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27. Crossing

by  joydaly

Posted: Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Word Count: 3417
Summary: YA Psychological suspense/thriller
Related Works: 25. Crossing • 26. Crossing • 

“Why did you pinch it? Why didn’t you just take a photo of it, like you did everything else?’
          Sydney’s smile withers and she takes a step back from the school gates. ‘What are you talking about?’
   ‘The will.’
‘I didn’t mean to. I took the photo and thought I’d put it back. It wasn’t until I got home that I found it in my notebook.’
‘Brilliant work.’ My tone’s sarcastic and Sydney flushes.  “When Breedon came over yesterday for the smell, he couldn’t wait to tell Dad about his break-in and the theft of the will.’
‘How could he even know that was missing? It’s such a small thing and it was tucked into the back of that first, ancient file,’ says Sydney
   ‘I think he’d know if a mouse farted in that room.  Anyway, he told me he has a suspicion about who took it, and I don’t know whether he was trying to bluff me, or he suspects you.’
   ‘What do I do?’ Sydney looks worried and she sinks onto the seat next to the gates.
   I sit beside her. ‘If he talks to you, just look dumb – shouldn’t be hard.’
Sydney slaps the back of my head. ‘Seriously, should we try and return it somehow? Maybe we can post it to him.’
‘I suppose we could, but the damage is done. He’s definitely onto me and he might be onto you too.’ Sydney bites her bottom lip and I decide to change the subject. ‘So, what are we going to do about the missing girls?’
          ‘What about the will? She says.
          I shrug. ‘Forget it.’
          ‘Okay,’ and the frown she’s wearing, lifts. ‘Ever since I got home from swimming at your place I’ve been thinking about them. We’ve both been pathetic, avoiding it all last week,  but not anymore. I made a plan yesterday, it...’
          Pathetic, I think. Typical Sydney, telling it like it is.
          ‘We need to do more research; I have the questions. Then we’ll have to talk to the Police.’
   ‘The Police? They won’t believe us,’ I say. ‘And besides, what can we show them? We have no proof, just a string of coincidences.’
    ‘There are too many kids missing.’
   ‘And that doesn’t make sense, does it? Four girls have gone missing and yet nobody has raised the alarm.’
   Sydney nods, I was thinking about that last night. Think about the time span. Over a hundred years. The old-timers who were here when Lydia and Victoria went missing would be long dead. And I’ll bet even Cecilia wouldn’t be remembered. She went missing almost seventy years ago. I’m guessing it is really only Amy who would be in anybody’s living memory.’
   ‘Good point, and that makes going to the police even more stupid. And what can they do anyway?’ I say.
   ‘They can investigate, interview, and maybe come up with some answers. And what about the relatives? There will be some living, especially Amy’s. Her mum and dad must still be alive. They’d want some closure.’
   I wasn’t sure that any questions we, or the police answered would help anyone, but I didn’t say that. If I found out tomorrow who made Sammy disappear, I wouldn’t have closure. That word’s so stupid, but I can’t explain that to anyone. ‘I have an extra soccer session at lunch, so I won’t see you until tonight at Singhs,’ I say.
   ‘No,’ says Sydney. ‘The library, we have to meet at the library.’
   ‘Okay. See you after school.’
Delia is standing at the counter when we enter the library.
   ‘Sydney,’ her voice is delighted. The, ‘Jack,’ to my ears is not so welcoming. ‘How are you two? What are you doing here?’
   ‘Research,’ says Sydney.
   ‘Ah,’ says Delia. ‘Can I help.’
   I say, ‘No,’ as Sydney says, ‘Yes.’
   Delia is looking at us, her expression amused. ‘So what is it to be? You have the undivided attention of your librarian for the next,’ and she consult the watch pinned to her shirt pocket, like an old-fashioned nurse’s watch. ‘Fifteen minutes, unless we have a customer.’ She surveys the deserted library. ‘I think you’ll have your fifteen.’
   ‘Thanks, Delia,’ says Sydney. ‘I have a question straight up. I want to trace the birth of a person from the 19th century, how would I do it?’
   ‘From which state?’
   ‘Easy,’ says Delia, ‘you need to hop onto the Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages Registrar. You’ll find links to it there.’
   ‘Thanks,’ says Sydney, writing in her notebook.
   ‘I have a question,’ I say.
   ‘Yes?’ Delia’s voice is a little wary, or maybe I’m imagining it.
   ‘The West Place, you spoke of it when I first came in. What do you know about it?’
   Delia looks around, and I know she is searching desperately for a customer. But the library stays obstinately empty and Delia takes a deep breath and faces me.
   ‘There have been a couple of tragedies.’
   ‘What tragedies?’ I prompt.
