Forty-six year-old Vince Butler walked out to the end of his driveway Saturday morning a few minutes past eight to retrieve his newspaper. The time was an hour later than normal for Vince because it rained all night and into the morning and he didn’t feel like getting the paper in the rain.
Right away, he noticed the parked car in the street at the curb in front of his house. Somebody must have left it there this morning because the car’s back lift gate was raised and a small spare tire lay on the lawn next to the curb.
Dark clouds hung low, still prophesizing rain as Vince retrieved the newspaper. As he shook the plastic covered newsprint, droplets of water splashed on his red, plaid, pajama pants. He thought, someone should be at the car since the lift gate is open. The next rain shower will leave the car trunk filled with water like a kiddie pool.
Lightning flashed in the distance followed by thunder. Vince glanced at the empty car and hurried to the house.
Vince didn’t think of the abandoned car the rest of the morning slipping into his Saturday morning routine of coffee, newspaper and Facebook surfing while ignoring the pouring rain. The doorbell rang before noon and he shuffled to the front door still in his pajamas and slippers.
Two police officers stood at the door, an older gentleman who looked the same age as Vince, but with the body of someone who spent their youth with the marines, The other officer was a woman in her late thirties, maybe forties, looking tired and disheveled.
“May I help you?” Vince asked.
“Can we ask you some questions, sir?” The female officer took the lead which surprised Vince; he just assumed the male officer was the senior.
“Sure, come in out of the rain.”
The officers stepped into the foyer and water splashed to the linoleum as they removed their plastic covered caps. The ex-marine’s blonde hair cut in a standard military cut.
Vince shut the door as the heavy rain and dark clouds enclosed the foyer in gloom like the fringes of death in a nursing home.
“What’s this all about?” Vince asked.
“We’re following up on a missing person’s report. I’m Officer Harper and this is Officer Cartwright.” The female officer had a dry, raspy voice and smelled of a heavy cigarette habit. “What can you tell us about the car out front?”
Vince’s heart skipped a beat and he felt his cheeks flush. “Never seen it before today. Saw it parked outside when I picked up the paper. Is it still there?”
“Did you see anybody get out or try to change a tire last night?” She pulled a notepad from an inner pocket followed by a pen. Vince noticed she didn’t wear a wedding ring.
“Nope,” He looked down the hall, then back at the officers. A nervous twitch started in his left cheek. “Whose car is it? I hope they’re okay.”
“We’re looking for Corinne Alabaster, a woman in her twenties. She went out for dinner and a movie last night with friends and she didn’t make it home. That’s her car out front. Looks like she got a flat tire in front of your house. Did she knock on your door maybe around midnight?”
Vince looked back down the hallway, the twitch in his cheek started toward his eye. “No, nobody knocked on my door. I sleep pretty good at night, usually remove my hearing aids.” He turned his head and pointed to his right ear to allow the officers to see the device lodged there. “Though something must have happened because I didn’t sleep well. I tossed and turned most of the night. Stayed in bed, never got up, well once around two to go to the bathroom.”
The sound of metal hitting metal came from the basement.
Vince’s face flushed and he looked down the hall.
Officer Harper said, “Can we go to the other room with you sir? What’s down there, the kitchen?”
Vince stared at the female officer as he tried to stop the violent flutter of his cheek. The sound from the basement continued three beats and stopped. He said, “I’m having problems with my furnace, sometimes it tries to start and just clanks for a while.”
“We would like to go into the other room, would that be okay?” The officer sounded calm, but she nodded to the ex-marine who un-clipped his gun holster.
“There’s no need to be pulling that out.”
The clanging became more insistent almost like a coded message. “Tap, tap, tap, silence, tap-tap-silence-tap-tap, tap.”
“Do you need to check on that? Maybe we can help you.” The ex-marine made a move to the hallway.
“No, it’s fine, really. Just old and clanky. It’s got to be twenty years old or more.” Vince’s cheek twitched a rhythm like an old fashioned train engine just getting up to speed. He glanced back down the hallway.
