayed his surprise. “You didn’t know?”
Zogg laughed. “It just surprises me that you have gotten to this level this quickly.”
He regained control of his involuntary muscle response. Makaila couldn’t tell whether he was lying. “Are you telling me the truth?” she asked as a test question, which worked on most people. She knew it useless on Zogg.
“Why, of course, Mickie.” He spread his hands. “You see, the brain and the mind are wonderful things. The imagination really fuels existence as we know it. You learn the dream so that you can focus your thoughts. The stuff inside your head is going to want to give you feedback. To do this, your thoughts, in imagination, get personified. In your imagination, your mind creates someone to talk to.”
Makaila mulled his words around in her head. “Is that what people hearing God, angels and voices are all about?”
“Sure. It’s all voices from within.”
Having heard the tractor stop in the distance and rushing through the woods, Makaila found Joseph kneeling, blood up to his elbow, his fist wrapped around the old farm dog’s leg.
“Got in the cutter. Can’t let go of the leg.” He looked off toward the farmhouse, a mile north. “You gotta go get help.”
Makaila looked carefully at the combinations and permutations, the time to do this and time to do that. She nodded to Joseph. “Help is here.”
She tucked his ball cap back on his head.
“I watched you drive this tractor enough to get you back to the house.” She lifted the cutting bar, locking it in place. Joseph raised the dog in both arms, holding tight to the wound.
Makaila sat, went into a stare and duplicated the actions she saw Joseph do so many times. He climbed on the cutting bar platform. Makaila hooked an arm in his. “I’ve been wanting a shot at this, but not this way.”
He nodded, his brows furrowed and lips tight. “Just get us back to the house.”
Makaila wrestled with the tractor and wrestled to keep Joseph onboard. She was surprised, the faith he put in her, resolved to circumstances. He made a mistake in his vigil, safeguarding the cutting of the field. He knew the dog ran around the tractor chasing the rodents hiding within the hay. Joseph must have turned his attention for just a second, and he didn’t feel good about it.
At the house, Makaila flew inside, not finding Marcy. She thought to ring the bell, then thought again. She grabbed the truck keys and climbed in the driver’s side, Joseph already sat in the passenger side with the dog on his lap. Without a word, she started the truck and dropped the lever in drive.
Toward the end of the lane, Joseph let out a long sigh. “Did you ever drive one of these things before?”
She smiled at him sideways. “Ask me again in half an hour.”
Marcy carefully wrote the story and sent the letter to Aunt Harriet for the newsletter, with a note to make sure Makaila’s parents were put back on the list. Marcy didn’t refer to Makaila by name, simply calling her the city girl. Makaila wanted space to get a breath. Makaila wanted time to shake herself out. She didn’t want to touch, or be touched by, her past life just yet. Marcy respected that.
Makaila understood the dog’s life had value simply because Joseph said it did. She didn’t need to understand beyond that. She didn’t feel the dog was important, yet she could see by looking, Joseph felt the dog important. Thus, she acted accordingly.
The subject of death was complex, and Makaila didn’t fully understand. Even with the late hour of her first night, she woke, with the chickens, as Joseph called it. Before the sun found the day, still in her nightgown, Joseph took Makaila to the barn and showed her how to feed and water the chickens.
After breakfast, Marcy hung clothes on Makaila and took her to town. Makaila picked out bibbed overalls, hiking boots, high-top sneakers and plaid shirts. Marcy insisted on a couple of dresses just in case, which Makaila insisted would be denim and simple. Makaila didn’t have anything against dresses. She thought having a dress meant she’d leave the farm someday. She didn’t want to face that until later, if ever.
The wardrobe was easy to pick out. She imagined what people expected her to look like, the lesson she learned from Zogg’s first session. She didn’t think what she wore mattered much. Makaila did feel good in her new clothes and in her new home.
“Everyone’s gotta work around here,” Joseph told her the first day. Chores made her feel needed, wanted and a part of things like she never felt before. Chores gave structure to her life. Her first daily chore was feeding and watering the chickens.
The chickens weren’t caged-in as Makaila thought they’d be. They had the run of the farm, often straying across the fields, up to the house and down the lane. “They’ll come back,” Joseph told her. “They know where they’re fed.”
After filling the feeder and scattering feed around, Makaila topped the water off and then gathered eggs. Joseph pointed out six nests to leave alone. “We’ll get new chickens from ‘em.”
She ate eggs all her life and knew eggs came from chickens. She never connected the two as much as she did when she actually saw it.
