Dad can’t get it through his head that Carly is back. Oh, he recognizes her immediately, he is ecstatic, I can see tears of happiness come into his eyes, but even then I can see confusion. I suppose there’s nothing too abnormal about that. I keep reading about soldiers coming home from the battlefield and having a hard time adjusting to their new circumstances. When your entire being, your intense and total focus is tied up in something—almost every action and every thought—and then that something no longer exists, you need time to adapt, to decompress, like a deepwater diver rising back to the surface.
Dad needs time to decompress.
When we walked into the house, of course Dad was in his office. I knocked on the door and yelled, “Dad, come out. Right now!” I stepped back to the middle of the room so there'd be some distance when he came out; so we wouldn't be on top of each other.
He unlocked the door and opened it looking like he did these days—rumpled, bleary-eyed, unshaven and unwashed, his face a bit vacant. He looked at me, then at who I was holding. I had Carly in my arms. I’d tried setting her down earlier, but she would have none of that. She’d just clung tighter to me and had shoved her face into my neck. So I was carrying her, and she was looking around again.
She reacted quicker than Dad did. “Dada!” she yelled and then wriggled in my arms such that I knew she wanted down. I set her on the floor, and she raced, if that’s the word for a three-year-old, toward Dad.
Dad looked at her, and the most amazed look came onto his face. “Carly?” he said, and then shouted in disbelief, “Oh my God! CARLY!!!” As she came to him, he dropped to his knees, and then she was in his arms, and his arms were around her, holding her as though to never let go again. Tears were streaming down his cheeks, and he was saying, “Carly, Carly, Carly, Carly,” over and over, interspersed only by kisses he was planting on her head and face.
Finally, Carly protested at being held so tightly. Dad eased up then, and she looked up into his face and said, “I missed you, Dada. I missed you so much. And I missed Mommy. Whea’s Mommy?”
Cooing softly to her, Dad picked her up and walked a little unsteadily to a chair. He sat down, and Carly made herself comfortable in his lap, wiggling into the exact best position. He kept staring at her, but then looked up at me, and that’s when I first saw the underlying confusion in his eyes.
“We used your lists, Dad,” I told him. “What you did, what you were doing—it paid off. We combined your information and some ideas we had and went looking for her, and just by luck and being in the right place, we found her.”
I could see the wheels turning in his head. There was a lot for him to think about: where we were living now, where his job was, where Mom might be, how she’d handle Carly’s return, whether the authorities would get involved, what they’d say, what would be done about the kidnappers? All this had to be dealt with, and he appeared simply befuddled. He’d been working 18 and more hours a day in his office, reading and deciphering, scheming and worrying—and, it was suddenly over. Completely over.
It was a lot to take in, and he’d had no time to adjust. And, to top it off, he now had a daughter to be responsible for, a daughter who had needs and whose responsibility was totally his.
I could see the realization of all this was getting to be too much for him to handle. I walked to him and gently lifted Carly from his lap. “Come on, Carly,” I said, “let’s get you a snack.” I carried her into the kitchen. Glancing back, I saw Dad, still seated. He was thinking, and there may have been confusion in his eyes, but still he wore a wondrous smile on his face. He’d be all right. It might take him an hour, or a day, or a bit longer, but seeing him sitting in that chair beaming, his body no longer tense and taut, I had a strong sense that he’d be all right.
In the kitchen, I fix Carly a peanut-butter sandwich and cut off the crusts. She always loved those and still does. I pour her a half glass of milk. We don’t have a booster chair for her. We don’t have anything for a kid as young as Carly. Chase holds her in his lap as I set the plate and glass on the table in front of her. Chase clears his throat meaningfully, and I make him exactly the same. The two of them pull up close to the table and eat together. Carly keeps looking over her shoulder at Chase, and he makes faces at her. She giggles and says, “Chase,” and settles a little in his lap, seeming to sink back into the comfort of his body.
