Long Lost
written by Linda Castillo and narrated by Kathleen McInerney

 

Half an hour later we’re standing on the sidewalk in front of The Oak, which is erected inside a refurbished railroad car and wedged between an Irish pub and the Buckeye Lanes bowling alley.

“One-stop shopping,” Tomasetti mutters as he opens the door for me. “Bowling, food, and booze.”

“And not necessarily in that order.”

The aromas of grilled steak, baked potatoes, and yeast bread greet me when I step inside. A short waitress with red hair and big round glasses converges on us with a smile and takes us to a booth. We sit facing each other, a candle flickering on the table between us.

“I’m Sandy,” she says as she snaps down two menus. “You folks visiting from out of town?”

“Painters Mill,” I tell her. “We’re staying out at the Maple Creek Inn.”

“Oh! You’re them cops.”

Tomasetti gives her a how-the-hell-did-you-know-that look. I smile because, a small-town native myself, I know how quickly news travels.

“We are,” I tell her.

Tomasetti picks up the menu. “Cops on vacation.”

“I hear you’re interested in the Maple Inn ghost.”

“Well, not exactly…”

The waitress continues as if she didn’t hear me. “Angela Blaine’s mama worked here for almost six years. In fact, Patsy was working here with me the day her girl went missing.” She sighs wistfully. “She’s been dead going on two years now. Lifestyle finally caught up with her, I guess. But she was my best friend and I can tell you she suffered a lot when little Angie disappeared. Everyone thought she was a bad mother. Granted, she had her problems.” The waitress lowers her voice. “She liked pills, booze, and men, which is a bad combination if you ask me.”

I sense Tomasetti holding his tongue; he’s no fan of gossip, especially when the subject of said gossip isn’t around to defend herself.

“I hear the prime rib is good,” I say, hoping to ward off an unpleasant exchange—and any more talk about the missing woman.

“Best in town.” Oblivious, the waitress pulls out an order pad. “Angie was a sweet kid. Pretty and smart, such a happy little thing. It’s a damn shame what happened to her. Seems like yesterday that she was running around here, changing out the salt and pepper shakers for her mama.” She clucks her tongue. “Everyone knows that son of a bitch Tucker Miles done it. And he got off scot free. Just ain’t right.”

Tomasetti sets down his menu a little too hard and gives her a direct look. The waitress doesn’t seem to notice.

I set my hand over his. “We’ll have the prime rib,” I say quickly.

“Awesome.” She grins and scribbles on her pad. “You want horseradish with that?” Her grin widens. “Guaranteed to burn your lips off.”

I hear Tomasetti mutter something beneath his breath and I say quickly, “On the side.”

“Coming right up.” Giving us a final grin, she rips the top sheet from her pad and hustles away.

The prime rib lives up to its reputation, and Sandy was right in that the horseradish is hot enough to burn off your lips. It’s a good thing Tomasetti and I like it spicy. When we’re finished, he leaves her a decent tip and we head toward the door. We’re nearly there when I hear, “Hey, you cops!”

Turning, I see our waitress rushing toward us, a wad of what looks like newspapers in her hand. “Glad I caught you before you got outta here,” she says breathlessly.

Tomasetti looks longingly at the door.

I look down at the papers in her hand. “What’s that?”

“These are all the newspaper clippings from when Angela went missing,” she says. “With you being cops and all … I thought you’d want to see them.”

“We’re not interested,” Tomasetti says point-blank.

Undeterred, she focuses her attention on me. “A lot of people around here thought them Barney Fifes down at the sheriff’s department didn’t do a very good job of looking for her. They thought her mama was a piece of trash. Half of them damn cops had been in her bed and most of them paid for what they got. That don’t mean that innocent girl was like her mama and it doesn’t mean she don’t deserve justice. Take my word for it, they wadn’t nothing alike.”

Feeling as if I’m somehow betraying Tomasetti, I take the papers.

“Hold on a sec.” Sandy pulls the pen from behind her ear and scribbles something on her order pad. “I know you ain’t interested, but if you change your mind, this is Tucker Miles’s address. Piece of shit lives in that old trailer home on the edge of town. Drinks all day and don’t work half the time.” She rips off the sheet and shoves it at me. “If you go out there, I wouldn’t turn my back on that ball-scratching son of a bitch. He’ll stick a knife in it or else shoot you.”

I take the sheet and tuck it into my pocket without looking at it. “We’re probably not going to get involved.”

She tightens her mouth. “Well, I’ll feel better knowing I tried.”

