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Authors: John Gideon

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BOOK: Greely's Cove
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“We grew up together,” Carl reminded her. “In fact, our fathers practiced law together. Stu and I were planning to do the same one day, only... well, that’s a long story. Go on.”

“Stu decided to call in the State Patrol after she’d been gone a few days, and they organized a search. Carl, it was one of the worst things I’ve ever gone through. People fanned out along the shore of the Cove and started walking through the woods, calling her name, poking into bushes and holes, looking for some piece of her clothing, anything at all. Needless to say, they didn’t find anything. The Patrol put out a nationwide bulletin through the missing-kid network and drew a total blank. The Coast Guard scoured the shore all the way down to the Bainbridge Island bridge. She just—disappeared.”

She paused for a drag on the cigarette. “This is a small town, as you well know, and everyone knows everyone else. We all felt like it had happened to one of our own family. We watched Tom and Linda Spenser become walking zombies because they couldn’t sleep at night, because they couldn’t stop wondering when some policeman would call on the phone and tell them that a hiker in the Olympic Forest had found Jennifer’s mutilated body, or that she’d washed up on the shore, or—” Sandy shuddered, causing Carl to do the same.

“It’s hard to imagine anything worse,” he said, interrupting the pounding of rain against the huge window in the lobby.

“I would’ve said the same thing eight months ago. But there
is
something worse: when it happens
again.
About a month later Elvira Cashmore disappeared.”

Carl’s face went slack and whitened a shade. “Old Mrs. Cashmore? Frank Cashmore’s widow?” He had known the Cashmores as a boy. In fact, he had cared for their yard, mowing the lawn, trimming the hedge. They had paid him well and treated him like a favorite nephew. “Who could possibly want to hurt Elvira?” The question was rhetorical, and he immediately regretted asking it.

“She was sixty-eight years old and one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known—left a rhubarb pie in the oven. She didn’t take any clothes with her, and she didn’t withdraw any money from her account at the bank. Never let on to anybody that she planned to go anywhere—just disappeared. So we went through the whole bloody exercise again: state police officers, the organized search, the Coast Guard, and, well, nothing ever turned up. Nothing
solid
, that is.”

The term “nothing
solid
” gave Carl a twinge of discomfort. But before he could ask her to explain what she meant by it, Sandy went on: “That wasn’t the end of it. The very next month, someone else disappeared. This time it was—let me think—oh, yes: Monty Pirtz.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard of him. He must’ve moved here after I left.”

“He was a little younger than you and I, a Vietnam vet who was confined to a wheelchair. Ran a small repair shop up the street and lived mostly off his disability checks. Anyway, he vanished into thin air just like Jennifer and Elvira, and nobody’s seen him since.”

The following month, September, it was a ten-year-old girl, Cindy Engstrom, who disappeared.

In October it was Wendell Greenfield, age fifty-one, a service-station owner who was the husband of Sandy’s close friend, Debra Greenfield.

In November it was one of Teri Zolten’s teachers at Suquamish High: forty-two-year-old Peggy Birch. Shortly afterward her husband, George, had a nervous breakdown and blew his own head off with a shotgun.

December: a fifteen-year-old boy named Josh Jemburg.

And January: a pretty waitress who worked at Bailey’s Seafood Emporium, Elizabeth Zaske, not yet twenty.

“The last one was exactly a month ago,” said Sandy, “on January 8, and that’s the way it’s been ever since last June. During the first or second week of the month, someone vanishes.” She pounded her cigarette into an ashtray that held a matchbook on which was printed:
For Our Matchless Friends
. “Other than the timing, there doesn’t seem to be any pattern. The victims can be young or old, male or female. The State Patrol is baffled, and so is Stu. Worst of all, there doesn’t seem to be anything anyone can do.” She raised her green-eyed stare to his, and he caught a dose of the apprehension she felt. “Maybe now you can see why I worry about letting Teri go out.”

Carl tried to be comforting by pointing out that people
do
walk away from their homes and communities, often without telling anyone and without making the preparations that most folks would consider normal. They leave behind clothes, luggage, and bank accounts. Others fall into rivers and streams, never to be found. And, tragically, some fall victim to child-killers and molesters, but this is comparatively rare, despite sensationalist news coverage. It seemed like a good sign, he offered, that Greely’s Cove’s “victims” were of all ages, both male and female, because virtually every serial killer that Carl had ever heard of did his evil deeds according to a rigid pattern. Even though people had disappeared with monthly regularity, the likelihood of coincidence seemed strong.

