The Phone Call

I have hit the wall on my long short story which started to turn into a novella but now looks like being my first novel. Mum suggested I write a short story to get my mind off it, so this afternoon, while I had the house to myself, I wrote the following short story. I initially called it The Phone Call, but then remembered one of the stories in ‘Unfurled’ was called that, so I changed the title. Let’s know what you think.

PHONING HOME

By Chick Dubber

Ring-Ring . . . Ring-Ring . . . Ring-Ring . . . Ring

“Hello”

“Hi, it’s me.”

“Hello, are you there?”

“Hello. Jack, it’s me, Julie.”

“Hello. Is anyone there?”

“Jack, it’s me, Julie.”

“Is that you Julie?”

“Yes. It must be a bad line. I can hear you okay.”

“Julie. What the hell do you want?”

“Jack, we need to talk.”

“I thought you were through talking to me.”

“Things have changed.”

“I think you’ve left it too late for talking.”

“Please. Just hear what I have to say.”

“Why should I? You made your choice when you buggered off with that religious con man.”

“I’m finished with him and his commune. It’s over, I’ve come to my senses. Please listen to me.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“I’m in LA.”

“What are you doing there? I thought you went to some place in the Rockies near Denver.”

“It’s a long story.”

“Okay, you’re paying for the call. Start talking, and it had better be good or I’m hanging up.”

“I made a big mistake. I know that now. Samuel John Baxter cast a spell over me.”

“I thought you called him The Great Leader.”

“All of his followers do. I admit I did too. It’s hard to explain, but I was willing to follow him to the ends of the earth. He was my whole life and I felt so serene and safe in his care.”

“Enough to walk out on me and our two children?”

“I regret that now. I’m really sorry. But it wasn’t me. The Great Leader, Samuel, took over my life. I was sucked up into his circle and wherever he went, I went. Whatever he asked me to do, I did. He said he wanted me to travel with him to Colorado and find my spiritual self. I went.”

“You emptied our joint account before you left. Was that his idea or yours?”

“I didn’t realise I’d done that. He must have made me.”

“Sure.”

“Jack, you have to believe me. It was like I was having an out of body experience. I was in a complete trance.”

“And now you’re not?”

“No. It was wonderful in the commune when I first got there. We were one big happy family. We grew our own vegetables and had domestic farm animals. All the ladies took turns at working in the fields, milking the cows, gathering the eggs, preparing the meals and supervising and schooling the children. All for the common good and for The Great Leader.”

“And what about the men? What did they do all day?”

“Some went to jobs in town to earn money and others were armed guards. The Great Leader said some people didn’t like us or what we were doing and wanted to break us up so we had to protect ourselves from the Satanic forces.”

“And you believed all this crap?”

“I did, yes. But not now.”

“Why? What made you come to your senses?”

“Things started to change, slowly. Samuel, The Great Leader, called me to his office one day. He said he wanted me to be his new personal assistant. It was considered a great honour to be asked. All the other ladies said I was so lucky to be chosen. His previous one had fallen out of favour and made false accusations against him. She had been banished from the commune and was made to leave the four children she bore him.”

“I’m getting a little tired of this rubbish you’re telling me Julie. Cut to the quick. Why did you call me?”

“I told you it was a long story.”

“I’ll give you another five seconds then I hang up.”

“Okay, I’ll get to the point. Some of the habits and needs of The Great Leader I was expected to provide for him were not very spiritual. The opposite in fact. I turned off him very quickly. I decided I wanted to leave, but that wasn’t going to be easy. Luckily I was left alone in the office for part of the day. I managed, through the internet, to get in touch with a private detective who specialised in ‘rescuing’ people from religious sects. He managed to smuggle me out and drove me to Los Angeles and put me in this safe house.”

“So now you’re free. Where do I come into this?”

“You’re the only person I can turn to. I had to leave with just the clothes I’m wearing, Jack, I have no money. I need to pay the private detective and for an airline ticket back to New Zealand.”

“You want me to send you money? Are you completely out of your mind?”

“Jack, please. I’ve no one else to turn to. I’ll pay you back. I promise you. Please.”

“And how do you intend to pay me back?”

Silence.

“Are you still there Julie?”

“Yes, sorry. I was crying. I’m okay now. What did you say?”

“I was asking how you were going to pay me back.”

“The detective suggested I sell my story to a magazine when I get home. He’ll do the same here after I’m safely out of the country. He’s done this before. We split his fee for the American magazine story 50/50. But I have to get out of the country quickly because they’re looking for me.”

“Sorry, that won’t wash. Those ‘I was the sex slave of a commune guru’ stories dried up in the seventies. No magazine here would pay money for it.”

“They would if I gave them the names of the famous people who are followers and benefactors of Samuel John Baxter. They’re household names, Jack.”

