Sunday, April 28, 2019

Missing

Today of all days the Chief dropped three files on my desk. Three missing persons with nothing in common but today’s date.

“Seriously?” I complained to his back and he waved my question away. He knew I’d be dismayed but wouldn’t ignore my job. I made some phone calls and took a drive.

During my interview with the husband of a MISPER, a remark he made piqued my curiosity.

“I know that her feet were bothering her cuz of the pregnancy,” the man said, “but she didn’t even take the slippers she’s been wearing for weeks.” He pointed out the leather and fur footwear sitting in the entryway.

“Do you have a recent photo?” I jotted down this oddity in my notepad. “What clothes was she wearing? Did she take any jewelry of value? A cellphone?”

He shook his head and showed me a selfie. “She was wearing this, this morning, but no jewelry. And this is her phone.”

“That’s not your's?” I nodded at the phone in his hand, and he pulled a slim black one from his pocket.

“This one’s mine," he said.

“Ok. No phone and no shoes. I'm guessing from the photo she’s due soon.”

“Any day now. You’ve got to find her. Please. I have to be with her when our baby is born.” His voice ached with worry. The assurances I gave didn’t do anything to alleviate the stress on his face nor the tears in his eyes.

I went back to the station to wonder if a pregnant woman would go on a jaunt this close to her due date, sans shoes and phone. More likely a kidnapper would leave the phone because it was traceable, and maybe take her barefoot to keep her from trying to escape. But there were no signs of abduction or struggle. None.

I was bothered by the lack of details when I called on family members of the two other MISPERs. They thought me odd for asking about shoes. The mother of the missing college student simply assumed her son was wearing his normal outfit of t-shirt, blue jeans, and running shoes.

The ex-wife of the missing businessman didn’t care what he wore so long as we found him before he missed the next alimony payment. I told her I was working his case but couldn’t guarantee that I’d find him. She scoffed.

“Even if you do, I”m selling that bastard's precious Italian leather shoes and suits and everything else he owns, and there’s nothing his lawyer can do about it.”

By the end of my shift I’d poured through the details of each report and ran down every dead end. I’d called every friend and coworker, and left too many voicemails. The Chief stopped by my desk on his way home and asked how I was doing.

“Long day,” I said, knowing he was studying me, wondering if I’d show any cracks. Seconds ticked by until he finally tapped on my desk and told me to go home.

“I'm sure it’ll be another long one tomorrow,” he said as he walked away.

He knew I would stay a few more hours, dreading the very thing he told me to do. It's been three years and 16 days since my wife disappeared, but I have yet to get rid of any of her things. Certain she’d come rushing through the door exclaiming how she forgot something she really needed, like so many times before. Me watching as she raced around the house looking for the silliest of things - a favorite pen or bookmark or pair of walking shoes. Stopping to give me a long kiss after she found her prize, and me complaining with a laugh that she was going to make us both late for work.

I sat at my desk, thinking about how to run a search on missing adults who weren’t wearing any shoes. Instead, I ran a search against the NamUs public database for today’s date. There were over 11,000 results, which was odd because the average number of new adult cases is around 500 per day. I broadened my query to Interpol’s database, and sat stunned as the results climbed over 11 million.

What would cause such a huge swing in the numbers? I hadn’t gleaned any uptick in human trafficking from the regular reports I receive.

My hands hesitated over the keyboard, then I typed another date and ran a search against NCIC that ended too quickly. Only one person appeared on the list, and that person was my wife. I ran the same search on Interpol and the results showed just under 200.

Those numbers were incredulous, completely unbelievable. Something had to be wrong with the source data.

I typed in the day before my wife went missing, and results were average. I typed in the day after, and again the results were well within the norm. I searched every month since, frowning as the results came back as expected, each and every time. Until today.

My hands shook as I typed in my wife’s date again, and after I finished reading the details of all 195 results, I closed my eyes and felt them burn for a few moments.

On the day my wife went missing, her case was the only one in this country to remain unsolved. And on that very same day, exactly one MISPER was reported unsolved from each and every country. Just one regardless if it was the largest and most populous nation, or the tiniest.

I looked at my watch and it was past 10pm. My back ached from hunching over the keyboard and peering at the monitor for too long. The night shift detectives weren’t usually bothered by my presence, but they kept glancing my way. The lead detective slowly came towards me and tapped a few times on my desk as he walked past. I nodded, suppressed a yawn, and shut down my computer.

When I got home I didn’t turn on the lights. I found my way into the living room, dropped my things on the coffee table, and let myself fall onto the couch. I slept until I felt someone tugging at my feet, and looked up to a silhouette I knew intimately.

“What the hell?!” I jumped from the couch, reaching for my gun and stumbling away, one shoe still attached. I turned on the light and gasped.

“Sam?” Her face was familiar, and yet... She looked younger than I remembered, and as beautiful as the day we met.

“Where have you been?” I nearly shouted, rooted where I stood even though my whole body ached to go to her, wrap my arms around her and never let her go. “You’ve been gone three years.”

“I’m sorry Els," she said, "I wanted to, but I couldn't return. There was too much for me to learn, to do. To become.” She folded her hands in her lap. Hands that I had wanted to hold every day since the last I’d seen them.

I began to pace, still holding my gun but pointing it at the floor and wondering if I should take off the safety. Something wasn’t right. She looked like Sam, sounded like Sam. But was definitely younger than the Samantha who went missing exactly 1,111 days ago.

I wanted to scream, why did you leave me? I’d considered many and settled on one reason that seemed the safest for why she'd gone. How does an environmental lawyer keep lawyering when she loses too many cases to big business and big government that don’t give a damn about anything but the almighty dollar. No matter the poisons they release into the water and the air, no matter the sacred lands they destroy. No matter the people they displace, lock up, and lose track of.

I sat on the chair and laid my gun on the side table. “Why’d you come back?”

She took a deep breath, and rolled her shoulders in that same way she did when she was exhausted from a tough day in court. I wanted to burst into tears at the familiarity of her movements.

“I had to argue your case like no other I’ve argued before. I told them you were someone that deserved saving. That you were someone they really needed, and that I wouldn’t go without you.”

I shook my head, “you’re not making any sense. Who is ‘them’? Did they hurt you?”

“They didn't hurt me. I’m not sure how to help you understand.” She looked down at her hands, twisting her fingers together. “They’ve come to save us, Elsie. Save what they can of life from this dying Earth. But they’re very selective.”

She was silent for too many moments, moments I resisted the urge to get up from my chair and sit next to her. To look into her eyes, massage the frown lines from her forehead, and tell her everything would be okay. Like I’d done many times before.

“And?” I asked, breaching the silence.

She smiled.

“I won my case.”


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