The first week, Joseph walked to the barn with Makaila. “How about chicken for dinner?” He grabbed a chicken and smartly broke its neck. “This one will do.”
On the way back to the house, Joseph cradled the dead chicken in his arm. Makaila watched the open eyes and limp head bounce with each step. Her mind raced to understand. “But, killing’s wrong?” The only chicken she ever saw came in plastic.
“Not really, all the time. We live off the land, Makaila. Everybody does, it’s just those that don’t have farms leave the killing.” He displayed the chicken. “To us.”
“So killing’s good?” She watched the chicken bounce.
“In this case, killing’s very good. We eat the chicken and it gives us life.” He rubbed the top of her head. “The corn has life as does the potato and even herbs from Ma’s garden. We eat these things and get life.”
“I get it.” She made a mental note to ask Cat. She spent the morning learning to pluck, clean and butcher a chicken under the skilled guidance of Marcy.
The next morning before breakfast, Makaila filled the feeder, watered the chickens, gathered the eggs and promptly caught a chicken and broke its neck. On the third attempt at the twisting, the chicken fell limp. She set it carefully on the ground, ran down another, breaking its neck in one twist. With a nod, she placed it with the other chicken.
By the time Joseph came running to see what all the commotion was, Makaila had twenty chickens in a neat pile, about half the flock.
“Fiddlesticks!” He grabbed her by the shoulders as she dispatched another bird. “What are you doing!” He screamed in her face, dropping to his knees, shaking her.
Makaila froze, the appearance of the angry face in hers. She dropped her latest victim, her eyes to the ground. She waved a hand to the pile and raised tearful eyes to Joseph. “I thought I was doing good, Pops.” She tried to break away and run. He held her fast.
He looked at the child’s massacre. Fear filled him, thinking maybe the stories were true. He wanted to hit her. He wanted to protect himself. He wanted to yell again. Joseph took a deep breath instead, stood and held the child to him. He knew nothing could be gained acting out of anger. He felt the jerking of the sobbing child on his chest and listened to her cry.
He let moments pass alone with his thoughts, reflecting back on the day before. In his anger, he first thought she brought this with her. He released her and knelt again, producing his handkerchief. He carefully wiped her face. “Makaila, I’m sorry I yelled at you. I didn’t mean to. I was surprised and you know when you get surprised, like something jumps out at you, you yell. Understand me?”
She sniffed and nodded, carefully analyzing his face muscles and subtle body. She determined his anger had passed, replaced by mostly confusion but also fear. She looked at the combinations and permutations of events, trying to connect his reaction to her actions and see where her mistake was.
He sighed a long sigh, smiling the best he could. “Can you tell me why you did this? It doesn’t matter that you did this, it really doesn’t. What matters is that I understand why.”
“I thought I was doing good.” She looked toward the ground again. “I thought I was giving us life.”
Joseph stood, holding her again. “Oh, Makaila, this is my fault, not yours. You simply misunderstood what I said.”
The sun peeked from behind the house. Makaila pushed away and went to the pile of death. “We can’t eat all these for dinner tonight!”
Joseph removed his hat, ran a hand over his head and then snugged the hat back in place. “Nope.”
“I screwed up?” She turned from the pile to face Joseph. “I screwed up.” She nodded.
“You did.” He mocked her nod. “But, we can fix it.”
Makaila tried to think of how.
“Oh, you city girls. We’ll just have to take a trip over to see Ruby today.” He raised his eyebrows. “Ruby’s a butcher.”
Makaila lit up. “Chicken in plastic!”
Joseph nodded again. “Yup.” It was brown freezer wrap and not plastic. The idea was the same.
Ruby Mulberry was a pleasant man of large stature, both in body and community. He, like his father before him and his father before that, butchered and wrapped the livestock of his neighbors in exchange for a portion of the product.
“So you’re the young lady from back east?” Ruby asked as they unloaded the truck.
“Yeah.” Makaila held his eyes.
“Little early for the chickens?” Ruby addressed Joseph with a raised eyebrow.
“Well, you get around to things when you get around to things.”
“Can you do chickens?” Ruby asked Makaila.
Joseph nodded. “She’s done one.”
“Good. Leave the kid with me, and come back this afternoon.”
Joseph hesitated. Makaila took his hand. “I’ll be okay. Promise.”
Ruby put his arm around her shoulder. “Deal, then. I’ll even show you how to do a pig.”
Years of experience and skilled hands flew over a bird as Makaila watched in amazement. Ruby was better and quicker than Ma. Ruby told stories as he worked. Makaila realized he didn’t want help as much as he wanted company. She was allowed to watch.