“Still think it’s a long shot. Sorry, Julie, you’re not my problem any more.”

“Jack, please. I’ve got no-one else to turn to. Don’t desert me.”

“That’s rich coming from you.”

“I know. I don’t blame you. But please, it wasn’t really the me you loved once who abandoned you. I was sick. Please.”

“Okay, if I decide to help you, how do I get the money to you?”

“You can just give me your credit card number over the phone.”

“You’d better not let me down Julie.”

“Jack, I promise you. I love you and hope one day you’ll forgive me. I’ve been a stupid, selfish woman and I don’t deserve you.”

“We’ll see. Hang on and I’ll get you my credit card number. Here it is.”

Julie put the phone down, turned and looked at the person sitting on the couch.

“Well?” he asked.

“He fell for it, Sam. He’s given me his credit card number.”

“Great. Come over here and get your reward, then we’ll go shopping.”

Jack put the phone back on its cradle just as Becky entered the room.

“Who were you talking to?” she asked.

“Your mother.”

“What did she want?”

“Money.”

“Of course, I should have guessed. Did she ask about me and Steven.”

“No, sorry, she didn’t.”

“Oh well, nothing’s changed. What are you doing with the dog’s collar, Dad?”

“I gave your mother Prince’s registration number. She thinks it’s my credit card number.”

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Spring has Sprung

After a long wet winter (of which we missed six weeks when we were in Europe) Spring has finally arrived. The sun is shining, the grass is green (mowed the lawn last Monday, needs doing again), the Spring flowers are out and the place is looking good again. Jenny took a few photos today.

Labour Weekend is coming up and Jenny wants to order a load of compost. She’s getting serious about her garden again. Time for me to look out the water blaster.

We went up to Point Wells last Thursday for a little break. Had the place to ourselves on Thursday and Friday. We went for walks around the village and along the foreshore, I did some writing and Jenny did embroidery. On Saturday Mick & John picked up Lynne and we met them for lunch at a restaurant in Matakana, then back to the house for a couple of hours chat (mostly spent showing each other our best photos of the trip and Greg’s & Nadine’s wedding). We left about 4 and dropped Lynne off on the way home.

We had a couple of nice relaxing days.

No photos of Pt Wells. Jenny took the camera but the battery was flat. Guess who got the blame for that.

Graduation Day

As you may or may not know, I have been involved for the last six months in a writing programme run by the Manukau, Counties and Papakura libraries. It was a mentoring scheme for people interested in writing. The mentor was James George, an award-winning NZ author. I can personally recommend his book Ocean Roads, the only one of his three published novels I’ve read.

After two one-on-one sessions with James, the 30 participants were invited to submit a piece of work, of less than 3000 words, from which the best would be chosen for inclusion in an end-of-year book. I was lucky enough to have my entry accepted. It was a short story about a middle-aged woman, her invalid mother and her unhelpful brother.

James, who edited the book, picked only nine entries for inclusion in the book, the title of which is ‘Unfurled’.

There was an official launch in the Manurewa Library on Saturday, 20th September (the day after we arrived home from our trip to Greg & Nadine’s wedding).

James George presenting me with my copy of ‘Unfurled’

Class of 2008

There were a few short speeches. The successful writers were then presented with a copy of the book by James George. We all signed each other’s copies, had our pictures taken for a press release then mixed and mingled with glasses of wine and canapes. All very sophisticated. I felt quite chuffed.

Chick Dubber – writer.

Golf in the Hail

I went to play golf yesterday. It was a 2-man ambrose competition which Fred had entered us in. It rained, heavily, the wind blew strongly, the temperature was hovering around single digit and we had two hail showers during the game. But we carried on, along with 41 other pairs, and finished the round. We didn’t win a prize but Fred won a meat pack in the raffle. Jenny stayed home all day with the heater on. She took this photo.

We went to Uncle Charlie’s funeral last Wednesday. Alice rang me in the morning and asked if I’d mind being an usher. I turned up half an hour before the scheduled start of the funeral only to find the church almost full. “What do you want me to do?” I asked Alice. “Forget it,” she replied.

There were approx 450 people there, according to the NZ Herald. I think that was a conservative estimate. Lots of soccer and golf people. Peter Clapshaw, Charlie’s lawyer and one of the founders of Simpson Grierson, the largest law firm in Auckland, gave the eulogy. The Catholic Monsignor who took the service (in a Presbyterian Church) spoke well, then the tributes went on for over an hour. Two grandchildren, Fred, Rodney Walshe who is the Irish Consul and close friend of Charlie’s, Ross Roberston on behalf of the Government, two FIFA delegates, the chairman of the NZFA, and John Adshead and Kevin Fallon all spoke.

