Authors: Rayven T. Hill
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense
Amelia studied him momentarily. He seemed like such a caring man in the little time she’d known him. Compassionate, and always sympathetic toward others. Now she understood why. Those who experience pain can best understand the pain of others. She touched his hand, smiled, and nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re ok now,” she agreed.
Hank popped another scone and downed the rest of his coffee. He stood and said, “I’d better go.”
As she rose, he thanked her and moved toward the door.
“Hank,” she said, as his hand was on the doorknob.
He turned. “Yes?”
“Find Jenny for me.”
“We will,” he promised.
Thursday, August 11th, 10:20 AM
JAKE was fiddling with his car in the garage. Annie knew it had something to do with the mufflers, but she wasn’t quite sure what. Jake always had some emergency adjustment to do, or something that couldn’t wait to be fixed. It always seemed to run ok to her.
She backed her Ford Escort from the driveway, heading for Mortinos. It had the best selection of meats, and a good load of red meat was necessary to fulfill Jake’s cravings. Especially during barbecue season.
Four nice big steaks for the barbecue tonight. Then, she put two back and selected a couple of smaller ones. Lettuce and tomatoes for a salad. Some chubby potatoes for baking. She consulted her shopping list, moving aisle to aisle, gathering what they needed, and only what they needed. Mostly.
“Hello, Mrs. Lincoln.”
Annie turned around. “Hi Jeremy.”
She looked at the little man grinning at her. Slightly shorter than her, he was a bit of an odd specimen. But always polite and helpful. He knew where everything was in the store, always bustling around restocking, and was quick to point out special sales. Today he thought the tomatoes were especially nice.
“Local grown,” he said. “Early ripening tomatoes, and nice and juicy.”
Annie pointed to her cart. “Yes, I have some.”
“You should see my tomatoes,” he said. “I planted a whole crop of them this spring. They’re just getting ripe now. Big ones. I’ve got great soil. I can grow anything. I got lettuce and carrots growing too. Not ready yet of course.”
Annie smiled. He was way too helpful sometimes. Rambled a lot, but she couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. Normally she wouldn’t have paid much attention to him, let alone know anything about his personal life.
When his father had been sent to prison when he was young, she hadn’t been aware of it. When he was found dead in his cell, a shiv fashioned from a sharpened toothbrush protruding from his heart, no one heard about it. At least she hadn’t.
But when his mother had been found in the barn, hanging from the rafters, with a length of strong rope noosed about her neck, one shoe lying quietly on the straw below her lifeless body, Annie had heard about it. That didn’t happen every day. And so, Annie felt some compassion for the young man, odd though he was.
“I’m sure your garden is nice,” she said. “It’s good you can still put the land to some use.”
“Yeah, can’t let it go to waste. Mother always had a nice garden. We took care of it together. We had to, you know, with Father not able to be there. She’s buried out near the garden. With Father. And my grandparents too, you know,” he said, and added thoughtfully, “Guess I’ll be buried there too someday.”
“I expect that won’t be for a long time, Jeremy.”
“Yeah, I guess not. Well, I better get back to work. Goodbye, Mrs. Lincoln.”
“Goodbye, Jeremy.” She watched him bustle over to the next aisle and disappear behind a stack of baked beans.
Thursday, August 11th, 11:00 AM
JAKE was in the basement doing his daily workout routine. Annie found a message propped up on the office desk from Sammy MacGlen from MacGlen Forensic Services. The message said he’d found something interesting and could she please call him back.
She took a seat, tapped in the phone number written on the note, and after two rings she heard, “MacGlen Forensic Services, Sammy speaking.”
“Hi Sammy, it’s Annie Lincoln.”
“Hi Annie, glad you got back to me right away. As I told Jake, I found something.”
“We did a sampling for any botanical material found on the tires, and underneath the vehicle as you asked.”
“Well, not surprisingly, the tires didn’t show anything unusual at first, but the underbody sure did. We found evidence of partially decomposed plant materials, like water lilies, fern, and cypress, resulting in a buildup of peat and a rich soil. There are fragments of plant tissue, excluding live roots, which have retained recognizable cellular structure of the original plant.”