As Ruby finished and wrapped the third bird, Makaila said: “Race you.”
He laughed aloud. “You? Race me?”
“Sure – why not?”
Ruby found an apron and gloves. “No handicap now.”
“Didn’t ask for one. One at a time or you want to go for five?”
He laughed again. “I’ll let you do one while I watch. I’ll give you some tips. Then, we’ll race.”
“I thought you said no handicap.” She placed a bird on the table and recalled what Ruby did. She shifted her consciousness and let her hands duplicate the actions. She was stiff. She was good.
As she applied the last piece of tape on the wrap, Ruby said: “You’ve only done this once?” He leaned toward her. “I think you’re a ringer.”
“Twice now. Do I get one more for practice?”
“Not a chance. I got my pride, you know.”
Ruby beat her easily through the five birds, but not soundly. She was on the fifth bird when he finished. “Very well done! You want to do the pig?”
She looked up at him. “I can’t. I’ve never seen it done.”
He thought looking toward the ceiling, tapping his chin with a finger. “You mean to tell me you learned to do the chickens just by watching me?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “You did. You cut ‘em up just like I do.”
“It’s a gift.”
“Well, if I ever need any help, I know who to call. Let’s get some lunch.”
As Makaila loaded boxes into the back of the truck, Joseph told Ruby: “Hope she wasn’t too much of a bother.”
“She didn’t get in the way too much.” Ruby winked. “She’s got good hands.”
Joseph was relieved. The chickens demonstrated as smart as Makaila was, she easily misunderstood things. Joseph told Marcy they’d have to be careful how they presented information.
“It’s not Makaila’s fault she doesn’t understand.”
“She’s not home.” No answer came from the receiver. “Did you hear me?”
He looked at the clock on the wall beside the door across his office. 4:05 P.M. “Maybe she went straight to that doctor’s.”
“They haven’t seen her, just got off the phone.”
He tried to imagine what kind of trouble his daughter got herself into this time. “Well, Cass, maybe she just got involved at a friend’s house or something like that.” Maybe she’s lying dead somewhere and that’ll solve a mess of problems.
“She’s never missed an appointment, not in three years. She wouldn’t miss an appointment. I don’t know what to do.”
A head appeared around his office door. “Got a few minutes, Ruddy?” His teen aide danced like she had to pee.
Waving the young woman in, he said into the telephone: “I don’t know what you expect me to do. I’ve got problems of my own here. This place doesn’t run itself, you know. I’ll be home regular time. We’ll talk about it then.” He hung up without waiting for a response. “More boyfriend problems?”
Catherine Carleton slammed the receiver onto the telephone body, dislodging it from the wall to hang from the wire. “Damn him! Damn her!”
Sixteen-year-old Larry rushed into the kitchen. “What is it, Mom?”
Makaila had been a parent’s worst nightmare, always in trouble and always doing or saying the wrong thing. Not a week would go by the school or a neighbor didn’t call. When she was six and seven, the therapists said it was just a phase she’d outgrow. It wasn’t and she didn’t. Nothing seemed to work until Dr. Zogg came along when she was nine years old.
Makaila wasn’t much better.
She took well to Zogg and only seemed to act better. Makaila developed the unnerving habit of staring for the longest time, as if she had x-ray vision, before responding to anything. Catherine and her husband, Ralph, watched Makaila’s every move and knew eventually something horrible would happen. Catherine didn’t know why her daughter couldn’t be more like Larry. Catherine and Ralph knew something was terribly wrong with Makaila. They had Larry to compare.
“Your sister’s not home.” She clenched her teeth.
Larry looked at the dangling telephone. “She missed her appointment?”
“What did the police say?”
“I didn’t call.”
Larry swung the telephone around, twisted the wire to get a dial tone and punched 9-1-1. He lied, sort of. “My mom’s a mess and standing right here. My twelve-year-old sister is special-needs and can’t really care for herself. She’s missing.” After giving the address, he tried to reinstall the telephone, couldn’t, ripped the wires free and threw the mess across the kitchen. “They’re sending a car over.” His face reddened. “I’m riding over to the school to look for her.”
To Larry, his sister was impossible to understand. She had the social skills of a paperweight, always stepping on toes or goring sacred cows, all unintentionally. As unsettling as it was, Larry knew she was rarely wrong in her observations. He spent much of his time running interference or protecting her.
