A Lullaby For The Lost

Chapter 2: Tears For The Lost

Chapter 2: Tears For The Lost

The patrol cars pulled off of the pier; their lights swirling a lazy blue-red, blue-red. With two shrill blasts of their sirens, they pulled away. There was no telling where they were off to next. Maybe to go file some reports…

Hopefully, they would continue the search.

Lucy Emerson stifled another sob. How could this happen? The whole damn thing was her fault! She never should have let Leah go feed the sea lions while she finished up business at the video store.

The officers taking the report had offered to escort her home giving her frantic state, but Lucy had declined. She knew that police cars coming up the driveway of her father’s house would upset him. Old men didn’t need shocks like that. Besides, she still had her SUV, parked on the pier. In it was Leah’s suitcase, filled to brimming with all of her personal belongings and toys. The cops had asked to take a look at some of her clothing, so they could judge her size. Lucy had obliged, and had also given them the most recent school picture of her she had; the one Jennifer had sent only a couple of weeks ago.

Jennifer was Leah’s mother. Mother and daughter lived in Los Gatos, while Sam, Leah’s father, lived in San Jose. Sam and Jennifer hadn’t been together in an age, but Sam kept in regular contact with his daughter, and was fond of spoiling her. He insisted she wear the most fashionable clothing, even if Jennifer couldn’t afford it on a single mother’s wages. No problem. Sam had no issues with paying his child support and he went above and beyond to supply his daughter with many of her other needs, as well. In that respect, he was a very good father.

What was Lucy going to tell them? How was she going to tell them?

She had offered to pick up Leah and keep her for the week, knowing full well that the child had been let out of school for the holidays and would have no one at home to keep an eye on her while Jennifer worked. Therefore, Jennifer would have to pay to send her to the local recreation center, which was expensive. Why not save that money for Christmas shopping? Since one of Lucy’s three stores was in Los Gatos, she drove there early that morning, picked up Leah, and took her on her rounds with her to the local store, then to Moss Landing, and finally, to Santa Carla. For the rest of the week, her dad would be home, and he never minded keeping tabs on his only great grand-daughter. Despite his age, he had amazing ways of keeping kids in line.

Now, everything was a runaway train of disaster. Leah had been getting restless around six o’clock. Lucy hadn’t thought that tying things up in Santa Carla would take so long; they had stopped in about 4:30. However, Lucy soon learned that the evening shift worker, Chad, had called in sick. That would leave Maria to pull a double shift if some relief wasn’t found. Lucy realized that Maria couldn’t pull a double shift in her condition. Her recently announced pregnancy was making itself known, now, and pregnant women didn’t need to be standing for long hours at a counter. Lucy told Maria that she’d take Leah home and return and close the shop herself if no one could be found. But, at 5:30, Lucy got a hold of Evan, another one of their part-timers. He told her he’d be in, but needed about half an hour to forty five minutes to get ready.

Perfect. Maria was sent home. By then, Leah was looking fidgety, so Lucy explained everything to her and told her they’d pick up dinner on the way home. She promised her breaded fish and chicken from the Sea Shanty, one of Leah’s favorites. The girl had brightened considerably, and then had asked if she could go buy some fish to feed the sea lions. The vendor and the area where people fed the sea lions were down at the end of the pier, but it wasn’t too late yet. There were plenty of people milling about, and Lucy felt it would be okay as long as the girl was back in twenty minutes. They agreed on the time, Lucy slipped her a $5, and watched as Leah skipped out the front door.

That was the last time she saw her granddaughter that night.

Lucy managed to lose track of time while she took care of the customers that frequented the store. This time of year, business was brisk. Patrons were snapping up the video games and movies they sold to give as gifts. Others bought gift certificates for work exchange presents and stocking stuffers. It was the same at the other locations, too. By the time Evan strolled in to assume his shift, more than twenty minutes had passed.

“You didn’t see my grand daughter on the way in, by chance, did you?” Lucy asked as she finished with her last customer.

“Uh…little Leah, right? No, ma’am, I sure didn’t,” Evan replied, stepping behind the counter.

Lucy glanced nervously at her watch, and then at the clock on the wall. Leah had been gone for nearly 45 minutes!

“Well, I’m going to go have a look for her. She went out to feed the sea lions, but was supposed to be back here twenty minutes ago. I’m sure the time just got away from her.”

“Yeah, probably. Kids that age aren’t in the habit of checking their watches.”