   She shakes her head. ‘I shouldn’t be filling your head with this nonsense Jack, especially since you are living there.’
   ‘Go on,’ I say.
   ‘I’ve been in this town for thirty-two years and in that time there have been two children who have gone missing.’ She is loath to continue, I can see it in her face, but she does anyway. ‘Both of the children lived at the West Place.’        
   ‘And?’ I prompt
   ‘One of them was Amy. She was a lovely girl, one of my regulars. Lovely,’ and her memories are making her voice thready. ‘Lonely though, an only child, reserved but sweet. When she disappeared I spent days with the locals, combing the national park. We didn’t find a trace of her. Town opinion was that she’d run away to the city. She wasn’t close to her mum or dad, isolated at school.  It was thought she’d moved onto the bright lights.’
   ‘Did you think that?’ I ask.
   She shakes her head and her eyes are seeing the past, seeing Amy. ‘She might have been lonely, isolated, but she had the biggest dreams of any kid around, and they didn’t involve bright lights and bustling cities.’
   ‘Yes, although she was only 13, she’d been accelerated to grade ten, and she wasn’t struggling. I’d check out the books she was devouring and they were complex enough to challenge university graduates. We used to speak most days – I told you she was a regular – and she said her dream was to prove String Theory.’
   ‘String theory?’
   ‘Exactly, Jack, most thirteen-year-olds would associate string with a yo-yo. This girl wanted to challenge the great minds of our times. She didn’t disappear to pursue the bright lights. Ridiculous! The lights were in her mind and they could have lit up a city.’
   She stops, her cheeks are flushed.
   ‘Are you taking notes?’ I hiss at Sydney.
   She shakes her head. ‘Sorry,’ and she starts jotting.
   ‘What about the other child, the second one who disappeared from the West Place?’ I ask.
   ‘Ah yes, the boy. When I first arrived in Alstonwick. I was only thirty-three.’
   I’m trying to imagine Delia in her thirties and I’m failing miserably.
   She takes in my look and gives a sardonic laugh. ‘Hard to believe? Anyway, I arrived into a maelstrom. A young boy had disappeared without a trace.’
   ‘What was his name?’ I say.
   Delia frowns as she tries to recall. ‘Sorry, I’ve drawn a blank. That was thirty years ago. Thirty years,’ and her voice becomes wistful. She holds up her skinny hands, veined and spotted. People used to tell me I could be a hand model. That’s thirty years for you.’ She drops them to the counter and covers one with the other.
   ‘Give me the notebook, Sydney.’
   Sydney passes it to me and I flick through the pages to the one headed, TENANTS. I want to ask Delia whether his name was Jeremy Baxter? But, if I do she might guess we are investigating the disappearances and that could lead to complications.
   ‘A young boy. What was his name?’ She closes her eyes and we keep quiet. ‘I’ve got it,’ she says. ‘Jeremy Something, um, Barret, Ba… Baxter. That was it, Jeremy Baxter,’ and the details come pouring out. ‘He was an only child, in his final year of Primary School apparently, and just like Amy he lived at the West Place.’
   ‘So what happened?’ I say.
   ‘What do you mean, what happened?’ she says.
   ‘To the missing kids.’
   ‘To tell you the truth, I’m not sure about the boy, I had just arrived in town, but Amy...’
   ‘Yes,’ I prompt.
   She shrugs and her gaze drops to the counter top. ‘The search for Amy was called off. I tried so hard to convince the town, including her parents that she wasn’t a runaway. Then I remembered Jeremy and I visited the new Sergeant at the police station. He was a tool.’
   I blink. I absolutely didn’t expect a sixty-something librarian to know what a tool was, let alone use it in conversation. We share a grin and the sixty-something librarian is suddenly very close to our age
   ‘Sergeant Cox,’ she says. ‘Good name for him, really. Tall military type with a brushed grey buzz cut and pectoral muscles that, quite frankly, made me ill – so vulgar. He dismissed my assertions that Amy wasn’t a runaway and the idea that the disappearance of Jeremy and Amy might be linked. He dismissed me. I was a dizzy, librarian spinster who’d read too many detective books. He even patted me on the back as he escorted me from his office.’
   It takes her a moment to continue.
   ‘I wanted to pursue it further, but I questioned the point of it. I knew Amy was dead.’
   ‘How?’ I breathe.
   ‘Because her dreams were so big, that only death could have stolen them from her.’
   Sydney makes a noise beside me, and I know she is trying not to cry.
   Poor Amy. I feel so sorry and so responsible and I don’t know why.
   ‘So you ask me what I know of the West Place, Jack. And I really know nothing, except that there were two children who disappeared from it and it is hard to accept that it can be a coincidence.’
   That word again, I think. What else can it be, though?
