“I don't get it,” I said. “What are y'all talkin' 'bout?”
“Mind your business,” my mother said, and turned back to Uncle Henry. “So do I still let her go?”
“As I said, I can't assume to offer better parentin' advice thanâ”
“Just tell me, damn it.”
Uncle Henry shot me a glance. “Gets a mite testy, don't she?”
“Leah,” he said, “she's headin' into an age where you're about to lose pretty near all control you ever had over her. Right now, she's still askin', and that's a
thing. You wanna keep that up as long as possible. So, yes, I say you let her go, and you trust that you've done a good enough job these last fourteen odd years that she's got enough judgment to stay on the good side of stupid. And you
check up on her story, no matter how much you'll want to. That'll just put her on the spot. That's the cop in you thinkingânot the parent. She'll be fifteen in a couple months. That's only two years younger than you were when you
“Well, that's exactly my point,” my mother said.
Uncle Henry shrugged. “You turned out okay. Everything happens for a reason.”
She laughed. “I was the other side of stupid, that was the reason. The bad side.”
“That could be.”
We all laughed then and went back to eating. My thoughts returned to Mr. Wyatt Edward Farrow and something new occurred to me. “Mom? Do you think maybe Mr. Farrow might have snatched up Mary Ann Dailey?”
Confusion fell over her face. “Now, where in the world would you get an idea like that?”
“Well, he's just suspicious, is all,” I said. “He's doin' somethin' sneaky.”
“Why do you think he's doin' somethin' sneaky?” she asked.
I looked across at Uncle Henry for backup, but he wasn't even looking at me. “Well, me and Dewey . . . we've sorta been watchin' him, and there's some disturbin' things we've noticed. You know, he never leaves that garage, not even to go to the bathroom?”
My mother wiped her mouth and set down her napkin. “How in the Lord's name would you boys know anythin' 'bout that man's bathroom schedule?”
“We watch from the lawn. The lights never come on in the rest of the house. Dewey thinks maybe he goes to the toilet in the dark, though.”
She shook her head. Her eyes were full of disbelief. “Do you boys go to the bathroom while you're spyin' on the neighbor ?”
I furrowed my brow, thinking about this, and realized that we didn't. Then I realized if we could go that long without going, probably so could Mr. Farrow. My mother noticed the revelation on my face. “Stop thinkin' bad things about the neighbors. It ain't neighborly,” she said.
Uncle Henry still refused to offer even a smidgeon of support. “But, Mama, he
leaves that house. Ever.”
“What does he eat?” she asked.
“What do you mean?”
“He told us he works
. And I've seen him walkin' in the early mornings many times. I think he goes for walks after finishing workin' all night and then comes back and sleeps all day. But for cryin' out loud, Abe, he has to buy groceries. You should be able to figure out for yourself that he must leave the house sometimes. Just not the times you boys are stakin' it out.”
All this made perfect sense when she laid it out like that. I couldn't figure out why Uncle Henry was keeping so quiet, though. Only a couple hours earlier he had been telling me and Dewey that we were on to something. Even in light of this new information, I still knew we were. In fact, it was all starting to add up and make some kind of sense in my head. When we finally finished dinner and I helped clean up and dry the dishes, I phoned Dewey and quietly told him my new theory.
“I figured it all out,” I said. “Mr. Farrow goes out every mornin' and collects all the roadkill. My mom's even seen him leavin' many times.”
I could sense Dewey's excitement even through the telephone line. “What does he do with it?” he asked. “You reckon he eats it like old Newt Parker?”
“Nah, Mr. Farrow buys groceries to eat,” I said. Then I looked around to make sure my mother and Uncle Henry weren't in listening distance and said, “I reckon Mr. Farrow is using that roadkill to make himself some sort of monster.”
Dewey gasped. “Like Frankenstein.”
“Exactly like Frankenstein,” I said. “Only
I think we both knew then we had hit the hammer straight down onto the spike. A moment of silent awe transpired.
“Oh,” I said, before hanging up, “and I asked my mom about Saturday. She said it would be fine if you slept over.”
he Alvin Police Station was a small brick building pretty much indistinguishable among the rest of the buildings along Main Street. The only two structures downtown that really stood out as being impressive were the library and the courthouse. They stood at opposite ends and opposite sides of the street. Towering a good story above everything else, they both had white marbled columns and expansive steps that led up to huge wooden doors. The courthouse even had a couple of marble lions sitting on brick platforms out front of it.
But the police station where my mother worked was just a one-story building set slightly back from the street. Inside were two gray desks separated by a partition. The desks belonged to my mother and Officer Christopher Jackson. A computer and a telephone sat on each one. My mother's desk had a stuffed dog with a blue ribbon wrapped around its neck sitting beside her computer screen. I bought her that dog two years ago for Mother's Day. She gave me the money, but I went downtown and bought it myself. Carry gave her a cactus, but it died.
On the back wall was a locked door that led to the jail.