Evan was right, of course. So, Lucy had quickly made her way down to the end of the pier, keeping her eye peeled for any guilty looking eight and a half year old girls as she went. She saw none. When she got down to the back end of the pier, she didn’t find Leah, either.

It was easy to tell her granddaughter wasn’t there. Only a few others were. There was a younger couple nuzzling each other on one of the benches, an old man with a quilted flannel shirt on fishing, and a middle aged woman with a dog tossing fish over the rail. Lucy evaluated her choices and approached the woman with the dog.

“Excuse me, Miss, I hate to bother you, but did you see a little girl out here awhile ago? She came to feed the sea lions…..,” Lucy asked in a wavery voice.

“Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did. The sea lions aren’t active tonight though, at least not yet. It could be too early for them. Anyways, she got kind of disappointed and left not long after she came out here,” the woman replied.

“Did she look like this?” Lucy continued, pulling out Leah’s picture from the wallet in her purse.

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“How long ago would you say she left?”

“I dunno, but she wasn’t out here long. Maybe ten minutes. She went that way,” the woman said, pointing.

Back towards the shop.

“Thank you,” Lucy said. At that time, relief had flooded her voice. Maybe the woman hadn’t been a good judge of time, and Leah had been out there longer than she’d thought. At any rate, Lucy hurried back to the store, thinking she’d find her granddaughter waiting.

She’d been wrong.

After spending another hour on her own, desperately combing the pier, Lucy tearfully gave up and called the police.

The police didn’t act on missing persons reports for adults until the individual was gone for 48 hours. With children, it was different. The Santa Carla P.D. had assured Lucy that they would do all they could to find Leah and bring her home. At first, just one patrol car arrived. But, after taking Lucy’s report, two backups were called for. One of the back up units would question people and business owners on the pier. The other unit would comb the pier and the beach. Lucy was asked to give detailed descriptions of those she saw when she went to the rear area of the pier; especially the woman who’d claimed she saw Leah. Lucy cursed herself for not asking the witness what her name was, but by then, that was just one of the mental curses she was hurling at herself.

The store was shut down for the remainder of the night, and a statement was taken from Evan before he was allowed to go home. He looked stricken. Though he didn’t know Leah well, he’d seen her a couple of times when Lucy had brought her along on her rounds before.

One officer remained in the store with Lucy at all times, keeping in contact with the others on the search, and helping Lucy set up a vigil. His name was Lt. Chelli, and he seemed genuinely nice. He had a way of calming her; telling her that she’d done no wrong, and that kids had a tenancy to wander off sometimes, despite the best, most vigilant supervision. He then confided in her that his own daughter had run away from home once, and despite his best efforts, she hadn’t turned up until she wanted to be found.

Then, Lucy recognized the name.

“Chelli. Is your daughter Star?” she’d asked.

“That’s right,” he’d told her with a smile, “So that makes us family. I think if it hadn’t been for you, I’d still be wondering where my kid is, so I owe you one.”

“Oh, I didn’t have anything to do with finding her,” Lucy protested, “That was Michael. He met her…”

“But you’re the one that convinced her to call home and tell us where she was. You said her mother would be worried sick….”

“I did, but I was speaking the truth…”

“She took your advice. There’s still a lot she hasn’t told us about those months she was gone and why it was she decided to run off in the first place, but in the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. She’s safe now, and we know she is, thanks to you. And, at the same time, we wrapped up another missing child case. Maybe you didn’t solve that one either, but the department is grateful that Gabriel Thompson turned up safe and sound at your place, as I’m sure his parents were.”

“He was just a little, lost kid, I guess,” Lucy sighed.

“Well, that happens from time to time around here. Maybe that’s all that happened to Leah. She wandered off, enticed by the lights on the boardwalk with a little loose change jingling in her pockets, and got lost. I’m having my squad look into it. Santa Carla has its reputation, but we’ve really done a lot to clean things up around here. At any rate, I’ve alerted the boardwalk security to keep their eyes peeled for her, too.”

Lucy hadn’t thought of the boardwalk. From the pier, lights from the attractions, especially the Giant Dipper could be seen. It was a relatively clear night, and the distance from the pier to the boardwalk was misleading. Leah might have been tempted to go, thinking she could get there in a few minutes, not realizing how far down the beach it actually was….

Lt. Chelli snapped into her thoughts.