Larry would meet Makaila and walk her home from school most days, an obligation he took upon himself. No matter what anyone thought about Makaila, even his parents, he happened to like her, and not just because she was his sister. He saw her as a special person, something he couldn’t find within himself.
After school, he passed Makaila on his way to the library. In his mind, as he rode his bicycle back toward the school, he brought up the image of her back as she walked away. He wondered whether this would be the last image he’d have of her. He stopped to ask anyone and everyone if they’d seen her. Pausing briefly in front of the school where he saw her last, imagining he could pick up her scent, he followed the path they always walked.
On one of the secluded streets between the main streets, he found her small, red Harbrace along the curb. He scanned the rows of townhouses and banged on nearby doors. Waving the book, he described his sister and asked whether anyone saw her. No one had.
He returned home.
Larry skidded to a stop just as the two police officers came down the walk. “I found this!” He offered the book.
The two looked at each other and then back to Larry.
“It’s Makaila’s book. I know it is!” No one else in his school had a college Harbrace.
“We’ll look into it.” They continued to the car.
“Don’t you want to know where I found it?”
The older of the two police officers turned on him. “Look kid. With her history of mental problems, she’s probably just wandered off somewhere and will come back when she gets hungry.”
“Mental problems! Mental problems! She doesn’t have any mental problems!” He grabbed the policeman’s arm. “You gotta do something!”
The police officer sighed. “We are.” He showed the clipboard. “We’re going to file the report and be on the lookout for her.”
“Makaila! Makaila! Her name’s Makaila!” Tears raged in his eyes. “Why won’t anyone use her name?” He dropped to the ground, holding Makaila’s book to his chest. The police officers climbed in their patrol car and drove off as another car pulled to a stop.
Josephine McCarthy never took sick days, personal days or requested time off, with one exception. Each year, she requested November 4 well in advance as a personal day. November 4, 1997 she woke early, reviewed her notes and brought her four police scanners on line. She reviewed files, crosschecked notes, made guesses and jotted new notes as to what questions to ask and of whom.
And, she prayed. She prayed what she was listening for in the squelch and static of the scanners would never come. She hoped what she listened for would come, so there’d be more to correlate. She prayed it would never come.
After hours of file searching on the Internet, a scanner came to life at 4:17 P.M. Josephine scribbled the address and was out the door. She arrived just in time to see the patrol car pulling away.
She showed her badge to the child sitting on the pavement and lied, identifying herself as a detective. Larry told her the story and showed her the book.
“Let’s take a ride. Show me exactly where you found it.” Armed with the book and a picture of Makaila from Larry’s wallet, Josephine spent two hours canvassing the two-block area with no positive results.
Close to 7:00, Josephine walked into the Carleton house with Larry. She showed her badge and told the same lie. Ralph gave Larry a hard look, informed his son he was thirty minutes late for dinner and sent Larry to his room. Larry moved to protest, but with a glare from his father, he left without a word.
Ralph arrived home from work at 6:00 P.M. six days a week. He sat in front of the television, watched the news and drank two beers, six days a week. Dinner was promptly on the table at 6:30, six days a week. Turning on Josephine, Ralph summarily dismissed her. “You go do whatever detectives do. I have my dinner to finish.”
“I just have some questions –”
“Aren’t you good with the language? I said get out!”
She looked at her notes. “Your daughter is missing, Mr. Carleton.” She pointed her pen at him. “This won’t take long.”
Taking Josephine by the elbow, he opened the front door and pushed her outside, slamming the door.
Ralph looked around the curtain to make sure she was leaving. “Some nerve.” He returned to finish his dinner. “Making Larry miss dinner. He at least should have known better.”
“Larry’s worried about his sister, Ruddy.”
“Damn beer got warm, get me another.” He slammed the bottle down on the table. “I’m worried about getting the phone fixed. I’m worried about what this is going to cost us this time. I’m worried you’re going to keep me up half the night until she decides to come home.” He opened the bottle and drained half. “I can’t even finish dinner!” He waved his hand over the empty plate. “Clean these dishes up.” He climbed to his feet. “It’s time I had a serious talk with our son.”
Gathering dishes, she watched her husband’s back as he left the room. She was relieved his anger was directed away from her for a while at least.
Josephine stared at Makaila’s picture for a long time. She typed the data into a file and wrote the information on the back of the print. She sat back in her chair, comparing the standard profile. With a sip of bourbon, she wrote runaway with a question mark on the back of Makaila’s picture. Little doubt the child was at a friend’s house or some other hiding place.
“But, what about the book?”
