Frank had been hopeful that being briefed on Katheryn Jennings’s disappearance might ease his anxiety, but he was mistaken. He had arrived at the department at ten minutes to nine, joining a steady flow of police personnel into the briefing room where there were five long tables running parallel to each other. Frank chose the third from the front, giving him a direct line of sight to the where Deputy Chief Brian Litchfield would be giving the department the rundown. As the flow of Vander Police Department employees entering the room slowed to a trickle, Frank found himself tapping the table relentlessly. The Deputy Chief, being the finely-tuned machine that he was, arrived exactly at nine o’clock. He started the briefing without delay, and Frank absorbed every word.
“Okay, listen up, cause I’m in no mood to be repeating myself. As you know, we have a missing persons case. Her name is Katheryn Jennings, age twenty-one, attends Vander Community College. Some of you might remember her as the winner of the Miss Vander competition last month,” the Deputy Chief stated. Frank remembered that he had seen her photo from the pageant in the newspaper, which must have been why she had seemed so familiar to him. “Her five minutes of fame could have played a factor in her disappearance.” Frank nodded his head slightly. It didn’t take a genius to realize that connection. It’s not uncommon for stalkers and psychopaths to come out of their dark holes to harass beautiful woman that happen to stumble into the public eye. “Katheryn was last seen in her Bio 201 class at Vander Community College at 8:00 P.M. It’s likely that she was abducted while walking to her apartment in the Valley Vista Apartment Complex. When she had not returned home by late yesterday morning, her roommate, Aubrey De La Rosa, called Katheryn’s parents after failing to reach her several times. The parents called us soon after that.”
Litchfield continued with the briefing, stating that as far as her parents or Aubrey knew, Katheryn hadn’t been seeing anybody romantically and was very dedicated to her schoolwork. She had returned from a two-year trip to Italy about a year ago, where she had been living in Padua with a host family where she helped run events for a local church. Someone in the room scoffed under their breath at this piece of information, and the Deputy Chief shot daggers in return around the room until he was sure it would not happen again, only then did he continue. The trip abroad had been arranged by Sacred Heart Catholic Church, which Katheryn had attended ever since she was an infant. Katheryn had led many charity events and fundraisers for the church when she was in high school, so when she asked if she could be a part of one of the churches in Italy for two years, her parents and Sacred Heart were happy to oblige. Now that she was residing in Vander once again, she had rejoined the Sacred Heart community and attended mass every Sunday. To Frank and everyone else in Vander, Katheryn seemed to be a saint.
“We currently have a BOLO out on Katheryn, and everybody should be on high alert. Patrol guys, if you find anything useful, report into Kotching and Atencio ASAP. Alright, let’s get to work.”
Everybody exited the briefing room, moving on to their regularly scheduled assignments. Frank leaned against the hallway wall, trying to thread together pieces of the case and conjure some sort of lead. He had lost track of time and was staring into the dead space in front of him when Deputy Chief Litchfield approached him. There were no more people bustling out of the room and everyone but Frank had gone about their duties.
“You losing your mind on me, Bailey? You’re staring at the wall like a goddamn vegetable,” Litchfield said. Startled, Frank shook his head slightly before locking eyes with the Deputy Chief.
“Hey, it’s Deputy Chief to you. How many times do I have to say that?” asked Litchfield, a scowl enveloping his face. “How about you get your thumb out of your ass and go do the job I’m paying you to do. How’s that sound?”
“Ten four, Vicejefe,” Frank responded, a slight smirk touching the corners of his mouth. Litchfield furrowed his brow in frustration but remained silent, walking past Frank to attend to more important matters. Frank enjoyed making the Deputy Chief’s blood boil. It was apparent to Frank that Litchfield was only concerned with climbing the department ladder and obtaining the position of Chief to feed his own ego, a quality that Frank found despicable in a law enforcement officer. He made the most of every opportunity to push Litchfield’s buttons.