   A customer hovers over our shoulder, anxious to speak with her.
   She raises her eyebrows at us and her smile is ironic – a customer after all. ‘How can I help you?’ she says as she drifts away with the old man and his walker.
   ‘I think we can assume that Jeremy was another victim,’ I say as we settle in our cubicle.
   Sydney nods as she writes in the notebook. ‘Victim of what? Six kids missing from the same address over the space of a hundred years?’
   I shrug. ‘I’m still going with bizarre coincidence.’
   Sydney is turning her ring and the only sound comes from the computer’s fan. ‘What about an intergenerational thing?’
   ‘You know, father, son, uncle nephew, something like that.’
   ‘That’s weird, Sydney.’
   ‘No it’s not. Remember Ivan Milat? The serial killer who murdered all those backpackers?’
   Even though it all happened before I was born, I know exactly who Sydney is talking about. ‘That’s right, he had a nephew who murdered someone in the same forest.’
   ‘Exactly,’ says Sydney. ‘That could explain how the disappearances have spanned a century.’
   I pick up a pen and tap it against the desk, thinking. It makes sense. Creepy, horrible sense. ‘So, we have to try and find a father-son, uncle-nephew relationship that covers this time frame.’
   ‘It could be a psycho father, son, grandson, great-grandson, who prey on young girls,’ she says.
   ‘Except Jeremy is definitely not female.’
   ‘That’s right,’ says Sydney. ‘Jeremy isn’t, which is a worry. While only girls disappeared from the West Place, you might have been safe.’
   God, I hadn’t thought about that, but she’s right and Sammy flashes into my mind.  ‘It would take a lot to make me disappear.’
   Sydney rolls her eyes. ‘A bullet or a blade would stop you pretty quick; don’t underestimate this.’
   I don’t want to acknowledge that. ‘So there could be a predator out there right now.’
   ‘Yes, and you could be in his sights. I think we should go to the Police.’
   ‘But what have we got?’
   ‘Enough to make them look into it.’
   I review what we’ve discovered and I think Sydney is wrong but what have we got to lose? ‘Okay, let’s go see the Officer-in-charge at Alstonwick Police Station.’
   ‘When?’ she says.
   ‘Now,’ I reply. You could be in his sights is playing in my mind, and although Sydney’s statement might be dramatic, it also might be true.
The Alstonwick Station is directly opposite the church that displays William’s plaque and next to the bush fire-brigade station that is manned only on weekends. The glass doors slide open and a gust of cold air hits us. Inside there is nobody at the counter and after waiting for a minute or so, Sydney hits the desk bell. Nobody comes.
   I hit the desk bell and still we stand waiting. ‘Lucky neither of us is dying,’ I say.
   ‘Then you’d be at the hospital wouldn’t you?’ The thin, short, woman has appeared so suddenly and so quietly that I’ve been caught. She is not in uniform, must be one of the civilians that they employ now to do all the administration.
   ‘Yeah, sorry, I was...’
   ‘What do you want?’
   What happened to Good afternoon, how can I help you? Or even, Hi, what can we do for you? I remember reading somewhere that the organisation is a reflection of the person at the top. I hope that’s not true, because it is the person at the top that Sydney and I have decided we need to talk to.
   ‘We’d like to report some suspected homicides and we need to speak with the Officer-in-Charge.’ I look her in the eyes, trying to convey my legitimacy.
   ‘Get out of here,’ she says as she stabs at the entrance with a sharpened pencil. ‘It’s an offence to waste Police time.’
   Sydney takes over. ‘We have vital evidence on a number of child disappearances and we must speak with your boss.’
   Something about the way Sydney asks works. And after shooting me another doubtful glance, the woman mutters, ‘Wait here,’ and disappears out the back.
   We have read all the wanted posters twice and we’re measuring each other against the coloured tape on the doorframe when a large man appears behind the counter. He hasn’t walked there, he’s marched, and his iron-grey hair is a number three, same as my grandpa used to order from his barber. Muscles strain his shirt and I recognized him from Delia’s description, Sergeant Cox. Already, I know this isn’t going to end well.
   ‘Layla tells me you want to report some homicides?’ He doesn’t have his notebook out, he hasn’t taken us into an interview room. He has already made up his mind.
   Sydney might be thinking the same thing, but it doesn’t deter her.
   ‘Yes Sir,’ she says, and I’m impressed. Using Sir is sure to win her some brownie points. And sure enough, his rigid stance softens just a little in the shoulders.
   ‘We have uncovered evidence which leads us to suspect that a serial killer family is preying on children at Alstonwick.’
   As Sydney says it, I cringe inside. It sounds stupid, and I only need to look at Cox’s face to confirm my opinion.
   The shoulders straighten, tighten and his forehead furrows.