“Mind you, I’m no detective,” he concluded, “but I’d bet a year’s salary that these things aren’t connected. If I were you, I’d stop worrying. You can’t shut yourselves away and stop living, after all. Life has to go on.”

Sandy Zolten pretended to be comforted. “Oh, you’re probably right. Ken and I have told each other the same thing, but it helps to hear it again. Anyway, I’m sorry I burdened you with this, Carl.”

“Don’t be. My load of trouble is small compared to having a child disappear. I’ve lost Lorna, but I’m getting my son back.

I can’t imagine what the Spensers and the Engstroms must be going through, having lost their little girls.”

“Or the Jemburgs their son.”

“I’m glad you told me about this, Sandy,” said Carl. “It’s reminded me that I’m a lucky man. I’m getting a second chance with my boy, and this time I’m not going to blow it.” He reached over the counter and patted her arm. “You take care. I’ll see you later.”

Outside, he raised his parka hood and zipped up tight, as the rain was falling in stinging sheets. But he did not hurry toward Bailey’s Seafood Emporium. Sandy Cunningham Zolten’s disturbing story had killed his appetite.

Having traveled half the distance between the motel and the restaurant, he nearly turned around and went back. He had forgotten to ask her what she’d meant by “nothing
solid
” Elvira Cashmore had disappeared, and nothing
solid
had turned up. Did this mean that something
un
solid—an insubstantial clue or an ambiguous explanation—had?

Just then he stepped smack into the roiling stream of a gutter, soaking his shoe and sock. He swore wildly as the cold shot up his leg, into his guts. He shivered and forged on toward Bailey’s, no longer thinking of steamed mussels. What he needed now was a good stiff Scotch.

On any other Saturday night Stu Bromton would have gone out with his buddies to pound down some beer, maybe to the Moorage out on Marina Street, or, if they felt like slumming, to Liquid Larry’s. Stu would have allowed himself a steak sandwich and fries, knowing that he’d need to jog an extra mile the next day to keep the fat off.

On any other Saturday night he would have pounded down his final brew just before midnight and, after announcing to his buddies that all good things must end, gone home to his prefab house with its beige aluminum siding, smelling like a brewery but not even close to being drunk. Being a big man has its advantages, he often said, especially if he happens to be the police chief in a small town and needs to stay respectable. Lots of body weight, lots of capacity.

But this wasn’t an ordinary Saturday night. This was one month to the day after the latest disappearance in Greely’s Cove, Washington, when a cute young waitress named Elizabeth Zaske stepped into a crack in the earth and shot straight to the molten core. Or climbed up a ladder into an alien ship to be whisked to another galaxy. Or was eaten by a cave bear.

One month to the day.

Stu Bromton, chief of the Greely’s Cove Police Department, didn’t feel like drinking beer tonight, but neither did he feel like going home. He didn’t feel like listening to Judy, his wife, whine about the payments on the satellite dish. He was in no mood for his sixth-grade daughter’s complaints about school, her “tacky” clothes, and lack of privacy. And he certainly did not look forward to the din of his four-year-old boy’s violent fantasies with Go-Bots.

Unfortunately, Stu Bromton had no other choices. This, more than any other frustration—the lack of choices—made his life a hell.

“I guess I’ll head home, Bonnie,” he said to the dispatcher, who sat in her steel-mesh enclosure. “Give me a buzz if anything happens.”

“Okay, Stu,” said Bonnie Willis, glancing up from her log sheet. She was a big woman, maybe thirty, who looked as though she had applied her police uniform with a spray gun. “I thought you’d be going out for a few cold ones, after putting in such a long day and all. Do you realize it’s almost eight?”

Stu realized it. He had purposely made it a long day, finding put-off paperwork to tackle, chores to do, letters to write. But all good things must end. “Have a nice shift,” he said, incurring a sympathetic smile from Bonnie. The heavy door swung closed behind him, and the smell of rain filled his lungs.

As was his custom, he took a turn around town before heading home, just to verify that things were quiet, not that doing so would cure the unease that wormed in his guts. The disappearances never gave any warning. Nothing ever seemed out of place during the hours and days before someone called the station to report a missing person. No strangers were seen prowling the alleys, and no strange lights appeared in the woods. The plague that had crept into Greely’s Cove operated under the maddening guise of normalcy.

