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It's here that Blind Pursuit excels. As in A Single Shot, Jones' 1996 novel about a hunter who accidentally shoots a teenage runaway, the interior story is as gripping as the exterior plot, both unfolding with an awful inexorability. Jones is especially adept at conveying the numb horror of the child's mother and father, hard-working yuppies who torture themselves with guilt over their parental lapses, especially after they learn that the nanny they hired to care for their two children is a former prostitute under treatment for schizophrenia. Also well-imagined are the reactions of the two detectives on the case, small-town cops who are not nearly jaded enough to remain untroubled by the presence of such evil in their quiet community.
The novel's powerful narrative momentum, however, is seriously hobbled by its prose, which is often stiff, awkward and even inept. Somehow, Jones seems to have acquired a tin ear since A Single Shot. "He put to bed his daughter, who requested to be told a real-life police drama," reads a typical sentence. The author, trained as a lawyer before turning to fiction, repeatedly chooses phrases like "prefatory to" instead of a simple "before," or "Abbott non-responsively turned" where "Abbott turned without answering" would have done the job. And the dialogue is even worse. Here's a conversation between the kidnapped child's distraught parents as they look over their collection of antique weapons:
He indicated the garrote. "The boundlessness of mankind's barbarity as evidenced even in our own keepsakes."
"Barbarity incites barbarity."
Caroline curiously eyed the garrote. "It's horrible."
"Even more so for its methodological simplicity, which indicates long and arduous thought preceded its creation."
Huh? Where did the characters in this novel (virtually all of whom talk this way) learn to speak English? One can only conclude that they, like their creator, are all escapees from Planet Law School.
But even these substantial technical weaknesses are not enough to sink Blind Pursuit. In his recent work, Jones is investing the crime genre with his own brand of moral seriousness and unsentimental compassion. The results so far have been mixed, but I suspect it's only a matter of time before he produces the high-quality blockbuster that Blind Pursuit could have been. --Salon
Having tried his hand at literary novels with commercial touches, Jones (A Single Shot, 1996, etc.) has gone pure genre with this muscular, Elmore Leonard-esque crime tale of a terrifying abduction. When eight-year-old Jennifer disappears en route to school, her father, Edmund Follett, a real estate developer whose shopping malls threaten to gobble ever so much of the sylvan exurbs around Albany, New York, tries to control his anxiety, but he can think of too many suspects who might want to do him harm. As he examines his past for bad deeds that may have brought on the calamity, the ditsy family nanny, Hannah Dray, who has environmentalist sympathies, admits to having been bird-watching when she should have seen Jennifer safely on to the school bus. Hannah despises Follett's neurotic, pill-popping wife, Caroline, and then there are the landowners and business associates who might benefit if Follett's latest mall weren't built. Meanwhile, eccentric local police detectives Frank Levy and Mike Abbott try not to loathe the marginal, unreliable backwoods types—including a child poaching from the Follett fish pond—who might have seen the girl getting into a black Ford LTD. Though they have little evidence and no proof, they come to suspect the slimy, self-righteous photographer Gerald Sandoval, who had done a family portrait of the Folletts not long before. Jones provides so much detail about Sandoval that his complicity, if not outright guilt, is obvious. The novel turns on the standard western genre dilemma that Leonard grafted onto the urban thriller: How do you bring down fiendishly clever creeps who will continue to practice their abominations until they're stopped?
Nothing much that's original and certainly no surprises; just relentless, lean-and-mean page-turner plotting and a grimly satisfying ending.
6:25 A.M. His first whiff of the still-dark morning through his bedroom window informed Darren Cay it wasn't a school day, though he didn't share the insight with his parents. Instead, over breakfast, he told them he would ride his bike the six miles to school, as he often did, rather than take the bus.
Ten minutes later, after veering into heavy woods, he followed a narrow path a hundred yards to an upturned stump, and dismounted. He hid his bike in the stump's enshrouding brush, and from beneath it pulled the Sportsman rod and reel he'd secretly bought with money he'd earned selling his catch in town. Carrying the fiberglass pole in one hand and a bag lunch his mother had packed for him to eat at school in the other, he hiked east through the virgin forest.