Frank sauntered down the hallway and out the back door of the department to where his patrol car was parked. As he climbed into the driver’s seat, he thought about Vander Community College and the Valley Vista Apartment Complex. The college was only a stone’s throw from the apartment, with a handful of establishments running down Peyton Street in between. Frank walked the street in his head, looking for any areas where an abduction could have occurred. First he came to a Circle K, which was open twenty-four hours and always well-lit, so the chances that Katheryn could have been taken there were slim. Then he came to a barbershop and a tattoo parlor that resided next to one another, with the tattoo parlor’s parking lot adjacent to it. The parking lot was at the corner of Peyton and Mangold Street and had no lights in its vicinity. Big Dave’s Tire Shop was across Mangold Street and was the last building before Valley Vista Apartments. Frank would bet his whole year’s salary that she was taken at that dark, foreboding parking lot.
He turned the key in the ignition and started the car. He was assigned to patrol Vander’s western block today, so he thought he would go check out the parking lot for himself. If Frank was going to find anything helpful to the case, he believed that it would be at ground zero. He pulled away from the station and made his way to Mangold Street.
When he arrived, he parked in the lot, which was empty except for a lifted black F-150 and sun-worn red Subaru. He paced around the entirety of the lot, looking for broken glass, drops of blood, anything that could point to a sign of a struggle. He knew that the area had likely been combed through already, but it didn’t hurt to have a fresh set of eyes look around. Frank found nothing, not even a broken beer bottle. He leaned against his cruiser, scanning the surrounding area. Frank thought about asking the employees of Viper Tattoo and Big Dave’s if they had seen anything, but decided that it would be overkill. If they had seen anything, they would have spoken to Kotching and Atencio about it, and judging by the lack of leads, Frank thought it was safe to assume that there were no witnesses. Frank breathed a heavy sigh. It seemed he had reached a dead end before he had even started. As he opened the door to the cruiser, he noticed the Fine Stay Motel a block down Mangold Street. The gears in Frank’s brain began to slowly turn. Frank got into the car and drove a block down Mangold, parking in the Fine Stay parking lot. He stepped out of the car to look in the direction of the Viper Tattoo lot and found that he could still see a sliver of it from where he was standing. If the Fine Stay had any sort of camera pointed down Mangold, there was a chance that Katheryn and her abductor would be on the footage.
Frank walked to the office. As he opened the door and approached the counter, the skinny employee with shoulder length, greasy brown hair working behind the desk looked up and stared at Frank with sunken eyes. Frank shot him a polite smile that was returned with the same expressionless gaze.
“Good morning,” Frank said, “I’m Officer Bailey. I was wondering if you could answer a question for me.” The desk clerk shrugged and looked down at his hands, where he was fiddling with a hangnail. “Does this motel have any security cameras that face toward Peyton Street?” The employee looked up with an expression of irritation and perplexity.
“What do we look like, the fuckin’ Ritz? Course we don’t got cameras. We barely got bedsheets, for Christ’s sake. I already told your buddies this anyways, so what’re you bothering me again for?” Frank should have guessed that Kotching and Atencio had already talked to the man. The motel wasn’t directly on Katheryn’s route home, but the detectives were thorough. He also knew that people in this part of town didn’t generally welcome the police snooping around their businesses after they had already spoken to them once, so he decided to cut the conversation short.
“Thank you for your time,” Frank said as he turned and began walking out the door.
“What’s this about, anyway?” the clerk asked as Frank crossed the threshold of the doorway. He turned back to face the man, who seemed slightly uneasy. “I mean, what’s the missing girl gotta do with the motel? Your friends didn’t say.”
“Nothing directly, as far as we know. Just covering our bases.” The desk clerk relaxed, his worries melting away when he realized that the police officer in his office had nothing to do with the motel itself. “If you hear anything, give the department a call, alright?”
“Sure,” the clerk muttered as he went back to wrestling with his hangnail. Frank doubted that the man had heard what Frank said. He made his way back to his patrol car and slumped into the driver’s seat. He had made no progress and the anxious feeling had not subsided, turning into a slight, uncomfortable tightness in his chest. Frank couldn’t pinpoint why the case bothered him so much, which added to the irritation. He took a deep breath, and while thoughts of cigarettes started floating around the back of his mind, a dispatcher’s voice came through the radio.
