Thursday, March 17, 2016
Chosen - Part 2
This is Part 2 of a story I wrote for Week 28 of Flash Fiction Friday called Chosen. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. I hope you enjoy reading my little mystery as much as I'm enjoying writing it. See you back here next Thursday for Part 3. Links will be posted on my Facebook Author's page and my regular Facebook page.
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Chosen - Part 2
I decided the best place to begin was with digging into some of the stories behind the stories. Thomas was a terrific source when it came to items deemed newsworthy, but when it came down to identifying the skeletons in everyone’s closet, Lina was my go-to resource. Lina is a grand old dame and has lived here since the beginning of time. She owns, and runs, Lina’s Luncheonette, which serves the best food in the tri-county area. Even though its name specifically refers to lunch, she is open from dawn to dusk, and serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anything you can think of in between.
Lina knows the name of everyone in town, their family history, and all their dirty little secrets. Don’t misunderstand me, though. She’s not catty or nasty. She never spreads anyone’s business around town or to strangers, but if information is needed to help someone, it will flow from her like a fountain. I moved here from the city when I retired because it was peaceful and basically crime-free. I had briefly reconsidered my choice before I even unpacked when I learned that only days before, a child had been abducted from her own bed. That was where I needed to start if I was going to solve the mystery of Elyssa’s disappearance – where it all began.
The lunch rush would most likely be over by now, so maybe I could convince Lina to sit down with me and chat while I ate. It was Saturday, and her special was a meatloaf platter, and one of my favorites. I didn’t want to sit at the counter and pump Lina for details about the kidnapping in between her running back and forth warming up folk’s coffee or tallying up their checks. I preferred to sit in the back booth and offer to buy her a cup of coffee and a piece of pie if she’d help me out with my project.
My plan was to tell her I was going to attempt to write a book of fiction based on the kidnapping, but I would change the names of the people involved and of the town so as not to bring any notoriety to our quiet little hamlet, or bring long-forgotten horrific memories back to the surface. Even though I didn’t know anyone very well at the time, it was plain to see the effect the disappearance of the child had on the entire community. Sad as it is to say, if a child vanishes in a big city, most of the time, it will generate an article, and at times, even a headline, but by the evening edition, it ends up buried on one of the back pages. In a small town however, when that child is a neighbor to many and playmate to more, it hits all the residents hard, as if it had been their own child that was taken.
Yes, I was going to deliberately lie to Lina, who had been a dear friend to me ever since the first time I walked into her restaurant. Since I was new in town, she offered me a free meal, a piece of one of her homemade pies and a cup of the best coffee in the universe. Was I going to feel guilty about making up the story about writing a book just to get information from her? Probably, but I’d get over it because it was for a good cause. The reason I wanted to handle it that way was because I didn’t want general information about the incident. I could get that any time from Thomas or from reading clippings from the newspaper. What I needed was the personal perspective, and Lina could provide me with that.
I wanted her to sit back and relax and remember what was reported, but I also wanted her to fill me in on what people were saying about it at the time. Did the Sheriff suspect anyone in particular? Was Elyssa’s father ever considered a person of interest? Was there a drifter in town looking for odd jobs who coincidentally vanished when the child did? If so, was any follow-up ever done to try to find him? Who did the ladies at the Beauty Shop believe took the child? Those were the kinds of questions I needed answers to, and pretending to need enough material to write a book would help to draw her out. I hoped it would anyway.
I went to Lina’s, sat in the back booth and glanced at the menu, even though I already knew what I planned to order. Lina knew too, because as soon as she saw me walk through the door, I heard her holler to Dennis, her brother and an excellent cook, that one special was needed. The only customers at the counter were Mrs. Jenson, the librarian, who always took two to three hour lunches and Johnny Preston, who worked as a hand on Bill Jasper’s farm. I made a mental note to follow up with Bill, if it seemed necessary, since he had purchased the Sumner property. It was he who had arranged for the house to be torn down, and I wondered if he had actually sold off the entire contents of the house or if perhaps had kept a few items for himself.
There was no one else in the diner except those two and me, so when Lina brought my meal, I invited her to get a coffee for herself and join me because I had something very important to talk to her about. She got her coffee and scooted in across from me in a flash, and she seemed quite anxious to chat. Good.
“Lina, this may sound crazy, but since I’m retired, I do have time on my hands and I thought I would try my hand at writing. I had written a number of articles for my school paper, both while in elementary school and while in college. This time, I’m going to write a novel – a thriller or a mystery, since those are my favorites. Not to bring up unpleasant memories, but all those books from the Sumner house being sold this morning reminded me that it’s been almost ten years since the child was taken from her room. I’m not going to write a true crime tale, but my story is going to be based on what happened here, and I’m not sure how to begin. Would you mind telling me what you know about it and would you mind if I take notes? It would help me out tremendously.”
