Dad is happy to see me getting interested in helping him. He prints out the reports I want, the individual timelines and the initial police interviews of everyone in the park when Carly was taken.
Lindsey, Chase, Trevor and I decide to get together at Lindsey’s house where there’s a game room we can work in. This also gives me a place to put any and all info Dad prints out where it won’t be found if our house ever gets searched. The first thing we decide to do is make a complete list of the events in the park as they happened, all culled from the various interviews and timelines.
It takes us a while because there are lots of details we have to look at, and almost all of them seem to have nothing to do with anything. But we use Lindsey’s laptop to list everything in a spreadsheet so it can be looked at critically. There is a lot that simply can’t have anything to do with Carly disappearing. We eliminate that stuff. We have to, because there’s too much information, otherwise. We come up with a scenario of what happened as I’ve written it down:
12:05 – Mom has lunch with a friend at a restaurant, takes Carly with her because Mrs. Banner isn’t available till later. Mom drops Carly off at Mrs. B’s house after lunch, takes friend back to her home before returning to her own office. [from interview with Mom]
1:30 – Mrs. Banner brings Carly to the park. Carly sees her friend Lisa, age 3, and joins her on the grass with several other kids. Mrs. B sits on a bench where she can see Carly. A friend, Lisa’s mother, a Mrs. Stewart, joins Mrs. B as she is watching her own daughter Lisa. [from interviews with Mrs. Banner and Mrs. Stewart]
1:45 – Mom drives by the park, taking her friend home, waves at Carly who sees her and waves back. Mrs. B waves, too, but Mom doesn’t see or acknowledge her. [from interviews with Mom, Mrs. Banner and Mrs. Stewart]
1:50 – Carly wants to go on the swings. Mrs. B pushes Carly, and Mrs. S pushes Lisa till the women get tired. They sit back down, and Carly and Lisa join in with some other little kids of various ages on the grass. [from interviews with Mrs. Banner and Mrs. Stewart. Several other witnesses confirm the two girls were being pushed on the swings by the women]
2:00 – The children in the park get up a game of hide-and-go-seek. Mrs. B watches as Carly and Lisa hide behind a large oak tree together. The game continues, with kids finding other hiding places. Mrs. B says she always stays aware of where Carly is during that game, though Carly sometimes is not visible when she chooses a hiding place where she can’t be seen from the bench where Mrs. B is sitting. [from interviews with Mrs. Banner, Mrs. Stewart, other witnesses]
2:10 – Lisa comes over to Mrs. Stewart, tells her she and Carly are going to the drinking fountain to get a drink with the other kids. Mrs. Stewart says OK. She and Mrs. Banner watch as Lisa runs back to collect Carly. Lisa is bumped by someone running. Lisa falls down, but gets back up, and runs back to where she left Carly. Several other kids are now milling around while others are drinking or are in line to do so, and the women can’t really see Carly in the group. They can see Lisa so assume that’s where Carly is. They focus on Lisa. [from interviews with Mrs. Banner, Mrs. Stewart, others in the park]
2:10 – Other witnesses report a car’s brakes squealing in the street on the other side of the park. The car hits another, and both cars are disabled. One of the drivers suffers a sprained wrist and a cut on the forehead. Mrs. B says she looks in that direction, but not for more than a moment or two. [from several people in the park and a subsequent police and ambulance report]
2:15 – The drinking fountain is near one gate in the fence surrounding the park, a good distance from Mrs. Banner’s bench. The other gate is in plain view but across a large expanse of grass. The kids get drinks, and Mrs. B sees Lisa move away with another girl after drinking. She thinks that girl is Carly because she’s the right size and hair color and is wearing blue jeans and a white tee shirt like Carly was. When the girl turns around, Mrs. B sees it isn’t Carly. She gets up and hurries to the fountain. No sign of Carly. She asks Lisa where Carly is, and Lisa looks around and says she doesn’t know, and she hasn’t seen her since she got permission to get a drink with the other kids. [from interviews with Mrs. Banner, Mrs. Stewart, several other witnesses]
2:20 Worried, Mrs. B looks at all the kids in the park, then calls Mom, then calls the police. They show up almost immediately and begin canvassing the park, not letting anyone leave. Mom shows up at the park. Mrs. B. and Mom become frantic. Lisa says she didn’t see Carly disappear, and is upset enough by all the fuss to begin crying. [from interviews with mom, Mrs. Banner, Mrs. Stewart, Lisa, several witnesses]
There is a lot more, of course. Much, much more. Reducing it down carefully and concisely is a struggle and takes some time. But all these details are corroborated, and we have to assume they are true to give us a starting point.