“Reported fireworks at the abandoned church on Simmons Road,” the voice stated. Fireworks had been illegal in Vander ever since the wildfire the year before, which made Frank’s life a living hell during the fourth of July weekend. He thought it was strange to have people lighting fireworks off at this time of the year, but Vander High students tended to meet up at the abandoned church lot to drink and engage in other illicit activities, so it didn’t come as a complete surprise.
“Officer Seven-one-two responding,” Frank said to the dispatcher. This was an easy way to get his mind off Katheryn Jennings.
“Copy,” Frank heard through the radio as he pulled out of the Fine Stay parking lot and drove south toward Simmons Road. When he arrived at the church, the lot seemed completely desolate. It was right next to a housing community, which is where the call complaining to the station about fireworks probably came from, but it seemed that the pyrotechnic wrongdoers were long gone.
The church had once been a thriving Catholic community called the Holy Apostles. Around the time that Frank joined the police department, the Catholic community deciding on expanding and building a new, larger church called Sacred Heart on the opposite side of town. It was determined that the lot with the old church would be given back to the city of Vander because the Catholic community did not have the attendance or religious personnel to keep both churches running in a city as small as Vander. However, ever since the new church had been built, the old lot had been stuck in legal limbo while companies competed for the land. The ordeal was a complicated mess of red tape, building codes, and unreached deals. The lot devolved into a hangout for teenagers to fight, drink, and exchange bodily fluids with each other. The church itself was tagged relentlessly with graffiti, but the doors were always chained and padlocked and the windows boarded with plywood so that minimal damage could be done.
Frank pulled the cruiser around the building’s right side, parking in the slowly diminishing shade cast by the house of worship. As he put the patrol car in park, Frank noticed a muddy-colored car parked at the rear of the building. He exited his vehicle to investigate further, noting that the car was a Honda Civic and appeared to have been manufactured in the early to mid 1990’s. The sedan didn’t emanate a feeling of abandonment, but upon further examination of the lot and surrounding area, it seemed to Frank as if he was the only creature with a heartbeat for miles. Frank’s initial thought was that the Civic belonged to the firework fiend, who, after seeing the cruiser in the distance, decided to make a break for it and hop the wall into the neighboring community. Running away and ditching their primary means of transportation wouldn’t be the brightest course of action, but Frank had experience dealing with the delinquents of Vander High and had concluded that none of them were going to be the next Albert Einstein. If he had to make an educated guess, Frank would say that the car belonged to Jimmy Sanders or Lucas Younger. They were the type to end up in Dutch for petty crimes like shoplifting, lighting off fireworks, or spray painting a bad word on the high school gym. Frank knew how to lure them out.
“Alright, it’s fine by me if you hide. I’m gonna tow this car here if no one comes out to claim it, though,” Frank shouted to the abandoned lot. The response was absolute silence, not even the chirrup of a bird. “Fine, have it your way.” Frank was surprised. That trick always worked when they busted kids partying and getting drunk around bonfires in the land out beyond the cemetery. He had no intention of going to the trouble of getting the car towed, but decided that searching the plate number and speaking to the troublemaker’s parents might be the next best thing. He pulled out his black pocket notebook and scribbled down the make and model of the car as well as the plate number. As he was returning the notebook to his pocket, he glanced up at the rear of the church.
Above the weather-worn double doors was a bronze depiction of a crucified Jesus. The drooping eyes seemed to be staring into his and gave him a feeling of intense nausea. Frank was not a fan of churches and despised the representations of Jesus on the cross. He thought it morbid to choose a torture device with a malnourished, bleeding, broken man tacked to it as the symbol of one’s religion. Valerie was Catholic and attended mass at Sacred Heart every Sunday, so Frank kept most of his feelings on the subject matter to himself. He was an atheist, but had been raised Catholic by his mother. Frank couldn’t remember many fond memories of his mother, but didn’t care to try. He hadn’t spoken to her in a little over a decade.
