Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
Hank showed the grizzled old woman his badge. “We would like to talk to Chad Bronson,” he said.
“He ain’t here.”
“Can you tell me where he is?” Hank asked.
“Ain’t seen him ‘round for a week or more,” she said, and then asked, “What’s he done this time?”
Hank avoided the question. “This is important,” he said. “Can you think of where he might be?”
“Are you his mother?”
“The only one he has.” She blinked a toothless grin.
Hank eventually convinced her to tell him where her son worked. A little more coaxing and they were allowed in and led to Bronson’s room, where she let them open a few drawers, check the closet, and perform a basic search. There wasn’t much to go through anyway. Just a few clothes in a narrow closet. A dresser with more clothes. A few knickknacks on top. A picture of Chad posing with his car. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary.
“If you see him, tell him to get his butt home,” the old woman said, as they were leaving. “Ain’t been outa’ this place for a week, an’ I need my meds.”
Hank assured her they would.
The factory where Bronson worked was only a couple of blocks away. They arrived at King City Foods in a few minutes.
Hank flashed his badge to the evening supervisor, and they were soon led into a small office at the front of the building.
The supervisor consulted an obsolete computer perched at the back of his desk. He squinted at the tiny monitor. “Bronson works the graveyard shift. Midnight till 8:00:am. He hasn’t shown up for work in several days though,” he said. “That appears to be unusual for him. No matter what else he is, he seems to be a steady worker. Always on time. Never takes a day off.”
“When was the last time he was here?” Hank asked.
The supervisor squinted again. “He showed up August 1st. Clocked out the next morning. Hasn’t been here since.”
Hank was taking notes. “Do you have any contact phone numbers for him, besides his home phone?”
“Nope. Just his home number.”
“Residence at 266 Canderline Street, 3B?”
Hank stared at his notes. “That’s all for now. Thank you.”
They were at a dead end. Nobody had seen Bronson.
Chad Bronson and Jenny were both missing.
On the way home, Hank said, “I hate to say it, but it appears they may’ve run off somewhere together.”
“Maybe. But where could they go without a car?” It was not a question.
Tuesday, August 9th, 6:22 PM
JENNY wasn’t uncomfortable. She wasn’t cold, or hungry or in need of anything. But she was afraid. Afraid because she’d seen Chad brutally murdered. She was afraid because when her assailant let her out of the trunk, and led her here, she’d seen his face. She could identify him easily. She was afraid he would likely have to kill her to protect himself. To keep her from turning him in. But then, why didn’t he just do it? Why had he kept her here all this time? Caring for her. Bringing her food. Talking with her. Making sure she was comfortable.
The room where she was being held was nice enough. Sure, everything was old. Antique maybe. But it was functional. The closet was even filled with clothes. And the drawers as well. It seemed obvious to Jenny, this is, or had once been the bedroom of a woman. Or maybe a husband and wife, because the room contained a double bed, but no sign of a man’s presence.
The walls were covered with wallpaper, creamy and pink roses. A bit faded, but still pretty. The dark hardwood floor needed a fresh coat of varnish. A large curtained window was on one side of the room. It was covered with bars on the outside of the glass, fastened in tight. They wouldn’t come loose. Jenny had tried. The only other means of exit was the bedroom door, but it was securely bolted from the outside.
She loved to read, and the room was well supplied with books. A massive overstuffed bookcase took up half of one wall of the large room. She’d perused a few books, but couldn’t settle her mind long enough to actually finish one.
Jenny had tried screaming for help earlier, but a look out the window told her it was no use. On the other side of a massive unkempt lawn, there was a decaying and weather-beaten barn, surrounded by fields of empty, and then what appeared to be an endless forest. She knew she was in a secluded spot. It did no good to call for help. No good at all.
She sat on the edge of the bed and cried. She thought about her mother. Surely, she wondered where she was. And the police. Were the police looking for her? And about Chad. She thought fondly of Chad. Why had he been killed? And who was this little man who had killed him, and was terrorizing her? He’d said his name was Jeremy, and he wasn’t going to hurt her.