Carly’s been asleep for hours, Dad’s asleep, Chase is asleep in my bed with me, and I’m thinking. I should be asleep, too. I was exhausted when I got in bed. But Chase wanted to do what Chase always seemed to want to do, and so we did, and he fell asleep almost immediately, but what we did had actually energized me, and now I lie awake, thinking.
Lots of thoughts run through my head, some disjointed, some disturbing, some confusing. Small memories take on significance. I don’t sleep until early morning. I have a lot to think about.
I get up late. Dad has showered, shaved, put on fresh clothes and, wonder of wonders, fixed breakfast. I can hardly believe it, but he’s whistling as he moves about in the kitchen.
Chase has been busy. He’s been on the phone with Trevor, then with Mrs. Musso. A few minutes later Mr. and Mrs. Musso arrive in their old truck carrying a booster chair, a guard rail to keep a toddler from rolling out of a regular bed, and a big plastic trash bag full of what Mr. Musso smilingly calls ‘little-kid stuff’. We already have some of what we need. We’d gone to town yesterday because Dad said Carly probably still needed diapers at night and we didn’t have any. So when we bought those, we got some other things, too. Dad was especially eager to find some shampoo that would get the brown dye out of Carly’s hair. But a lot of what Mr. and Mrs. Musso brought over was stuff we hadn’t thought to buy.
Mrs. Musso is delighted with Carly. Being who and how Mrs. Musso is, Carly takes to her right away. Dad watches that happen and smiles. Well, he’s already been smiling, but the smile somehow broadens. He delights in seeing Carly laugh.
Carly had been talkative ever since she’d begun saying a few words at the age of 17 months. She still is. She sits in Mrs. Musso’s arms and talks and talks and suddenly starts telling her all about the lady at the park, and the rest of us listen.
The kids were playing hide and seek, and Carly had left the tree she was hiding behind with Lisa because there wasn’t enough room for both of them to hide there. Carly had moved and crouched down behind a bush next to the fence where no one could see her. The lady who’d had lunch with her and her mother was walking by on the sidewalk on the other side of the low fence. She stopped and crouched down so she was on Carly’s level and spoke to Carly, asked her if she’d seen her wave as she and her mother had driven past earlier. She told Carly that her mother was at a bookstore nearby and had asked her to come get Carly. Her mother wanted Carly to pick out a new book to be read to her at night. Carly stood up and raised her arms; the woman lifted her over the low fence and carried her away. She didn’t take her to the bookstore, though. She took her to her car.
“So that lady was with Mommy right before that?” asks Dad, confused. I can understand his confusion. It sounds like the kidnapper wasn’t one of the adults in the park after all. But, if that is true, how had her name been on the list of people in the park? How had I been able to find her?
“Yes,” Carly says. “She was Mommy’s fwiend. We had lunch. She came to the house lots of times.”
“What’s her name?” I ask.
“Mawy,” Carly says. “Her name is Mawy. I stayed with Mawy and Donna. Mawy said Mommy was sick in the hospital and Daddy had asked them to keep me till Mommy got well. But it was so long! And I missed Twoy! And you and Mommy, too, Daddy!”
“Mary!” says Dad. “It must have been Mary Truscott.”
“That name was on the list,” I say.
“But why? She wasn’t in the park!” Dad says. “Carly says she was walking by, but she was on the other side the fence.”
I think for a moment. Then I get up and go up to my room for my cell phone and call Trevor. Then I come back and sit at the table again. “Dad,” I say, “I had Trevor look at the list you printed out for me. I left it over there so no cops could find it here. He read the title of it to me. It says, List of Interviews, Case 14-3972, Carly Hodges. There’s nothing on that list that says anything about the interviews only being with people who were in the park.”
Dad’s eyes clear. “You know,” he says, “I guess I simply assumed that. The police told me they’d interviewed everyone that was in the park, and so when we got the list of interviews, it just made sense to think as I did. I guess everyone who was interviewed would be on the list, not just those in the park. I know I had to give a very complete statement of what I’d done that day, where I was, and who I’d met and when. Your mother had to, also. If Mary was with your mother that day, as Carly says she was, then she’d have been questioned to verify that what your mother told them was correct. Her name would have been on the interview list, along with all the people who were in the park.”
