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The Paths We Take #2: Taken

Feb 20, 2018


“I’m fine,” I said to my father as I placed the photograph into the inside pocket of my suit jacket.

“Mr. Parrish said you almost ran over a lady when you pulled out of the parking lot yesterday. I’m worried about you. I-” my father started until I interrupted him. I looked at my watch, it was already 6:15 AM and I didn’t have time for a lecture.

“Dad, I really have to run now. We’ll talk soon,” I said as I ended the call.

I had contemplated calling the police all evening, all night. I didn’t know how I would explain it to them. Hey, I just wanted to let you know that I took a photo of a dead girl and she disappeared, but I am not involved in any way. The absurdity of the conversation in my head made me wish I had hurled the photograph into the river, forgotten about the girl, the blood. The churning of the scenarios in my head made me physically nauseated.  

I decided that if I were ever going to show that photograph to the police, I wanted to mail it in anonymously. I would send a copy, not the original, so they wouldn’t be able to trace it back to me easily.

Grumbling in my stomach reminded me that I hadn’t eaten in almost a day, but I didn’t have much time before the office opened. I drove over to Market street, crossed over the bridge, and stopped at Nancy’s Corner. The quaint convenience store combined with a small eatery sat alone on that part of Market Street overlooking the river.

There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, a black SUV. I could make out Nancy through the glass. She was a homely lady; she was the kind who never missed a Sunday service, and went to her grandchildren’s baseball games in the evenings.

“Good morning Nancy,” I said as the bell on the door dinged obnoxiously. “Why don’t you hire someone else to work these early morning shifts?”

“I am just fine here in the mornings. I don’t sleep much anymore anyway,” Nancy replied, wearing a jovial smile. She always had a smile on her face, but I could see an uneasiness in her eyes. Nancy managed the place alone since her husband passed away a few years back.

I made my way over to the coffee pots nestled in the corner but stopped as my eyes met the blonde. The black SUV parked outside jumped back to mind, but I hadn’t thought about the blonde in the park since I had taken the photograph. She turned around and smiled at me as if she recognized me. I noticed her hazel eyes and platinum hair that gently rested on the collar of her black fleece pullover. She finished stirring the three packets of sugar into her coffee and then made her way up to Nancy at the counter.

Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” was playing in the background while I poured my coffee in a daze. The photograph, the camera, the blood, the blonde, they were all projecting in my mind on a replay loop, and the song was the soundtrack.

Was the photograph real? Am I finally losing it like they said? Where is the body? The questions were peeling the flesh away, making me peer deep inside myself for the answers, but I found none. Glancing over at the blonde, I watched her as she tilted her head back as she laughed at something I couldn’t make out. She wore a blue and pink paisley patterned pair of leggings that made her figure pop in the dull beige background of the counter.

“Be safe, Claire,” Nancy said as the blonde walked out through the front door, the bell dinging as she left.

As I walked up to the counter, I snagged a bagel from the display, almost tumbling over a magazine stand as I stepped towards the counter, keeping my eyes on Claire through the glass as she made a call on her cell.

“She is such a sweet girl, Luke. You ought to talk to her,” Nancy blurted out as I fumbled with my wallet to find my debit card.

“I saw her yesterday with her husband, or boyfriend, and their kids,” I stammered, only half paying attention to Nancy.

Nancy didn’t reply. She only smiled, the receipt was jammed in the credit card machine. She struggled with the machine, pulling at the paper as it curled up and coiled onto the counter. She finally gave one last tug and the receipt tore from the machine.

“This damn thing is always messing up. I hope that I am not keeping you. You are here earlier than usual.”

“I’ve got some things to take care of at the office this morning,” I said. Nancy’s face was red, and I could see the sheen of sweat on her cheeks. Her eyes were fixed on the machine as she slammed the top back on. “Don’t worry about it Nancy. I don’t need a receipt.”

“If you give me a minute, I will grab some new paper from the back room and reprint one for you.”

