I woke up the way you do when you don’t mean to fall asleep where you are. My tongue was stuck to the back of my throat, dry from furnace heat. My body was lead; my left ear was numb from being smashed on the hard arm of the couch. I didn’t move in my sleep. I never did lately.
My eyes opened and focused on the wet leaves plastered to the front yard, like soggy cornflakes I never bothered to rake. I tried to place myself inside the date and time. Early weekday, October. Monday? No, Tuesday now. It was harder to do every day.
As my senses grew to waking and synced up, I heard a car door slam. It was a hollow, metal sound. I propped up on my elbow and saw the top of Kate’s head moving outside.
Her hair was the color of wet rust, parted down the middle. She wore a bun at the nape of her beautiful neck, all twisted and snarled in an elastic band. I used to call it her ‘founding-fathers bun’. Something wasn’t right. I strained up higher.
The truck in the driveway was an old Dodge. It was two tones of sad brown, chipped around the fenders. I stood. I saw a broad wall of a man. He was wearing a flannel coat, the kind that was quilted on the inside. His sleeves were rolled up to expose thick forearms. A blaze orange stocking cap covered his head, but dark hair fell just below the bottom.
He had Kate’s upper arm in his right hand, his left held a gun as it rested on the open driver’s door. I watched Kate get in and slide over to the passenger’s seat.
I ran to the front door and opened it as he was starting his truck. “Hey! Kate! Man, what the hell are you doing?” He put the truck in reverse and backed out of the driveway. The thick chill of October slapped my bare chest and hurt my lungs.
Back inside, my first instinct was to find my gun. I started for the console table inside the door but realized all my weapons were gone.
I kicked a mostly empty pizza box across the floor; an order I don’t remember, another dinner I don’t recall. I scanned the room for my phone. No luck. The memory department closed up shop a while ago.
I tossed a t-shirt, a pair of jeans from the couch to the floor. Nothing. Empty cans bounced and rolled, a hollow-tin song, my coffee table choir. Beer bottles rattled as I kicked their boxes aside, looking. “Nothing left but a box of bones, Marky,” my dad’s voice in my head.
I jammed my hands in to the cushions of the couch and caught something hard with my fingertip. I pulled out my phone, unlocked it and called 9-1-1.
“Portage County 9-1-1. Where is your emergency?”
“519 Bowman Drive.”
“City?” The dispatcher’s voice had the enthusiasm of an operator transcribing a classified ad.
“Do you need fire, paramedics, or police?”
“Jesus Christ. Police. My wife is gone. Someone just took her. He had a gun.”
“Hold the line while I transfer your call.”
“Kent City Dispatch, this is Officer Cowell, what is the nature of your emergency?”
“Amy? Oh, thank God. It’s Morris.”
“Mark. What’s going on over there?” I heard typing in the background.
“It’s Kate. She’s gone. I woke up and I saw her outside with a guy. A big guy. He had a gun. He put her in his truck. He took her.” More typing as I talked.
“Someone took Kate?”
“Yes. She’s gone. Please help me.”
“Do you know this man?”
“No. I’ve never seen him before.”
“Was he in your house?”
“I saw him put her in his truck. He had a gun.”
“I got that part. Was he in your house? Did he break in? Did he threaten you?”
“No. I don’t know.”
“No, he didn’t threaten you or no, he wasn’t in your house?”
“I don’t know if he was in the house. I think so. He didn’t threaten me, but she’s in trouble. Just send someone. Please, Amy.”
“Morris, go take a cold shower. I’m sending Groves your way.” The line went dead.
My head was throbbing. I squeezed my temples between my palms. The pain was brilliant. Each beat of my heart sent a fresh wave of nausea through me. Where was he taking her? I swallowed hard and tried push the bile down with a deep breath. I was sweating even though I was cold. My skin looked like raw chicken.
I sat on the edge of the couch and spotted a generic bottle of ibuprofen in the battlefield of whiskey bottles that was the coffee table. I shook four into my hand and chewed them.
I dialed Kate’s number. Voicemail. No ringing. No answer, not that I expected one. He probably took her phone. Groves could find out where it’s pinging, at least. Even if he dumped it, it’s something, the start of a trail.
I heard a car door and saw the cruiser parked by the curb. Groves was on his way to the door when I opened it. “Rick, you have to help me, man.”
“Slow down, Morris.” Groves came in but stayed by the front door. His city-issue coat was well-worn, the fleece collar was faded navy. It barely zipped around his mid-section. He still wore a hat as part of his uniform. Guys my age didn’t. If I had to guess, it was just to cover his bald spot.
“She’s gone. I saw him. He had a gun, looked like a Glock, but I couldn’t tell. He put her in his truck.”
“Morris. How long you been out of commission now?” Groves looked around my house, sizing up the mess, the bottles and cans lounging like deadbeat roommates.
“Two weeks. Give or take? What’s that got to do with this?”
“Did you hand everything over to Chief? Badge, guns?”
“Yes. Who cares? I’m telling you my wife was taken and I need help.”
“I hear you. Listen, I’m telling you this as a friend, a partner. Not as a co-worker or a superior or any of that horse shit. You need to get some help for this…problem,” he said waving his finger around my dead soldiers.
“My wife, Groves. What about my wife? I’ll deal with the rest later.”
“Later never comes, Morris. This time it did.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What about her?”
“I used to feel sorry for you. I got a call to come to your address and I thought this was it, man, you did it this time. I thought I’d find you dead. This is worse. I smell the booze on you. Look at this place.”
“What am I supposed to do? You’re saying this is my fault?”
“Yes, it is your fault. I tried helping you, Mark. I’m done.” He shook his head and walked out.