That remark tweaks a thought in my head. I’d had several thoughts, memories of things really, that have bothered me recently. I’ve tried to capture them. I did a lot of that last night in bed, and some of them had seemed to fall into place. Now, hearing this, here is something else that tends to fit right in with what I’ve been thinking. It seems strange to me: I’ve been thinking that I was crazy, yet more and more I am finding support for what seems so unlikely.
I’ve been learning new things, things that apparently have nothing to do with each other. And I’ve developed an idea that has seems so very farfetched. The strange thing is, the more I learn, the more support there is for my crazy idea. Maybe, if more and more things fit a premise, then it isn’t so crazy after all.
I find Dad in his office. Carly is in the living room jabbering away with Mrs. Musso, who seems delighted to be dealing with a small child again. I’ve watched the two of them for a bit and realize my own mother never was this warm and maternal with Carly; I have no memories of her being like this with me, either.
“Dad,” I say, seeing him starting to pack up and box things away, “can you hold off on dismantling things for a while?”
“Why, Troy? Now that Carly’s back, we don’t need to stay here any longer. We can just pack up and drive home. I’ve already called the people renting our house. They’re able to be gone in less than a week.”
“Well…” I’m reluctant to talk to him about what I’m thinking, but know I have to. I need his help.
We’ll be leaving here soon. That was one of the things I thought about last night. I hate the idea of leaving. The Mussos, the basketball court, the woods, the lake, my clearing—I’d hated moving here, and now I love this place. I love Lindsey and, yes, even Trevor. The kid is an imp and irrepressible, but I’ve grown very fond of him. But Dad’s job is back in Kinnessa, and our house is there, too. That’s where we’ll be going. I’ll miss the guys here. A lot. But there is nothing I can do about that. Life moves on.
There is, however, something still to be done involving Carly—about her kidnapping. The hell with it, I think, so what if Dad’ll think I’m nuts. I thought he was nuts several times recently, and that all worked out. He’s just going to have to go along with one of my crazy ideas for once.
“… well, before we go, I want you to do something for me. You still have a bug in Mary Truscott’s computer, don’t you?”
“It isn’t a bug. It’s—”
“It’s not important what it is,” I interrupt, “just that it’s there. That you can still get into her computer, into her email. You can, can’t you?”
“Yes, but I need to get rid of all that. It’s illegal, and the sooner I get it all shut down, the better.”
“OK, that’s fine, but before that, I need you to find something for me, and I’m hoping there’s some trace of it in her computer or in her emails.”
He is looking at me oddly, but he isn’t arguing. I’m happy about that.
“What do you want me to do?” he asks.
“I want to find evidence of something. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. In my head, I put together some things that happened, and the only way I can make sense of them is to assume there’s a big piece missing in everything that happened. I think I know what it is, too: I think Mary Truscott is being blackmailed. I want to verify this, and if possible, learn everything I can about who she’s sending the money to and how the payments are being made.”
“Blackmail? How in the world did you come up with that?”
“I sort of deduced it. Several things didn’t seem quite right when I tried to make sense of them. They didn’t fit together. So I kept looking for something that would allow everything to fit. Blackmail is one solution that fits. If it’s true, I hope you can find some indication of it in her computer.”
I have Dad intrigued. I can see it in his face. I’ve turned the discussion to a computer-related problem: could he find something if he concentrated on just one computer, Mary’s computer, instead of 50-some computers? Has he missed something because his focus had been stretched so thin? That problem was more interesting to him than some wild-ass guess I’d come up with.
“I’ll work on it,” he says, and I smile, and then we’re both smiling.
“Don’t lock yourself in here this time,” I say. “Leave the door open. Carly might want to climb onto your lap.”