The air was already heavily warm. A lazy breeze barely moved the white pine branches, tinged red by the recently risen sun. Above Darren, a pair of Cooper's hawks idly circled, and though the needle-floor barely whispered beneath his light footfalls, a solitary, perching crow cawed to warn of his presence. Darren ate one of the apples his mother had packed for him, the Mars bar, then half a sandwich. He stopped to drink from a stream before urinating on its far bank. Twenty minutes more of walking revealed to him through the thinning branches ahead a single-lane artery of the county highway, beyond which, after a half-mile jag through deciduous forest heavily posted against trespassers, lay Follett's pond, with its private stock of lake trout and smallmouth bass.
Darren crouched down in the thick piney brush at theedge of the unpainted pavement, across the road from and a hundred yards right of an asphalt driveway winding two hundred or so feet up to the Follett house, obscured to travelers but for a big bay window in the building's front harshly reflecting the sun. At the drive's bottom, on a metal bench beneath a willow tree, sat the small, blond-headed Follett girl, who rode the same school bus as Darren and whose first name he couldn't remember. Atop her folded legs she held a book bag. Next to her lay a paper lunch sack. So not to be seen by her, Darren decided to wait to cross the sparsely traveled road until after the bus picked her up at, he calculated, any moment.
For three or four minutes no traffic at all appeared. Then, from the direction of town, an approaching car prompted Darren to duck down. When he looked up again, a large black sedan sat beyond the end of the long, snaking drive, around twenty yards past the Follett girl. It slowly backed up and stopped short of the drive, still several feet from the girl. The front passenger door swung open.
The little girl—she was wearing a bright yellow dress—stood up, hesitantly stepped toward the car, then halted. The sedan edged back a few more feet. The girl glanced up at the house. A moment later she ran back to the bench, picked up her lunch sack, slung the book bag over her shoulder, trotted the rest of the way to the idling car, and climbed into the front seat. The door shut. The sedan slowly moved off, away from town. Darren watched it until it disappeared. He got to his feet, glanced both ways down the empty road, sprinted across it, and entered the woods on the far side.
11:45 A.M. The unimpeded midday sun illuminated the playground of the Criley Elementary School, where approximately two hundred children, ages six to eight, in grades one and two, occupied themselves. Many of the children were involved in a tag game called snake, in which the tagged became part of the pursuing line of kids, and the last escapee, the winner. Others used the slides, swings, monkey bars. Some dug in a large sandpit. A few of the more timid clustered around the handful of teachers supervising them. A student in the latter group, Susan Myercamp, a small, wire-thin girl, complained to her teacher, Lisa Clymer, "Jennifer Follett stole my Stuart Little book!"
"What a terrible thing to say, Susan. You shouldn't accuse people of doing bad things unless you're sure that they have."
"Well, she did!"
"Why do you think that she did?"
"Yesterday I let her read it, then last night I couldn't find it, so my mother called her house, and her mother said it was in Jennifer's book bag."
"I'm sure she picked it up by mistake. Didn't her mother say Jennifer would return it to you?"
"Today. She promised!"
"Jennifer is absent today, Susan. You know that."
"That's what I mean. It's why she's absent—because she stole my book and doesn't want to give it back!"
"You're trying my patience, Susan. Jennifer has plenty of her own books. Why would she steal one of yours?"
"I don't know. But you ought to call her mother up and find out why she's not here!"
Abruptly turning her back to the child, Lisa Clymer hissed, "Not another word, Susan. Go play. Now!"
The weather felt more like July than mid-April. Across the blue sky, a V of honking geese headed north. The fragrant spring air suggested new beginnings. Lisa Clymer decided that that afternoon she would try on her last year's bathing suit to see how much weight she would need to lose before summer.
