I was the first female deputy on-scene, which meant I had to babysit the grieving mother while everyone else searched for the missing boy.
“I know you’re not good at this,” my sergeant said as we walked to Shyla Barnes’s rental house.
“Way to pump me up, McNulty,” I said. It was true, though. I was not good at the comforting thing. I couldn’t even blame it on being a werewolf. I’d always been this way.
“All you gotta do is sit with her till Gazarro gets here.”
“All right. Should I ask her anyth–”
“Oh no, no, Jesus, no,” he said. We passed the county’s K-9 unit. Fortunately, the dog was out combing the neighborhood with her handler. Dogs hated me. That, I could blame on being a werewolf. “City’s talked to her, we’ve talked to her . . . We got what we need for now. Just stay with her. Her mom’s up in Livingston. She’s got no other family.”
The Barnes family lived in Mitchum Bay, but big stuff like this, the county stepped in to help.
Ahead of us was the site of Charlie’s abduction. The civilians kept to their front yards while the county’s crime scene unit worked the scene. A couple of local news vans were there too, held back from trampling on the scene by three city cruisers.
Any scent trace of the kidnapper had been destroyed by those other smells. I managed to hold in a growl of frustration.
We were coming up the driveway. The front door was open. I saw part of the living room.
“Get to it,” McNulty said. “I’ll have Gazarro relieve you when she gets here.”
I entered the residence. Small house, smaller living room. Smelled like orange juice and wet towels. The three cops–two city, one county–brushed by me on their way out. I made my way to the thrift store futon, where the mother sat. She looked barely old enough to legally drink. The floor was cluttered with kid toys. I avoided stepping on most of the toys, and sank onto the futon beside her. There was a Hot Wheels bulldozer by my left boot.
“Ms. Barnes?” When she turned her head to me, I smiled–no teeth, they’re too white and sharp for me to risk flashing them, it’s bad enough they show a bit when I talk–and stuck out my hand. “Deputy Elizabeth Anderson. Sawyer County. Can I get you anything?” I asked. “Water? Cup of coffee?”
She shook her head and wrapped her arms around her stomach.
There was a beat-up coffee table in front of us. Some cop had made a copy of Charlie’s school picture down at the Kinko’s in the mall, and the copies covered the table’s surface. There had been more copies made, many more, and volunteers were right now going through the neighborhoods handing them out. In the photo, Charlie’s sandy blond hair was slicked back on his head. He wore a striped sweater with a green dinosaur silhouette on it. He was grinning. He was missing a front tooth.
I picked up a copy. And then Shyla finally spoke.
= = = = = = = = = =
“Do you have kids?”
It’s the only thing I can think to ask. Ever since I got home, I’ve done nothing but answer questions. Where Charlie’s dad is. In Livingston. Has he had contact with Charlie? I left before I even knew I was pregnant. I never told him. He doesn’t know. Do you have a boyfriend? Someone you’re seeing? No. Has anyone in your family said anything or done anything to indicate that they might want to hurt you or Charlie? Only family I have is my mom. She’s up in Livingston. She loves Charlie. Your dad? He’s dead.
And more questions. Have I seen anyone in the neighborhood, anyone who seemed to have an unusual amount of interest in Charlie. Have I seen a white panel van with Texas plates, the last digits of which are 5-6.
Apparently, the neighbor, the old guy at the end of the street who saw the van swoop in and take my son, that was all he got. White panel van. Texas plates. Last two digits of 5-6.
I answered their questions. Now I get to ask one.
The redheaded cop takes a couple of seconds to answer, and I wonder why.
“No,” she says.
I nod. I didn’t see a ring on her finger, but hell, there’s not one on mine either. She looks familiar, and when she puts back the copy of Charlie’s school picture–it was taken only two weeks ago, but right now, that feels like two years–I get it. She’s been on the news. She was the cop who found that missing girl. And I feel a burst of hope, which feels weird, because since the two cops showed up to tell me about Charlie, I haven’t felt anything.
“Why aren’t you out looking?” Now the questions are pouring out of me. “Why are you just sitting here?” My voice cracks on the last word. It conveys a hysteria I still don’t feel. I don’t realize I’m crying until I taste salt on my lips. The cop puts her hand on my back. It’s supposed to be comforting, I guess. It isn’t.
“We’re out looking,” she says, and she’s so calm. “And I’m sitting here because I don’t want you to be alone right now.”
I wipe away the tears. “I know who you are. You found that girl last year. So why are you here wasting time?”
Her mouth opens, like she’s about to speak. Then she shuts it. Finally she manages some bullshit responses. Amber Alert. It’ll be okay. I notice she doesn’t go as far as to say that she’ll find Charlie, that anyone will find him. Probably she’s trained not to say stuff like that.
Then another lady deputy shows up. This one’s fat. Her name tag reads M. Gazarro.
“I got this, Anderson,” the new one says.
Anderson stands up like she can’t wait to get out of here. But then she takes a business card out of the pocket below her badge. She takes a pen out of the other shirt pocket and scribbles something on the back of it. She hands me the card. “This has my cell phone number on the back. If you want to talk, or if anything happens, call me anytime, Ms. Barnes. Okay?”
It’s another question I don’t want to answer. “You’re left-handed. So’s my mom. So’s Charlie.”
I expect her to flash some big hearty smile, but she surprises me by smiling with her lips closed again. “One day we won’t be a minority.”
And then she leaves, and I’m left with the fat deputy, who sits much too close to me and hugs me much too tightly.