With a sob of despair, she threw herself onto the bed, her gasps filling the room. She prayed. Prayed God would get her out of this place, and away from this terrible man.
Her prayers were burst by the sound of an approaching vehicle. She could hear the gravel crunching under the tires as it drove in and squeaked to a stop near the house. She didn’t need to look out the window. She knew it was him. It was late afternoon, maybe early evening; just about the time he always arrived. She turned over on her side and soaked her pillow with tears.
Wednesday, August 10th, 8:20 AM
CRANSTONS Department Store had turned a lot of work toward Lincoln Investigations, and when the head of security at Cranstons called Annie, she was obliged to drop all she was doing and head over immediately to consult with them.
Cranstons was the anchor store of the busiest mall in the area. The security office was located on the main floor of the massive store. Annie tapped on the door and a burly man opened it immediately. An enormous grin threatened to split his face when he saw her.
“Annie,” he almost shouted. “Come in! Come in!”
Annie smiled back at him. His exuberance was almost overwhelming. He pointed to the only visitor’s chair in the small room. “Have a seat,” he said, as he slouched down in a swivel chair behind the desk. “So how’s the most beautiful girl in Canada?” The grin still hadn’t left his face.
Annie chuckled. “Oh, Jake and I are doing well,” she said.
“Jake? Are you still with that guy? If you ever need a real man, I’m your guy.”
Annie laughed. She and Jake had known Chris for quite some time, and had assisted him in his job as head of store security on several occasions. He was a harmless flirt. She knew he had a wife he loved dearly, and a young boy who was his pride and joy. “I’ll let you know,” she said.
“Good enough,” he said, and turning more serious, he continued, “But in the mean time, we’ve got a small problem on our hands. It’s in the jewelry department. Seems like we’ve had some stuff go missing lately. A couple rings, a necklace or two. Security cameras haven’t caught anything.” He was frowning now.
Annie leaned forward. “We ran all of your jewelry people through a security check. They came back clean.”
“We have two shifts during the day, then a couple of different girls work evenings and weekends. But we’re not necessarily suspecting it’s one of our girls. It could just as likely be a customer.”
Annie knew exactly what to do. A few strategically placed mini-cameras should do the trick. “We’ll set up some camera surveillance,” she said. “If we may get in here this evening after you close. It shouldn’t take too long. We’ve got the equipment.”
“Excellent,” he said. “I knew I could count on you.” The grin was back.
Before she left, they arranged to meet again just after nine o’clock that evening.
On her way home, she was thinking about Jenny. Jake had filled her in on their unsuccessful attempt the day before to locate Chad. She felt she should update Mrs. James on their progress, or lack thereof. She knew in the case of a missing child, for a mother, any news was better than no news at all.
When she arrived back at the office, she called Mrs. James immediately and arranged for a meeting just after 12:00 noon.
Jake was still at home, and she informed him of the task for Cranstons. They needed a few more mini-cameras in order to do the job right, so Annie sent him down to Techmart, a store that dealt in everything electronic, including a wide range of security and surveillance equipment.
Jake didn’t mind that mission. It made him feel like a kid in a candy store.
Wednesday, August 10th, 11:05 AM
“HANK wants to meet us at Amelia’s,” Jake informed Annie. Jake had returned from Techmart and had dumped his purchases out onto the kitchen table.
“That’s fine,” she said. “Amelia will see he’s still taking this seriously.” Annie eyed the pile of electronic equipment. “This looks good,” she said, “but did you really need this pen camera? You’re not quite James Bond, you know.”
“I thought it would come in handy,” Jake replied sheepishly. “Plus, it was on sale.”
Annie glanced at the clock on the wall. Still a little while before their appointment. Jake helped her prepare a quick brunch before heading to Amelia’s.
When they arrived at their destination, Hank was already waiting for them. He was parked across the street, still sitting in his dark brown Chevy. He swung from the vehicle when they pulled up. He greeted Annie with a warm smile and a smothering bear hug.