The longer he stared into the vacant eyes of the crucified Jesus above the doorway, the more nauseated he felt. The contents of his stomach seemed to solidify into a solid mass of rock and sink within his body. The tightness in his chest turned into a death grip on his heart and his breathing became short and laborious. Frank’s hands became clammy and a dizziness encircled his head, but he could not seem to break the gaze of the bronze man above him.
Suddenly, the dispatcher’s voice sounded from the radio. Hearing the female voice pulled Frank back to reality, allowing him to snap out of the trance. Frank walked swiftly back to his cruiser while the dispatcher spoke.
“We have an accident on the bypass, multiple vehicles involved. Injuries reported.” Frank quickly jumped into the front seat and turned the patrol car on, taking a deep breath and gripping the steering wheel tightly.
“Seven-one-two en route,” Frank spoke into his shoulder microphone and peeled out of the church parking lot. It’s a busy morning in Vander, Frank thought. The one thing he knew for sure was that he was going to need a cigarette later. Or ten.
Valerie entered Sacred Heart Catholic Church clad in a modest pink dress with a rose gold necklace that Frank had given her for their third anniversary and a pale pink clutch handbag to match, her nicest Sunday attire. She figured that if there was ever a time to look her best, it would be in God’s house. Valerie dipped her finger in the basin of holy water and made the sign of the cross before walking down the center aisle between the rows of wooden benches. She took a seat in one of the middle rows on the left and kneeled to pray before mass began. Valerie felt like she had a little more than usual to talk to the big guy upstairs about this week.
The first thing that Valerie prayed about was her husband’s peace of mind. She knew that the job of a law enforcement officer was a stressful one, but the last few days had seemed even more emotionally taxing on Frank. She wished that Frank would come with her to Sunday mass, even if his beliefs drastically differed from hers. He had been dead set against church ever since she had known him, but he wouldn’t go into much detail on why. She still made the occasional request for him to join her, though. Valerie thought that maybe Frank would find peace within the church if he just gave it a chance, but every time she brought it up, he would respond with, “You know I don’t buy what they’re selling,” or something to that effect. Her husband was a compassionate man and a great father, but he was not one to open up easily and internalized the majority of his emotions, sometimes leading to a raging sea of conflict in his mind. Valerie believed that being present in the church could calm the tides, but if Frank wouldn’t come, she would pray twice as hard for him.
She also prayed for Cade, that he should maintain good health and grow up full of wonder and excitement. A prayer was issued for Pam Johnson as well, who worked in Human Resources at Southwest Pharmaceuticals with Valerie and had just been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous week. She asked God to help Pam with a swift and painless recovery. Finally, she prayed that her father’s soul rest peacefully in Heaven, just as she did every week, before sitting back on the pew. She leisurely flipped through the psalm book in front of her until mass began.
For most of the mass, the regular routine was followed and the proceedings were pleasantly predictable. Songs were sung in voices desperately attempting to be angelic; bible passages were read aloud. Valerie placed her five-dollar donation in the basket that was passed around and greeted her neighboring churchgoers with “peace be with you.” Father David preached a homily about maintaining strength in one’s faith in the face of adversity while everyone nodded their heads silently. Everything seemed to occur just as it had for countless Sundays, until Father David stood up after communion. He had made sure that everyone had returned to their seats before he spoke.
“Brothers and sisters, as you probably know, a beloved member of our Sacred Heart community is missing. Katheryn Jennings is a beautiful, intelligent young woman and always made faith a priority. Her parents are here with us today. Please bow your heads with me and pray for her safe return.” Before Valerie bowed her head, she looked toward the front row, where she could see Katheryn’s parents. Only the backs of their heads were visible to her, but from the way Katheryn’s mother was constantly bringing a tissue to her face, Valerie assumed that she was crying. The man in the row behind them leaned forward, placing his hands on their shoulders and whispering something to comfort them. Valerie recognized him as one of the lectors who sometimes read the bible passages aloud during mass. She hoped that whatever he was saying was helping ease their suffering, at least momentarily.
Valerie bowed her head and prayed with the rest of the church. She had heard about Katheryn the day before on the news and thought that maybe a portion of what was troubling Frank was due to Katheryn’s disappearance. Cases such as Katheryn’s didn’t happen often in Vander, and she knew it must be stressful for the whole department. She didn’t want to further burden Frank’s mind by bringing it up, so she had kept it to herself.
