Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
he black van was hidden from view, parked behind an abandoned dry-cleaning facility in a town fifteen miles north of Camp Musquapsink. The driver waited for the Volvo station wagon to come into view.
Where are they? If everything had gone according to plan, they should have been here by now.
Through the open window, she thought she heard a car approaching. She strained to see the vehicle that should be coming around the corner of the building, and started to pull on her mask. But instead of the white station wagon she was expecting, a red convertible swung into view.
The top was down and she could see four young people in the car, two boys and two girls.
High school kids,
she thought. Maybe they were sneaking back here for a little make-out session. If that was the case, they’d be almost as distressed to see her as she was to see them.
As the convertible approached, she decided she had no choice other than to play it cool. Quickly pulling off the mask and dropping it in her lap, she looked directly at the convertible’s passengers as the car passed alongside the van. The convertible circled the parked vehicle and then drove back in the direction from which it had come.
It was just kids. They weren’t going to be paying any attention to news reports over the days to come. And even if they did hear about everything, they weren’t going to make any connection between the woman in the black van behind the old dry-cleaning plant and the kidnapping of Eliza Blake’s daughter.
Tears were running down Janie’s cheeks.
Mrs. Garcia glanced over from the driver’s seat. “Don’t cry,
” she said in a soothing voice. “Everything going to be okay.”
“I want Mommy,” Janie sobbed. She raised her hands to wipe at her tears, smearing the green face paint.
“And your mommy wants you, too, kiddo. You can count on that,” said Popeye in the backseat of the station wagon.
Janie felt the hot breath, seeping through the mouth opening of his mask, against the nape of her neck. She reached backward to wipe the feeling away. The man grabbed her hand.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he said.
“Nothing.” Janie sniffled.
“It better be nothing. I’ve heard you’re a smart little girl. So don’t do anything stupid. And stop that damned crying,” he demanded. “Or I’ll give you something to really cry about.”
Janie tried to control her sobs, but realizing with every minute she was getting farther and farther from her mother, her crying continued. Soon she was hiccupping as well.
“For God’s sake, get her to stop, will you?” demanded Popeye, pressing the tip of his gun against the back of Mrs. Garcia’s head.
“She can’t help it,” said Mrs. Garcia. “She scared.”
“What the hell good are you if you can’t control the kid?” the man asked angrily.
The tone of his voice made Janie sit up straighter. What if the man hurt Mrs. Garcia? What if he took her away? Then she would have no one
to take care of her and she would be alone with the horrible, smelly man. Janie willed herself to stop crying, but the hiccupping continued.
“Turn in up there,” Popeye instructed.
The station wagon slowed and pulled into a deserted parking lot where weeds were growing up through the cracks in the macadam.
“Now drive around to the back of the building.”
Janie looked up over the dashboard, trying to see what was ahead.
“Pull up next to the van and park,” the sailor commanded.
Mrs. Garcia did as she was told. As the Volvo came to a stop, the woman in the front seat of the black van finished sliding the mask over her head.
“Now, both of you, get out.”
Mrs. Garcia and Janie obeyed while the man kept his gun aimed at them. A toothy-grinned Olive Oyl got out of the van and, walking around to the back, opened its double doors.
“Go ahead,” said Popeye. “Get on back there.”
Mrs. Garcia took Janie’s hand and started walking slowly, wondering if there was any chance at all that they could break away and run. But the gun aimed in their direction made the odds of getting away next to nil. Even if she were willing to try anything herself, she couldn’t risk Janie’s life.
The sailor got out of the backseat of the station wagon and followed them. As they got close to the van’s rear doors, Olive Oyl held out two cords made of rope. She swapped the rope for the man’s gun and kept it pointed in the direction of Mrs. Garcia and Janie while Popeye expertly tied their wrists behind their backs.
“Okay, climb in,” the man growled.
Mrs. Garcia struggled to lift her leg high enough to get a foothold on the van floor.
“You should get yourself on a diet, lady,” Popeye grunted as he got
behind Mrs. Garcia and tried to lift her. With his pushing her, Mrs. Garcia rolled awkwardly into the back of the van.
“Now, little princess, it’s your turn.”
As the man reached down to lift Janie, the little girl leaned forward and bit him as hard as she could.