He cruised down Frontage Street, past the West Cove Motor Inn and the Fox Theater. Here and there pedestrians darted, their collars turned up against the rain. Though this was a Saturday night and still early, remarkably few cars were on the streets.

He turned onto Second Avenue, a shady residential street overhung with winter-naked maples and elms, lined with cramped bungalows built in the late 1940s. As he approached midblock, he slowed to get a look at a particular house, the one where Lorna Trosper had lived with her son. Because there were no streetlamps, he saw little more than a dark hump of roof, guarded on either side by towering pines. He knew well what the house looked like. One-sixteen Second Avenue, Greely’s Cove, Washington: white clapboard siding and dark green trim. He had wanted merely to be
near
it, if only for a few seconds.

He felt a pang somewhere near his solar plexus. There, in the cluttered garage of that house, Lorna had breathed carbon monoxide until every cell in her body was cold and inert, and in so doing she had shattered another of Stu Bromton’s ragged but precious fantasies. Oh, he had long ago given up any notion of actually winning her and making her
his,
even before she had taken up with Renzy Dawkins, who was Stu’s oldest buddy next to Carl Trosper. Even if he had still been single, Stu would have been no match for Renzy in a contest for Lorna’s affection. Renzy was rich and rakishly handsome, and he had an aura of glamor and adventure.

Still, good fantasies are hard to come by, and Stu Bromton mourned the loss of this one. Feeling empty and more than a little worthless, he headed home.

4

Ralph Macchio, playing the Karate Kid, rose to the challenge and vanquished his dastardly rival in the final minute of the film, doing his kindly mentor, Mr. Miyagi, proud. His reward was the tumultuous adulation of a horde of bloodthirsty spectators, a gratified and almost tearful smile from Mr. Miyagi, and a contract to star in the forthcoming sequel,
Karate Kid II.

The house lights came on while the credits still rolled, and a crowd whose average age was under sixteen gorged into the aisles and out the doors of Kingston’s tiny Rialto Theater. Though the rain had stopped, the street glistened wetly with the reflected glare of neon and headlights.

Teri Zolten breathed in the night, clearing her head of the cloying fumes of popcorn and cigarettes, relishing the salty breeze off the Puget Sound.

“My
gawd,
can you imagine getting nailed by Ralph Macchio!” exclaimed Gina Walsh after the trio had piled into Leah Solheim’s mother’s new Toyota. She closed her huge brown eyes and pretended to swoon in the rear seat.

Leah, a lissome blonde whose hazel eyes looked much older than seventeen, retorted, “In your case, can you imagine getting nailed by
anybody
?”

Teri Zolten laughed shrilly, and Gina snatched up the gauntlet.

“At least I have some taste,” she said. “Not like some other people who happen to be driving this car. You wouldn’t catch me peeling my pantyhose for a salmon-face like Rory Pressman.”

Teri found this to be unbearably funny and cackled. But Leah did not.

“Fuck off and die,” she said, betraying a raw nerve.

The Pizza Hut was less than two blocks from the Rialto, near the intersection of Highway 3 and Bond Road, which led south to Greely’s Cove. Teri hoped that her two chums weren’t really mad at each other, though their silence was not a good sign.

“Let’s be outrageous and get a Deep-Pan Super Supreme,” she said as they entered the restaurant’s parking lot. “A big one.”

“Speaking of
big
ones, Leah, has Rory asked you out again?” Gina apparently was not prepared to let the matter lie.

“At least I know what one looks like, which is more than you’ll ever know!”

“But unlike you, I’ll never have the desire to know what they
all
look like,” counterpunched Gina, and this time Teri almost choked with laughter, though she wanted desperately to avoid taking sides in this spat.

“Oh hey, you guys, look who’s here!” Leah was pointing frantically at a deliciously black ’67 Chevy that was thundering to a stop a few parking slots away, its monstrous V-8 burping and shaking. One of its smoked windows was down, and visible inside were two shaggy-headed boys whose hair grew down the backs of their necks in fashionable rattails. “God, it’s Kirk Tanner and Jason Hagstad! Can you believe it?”

BOOK: Greely's Cove
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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