Time to Say Goodby

 

Oh and PS - Gerd Altman Pixabay

Or at least “see you later.”  I’m going to take a hiatus from the weekly flash fiction stories I’ve been posting for a couple of years now. Creating over a hundred stories has left me muttering and stumbling like a zombie, and nobody wants to see that.

Besides, I’ve got a book to finish. The redoubtable Mrs. Entwhistle and her friend, Maxine, are taking a road trip on Route 66. You wouldn’t believe what’s been happening to them. Below is a sneak preview of this work in progress.

I’ll post more flash fiction when inspiration strikes. Meanwhile, I’ve gathered some of my stories in a book called Snapshots, available on Amazon.

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I’ll miss our Sunday morning get-togethers, but we’ll talk soon.

~*~

Mrs. Entwhistle Takes a Road Trip 

(Excerpt from Work in Progress)

(In Chapter Three, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine are driving on Route 66, having just visited the Catoosa Blue Whale in Tulsa. They’re heading for the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo when Mrs. E. experiences an urgent call of nature.)

“Max, I’ve got to have a pit stop,” Mrs. Entwhistle declared as they approached a ramshackle building set just off the road. The lopsided sign announced it was the Pigsticker Bar and Grill. Actually, the sign said Bar and Gr because some of the letters had fallen off. It wasn’t good to think about who was sticking what pigs, but Mrs. Entwhistle was desperate.

“This place looks sketchy, but they’ll at least have a bathroom. You can get a cup of tea. Well, maybe it’ll have to be coffee; it doesn’t really look like a tea-drinking place.”

Maxine surveyed the dilapidated building doubtfully. The lights had just come on in the parking lot, sparking on the gleaming chrome of a dozen motorcycles.

“I don’t know,” she began, but Mrs. Entwhistle had already pulled in, cut the engine and climbed out of the car.

“I can’t wait, Max, go ahead on in,” she said, hustling off with unusual speed to the outside door marked Cowgirls. “It’s all those Twinkies,” she called back over her shoulder.

Maxine followed more sedately. When she entered the Pigsticker, every head in the small, smoky room turned toward her. She stopped, hand on her heart. She’d never seen so many long-haired males in one place. There were man-buns, pony-tails, beaded head-bands and flowing locks unchecked on leather-clad shoulders. Everyone but her had elaborate whiskers.

“Oh,” Maxine said in a very small voice.

One of the men got up and came toward her. “Come on in, honey, don’t be scared of us,” he said, gesturing to an empty stool at the bar. “Sit yourself down and have a drink.”

He sounded so friendly that Maxine felt reassured.

“Oh, well, maybe just for a minute. My friend will be here soon.” She seated herself on the stool and tucked her feet on the brass rail.

“Now what’d you like to drink, honey?”

“Why, I guess iced tea?”

There were fond chuckles and a few comments: “Just like my grandma.” “Ain’t she sweet?” The atmosphere was positively sticky with sentiment. Maxine felt an obligation to return all that warmth. She sat up straight and smiled.

“You are all so nice!” she said. “Actually, I’ll have a beer.”

After that, time seemed to slow down and speed up at strange intervals. Maxine wondered where Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten to and what was taking so long, but her new friends kept motioning the bartender to refill her glass. They told her about their hawgs, which she learned were motorcycles, and about the road trip they were on, a trip they took every year. They loved their families, they said, but it was great to get out on the road again. Maxine nodded and asked questions when she could and drank her beer. Beers. When they started singing, she sang, too.

It was into this convivial scene that Mrs. Entwhistle finally entered. Her face was noticeably green and she clutched her stomach with one hand. But her physical ailments were forgotten at the sight of Maxine, singing and swaying with a lot of large, scruffy-looking men. Arms entwined, they harmonized on Hotel California and Maxine seemed to know all the words. Mrs. Entwhistle was reminded that Maxine was a dark horse and even after all their years of friendship, she could still surprise.

“Ahem,” she tried. No response.