“Jesus Christ,” the man yelled, pulling his wounded hand from Janie’s mouth while smacking the child’s face with the other. He ripped the feathered construction-paper band from Janie’s head and threw it to the ground.
“Calm down, sailor,” said the woman. “Get hold of yourself. That temper of yours could ruin everything.”
blue Lincoln Town Car turned into the driveway on Saddle Ridge Road. The driver got out and opened the rear passenger door.
“Thanks,” said Eliza as she emerged. “See you in the morning.”
“Yes, ma’am, see you then.”
As the car pulled out of the driveway, Eliza walked around to the backyard. She could hear Daisy’s loud barking. Eliza strode out over the expansive lawn to the doghouse.
“Hey, Daisy,” she said as she bent down and smoothed the dog’s golden coat. “How are you, girl?”
Usually a loving pat and a few gentle words were all it took for Daisy to settle right down. But this afternoon, the dog continued to bark, rapidly wagging her tail.
“What’s the matter, girl?” asked Eliza. “Have you been out here too long?”
Eliza unclipped the dog from the leash. Daisy bounded for the house as Eliza followed.
Right away, she noticed that the French doors that led from the patio
to the interior of the house were open. Eliza knew that Mrs. Garcia liked to let fresh air in the house. Having grown up in Guatemala, central air-conditioning was foreign to Mrs. Garcia and she found it too cold and too stuffy. The housekeeper thought the air inside the house needed to circulate more. Leaving the doors open whenever she could was her solution.
But Eliza noticed that the sliding screens had been left wide open as well. Maybe Mrs. Garcia had entered with her arms full of groceries and forgotten to come back and close the screen doors.
Eliza walked through the open doorway. “Mrs. Garcia,” she called, “I’m home.”
The house was quiet.
Eliza put down her bag on the kitchen counter and took a bottle of water from the refrigerator before heading upstairs.
“Mrs. Garcia?” she called when she reached the top of the staircase.
No response. Eliza went from room to room, the thought crossing her mind that Mrs. Garcia could have had a heart attack or something and could be lying somewhere, unable to answer. It was a relief to find each room in order, with no sign of Mrs. Garcia.
Glancing at her watch, Eliza calculated that it would be another hour and a half before Janie arrived home from camp. Maybe Mrs. Garcia had gone out to do some errands before Janie got back. A check of the garage revealed that the station wagon wasn’t there.
Yes, thought Eliza. That’s what must have happened. Mrs. Garcia had gone out to the store or the post office. Eliza knew that Mrs. Garcia made quick visits, if there was time after she got her work done, to her daughter and grandbaby in Westwood. Maybe she was over there. But wherever Mrs. Garcia had gone, Eliza had absolutely no doubt that she would be back in time to meet Janie’s bus.
Eliza changed into shorts, a sleeveless top, and a pair of sandals. Then she went downstairs again to check the mail. In the den there was nothing on her desk, where Mrs. Garcia always left any envelopes and packages.
She walked outside, down the driveway, and opened the mailbox. Diagonally across the road, she spotted her neighbor doing the same thing.
“Hi, Susan,” Eliza called out and waved.
Susan Feeney waved back. “How are you?” she called.
“Fine thanks,” said Eliza. “You?”
“Thrilled to finally have all the workmen out of the house,” said Susan, walking closer so she wouldn’t have to yell. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to have that addition finished and have the house to myself again.”
“Well, it looks wonderful,” said Eliza. “They really did a nice job.”
“Thanks,” Susan said. “The joys of home ownership never end, do they? There’s always something that needs doing. What are you having done now?”
“What do you mean?” asked Eliza.
“I saw the work van in your driveway this morning.”
Eliza shrugged. “I didn’t know we were having anything done. Mrs. Garcia must have scheduled something.”
Eliza stretched out on a lounge chair under the striped awning that shaded most of the patio and began flipping through the mail. After opening a few envelopes and scanning the contents, she put the pile down, lay back, and closed her eyes.
I’m still not adjusted to these early hours,
I’m just going to rest for a few minutes.
When she opened her eyes again, the shadows in the yard were different and Eliza could tell the sun had shifted position. She looked at her watch. It was almost five o’clock. Janie would have gotten home from
camp a half hour ago.