I'd seen the jail a couple times. There's a photograph in my bedroom of me and Dewey locked inside, gripping the bars and trying to push our faces between them. The jail was very small. I could almost reach from front to back, and probably if me and Dewey touched fingers, we could reach across the other way. A single lightbulb lit the room very dimly and the walls were an ugly mustard color. Being locked up was fun for the fifteen minutes Officer Jackson kept us there for, pretending we were legendary train robbers, but I figured for most people, the fun started running out pretty quickly after that. It would get a mite depressing.
The thick metal door (that from this side looked like a normal door) hid the claustrophobic cell pretty near completely from the rest of the station. Fluorescents in the ceiling brightly bounced off the white office walls and tiled floor. Compared to the jail, everything out here was cheery.
At the other end of the room from the jail door was Police Chief Ethan Montgomery's office. It had glass walls covered by venetian blinds. I had only been in Chief Montgomery's office a few times. It seemed to me much too small for his large cherry desk and high-backed burgundy chair. They pretty near filled most of the whole thing. I'm not even a hundred percent sure how that desk came in through his office door.
Chief Montgomery's office had everything, even satellite television. The TV hung from the ceiling. Chief Montgomery rarely missed a game. It didn't matter which sport it was, he followed everything.
Today was Friday morning. Mary Ann Dailey had been gone exactly one week, and me and my mother picked up Dewey for school twenty minutes earlier than usual on account of my mother having to go to the station first and talk to Chief Montgomery. He had called bright and early and woke us up. I heard my mother take the call just as Uncle Henry came back in from walking Carry to her bus stop.
The Mary Ann Dailey incident had thrown everybody's life into a twist and nobody's life was more twisted than my mother's. I rarely saw her anymore. Even though, from what I could tell, the trail to solving the case dead-ended days ago, she still spent most nearly all her time at work. I didn't know when she slept. By how she looked, I guessed she didn't do it much. Her eyes had dark rings beneath them and there were creases in her face that weren't usually there. In one week, she seemed to have aged ten years. And she had grown irritable. So much so that, even those times when she was home, I tried to stay out of her way. Last night she had even snapped at Uncle Henry.
I had been in bed maybe thirty minutes when I heard my mother come home. Barely ten minutes after that, she went off on him.
“You're investin' way too much personal emotion in your work, Leah,” I had heard him say. Uncle Henry had a deep voice that reverberated through walls, so I could always hear him from my room. Normally, I wasn't privy to my mother's side of the conversations, but lately she talked in a raised, clipped voice that sailed across floors and down halls like a sparrow going through barn rafters.
“What do you suggest I do, Hank?”
“I suggest you take a break. Get some sleep. Get some distance.”
“Well, tomorrow that little girl will've been gone one week,” my mother said. “Do you understand how much lower our odds of finding her are
than they were five or six days ago?”
“I understand your odds are lower with you looking like shit and not sleeping,” he had responded. Hearing Uncle Henry curse surprised me.
“Every day I don't find that girl is one day closer to her becoming a statistic, Hank. I'm not gonna have that on my conscience again.”
“You're taking this whole goddamn thing personally, Leah. You can't do that. You're not responsible for that girl.”
“Then who is? If
not responsible, who the
is? I'm the person everybody's expectin' to find her. Look around you, Hank. Ain't nobody else searchin' her out. You told me not to give up. Well, guess what? I ain't givin' up.”
“I didn't tell you to become obsessed.”
“I ain't obsessed.”
“Leah, listen to me. This whole thing has clutched you by the throat. It's dredged up emotions still lingerin' from what happened to Ruby Mae Vickers. You
obsessed, you just don't see it. You're trying to settle a twelve-year-old score with yourself for what happened to Ruby Mae. But you didn't
“Then who the hell
Hank? Who did? I had three months to find her. Three goddamn months. Then she gets delivered to me, and I
couldn't figure out who did it. You saw the autopsy report. You know what that girl went through those three months I failed to find her. Whoever had her used her every way they could think of. By the looks of things, she became part of their daily schedule.” My mother's voice had started cracking, but even still she was on the verge of hollering it had risen so loud.
“You did your best, Leah.”
“Well, my best wasn't goddamn good enough, was it? I think about Ruby Mae and then I think, what if the same thing's happenin' to Mary Ann Dailey? What if every day I don't find her is another day of her havin' to endure . . .” Then my mother had begun crying, unable to finish her sentence.
“See?” Uncle Henry said, with no compassion in his voice. “You're obsessed. You've been obsessed for twelve years. And no matter what happens. No matter if you find Mary Ann Dailey, or if she never turns up, or if she turns up the same way Ruby Mae did. None of it's gonna change what happened twelve years ago.”
My mother choked back her tears. “She won't end up theâ”
But Uncle Henry cut her off, loudly and angrily. “She might! She goddamn very well could, and you better be prepared for that. It's your
to be prepared for that. At this point, from where I'm standin', odds are lookin' in favor of her either not turnin' up or turnin' up dead.”
“Go to hell!” my mother said. And I heard her stomp down the hall into her room and slam her door. She reminded me exactly of Carry, only Carry had been happy yesterday because she came home to find a note from my mother magneted to the fridge saying it would be fine for her to go to Satsuma for a movie and pizza with her friends, so long as she made sure to get home by five in time for supper.
Earlier is better,
my mother had written at the bottom.
