Authors: Terry H. Watson
Terry H. Watson
Copyright Â© 2015 Terry H. Watson
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ISBN 978 1784629 922
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
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is an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd
Converted to eBook by
My husband, my soul mate, my best friend.
My sincere thanks to the following people who helped
along the way.
Rebecca Forster, USA Today & Amazon Bestselling Author, who inspired me to write, encouraged and advised me.
My proofreaders Susan O'Donnell and Marie Condron, both of whom edited with honesty and clarity.
Jonathan McGuinness and my beautiful and talented great-niece Emma Archondakis, for their assistance and suggestions for the cover.
Family and friends for support and heartening good wishes for the success of
and finally, Drew, my rock.
Enjoy the read!
“I'm not going on the bus,” lamented the girl. Her cry went unheard in the howling wind cutting through the depressing bus depot with missing windows, broken seats and a filthy wet floor that increased in danger with the entrance of each passenger. The relentless wind whipped the icy snow into a frenzy, as passengers huddled closer together, the luckier ones being out of direct blast of the blizzard.
“I'm not going on the bus,” mumbled the girl to no one in particular.
A bus arrived, transported the girl and her travelling companion seven miles or so from South Halsted to Wentworth where they waited for a long-haul bus to arrive. Much later than scheduled, the bus emerged from the dimness and slithered to a halt outside the shelter. The driver announced his destination, checked tickets and boarding proceeded.
“No heating!” proclaimed the driver, an unnecessary comment as, one by one, passengers took their seats in the icebox container that was to transport them overnight, several hundred miles further from the rawness of the Chicago winter.
“Take it or leave it, folks. The company won't send another vehicle out tonight. It might kick in as we go along,” he said none too convincingly.
The girl huddled into her jacket, shivering and miserable beside the man who appeared to be her minder, similarly cold and dreary as he contemplated the task ahead. The journey continued, wipers fighting a losing battle as the storm increased in intensity and ferocity.
A fat man, occupying two seats, began to snore, reaching a crescendo in time to the battering elements attacking the cold window where his head rested. Some weary hours later, the driver announced a stop. Relieved passengers headed for the warmth and comfort of a diner. Had she wanted to leave the confines of her situation, the girl would have nowhere to run, no one to run to and no one to care about her traumatized state. No one noticed the troubled girl in seat eight.
The fat man slept through the comfort break. Passengers returning to their seats were treated to the rise and fall of the snoring concerto. Some found it amusing.
In spite of the bitter cold, the girl slept. Further comfort stops took place. With a change of drivers, Bob, the new person, introduced himself and adjusted the heating, which for the remainder of the long journey emitted some form of heat. Throughout most of the thirteen or so hours, the girl slept fitfully until nudged awake by the slowing of the engine and activity of passengers gathering their belongings in anticipation of an escape from the chilly tomb of the bus.
The girl and her companion walked tentatively for some time along an icy pathway towards their destination: a rundown house, one of many in a nondescript inner city street of New York. A middle aged woman opened the door to them and studied the girl sternly before admitting her to the relative warmth of the house.
The man remained at the door and uttered a curt command.
“Keep her until you are given further instructions.”
He handed her a vial. “Use as instructed, one drop morning and evening in a drink.”
With that, he departed into the cold of the night.
Inside, the woman escorted the girl to a cosy kitchen, sat her down and served soup, which she devoured in moments. She was too traumatized to ask for more. Warmed by the food and fighting to stay awake, she allowed her host to escort her to a sofa where she slept soundly.
It was mid-morning before the mother knew her daughter was missing. A frantic call to her office from her housekeeper alerted her to her child's absence from home and set alarm bells ringing. Soon, local police officers, satisfied that it was out of character for the girl not to be where expected and given the mother's high profile in the community, set in motion a search that was to take them out of their Chicago zone to the much wider realm of distant states.
Several days later and with no sign of the storm abating, the woman received a package containing a change of clothes for the girl, clothes obviously chosen with care and perfect in size, which any young girl in perhaps a different situation would be proud to wear. Along with the package came instructions to “have the kid ready for collection in eight hours”. She had orders to incinerate her old clothes, making sure no trace remained on the premises.