There were lots of anecdotes about Charlie. Fred told one about the time Charlie was taking some footballers down to Tauranga for a game. Charlie was not the world’s best driver and after a hair-raising bit of cornering one of the players in the back seat said: “Charlie, do you keep any toilet paper in the car?”

Kevin Fallon told of going to Old Trafford and meeting Sir Alex Ferguson in the lift. “Where are you from?” he was asked. “New Zealand,” Fallon replied. “Do you know Charlie Dempsey?” Ferguson said.

Jenny dressed up for the occasion.

The after-service tea at the church was a good time to catch up with lots of people. There was Guinness if you wanted, courtesy of the Irish Consul, despite the disapproval of the Presbyterian lady in charge.

We picked up my mother and went back to the house later. Her friend Vera spent quite of bit of time with her at Grace Joel as we didn’t think mum could sit through the service. It was just the relatives at the Dempseys and mum is good for Aunt Annie. She is one of the few people Annie still recognises and she and mum sit together and chat away.

It rained, as it usually does at funerals. I forgot to wash my car before going. All in all it was a great tribute and send-off to Charlie. He was a good man. None better, as Rodney Walshe said.

Just Another Serial Part III

Spent a lovely day at Pt Wells on Saturday. We took Les and picked up Lynne at Orewa on the way. Did the Matakana Markets, saw a couple of books by James George in the book shop ($39.95 ea, didn’t buy) and went into a quirky stationery shop Kerryn would love, didn’t buy anything there either. Had a coffee then a short stop at Simply Stitches before going on to Pt Wells and having lunch with the Martens.

The Three Stooges

Jenny, Les, John and I went for a walk round the block. Had afternoon tea and a bit of a laze. John and I went over to the bowling club for happy hour then back to the house for a roast beef dinner. We left just as the England/All Blacks game started. Dropped Lynne off in time for her to see the second half and we arrived home to witness the last 5 mins of the game.

A lovely day was had by all.

Jenny and I are going to the ‘Finale Night’ (their wording, not mine) of the First Chapters programme on Wednesday. I’ve volunteered to read an excerpt from my writing if needed (they only want 3 volunteers). There’s going to be free tea, coffee and cake.

Now the rest of the Just Another Statistic story.

Mark had a visit from two police officers later that night.

“Mark Thomson?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Detective Cornell and this is Detective McGregor. May we have a word?”

“Sure, come in. Have you any news of Sandra?”

“I’m sorry, we haven’t been able to locate Miss James, but we’re checking up on her movements. Now, when was the last time you saw her?”

“I’ve told the police this before. It was Tuesday morning when she left for work,” Mark said.

“And you’ve had no contact with her since? No phone calls or text messages?”

“No, nothing.”

“Any messages on your answerphone?”

“None from her, but one for her from a friend that evening.”

“Do you still have it?” the detective asked.

“Yes. Do you want to listen to it?”

“Yes please.”

So Mark played it over to them. They asked him to play it again.

“So, who is this Millie person?”

“She’s on the list of friends we wrote down at the station when we reported her missing.”

Mark was starting to become a little annoyed. He thought the detectives would have had this information.

“We don’t have that list with us. Now, if you wouldn’t mind…”

Mark told them her full name, address and phone number.

The detectives then asked Mark about Sandra’s other friends and where she worked etc. They asked him if Sandra had been worried about anything recently. Any mood changes, illness or unusual behaviour.

Then Detective McGregor spoke for the first time:

“I believe you and she had a fight before she left for work that morning.”

“Who told you that?”

The detectives didn’t answer, just waited for Mark to continue.

“We had a slight disagreement. We often have disagreements. They blow over.”

“What was this disagreement about?” McGregor asked, with the emphasis on disagreement.

“She wanted me to take her to the pub to listen to a band. I said no. I’m preparing to do my first triathlon and I didn’t want to break my training routine,” said Mark.

“Which band and what pub?”

“Raging Bulls at the Crown & Anchor.”

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to go to hear them,” said Cornell. McGregor gave him a dirty look.

“Now,” McGregor again, “what did you do after she left for work?”

So Mark told them about his day. They kept interrupting him with questions like “What time was that?” “Did anyone see you?” or “Did you see anyone you knew?”

They asked him to go over it all again “just in case you’ve forgotten some little incident or event that may be important.”

The two detectives took copious notes. They thanked him for his time and got up to leave.

“One last thing,” McGregor turned and asked as he reached the door, “how would you describe your relationship with Sandra?”

Mark was shaken by the question. He tried to control the anger in his voice. “Fine. We got on well. I was hoping we’d get married one day.”

“Despite your disagreements?” the emphasis strongly on the last word again.

These bastards think I’ve had something to do with Sandra’s disappearance, he realised.