12:45 P.M. A late-model Ford LTD coming down Shipman Hollow Road was forced to stop before a string of two dozen yearling heifers crossing from Ned and Hattie Bolan's barn to the pasture opposite it. The animals were five minutes traversing. His face mostly obscured by dark glasses and the windshield's descended sun visor, the LTD's sole occupant sat behind the wheel listening to the symphony music escaping through his slightly open window into the warm, pollen-rich, manure-pungent air.
Ned Bolan stood twenty-five feet from the Ford, by an iron gate, watching the last cow pass through it. He waved on the vehicle, which he hadn't noticed driving by on its way to the hollow's top. The car moved slowly past the gate. A hand came off the wheel and acknowledged Ned. Ned tipped his hat. Behind the visor, the driver, a businessman type, looked to Ned to be middle-aged. He was wearing a dress shirt but no tie. A briefcase and what looked like a tripod sat on the backseat. Ned guessed the man was a realtor who'd been taking photographs of the unoccupied land above his.
Road dust had dulled the Ford's shiny black color. Before the vehicle had disappeared around the first curve, Ned had turned away from it to close the gate.
3:45 P.M. From the iron bench, next to a stroller containing Edmund Follett, Jr., Hannah Dray watched the still-warm afternoon sun descending toward the tops of the pine forest across the arterial. Earlier she had seen two deer bound across the road and disappear into the trees. Now she heard a pair of concealed mourning doves cooing in there.
Odd, thought Hannah, a lifelong urbanite until moving to the exurbs not quite four months before, how people adapt to their surroundings and even acquire new interests. Like bird-watching. Not the kind where old folks in knickers and funny hats crouched for hours in camouflaged blinds to spot some rare species. To Hannah, the intrigue lay not in the birds' rarity but in their mirroring—if you studied them long enough—of common human behavior. Except for the most obvious, such as blue jays and cardinals, she couldn't identify them, but was fascinated watching at the feeder outside the Folletts' kitchen window the many varieties bicker, cajole, attack, and manipulate one another.
A quarter mile down the road to Hannah's left, its overhead lights flashing red, a school bus came to a slow stop. Hannah stood up, walked to the road's shoulder, and watched two kids disembark from the bus and quickly vanish up the long driveway leading to the Borden house. The bus's caution lights went off. It started moving again. Shortly after, its horn honking and the heads of several waving, screaming children protruding from its open windows, the bus roared past Hannah and Edmund Jr., not even slowing down.
Hannah frantically gestured with both arms at the departing vehicle, but it was too far by her for those on board to notice, or else they took her hand-flapping as a response to their greeting. She watched until, in a half mile or so, before what she knew was the Ziebarts' drive, its rear stop lights came on. A fluttery, anxious feeling filled Hannah's stomach. She turned away and, wheeling Edmund Jr., started back up the drive to telephone the school.
5:15 P.M. In the conference room of a third-floor office suite in a brownstone on Albany's North Pearl Street, Edmund Follett was presenting to a dozen investors his revised blueprint for a minimall when the intercom buzzed. Angry at being disturbed against his express directions, Edmund at first tried to ignore the sound. He interpreted his audience's mood thus far as reserved optimism, an improvement from six weeks earlier, when most had complained that his original design was too "artsy-fartsy" and "monetarily fat" for the mall's targeted patrons.
The intercom buzzed again.
Smiling, Edmund shrugged apologetically. "Excuse me just one moment, ladies and gentlemen."
He walked over to the wall phone and picked it up. "What is it, Marcia?"
"I'm sorry to bother you, Mr. Follett, but there's a Detective Levy on the line who insists on talking to you. He says it can't wait."
"I don't know any ... Detective for what agency?"
"The Dane City/County Police Department."
Edmund felt something turn over in his stomach. "What' he...?"
"He won't say."
"All right. I'll take it in my office."
He hung up the phone and turned back to the room. "I'm sorry, folks." He shrugged again. "This shouldn't take me more than a minute. While I'm gone, why don't you"—he jokingly raised his hands as if to ward off their imaginary blows—"think about what you want to inquire or complain about."