Bathed and changed, the girl, still drugged from regular sleeping draughts, was transferred from the supervision of her sitter back to the care of her bus companion, who escorted her a short walk. As pre-arranged, he left her at a phone booth, instructing her not to move, not that she was capable of moving far. Once he was out of sight, a woman arrived and bundled her into a campervan, which sped off into the night. The woman administered a mild sedative, laid the girl on a bed and covered her with a duvet. Had she been more
, the girl would perhaps have appreciated the standard of her surroundings, coming as she did from the luxurious life that she shared with her mother and household staff, whom she adored. The only sound she could utter was something sounding like “Call Mama”.
The vehicle travelled on at speed, passing through Pennsylvania and entering Ohio some three hundred miles later. Strong winds, falling temperatures and scattered snow showers made driving difficult. Listening to the radio report, the travellers learned of an impending snowstorm.
“It's no use attempting to go further tonight. Even with these winter tyres the van is slipping dangerously. We will hole up at the next motel. I have to call Boss.”
On the outskirts of Cleveland, two people registered at a motel. No one witnessed a bundle wrapped in a duvet being carried to the room. The trio remained there for three days until it was deemed safe enough to continue their journey.
Her two minders took it in turn to drive and to see to their captive, administering to her every need with a tenderness and concern that contradicted the heinousness of their crime. They continued to administer small drops of mild sedative to keep her calm.
The sedative had first been given to her after school, when a member of her mother's staff collected her. She had expected someone else to meet her but accepted without question the explanation of an emergency dental appointment, remembering that the family helper had complained of toothache. She climbed into the back of the car and handed over her cello case for safe-keeping. She was unaware of the prick of a sharp needle as it jabbed her arm.
“Sorry,” whispered the man. “I hate to do this.” He picked up her mobile phone, sent a text and removed the SIM card, which he then destroyed.
In her tastefully furnished sitting room in her Lincoln Park home, Brenda Mears constantly dabbed her eyes as Detective Tony Harvey, Chief of the Bureau of Detectives of the Chicago Police Department, and Detective Carole Carr, his deputy chief, enquired about her daughter's disappearance, probing gently to establish facts about the incident that they had come to investigate.
“So, Lucy was to spend the night at a friend's house?”
“Yes. They were to go for pizza and see a movie. Lucy had arranged to sleep over with Abigail. Gina, Abigail's mom, had arranged to drop her off here after lunch in time for her cello lesson with Ken Farmer.”
“Where did she have her lessons?” asked Detective Carr.
“Here, in our music room on the first floor. Ken has been coming to the house since Lucy was nine years old.”
“Tell me again, Brenda,” said Detective Harvey. “We know Lucy didn't spend the night at Abigail's, did she?”
Brenda sobbed quietly. “So I believe. Abigail had a text from Lucy saying she would take a rain check as she was sick.”
“Lucy's phone has not been found,” continued Harvey. “We have established the text did come from her number and from the vicinity of school. What bothers me is why Lucy didn't speak directly to Abigail before school finished.”
“I don't know! I don't know!” wailed the distraught mother, collapsing in a flood of uncontrollable tears. “Please, please, find my daughter.”
Carr, herself a mother, tried to comfort the distraught woman.
“We'll do everything we can to bring Lucy home safely. We have officers involved at the moment in enquiries, but anything you can tell us, anything at all, could help our search.”
Any further attempts to question her proved hopeless. The detectives left Brenda in the capable hands of Molly Kelly her housekeeper, who had been with the family since Brenda herself was a baby.
Interviewing Molly established similar facts: Lucy was to stay with Abigail. Molly had helped her pack and told officers which clothes were in her overnight bag. Neither that bag nor her school backpack, nor indeed her cello had been found. Through red-rimmed eyes, Molly related the events leading to Lucy's last sighting.
“Nora, that's my daughter, was to collect Lucy from school and drive her to Abigail's house after calling in at the optician to collect my glasses. Poor Nora had toothache for several days. She's so scared of dentists she put off doing anything about it. It got so bad that Brenda came across her in the kitchen crying in pain and insisted she attend to it immediately. âI'll arrange the appointment myself,' she told me and asked George, that's Nora's boyfriend and the family's repairman, to collect Lucy.”
The detectives learned that changes in arrangements happened regularly and would not have been problematic for Lucy. George was now out of town attending a computer course. Nora did not expect him back for a few more days or even longer than that.
The last contact with him was a call from the airport saying he had missed his flight and was booked on a later one. Nora giggled like a school kid when explaining that no, she hadn't heard from him during conference week.