“So what does that really mean?”
“The materials examined came from an area that had probably been a swamp at one time. The breakdown suggests many, many, years ago, possibly hundreds. And so, we examined the tires again, and found small traces of the same soil in the treads as well. Not enough to be remarkable on its own, but there, nonetheless.”
“Excellent work Sammy. Will you fax me a copy of that report?”
“I’ll send it over right away.”
“Hang on to the samples for now,” Annie asked.
“Sure will. I’ll put them in storage.”
After hanging up the phone, Annie pulled up her chair and powered on the computer. She knew exactly what she needed to find. An area, probably locally, that had once been a swamp. It certainly appeared Bronson’s car has been driven in a spot with that description. Maybe not much to go on, but it seemed to be all they had.
She searched through topographic maps online. No luck there. A geological map looked more promising. After a few minutes of more research, she found what seemed to be the answer. There was an area west of Richmond Hill, toward King City, which fitted the description. A lot of it was now government-protected land because of the wildlife that flourished in the area, and much still contained swamp, but in many places, the swamp had receded and it was thriving and heavily forested.
Annie printed out the maps, and sat back, staring at the monitor. She had to go on an expedition.
Thursday, August 11th, 12:00 PM, Noon
JAKE stepped from the shower and dried himself off on the way to the bedroom. After getting dressed, he wandered down to the kitchen where Annie was putting together a light lunch.
“Did you call Sammy?” he asked.
“Yes I did, and he found out something interesting. The vehicle had recently been driven through an area that was previously a swamp. There were bits on the underside of the car body. I did some checking and it looks like there are three possible areas.”
Jake whistled. “Nice call!”
“According to the maps, two of the three possible areas are near roads, but one is much further away from any traffic areas, and probably not reachable by vehicle. I doubt if it would be the spot. If you’re game, I think we should take a look at one of the two possibilities and see if we can find anything.”
“I’m ready,” Jake said.
“We’ll take my car,” Annie said. “I know how picky you are about yours. We’ll bring a shovel just in case. And I might want to take some soil samples.”
“I’ll load up the trunk as soon as we’re done here.”
After lunch, Jake and Annie changed into some hiking gear. Jake threw a shovel, a length of rope, and some kitchen garbage bags into the trunk of Annie’s Escort. “All set,” he said.
Annie climbed in the passenger seat and studied the map. They had to start a couple of miles west of Richmond Hill, where the city met the country. Four main roads, making a rectangle enclosing about eight square miles, surrounded the area. It was in this rectangle where the swamp was located. The two possible options were along the north road or the south road, where the swamp, as well as the reclaimed areas, came closer to the back roads. She was sure the place where Bronson’s vehicle had been was along one of those two roads. There were a bunch of farms in the area, but none especially close to the swamp. She ruled them out.
“We’ll take the north road first,” she said. “That may be all we have time for today.” She looked at her watch. Matty would be trudging home from school by three-thirty and they needed to be back by then.
There was little traffic on these roads. They met only a few vehicles after they left the city and made their way toward Service Road.
“OK, go slow now,” Annie said. She was looking for any possible route off the road.
Going slow wasn’t something Jake was good at, but he tapped the brake, and they crept along the road.
Jake brought the vehicle to a standstill on the shoulder of the road and Annie stepped out. She had noticed a spot where the fence was broken down. There seemed to be a narrow access path into the tree-covered fields. She stood at the side of the road and studied it. Too narrow for a vehicle, and no wheel ruts, tire marks, or other indications it’d ever been used for anything other than maybe a footpath, or a deer crossing.
She climbed back in the car. “Keep going,” she said.
Jake threw the car in first gear and pulled back onto the road. He peered at her over his Harley Davidson sunglasses. “Well?”
“Not there,” she said. “Get your eyes on the road.”
After another minute or so Annie spied another possibility. “Maybe there,” she said, “but keep going. We’re almost at the end. We can come back later.”