Chase is upstairs. He’s writing an email to his dad. I’d written several to his dad myself, explaining how Chase was back to his old self again, and I’d received profuse thanks in return. When we return home, I figure Chase’s dad will no longer intimidate or scare me; I figure I’ll have a friend, instead. He’s been through Chase’s computer. He’s seen some of the sites his son visited. He’s read his emails. He has to know Chase is gay. When we return and tell him we’re a couple, I know there’ll be no repercussions. He’ll have to have guessed when he sent Chase here, he was very likely sending him to meet another gay boy, a gay boy who might just be the cure Chase needed for his depression. He certainly guessed that the two of us being together, in the way two boys—boys who were best friends and probably both gay—would be together, would probably be the magic needed to bring his son back to being the boy he’d been before.
“What’s up?” Chase asks me when I walk into the room.
“I want to go get the other guys and talk. OK?”
“Sure,” he says, and quickly finishes his email and shuts down the computer.
We find them on the court, Lindsey shooting long-range shots again and Trevor feeding the rebounds back to her. She’s not missing very many.
We sit against the barn wall. I talk and it takes a while. I’ve been making a lot of unsupported guesses, and in the light of day, it’s easy to scoff at them. This is why I want to talk with these guys. To see if I can convince them of what I’ve been thinking. To see if I can fend off their arguments and objections.
And to get their help.
In the end, I convince them more than they dissuade me. And we start to plan what to do about it. Four heads are definitely better than one!
Dad doesn’t come through with much of what I wanted, but what he finds doesn’t undermine my theory, either. I’d thought there was a chance that would happen—as much of a chance as there was that he’d find something helpful. But he does find something valuable. He learns that the two ladies have left their Oak Street house in Bedford. Without his help, we’d never have found them. But he has their new address and tells me they’ve kept the same phone number.
I never did imagine they were very sophisticated criminals.
I’m the one who has to meet Mary. Dad can’t do it. Too much emotion. He says he’d hurt her if they met. I can see the truth in his eyes. He won’t let me go alone, and anyway I have no way to get there without Lindsey. So the four of us drive back to Bedford. This time, however, we don’t go to 87 Oak Street; they’ve moved to the other side of the town. I can imagine them thinking that the police, if they’re looking for them, on discovering they’d left 87 Oak Street would assume they’d fled the town and probably the entire state.
The two women are expecting us. It’d taken some convincing on the phone for them to agree to meet us. But I’d had some leverage. I’d done the talking on the phone. I hadn’t trusted Dad to do it.
We arrive in the middle of the morning. Trevor jumps out of the car. Does nothing intimidate him? I’m really nervous. Chase is subdued as well. Lindsey is Lindsey. Nothing much bothers her. She’s the most self-confident girl I’ve ever known.
We step up to the door and Trevor knocks.
The older, more masculine-looking woman we’d seen in the park opens the door and scowls at us. I look back at her, meeting her eyes with a blank expression, trying to show I have no desire to intimidate or confront her. We both hold the look a moment longer than would be normal, and Trevor says, “Hi, I’m Trevor.”
He breaks the ice. She looks down at him and almost smiles. “I’m Donna,” she says. “Come on in.”
She steps back, and we file into the house. Dad hadn’t wanted us to go in. But he’s not here, and I’m playing it by ear. I don’t sense any danger from this woman. Besides which, I think Lindsey could take her.
Mary is lying on the couch, a blanket over her, her face looking awful. She’s been crying. A lot.
Donna walks over and sits down on the floor so she’s right next to Mary’s head. “This is Mary,” she tells us, looking at her partner rather than us. Her voice is soft and warm. “We’re together.”
“You took Carly,” I say. Donna looks up sharply, but I haven’t said it in an accusing or threatening way. I’ve merely stated a fact, and a position. It’s a place to start.
I don’t really expect Mary to speak, looking the way she does, but I’m wrong. She turns her head slightly, and her eyes meet mine. Then she looks back at Donna, and when she speaks it’s to her. “I wanted a child. We wanted a child.”