“AHEM!”

“Oh, hi, Cora.” Maxine finally noticed her. “Come meet my new friends.”

“Yeah, Cora, come on over here. Have yourself a beer, or do you want something stronger?”

Mrs. Entwhistle wanted nothing at all, not with the way her stomach was acting. But it seemed churlish to refuse, so she perched on the stool vacated for her next to Maxine and asked the bartender for a Shirley Temple. The crowd erupted in cheers and Mrs. Entwhistle’s back was patted rather too enthusiastically.

“I swear, they’re just like my mama,” one of the men said, and shed a few tears in his drink. “Put a little vodka in that Shirley Temple,” he whispered to the bartender. “It’ll do her good. Bless her heart.”

Soon Mrs. Entwhistle found herself swaying and singing, too. They ran through Dixie, When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, and then she lost track. When she looked at her watch, she couldn’t believe the time.

“Maxine! We’ve got to leave right now. We’ll never find a place to spend the night if we don’t get going.”

“Wha?” Maxine seemed to be having trouble focusing her eyes. “Ish it late?”

“It’s very late.” Mrs. Entwhistle launched herself from the tall bar stool, but the floor had developed an alarming tilt since she’d first sat down. A strong hand caught her arm and held her upright.

“I don’t think you ladies will want to be driving,” the owner of the hand said.

“We have to, we need to find a place to stop for the night.”

“Now, don’t you worry about that. You ever sleep in your car before? You ain’t in no shape to drive, neither one of you. We got blankets in our saddlebags, we’ll get you all set up.”

The ladies were helped to their car and the seats were lowered. Smelly blankets were tucked around them and the windows cracked a few inches.

“There now, you ladies just have you a good sleep. We’ll be here all night and we’ll look out for you.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s eyes seemed happy to follow this suggestion. As she drifted off to sleep, the lead sentence of her next Pantograph article wrote itself in her mind:

Today we saw a blue whale and took up with a motorcycle gang.

 

 

 

The Cult Next Door

The Cult Next Door Image by congerdesign from pixabay

Corey’s bar was the fulfillment of a dream. The day his sign – Corey’s Pub– went up, he shed a tear or two. He fussed over every detail, from the coasters to the bartender’s bow tie, wanting it all to be perfect. The one thing he couldn’t control, however, was his neighbor. The headquarters of the Church of Synchronicity was right next door.

“Those people don’t drink, you know,” he said darkly. “That might be a problem.”

But he’d gotten a steal on the rent so he went ahead despite his misgivings. Characteristically, he initiated the hostilities once he was settled.

“That so-called church is nothing but a cult,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen. “Just because they’ve got money and powerful members, they think they can rule the world. Well, they are not going to rule me!”

“What have they ever done to you?” I asked.

“It’s their power and the way everything they do has to be such a big secret. The members are like prisoners. Some of ‘em look like zombies. You should see the poor slobs that have to clean the kennels. I think they’re being punished for something.”

The kennels were an especially touchy point with Corey. The captive hounds were situated right behind his building and the baying drove him mad. He’d scream out the back door, “Shut up, shut up!” causing even more chaos. “Why does a church need tracking dogs?” he’d ask, a rhetorical question which he’d immediately answer himself.

His customers shuffled uneasily when Corey got going. “You’re driving business away,” I warned him. “People come in here to relax, not listen to you rant.”

He did try to talk less about the Cult Next Door, as he called them, but he started doing stupid things like posting derogatory comments on Facebook and Twitter.

“Don’t poke the bear,” I kept telling him. “Live and let live.” But he couldn’t hear me.

Rumor had it that a certain Very Important Movie Star was building an apartment on the top two floors of the church’s building. Work trucks filled the street, often blocking traffic. Corey was beside himself because his customers couldn’t get through. He looked for an opportunity for revenge. When one of the contractors stopped by one day, Corey made sure the drinks were strong and plentiful. Before long the guy was spilling all kinds of inside information, and Corey was egging him on.