After a couple more minutes, they reached an intersection where a north-south road marked the border of the block of land they were interested in.
“That’s all,” Jake said. “I’ll turn around.” He made a three point turn and headed back the way they came. He pulled over when they reached a path that led from the main road, stretching through the bramble of vegetation, into the trees beyond. Wide enough for a car, but just barely. A carpet of wildflowers ran along the fence beside the path.
Standing by the side of the road, examining the pathway, Jake said, “This may be it.” He knelt down and studied the ground, testing it with his fingers. “The ground is pretty hard here. It may’ve been a car, or it may’ve been a tractor, but something has been through here.”
“Can we drive in there?” Annie asked.
“Sure can. Let’s go.”
Annie’s Ford did just fine on the highway, but it wasn’t designed for off-road driving. They bumped and jarred their way through the overgrown foliage. In places, the vegetation threatened to hide the road, but Jake held the vehicle on the trail, moving slowly toward the timberline.
When they reached the treed area, the greenery thinned out, and the course progressed into an expansive forest of Maples. Fallen trees, branches, twigs, dying leaves, and a still quietness surrounded them. The thickness of the leafy trees above, darkened the afternoon sun.
“Let’s look around,” Annie said, as they stepped from the vehicle.
“Over there,” Jake whispered and pointed.
Just barely visible, maybe fifty yards away and past an elevated area, a chimney could be seen. As quietly as possible, they moved forward toward the top of the rise. Looking down, they saw a small cabin. There was no sign of anyone around.
Jake whispered, “I’ll go take a look.”
“I’m coming too.”
Jake frowned at her. Then, avoiding twigs and branches, they made their way down the rise, working around to the side of the cabin where there was a small window. The cabin was dark. Jake and Annie crouched below the window and listened. A pair of squirrels chased each other a few yards away. A bird was twittering, looking for a mate somewhere in the near distance. The cabin was quiet.
Rising up slightly, Jake peeked in the window. A pile of empty metal pails sat along the far wall. In the center of the room stood a large cast-iron stove. Chopped wood was piled along one wall. “It’s a sugar shack,” he whispered.
He moved quietly around to the front of the building, testing the door. It was unlocked.
“Stay here,” he said.
This time she obeyed.
He turned the rusty knob carefully and eased open the door. A mouse skittered away, across the dirt floor, and found safety under the pile of wood.
The cabin was empty. He entered and looked quickly around. “Nobody here,” he said.
She followed him in and they poked around. A shelf of glass jars. Wooden boxes full of taps. Two or three large boiling kettles. It looked like no one had been here since maple syrup season ended three or four months ago.
“Let’s look around outside,” Annie suggested.
The track ended just behind the building, and the ground was flat and untrodden beyond that. They spent a half-hour combing the ground around the cabin, maybe thirty yards in each direction.
“Dead end,” Jake said.
“Looks like it.”
Annie knelt down and brushed away some of the dead leaves and twigs, retrieving a clot of soil. She placed it in a plastic bag she dug from her side pocket. She looked at her watch. There’s still time to get home before Matty does. “Let’s go,” she said.
Thursday, August 11th, 3:00 PM
JENNY lay on her back, reliving the events that had brought her into this dreadful situation.
She remembered the trunk of Chad’s car finally swinging open, and she was half blinded from the sudden intrusion of the lowering evening sun. She tried to sit up and look around. She was in a forest somewhere. Digging in the trunk, her tormenter had found an oily rag he used to blindfold her. Her protests and pleading went unheeded.
Her hands were still tied, but her feet were free. She thought of trying to jump from the trunk and run, but quickly realized how futile that would be. Even if she got to her feet, and was able to run, she could blindly hit a tree, and then where would she be? No, that’s certainly not the answer.
His hand on her head forced her back down, and she heard the trunk bang shut again. A car door slammed, the engine roared, and the vehicle bumped and slurred its way across rough ground for several minutes. It came to a stop. Started again. She heard the unmistakable whine of tires on blacktop. Going faster now. Then, slowing down, a swerve, more rough ground, and stopping again.