Eliza thought. Mrs. Garcia had kept Janie from waking her mother when she got home from camp.
She rose from the lounge chair, picked up the mail, and went inside the house.
“Janie?” she called. “Mrs. Garcia?”
Eliza listened for a response but heard nothing. She went to the garage again. The station wagon was still gone. She checked the kitchen table and counters looking for a note. Finding none, she looked on the hall table and her desk. Nothing. Nor were there any signs that Janie had even come home. Usually, there would be some arts-and-crafts project deposited on a table, or her camp bag, with its contents of wet bathing suits and damp towels, left sitting on a chair.
Eliza felt her body tense. It wasn’t like Mrs. Garcia to take Janie somewhere without leaving a note. She called Mrs. Garcia’s cell phone.
“This is Carmen Garcia. Please leave your message and I will get back to you.”
“Hi, Mrs. Garcia. It’s just after five o’clock and I’m wondering where you and Janie are. Will you call me as soon as you get this message? I’m starting to worry.”
Next, she found the phone number for Mrs. Garcia’s daughter and tapped in the numbers, identifying herself when Maria Rochas answered. Eliza could hear a baby crying.
“I was wondering if your mother was there with Janie?” Eliza asked as she paced to the living room window. Her eyes searched the road.
“No, Mrs. Blake. My mother didn’t stop over today,” said Maria. “In fact, I haven’t talked to her all day. Is something wrong?”
“Everything’s probably fine, but if you hear from her, will you ask her to call me?”
“Of course I will,” said Maria. “And when my mother does get there, will you have her call me and let me know everything is all right?”
“Absolutely, Maria,” said Eliza. “Thank you.”
Clicking off the phone, Eliza told herself to stay calm. Most likely, there was a perfectly good explanation. Maybe Janie had gone to play at a friend’s house after camp and Mrs. Garcia was picking her up now. Maybe Mrs. Garcia had realized she needed something from the grocery store and she had taken Janie with her.
Eliza sat on the sofa in front of the picture window, willing the station wagon to pull into view.
eneath the tear-streaked vestiges of face paint, the redness of the handprint was fading, but the violence of the man’s strike had affected her. Janie kept her head down. The blindfold that had been tied tightly when they got into the back of the van made it certain she wouldn’t be able to see the people who were separating her from her mother.
She couldn’t tell how long they had driven and she had no idea of the route that had gotten them there. But now, she and Mrs. Garcia were sitting side by side on a soft mattress. Janie inched herself closer to her caretaker, desperate to find comfort.
“Mrs. Garcia,” she whispered. “I’m scared.”
“I am, too,
But don’t worry. Your
and her friends will come and get us.”
Janie hiccupped. “You promise?”
“I promise,” answered Mrs. Garcia, knowing she had no right to make such a pledge. “Your mommy is very strong. She is very powerful and she will make sure nothing bad happens to us.”
Janie was silent as she considered the woman’s answer. She wanted to believe Mrs. Garcia, wanted to believe that everything would be all right. But if her mother hadn’t been able to protect her from these bad people, maybe she wasn’t as strong and powerful as Mrs. Garcia said she was.
ne dead end after another.
There was no answer at Camp Musquapsink, which had closed for the night after the last campers left for the day. Calls to Susan Feeney and some other neighbors provided no comforting information. Marcia Demarest, the owner of Demarest Farms, said she hadn’t seen Mrs. Garcia but asked Eliza to hold on a minute while she checked with the other workers who manned the big red barn that provided luscious fruit and vegetables, a bakery, a deli, and fresh flowers for its eager customers.
“I’m sorry, Eliza,” said Marcia when she came back to the phone. “But nobody has seen Mrs. Garcia or Janie here today.”
Eliza bit her lower lip as she considered what she knew.
Daisy had been barking wildly when she arrived home.
The screen doors leading to the house had been left open.
The car was gone and there was no note.
Susan Feeney had seen a work van parked in the driveway this morning, but Eliza hadn’t scheduled any work to be done.
It was the last fact that bothered Eliza the most. Mrs. Garcia would have mentioned it if something needed to be repaired. What was that van doing in her driveway this morning?
With a feeling of panic washing over her, Eliza decided it was time to call the police.