“We have different interests. We have disagreements over sport, books, films, music and just about any other subject you care to mention. Lots of couples do. That’s what makes the relationship interesting. Haven’t you heard opposites attract?”

The detectives nodded, ignoring Mark’s sarcasm.

“Thank you Mr Thomson. We may need to interview you again. You’re not thinking of going away or anything?”

“No, I’m not going anywhere. If you do come back, don’t forget to bring your notes with you. I don’t want to have to keep repeating myself.”

“We’re doing our best to find Miss James. Thank you for your time,” Cornell said.

Mark closed the door, angry with himself for losing his cool with the detectives. But, on reflection he considered that’s what they probably set out to get him to do. See how he would react.

. . .

“What do you think Mac?” Detective Dave Cornell asked his partner as they drove away from Mark’s flat.

“Don’t know. He seems a nice guy. Not the type to do away with his girlfriend. But he was on his own for hours that day and nobody can verify where he was. We’ll keep an open mind.”

“Yeah, I’m with you. He seemed honest enough, but then again he might be very clever.”

“Where to now Dave?” Detective Mac McGregor asked.

“Let’s go and see her employers, Mr and Mrs Davis, see what they have to say.”

Jane Davis showed the detectives into the lounge.

“This is my husband Ted,” she said. “Ted, these are two policemen come to ask us about Sandra.”

“Any news about her?” asked Ted as he directed them towards the couch.

“No, nothing yet I’m sorry to say,” McGregor answered.

“Would you gentlemen like a cup of tea or coffee?” asked Jane.

“Thank you. Tea with milk, no sugar,” Cornell said.

Jane left to make the teas and the detectives turned to Ted.

“Mr Davis, can you recall Miss James’ state of mind on Tuesday, the day she disappeared? Was there any difference to her normal behaviour?” McGregor asked.

“Yes, I can. She was her normal self. I spent a considerable amount of time with her that day. We discussed an upcoming promotion. She seemed excited and was full of ideas. It has come as such a shock to us that she should disappear. Have you any idea what has happened to her?”

“We’re keeping an open mind. Now can you tell me what time she left work on the day in question?”

“Yes, we close the shop at 5.30. She left about 20 minutes later,” Ted said.

“And how does she travel to and from work?” McGregor asked.

“Normally she catches the bus, but she told me she was meeting a friend at a café in town then going on to a concert. I presumed she’d just walk there.”

Jane came in with the tea and a plate of chocolate biscuits. Once the cups had been distributed and plate of biscuits handed around McGregor carried on with the questioning.

“And what time did you two leave?” he asked.

“Well, we come in separate cars on Tuesdays. Ted has a regular meeting with clients after work on that day and I decided I’d better catch up on the book work,” volunteered Jane.

“So, what time did you leave?”

“Ted left about the same time as Sandra. I stayed on for a while and left at about 6.15 or thereabouts.”

“And did either of you see Sandra again.”

“Not me,” said Ted.

“No,” said Jane shaking her head.

“Who was your meeting with, Mr Davis?” Cornell enquired.

“Oh, just some suppliers and reps. It’s a very informal gathering. A few drinks after work, you know, that sort of thing.”

Mac was watching Mrs Davis while Dave was questioning Ted.

“Tell you what, Mr Davis, why don’t you write down a list of people who were with you, when you get a quiet moment, and drop in into the station with it sometime tomorrow,” McGregor said.

“Yes, ok, I’ll do that,” Ted replied.

“Round about 10 o’clock say. Tell the person on the desk you want to see Detective Cornell or McGregor.”

“Fine, no problem,” said Ted.

“And you, Mrs Davis, what did you do after you left work?” asked Cornell.

“Me? Nothing much. I was supposed to go to a meeting, but it started at six and as I was running late thought I’d give it a miss. I came straight home.”

“Did you go out again?”

“No. I cooked dinner. Ate mine and put Ted’s in the fridge. He had his when he came home just after eight o’clock. We both read till about 10.30 then went to bed. Not very exciting lives we lead, I’m afraid.”

“You didn’t pass or see Sandra James on your drive home by any chance did you?”

“No.”

“Well, I think that’s all for now. Thank you very much for your time,” said McGregor.

The two detectives left. When they were in the car Dave asked Mac what was that all about getting Ted Davis to drop by tomorrow.

“I wanted to question him on his own. Better down at the station. Wherever he was that night he didn’t want his wife to know. She knew he was lying. There’s something odd about him. Her too. Funny couple.”

Jane Davis turned to her husband after she closed the door behind the detectives.

“Well, are you going to tell them who you were with that night?” she asked.

“Of course. I’ve nothing to hide. I’ll give them a list of the people I was with,” he said.

She noticed he had his back to her when he spoke.

“That’s good. We have to be honest with the police,” she said.

. . .