Lina didn’t question my decision to write a book, or inquire about my qualifications, or lack thereof. Apparently, none of that mattered. She looked like she was ready to burst. She was being asked to tell all she knew about a horrific crime that had occurred in her town and she couldn’t wait to get started. Pen and notebook ready, I just listened.
“That was the most terrible thing that’s ever happened around here,” she began. “I’m going to give you a bit of background so you’ll understand just how weird it got. Mrs. Sumner had died a few months after the baby came and the rumors spread like wildfire around town. She had always kept to herself ever since they moved here into that big house. They used to live in a big city, but something happened to her there – I never could get more info on that, but that’s why they came here. It was to get her away from the bad memories.
“She came into town to shop only a handful of times. After that, her husband did all their shopping. He’d bring that sweet baby with him and get the groceries and such. We all thought it was peculiar that he didn’t leave the baby with its mother ever, but it was said that she couldn’t be trusted to be alone with it. He was very devoted to her and the child though, so when she died, it hit him very hard. He took that baby everywhere, and when she was older too, and he never took his eyes off her, even for a second. That’s why it was so odd that she should disappear right from under his nose almost in his own house years later.
“No one ever suspected him of trying to get rid of his own daughter. It tore him up so bad after she was gone that he became depressed just like his wife had been. Did I ever tell you what she did? When they lived in the city, they had a pistol in the house – for protection, you know. They didn’t need it here, but brought it with them anyway. One afternoon when he brought the baby to the park to play, his wife got the gun out, put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger. He came home and found her right there in the baby’s room, dead. Such a mess it was too. Me and Mrs. McCally – you remember her, don’t’ you? She does nails down at the Beauty Shop. Anyway, we went over and cleaned it all up after the Sheriff was done with the room. He never put the baby in that room again though. Couldn’t bring himself to.
“He took very good care of her while she was growing up. He took her to school and picked her up. She was always a clean child and very well dressed. She was his whole life, and when someone stole her, it destroyed him. He searched and searched and hired detectives from the city, but no trace of the girl was every found. Finally, after no one seeing him in town for a few weeks, the Sheriff went out to make sure he was okay. We heard the doors were all unlocked, almost as if he had wanted someone to break in and do something to him.
“The Sheriff found the poor man dead in the baby’s old room where his wife had killed herself. The room had been unchanged in all those years, but he hadn’t killed himself. The doctor said he just wasted away. He hadn’t eaten or drank anything for days. You know, Cassie, that poor man did kill himself. He just didn’t use a gun like his wife did. Those were awful times.
“We had never had such said things happen before and haven’t had any since. At least, until Betsy passed away, and her nasty sister took over the store. Betsy had all that construction done at the store too, right around the time the girl disappeared. It didn’t’ make any sense because it wasn’t the store she was remodeling. She was putting in a basement for storage. That was crazy, since she had that little apartment over the store. Why put in a basement? She had plenty of room for books because in back of the store, there were some extra rooms. I wonder what Betsy ended up using that space under the store for. Her sister has to know about it. Maybe she keeps that creepy son of hers down there, you think?
“Wait. There was something bad that happened before Betsy died. She had this young man working for her at the store, sweeping up and taking out the trash. He lived in a shed out by the lake. I think hunters used it years ago, but it had been deserted for a long time and he just moved in there. I think his name was Bobby something. Anyway, he was clean most of the time and wasn’t a drinker, but he did used to look at the girls who came into the book store. When I say he looked at them, I mean, in not a nice way at all, especially the younger ones. He never touched any of them or spoke to them – Betsy wouldn’t allow that, but he sure did look. When the Sumner girl vanished, folks thought maybe he took her, but when he was found burned up in his shed, that eliminated him as a suspect.
“That was really bad, Cassie. The story went around that he fell asleep with a lit cigarette in there and some papers caught fire. He couldn’t get out because he was overcome with breathing in all the smoke. But you know, that didn’t make too much sense at the time. No one ever saw him with a cigarette and he never bought any in town. Plus, that shed looked like it had exploded. It would take a lot of papers to make it go up like that. We all wondered if someone else had burned him up, but why would anyone do that? He was just a drifter looking to make a few bucks and for a place to stay. Of course, there was the way he always looked at those little girls…
“Oh, don’t go away, dear. I’ll bring you some pie and more coffee for both of us as soon as I take care of those folks that just came in. I’ve got so much more to tell you for your book.”
Elyssa couldn’t be left alone with her mother? What happened to her in the city that cause her severe depression? Did that have anything to do with someone taking her child? Why did Betsy have all that work done putting in a basement? What really happened to Bobby something? Was it accidental or a murder-arson? Did he see, or know, something about Elyssa’s disappearance and had to be silenced permanently?