She stops, and Donna quickly reaches for a glass of water on the end table next to the couch. Mary takes a small sip, then rests her head again on the pillow.
Lying back like that, she resumes speaking. “I wanted a child, and I’d seen Carly, and she was wonderful. I’d fallen in love with her. Such a happy girl. Such spirit. Such energy.”
Mary seems exhausted, just saying that much. Tears form in her eyes again. She turns her head away.
In the silence, I say, “I thought I recognized you at the park. I wasn’t sure; I’d only seen you once or twice, and the setting was so different. But you looked familiar. You were Mom’s friend, weren’t you?”
Mary doesn’t respond. This time she doesn’t say anything, doesn’t turn her head toward me.
Donna speaks then. “She’s been devastated by this. I don’t think she realized, before you took Carly back, what she’d done. What we’d done. I’m guilty, too. But she wanted a daughter to raise, desperately wanted a little girl. That longing just took her over, possessed her. And then the opportunity to take Carly came. She didn’t plan it, didn’t think it out, she just took her. After that, we did what we had to do. We don’t have to work. I got a settlement from a bias suit I won against a former employer, and I get a check from them every month. So when she took Carly, we just left Kinnessa and drove away till we found a place where it looked like we could raise her.”
We haven’t been invited to sit, but I can tell this is going to take some time, so I sink onto one of the chairs, and the others follow suit. I sit on the edge of mine and the others do the same.
“We waited a few days so it wouldn't be too obvious. I’m glad we did because we were questioned by the police. Well, Mary was. They wanted confirmation of your mother’s story. But, after that, we left. We found the house on Oak Street. We thought we’d be safe there.”
She looks back at Mary, whose eyes are closed. “After you took Carly back, the full extent of what we’d done hit her. Mary’s fragile, anyway. She always has been. But, she was overcome with grief at losing Carly, and then with guilt for having taken her in the first place and realizing the pain you and your parents must have felt. Mary—I guess both of us, really—have been living in a dream world, having Carly, really only thinking about her. Now, the reality of it all has hit us. It’s hit her hardest. She’s not dealing with it well. She’s not eating much at all. She just lies here and cries. I’m not sure if she’ll really recover from this.
“After you took Carly back, I told her we had to go. Had to run. That the cops would come. She refused. She said she deserved anything that happened to her. She wouldn’t go. She was adamant. I did get her to move here, to a different house in Bedford, but that was the best I could do. Even so, I felt we were safe.”
She stops and strokes Mary’s hair, looking down on her.
I have to bite my tongue. It won’t get me what I want if I tell her how I feel about what they’ve done. Donna seems to be wanting my understanding, my sympathy. I don’t feel any for either of them. But I choke down my feelings and get to the point of our being here. Before I can speak, however, Donna, evidently feeling my mood, or seeing something in my face when she looks up, beats me to the punch.
“Why did you come?” she asks. “What do you want? We can’t do anything for you.” She frowns at me, and I think she realizes, maybe for the first time, how precarious a position she and Mary are in.
I don’t hesitate. “We want to know about the blackmail,” I say.
Donna is surprised, and her face shows it. “How did you know about that?”
“I didn’t, but I guessed. Tell me about it.”
Donna shakes her head. “This whole thing was a fiasco, but Mary wanted it so badly. I couldn’t say no to her when she brought Carly into the house. But she couldn’t plan anything, didn’t even seem to understand the magnitude of what she’d done. Her whole focus was on Carly. So I had to take over and work everything out. Soon after we moved to Bedford, a letter came. The man who wrote it said he knew we had Carly, and unless we paid him, he’d give his information to the police. He said we’d lose the child, we’d be arrested, and we’d be in prison for the rest of our lives. I knew that meant we’d be separated and never see each other again. That meant we didn’t have any choice. I had to pay him.”
“How did he find you?” I ask.
