Mark quickly ushered Mrs. Howland and Randy6 from Jose’s room. He wasn’t so worried about Randy—not after her amazing courage at The Scenarios Inn. But Mrs. Howland was another matter. She looked ready to collapse.
He didn’t feel so good himself and made a mental note to have a talk with his boss. If that didn’t work, he’d go to the Captain. He shrugged. His chances of getting out of investigating this spooky stuff were just about nil.
Mrs. Howland sank onto the couch, her entire body shaking, and her face a chalky white. He spied several young faces peeking over the banister, but they scampered back up the stairs when he looked at them. They seemed more curious than frightened. Oh, the resilience of the young. But he knew that could change to trembling fear in seconds.
He sat beside Mrs. Howland, while Randy chose a recliner across from them and gently rocked back and forth. By her tightly clenched hands, he knew she was scared; Mrs. Howland wasn’t the only one.
“Mrs. Howland, I know this is hard, but if I can ask some questions, I can begin searching for your son. Okay?” He shifted in his seat to face her and saw the shaky breath she exhaled. She reached for a tissue from a box on the end table beside her, and nodded, then blew her nose and put her hand up, signaling silence.
“First, let me tell you how we got him.” Her voice cracked and tears began flowing, but she wiped them away, putting a determined look on her face and squaring her shoulders.
“My son, Keith, knew him from school,” she said, her voice gaining strength. “They’re about the same age. I first met him hen I picked up Keith from skating practice. Jose was sitting on a bench, crying hard, shrinking away when a man—I don’t know who he was—started toward him. Then there were sirens and the police came and took the man away. I took the boy over to the teacher, who was busy tending an injured classmate. She called his house, got his foster mom, who said she had to go to the police department, that she couldn’t be bothered with Jose. I contacted my case worker who had arranged for me to get Keith, and took Jose home. That was a couple months ago. We started adoption proceedings and it should go through soon.”
“Have you talked to him about his foster parents?” Mark asked.
She nodded. “He shrugs when I mention his foster mom, but with no warmth in his voice when he says ‘she’s okay.’ But he refuses to talk about his foster father or even look at me when I speak of him.”
By the time Mark finished questioning Mrs. Howland, he had the names of Jose’s friends, the school and the kindergarten teacher’s name, as well as that of the skating instructor. Then he and Randy left for his precinct, put out an amber alert and then checked with Roy Bascomb, his partner, for any updates on their previous, still open, case, that one a seven year old boy from the same school. They’d gotten the call two days earlier.
“Roy, did you get the name of the previous foster parents?” Mark asked, a chill going down his spine.
“Yeah,” Roy said, shuffling through some pages in his notebook, “a Warren Streeter, his wife, Lorna. Seems they vacated their house some time ago, maybe a month. No one knows. Musta moved at night.” He looked through more papers and gave Mark the address.
“Okay, Roy, thanks,” Mark said, and gave him a report of the new case.
“Shit,” Roy spat out, then scrunched his eyebrows together, creases appearing on his forehead. “It’s only two days since this one.” He jabbed a finger on the file pertaining to the seven year old. “Can’t have this happen again.” He looked startled. “Bobby was in the skating class too.”
“Yeah.” Mark blew out a breath. “We need to talk to that skating instructor, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow when the school’s open. What’re your plans?
Roy gave a long list of tasks in connection with another case they were close to winding up. “Why don’t you do it?” He nodded to Randy. “Take her with you. She just about solved that damn Scenarios case for you.”
Randy rolled her eyes, and then laughed. “We solved it together.”
“Whatever,” Roy said, grinning. He turned to Mark. “How about it?”
“If you mean taking Randy, yeah, that’s a good idea.” Mark shifted his gaze to her but got a conflicting response, both a smile and a grimace. “Which is it? Yea or nay?”
“Yes, I’ll go, but I still get the willies over that Scenarios thing. I don’t much care for this paranormal stuff.”
Mark didn’t know why that startled him, since he’d recognized the clues to the fact that this was a paranormal case when they were in the boy’s room. “I don’t like it either, but let’s go about nine tomorrow.”
“I’ll never complain about boredom again,” Randy said. “Yesterday I was regretting quitting the paper, restless and pacing until I called Mrs. Howland and decided to go shopping. I’m worried about Jose and that other boy you’re looking for.” She didn’t mention the awful feeling of doom settling over her, urging that they hurry before it was too late.
“I understand,” Mark said. “I don’t want any more of these cases, but right now, something tells me we’d better not waste time.”
Mark parked in the school lot and he and Randy got out and headed to the door and then the office to ask for the skating instructor, Mrs. Sheldon.
“She’s in class,” the woman in the office said. “She’s the art teacher also. Should be free in half an hour.”