Larry prayed, listening to his father shouting some place in the house. He wasn’t raised with religion, his father saying religion nonsense. Larry listened to his friends speak of God and faith and in the dark, in those moments, he wanted to believe in God and His angels who protect children. He didn’t know how to pray. He was told to just ask God for what he wanted.
Larry asked God to protect Makaila and keep her safe.
He knew he couldn’t sleep, lost to time until he felt a hand shaking him. Coming awake, he saw the glow of the clock showing a little after 5:00 A.M. In the fog of half-consciousness, he heard: “You gotta do something for me and you gotta really, really promise.”
Larry sat straight up. “Makaila!”
“Sh. You gotta hide this and keep it safe for me.” She forced her purse into his chest. “Don’t look in it, don’t give it to anyone, don’t tell anyone you have it.”
He nodded quickly. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. But, I don’t know for how long. I think I’m in big trouble.” She paused. “I’m not sure. I gotta talk to Dr. Zogg.” She put a hand on his cheek. “Keep it safe no matter what?”
He nodded quickly again against the darkness.
“Stay here. Keep your door closed no matter what.”
He nodded again, this time with unseen tears on his cheeks. “I love you, Makaila.”
She melted into the darkness.
Falling back on his bed, Larry yelled a prayer to God in his head.
Makaila punched the numbers on the telephone in the upstairs hall. After three rings, a sleepy voice said: “Hello?”
One strong hand grabbed her by the arm, another ripped the receiver from her, slamming the handset back onto the cradle. In the darkness, a voice hammered from above: “Where have you been all night!” A palm raked across her face, sending her to the floor.
“I gotta talk to Dr. Zogg!”
Ralph bent to find her face in the darkness, the hall light sprang to life. Catherine screamed. Ralph stepped back. “Good God Almighty!” He swallowed hard. “What have you done?”
Makaila erupted in tears. “I gotta talk to Dr. Zogg!”
Ralph dragged her to her feet, threw her in the hall closet and propped a chair against the knob. He banged the buttons on the phone. “Yeah, it’s an emergency. What’d you think? There’s been a murder.”
Larry did as told. He stayed in his room, the door shut. With clenched teeth and tearful eyes, he ripped the seam of his large teddy bear, worked his sister’s purse inside and carefully redid the stitching. He worked slowly to keep his hands busy. He wanted to rush into the hallway. He wanted to protect his sister. He knew the best thing he could do, maybe the only thing he could do, was exactly what Makaila told him to do.
Makaila’s first response was to throw her body against the door, which lasted about two minutes. She gulped back the panic and the tears, sitting in the dark, gathering her thoughts. She waited. She realized the risk in coming home, she also knew she had to give Larry the purse.
“She’s upstairs in the closet,” Ralph told the police officer at the door. “Just take her out of here.” He turned, walking back toward the kitchen.
The police officer flipped his note pad open. “Could you please give me some details?”
Ralph didn’t turn. “See for yourself. Be careful. She’s dangerous.”
Catherine returned to her bedroom, closing the door.
With guns drawn, they opened the door finding Makaila balled up on the floor with wet eyes, a red face and her clothes stained red. The officers looked at each other, holstering their guns. The younger of the two dropped to a knee. “Hello. My name’s Mike. What’s yours?”
She looked from one to the other. “Makaila.”
“Can you tell me what happened here, Makaila?”
“She came home that way,” Ralph said from behind them. “Just take her away.”
Mike looked to his partner. With a shared nod, his partner led Ralph away. “Let me ask you some questions for background.”
Mike turned back to the child. “Did someone hurt you, Makaila?”
She shook her head.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
Again, she shook her head.
“Can you tell me why you can’t tell me?”
“I need to talk to Dr. Zogg.” Her voice was controlled, soft.
“Okay. If you tell me where this happened, then you can talk to Dr. Zogg.” He smiled. “How’s that sound?”
From the rear seat, Makaila directed Mike over about three miles of streets. She pointed to a tenement building. “Up there – 306.”
“I’ll go,” Mike told his partner, leaving the car quickly returning with a white face and tears in his eyes. He tore Makaila from the backseat, slammed her against the car and handcuffed her brutally, returning her to the backseat.
“My God. My God,” he cried into the open microphone. “We need help here. We need a supervisor. My God. My God.” Sirens came to life in the distance.
“Can I talk to Dr. Zogg now?” Makaila asked with a whimper.
Mike put his gun in her face. “You can shut up now!”
“Mike!” His partner glared.
Mike holstered his weapon. “You don’t know, my God, you just don’t know.”
Makaila left for the Dream.