I watched Tom Nelson draw a timeline on a yellowed dry-erase board at the little town Sheriff’s office. His brown and tan uniform hung off his frame and wondered how much pestering his wife Janet gave him about it. The room had one window, next to the door, and the drapes testified of days when people sewed their own things and practical was more important than pretty. They hung, tired and stained, fastened in the middle by a couple wooden clothespins to keep curious onlookers at bay. The walls bore old paint, slightly discolored above the ancient baseboard heaters that worked only part of the time nowadays. Jack and his brother Jarod had begun plans to put a propane heater in the collection of rooms that comprised the office, in the only noticeable “city” building in town. They called it “Town Hall” but it looked more like a workshop.
A single desk faced the door, as if it lead the “pack” of desks strewn across the rest of the front room willy-nilly. Each desk had it’s own personality, some with metal frames, some wooden, all with somewhat neat surfaces with the exception of the occasional abandoned soda can or water bottle. The place smelled like aftershave and roast beef. “Hen, you got anything for my stomach? That pizza was good but I have a bad case of heartburn,” I said, as my pal returned from changing in the one, closet-sized bathroom.
“Nah, left my purse at home.”
“Very funny, smartass. We’ll see who’s still laughing when the cheese kicks in.”
“I forget your lactose issues,” she remarked and leaned on the desk belonging to the chair I’d taken.
Tom was still filling in the pieces we knew on the board. Jack had run home to kiss his kids goodnight and tell his wife he’d be late. After the smalltalk and sarcasm we’d used to escape the moment’s severity passed, I picked at an old piece of scotch tape on the desk and asked her, “You got any ideas?”
“Nope. Not until Jack gets back kiddo. He said you’d poke before he got back.”
“Honestly Hen, I’m just trying to wrap my head around it right now. I can’t find an angle. I’m in on this regardless of how long it takes Jack to grant me his permission,” I added air quotes as I glanced up at her, “I’ll wait till he gets this started. I’m just trying to get rid of this nasty feeling inside.”
“I can imagine it must have been so heart breaking – the drive down with him.” She looked over at Tom to make sure he was still writing and leaned in conspiratorially. “It wasn’t very roses what we saw up here either.” She hooked the chair with her foot from the nearest desk, rolled it over and sat down. “I know what you’re saying, though. Feels like we’re all of one mind to get this bastard though. Between the four of us I think we’re the best shot for finding him.”
Hen raised her chin in acknowledgement as Jack came through the door and locked it behind him. He cupped his hands over his nose and mouth and steamed up his glasses as he tried warming his hands and nose. “Startin’ to get cold out there,” he said, glancing at the proximity of Hen and I, making eye contact with her, and turning toward the board satisfied his instructions to keep me from jumping in had been followed. “Tom, you’ll want to leave room on the right for whatever we find once the vehicle is tracked down.”
Tom picked up the eraser and made some adjustments to the evidence board, took a step back and capped his marker after studying it once more. “Think we’re ready boss.”
Jack nodded at Hen, who grabbed a folder from the desk closest to the board and began fixing pictures with magnets strategically around the board. “Sneaky,” I said to myself as I quickly jumped up and repositioned for a better view. We all four stood in a semi-circle facing the recreated scene – the eery scene at the trailer where the little boy would probably never live again.