“Feel free to check on it if you like, sir. We can stay here, isn’t that right Officer Cartwright?”
“Yes ma’am, we can stay at this door like statues. You go on sir; check on whatever it is that’s pre-occupying your mind. We’ll be quiet like little mice. Quiet little mice.” The ex-marine smiled.
Vince thought, that man is dangerous. Sure he’s smiling, but he could put me on the ground with his hands in a second, won’t even need a gun. The clanging stopped and Vince looked at Officer Cartwright and then at the female officer. “Come on into the kitchen, would you like some coffee?”
“Go ahead Officer Cartwright, I’m gonna call in our location.”
Vince’s heart beat in an imperfect pace and he worried if he was beginning to go into afib again. The doctor warned him not to get too excited. The worst thing is if the officers thought he was having a heart attack and called an ambulance. Then they would have free reign of the house and would look in the basement and see what he had down there. He couldn’t let them do that. “Sure come into the kitchen. I have a pot of coffee made, might be a little strong, want me to make a fresh pot?”
“No, no, Officer Harper and I like strong coffee.” The officer stood by the kitchen table while Vince pulled a couple of ceramic cups from the cabinet. He filled one cup and handed it to the policeman and then poured the last drops from the coffee pot into the second cup. “It’s only half-full, should I start another pot?”
“That’ll be plenty; we shouldn’t spend too much time here. Do you have cream and sugar?”
The clanging started back up in the basement. A different sound this time, “clang, tap, pop, tap, clang, pop, clang and on and on without stopping.
Vince looked to the basement door, the whole side of his face twitching rapidly. He couldn’t see out of that eye. He rubbed the twitch with his fingers trying to get it to stop.
Officer Harper was still in the foyer the sound of her voice rising and falling as chirps and beeps emanated from her comm device.
What do these officers want and how do I get them out of my house? The best plan at the moment is to keep relax and keep them talking. I can’t let them into the basement.
“You sure you didn’t see the girl last night?” Officer Cartwright stared with steel blue eyes at Vince.
“Nope,” Maybe the ex-marine is relaxed, but he looked like a dangerous snake, coiled and ready to strike.
Cartwright said, “I used to do h-vac work in the military, I might be able to fix your heater. Won’t take but a second to look.” He placed his coffee cup on the kitchen table and moved toward the basement door.
The metallic pounding continued in the basement.
Vince moved toward the basement door almost tripping out of his slippers, which weren’t designed to move that fast. He reached the door and placed his hands on it just as the policeman turned the knob. “Won’t be necessary, I have someone coming over Monday to look at it.”
A grunt sounded from the basement as something banged against the furnace.
Vince stared at the ceiling; I can’t believe this is happening. I gave her enough sleeping pills to last twenty-four hours, how can she be awake already? What’s gonna happen to me if the police find her in the basement?
The ex-marine raised his voice, “Officer Harper, I need you in here right now,” and the officer pushed Vince away from the basement door. “Stand back sir and keep your hands where I can see them.”
“Please don’t go down there, I didn’t mean to put her down there. It just happened.”
Officer Cartwright in one swift move put cuffs on Vince’s right arm, brought it behind Vince’s back and grabbed and secured both wrists with the cuffs. He bent Vince at the waist and dropped him face first to the floor. “Be smart and stay down, I don’t want to have to taze you.”
Vince had no plans to move, he knew his life was over. The other prisoners at the big house would make his life a living hell. He wouldn’t stand a chance with his small frame and standing five foot four inches from head to toes. His brother warned him not to put her downstairs and to just leave her alone. Vince thought he could have her out of the basement and at the farm before his brother returned home tomorrow night. These officers are ruining everything.
Officer Harper came upstairs holding a chain. “The bastard had her chained to the basement posts like an animal. Thankfully she’s still alive. She’s free now.”
The ex-marine kicked Vince in the head.
A squeal erupted from the basement.
“Who keeps a three hundred pound pig in the basement? You sicko. Take the animal to a farm. Let’s get out of here Cartwright.”
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