They made their way up to the front door of the house, and when Annie knocked on the door, Amelia opened it almost immediately. She led them again into the lavish sitting room. There was a box of tissues on the stand beside where Amelia sat. A look at her face showed she appeared to have been crying. The lack of sleep was evident on her face as well. Photo albums were spread out on the coffee table. The room was quiet and still. They sat.
Hank fumbled with a package he was carrying. He withdrew the picture of Chad and handed it to Mrs. James. “Amelia,” he asked, “do you recognize this man?”
She took the photo and looked at it carefully. “No,” she said. “I don’t believe I’ve seen him before.” She looked up at Hank, a question on her face.
“This appears to be one of Jenny’s friends,” he informed her. He withdrew the necklace from the bag. He looked at Jake, and then back at Amelia, reluctantly adding, “This was found in his car. Do you recognize it?” He didn’t want to mention the necklace had been found in the trunk.
She gasped. She took the necklace and fondled it gently. “It’s Jenny’s. I’d recognize it anywhere. Her father gave that to her on her thirteenth birthday.” She looked at Hank again, puzzled, as if waiting for an explanation.
Hank continued in a soothing voice. “Amelia, we have absolutely no evidence any harm has come to Jenny.” He pointed to the photo. “Apparently, she was seen with this man, Chad Bronson, several times in the past. He seems to be missing too, although we were able to locate his vehicle. It appears they may’ve been together the day she went missing.” He quickly added, “There could be a perfectly logical explanation.”
Annie interrupted, pointing to the necklace. “As you can see, it’s undamaged. It wasn’t forced off or broken off. The clasp was undone, and it was removed. By Jenny herself, we believe.”
Hank spoke. “And we have an APB, an all-points bulletin, out on Bronson. If he’s around anywhere, we’ll pick him up.”
A mixture of hope and despair was in Amelia’s voice as she spoke. “Jenny’s out there somewhere. Please find her.”
Hank leaned forward and gently placed his hand on Amelia’s. “Don’t give up hope,” he said. “Just don’t give up hope.”
Amelia smiled weakly and thanked them.
After they’d left, Hank followed them to their vehicle.” I didn’t want to mention this to Amelia,” he said, “but I got the forensics report back on the vehicle this morning. They found some hair in the trunk as well. They match Jenny’s. I think we can definitely conclude she was in that trunk.”
Wednesday, August 10th, 1:25 PM
EARLIER THAT afternoon, Hank had faxed over a copy of the Police Forensics Report. Annie grabbed it from the machine and studied it for some time. There were several pages, and she went over it thoroughly.
Picking up the phone, she dialed MacGlen Forensic Services. MacGlen was a private forensic firm located in the downtown area. As a licensed forensic service, MacGlen could gain access to Bronson’s vehicle. It was not that she didn’t trust the police forensic report, but she had a question the report didn’t seem to cover. Specifically, she wanted a botany test of the tires and underside of the car. Forensic botany is the application of plant sciences to criminal investigations.
She spoke with Sammy MacGlen. Sammy was an expert she’d dealt with in the past, and he took her call immediately. “Annie, what may I do for you today?”
She explained the situation to him, and outlined her needs. He agreed they could get at it right away and try to get back to her in a day or two. As a private for-profit firm, they were unhampered by red tape and backlogs. With a team expert in every forensic field, she was confident she would get accurate results, and fast.
Wednesday, August 10th, 1:55 PM
AMELIA picked up the phone. “Hello,” she said.
It was Hank.
“Hi Amelia, it’s Hank Corning. I have something I’d like to talk to you about. Is this evening ok for you? Say about seven o’clock?”
“Seven would be fine,” she answered.
“Actually, if you’d like to get away from the house for a while, there’s a quiet little deli I know. You can have a break and we can have some dinner, and talk.”
Amelia hesitated. Jenny could call again at any minute. She wanted to be here if she did. She hadn’t wandered far from home these last few days. All she did was worry, pace the floor, and cry. And wait for the phone to ring with some good news. It never did. Would it be ok to just go out for an hour or so?
Amelia thought a moment. “That sounds fine,” she said. “I’m sure I could use some time out.” Suddenly she felt guilty and considered changing her mind.