All I knew when I turned over and pulled my blanket up to my chin was that I sure hoped this case would be over soon. I didn't know if any of us were going to survive it much longer, never mind Mary Ann Dailey.
But, this morning as we drove to the station, my mother seemed to have gotten over all her agitation from last night, though I could tell it hadn't gone very far. It was just behind her eyes, looking for any chance to pop out again. I hoped for Dewey's sake that chance wouldn't come. I was growing used to having to treat the women of my household as though they were crates of dynamite, but I had the feeling Dewey would be awfully surprised to see my mother blow up.
“You guys stay in here and don't touch anything on the desks,” my mother said. Chris Jackson wasn't at work yet, so the office was empty. The door into Chief Montgomery's office was open and I could hear him shuffling about, but couldn't see him on account of the blinds being closed over the windows.
Along with the desks, the office had a photocopier, and a table with a coffeemaker and stuff like that on it. A potted palm sat beside the table. There was also a watercooler.
Dewey immediately started playing with the watercooler, pulling out one of the paper cups that nobody ever used and filling it in spurts. Sometimes it amazed me how easily amused he was. But then we both liked balancing rocks on sticks, so what did I know?
My mother pushed Chief Montgomery's door closed, but it didn't close all the way, so I wandered across and pretended to be fascinated with the coffee machine while I did my best to listen to their conversation. I missed all the formalities and came in straight on what was the crux of the matter, I figured.
“I'm thinkin' I made a mistake givin' you this case,” Chief Montgomery said.
“You never gave me this case,” my mother answered. “Mrs. Dailey called me directly at home.
gave me this case.”
“Well, you know what I mean. I'm thinkin' maybe you should step back and give this one to Jackson.”
I heard my mother let out a loud huff. “What is it with you people? Why does everyone think my tryin' as hard as I can to find this Dailey girl is a bad thing?”
“I don't rightly know who us âpeople' are, Leah, but it's not what you're doin' that's worryin' me, it's
you're doin' it.”
“I'm taking responsibility.”
There was a squeak. I guessed Chief Montgomery sat back in his chair, probably to take a sip of coffee. When he spoke again, his voice was low and calm. “You take too much responsibility. You always have. Ever since . . .” He drifted off into a whisper.
“Oh, don't start that shit, Ethan. Don't go not mentionin' things just because you think they're gonna wind me up.”
“That's not what I'm doin', Leah. Trust me, you're upset enough. I don't know if you could get much more upset.”
“Yeah? Well, start tellin' me how I've taken on too much responsibility since Billy died and just
. What did you expect me to do? He left me alone with a brand-new baby and not even a pot to piss in, and you're tellin' me
I took on too much responsibility
? Give your head a shake. I didn't see anybody else stepping up to the plate.”
“First, it's almost like you still blame Billy for dying and leaving you alone to raise those kids, Leah. You've got to get over that. Shit happens. And second, your parents were there for you. You could've leaned on them much more than you did.”
“It wasn't their job to be there for me, Ethan.
the one who got pregnant at seventeen. It was
mess. It still is.”
“I'm just saying you take on too much because you're
to taking on too much.”
Across the room, binders were stuffed into shelves that ran along one of the office walls. I had no idea what sort of things were in the binders. Dewey finally tired of the watercooler and moved on to them. Starting at the left, one by one he pulled them out halfway and then pushed them back in with a clunk. I wished he could find something quieter to entertain himself with.
“Yeah,” my mother said, “well, look at my life, Ethan. It hasn't really been full of consistent support for me and my children. And when I finally did find a guy who didn't run out on me? We have two babies, and then two years later he's killed in a car crash. Then Ma goes. Then Pa goes. There comes a point where you kinda stop and realize there ain't nobody you can depend on for the long haul 'cept yourself.”
“Your pa was there for you right up until the end, Leah,” Chief Montgomery said. “He may have had to retire from the force, but he never retired from his responsibility to you and those kids.”
My mother sighed. “Yeah, it was great, Ethan. Abe got to spend the first six years of his life falling in love with his grandpa, while watching him deteriorate away to nothing. I think I would've rather had Pa go quickly the way Ma did.”
Chief Montgomery said nothing.
“I think in some ways he
go the day mom did,” my mother said. “At least part of him did.”
“Of course that's true,” Mr. Montgomery said. “Christ, Leah, they were married for near on their whole lives. All they
was each other.”
There was another pause, then my mother said, “Until I came along and messed it all up.”
“Now, how in your mind did you mess everything up? Sometimes I wonder how you think.”
“I got myself pregnant at seventeen, Ethan.”
“Sure you did. And your pa was right pissed about it. I remember him telling me he was gonna shoot the little bastard who did that to his daughter. But you know what? He
. And that little bastard turned out to actually be a decent guy. Billy did right by you. And, even though you don't need me to tell you how dead set against you marrying Billy your daddy was, both your ma and your pa showed up at your wedding, and they smiled like they was proud as peacocks to see their little girl looking so beautiful. On account of they
Leah. And I ain't
seen a man love his grandchildren the way your pa did. That man would've redirected the Mississippi if he thought it would've put a smile on little Caroline Josephine's face.”