The two detectives’ last call was to Sandra’s parents. It was more of a public relation visit to keep them up to date with the enquiry into their daughter’s disappearance. Not that they had much to report, but it would let them know they were taking it seriously. The parents are seldom, if ever, considered suspects in cases like this, but they had to ask them about their movements the day of the disappearance. Nothing unusual occurred.

Mrs James had played golf in the morning and went to the local shops in the afternoon. Mr James was at work all day and went to his Rotary Club meeting in the evening. They said they hadn’t seen or heard from Sandra for about a week.

They asked them about Mark. What they thought of him as a person and the fact that he was living with their daughter. Both Bob and Norma said they were delighted Sandra had met as nice a young man as Mark. They were hoping the two would get married.

Ted Davis turned up at the police station at exactly 10 o’clock. Detective Dave Cornell came to the front and invited Ted into an interview room.

“Do you have that list with you?” Ted was asked.

Ted handed over a list of names, the names of the companies they worked for and phone numbers.

“Thank you, I’ll just have someone check this. Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?”

“Yes, thank you, black coffee, one sugar,” said Ted.

A policewoman brought him his coffee and stayed in the room with him. He had about a half hour wait before Detectives Dave Cornell and Mac McGregor came into the room. The policewoman left.

“Sorry to keep you waiting Mr Davis. We’ve checked with the people on the list and they’ve verified you were with them that night. Regular weekly get-together I gather,” said Detective Cornell.

“Yes, we’re in the same industry and it’s an informal networking group. We’ve been doing it for a few years now.”

“That’s great. There’s just one little thing I’d like you to clarify if you would.”

“Oh, what’s that?” Ted said.

“All of your friends said you arrived late, at about 7.45, and only stayed for one quick drink then left. They also said you seemed distracted, unusually hyper and nervous. Can you tell us where you were from the time you left work before six and 7.45 and why you were in the state you were?”

The colour drained from Ted’s face.

“I . . . er . . . I can’t remember. What night was it again?”

“Come on Mr Davis. You know what night. One of your friends even thought you looked as if you’d been doing some heavy physical work.”

Ted sat quietly looking down. The detectives waited. Five minutes passed without a word being said.

“I’d like my lawyer present,” Ted eventually said.

“That can be arranged, but it would be quicker if you just told us the truth and get it off your chest. We’re going to find out eventually.”

“I’m saying nothing till I have a lawyer present,” Ted said.

“OK. Do you have your own lawyer or do you want us to find one for you?” asked McGregor.

“If I tell you can you guarantee no-one else, especially my wife, will get to hear of it?”

“Is Sandra James involved?”

“Sandra? Good God no. I’d nothing to do with her disappearance.”

“Well, you tell us where you were and who you were with and, if it checks out, it will stay in this room. If you insist on your lawyer being present I can’t guarantee it won’t be on the front page of all the newspapers tomorrow.”

That was exaggerating a bit, but it worked. Ted told them where he had been. It checked out. They let him go.

“Told you there was something funny about him,” Mac said to Dave after Ted Davis had left.

“Kinky. The things some people do for relaxation. No wonder he didn’t want his wife to know,” said Dave.

“I think she does know,” Mac replied.

. . .

The investigation continued for months but gradually wound down. The extra police returned to Wellington. The file went into the unsolved mysteries category, not forgotten but not active.

Mark resigned his job and returned to Auckland. He started training again for what would be his first triathlon.

Bob James took early retirement and he and Norma sold their house and moved down to the Kapiti Coast. They had both aged 10 years in the past six months.

Ted and Jane Davis carried on their usual marital and business life. They had a new person doing Sandra’s job.

“How’s the new girl working out?” Jane asked Ted one night after dinner.

“Very well. I think she’s going to be a real asset,” Ted replied.

“Well, so long as you don’t get too close to her. I might get jealous and that would never do, would it,” she joked.

“No dear, no worries in that department.”

They went back to their reading.

Later when they were having a nightcap Ted looked at Jane and said “What say we go out to dinner tomorrow night, just you and me. We haven’t done that for ages. Make a nice change.”

“What a lovely idea,” said Jane, “but not tomorrow, let’s make it Wednesday. You go to your meeting with your friends and, don’t forget, tomorrow’s the night I go to my Rotary club.”

. . .

Postscript: Eighteen months after the disappearance of Sandra James two trampers were walking in a native bush reserve on the outskirts of Palmerston North when they came across what looked like human bones. They informed the police and their suspicions were confirmed. More searches in the area uncovered another human skeleton in a shallow grave close by. Pathology examinations confirmed they were the remains of two young women.

