Monday morning. Seán Tyler awoke exhausted from his weekend of calling, searching, and worrying. He leaned up, then collapsed his five foot eight-inch frame back onto the pillow. His phone sat silent. All his calls unreturned.
He stood and looked outside; his eyes focused on the horizon, inexplicably he heard his own voice, “I need to let my boss know what’s going on.” Disoriented, he eased onto the bed, stared alternatively at the ceiling, then the window.
Well, hell, it’s time. Seán called the police, and rolled through the preliminary police questions. How long has it been? When did you… Why didn’t you …? When were you going to …? What have you done since that time…? Where were you when …? Was anyone with you …?
No toast. Coffee and shower. Not yet.
Seán arrived at the Berdan police station inside the newly built Ninnescah County Hall of Justice, known locally as the County Commissioners’ last great erection. The police parking lot had only five spaces reserved for the public, and those were on the west side facing the dog pound. He parked in the city library parking lot.
Once inside, he looked right, left, and up. He was standing in an atrium with a non-working circular waterfall currently used as a bench. On his right was a white-on-black sign above the closed Dutch door with a small counter extending over the bottom half. The Information Desk.
Seán reached to push the buzzer, and heard, “Hey, whatcha doin’?” He looked toward the voice. Eleven people, not including children, were in a queue to the right side. The man in the sweat-stained straw hat spoke loudly, “Don’t crowd in. Get’n line. Back there.” Seán stood in line waiting. His knees began to throb.
The top half of the Dutch door swung open. A grim woman stood behind the door; Seán waited until called. Forty-five minutes later with sounds reverberating inside the detective room, Seán was seated across from Detective Anderson, answering fill-in-the-blank questions. Sunday dinner … Ninnescah Hotel … Carpentry job out of town … Called home during the week … No answer… Wife missing.
“Anything else you wanna add?” The detective asked.
Anderson spoke deliberately, “Thanks ‘a coming in. We’ll be in touch, if we learn anything.”
“What are the next steps?” Seán asked.
“What do you do next? What should I do?”
“Do what you been doin’. We’ll begin as soon as we can.”
“But my wife has been gone a week,” said Seán his jaw as tight as it had been all week.
“Sir, that pile of papers over there,” said Anderson as he repeatedly thrust his left arm, “that pile is full of people gone longer than that. Some are babies. Many are teenagers. Most are young girls.” Anderson’s eyebrows lowered, he spoke crisply through gritted teeth, “We will get to you as soon as we can.”
Nothing more to say. “Thanks for your time.” Job be damned. I’ll call my boss later.
That was Monday.
Two days earlier, Seán had listened to the Saturday morning weather report at his motel room in Auburndale, the state capital, where he was staying for the past two months in, as he told himself, “a combination skilled carpentry job and trial separation from Shirley”.
The morning weather report said sunny and bright. No sign of snow. Wind unseasonably mild. Highs in the 40s. Low in the 20s. Prospects for tomorrow – the same. That translated into dry roads, which meant a quick, safe drive back to Berdan. Seán, at five foot nine with a flat waist, pulled the curtains shut, flipped a finger at the ceiling, pulled on his wrangler jeans, a maroon sweatshirt, cracked white New Balance shoes, and continued to worry. With a quick movement, he jerked his head, a pain shot through his neck.
As usual on his trips home, he drove and ruminated. Why’d Shirley say she didn’t want us to continue. He pulled his truck to the right to let a silver semi pass. We had counseling sessions. That weekend, our marriage encounter weekend. The registration had been easy. Shirley had surprised him. She had not changed her mind about staying in the same room.
The first night of the marriage encounter weekend, they made love. Saturday night had been even more intense. I thought we were there because of our marriage problems. Shirley acted like we had no problems. Even those Saturday counseling sessions were mild. I figured I’d be the cause of all the problems she ever had. She acted like we were on a honeymoon. Seán grinned. Shirley had held his hand during the sessions. Curled her arm through his as they walked; insisted they sit closer.
He replayed the weekend. The white, well-lighted counseling room left the impression of painted cardboard I wondered about that group counselor though. She talked about people so openly. Said I isolated, didn’t express my feelings, tried to please others by playing out the roles I thought they assigned me. Chairs arranged in a circle. They sat in those metal chairs in a professional counselor’s concept of a circle that, Sean learned, does have sides.
Clouds blocked the bright sun reflecting against the road. After thirty minutes, he turned on his headlights. It wasn’t even ten in the morning. The memory returned of his Sunday dinner with Shirley at the Ninnescah Restaurant. But at dinner, she said she wanted a divorce, refused to reconcile. Makes no sense.
The marriage counselor had asked the group to record their private thoughts and feelings about what they need from their spouses, then directed them to their individual journals. Seán offered to let Shirley read his, but she insisted they wait until later. The marriage journals. Yes. Yes. Yes. Those journals. When I get home, I’ll ask Shirley if I can read hers.
Shirley talked about her issues, but failed to discuss her persistent complaint. Whenever there was disagreement in the house, Shirley’s default position, “It’s your temper, you always yell at me”. She always complained about my temper, but at the sessions, not one damn word.
His eyebrows lowered. Shirley didn’t even talk about my hiding in our bedroom closet one night. Catching her with another man. Crappiest night of my life. Damn, the only reason she caught me was that I dropped my tape recorder. Did I yell then? Did I lose my temper? No. She told the group, “Things were improving. And we’re getting along better.” She blushed when the counselor asked about their intimacy problems, “No. None. Never.”
He caught a glimpse of creek that fed the Ninnescah River. Camping last weekend? Camping? With who? She never camps. Doesn’t even like walking to the car in the cold. Who would camp here in the winter? Even the buffalo look for shelter in this weather.
He continued to drive west. I’ll eat lunch at home. If Shirley’s not there, I’ll call around some more.
Seán pulled into his driveway. Finally. Home. Shirley’s car was not there. The week’s mail packed in their mailbox. He shuffled through the envelopes, then he unlocked the front door, tossed the envelopes on a table. No Shirley. No note. Voice mail light blinking. Nine calls. Some from her job, some from Seán, some from friends, “Shirley, Seán called, said he hadn’t heard from you. You okay? Call me.” A call from someone named, Dan. “Shirley, this is Dan. Hadn’t heard from you. Call me.” Seán listened to the calls, then erased them.
He opened the refrigerator, his stomach tightened. The smell of sour milk, cooked peas going stale, half a can of soup standing open. Their bed was made, the closet door closed, nothing out of place in the bathroom. Now what?
Watch out for episode 2 in three (3) days.