It appears that whoever took Carly managed to get her away from the group of kids by the drinking fountain. It took the group some time for everyone to get a drink, and some were lining up while others were milling about. The gate to the park was right near them, and it seems someone could have come through it into the park, taken Carly, and left.
Except, from the witness statements, no one saw this happen. The children were all carefully questioned by an experienced interviewer trained not to lead the children and none of them had seen an adult do that. Of course, the children ranged in age from two and a half to four and a half. They weren’t the most reliable interview subjects.
No adults in the park had seen that happen, either. A few had been watching the kids get drinks, and no adults had been seen approaching the children or coming anywhere near them. A strange adult approaching small children would certainly have been seen by someone, and it would have set off alarms in many of the nannies.
Also, I knew Carly, and I doubted she’d go with a strange adult without making a fuss. And a fussy, noisy kid like Carly would have been noticed.
It was a mystery. I could see why Dad thought there was no obvious way to look at this set of facts and figure out who had taken Carly. He thought she would only be found by looking at what people said and did and wrote after the fact. That’s what he was doing.
After going over the reports, I’d be discouraged with what we’ve seen, except we haven’t tried Lindsey’s idea yet, and I think that idea has promise.
We talk about what happened and try to imagine what could have happened that would fit with the facts as we have them. We’r kids, and we have great imaginations, but it is difficult to come up with anything that’s plausible.
We decide to forget about figuring out how it happened. That doesn’t seem to be the way we’ll find Carly. We decide to try Lindsey’s idea.
“How are we going to do this?” Chase asks. He’s sitting on the floor with his back to the sofa. Trevor is sitting next to him, almost close enough to touch, even though it’s a large room. I keep glaring at Trevor. It doesn’t do any good; he doesn’t move farther away. And he never meets my eyes.
“We’ve got all the telephone numbers for everyone in the park that day, don’t we?” Lindsey asks me. I’ve already said we do, but she’s being businesslike, so I don’t remind her of that. I simply say we do.
“OK, then. We call each one. What do we say? We don’t want it to sound goofy.”
They all look at me. Except Trevor, who is looking at Chase. Well, it’s hard for me to blame him—Chase is cute.
“Trevor,” I say, “what do you think?”
Finally, he shifts his eyes to me. Looking very innocent, he says, “We should ask to speak to the person whose number we’re calling.” He stopped there. But it was a good idea. We shouldn’t assume the person who answered was who we thought it was.
“I know,” says Chase. “Tell them we’re selling magazine subscriptions and they get a free subscription to any magazine they want if they buy three years of anything else—or three one-year subscriptions.”
Trevor says, “Great idea.”
I look at both of them, disgusted. “And what if they say OK?” I ask. Chase starts to speak, then stops. Trevor says, “Oh, yeah.” And Lindsey says, “They probably wouldn’t say anything. I wouldn’t. I’d just hang up.”
“Right! So, what do we say?”
“You think of something,” Chase says, and slides an inch farther away from Trevor.
“OK.” I scratch my head, then say, “We want to know if the person on the list still lives there. So asking to speak to them might end up telling us that without anything else. But, if we get something like ‘She’s not available right now; would you like to leave a message?’, we won’t learn anything at all. We need to say something that’ll determine if the person is still in town, still at that address.”
“I know!” Trevor is looking at me for a change and isn’t drooling. “Tell them we’re the police department and need to re-interview the person and want to set up an appointment for this afternoon.”
“That’s good!” I say, “except I think it’s illegal, pretending to be a policemen.”
“Not if,” says Chase, sitting up straighter. “Not if Lindsey calls and identifies herself as a police department secretary, calling to make an appointment. It might be lying, but it wouldn’t be impersonating a sworn police officer.”
“A sworn police officer?” I say, trying unsuccessfully to keep the sarcasm down to a dull roar.
“So maybe I watch too many police shows on TV, but see, it’s paying off!” Chase’s enthusiasm is unaffected by my sarcasm.
“It is a good idea,” Lindsey pipes up. “If the person isn’t in town, they can’t make an appointment that quickly. If they left the area, I don’t think they would have chosen a place to stay anywhere close by. So maybe we can tell from what the person on the phone is saying whether the person from the park is still around or not. It would be a good place to start.”
“Uh,” says Trevor.
“What?” I say. I may sound a little brusque. He’s almost in my boyfriend’s lap!
He looks up at me, sees the look on my face, and scrunches maybe an inch farther away from Chase. Hah! He knows what he’s doing! It hasn’t been chance. And he feels guilty about it! He knows!
But what he says makes me forget that for a moment.
what if it’s the person on the list on the phone, and they say, ‘OK, what time
should I come in?’ Then what?”