“When it comes to missing kids on the boardwalk, security over there has an A-1 staff. You wanna know who heads things over there now?”

“Mmmm, who?” Lucy asked.

“The very same Gabriel Thompson that turned up at your place twenty years ago, that’s who. So, if there’s a little girl lost on the midway, he’ll make damn good and sure she’s found.”

Lucy collapsed back into her chair like a boneless rag doll. Mixed tears of fear and relief streamed down her face. The hours were passing, and still; no sign of Leah. Yet, Lt. Chelli was giving her every hopeful indication that she would be found, and that there were good resources at their disposal.

There must be. The amount of missing posters tacked up on the public bulletin boards had dramatically decreased. Most of what remained was for runaway teens and missing pets.

Then, Lt. Chelli began the unpleasant task of digging around Leah’s personal life. What was the custody arrangement between her parents? Did her son know she was here? Could he possibly have taken her?

“Sam? Oh, Lt, Sam wouldn’t do a thing like that! He spoils her rotten…buys her all these name brand clothes from Abercrombie and Fitch, Aeropostle, and Baby Gap, and he’s always current on his child support, but here’s the thing. Sam just doesn’t have the time to be a full-time father. He’s a game designer, and he works long, strange hours. Pulling a stunt like that would be pointless,” Lucy explained.

“Even to get back at the ex?”

“He and Jennifer get along okay. They just couldn’t get along well enough to marry. Really, I think they both made the best choice, and Sam didn’t fight the custody or the child support rulings. Like I said, he even goes above and beyond it. He just doesn’t always stick to his visitation schedule…which is not good, but that further dissuades me from thinking that he’d take Leah in a sudden custody dispute.”

“Her parents don’t ever fight?”

“I don’t know that they don’t ever fight, but if they do, it’s not about Leah’s living situation. Jennifer and I talk quite a bit. She’d tell me everything if that was the case,” Lucy replied.

“Are you close to your son?”

“Oh, always, but I don’t get to see him much. He’s so busy. We talk all the time too, but with Sam, he never tells me anything that he thinks would worry me. I used to be very overprotective of him, and now the tables have turned, I think…”

Lucy gave a nervous giggle that ended in more sniffles and sobs.

“What am I going to tell them?” she wondered aloud.

“Maybe you won’t have to tell them anything more that a ‘Leah got lost for a little while’ tale,” Lt. Chelli consoled her.

At quarter after ten, one of the units radioed in. Chelli stepped away from Lucy to take the message, and Lucy was unable to hear what the contact was about. She only heard him respond:

“I’ll ask her. Ten-four.”

“What sort of shoes did you say your granddaughter was wearing?”

“White sneakers. K-Swiss ones, I believe.”

“What size?”

“Girl’s size 4,” Lucy answered.

Chelli nodded and spoke into his radio.

“Affirmative. Over and out.”

“What did they find? Shoe prints?”

“One of her shoes, they believe. Officer Pete and Officer Salazar are bringing it in.”

These two had only stopped into the store for a brief amount of time before being dispatched to the beach. The other set had remained to question the shop patrons before being sent off to question the folks on the pier; and then later, to patrol the boardwalk. Lucy’s heart withered when she saw the sneaker, neatly contained in a Ziplock evidence bag, dangling from the hand of Officer Pete.

“I think it’s time we notified the Coast Guard,” Salazar said in a grim tone.

“The Coast Guard!” Lucy cried.

“Calm down…lets not jump to conclusions. Where’d you find it?’

“Jammed between two boulders at the edge of the pier. It looks like the kid may have decided to do some rock climbing and lost her shoe. But, the boulders in the area were pretty slimy and just barely in the water…when we found it. When the kid was out there, the tide was higher. She may have fallen and got swept out,” Pete explained.

“You searched under the pier?”

“We went as far as we could get,” Salazar replied.

“Alright, I’ll make the call.”

“Leah wouldn’t have done that! She would never have climbed on wet rocks! She knows about undercurrents….She knows better!” Lucy protested, hugging her shivering body.

But the evidence was now on the counter for her to see for herself. Inside the bag was a completely sodden shoe. It was unmistakably Leah’s.

Of course, Lucy was right. Her granddaughter did have enough sense not to go climbing on slippery rocks when the tide was up. One sometimes just didn’t have a choice when a werewolf was on your tail.

And the sea told no secrets. It neatly washed away the trail of blood that could have led the officers straight to the beast’s concealed hideaway.