It had come as a saddening shock when she saw the news report. Valerie did not know Katheryn very well, but had seen her with her family at mass and charity events organized by Sacred Heart. From what Valerie had seen, Katheryn seemed to enjoy organizing events for the church like it was her profession. She had even been helping arrange the 5K Run for Leukemia that Valerie was planning on participating in next Saturday. Valerie prayed hard for her safe return.
When mass ended, Valerie considered given her thoughts and prayers to Katheryn’s parents, but decided against it. They had enough on their minds and were probably being bombarded by countless other people giving them their own thoughts and prayers. When pulling out of the church parking lot, her mind once again turned to her husband. Today was his day off, so she hoped that he was giving his mind a rest, at least for just a little while. She decided that she would suggest watching Young Frankenstein with Frank when she arrived home. Frank was a sucker for Mel Brooks films. She doubted they would be able to watch anything uninterrupted by Cade, but thought that Frank would appreciate the gesture anyway. She switched on the radio, where a Bryan Adams song was just beginning. She turned the volume up and sang along as she cruised the Vander streets and headed back home.
A growing audience packed themselves into their seats at the Vander Performing Arts Center as the night’s performers waited backstage. Among them, tapping her foot nervously, was Jacquelyn Douglas, known as Jackie to her friends and parents. Jackie was fourteen, barely a freshman in High School, and was the youngest of the performers slated for the evening’s show. The entertainment that the attending audience members had come to see was a compilation of musical pieces performed by some of Vander’s most talented musicians. Jackie had been given the opportunity to close the show with a rendition of the first movement of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and was feeling a cinderblock of pressure resting on her shoulders.
Jackie had been a natural at the piano ever since she sat down at one at age seven. It was as if the ebony and ivory keys spoke to her and guided her elegantly through each piece. Her first instructor had called her a prodigy and had stated that Jackie was the quickest learner she had ever seen. Recently, Jackie had begun to gain the attention of individuals outside of Vander, and even outside the state of Arizona. The Vander Chronicle had recently written an article about her musical prowess, and word had traveled around town. She knew that many of the people filing into the auditorium had only come to see her. Jackie thought that maybe someone from New York could be coming to see her performance, but that could just have been wishful thinking. If she could play the Mozart piece without a hitch, it could prove to be a giant stepping stone on the path of her blossoming musical career.
Jackie heard the bow of a violin as the show began. She did not know how long the violin piece lasted, but soon it was replaced by a cello, and after that Jackie stopped hearing the music completely. She was in her own world, going over each note to the Mozart piece in her head repeatedly. Before she knew it, someone was tapping her on the shoulder and telling her that it was her turn in the spotlight. Jackie walked out to the grand piano on stage on legs that felt as sturdy as a house of cards. Somehow she made it to the seat without her knees buckling underneath her and sat down. The crowd could have been clapping for her or they could have been completely silent, but Jackie couldn’t tell. She couldn’t hear anything except the sound of her own heartbeat in her ears. She took a deep breath and glanced down at the keys. Under so much pressure and with so many watchful eyes glued to her, the keys looked more like a monster’s teeth than a means of creation.
As soon as she began to play, the anxiety melted away and she felt the most comfortable she had ever felt in her young life. She was the only person in the auditorium and was playing Mozart for the angels in Heaven. Time ceased to exist and Jackie lived blissfully in each moment from note to note. She didn’t want the piece to end, but when it did, it concluded beautifully, the last notes sounding like the last moments of a life well-lived.
The crowd erupted in applause. Almost in unison, the members of the audience rose to give Jackie a standing ovation. A few people whistled their approval and when she took a bow, the applause grew even louder. Jackie was overwhelmed by the reaction, and felt as if the smile on her face had been permanently set there in stone. She could see old teachers and members of her church cheering her on and her mother was jumping in elation. Hot tears of joy streamed down her cheeks. She was proud. She was triumphant. This was the best moment of her life. Late in the afternoon of August 30th, Jackie disappeared.