Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
’m Eliza Blake,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady but hearing it cracking. “I’m worried that something has happened to my seven-year-old daughter and our housekeeper.”
The Ho-Ho-Kus police dispatcher instantly recognized the caller’s name and decided he should contact the chief of police at home. Only fifteen minutes later the chief and two uniformed officers arrived on Eliza’s doorstep. Two detectives were close behind.
They gathered in the kitchen and Eliza recounted everything she knew, trying to keep herself composed and her mind focused.
“I know Janie got off to camp safely this morning. I spoke with Mrs. Garcia right after I got off the air.”
“That’s at nine o’clock, right?”
“Yes,” said Eliza.
“Which camp does Janie attend?”
“That’s over the state line, in New York, isn’t it?” asked the detective.
Eliza nodded. “Yes, in Sloatsburg.”
“And you don’t know if your daughter came home from camp or not?”
“I could kick myself now, but I fell asleep in the backyard. I didn’t really think anything was wrong at that point. I didn’t wake up until after the time the bus usually drops Janie off. I’ve called the camp, but there’s no answer.”
The detective looked at one of the uniformed officers. “Give the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office a call and have them check out the camp,” he instructed.
Eliza shook her head. “I don’t understand it. Mrs. Garcia didn’t mention anything special she had planned to do with Janie. It just isn’t like her to go somewhere with Janie without telling me or leaving a note.”
“How long has the housekeeper worked for you?” asked one of the detectives.
“About two years now,” said Eliza.
“How did you find her?”
“Through an agency,” Eliza answered.
“We’ll need the name of the agency,” said the detective.
Eliza looked at him. “Hold it right there,” she said. “You don’t have to go investigating Carmen Garcia. I’d trust her with my life. In fact, more than that, I trust her with my child.”
Holly Taylor was lifting the London broil off the backyard grill when the phone rang. She took a sip of red wine before she picked up the portable phone from the table on the patio.
“This is Officer Kyle Downey of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Office. We’re looking for Holly Taylor.”
Holly’s face, already flushed from the heat of the barbecue grill, grew hotter still.
“This is Holly Taylor.”
“You are the director of Camp Musquapsink?”
“Ms. Taylor, we have a report that a child who goes to your camp is missing.”
Holly sat down on one of the cushioned outdoor chairs. She could feel her pulse racing in her ears.
she told herself.
You must not panic.
“Oh, no,” she said, showing concern but trying to keep her voice as even as possible. “Which child is it?”
Though over two hundred campers registered each summer, Holly prided herself on knowing all of them by name. Some of them, like Janie Blake, had the added distinction of having famous last names, being children of professional sports players, media moguls, and Wall Street barons living in Manhattan or the New York City area. Janie’s mother was arguably the most well-known parent the camp had ever had.
The thought that something could have happened to Janie, or any of the campers entrusted to her care, made Holly physically ill. And if the camp was involved in any way, had been remiss in any of its safety procedures, the adverse publicity could be ruinous. Still, Holly knew she should tell the truth.
“Janie was at camp this morning,” she said. “But her caretaker came and picked her up.”
“What time was that?” asked Officer Downey.
“I’m not quite sure,” said Holly. “I think it was right before lunch. But I can check the log we keep in the office. I’ll drive over to camp right away.”
“How long will that take you, Ms. Taylor?”
“I should be there within half an hour.”
“Someone from the sheriff’s office will meet you.”
Holly hoped to reach the camp and check the log before the police arrived, but when her car pulled into the parking lot, a Rockland County
sheriff’s vehicle was already there. Two tall, tanned officers in light blue uniforms stood at the entrance to the office waiting for her.
She unlocked the door and the officers escorted her inside. Holly went directly to the reception desk and pulled the leather-bound book from the drawer. She opened the log to the day’s notations, quickly seeing that there were only three entries, all of them made before lunchtime. Two children had been taken out of camp by their mothers to go to morning dental appointments. Then, at 11:23
, Carmen Garcia had signed out Janie Blake.
Nobody had looked at the log afterward. Nobody had read the words written a full eight hours ago now.
Holly forced herself to hold up the book so the police officers could read the shaky script—an instruction that had been totally ignored.
t was time to catch up. The scrapbook was nowhere near up-to-date.
Nell positioned herself next to the magazine racks at the CVS and waited while a teenager took out last month’s issues and replaced them with the current ones.
“Mind if I go through those?” asked Nell, pointing to the pile of outdated magazines.
The high school kid shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”
Nell bent over and began to weed through the stack. A few were no-brainers. Eliza Blake smiled from their covers. Others required further scrutiny. Nell read the teasing announcements on each one about what could be found on the pages inside. She located four more magazines that contained what she wanted. After she was satisfied she wasn’t missing anything, Nell went to the checkout counter.