“No need. A receipt is the last thing on my mind this morning,” I said as my throat tightened as the events from the day before played through my mind again. When I walked out, the ding of the bell seemed to fade away as the door closed and I watched as a black van creeped into the parking lot. The driver had a black bandana covering his face and was wearing a camouflage jacket. The van stopped behind Claire, who was still talking on her cell phone, her back to the van. The side doors burst open, and two men dressed in camouflage with covered faces leaped out. Each man grabbed Claire by an arm and forced it behind her back. She had just enough time to cry out before they covered her mouth with a black rag and ripped her in through the side doors in one fluid movement.

I could hear her muffled scream from inside as the doors slammed shut with a metallic boom. The van peeled out of the parking lot. The muscles in my legs tightened and I found my feet moving me towards my truck, and before my mind could process what had unfolded, I was in drive and the road burned as I sped towards the van.  

I couldn’t keep my hands from trembling. Cold sweat dripped down my back and I could hear each heavy breath that I took. I rustled through my jacket pockets looking for my cell phone. Just pull over, find your phone, and call the cops, I thought to myself as I was accelerating. The image of Claire being pulled into the van was added to the replay in my mind.

“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?” the woman’s voice on the phone asked.

“A girl was kidnapped. I’m following them,” I yelled in panic. “They are in a black van and we just turned onto Market Street from Nancy’s.”

“What direction are you going?” the telecommunicator asked.

“East I think. I don’t know. We are heading over the bridge towards I-80.” I said.  

“What is the license plate on the van?”

“It’s b-g-h-1-4-7-9.  There were two guys that grabbed the girl at Nancy’s, and then another guy was driving the van.”

The silence seemed to linger for minutes before the voice said “Sir, I have officers en-route to you right now. They will be there in just a minute. What kind of vehicle are you driving?”

“I have a green Ford F-150.”

“Did you say a green Ford F-150 sir?”

“Yes. That’s what I said. You need to get someone here quick,” I choked out as the icy sting from the sweat in my eyes forced me to put my cell phone down on the passenger seat while I wiped them with the sleeve of my jacket.

“I understand that sir, and an officer will be with you in just a minute. I need you to calm down, and when the officer pulls in behind you, I need you to slow down and safely pull over to the right. You will be instructed by the officer from that point on. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I shouted.

I could see the blue lights in the background closing in. The van gained some distance but made a right turn and I couldn’t catch the road name. The cruiser was a few yards behind me, so I slowed down and moved to the side. The gravel on the shoulder crunched underneath as my truck came to a stop in the mud and rock mixture.  

“The officer is with you now. Hang up the phone and make sure that you follow all of the officer’s instructions.”

I ended the call. It was over. I inhaled the frigid morning air as a second officer whipped in behind me. The cruisers’ take-down lights blinded me as they reflected like two radiant suns in the mirror. Why are they not chasing after the van?  

“Sir, turn off the vehicle, take the keys out of the ignition, and raise your hands slowly above your head so I can see them” a voice boomed over the cruiser’s microphone.

“Sir, I need you to slowly use your left hand to open the driver’s door. Slowly step out of the vehicle facing away from the sound of my voice with your fingers interlaced on top of your head.”

I inched opened the driver’s door and slipped out of the truck. My legs were stiff as I turned and faced away from the officers, watching the lights of the van fade into the distance. Claire was gone.  

“Slowly walk backwards towards the sound of my voice” the officer commanded. I began to ease backwards, the air in my lungs felt heavy as I gasped for breath. I took several steps backward as the blue swirls of light pulsed on the dark road in front of me.  The sound of footsteps crept up behind me, and before I could finish another deep breath, my chest met the gravel with a hard thud as the officers jerked my arms behind me.  

“What the hell?” I managed. “You need to get the girl in the van. I am the one who called.”  

I watched the blue lights as they danced on the roadway, and it was then that I remembered that the photograph was still in my pocket.

© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.