“It’s got six bedrooms and each of ‘em has its own marble bathroom. There are servants’ quarters for the live-in help. The kitchen – you wouldn’t believe the finishes in that kitchen, and the cook will be the only one who sees it.”

“I’ll bet it isn’t near as fancy as you say,” Corey said, goading the guy.

“Yeah? You don’t believe me? C’mon, I’ve got the key, I’ll show you.”

Corey not only went on the sight-seeing tour, he snapped a lot of pictures with his cell phone. His guide was too plastered to notice, but everybody noticed when those pictures went viral on social media.

“What are you thinking?” I asked him. “You cost that man his job and invaded the privacy of a celebrity who has all the money in the world. You think you’re going to get away with it?”

“What can they do?” he laughed. “I just gave them some free publicity, that’s all.”

“They’ll run you off. They’ve got the cash to do it.”

“I’d never sell to them, no matter how much they offered.” Corey slammed his fist on the bar for emphasis. “They can’t make me move.”

But, of course, they could. The entire building in which his bar was located was sold – yep, to the Cult Next Door. In record time, he got an eviction notice. He had thirty days to get out.

“I’m ruined,” he moaned, head in hands. “I’ll never find another place I can afford. They’ve finished me off.”

Corey was so miserable I have to admit I avoided him for a while. I’d heard stories that he’d lost his house and was couch-surfing with friends, so I was pleasantly surprised by his appearance when I ran into him on the street a couple months later. I’d never seen him look as well-groomed – dark slacks, pristine white shirt and polished shoes. He’d gotten a haircut and the beard was gone.

“You’re looking good,” I said. “Has your situation improved?”

“Oh, yeah. Never felt better in my life.”

“Did you find a place to relocate the bar?”

“The bar? That was yesterday; I wouldn’t peddle that poison today. I’ve got a lifetime of brand-new tomorrows now.”

That didn’t sound like Corey at all. “What gives?” I asked in alarm.

He beamed at me radiantly. “I was completely, totally wrong about the Church of Synchronicity.”

I waited to hear more, but his phone beeped a reminder. “Oops, gotta run. I’ve got a mind-melding class, and then it’s my turn to clean the kennels.”

Oh, And P.S.

 

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Attention: Frederick K. Lucifer

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation, effective immediately. After ten years of working closely with you, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot.

Sincerely,

Wanda Winkler, Chief Deputy Assistant and General Flunky

Oh, and P.S.

I hope you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to leave some feedback. It’s given in the same spirit of constructive criticism with which you so often ruined my day. Consider it my exit interview.

I know you worry about your appearance because you often fish for compliments.  You know when you got that new haircut and asked me how it looked and I, trying to hang onto my paycheck, said great? I lied. It’s still a comb-over. And double-breasted suits make you look like the Penguin.

You ordered the permanent deletion of those photos someone (okay, it was me) posted online after the last Christmas party. Well, guess what: once something is on the Internet, it never dies. If you check social media, you’ll find those photos alive and well and having a lively afterlife.

Allow me explain what a “raise” is. A raise means I get more money. Obviously, this is a foreign concept to you.

Although you are much too busy with matters of great importance to bother about something as mundane as food, you should know this: when you raid the lunches in the office fridge, we go straight to our computers and research untraceable poisons.

Nobody wants to hear about the tax burdens of wealth. If it’s you vs. the IRS, we’re rooting for the IRS.

People are not really laughing with you.

Here’s an idea: seniority is when employees who have been with you the longest receive pay based on their years of service and abilities. When you hire new people for more than the old people are making, there are dreams of revenge. (See “photos” above)

And when the workforce dreams of revenge…(See “untraceable poisons” above).

But maybe I’m being too hard on you. Being a boss is a tough job. It must take maturity, patience, and the ability to both take responsibility and  give credit where it’s due.  Maybe if I was the boss, I’d…oh, wait! You know that hostile company takeover you’ve been worried about? It’s happening – I have it on good authority. In fact, I have it from my new boss, who just made me your new boss. You should be getting the revised organizational chart in your inbox soon.  It’s a bit of a demotion for you, but as you frequently said to me, feel lucky you have a job.

