Authors: Will Overby
“Well, some of us have different gifts, but it
basically amounts to the same thing.”
He stared at the paper in his hand, then back at
Deb. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just a little flustered.”
She laughed. “I understand. You thought you were
the only one, didn’t you?”
“Well, no, not exactly. I mean, I always
there were others. I just didn’t expect so many. So close.”
“We’re not all from Springfield or Cedar Hill,” Deb
said. “Some of the members drive a couple of hours to get to the meetings.”
She nodded, then turned to look back at her
half-filled cart. “Well, I should really be going. I hope you’ll join us. If
not tomorrow, then another time.”
“What exactly do you do at these meetings?” He was
beginning to feel a touch of skepticism, and he worked to keep it out of his
“It’s more of a support group than anything,” she
said. “It’s just a place to belong. To make new friends.”
He shrugged, still noncommittal. “I’ll think about
“Most of us have spent our lives either denying we
had the gift or feeling like freaks. At our meetings we can feel normal.”
Normal. He liked the sound of that. He had never
at any point in his life felt normal. He glanced at the note again.
She smiled and grabbed her cart. “I really do hope
you’ll come. Once you meet everyone, you’ll know you don’t have to be alone
anymore.” She started moving away. “Goodbye, Joel.”
He stood silently, watching her go. He realized
that at no time during their conversation had he given her his name.
* * *
Halloran had finally decided he could stomach the
Mexican leftovers, but now they had been in the refrigerator so long they had
started to mold. He scraped them off into the trash and let the plate clatter
into the sink. Mel sat on the counter, watching him intently. “So much for
dinner,” Halloran said. There was nothing else to eat in the apartment, so now
he supposed he would have to head out. “Guess it’s Mickey D’s tonight,” he
told the cat.
His phone rang, and he flopped down on the sofa and
“Halloran?” It was Pettus. “I need you to come
down here to the station if you can.”
“Are you in the middle of something?”
“Not really. Just gonna go grab a bite to eat.”
Pettus grunted. “Well, get it to go.”
“You’re gonna love this. We got another missing
Halloran’s heart sank. “Another one?”
“Yep. Another girl.”
“I’ll be right there.”
* * *
Her name was Carmelita Santos. Her parents, both
migratory workers from Mexico, were already seated in his office talking to
Chapman when he arrived. The mother wept softly against her husband’s
shoulder, her round, brown cheeks glistening with tears. Mr. Santos sat
slumped over, his dark eyes glassy and fearful beneath the red brim of his St.
Louis Cardinals cap.
Chapman was scribbling information onto a report
form, a chewed-up Bic pen clamped in his fingers. “Carmelita is how old?” he
,” said Mr. Santos, then shook his
head, seemingly embarrassed that he had lapsed into Spanish. “
Chapman noted it on his report. “Tell us again what
Mr. Santos’s eyes flashed hotly. “We have already
told everyone. Three times.”
Chapman smiled sympathetically. “I know. But let’s
go over it one more time.” He nodded toward Halloran. “Lieutenant Halloran
and I will be investigating your daughter’s disappearance. I’d just like him
to hear everything from you.”
The Santoses eyed Halloran suspiciously. “You will
find our Carmelita?” Mrs. Santos asked.
“We’re certainly going to try,” Halloran told her.
They spoke hesitantly at first but gradually opened
up and began talking faster, at times in Spanish and then repeating themselves
in English. The three of them were living in a rooming house on Bellevue Road,
an area on the fringes of town where most of the migrants stayed during farming
season. Carmelita had left just after lunch to meet some friends at the city
park. The friends returned about two o’clock. Carmelita was not with them;
they had not seen her all day. Somewhere in the four blocks between the
rooming house and the park, she had vanished. The Santoses and the others
staying at the house had searched the neighborhood for two hours, but they
Halloran pulled a chair into the office from the
hallway. “You know of any reason why your daughter would run away?”
The Santoses shook their heads adamantly.
“Any problems with boys? Or drugs?”
Mr. Santos looked at Halloran, his face hard. “Our
Carmelita was happy,” he said.
Mrs. Santos pulled a photograph from her shirt
pocket and handed it over to Halloran. It was a slightly fuzzy snapshot of a
beautiful slender girl who looked just on the verge of womanhood. She was smiling
into the camera showing the dimples at the corners of her mouth. Her hair,
long and black, was tucked playfully behind her ears. She was wearing an
ash-gray jersey with purple sleeves and blue jeans.
“She says Carmelita was wearing that shirt today,”
,” whispered Mrs. Santos, tears
streaming down her cheeks. “
Mi bebé. Mi bebé
Halloran looked at her and nodded. “
* * *
Joel sat in the recliner, staring at the
Saturday Night Live
was on the screen, but he wasn’t
watching it. Beside him on the end table a cigarette sat in the ashtray; its
length had smoldered to gray ash until the fire had hit the filter and it
sputtered itself out.
In his fingers was the note Deb had given him today.
He had tried to tell himself all evening that it had just been a chance
encounter—a fluke. That she was like some psychic Hare Krishna handing out
Post-It note equivalents of flowers. But he knew otherwise. She had sought
him out. And she had been telling the truth. He was sure of it.
And she had known his name. He shuddered with a
A place to belong.
That’s what she had said. And
he wanted that. Needed it.