I went to the kitchen and drank straight from the faucet. My collection of plastic cups was swimming in a sink full of water that looked like it belonged in a pothole. I pulled on a sweatshirt and started gagging. I threw up the water and ibuprofen, but the adrenaline from retching somehow relieved the pressure in my head.
I slipped my boots on without tying them and got in my car. I went the same direction the truck went. I couldn’t remember the last time I left the house for anything other than beer. I followed nothing other than my gut, trying to find my wife.
I passed the Plaza Theatre and the strip mall. I was thinking about everywhere they could be. My hands were shaking. I hadn’t had a drink in what seemed like a very long time.
I was sure he didn’t take her anywhere that was busy. This is a college town. School was in session. A new generation with back packs walked through campus. Then, it hit me. The hotel.
University Inn was transformed into low-budget student housing, but being a student wasn’t required. We used to get called to domestic disturbances all the time, and I knew the owners rented to anyone who paid on time.
I turned around in the Giant Eagle parking lot. I was sweating. I swore I could feel the alcohol level in my blood plummeting to nil. I pulled out in front of a Buick. A horn blared, but I barely noticed. Coming up on my right was the Campus Drive-Thru. I had a choice to make, and I had to make it fast.
At the last second, I turned in and made the familiar sharp curve around into the tunnel full of cold air and neon lights. Every time I came, a different young kid was working. This one was a thin girl with a blue bandana tied around her head. Her hands hid in the sleeves of her sweatshirt, trying to stay warm. I lowered my window.
“What can I get you?”
Drunk. “A six-pack of Bud bottles.”
She came back with the wrong thing, but any port in a storm, right? She handed me the beer and yawned while I dug a twenty-dollar bill out of my font pocket. “Keep the change.” I pulled through the tunnel. Daylight smacked me in the face.
While I waited to be able to pull out, I popped the cap off the first bottle and pulled long swallows from that amber savior. It healed like morphine on the battlefield. I stuck the empty back in the box and opened a second bottle. I turned right.
I looped through the back parking lot of University Inn. I didn’t see the truck anywhere. I finished bottle number three and was cracking the fourth, when I saw the truck. It was on Water Street, headed north toward State Route 43. I followed.
Come on, come on, come on. I kept them in view until I got stuck at one of the longest red lights in the city. I slammed my fist on the steering wheel and finished off the third beer.
I was sure I could catch up. I pushed the speed limit until I crossed the Erie Street bridge. I rolled through two stop signs, turned right on 43 and started looking around while I sipped beer number five.
I made it one block before a black Lincoln pulled out of Grace Lutheran Church in front of me, followed by a hearse. I had to stop. If I was a little faster, I would have beat the funeral procession. I wondered if God was laughing at me.
I was sure I saw the truck in the distance ahead of me. I could catch them. I could follow them. I could save her.
Instinct outran logic. I glanced in the rearview, nothing. The cars pulling out of the church in front of me turned into my lane and headed north. Nothing was coming southbound. I cut into the oncoming lane and pushed the gas to the floor. I passed four of the nine (or so) cars before I heard the siren behind me.
I suppose I had two choices. I didn’t have to pull over. I could’ve kept going. All I thought about was Kate, and I was hoping whoever it was in the cruiser behind me would understand and help me. I slowed and stopped on the shoulder. The funeral cars whipped by, following their own box of bones.
Jeremy Fulkes walked up to my window. We worked opposite shifts, when I still worked, but I knew him even though he just started. I rolled down my window. “Morris, what the hell are you doing, man?”
“Fulkes, you have to help me.” I pointed ahead of me. “There’s a man up there in an old truck. He took my wife this morning. He has Kate. Groves wouldn’t do anything. Please.”
“I’ve seen some dumb shit, but drinking while driving and passing a funeral on a double yellow? I think you get the prize.”
“106 -100,” he keyed the radio on his shoulder. He had to call in my stop.
“Go ahead, 106.”
“I got Morris stopped northbound on 43. No 15s. I’m going to 33.”
All of that meant I had no warrants, and he was going to warn me and let me go.
“Fulkes, I’m begging you. Help me get Kate back.”
“You got any weapons, Morris?”
He opened my door. “I need you to get out and go stand over there in the grass.”
“What are you doing? I need to get to Kate.”
“I’m moving your car. Then I’m going to take you home. Kate’s fine, Mark.”
“No, she’s not. He has a gun. I saw it.”
“Jesus Christ. I don’t know why Groves didn’t handle this earlier.”
“What are you talking about?”
“That guy you saw Kate with? The big one with the beard and the gun? That’s Jay. That’s her boyfriend. He’s not going to hurt her. He was trying to help save her from you.”
“What? No. No, that’s not right.”
“She moved out about a week ago. She had to get the last of her stuff. She called us to let us know because you gave her such a hard time when she left. Jay went with her. You don’t remember her leaving?”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. My head was pounding again. Fulkes stared at me. He wasn’t as angry as Groves. He didn’t know me the same way. He looked like he almost felt sorry for me.
“Come on, man. Let me move your car. I’m taking you home.”
I got out of the car and lost my step. I steadied myself with the open door. I leaned back in and got another beer out of the box on the front seat. Fulkes shook his head. “Drink it before you get in my cruiser,” he said getting into my car.
Fulkes moved my car and walked back toward me. He opened the passenger’s side door of his cruiser. He didn’t have to do that. He could have put me in the back, behind the cage, where the rest of the sinners go. “All done?”
“Almost. Thanks for taking me home.” My hands stopped shaking. I downed the last of the six pack. Nothing left but a box of bones.
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