Thirty seconds later, Edmund, licking his lips, which suddenly felt dry, pressed the lit line on his office phone. "Hello?"
"Edmund Follett who lives in Dane?"
"I'm Detective Frank Levy of—"
"My secretary told me."
A brief silence followed during which Edmund was conscious of his own breathing.
"Your daughter, Jennifer, attends the Criley Elementary School here in town, Mr. Follett, is that correct?"
"The second grade. Yes." Edmund swallowed hard once, then again, but failed to remove the impediment in his throat. "Is there a problem, Detective?"
"Probably not, Mr. Follett. The reason I'm calling is your daughter, she didn't show up in school today, and we're wondering if—"
"Didn't what? I don't under ... What do you mean didn't show up?"
"Her teacher says she wasn't there."
Edmund wiped a drop of perspiration from his brow. "Have you called Hannah Dray—the children's nanny—she must have—Jennifer must have come down with something and Hannah decided to keep her—"
"Ms. Dray's who alerted us, Mr. Follett."
"Alerted you. I see—alerted you, to what?"
"Jennifer didn't come home on the bus this afternoon, so Ms. Dray called the school ..."
"Some other parent probably—maybe Jennifer visited someone's house, after ... That's all—a friend's house."
"What they're saying—the school, Mr. Follett—they're telling us she never arrived. Jennifer."
"Not at all?"
"Right. There seem to be some inconsistencies—"
"What does Hannah say?"
"That she sent Jennifer to school this morning."
Edmund wiped harder at his brow. "Well—I don't—have you spoken to Caro—my wife?"
"We thought you might do that, sir."
"Yes. Of course. I'm confused, Detec—you've caught me—caught me off guard ..."
"You'll be home soon, Mr. Follett? Back in Dane?"
"We'll—yes—I'm in a meet—I'll just pick up Caro ... You know, an hour and a half—something like—around then ..."
"Hopefully, she'll have shown up by then, Mr. Follett. She may have just wandered off into the woods. We'll get some volunteers searching in there now."
"Yes. That must—look—we own a pond. I hope ...! Jesus!"
"We'll cover the pond. We'll have them look in—around the pond. All right?"
"We'll talk more when you arrive, Mr. Follett."
Edmund pushed the phone's reset button, then called his wife.
6:25 P.M. Across from Bob Waite, at the Waite kitchen table, sat Frank Levy and his partner, Mike Abbott, all three men drinking coffee. Pursuant to a prior agreement between the two policemen, Levy led the interview of Waite, a chalk-complexioned, rail-thin, forty-five-year-old with a seven-year-old conviction for check forgery, who'd been driving a school bus, part time, for three years.
"It's happened before, that she hasn't been there at the bottom of the drive, I mean, when you show up?"
"Not often, but, yeah, once in a while. The first couple times I stopped and honked the horn and the maid or whoever finally came out—you know the house is way up the top the hill there—and she walked halfway down the drive and waved me on, and so, after that—those first few times, if the kid—"
"—if she wasn't there, I'd stop for a minute, just to see if she was on her way down, and if she wasn't, I'd take off—I'm on a schedule, you know."
"And that's what you did this morning? Stopped for a minute, then left without blowing your horn or anything?"
"Right, because like I said, the girl—Jennifer—you know, would always be there if she was coming. Christ, I feel awful about this." The room smelled like the chili Frances Waite had burned for dinner and the smoke from her husband's unfiltered Camel cigarettes, which he smoked nonstop, lighting one from the other. "So what do you think—she just wandered off or what?"
Levy disregarded the question. "Why?" he asked Bob Waite.
"Why do you feel awful about it?"
"Why do I feel awful about it? Why do you think! Jesus, the kid's missing and she rides my bus ... I'm a parent myself. If a thing like that ..."
"So what you're saying is you feel awful because she—because a little girl is missing—and not because you maybe feel partially responsible for it?"
