Authors: Mary Jane Clark
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Adult, #Thriller
n a reversal of the usual two-way interview, Harry Granger, on location on Saddle Ridge Road in Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, interviewed former FBI special agent and KEY News contributor Cathy Bonica, who was at the
KEY to America
studio in Manhattan.
“In your years with the Bureau, you worked on some pretty high-profile kidnapping cases, Cathy. What does your gut tell you about this one?”
“Well, first of all, Harry, we aren’t even sure that this
a kidnapping. Janie Blake and her caregiver are missing. No one saw them taken against their wills. There has been no ransom demand.”
“But assuming that this
a kidnapping, Cathy, what could be going on here?”
“Well, Harry, there are three types of kidnapping.” Cathy reeled off the list. “Kidnapping by a relative or family member…that sort of kidnapping is the most common. The other two types are kidnapping by an acquaintance and kidnapping by a stranger.”
“Which do you think we are looking at here?”
“It’s too early to know,” said the former FBI agent. “If a ransom demand is sent, that might give investigators a clue. If no ransom demand
is made, it’s more than likely this is not a kidnapping with profit as a motive. When a seven-year-old girl is abducted, and it isn’t for the money, the worry is it could be for sexual perversion or worse.” Cathy paused. “But I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, Harry,” she said. “For every kidnapping by someone unrelated to the child, there are over seventy abductions by family members. So, I think it’s fair to say that investigators are following the statistics right now and concentrating on Janie Blake’s known universe.”
“Which would be the housekeeper?” asked Harry. “Is it law enforcement’s inclination that there has been foul play by the housekeeper?”
“I’m sure that’s their first thought, Harry. They are going to look at Carmen Garcia first, and focus on the family as well. After that, they will move outward…to friends and acquaintances, peripheral contacts, sex offenders registered in the community, and finally, and this is the most frightening scenario of all, Harry, strangers.”
“Let me get back to something you just said, Cathy. You said that investigators would concentrate on Carmen Garcia and the family first. Did you mean Carmen Garcia’s family or Janie Blake’s family?”
“Both families, Harry. Nobody will be immune from scrutiny.”
honda Billings put down her coffee cup and switched off the television. All the talk of kidnapping and the speculation about what could be happening to Janie Blake was upsetting her. Harry Granger and the others didn’t know what they were talking about. Rhonda was tempted to call in to
KEY to America
and let them know that Janie was just fine.
Rhonda walked around the living room of the ground-floor apartment. She fluffed the pillows on the sofa and straightened the pile of magazines on the coffee table. Then she checked the dial on the air-conditioning unit installed in the living room window. It was a giant machine, but it was the only air conditioner they had and it was going to have to pump extra hard. The forecast was for a scorching day.
Rhonda went to the bathroom, brushed her teeth, and pulled a comb through her short dark hair. She noticed that the gray was getting more and more visible. Over the last few years she had really aged, while Dave hadn’t changed very much at all.
Her husband was taking a nap after working the ten-to-six shift, grabbing a few hours’ sleep before it was time for her to leave for work at the bakery and he would take over on the home front. Rhonda knew he was relieved when it was time for her to go. She had the feeling sometimes that her husband couldn’t stand to be around her. But they had made a promise to stick together, and Dave was the type of person who kept his promises even when he didn’t want to.
So, while she was at work, it would be just Dave and her precious girl together, for most of the day. Now she was glad Dave worked the overnight shift, because that meant he was available for Janie, to watch over and protect her. She was worried though, because Dave could be so intolerant. He could have such a temper. That wasn’t good for a young child. A child needed patience and understanding and gentleness, and Rhonda had those things in abundance. She also had so much love to give. There would be enough love for both Dave and Janie. Dave didn’t have to be jealous or think she would forget about him. She could never forget about Dave. They had been through too much together.
Rhonda walked on bare feet into the kitchen and pulled a box of cereal from the cabinet on top of the refrigerator. She shook Cheerios into two plastic bowls and then poured milk on top. She put the bowls and two spoons on a tray and carried breakfast down the hallway. She wanted to make sure Janie had something to eat before she herself left for work.
The bakery had not yet opened for the day, but the baker had already been in for several hours. Rhonda came in through the rear door, inhaling the aroma of freshly baked bread, crumb cake, and Danish.
She put away her purse, went into the tiny lavatory at the back of the kitchen, and changed into her white uniform. While she was washing her hands, Rhonda looked into the mirror over the sink and realized she was smiling.
She was happy. For the first time in years, she was actually happy. Having Janie had done that for her. Yet, at the same time, Rhonda felt sorry for Eliza Blake. She was undoubtedly devastated, just as Rhonda had been when she’d lost her little girl. She also knew all too well that Eliza would never recover completely, never feel the same again. But, if Eliza were lucky enough to have another child someday, that would help her go on with her life. That’s what was allowing Rhonda to go on with hers.
Eliza was young enough to have more children. That wasn’t possible for Rhonda. It wasn’t fair, but that’s the way it was. Janie was the gift that evened things out.
Rhonda came out of the lavatory and went over to the shelf that was stacked with flattened cardboard containers. She took one, expertly folded it into a box, and lined it with tissue paper. Rhonda went from tray to tray, filling the box with cookies. Sugar cookies, chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal-and-raisin cookies, and English toffee cookies—and pieces of the baker’s signature marzipan. Then she took a second box and filled it with lemon squares and brownies, swaddling each in plastic wrap so they wouldn’t bump into one another. Finally, she took both boxes and packed them in a shipping carton.
She stood for a while, thinking about what she wanted to write. A gift card wouldn’t be big enough. She ripped a sheet from the pad of bakery order forms and wrote on the back.
I’m sorry you are going through such a hard time right now. Having lost a daughter myself, I know what it’s like. My heart goes out to you.
These treats are not as sweet as Janie, but I hope they fortify you in the difficult days you are facing.
You’re probably wondering, as I did when my little girl was lost to me, why this has happened. God works in mysterious ways. It will take time to be able to see why Janie was taken from you, or maybe you’ll never be able to understand. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to go through unbearable pain before you realize what’s truly important in life. Be comforted in knowing that your pain is helping someone else.
Someday, God willing, you’ll have another child. Save your money until then so you’ll be able to stay home and take care of your baby as you should.
Rhonda read the note over and folded it without signing it. She put the letter in the box with the cookies and sealed it closed. During her break she would take it over to the UPS office. Eliza should have the cookies tomorrow.
he sound of the upstairs tenants moving around above her head, and the familiar smell of strong coffee, had roused Maria from a fitful rest. She had barely slept at all, racking her brain trying to recall if her mother had said anything at all that could be a clue to what had happened to her and Janie Blake. She now made her way to the kitchen to put on her own pot of coffee.
Overwrought, overtired, and so upset by what she had seen on television, Maria dropped the uncapped bottle on the floor, spilling milk all over the worn linoleum. As she wiped up the mess, Maria felt her chest tightening. Her mother was missing and so was the child her mother took care of every day. And that child wasn’t just any child. That child was the daughter of one of the most well-known women in America.
Mrs. Blake was a nice lady, and it was good of her to call last night to let them know what was going on with the police search, but nice ladies could turn mean if things didn’t go their way. Carmen had seen women in the nail salon, smiling so sweetly when they came in for their manicures and pedicures, but changing into snarling witches if they had to wait too long or got a call they didn’t like on their cell phones.
If Mrs. Blake was upset, she might blame all of them. Because her own baby was gone, she could blame her mother, Vicente, even little Rosario. The Anglos could be harsh when they wanted to be. And the Anglo police scared Maria most of all.
Rosario was a United States citizen because she had been born in this country. And Carmen’s mother had legal working papers, so she was allowed to be here. But Vicente and Maria weren’t legal. They had sneaked into the country because there had been no work for them in Guatemala and because they wanted their child to be born in America.
So far, things had worked out all right. Vicente had found a job at the car wash and made some extra money doing detailing jobs on expensive cars and SUVs. Maria had gotten a position at the nail salon, first cleaning the floors and foot baths and stocking the hot towels, then gradually learning to do manicures. The two of them worked hard and saved every dollar they could just to make the rent each month for the cramped two-room apartment in the basement of a larger house that was occupied by a dozen other Guatemalans.
Someday, Maria hoped, the lawmakers would pass legislation so that she and Vicente could be out in the open, living here without constantly worrying that they would be caught and sent back to Guatemala. That day didn’t look like it was coming anytime soon. In the meantime, they tried not to call attention to themselves. But what was happening now was surely going to attract scrutiny.
Maria felt panicked. Vicente had already gone to the car wash, so she was alone with the baby. If the police came, she didn’t know what she was going to say to them. What if they asked her to prove she was allowed to be here? What if they took her and Rosario and put them in jail? Worse, what if they took Rosario away from her?
The apartment felt like a trap now. Wanting to get out as fast as she could, Maria hurried to pack the baby’s bottles and diapers in the bag she always took to the babysitter. She washed Rosario’s face and fastened the tiny sandals on her pudgy feet. Maria scooped the child in her arms and
started up the stairs. Just as the baby spit up all over the front of Maria’s shirt, the doorbell rang.
Two police officers stood at the door. One was of medium height and build, the other was tall and quite overweight. Maria wondered how he would ever be able to run to catch a criminal. Both wore neatly pressed blue uniforms, heavy black leather gun holsters around their waists.
“May I help you?” Maria asked.
ma’am,” said the medium-size policeman. “Are you Maria Rochas?”
“And your mother is Carmen Garcia?”
Maria shifted the baby on her hip. “
“We have a few questions to ask you regarding your mother.”
Maria waited, not inviting them inside.
“When was the last time you saw your mother?”
“Over the weekend. We went to Mass together on Sunday and then she spent the afternoon here.”
“You didn’t see her at all on Monday?”
“No,” answered Maria.
“Did you talk with her on the phone?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Do you usually talk to her every day?”
“Does she usually call you or do you usually call her?”
“We usually talk during my break. I usually call her.”
“Did you call her Monday at lunchtime?”
“No, I didn’t.” Maria knew there was no point in lying. There was a way to check the phone records.
Maria’s heart pounded and her face grew hot. Dear God, they were
thinking she had something to do with Janie Blake’s disappearance, that she had known her mother wouldn’t be at the Blakes’ house, so she hadn’t bothered to call.
“Why didn’t you call your mother on Monday, Mrs. Rochas?” the officer asked again.
“I had to work through my break and I didn’t have a chance to call her. That is the truth. You can check with my boss.”
The medium-size officer wrote down the name and address of the nail salon and the proprietor’s name.
“May we see your papers?” asked the heavier one.
Maria thought quickly. “My husband takes care of all that,” she said. “He’s not home.”
“And where can we find your husband?”
“He is working.”
Maria hesitated. “At the car wash.”
The officers looked at each other.
“Look, ma’am,” said the fat one. “We know that most of the guys who work at the car wash are illegal. That’s not what we’re here about. We want to find Janie Blake and your mother.”
“Is there anything you can think of that will help us find them?” asked the other cop. “Did your mother say anything, tell you anything at all, that might assist us?”
The baby in Maria’s arms started to cry. The combination of the morning heat, the smell of spit-up, and the tension made Maria feel nauseous. She struggled to remain erect.
“I can’t think of anything. No.”
The policemen didn’t look pleased. “All right, Mrs. Rochas. That’s all for now. But if it turns out you know something and aren’t telling us, there will be serious consequences,” said the heavy cop.
“Life-changing consequences,” said the other cop.