“Evening, Nell. Haven’t seen you in a while,” observed the elderly man at the cash register.
“I’m busy, Charlie.”
“I know what you mean,” said the man as he began holding the periodicals’ bar codes under his scanning gun. “I don’t know where the days go sometimes.” He scrutinized the dates on the magazine covers.
“Hey, Nell, these are old issues. You shouldn’t be charged for these.”
It was a little game they played: Nell bringing the magazines that were too old to sell up to the register, Charlie letting her have them for free.
“How’s your uncle doing?” he asked.
“He’s fine, Charlie.”
“Tell him I was asking for him, will you?”
“I will,” said Nell as she reached for the long braid that hung down her back and pulled it to the side so it rested on the front of her shirt.
As he slid the magazines into a plastic bag, Charlie looked at the covers.
“I see you’re still keeping that scrapbook of yours, huh?”
Nell nodded. “Yes, I am.”
“It must be pretty big by now.”
“The first and second ones are finished,” she said proudly, “and I’m starting on a third.”
“You really are crazy about that Eliza Blake, aren’t you?” he asked.
Nell smiled sweetly. “I love her. I just love her.”
Turning to the neatly stacked magazines on the Formica-topped table, Nell took one from the top of the pile and began flipping through the pages. When she came to the article she was searching for, she picked up the scissors. She cut jaggedly around the edges of the first picture: a smiling mother and a happy child riding bicycles together on a sunny day.
Nell studied the photograph. The light was shining on Eliza’s face and the way she was looking at Janie made Nell’s chest tighten. She wished her mother had looked at her that way when she was younger. They had never ridden bicycles together, and Nell knew that her mother had never loved her in the same way Eliza loved Janie. Her mother hadn’t been good at showing love.
Nell worried sometimes that she had contributed to her mother’s
death. When her mother got sick, she didn’t have the strength she needed to fight. Nell suspected she had used up all her energy on her. Nell’s father had taken off when she was a baby, and her mother had raised Nell by herself, along with working as a waitress to earn the money that barely paid the bills.
There were always so many bills. Nell could remember her mother complaining as she hunched over the kitchen table in their tiny rented bungalow, trying to parcel out the money every month, paying the minimum due on the credit card statement and just enough on the utility bills so the heat and the electricity wouldn’t be turned off. Still, it seemed the collection agencies were always calling, and there had been many nights when they had used candles to get through the evenings and had huddled together under their quilts to stay warm.
Her mother was forever bringing leftovers home from the restaurant, muttering about how she had to keep her lousy job so they wouldn’t starve. She was forced to find activities that didn’t cost much. When they splurged, once a year, on Nell’s birthday and went to the movies, they timed it to go to the early-bird matinee. They never bought overpriced candy at the concession stand, stopping beforehand to get it at a grocery store. Her mother didn’t have time to read to her, so some of Nell’s earliest memories were of the story hours she’d attended at the public library. The sessions Nell had there were her happiest, and soon reading and scrap-booking became Nell’s favorite activities.
She positioned the photo of Eliza and Janie Blake exactly in the middle of the scrapbook page. Then she artfully arranged star and heart stickers around the picture, creating a display that pleased her. Slowly and deliberately, Nell made her way through all the magazines, cutting and pasting and filling page after page in the scrapbook.
When she was finished with her work, Nell closed the book with satisfaction and a sense of anticipation, knowing there would be more pictures of Eliza to come.
n Amber Alert was issued on surrounding highways while color photographs of Janie Blake, supplied by Eliza, were transmitted to police stations around the country. The local police went from house to house, asking the neighbors if they had seen Mrs. Garcia or Janie that day, or if they had noticed anyone or anything suspicious. So far, Susan Feeney was the only one who had anything to report. She told the police everything she could remember about the black van she had seen in Eliza’s driveway that morning. It wasn’t much. She thought there had been a dent in one of the van’s back doors. From her vantage point across the street, she hadn’t noticed any identification on the side of the van, nor had she noted the license plates. She couldn’t even say for certain if they had been New Jersey tags. But law enforcement started checking to see if there were any reports of a stolen vehicle matching that description.
Before the long summer evening had slipped into full darkness, Eliza’s home was swarming with law enforcement personnel. As the minutes dragged into hours, Federal Bureau of Investigation special agents searched the premises, dusted for fingerprints, and set up their on-site command center in Eliza’s garage. Dozens of agents from New York and the Newark field office were out searching and FBI computers in Quan
tico, Virginia, were spitting out records on sex offenders as well as child abuse and extortion perpetrators. Though no ransom demands had been made, the notation in the camp ledger signaled that something was terribly wrong.
said Special Agent Barbara Gebhardt as she looked at her notes. “The housekeeper could have written that just to throw us off.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time a domestic was in on a kidnapping plot,” said Agent Trevor Laggie. “It makes it a lot easier to kidnap somebody when you have access to their home and know their schedule.”
Eliza sat on the sofa, face tear streaked, hair disheveled, and arms wrapped around her body, listening to the conversation between the agents. She was using every bit of energy willing herself not to fall apart. She couldn’t panic, she had to pay attention. She
Janie and Mrs. Garcia, while none of these people invading her home did. While Mrs. Garcia had been with them only since they’d moved to Ho-Ho-Kus from Manhattan two years before, time and time again, Eliza had witnessed the woman’s honesty, dependability, and utter devotion to Janie. The woman who made sure to return any spare change she found between the cushions of the sofa when she cleaned, and whose eyes filled with tears whenever Janie fell off her bike, would never steal Janie away.
If she had knowledge that could somehow help to find her little girl, she had to be in a condition to offer it. Eliza wanted to retreat, wanted to be able to go upstairs, pull the covers over her head, and fall into a deep, deep sleep, only to find, when she woke up, that it was all just the worst possible dream. But that wouldn’t help find Janie or Mrs. Garcia. She had to stay focused.
“I’m telling you,” Eliza spoke up. “Mrs. Garcia doesn’t have anything to do with this. She loves Janie. She would never take her away, not willingly anyway.”
Eliza leaned back, closed her eyes, and tried to imagine the scene in the camp office that morning. Mrs. Garcia had been trying to alert who
ever was at the reception desk that something was wrong. But why hadn’t Mrs. Garcia just spoken out?
“What about the girl who was there when Mrs. Garcia picked up Janie?” asked Eliza. “Maybe she saw something or remembers something that can help us.”
“Lisa Nichols,” said Laggie. “The camp director provided her address and phone numbers but, so far, we haven’t been able to contact her. We have agents going over to her house.”
“What about her cell phone?” asked Eliza.
“We’ve left repeated messages,” said Agent Laggie. “She has it switched off.”
Eliza felt her chest tighten. The minutes were passing, each one of them taking Janie farther away. She knew the statistics. Every hour that passed made it harder to find a missing child.
Eliza called Range Bullock to tell him what had happened and to alert him to the fact that she would most definitely not be coming in to anchor
KEY to America
in the morning. The president of the news division, in turn, called the executive producer of the morning program. Telling Linus Nazareth ensured that word would spread quickly after that.
Every time the phone rang, the atmosphere on the first floor of the Blake residence grew more electric. Each time Eliza picked up the receiver, she braced herself to hear the voice of the person who knew where Janie was. But each time, the voice at the other end was a friend or colleague who had heard the news.
“The assignment desk just called me. I’ll be out there within the hour.”
Eliza felt a slight bit of relief when she heard B.J. D’Elia’s familiar voice.
“Are you coming out as my friend or as a KEY News cameraman?” asked Eliza.
“Both,” said B.J., “and Annabelle is coming with me. She’s producing the lead piece in the morning.”
Eliza almost had to laugh. Her world was falling down around her and
KEY to America
was gearing up to cover it. How many times had she reported on the various calamities that befell human beings? Hurricanes and floods and fires and murders and business collapses and political scandals and terrorist attacks. Too many times to count, Eliza had reported the stories of people who were disillusioned and dazed and broken and fighting for their lives. Now it was her turn. Now she was the victim every reporter would want to interview, every cameraperson would want to capture.
She hung up the phone, walked over to the window, parted the curtains, and looked outside. Satellite trucks and news cars were parking on the street in front of the house. The media circus was beginning.
At the same time as she dreaded it, she also welcomed it. Let them all come and do their jobs. Let them write their stories for the front pages of their newspapers or air their videos at the top of every single news broadcast. Let them flood the Internet with articles and the airwaves with reports. The more people who knew that Janie was missing, the more people who would be looking out for her.
Knowing that Maria must be sick with worry, Eliza picked up the phone and called Mrs. Garcia’s daughter.
“Hello, Maria. It’s Eliza Blake again.”
“Yes?” Maria answered, her voice hopeful but tense.
“You haven’t heard from your mother yet, have you?”
“No,” said Maria. “I was praying just now when the phone rang that it would be her.”
“I wish it was her, too, Maria,” said Eliza. “I
wish it was her. But I just wanted to keep you posted on what’s happening. I’ve called the police and they are going to be looking for your mother and Janie.”
” Maria said softly.
“Try not to worry, Maria. The police will find them and everything will be fine.”
Eliza did her best to sound positive, but she suspected that Maria Rochas knew full well how anxious she was, and how scared.