See you Monday.

 

Who Are You? – Part 4

 

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Moira had access to a wealth of resources in the crime lab. The first thing she did was check Jeremy’s birth certificate.

“The name on the original is Kirkpatrick. An amended version changing your name to Caudell was filed after your parents adopted you.”

“Bought me, you mean. So the birth certificates were no help in tracing my biological father. What other options do we have?” Jeremy asked.

“Good old DNA,” Moira replied cheerfully. “If you’ll give me a sample, I’ll run it through the data base for a match. It may take a while. The lab is always backed up.”

While they waited, it seemed natural for Moira and Jeremy to meet a couple of times a week to share information. Jeremy didn’t admit to himself how much he looked forward to those evenings. They’d sit talking for hours and Jeremy felt he knew Moira better than he’d ever known anyone. He secretly hoped the lab would stay backed up forever.

One evening Moira hurried in, her face alight with news. “I found him!” she said without preamble as she plopped into the seat across from him. “You aren’t going to believe this.”

“Tell me.”

“Now, brace yourself. This will come as a shock. Are you ready?”

“Jeez, just spit it out, will you?”

“Your father is Hank Kirkpatrick.”

“Hank! What about Myrna’s mysterious affair? If Hank’s my father, why did he sell me? Why would he do that?”

“I can only speculate that Myrna really didn’t know which man was the father of her child. Hank assumed you weren’t his.”

“But how did you get his DNA? He refused when I suggested it.”

“Turns out, it was already in the system. He’d had a traffic accident a couple of years ago in which he was at fault and the other driver was seriously hurt. The officer at the scene gave Hank a Breathalizer test and preserved the mouthpiece just in case. If the other guy had died, Hank would have been facing charges. Once I unearthed that piece of information, putting it together was simple.”

Jeremy recalled Myrna’s sorrowful face as she stood silently behind her husband at their front door. Hank said Myrna needed a lesson and he’d certainly given it to her. In a colossal mistake born of vengeance and anger, he’d sold his own son.

“It’s like an O. Henry story,” Jeremy said, shaking his head. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“O. Henry was known for his plot twists,” Moira said. “You get to write this one. How do you want your story to unfold?”

~*~

When Jeremy delivered the dinner invitation, Hank refused outright.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” he said with his trademark snarl.

A small, firm voice spoke up behind him.

“Yes, we’ll be there,” Myrna Kirkpatrick said. When Hank rounded on her with fire in his eyes, she faced him down for the first time in their long married life.

“We’ll be there,” she repeated, made brave by the need to reclaim her child. “We owe it to our son, Hank. We’re going to get to know our boy.”

~*~

The little group sitting around the dining room table was anything but at ease. Mr. and Mrs. Caudell were hosting Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick and heartburn was on the menu. Moira rubbed a muscle in Jeremy’s shoulder that was taut as a wire.

“Will this night ever end?” he whispered.

“The next time will be easier,” she whispered back.

Jeremy had decided to get all his parents together in one room. He thought it was time they collectively faced what they’d done if there was to be any hope of reconciliation. After the last plate was cleared, he cleared his throat, stood and became the focus of all eyes. Moira winked.

“The past is the past and nothing can change what’s happened,” Jeremy said, “but there will be no more secrets going forward. We are an unconventional family, and maybe it’s too much to ask that you become friends. That’s up to you, but I’m going to treat the four of you as my parents, and I hope you’ll treat me as a son. Moira and I want to see you all sitting together in the front pew at our wedding.”

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? Part 3

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Jeremy was angrier than he’d ever been in his life. Grinding his teeth through sleepless nights, driving too fast, drinking too much, snapping at strangers – it was new to him, these feelings and this behavior. He’d always been a pretty laid-back sort of guy. But to find out, at thirty-three, that he’d been sold to his parents like a bag of groceries. To learn that his birth mother’s husband had paid off the mortgage with money he’d gotten for Jeremy.  It was just too much to process, and it was easier to be mad than sad.

It sounded like the kind of soapy TV drama he’d never watch, and at the bottom of the mess was a woman named Moira. If only she’d let well enough alone, but no, she kept digging and churning until she somehow uncovered the truth. He hated her for it.

He hated his parents, too. They’d misled him his entire life. Those honest, upright people, who wouldn’t pick up a quarter on the sidewalk in case the rightful owner came looking for it, had lied by omission. Yes, they’d always told him he was adopted, that he’d been chosen because he was special, but they skipped the fine print part of that story. Jeremy hadn’t seen or spoken to them since the night he found out the truth. As for his birth mother, what kind of woman would allow her nine-month-old son to be taken from her?  When Moira called “to check on him,” as she put it, he let her have it.

“You want to know how I am? I’m practically an orphan, thanks to you. Just butt out for a change and leave me alone.”

“Sounds like you need to talk,” Moira said, her voice warm with concern. “Let’s get together.”

His first instinct was to shout a resounding no, but he was bursting with feelings he’d bottled up inside. It would be a relief to dump them all on Moira. She deserved it.

They met at a neighborhood pub after work. The place was only about half-full and they had no trouble finding a private booth. Facing her across the scarred table, Jeremy dived right in.

“What made you pursue my kidnapping so relentlessly? Why did you even care?”

“I remember when you went missing. I was seven and it shook my world. It was a big factor in why I chose my career path. I just couldn’t forget the baby who disappeared.”

“Well, you carried it too far and now you’ve ruined my life. I think you owe me an apology.”

“Oh, no, I never apologize for telling the truth. You needed to know.”

Jeremy looked narrowly at the woman across from him. She had to be about forty, seven years older than he, but she didn’t look it. She met his eyes with a frank, untroubled gaze. Obviously, her conscience was clear.

“Look, my whole life went up in flames because of you,” Jeremy said. He hated the whine in his voice, but there it was.

“You had good parents, didn’t you? They gave you a great start in life and raised you with love, right?”

“Love and lies.”

“They wanted you so much they were willing to take a terrible gamble to get you. They must have lived in fear all these years, and imagine how they feel now. And your poor birth mother. She had to have gone through hell when her baby was taken from her. You were her love child, you know. When I consider Hank Kirkpatrick, I can’t blame Myrna for having an affair.”

“Rather than let him sell me, why didn’t she leave? Why didn’t she take me and leave?”

“You should ask her.”

“Yeah, sure. And I’ll ask my birth father, whoever he is.”

“You could probably find him if you tried. I bet he’s local.”

“And then what?”

“Just meet him, talk to him. If nothing else, you need to know about medical conditions you could inherit.”

“You make it all sound so easy.”

“It’s as hard as you decide it will be,” Moira said, smiling at him as she might smile at a pouting little boy.

Jeremy struggled with that for a moment. Moira had a lot of chutzpa, but he had to admit she made sense. He’d been so wrapped up in his own feelings that he really hadn’t thought about what his parents were going through. A little niggle of empathy and another niggle of guilt broke through his hard shell of self-pity. He was acting like a jerk. Moira had led him to that realization so gently that his anger slipped away, replaced by a feeling of being understood and accepted, anger and all. Maybe she was right about his father, too. There was no doubt she was resourceful; she’d make a good ally.

“So, my father,” he said. “If I decide to look for him, will you help me find him?”

 

Who Are You? – Part 2

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Jeremy hadn’t even wanted to go to the book discussion group, but he was interested in the young librarian who led it. Joining her book club would get him noticed. He whistled The Things We Do For Love as he tucked in his new shirt and headed out the door. If he’d been pressed to put his thoughts into words, he might have said ordinary day, ordinary guy, good to be alive. He had no premonition that he was walking into a vortex.

He surveyed the crowd of mostly middle-aged ladies at the library without much joy. He was paying a high price for the pretty librarian. But one woman looked at him with the intensity of a laser. She immediately crossed the room and introduced herself: “I’m Moira.” Puzzled, he’d asked if they’d met before. She said, “In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

That was the beginning. She took his arm, led him firmly to a nearby diner, settled into her side of the booth and proceeded to turn his world upside down.

First off, his name. He’d been Jeremy Caudell all his life. That’s what his parents called him and it was his legal name on all the documents that defined him for the world. But this Moira person said his name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been kidnapped from his crib when he was a baby, and he had parents, “real” parents, who still watched and waited for his return. He was Andy? His parents weren’t really his parents? He’d been kidnapped? Jeremy shook his head. He was getting angry.

“What are you talking about?” he said, glaring across the table at Moira. “Where did you get this crazy idea?”

And Moira told him, patiently unraveling her life-long obsession with the baby who’d gone missing and had never been found. She described her job in the crime lab, how she’d worked from a baby picture to make a forensic forecast in clay of his adult face. Here she paused to produce her phone and show him a photograph of her sculpture. Jeremy was silenced by the unmistakable resemblance. He felt the hair on his arms raise, a sign, his mother always said, that you were hearing the truth.

“I’m sorry, I know it’s tough, but I think you have a right to know,” Moira finished.

“I can’t believe – I won’t believe – my parents kidnapped me,” Jeremy said slowly.

“Were you adopted?” Moira asked.

“I was. I’ve always known that.”

“Better ask your folks how that came about.”

Jeremy went directly to his parents’ house. Sitting in the familiar living room, he recounted Moira’s story, expecting a storm of indignant denial, or maybe even laughter. As he talked, his mother’s head drooped lower and lower. His father’s face got paler and paler. They were silent.

Then his mother looked up. “I always knew this day would come,” she said.

Sick with confusion, Jeremy stood and left without another word.

Of course, he went to see his so-called birth parents. He approached a little house with glowing windows. It floated in the dark like a ship at sea, and Jeremy felt he was diving into very deep water. He rang the bell and the porch light came on.

“Yes? Can I help you?” The elderly lady who answered the door looked him over indifferently.

“Are you Myrna Kirkpatrick?”

“Yes. What do you want? I don’t buy from door-to-door salesmen.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I understand you had a son named Andrew.”

“My son died as an infant.”

“Did he? What if he’s still alive? I’ve been told I was that baby.”

“Hank?” She turned and called over her shoulder, her voice fizzing with panic. “Hank, come quick. There’s a man here who says he’s Andy.”

Hank shuffled to the door in sheepskin slippers and a cardigan with leather elbow patches. His glasses slid down his nose and he re-anchored them to consider Jeremy.

“Look, mister, I don’t know what your game is, but it won’t work.”

“Just let me explain,” Jeremy pleaded. “Let me come in and explain.”

“You can say what you’ve got to say right here.”

For the second time Jeremy told the story of abduction to a set of parents. The couple listened without expression, but the woman’s eyes brimmed with tears she didn’t even seem to notice.

“So I think we should all take a DNA test and find out for sure if I really am your child,” Jeremy concluded.

“No way!” Hank snapped. “I won’t give back the money, I sold that kid fair and square and it’s been more than thirty years ago.”

“Sold? But what about the kidnapping you reported? What really happened? Tell me! I have a right to know.”

“I don’t know about your rights, but I’ll tell you just to get rid of you. Myrna, here…well, that baby wasn’t mine and I didn’t want to raise another man’s by-blow. Myrna needed to learn a lesson, and I needed some cash.” He shot a poisonous look at his wife. “Paid off the mortgage with what I got for that little bastard. Don’t know who you are, with your fancy DNA talk, and don’t care. It’s ancient history now, and if you go to the cops I’ll say you’re a con man trying to take advantage of us. Now clear out.”

The door swung shut and Jeremy heard the dead-bolt slide into place, locking him out, locking his past in. He turned and walked heavily back to his life. An ordinary life where nothing would ever be the same.

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? Part 1

 

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Moira carefully shaped the damp clay to make a cleft in the chin. The baby’s picture showed that cleft and it was something that wouldn’t have changed with age. She raked some strands of hair over the brow, then stood back and looked critically from her work to the photograph she held in one hand. It wasn’t much to go on – an image of a baby who’d vanished from his crib one night while his parents slept in the next room. Moira had been seven at the time, and the unwelcome knowledge that a neighborhood child could just disappear had a profound effect on her.

His name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been nine months old when he disappeared and he’d never been found. His parents had no more children. They continued to live in the little house to which they’d brought Andy as a newborn, “so he can find us when he comes home,” as the mother was quoted in a newspaper follow-up article some years later.

Nobody ever figured out what happened. The grief-stricken parents were under suspicion themselves, and when the case went cold, nobody ever bothered to exonerate them. They lived under that cloud for the rest of their lives. Moira had never met them, but she could imagine what it was like to be watched and suspected. Her decision to choose forensic science for her college major arose from a desire to solve mysteries like this one.

“You’ve watched too much CSI,” her Dad said. He’d tease her by singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

“Isn’t it depressing, recreating the faces of dead people?” her mother asked.

Moira agreed good-naturedly that she probably had watched too much CSI, and said, no, it didn’t depress her to honor the unidentified dead and unfound missing by showing the world their faces. And maybe it would help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of her recreations solved a cold case and allowed a family some peace?

“Not that they’d ever really have peace in their hearts,” she added. She knew that.

Moira made a forensic forecast in clay of what Andrew Kirkpatrick would look like as an adult. There were sophisticated 3D laser projectors available, but somehow she needed to shape Andy’s face with her hands. She brought to the task her training and technical expertise, but also her artist’s intuition. It was inexplicable, what happened as she worked. Something seemed to guide her hands and the finished product surprised her with its humanity. When she was finished, she showed it to her boss.

“Good work, Moira,” he said, and looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Keep that up and you’ll crack some cases.”

But after a photograph of her sculpture was printed in the newspaper, it raised no leads. There were a couple of phone calls from the poor souls who routinely called at such times, but no new information.

Andy’s memory haunted her. In her dreams he was sometimes an infant, sometimes  an adult. In one dream, he told her what happened to him and she startled awake. Instantly, his words were gone. Tears soaked her pillow when she couldn’t call them back. So near!

Stop it, she scolded herself. Now you’re believing in dreams. What’s next, a Ouija board?

Moira drove past the Kirkpatrick house one night after work, peering at the lighted windows. She felt a tug of connection to that tiny intersection of theory and reality. It became her routine to pass the house every night, even though it was miles out of her way. Andy would be thirty-three now. What kind of life might he have had? Or was still having? His body had never been found. What if he had been brought up by whoever took him, and was now an adult with no knowledge of his past?

Sometimes she feared she was bordering on the obsessive, so she tried to banish Andy from her thoughts. It was possible during the day when she was busy at work, more difficult on her own time.

As a distraction, she joined a book discussion club at the library. The group met every third Thursday evening and members took turns suggesting books to read. She couldn’t remember who proposed a true-crime book about famous unsolved cases. Sure enough, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s kidnapping filled one chapter.

She resolved to say nothing about her involvement in the case. When it was her turn to weigh in on the book, she’d just say it was well-written and well-researched. No way would she tell about creating an adult face from a baby picture, about a lonely house with a light in the window. No way would she creep everyone out with that story.

There was a new person at book club that night. With an inward sigh so profound it turned her bones to water, she recognized him. That cleft chin – she’d shaped it with her hands and she could still feel it. She’d know him anywhere. On trembling legs, she walked directly to him and held out her hand.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moira.”

His brow wrinkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”

“In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”