She turns to leave, but I stop her. “Who put that marker out there by the river?” I ask.

“I did,” she tells me and walks away.

* * *

“Kate, we’re not going to get into this murder thing.” Tomasetti slams the door of the Tahoe and we sit there a moment looking at each other.

“I know,” I tell him.

“We have two days here. I’d rather spend them in bed with you than tromping around some damn trailer with a psycho inside.”

“I agree completely.”

“Then stop looking at me that way.”

“What way is that?”

“Like justice matters, goddamn it.”

Frowning, he starts the engine. Neither of us speaks as he idles through the parking lot and turns onto the highway. In the opposite direction of the bed-and-breakfast.

“I thought we were going back?”

“Detour.”

“Where to?”

Sighing, he tosses me a yeah-right look. “The Willow Run RV Park is right down the road. Since we’re only a couple of miles away…”

I nod, trying not to smile. “So we’re just going to talk to him, right?”

“And try not to get our asses shot off.”

* * *

It only takes a few minutes for us to reach the mobile home park where Tucker Miles resides. The Willow Run RV Park is nestled in a treed area and partially obscured by a wooden privacy fence that’s badly in need of repair. At first glance everything seems rustic and quaint, the kind of place where your grandparents might park their RV for the summer. The instant Tomasetti turns into the park, all semblance of charming grinds to an abrupt halt.

The first trailer is actually a camper set in the bed of a pickup truck that’s jacked up on cinder blocks. I’m pretty sure the puddle beneath it is raw sewage. In the second lot, a blue and white trailer with a broken front window sits at a cockeyed angle. The condition of the homes disheartens me. The optimist inside me hopes this is a stop on the way to something better for the people living here. The part of me that is a realist—the part of me that has seen this scenario too many times to deny its existence—knows that for many, the buck stops here.

“Looks like ole Tuck is making all the right connections,” Tomasetti mutters as he idles down the street. “What’s that address?”

I glance down at the paper the waitress gave us back at the restaurant. “Robin Hood Lane. Lot fourteen.”

“Here we go.” He makes a quick right.

The curb at the second space we come to is marked with a faded Lot 14. An old van with a creased door sits in the narrow gravel drive. Tomasetti parks at the curb and shuts down the engine. “Home sweet home.”

“Looks like he’s there,” I say.

Tomasetti eyes the trailer. It’s a narrow rust bucket with a living room extension and a navy blue blanket covering the kitchen window. “You sure you want to do this?”

“We’re just going to ask him a few questions, right?”

“You know those are famous last words, don’t you?”

Casting him a grin, I get out and start toward the front door. I hear Tomasetti behind me as I take the steel stairs to the small landing. I wait for him to reach me before knocking.

A moment later the door swings open. I find myself looking at a thin man a few inches taller than me. He’s got a receding hairline and gray hair that’s pulled into a ponytail. He looks to be about sixty, but I suspect he’s closer to fifty, his body and face ravaged by hard living. Pale blue eyes, the whites of which are shot with red capillaries skitter from me to Tomasetti and back to me.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m Kate Burkholder, the chief of police of Painters Mill over in Holmes County,” I begin. “This is agent Tomasetti from BCI.”

“I thought you guys looked like cops.” He looks past me and sneers at Tomasetti. “What’d I do now?”

“We’d like to ask you some questions about Angela Blaine.”

“What?” He cackles, the sound squeezing from his throat like a bubble through wet concrete. “Did you find her?”

I shake my head. “We’re looking into her disappearance and we were wondering if you could answer a few questions.”

“I don’t know what I can say that I ain’t already said a hundred times.” His eyes narrow. “What are you? Some kind of cold-case squad?”

“Something like that,” Tomasetti mutters.

“I understand you and Angela were in a relationship when she disappeared,” I begin. “Is that true?”

“Yeah, man, we were together.”

“Did you get along with her?” Tomasetti asks.

Miles frowns. “We had our ups and downs. Just like everyone else.”

“When’s the last time you saw her?” I ask.

“Day she went missing.”

“Anything out of the ordinary happen that day?” Tomasetti asks.

Miles sneers at him. “No, man, it was just like any other morning. I was working first shift back then. She was still in bed when I left.” He grimaces. “She was gone when I got home and I never saw her again.”

“Where were you working?”

“I was a welder down to the Peabody Machine Shop in Canton. My old boss is still there if you want to check.”

“Did Angela have a job at the time?” I ask.

“She was a waitress down to the Cracker Barrel off the highway. They closed up shop some ten years ago. Cops talked to everyone there.”