   ‘What children?’ he says.
   The latest was Amy Shipton in 2004 and the earliest was Lydia Plant in 1907.
   We should have planned this before we came in here. Sydney sounds like a lunatic.
   ‘You’ve mentioned two victims over a hundred years apart.’
   ‘But there are others.’
   ‘I’m sure there are and they’ve all been killed by a hundred-and-twenty-year- old pensioner. Get out of here.’
   ‘No, we have evidence; at least six children have disappeared from the West Place.’
   ‘West Place?’ Cox leans over the counter so that he is inches from Sydney’s face. ‘What do you know about the West Place?’
   ‘Ah,’ Sydney takes a step back. ‘Just what we’ve researched?’
   ‘Did this research take place at Breedon’s Real Estate Office?’ Cox is staring at Sydney.
   ‘Um, yes, Jack had permission from Mr Breedon to look at his files.’
   ‘And since then, have you made an unauthorised entry into Mr Breedon’s offices?’
   Sydney looks down. ‘No,’ she says.
   The No is unconvincing.
   ‘Mr Breedon has lodged a complaint that a break and enter occurred at his office. A will which involves the West Place was stolen. What do you know about that?’
   ‘Nothing,’ stammers Sydney.
   Now Cox does take out his notebook and pen. ‘Full name, please.’
   Sydney shoots me a look and I don’t know what to say. Run, briefly crosses my mind, but that would be stupid. I give a tiny nod and Sydney says miserably, ‘Sydney Conway.’
   ‘And you live?’
   Sydney reports her address, her face angry and scared.
   Cox writes it carefully in his book. Then it’s my turn.
   After he has finished recording our details, he looks at each of us in turn. ‘We’ll be keeping our eyes on you.’
   I feel intimidated – like I’m meant to, however, it hasn’t worked on Sydney. She’s lost her scared bit; I can see it in the way she is tapping her foot and twirling her ring.
   ‘You can’t just dismiss us. You’re not listening...’
   ‘You’re not listening,’ and his voice up to now has been a gravelly low-pitched monotone. Now, the parade ground shout makes my ears ring. ‘I can go back to Breedon’s basement and dust for fingerprints. Do you think I’ll find some of yours, girl?’
   ‘But the missing kids,’ shouts Sydney.
   ‘What are the statistics on missing persons,’ he consults his notebook, ‘Sydney?’
   Sydney shrugs.
   ‘Don’t know? Let me give them to you then. Around 35,000 people disappear each year in Australia and guess how many of them are located?’ He stares at Sydney and waits.
   Sydney doesn’t say anything.
   ‘Over ninety-nine percent, and how many of those 35,000 are kids?’ This time he doesn’t even to pretend to wait for a response. ‘Half of them.’
   Sydney is straight back at him, ‘Yeah, well, Amy Shipton is still missing. She’s listed on...’
   ‘Another word from either of you and I call you parents. You’re wasting police time. Get out.’
   We tumble down the stairs and stand on the pavement, shell-shocked.
   ‘I thought that went well,’ says Sydney.
   I laugh, it’s all I can do.
   We walk back to the Library and sit on the steps under the portico, waiting for our rides.
   ‘So, we’re on our own,’ says Sydney.
   ‘I think so,’ I say.
   ‘What are we going to do?’
   ‘We can stop investigating,’ and the thought of that has my insides unclenching for the first time in weeks.
   ‘Yeah,’ agrees Sydney. ‘Maybe we should.’
   I try on her agreement and like it.
   ‘Only one problem though,’ she says.
   ‘If we’re right, you’re the next victim.’ She says it matter-of-factly, but her fingers are knotted together in her lap.
   ‘Can you see me as a victim?’ I make my biceps dance, then I leap to my feet, all six feet of me, and Sydney smiles. I think it is a smile of appreciation – I hope it is!
   ‘If he has a gun, a knife...’
   I grab Sydney’s hand. ‘If he has, I’ll run. I’m fast Sydney, very fast.’
   ‘I doubt you can run faster than a bullet, or a thrown blade.’
   ‘I’ll be alright.’
   ‘Promise,’ she says, and she places both her hands on my chest. ‘Promise, Jack.’
   ‘I promise,’ I say.
   ‘So we’re leaving this? Says Sydney.
   ‘I don’t see what else we can do. If there are intergenerational serial killers, we can’t find them. We’re just kids. It needs the Police to investigate. And besides, we only have a theory. And even though Cox is a tool, his statistics are convincing. For all we know those kids could have runaway, met with an accident, there are a thousand reasons they could have disappeared, and none of them might involve a psycho.’
   ‘But they all came from the West Place,’ says Sydney
   ‘I know, and that is totally weird; but weird shit happens.’