Just Another Serial Part 2

Continuing on the story of Mark and his disappearing girlfriend Sandra. Mark, by the way, is the brother of Jack who lives in Sydney with a boarder Sharlene and her son Joshua. Now read on…

Mark ran through the dark streets and after an hour or so the drizzle turned to heavy rain. He didn’t mind. But the day’s swimming and cycling started to take its toll and he began to find it hard going.

He arrived back at the flat exhausted and drenched. No Sandra. She must have gone to the pub that band she likes was playing at. He dried off, put his wet clothing in the laundry basket and put on a track suit. He brewed up some coffee and sat down to wait for Sandra’s return.

Midnight arrived and still Sandra hadn’t come home.

She must be staying the night at a friend’s place, Mark thought. Probably doing it to get back at me. Then he remembered the answerphone. Perhaps she left a message. He checked. There was one missed call, but it was from Millie Green.

“Where are you Sandra? I’m sitting here waiting. Your cellphone is switched off. If you get this give me a call.”

So, she was meeting Millie. She’s likely staying at her flat tonight. That’s fine by me. Mark went to bed.

. . .

Jane Davis looked over the top of the book she was reading at her husband Ted. She thought how relaxed and calm he looked. She felt their marriage was a good marriage. Not too many couples can live and work together, they were constantly told. But she found it the most natural thing. They were fulfilled in each other’s company.

Ted had appetites that Jane couldn’t satisfy. She looked on them as character detours. She knew about them but Ted wasn’t sure if she knew or not. But he always came back on track and was extra nice and thoughtful to her when he did. She knew he would never contemplate leaving her. Jane’s tacit acceptance of his behaviour was enough of a threat of what would happen if he ever created a scandal.

It was unfortunate they couldn’t have any children of their own. When they adopted little Rachel, after years of disappointments, it was a real blessing. She had had a troubled upbringing, in and out of foster homes before her parents abandoned her completely. Rachel was seven by the time she was put up for adoption. Jane and Ted adored her. Ted especially. He took her to netball and tennis, supervised her homework and went to the parent teacher interviews. He was the perfect father. Jane even became a little jealous of their relationship. Silly really, she thought.

Rachel grew into a very attractive young lady. When she was 16 things changed drastically. She became sullen and secretive. She showed no interest in continuing her studies, wasn’t interested in working in the shop, and started going out with a rough crowd.

Ted tried everything to help her, but nothing he did or said made any difference. She left home and went to live with a tattooed gang member with a prison record. He was more than twice her age. Ted was devastated.

Then she disappeared. They tried to find her. Went to the police and when that didn’t get results, tried the Salvation Army. In the end, they acknowledged that she didn’t want them to find her. All they could do was hope she would come to her senses and get in touch. After a year they gave up. Her name was never mentioned in their house again.

A few years ago Sandra started working at the shop. Nothing was said, but Jane knew Ted thought she was what he was hoping Rachel would turn out to be. Clever, reliable, attractive and interested in books and the bookshop. Since Sandra started working fulltime Jane couldn’t help but notice that Ted began organising his work so that he could spend time with her.

“She’s so knowledgeable and full of great ideas,” Ted told Jane one night, “I think we’ve found someone to take over when it comes time for us to retire.”

Jane just smiled.

. . .

Sandra didn’t come home that night. Mark thought she was overdoing the sulk, if that was what it was. He went to work on his bike as per usual and rang the bookshop when he stopped for a coffee mid-morning.

“Jane Davis speaking.”

“Hi, it’s Mark Thomson here. Could I speak to Sandra please.”

“She hasn’t come in this morning. I was about to ring you to find out if there was something wrong with her.”

“Not that I know of. She went out with a girlfriend last night and didn’t come home. I assumed she’d stayed the night at her girlfriend’s place.”

“That’s strange. She’s usually so reliable. Opens up the shop every morning. Ted and I arrived to find the staff waiting outside, a pile of newspapers and magazines stacked against the front door getting wet.”

“I’ll ring around and try to find where she is. I’ll get back to you.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you mind getting her to ring me if she turns up?” Mark asked.

“Of course. ‘Bye Mark.”

That’s a worry, he thought.

He rang Millie at her place to see if Sandra was there. No answer. He knew where Millie worked so looked up the number in the phone book. Millie came to the phone. She was not happy.

“She suggested we meet, then she didn’t turn up. She’s got a lot of explaining to do,” Millie complained.

Mark told her that Sandra didn’t come home last night and hadn’t turned up to work today.

“Oh, hope nothing’s happened to her.”

“Thanks for your time anyway. I’ll get her to ring you when I find out where she is.”

He tried two more of her friends, but they hadn’t seen or heard from her for weeks. That only leaves her parents, Mark decided.

Mark got on quite well with Sandra’s mum and dad. They were a nice couple. He hoped she was with them.

“Hi, it’s Mark here. How are you?” he asked Sandra’s mum Norma when she answered.