“I accepted his reason for me not to contact him as I'd only be a distraction. He said he would call again when leaving for home. He never liked to be disturbed.”
Later that day, Detective Carr entered the highly scented premises that were advertised in bold lettering above the door as Gina's Floral Boutique. She found the scent overpowering, drew a sharp intake of breath and approached the owner, who immediately left a floral display she was working on to attend to her.
“You're here about Lucy, aren't you? I haven't slept a wink since she went missing. My daughter is distraught and I can't think straight. Have you news?”
Gina locked the door, turned the notice to “Sorry. Closed” and led the officer to a sitting room at the rear of the shop. She reiterated what they already knew.
“Lucy was to be dropped off here by a staff member. As far as I was aware, they were calling at the ophthalmic optician before coming here to eat pizza and take in a movie, then return here for a sleepover. Not that much sleep ever takes place on these occasions; the girls normally chat and laugh well into the night. I was to take her home after lunch in time for her music lesson. That was the usual arrangement I had with her mom.”
“When did you find out Lucy wouldn't be coming to stay?”
“Abigail came home from school quite disappointed at the change of plans. She told me Lucy had sent a text to say she was sick and would take a rain check. Abigail tried to call back but had problems connecting.”
Gina could shed no more light on the situation.
Back at headquarters, Detective Carr joined her colleagues to consider statements gathered to date and stated, “We have still to interview Abigail when she feels more composed, and George North when he returns from his conference. So far, we have drawn a blank in the investigation.”
Another officer gave his report. “The school principal recalls seeing Lucy go in the family sedan and drive off with George at the wheel. She regularly saw him pick Lucy up. Sometimes Nora, the house maid did the school run and occasionally Brenda herself. School personnel knew the household staff well. There were no issues with Lucy. She appears to be a model student, regular kid, hard-working, popular with her peers. Seemingly, she had a unique musical talent and her ambition was to travel the world with a top orchestra. She had already performed in public with the school band. As far as the principal was concerned, having spoken with staff, the kid had no problems that anyone knew about.”
“How can a kid simply vanish?” mused Harvey. “We have loads of loose ends to tie up before I put more officers on the case. Where is the sedan? Has it been returned to Brenda's house? We need to examine it, and quickly.”
“Why has there been no ransom demand? This mother is mega rich,” Detective Carr asked no one in particular. “I would have expected a demand by now.”
A forensic team arrived to examine the sedan. Molly showed them to the garages where the family cars were stored. Only then did they discover that the car used to transport Lucy from school was not in its usual place.
“Didn't anyone notice that car was missing?” an incredulous officer asked Molly.
“I seldom come to this part of the estate. I garage my car in a different area, near my apartment. Only Nora and George would have any cause to come here when they are driving for Brenda or Lucy.”
“We have to contact George to shed light on this,” continued the officer.
When questioned, Nora told officers the venue for George's last conference, as far as she could recall, and presumed he would be there again.
“He attended several of these courses. I don't remember where they all were, but I can list one or two.”
A colleague of Harvey's assigned to locate George North's current conference reported that no such I.T. meeting had taken place at the stated venue for some time.
“We stopped holding conferences here more than a year ago,” stated a caretaker. “The building was sold on and is used now for different purposes.”
Further investigation established that George North had indeed booked a flight but failed to show.
Some days later, a car-parking attendant reported a Cadillac Deville on the third floor of a multi-storey car park, approximately fifteen minutes from Lucy Mears' school. A team of officers sent to examine the vehicle found Lucy's school backpack. They did not locate her cello or mobile phone. Fingerprints lifted from the car were compared to those held on record by members of the Mears household following an attempted burglary some months previous. These prints had been necessary for elimination purposes. There were no prints other than those of current members of the household. Where was George North? Priority was given to tracing him and hopefully locating the missing girl.
The distressed mother was kept informed at every stage of the investigation. She remained at home, too upset to attend to her business empire, which she said was in the capable hands of her trusted team with whom she was in regular contact. She was reluctant to leave should she miss a call on her home phone. Molly continued through tears to run the household, albeit with much less enthusiasm. Nora, distraught at the news of George's non-existent conference, could shed no more light on his whereabouts.
“This is so unlike him, Mom. What has happened to him and Lucy? They could be lying injured somewhere.”
“Honey, the hospitals have been checked and they haven't been taken there. It's all so confusing!”