THE HUNT Part Four
Friends told him the faces kept him up at night.
They didn’t understand. The loneliness is what kept him up, or the quiet brought about by the solitude. Or sometimes it was the pain in that damn right shoulder, or both the pain and the quiet working together. Either/or, that was what kept him up at night. The faces kept him company.
On those nights when sleep wouldn’t come or the throbbing in his shoulder kept it at a distance, he’d get up and make himself a pot of decaf, fill his favorite mug and then dilute and cool it with milk, pull on his bathrobe or a flannel shirt and go sit in his office with the faces. Jeannie, his wife, had been dead for a little over a year now. Their three children, two daughters and a son, had long since moved out of the house, gone off to make their own families. But Joe Clark still had the faces, so he wasn’t altogether alone.
Tonight being one of those nights when his shoulder hurt like hell—(Almost twenty years earlier, on what should have been a routine pick-up, a drunkard, wanted for failure to pay child support and never known to have been violent, had stabbed Clark with a kitchen knife, driving the blade in deep, right into the socket of his right shoulder. Wedged it in there. Two surgeries to fix it and it still took spells where it hurt like the blade was still in it.)—Clark rolled out of bed and went down the hall (not bothering to flip on the lights, he knew the way so well) to his office to stare at the faces. His girls, he called them. He sat down at his desk, flipped on the little lamp that he kept there.
“Hey, ladies,” he said.
Strange that when he was feeling sad, missing Jeannie, missing the way life used to be, these women’s’ faces seemed to soothe rather than worsen his melancholy.
“We’re kindred spirits,” he’d explained to friends before. “These women have known tragedy greater than my heartaches,” he’d said. “But they accept me into their society all the same. It’s because they know I care.”
He did care. He cared way too damn much. And he prayed he’d never stop. Because on that day, when he no longer worried over those faces, he’d become an old man. On that day he’d start to die.
I can’t die and leave this unsettled, he thought.
He sipped the coffee. He’d poured too much milk and made it cold, but he drank it anyway. The night outside had grown chilly and the heat had kicked on, purring softly in the background. The house being so quiet, he welcomed the sound, any sound. All the same, he needed the quiet to think, to listen for his girls speaking to him. They surrounded him. He’d covered his walls with framed cork bulletin boards (with a few little spaces left over for other things: his college diploma; his few accommodations over the years; a small Canadian flag; the plaque they’d given him when he retired, celebrating his thirty-eight years of loyal service as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The bulletin boards were filled with photographs. Young women’s’ faces. Some smiled at him, eyes full of life. Some looked sad, defeated. Most had skin in shades of brown, native faces, like his own. A few were white.
There were others, on a shelf above the window, on top of his three bookcases. These were three-dimensional sculptures. They were facial reconstructions done on human skulls, the likenesses of women whose remains had been found but whose identities were unknown. They stared at Clark with their glass eyes shining, patient, so patient. Unlike the young women in the photographs on his wall, whose names he knew, these were among the few, the very few, of the missing to have been found along the Highway of Tears. Most were still lost.
Clark recalled the argument he’d had with a superior over the exact number of the disappeared.
“There’s more than that,” Clark had said. “Way more.”
“Twelve is all we can be certain of, Joe.”
“There’s at least four times that many!”
“You can’t link every one of these cases together based on the geography alone.”
“We both know the real reason the list is so short.”
“You need to settle down.”
“All the women on this list are white! If you didn’t bother to exclude the native women we’d have an accurate picture of the extent of this thing! But then that might be an embarrassment to the powers that be, might it not?”
Looking back on it—that argument had taken place fifteen years ago—Clark was surprised he hadn’t been demoted.
Things had gotten better in recent years. More and more the authorities were willing to listen to the pleas of the Indians over their lost daughters. The number of names on that list of the missing had grown. A special task force had been set up to focus on the Highway of Tears disappearances and murders. There’d even been a breakthrough, where a few of the cases had been linked by good evidence to a deceased serial killer from America. Things were better now.
But for Clark, each of the faces in his office represented a failure. He’d retired before finding out what happened to them.
But he hadn’t given up yet, either.
Yes, his office walls were crowded and full. On the front of the door to the closet (the office being a converted bedroom) hung a map, a roadmap, showing the Highway of Tears, the 500 mile stretch of Highway 16 running from Prince George in the east to Prince Rupert in the west, through some of the most remote country in all of Canada, a scattering of modern cities with all their vices, separated by dozens to hundreds of miles of wilderness; in between the cities and towns were countless aboriginal villages, clusters of ramshackle structures and dense poverty too small and deprived to be considered towns themselves. From these shantytowns came many—most—of the missing. Red dots, made with a thin-tipped magic marker, all along the highway and for an inch or two on both sides of it, to the north or south of the lateral roadway, denoted spots where someone had vanished or, rarely, where a body had been recovered.
Where are you, girls? Clark asked the faces, not saying the words out loud.
The telephone rang, so loud in the silence, so startling that Clark almost dropped his coffee mug. His chest tightened. A call so late at night never brought good news. He thought of his children, his grandchildren.
The telephone on his desk rang again. He grabbed the receiver.
Clark didn’t recognize the voice. “Who is this?”
“It’s Brenton. Bill Brenton.”
“Bill?” What the hell?”
“Joe, I’m sorry for calling so late, but I couldn’t wait. I had to tell you!”
“Tell me what?” Clark said, his fears subsiding and temper rising. Bill Brenton had been a fellow Mountie until forced into early retirement. A nice enough fellow—Clark had partnered with him for a time—but a certified crackpot, always espousing some belief in UFOs or conspiracy theories.
“I know what’s been happening to them!” Brenton said. “The women! I know where they are!”
Clark let out a sigh. “Now listen, Bill.”
“I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t have proof!” Brenton said. “I know you’re still working the case, Joe. And I know that you’ll listen to me, even if nobody else will.”
“I know you think I’m crazy like they all think I’m crazy, but this time I really am on to something. I am!”
“Bill, it’s awful late.”
“I’m telling you, Joe, I can prove it. This is real. The question I’m asking is, do you want to know what happened to all those women or not?”
Clark held his comment. He looked around the room at the faces. A good policeman always follows up on every lead, no matter how far-fetched. If there’s even a one in a billion chance…
He owed it to the faces.
“Talk to me, Bill.”
He knew better. Still he couldn’t help himself. Such a tiny spark, microscopic, yet a spark, even so, burst to life inside of him. A spark of hope. One in a billion, sure. Yet Joseph Clark, RCMP (ret.), could not help but offer up a little prayer that, just this once, a call in the middle of the night might bring good news.
The faces stared, waiting to hear what the voice over the telephone revealed.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!