“Mark, how nice to hear from you. Have you rung to say you and Sandra have some good news for us?” she joked.

“Not today, I’m afraid. But one day soon, maybe. No. I’m actually ringing to see if Sandra is with you.”

“No, why would she be?”

Mark explained about Sandra’s non-appearance for the date with Millie, her not coming home last night and not being at work.

“Oh, I hope nothing has happened to her. Bob’s at work, but I’ll ring and ask him if he’s seen or heard from her then get back to you.”

Mark couldn’t concentrate on his work and at lunch time went home. Sandra wasn’t there. He rang her work again but she hadn’t turned up. Mark then rang the hospital but no-one of her name or description had been admitted in the last 24 hours.

He rang her parents again and her dad answered this time.

“No, I haven’t talked to or seen Sandra for over a week,” said Bob.

“I think I’ll go to the police then,” said Mark.

“Have you tried the hospital?” Bob asked.

“Yes. Nothing there.”

“Hold on. I’ll come and pick you up. We’ll go to the police together.”

. . .

The police officer on the front desk was very efficient and helpful. She took Sandra’s particulars, asked when she was last seen, where she was supposed to meet her friend Millie, the names of her friends and where she worked. She also asked if she could have a recent photo of her. Luckily Mark kept a snap of Sandra in his wallet which he handed over.

“We’ll be in touch when we have any news,” she said.

Mark and Bob walked out of the police station into a rainy afternoon. The weather reflected their mood.

“Well, there’s not much we can do now but wait,” said Mark.

“I’m not going to sit idly waiting for a phone call,” Bob remarked. “I can drive round all her old haunts and visit anyone who knows her and ask if they’ve seen her.”

There was a tremble in his voice.

“We can’t think the worst. It’s early days. I’m sure there’s a simple explanation. Sandra and I had words before she went out yesterday morning. She’s probably playing a practical joke to get back at me,” Mark said, trying to be positive, but he was beginning to think something was seriously wrong.

Bob took Mark back to his place and, along with Norma, they worked out a plan. They rang everyone who knew Sandra, asked them if they’d seen her recently, but came up with nothing. They wrote down all the places Sandra liked to visit or held a special place for her in case she’d had a fall and injured herself. Anything. The three of them visited all those places, but no sign or clues. They were clutching at straws.

The next evening, with still no sightings or clues as to her whereabouts, there was a news item on the TV asking if anyone had seen her to get in touch with the Palmerston North Police or her parents. The picture Mark gave to the police was blown up to fill the TV screen.

Nothing. No information was called in to the police or to the James family.

The following night’s TV news had an interview with a detective saying the police think there might have been foul play and asking the public’s help with any sightings. They showed a street map with the route Sandra would have taken from the shop to the café where she was to meet Millie.

Twelve policemen were sent up from Wellington to help the local force in the enquiry.

. . .

Just Another Serial

This is another story wot I rote. I’ll do it in serial form as it’s a bit long for one blog. As before, comments welcomed.

Just Another Statistic

By Chick Dubber

Mark got back to the flat after his morning swimming session at 7.30. He was quite pleased with himself as he felt he was improving in what he considered his weakest discipline, although he realised that swimming in the sea among 40 or 50 other competitors would be a lot different from lane swimming at the local pool.

Sandra was in the shower, so he made himself breakfast by pouring some cereal and milk into a bowl, filling a tumbler with his special fruit juice concoction and putting the jug on for coffee later.

Sandra came into the kitchen just as he was finishing his coffee.

“You had breakfast?” he asked her.

“Yep. Off to work now.”

“Have a nice one,” he said.

“You got much on today?” she asked.

“No, it should be quiet today. I thought I’d put some miles on my bike this afternoon then do some running later tonight. Why, what about you?”

“This training is getting a bit much, don’t you think?”

“You know how it is, I have to put the time in. A triathlon isn’t exactly a walk in the park you know. If I don’t get fit, there’s no point in doing it.”

“Is there a point in doing it?” she asked sarcastically.

“We’ve been through all this before. You knew it would be time consuming when I decided to enter.”

“I didn’t realise it was going to take up all your spare time. When are you going to have time for me?”

“Please don’t do this to me Sandra. I work in the sports field, you know that. This will not only be good for me fitness-wise, but will be something to put on my CV. I’ve started training for it, and I’m going to see it through. The triathlon is a week on Saturday. After that things will get back to normal.”

“I work in the book trade. I don’t hide myself away reading books and ignore you when you want us to do something together. Couldn’t you just skip training for one night. Raging Bulls are playing at a pub in town tonight and you know they’re my favourite band. Please.”

“No. I’ll make it up to you later, after I’ve done the triathlon,” he said.

“Maybe I’ll find someone else to go with then,” she replied as she went out the door, slamming it behind her.

“That’s spoilt what was a good start to my day,” Mark muttered to himself.

Later, as he cycled to work, he thought back on his conversation with Sandra. She’ll get over it, he was sure.

They met at university in an English class. She because that was her passion, the English language and literature; he because he needed the papers to get into the Sports Psychology course he was really interested in. This hadn’t been their first disagreement. Their first few dates they spent arguing. Then they found out they had lots in common and their different interests just added to their mutual attraction.

They graduated the same year. She was a Palmerston North girl and had worked part-time since high school at Ted and Jane Davis’ bookstore. She was offered the position of buyer and office manager on graduation. Mark was an Auckland boy but managed to find employment with Sport Manawatu. They found a flat and moved in together. That was over a year ago.

. . .

Mark spent the morning in the office catching up on paper work and making a few phone calls to set up meetings. His job was results orientated and quite a bit of it was PR. The more successful he was, the more publicity he garnered, and the more interest and sponsorship he attracted. He had no specified work hours but was expected to be around at weekends when sports were generally played.

After a quick lunch in the office canteen, he went off on a long bike ride. The triathlon cycling leg was 50km long, so he tried to do more than 50km in training then when race day came he knew he could do the distance. He cycled out of town east towards the Manawatu Gorge which, although narrow, winding and rough in places, was also quite scenic. He found that was good for his concentration. A moment’s inattention and he’d end up in the river.

He arrived home at about 5.30pm. Sandra didn’t normally arrive home till about six, so he had a leisurely shower, changed and then prepared a salad and marinated a couple of steaks in readiness for dinner that evening. He hoped Sandra had forgotten about their little tiff that morning.

Mark got his iPod out and put his earphones on and lay on the couch waiting for Sandra to come home. The long cycle ride took its toll and he dozed off. He woke with a start and realised it was dark. He looked at his watch. It was 7.35.

“Sandra, are you there,” he called out.

No response.

He got up, put on the light and drew the blinds. He looked in the fridge. Dinner still there untouched. He went into their bedroom. Nothing.

“What can be keeping her?” he thought. “She’s never been this late without ringing me.”

Maybe she did ring and I slept through it, he thought. He checked the answerphone. No messages.

“Bugger her. She must have gone straight to the pub to hear that bloody awful band she likes. Well, see if I care.”

Mark changed into his running gear, made a sandwich and ate it, filled his water bottle and grabbed two bananas. He closed up the flat and started off on a two hour run.

. . .

Sandra arrived at work that morning in a foul mood. She was angry with herself for fighting with Mark. He was getting obsessive about training for the triathlon but that was not the way to get him to have a night off and spend it with her. She did love him and she knew she should have used more subtle ways to get him see things her way. Make him think it was his idea. Isn’t that what women are supposed to be good at?

The day went reasonably well. It was NZ Book Month and she arranged the window display to support the initiative. C.K. Stead had a new book out which had international critics writing good reviews. That took centre stage. A re-print of a NZ poetry book had just been released and, alongside a couple of Maurice Gee novels and a few non-fiction coffee table tomes, was placed the Edmonds Cook Book. The buzzy bee of NZ literature Sandra called it.

She had a meeting with Ted Davis about an upcoming promotion. Normally he kept pretty much to himself and let his wife Jane do the day to day running of the shop, but lately he had become more hands on and frequently asked for Sandra’s advice on things.

They discussed the fact that the Alexander McColl Smith books were being made into a television series and there was talk of a movie too. Perhaps they should stockpile copies to capitalise on the publicity that would generate. Maybe even get some posters on Botswana and South Africa from the respective consulates.

At 5.30 she closed the front door of the shop and rang her friend Millie Green.

“Hi, Sandra here,” she said when Millie answered. “Got anything on tonight?”

“Sandra, nice to hear from you. No, nothing special. Why, what do you have in mind?” Millie asked.

“Well, Raging Bulls are on at the Crown & Anchor and Mark’s busy and I don’t fancy going on my own.”

“Yeah, I’d love to go with you. How about meeting somewhere for a bite to eat and catch up first?”

They arranged a place to meet. Sandra considered ringing Mark and telling him of her plans but then thought no, bugger it, let him worry about her for a change. Might do him some good.

She was walking along to her rendezvous with Millie when a car pulled up by the kerb. The passenger window slid down. Sandra looked at the car.

“This is a bit out of your way,” said the driver.

“Oh, hi, it’s you,” Sandra said. “I’m off to meet a friend in town.”

“It looks like it might rain soon. Hop in and I’ll drive you there.”

“Are you sure, it’s not the way you’d normally go.”

“No, but I’ve got a Rotary club meeting over this way.”

“Thanks,” said Sandra as she got into the car.

. . .