"Why would I feel responsible, for Christ sake? I did what I always do. I followed the normal procedure for that house. The kid wasn't there! If anybody ought to feel responsible—why wasn't the maid watching out the window or something?"
"Is that what she normally did?"
"How would I know?"
"I'm just wondering why you said that."
"Only that the kid is eight years old, is all."
"That's not a well-traveled stretch of road, is it?"
"No. It's an artery to Hillside—you know, a handful of rich families living up in the hills."
"How many cars you pass on the artery this morning?"
"I don't know. Half a dozen, maybe less, most of them headed north, toward the interstate." "Do you remember any specific ones?"
"No. Jesus. Who remembers cars they pass?"
"Let's talk about your normal procedure—it's different, is it, for different houses? Different kids?"
"Sure, like I say, some of 'em—like the Brown kid—you gotta honk the horn and wait 'bout every other morning—which I'm not required to do and really shouldn't do because it slows up my route, like it did this morning—but I know the kid's got it rough at home, his father being dead and his mother being off to work every morning an hour before he has to leave—so I do it, I honk the horn and wait, and in three, four minutes, he doesn't show, then I leave."
"How much later than usual were you this morning?"
"Five, maybe ten minutes."
"And that was all on account of the Brown kid?"
"I got a late start from the garage because halfway there I spilled coffee on my pants and had to come home and change." He flashed what Levy assessed as a nervous smile. Levy finished his coffee. "You can ask my wife."
Ignoring him, Frank Levy placed his empty cup on the table. "How long, exactly, would you say you sat at the bottom of the Folletts' drive before leaving?"
"Around a minute."
"More or less than a minute?"
"I don't know."
"The reason I ask is a couple older kids on the bus said you were there maybe ten, fifteen seconds is all—twenty, tops. "
"I don't know, seems like longer—but, like I say, with her, if she's coming, she's there, otherwise—"
"Who else is familiar with the details of your route? Who have you discussed it with?"
"Who have I discussed...?"
"Any particular sleazeballs, Bob, of the sort you've been known, from time to time, to associate with, who maybe were particularly interested in knowing about the daily habits of kids—like Jennifer Follett—living on the Hillside arterial?"
"Hey, wait a minute!"
"I'm sure you wouldn't have initiated such a conversation, but maybe somebody else asked you about it and you, innocently enough, responded in a way—"
"I don't discuss the kids on my route with anybody!" Waite abruptly pushed himself away from the table, causing his chair to screech loudly against the linoleum. "I got one rap, for Christ sake, a seven-year-old misdemeanor—maybe I ought to call myself a lawyer before I answer any—"
"Now, hold on there, Bob." Levy shrugged his thick, muscular shoulders. "Nobody's accusing you of anything." Inwardly castigating himself for pushing the interview too far, he ran a hand back through his unruly hair, which wouldn't stay where he'd combed it. "That's the first thing. Nobody even remotely suspects you were in any way—intentionally, that is—involved in whatever this might be. Understand?"
Waite, scowling, tilted his chair back onto two legs.
"We aren't even sure if a crime has been committed. Like you say, she might have just walked off, but the thing is, she's eight years old, and whatever happened, well ..." Levy shook his head.
Mike Abbott sighed and put his cup down. "One thing for certain, Bob," he said, "time is our enemy here, so if—and honest to goodness, Bob, we're not concerned with how you might have been innocently duped into saying something you might not normally have"—he emphasized the words "innocently" and "duped"—"you can recall an individual who might have been particularly interested in the details of your route, it would both help the investigation and make it easier on you because the way it is now, Bob, people in the community—especially those on the school board—are bound to question why, given the age of the girl and the length of that drive, you just drive away after a few seconds with no blast on the horn or anything."
Falling forward in his chair, Bob Waite said, "I followed normal procedure." He grabbed his cigarettes from the table, pulled one out, held it up to the one still burning in his mouth, and lit it. "And nobody, not even my wife, do I discuss the particulars of my route with." Blowing twin lines of smoke out his nose, he crushed the remains of the first cigarette into his coffee cup. "That's the God's honest truth. I wish I could help."