“Oops,” says Lindsey. “We didn’t think of that.”
I was going to rebut with, ‘You didn’t think of that,’ but realize it would be counterproductive. Instead I stop to think. Everyone else does, too. Then Chase smiles.
“I got it!” he says. “Whatever the name is you’re calling, specify a time and then say, ‘Thank you, Mrs.,’ and then give a different name than her real one, something close to it but not her name. She’ll correct you and either give her right name or say that’s not her name, and you can tell her to hold on for a second, then come back and tell her you were trying to reach someone else and they had the phone numbers mixed up, and that you don’t need her to come in after all, it’s the other person you need.”
“Doesn’t that sound a little complicated?” I ask. “Isn’t there a simpler way?”
“Yeah, there is.” Lindsey looks smug. “I got it. What we do is, say the detective will come to their house, and then we’ll call them back well ahead of that appointment time to cancel.”
Chase looks at her being smug, then gives me a looks something like the one I’m using on Trevor and says, “Why make it so complicated? Just ask if they can come in today; that’s the day you’re calling them. How they answer that should give you a clue as to whether they still live there or not. In fact, you can just say you’re updating your list, and want to verify they still live where they said they did back in the spring.”
“Yeah, that ought to work.” I smile at him, then turn to Lindsey and say, “But you’re pretty good with this undercover crap and can pass yourself off as a secretary easier than any of us. So, are you willing to do it?”
She nods, grinning. “Yeah, I love prank calling.”
“She does,” her brother kicks in, nodding vigorously and grinning as well.
“Uh, just one thing,” says Chase. “We’d better block caller ID. We don’t want them to know we’re not really the police department.
I look at Chase, and he’s looking at me, and I can tell by his expression that if I look at Trevor just the right way, I can make Chase just as jealous as Trevor can make me.
There are 47 names of adults on the list. That’s a lot of adults, a lot more than I think one would expect in a city park during a school day. But it is a large park and it was a warm spring day, the first really nice day after a long winter. It seemed that a lot of mothers and nannies and their small children took advantage of it. Most of the adults were women.
It isn’t easy calling that many people and harder still to talk directly with them all. We get answering machines; little kids that say they’ll get their mom and then seem to leave the house, probably to go play with their friends while we wait and wait. We get housekeepers, some of whom speak in Spanish, something which none of us does. We sometimes don’t learn if they speak any other languages before they hang up.
Getting through to all those people takes a lot of time: four days. From my point of view, it’s a tense time. The reason it’s tense for me is because we learn pretty quickly that there’s no point in having all of us there making the calls. It’s boring, a lot of time is spent just listening to the phone ring in your ear, and only the person calling—Lindsey—even gets to hear that. So, after only an hour or two the first day, Trevor drifts away, and because he’s bored out of his skull, Chase quickly drifts away with him.
And so for four days, I sit with Lindsey because it seems the right thing to do, adding moral support and all, and Trevor and Chase seem to spend most of their time swimming.
As I say, four pretty tense days. I try not to ask Chase when we’re lying in each other’s arms at night whether any ‘stuff’ is going on at the lake. That would show I didn’t trust him. And make me look jealous and weak. So I don’t ask.
In the back of my head, though, I keep thinking I don’t ask because I’m afraid of what I might find out.
And so I just feel tense.
Four days. When we complete our calls, we’ve got a pretty good handle on the people on the list. Most of them are still where they were when the investigation began a few months ago. We discuss it over and over and are pretty sure no one could kidnap a young girl like that and keep her in town. To do that, they’d have to keep her inside, practically sealed up. And even then, there’d be noises. And suspicious neighbors. And anyone showing up at the house—a plumber, a pizza boy, a Jehovah’s Witness—might catch a glimpse of a girl whose picture had been in the papers for days on end. It would be a big risk.
No, we are convinced she’s been taken out of town. So if someone in the park had taken her, no matter if we couldn’t figure out how, then we had it narrowed down to five people. That seemed like a lot of people moving in just a few months. Ten percent of the list. But maybe it’s not strange. The economy being what it is, a lot of people are losing their jobs. Anyway, it is what it is.
Now we need Dad’s help.
I don’t want to tell him what we’re doing. I don’t know how he’d react, but there’s a good possibility he’d make us stop—for several reasons I can think of, none of them good. Especially the one about it not being safe. Yeah, that’s one of the ones he’d probably pull out. So we need him to help us without knowing why.
“Dad,” I say at dinner that night. He looks up at me. His eyes are bloodshot, and he hasn’t shaved in three days. I’m not sure he’s slept in three days, either. He’s been working later and later into the night. I think he feels the time passing. I feel it, too.
Looking up is all he does. Chase is quiet, too.
“Dad, I was wondering. I see you working awfully hard on this. I want to help. I was looking at that list you gave me, and of course, one name is no different from another to me. But, I thought maybe I could try to check them out myself, check things you don’t have time for, maybe find things that won’t show up in their emails and stuff. So, I picked five names from the list. Here…” I slide him a piece of paper with the names of the five people who don’t live in Kinnessa any longer. “What I’d like to know is, what are these people’s current addresses? If I can get those, I have some ideas about how I could check something out. You can probably find out where they live pretty quickly through one of your computer programs, and I can’t. Would you do that so I can help?”
His focus on me seems slightly blurry. But he nods. Doesn’t even argue. I don’t know whether that’s a good or bad sign.
When we’ve eaten, I go into his office with him, making Chase wait in the living room so Dad won’t get upset with his office being invaded. Dad taps the keyboard keys. Actually, it’s like watching a symphony pianist, he goes so fast. He types, looks at the screen, types some more, and within ten minutes has printed out the five names and the addresses. He doesn’t even look at the list. He doesn’t notice the addresses are all different from what they used to be a few months ago.
“Thanks, Dad,” I say. He sort of nods and goes back to whatever it is he’s doing. If we ask him about this tomorrow, I’ll bet he won’t remember it. And that makes me think: we’d better come up with something soon. Dad seems about ready for the white-jacket patrol. I’m not sure how much longer he can go on like this.
We’re sitting in the Mussos’ game room again, same as before, although this time there is less space between Chase and Trevor, and this time Chase doesn’t slide farther away. Bugger!
I read off the names on the list and what their new addresses are. Of the five, three live within a couple of hundred miles of where we are now. I think about it, and it makes sense. If someone has made a fast getaway with a stolen kid, they probably wouldn’t be comfortable driving too far. The kid would be cranky. Well, Carly sure would be, and driving with a cranky kid, or a screaming one for that matter, is very difficult. And there are other considerations, like: Do they want to stay close enough so the partner can still work in Kinnessa and commute on the weekends, or even daily? Do they know the area because it isn’t that far away? Stuff like that.
We don’t know they stayed reasonably close to where they took Carly, of course. They could have gone to Timbuktu. But if they did, we aren’t going to find her anyway. We can only do what we can do. And we can check out what’s close by. Besides, I don’t even know where Timbuktu is.
“Do you think we should call them again?” asks Chase. “Talk to them about something, try to get more intel?”
I smile at the ‘intel’ and Lindsey says, “I don’t think so. We don’t want to alert them with a bunch of screwy phone calls.”
I agree. “What I want to do is drive to those addresses. We can do that for three of them. As for the other two, if we don’t find her, maybe I can get Dad to hire a detective to sit on those houses.”
“Sit on them?” asks Trevor.
“I’m not the only one who watches police shows,” Chase grins.
“It means park and watch their house,” his sister explains.
“Oh,” Trevor says. ‘Yeah, let’s do that.”
I’m feeling excited. We’d had an idea, we’d figured out how to make it work, and we’d come up with something that was at least possible. Now we are actually planning to physically go look for Carly, and even I think we have a reasonable chance of finding her. Yeah, I’m feeling excited. This could actually work.
“We could go to each of these three and make it there and back in one day. Can you borrow your parents’ car, Lindsey?”
“Yeah, I’m sure I can. My folks can use the truck if they need to go anywhere. They don’t go to town or use the car all that much.”
“I’m going, too,” says Trevor. He says it in a way that I know he’s worried we’ll leave him behind.
“Of course you are,” I say. “I might even have a job for you.”
Trevor looks relieved and Chase asks, “Are we going to tell anyone what we’re doing?”
“We can’t,” says Lindsey. “They’d never let us go if we do. They’d tell us to call the cops with this, and say it’s too dangerous for us. But if we’re just watching houses, I don’t think it’ll be dangerous. And there are four of us.”
“I agree,” I say. “We need to think of an excuse for three excursions and then go. The only problem I can see is that watching a house for a few hours probably wouldn’t really tell us if she’s there or not.”
“It’s all we can do, though,” says Chase.
“Maybe. Maybe not. Trevor…” I stop. I’ve been imagining this in a sort of vague way for quite a while. Any contact with the kidnapper moves us from just observing to taking a risk. Still, it’s Carly, and it isn’t that much of a risk. And Trevor would be perfect.
“What would you think about ringing the doorbell, if we sit on a house and nothing happens? Asking them if they’ve seen your lost dog? Or selling them raffle tickets to support your Little League team?”
“No,” says Lindsey.
“Yeah!” says Trevor at exactly the same time.
We discuss it.