“Okay, how about the kindergarten teacher?”
“She has a class too but she has a helper.” The woman shoved her chair back and stood. “I’ll go with you. I’m sure she’ll agree to see you.”
A few minutes later, Randy and Mark were following the kindergarten teacher to the teacher’s lounge. Mrs. Hanks offered them coffee, which they declined.
“Are you here about Jose?” she asked.
“Yea,” Mark said. “We’re looking for him. He disappeared yesterday. Have you noticed he’s been upset, or seen any out-of-character behavior? Or anything that might help us?”
Mrs. Hanks shook her head and said, “Nothing at all. I wish I could help but you know young children are sometimes afraid when they start kindergarten.
Yeah, Randy thought, but this isn’t the beginning of the school year. She noted the calm but flat voice, accompanied by a look of abject fear in the teacher’s eyes. She glanced at Mark, saw he’d caught on as well and wished there was some way to get to the teacher alone. Maybe she’d talk without a detective being present.
“I have to check on something,” Mark said, rising. “I’ll meet you back her.”
Randy mentally thanked him, and then when she heard the teacher’s sigh, said, “I know he can be intimidating, but I sense you’re scared.” She leaned forward. “Mrs. Hanks, I’m not a police officer, just a friend of the Howlands. Please…”
“Yes,” Mrs. Hanks said, interrupting Randy, “there was something, but it was so weird I was afraid to voice it.”
Randy knew what she meant. It was as if talking out loud made something real. “I understand. I’d feel the same way.”
Mrs. Hanks laughed. “I’d gone to see the kids skating. They were learning figure eights and I wanted to see that.” She cleared her throat. “It was a nice day, partly sunny, not too cold. They had a new student from the second grade. He was doing really well with the eights, when all of a sudden he stopped and stared toward the far end of the rink. A man stood there. He was tall and big, but not fat. I couldn’t see his face as it was in shadow, but, and I don’t understand this, his eyes gleamed like fire.” She took in a shaky breath. “You’ll never believe this but I actually saw a beam extending from the boy, Gary, to the man. It seemed to pull him until he was with the man, and then they vanished without walking away.”
“Wow!” Randy’s body took on the sense of being enclosed in a huge block of ice, unable to get out. She shivered. “Was that Gary’s father?”
Mrs. Hanks nodded. “Yes, and he came back to class and everything seemed normal, at least that’s what his teacher told me. The odd thing is that no one else noticed anything at the rink. I can’t understand it.” Her gaze became intense. “That’s…that’s some kind of psychic phenomena, isn’t it?”
Randy nodded. “Yes, and not everyone is receptive to it. What’s their last name?”
“Carter. You might talk to Mrs. Sheldon. She may have seen him since Gary is still taking the skating class.”
Mark returned then, show8ing no expression on his face. Cop face, she thought, understanding Mrs. Hanks’ reticence.
When they visited the art teacher/skating instructor, Randy noticed she wanted to talk but was nervous, her gaze darting all around the room, eventually settling on the open door. After Mark introduced himself and Randy and told why they were there, she came out from behind her desk, shut the door and locked it. She returned to her chair, indicated student chairs for them, but Randy saw they were little.
“We’ll stand,” Mark said, eyeing the desk, “or we can sit on a desk.”
“Go ahead,” Mrs. Sheldon said, “but don’t pick one with paint on it.” When Mark and Randy each chose a desk, she said, “I’m guessing you’re here about Jose, and maybe Bobby.”
“Yes,” Mark said. “Is there anything you can tell us?”
Mrs. Sheldon studied her visitors for several moments. “I’m going to go out on a limb here. You,” she said, pointing to Randy, “have been involved with the Howlands and I understand you had something to do with solving the Scenarios situation.”
Randy was startled, and her heart skipped a beat. She’d written, but hadn’t published her accounting of what happened at Scenarios. “How did you learn that?”
“Don’t worry. I don’t talk about it, but Lucy Bennington’s a friend. Anyway, has Mrs. Hanks told you about the incident at the rink, the light beam between Gary and his dad?”
“Yes,” Randy sa8id, “but I haven’t told Detective Clarendon about it.” She then told him what Mrs. Hanks had told her, then turned her gaze to Mrs. Sheldon. “Do you have anything to add to that?”
“I sure do,” Mrs. Sheldon said, a grim look on her face, “but I’m not sure how to explain it.”
“Do the best you can,” Mark said.
“Okay.” Mrs. Sheldon twisted her hands in her lap. “The boy, Gary, is as odd as his dad. When I saw that beam thing, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. When he got to his father, they became one, then they disappeared.”
I will post chapter 3 next Saturday.
Joan K. Maze