Levy slowly hefted himself up from the table. He was a thick man, of average height, thirty-nine, but with pale, kindly eyes that looked older. "All right, Bob," he said, nodding politely to the bus driver. "If you think of something later, though, don't wait for us to call, right?"
"Absolutely. Look, I really do feel awful about this."
"We all do, Bob, especially the little girl's parents." Levy nodded at Mike Abbott. The lither, younger man stepped sprightly away from the wall and, ahead of his partner, grabbed the handle of the front door, then, slowly turning back toward the kitchen, said, "Boss new Ram 2500 out front, Bob. Four-wheel drive, cruise—yours?"
Waite nodded, exhaling smoke toward the policeman.
"Hummanah, hummanah, Bob."
"The monthly nut's a bear."
"I'll bet." Abbott whistled. "Twenty grand if it's a penny. Well, you only live once, right, Bob?"
Abbott opened the door and the two policemen left.
7:40 P.M. In the growing dusk through the woods along both sides of the Hillside arterial, flashlights sporadically turned on, helping their owners, mostly off-duty members of the Dane police and fire departments, comb the pines to the west and the deciduous trees to the east of the road.
One man found a small denim coat that an eight-year-old might wear, but it was mildewy and wet and obviously had been there awhile. The shot carcass of a tagged golden retriever was discovered in a dry creek bed. A bundle of pornographic magazines, probably some kids stash, was unearthed from a hollowed-out stump. Wendy Best, a small, wiry-strong firefighter, was lowered, wearing a miner's lamp, on a rope into the limestone caves half a mile northeast of Follett's pond. Twenty minutes later, she reemerged holding a knapsack that had been dropped or left in the hole, but it contained only an aged peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a small amount of marijuana.
Found in a clearing on the hillside above the caves were a soiled blanket, several empty beer cans, half a dozen used condoms, and a blue-and-white barrette in which blond hair strands were lodged. The items, though thought to have been left by partying teenagers, were nonetheless transported to the state police barracks for analysis.
At eight-fifteen, the volunteers—mostly parents—met and decided, in lieu of halting the search for the night, to keep looking for two more hours, when, if Jennifer Follett hadn't been found, they would reconvene.
8:40 P.M. In the center of a sunken living room exhibiting paintings of obscure, mid-level Impressionists and outdated weapons, Edmund and Caroline Follett sat side by side on a white leather couch, facing Detectives Levy and Abbott.
"... just it's difficult to fathom," repeated Edmund, still wearing over his athletic frame the cotton trousers and sports shirt he'd arrived from Albany in, "that someone didn't—I mean a little girl doesn't simp—someone had to have seen something."
Family heirlooms from Caroline's side, the artwork portrayed motionless yet living objects: dangling fruit, praying men, posed models. The weapons, including a garrote allegedly used by a conquistador ancestor of Edmund's, belonged to him.
"I'm sure," said Levy, from a backless divan, "when word gets around—in tomorrow's paper and—"
"Even," added Abbott, rigidly perching next to him, "on tonight's late edition of the local news."
"—that a person or persons will come forward with relevant information—"
"But the fact that she's—Jennifer's—already been missing over twelve hours!" interjected Caroline. "Really, since seven o'clock this morning!"
"Our hope is, ma'am"—Levy smiled as confidently as he could manage—"your living on such a relatively untraveled stretch of road—homeowners here in the development mostly and a few outsiders using the arterial as a shortcut to or from town or the interstate—"
"Not so few lately." Edmund waved disgustedly.
"—that, as Mr. Follett indicated, information will, eventually, be forthcom—"
"I'm wondering, Detectives"—Edmund abruptly pushed forward, causing his arthritic knee to pop loudly and him to grimace involuntarily—"what, at this point, I mean, based on your experience, do either of you have, at least, a theory as to ...?"