Maybe he would go tomorrow. Just to check it out.
He didn’t have to stay long. And no one said he ever had to go back if he
didn’t like it.
He could try it. Just once.
Sunday, July 8
Marla sat in the pew of the church, holding her open
bible and watching the minister but thinking of Wade.
Yesterday he had staggered to bed at five in the
morning, reeking of pot and sex. She pretended to be asleep until she heard
him snoring, then she sat up in bed, staring out at the early gray dawn as her
eyes brimmed with tears.
She wondered where he had been and with whom,
although it probably didn’t make much difference. She looked down at his head
of dark curls, his tanned shoulders, his muscled arm ringed with the tribal
tattoo peeking just above the sheets. She tried to remember how it felt to
love him, how she had felt when they were younger and she would hang on to him
for all she was worth when he made love to her, pulling him as deep inside as
she could. But now all she could feel was a painful loathing.
Why did he stay? What good was it possibly doing
for him to hang around? Maybe he simply enjoyed the sadistic kick of making
her miserable, of hurting her, of making her feel like a caged animal. Maybe
that was it.
She had dragged herself out of bed and made her way
to the kitchen, where she sat at the table in her T-shirt and panties while the
coffee brewed. She had noticed his clothes were not in the floor where he
usually dropped them when he crawled into bed, and she thought that odd; then
she wondered if he had hidden them from her. But why would he? He didn’t care
if she knew he was out with other women (he most assuredly had been), and he
didn’t care if there were telltale signs somewhere on his clothes (there
probably were). What was worse was that she didn’t care either. So why would
he hide them from her? She had thought about asking him when he got up just
before lunchtime, but when he stumbled through the kitchen to the porch, he
looked like walking death, and she thought it wise to simply ignore him.
After Joel stopped by, Wade had come back in and
cleaned up. “I’m goin’ into town,” he told her. He climbed into his truck and
barreled out of the driveway, his rear tires spitting gravel. She had not seen
This morning when he was still not home, she started
to call the police because he might have had an accident of some kind. But she
didn’t. It was, after all, not the first time he had disappeared only to
return later with no explanation. He was like a tomcat out searching for a
female in heat. It made her sick. But she did not want to worry about it
because that was what he wanted her to do. She knew he hoped she had been
awake all night waiting for him, expecting him to call and say he was in
trouble. Or worse, for the state highway patrol to show up on her doorstep
with bad news.
Instead, she called Joel. She only meant to ask if
he had seen Wade, but instead she found herself sobbing over the phone and
telling him that his brother had been out God-knew-where for the past two
nights, and that she had no idea who he had been with or what he had been up
to. And Joel had been angry; he hadn’t said so, but she could hear it in his
voice. He told her not to worry, that Wade was probably all right, that the
two of them would have a chat, and for her to call as soon as she heard anything.
She hung up feeling more than a little embarrassed, and somewhat fearful that
Wade would be furious with her for calling Joel.
It wasn’t fair. If Wade didn’t give a damn about
her, he should at least think of Derek. A boy needed to have his father
She looked over at him now, sitting complacently
next to her in his crisp white shirt and khakis. There were times when she
worried dreadfully over him. She smiled at him, and he caught her eye and
smiled back. He really was a handsome boy, she thought. He had his father’s
dark curly hair and her dark eyes. He was a looker already.
” shouted the man behind her, making
her jump. Derek looked at her. Some of the teenage girls in the back had seen
her and they snickered.
, she thought.
Damn them to hell.
When the service was over and she and Derek filed
out of the church with the others, Marla did her best to keep up the chitchat
with those around her.
Yes, I’m fine. How’re you? How’s that grandson of
yours? Your kids enjoying their summer off from school? Still like your job?
Sure has been hot.
She wondered about these other women in the
congregation. Did any of these women have to live with what she did? Did any
of them have to pretend everything was just grand when it was really black and
Sally and Rob Carpenter floated by in their new
Buick Regal like a dream. Sally waved to her, like Queen Elizabeth in a
horse-drawn coach. Rob owned an appliance store in town and Sally taught fifth
grade. She tried to imagine them in bed. Sally on her hands and knees, her
hair all disheveled and hanging in her face; Rob behind her, pumping away,
sweat pouring down his face, chest and arms, his thinning hair splayed across
his damp forehead.
Let’s push the envelope tonight, Sal.
“Mom?” Derek said, and she looked at him. “I was
talking to you.”
She smiled distractedly and slid on her sunglasses.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, can we go to Pizza Hut? I’m starving.”
She unlocked the car door. “Not today, babe.”
* * *
When they pulled into the driveway, she was
half-relieved, half-disappointed to see Wade’s truck there. Wade was reclining
on the front porch in one of the plastic lawn chairs, still wearing the clothes
he had left in yesterday. His shirt was wrinkled and damp and clung to him
like fungus. He took a drag off his cigarette, watching them get out of the
“Dad!” shouted Derek, crossing the lawn to the
porch. “Can we work on the car today? Please?”
“I don’t know,” said Wade. “I’m pretty tired.”
Marla glared at him as she came up the steps.
“Hey,” she said.
He nodded at her. “Hey.”
And now that she was close to him, he reeked of beer
and sweat. Fury swept over her. “Out kinda late, huh?” she said before she
could stop herself.