“We had no idea. He did say it was pointless for us to run, that he’d know where we were, and he’d increase the payment amount because of the inconvenience it would cause him.”
“How much were you paying?” Lindsey asks.
Donna turns to look at her. “It wasn’t much. $1,000 a month. I was surprised. But, we could afford it. If he’d asked for $5,000, or $10,000 a month, we couldn’t have paid that much. We’d have had no choice. Then we’d have had to run and hope he was bluffing about being able to find us. We’d have had to chance that. But we could afford $12,000 a year. It meant we couldn’t do some of the things we’d wanted to because it took a lot of our spending money, but we had Carly, and we had each other, and that’s what was important. That’s what Mary wanted.”
I wonder if somehow the guy had known if he’d asked for more money, he probably wouldn’t have got anything. It seems unlikely he really could keep track of the women and turn them in if they didn’t pay him or that he’d have wanted to do that because of what they might say about attempted blackmail. He’d certainly rather have had the money, even if it wasn’t all that much.
Donna puts her hand on Mary’s shoulder, and I see Mary shudder.
“Who are you paying, and how does it work?” I ask. I am not letting myself be affected by the obvious sentiments the women are feeling. It looks like what I am seeing is real, isn’t being faked for our benefit, but I keep picturing my Mom in bed, Dad grieving and disappearing into himself, Chase in the grips of depression, and it is easy for me to remain unaffected by their problems, problems they brought on themselves.
Donna turns back to me and shakes her head. I’m not sure what that means. Maybe it’s a sign of disapproval. “The man’s name is Mr. Temms. James Temms. I send cash to him every month. He said it had to be cash, and had to be in $20 bills. That’s fifty bills. I put them in a small mailing envelope and send them to him.”
“I need to know all you know about him,” I say. “When and how you make the payments. Has he spoken on the phone to you; what does his voice sound like? Anything at all that might help.”
She gets up, pats Mary’s arm, and goes to a desk in the corner of the room. She brings me a piece of paper with an address on it. She says, “What I know is that he lives in Kinnessa. We’ve been sending the money there the first of every month. He was specific about that, the first day of the month. That’s all I know, other than this.”
She hands me a small piece of paper. When I turn it over, I see it’s a photograph.
I’m so surprised I just stand there, holding it. My mouth may drop open. I don’t even know. The picture is a headshot of a black man with a slender face, close-cut hair and a neat mustache. I’d guess he’s in his mid-thirties. There’s nothing special about him, except there is. I’d swear I’ve seen him before. He simply looks sort of familiar. I know this man.
in the world would he send you his picture?” I ask. “It would allow you to
Donna gives me a puzzled look, then says, “But we already know his name and address. James Temms. Of Kinnessa, Missouri.”
I can ‘t believe she’s this gullible, that she doesn’t realize James Temms is probably a fake name. I suppose the picture could be, too, but if so, why send it at all? I stare at the picture a little longer, hoping it jogs my memory, then turn back to Mary.
“Did he say why he was sending you his picture?”
She nods. “In the letter he said what he was doing was as illegal as what we’d done, and it was possible he’d have to make a run for it if the cops ever caught on. If so, he might have to come by for his money as he’d probably need some right away. He said it might not be safe to go to his bank. The picture was so we’d recognize him if he showed up.”
I shake my head. This all is getting weird. The fact I know I’ve seen him before shakes me up, too. I wasn’t expecting any of this. I slip the picture into my pocket to look at again later.
I can see Donna is getting antsy. I stand up. My friends do too.
“That’s about all for us. There are just two more things,” I say. “You won’t like them, but if you agree, we won’t turn you in. You owe me and my family a lot. This isn’t asking for much, and while I can’t promise you’ll never go to jail, I can promise neither my dad nor I will be the ones putting you there.”
“What?” she asks, looking a bit harder, more wary than before. I’d thought she’d be happy with that statement.
“You have to send one more payment,” I say, and then I tell her what else they need to do.