In the silence following his dangling question the officers quietly glanced at each other, before Levy, opening his hands to indicate his helplessness, answered, "I can only repeat, Mr. Follett, what I said earlier, that, being perfectly forthright, we're, at the moment, nearly as frustrated and—unfortunately—just as clueless as are the two of you."
"I seriously doubt, Detective, that your frustration remotely approaches our own."
"Of course, you're right, Mr. Follett. I apologize."
Caroline balled up a fist and shoved it against the point of her chin. "This is unacceptable," she said matter-of-factly. "She's only eight years old!"
Edmund reached over and put a hand on her leg. Caroline, gazing straight ahead, ground her jaw into her knuckles. Restlessly clearing his throat, Frank Levy awkwardly stood, tapped his breast pocket, where he'd placed the snapshots of Jennifer given him by Caroline, and said, "We'll get these immediately into the system so that by tommorrow every newspaper and police barracks in the area ..."
Caroline lowered her head and quietly began to sob. Edmund swiftly got to his feet, glanced at Abbott, who just as quickly rose, then at Levy. Edmund curtly nodded to them both. "Thank you, Officers."
"We'll keep you—"
He led them to the outside door. Before allowing them to depart, he indicated with a casual wave the upstairs nursery where Hannah was preparing Edmund Jr. for bed. "I take it, if Jennifer isn't found by tomorrow, you will be speaking again—perhaps in more detail—to Hannah?"
Abbott answered, "I've no doubt of it, Mr. Follett. Is there a particular reason why you think we should?"
Edmund frowned. "Just the obvious one, Detective. My daughter's missing, and Hannah Dray, who's worked for us less than four months, was, apparently, the last person we know of to see her."
9:10 P.M. Two sets of human footprints—one large, the other small—were found in mud leading to Hansen's swamp, a mile deep in the pines. Three flashlight-wielding police officers—perhaps made overly suspicious by the nature of their mission—followed the tracks to the edge of a poorly constructed wood dock where, guns drawn, they frightened half to death a father and son about to embark, in a rowboat, on a night-fishing excursion. While half-blindly exiting the bog, one officer suffered a severe foot gash when he stepped into an illegally placed muskrat trap. Further searching of the area was adjourned until sunup.
Across the road, over the side of the wooded hill, the handheld lights lessened in number until, at ten-thirty, the remaining half a dozen converged at a pull-over on the road's shoulder, where a pickup and two cars were parked. The volunteers—four men and two women—tired and perspiring in the evening air, which, though having cooled some since sundown, was no less humid, leaned against their vehicles, drinking iced tea and beer without joy while quietly discussing plans to expand the following day's search.
After they had departed, only the moon, stars, and a few sporadic houselights illuminated the dark Hillside development.
11:50 P.M. "... It's only that—Caroline and I—truthfully, Hannah—are dumbfounded that in your care Jennifer could—so—though we don't mean to sound accusatory or make you repeat things—we, her mother and I, simply need to know, Hannah, how this..."
Now casually dressed in sweatpants and a Harvard T-shirt, Edmund glanced across the kitchen table at Hannah, whose tear-dry, walnut-brown eyes surveyed her lap where her fingers lay intertwined. Behind and above her a grandfather clock monotonously ticked.
"Admittedly, we were aware—that is, you explained to us how, at that time of the morning, with Edmund Jr. needing to be fed and bathed and the driveway being so long that the practical thing, what made sense under the circumstances, was for Jennifer, alone, to wait—but the point, Hannah, is—I mean we understood that you would—through the front window, at all times, keep an eye on, would watch her until she actually got onto the bus—so I, we, that is, keep coming back to the question of exactly what transpired this morning."
As she had all evening Hannah, not looking at Edmund, answered in a monotone. Her lack of emotion bothered Edmund, as it had Caroline, before, with the aid of two Valium, she had gone into the bedroom to try to rest. Edmund couldn't decide if Hannah's tranquil demeanor indicated her passive uninterest in Jennifer's disappearance or her state of shock over it. "Jennifer was sitting there, on the bench, waiting, then Edmund Jr. started to really wail—he'd just been sort of sniffling before—so I left the kitchen and went into the nursery to give him some formula, and when I came back—five minutes at the most—the bus was just pulling away, so I assumed, naturally, she had gotten on."
"You told the police—earlier, I mean—you said that before you left the window, you saw Jennifer stand up..."
"Yes, okay, Maybe I did. I mean, I'm mixed up—but I think, yes—I saw her stand up as if to stretch her legs or look down the road—then Edmund—he started to cry—and when I came back, the bus was leaving, so, yes, that must have been it, Jennifer stood up when she saw it approaching ..."
"So she was standing up, not sitting down?"
"When you left the window, Jennifer had just stood up?"
"I think so. Yes."
"Five minutes, Hannah, is how long you claim you were away from the window. If Jennifer stood up because the bus was coming, it would have arrived at the bottom of the drive sooner than in five minutes. Therefore, it doesn't seem likely, if that was the reason she stood up, the bus would just be pulling away when you came back to the window."
"Maybe that's not why she stood up. Or maybe it was less than five minutes I was away from the window."
"However long it was, Hannah, it was too goddamned long."
"I'm mixed up about the time. All these questions—I thought—I mean, I must've thought anyway—there's so little traffic, on this road..."
"That you weren't concerned with how long you were away from the window? That maybe you left it for ten or even fifteen minutes?"
"No. I've told you how it happened. As best I remember." She looked up from her bland cream-colored country-style dress. A pretty girl in her early twenties, she had strawberry-blond hair caught in a ponytail and facial features, Edmund thought for the first time, older-looking than her years, as if those unwavering eyes had seen millenniums. "Are you going to fire me?"
"Whether or not I do is, at the moment, the last thing on my mind, Hannah. I'm only interested in finding my daugh—"
"I wouldn't blame you if you did."
"This isn't about you, Hannah. It's about Jennifer. Aren't you concerned about what's happened?"
"Of course I am. I love Jennifer. If whatever happened to her is partly my fault, I—I am sure ..." She shook her head as if to clear it. "I mean I have the feeling that—she will show up—healthy..."
"Anyway, you'll never trust me again."
Edmund was perturbed at how, in Hannah's mind, the focus of the tragedy seemed to be fixed solely on her, as if Jennifer's disappearance was simply the mechanism that triggered her own misfortune. He blamed himself for not having had her more thoroughly investigated before hiring her, but with Mrs. Carrerra, the children's previous nanny, taking sick so suddenly over the Christmas holidays, there hadn't been sufficient time. "You said you noticed maybe half a dozen vehicles pass in the ten or so minutes before you saw the bus leaving?"
"That I recall."
"But none that stopped or even appeared to slow down."
"Of course not. Don't you think if I had, I—"
"I don't know what to think, Hannah ..." Edmund waved his hand after his trailing words. His veiled accusations suddenly struck him as pointless, as did his worry and frustration that from experience he knew would be alleviated only by action, but that were only intensified by his cluelessness as to what action to take. "You must be very tired."
"No way I could sleep now."
"Why don't you take one of Caroline's Valium and go try."
"Would you rather I pack my things and move to a motel?" "There's no need to be overly dramatic, Hannah."
She slowly stood up and straightened her dress. Tall and athletic-appearing, she carried much of her height in her legs. "I'm happy to do whatever you and Mrs. Follett think best."
"The point is, Hannah—I, we, Caroline and I, this thing—it's hard to digest ..." He felt emotion boiling up in him and turned his head away from her.
"The details," he heard her say in the same flat tone. "They're hard to sort out."
He waved her away with his hand. "For all of us, Hannah I'm sorry if we sound ... Good night, then."
"If you have other questions—whenever—just knock on my door. I won't be asleep."
"Thank you, Hannah."
With her casual, half-loping stride, she slowly left the room.
Posted November 3, 2008
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