For the span of several seconds the only sound comes from the ticking of the Tahoe’s engine and the chatter of sparrows in the maple tree a few yards away.

“Do you have any idea what happened to her?” I ask.

His sigh is a tired sound that makes me wonder how many times he’s answered that particular question and how many times he wasn’t believed. “I don’t know. I really don’t.”

“Any theories?” Tomasetti puts in.

Miles studies him as if trying to decide if it’s a trick question. Tomasetti waits him out, retaining his best poker face, giving away nothing.

“She was pretty as hell,” Miles tells us. “Friendly to everyone and kind of naïve. Bad combination, especially when the restaurant where she worked got plenty of highway traffic. I always thought some guy … you know.” Another sigh. “I think that’s the first time I been asked that particular question. Cops around here never much cared for my opinion.”

“Any specific reason why you think something happened to her at the restaurant?” I ask. “Had someone bothered her there? Did she mention anything to you?”

He shakes his head. “I just know how people are.”

“And how’s that?” Tomasetti asks.

“Alls I’m saying is that there’re some freaks out there, man. They see a pretty girl like that…” He lets the words trail as if the complete sentence is too troubling to speak aloud.

“Some people think you did it,” Tomasetti tells him.

“I didn’t,” Miles snaps.

“You were a suspect,” I point out.

“They were wrong. I loved her. I did.”

“Is that why you beat the hell out of her?” Tomasetti asks amicably.

“That happened one time.” Eyes flashing rage, he stabs his index finger at Tomasetti. “Just once! I was young and stupid and I wish to God it never happened.”

“Were you jealous?” I ask.

Miles looks away. “I wanted her to quit her job and she didn’t want to. I didn’t like the way all those scummy sons of bitches looked at her. Can’t fault me for that.”

“As long as you didn’t take all that macho bullshit out on her.” Tomasetti’s voice is like steel.

“Is it possible she was seeing someone else?” I ask.

“She wadn’t the two-timing type,” he says. “Looking back, I just…” He lets his voice trail off.

“You just what?” I press.

“I guess I always wondered why a girl like her was wasting her time on a guy like me.” He shrugs. “I was kind of a loser back then.”

I hold his gaze, looking deeply into his eyes, seeking a trace of any of the things I was looking for when I knocked on the door. Lies. Sociopathic tendencies. My instincts usually serve me well when it comes to people, their agendas and the things they’re capable of; I’m generally a pretty good judge of character. I’m surprised to find that while Tucker Miles isn’t exactly an upstanding citizen or even a decent human being, I don’t think he’s lying about Angela Blaine.

“Thank you for your time, Mr. Miles,” I say and we turn and walk away.

Back in the Tahoe, Tomasetti exits the trailer park and pulls onto the highway. “Not exactly a man-of-the-year candidate.”

“I was ready to crucify him,” I admit.

He slants me a wry smile. “Only you think he’s telling the truth.”

“Don’t you?”

“I’m sure this will come as a shock to you, Kate, but I do.”

I look out over a cornfield where yellow stalks shiver in the breeze. “So where does that leave us?”

“On vacation?”

I reach across the console to set my hand over his. He turns his hand palm up and squeezes mine. It’s a small thing; the kind of simple gesture lovers have shared since the beginning of time. But for Tomasetti and me, there’s nothing simple about it. It’s huge, maybe because we’re still finding our feet when it comes to the many facets of intimacy.

“I’m sorry,” I tell him. “I know this isn’t how you wanted to spend our weekend together.”

“I guess that’s one of the perils of falling for the chief of police.”

“Or an investigator from BCI.”

Glancing in the rearview mirror, he makes a quick left and pulls onto the shoulder of a little-used back road.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Something I can’t do while I’m driving.”

He puts the Tahoe in Park and turns to me. For an instant, we stare at each other. I see his nostrils flare and then he reaches for me. Cupping the back of my head, he pulls my mouth to his. The kiss isn’t gentle this time, but I go with it, reveling in the sensation of his lips against mine. The essence of him surrounds me, and for the span of several seconds I’m lost in the moment.

He pulls away and sets both hands on the steering wheel. “I just wanted to toss that out, make a point.”

“Duly noted.”

We grin at each other.

“So what do you think?” he asks after a moment.

“I think you know how to kiss a woman silly.”

“I mean about this cold case.”

I laugh, then sober as I consider the question. “I think someone got away with murder.”

“That’s the thing about homicide.” He puts the Tahoe in gear and pulls back onto the highway. “There’s no statute of limitations.”

* * *

HTML style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide

Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning