A trail of bodies... a cunning killer... a weaponless crime
(read or print)
Each day in this country, twenty-three hundred children are reported missing.
Of those, a large portion are abducted by one parent estranged from the other, and over fifty percent of the time the child's whereabouts are never in question. The majority of these children are returned within a week.
Another portion of those twenty-three hundred children are runaways. Again, the majority of them are not gone long, and usually their whereabouts are either known immediately or easily ascertained-- a friend's house, is the most common destination.
Another category of missing children is the throwaway-- those who are cast out of their homes or who run away, and the parents decide not to give chase. These are often the children who fill shelters and bus terminals, street corners in the red-light districts, and, ultimately, prisons.
Of the more than eight hundred thousand children reported missing nationally every year, only thirty-five hundred to four thousand fall into what the Department of Justice categorizes as Non-Family Abductions, or cases which the police soon rule out: family abductions, running away, parental ejection, or the child becoming lost or injured.
Of these cases, three hundred children disappear ever, year and never return.
No one-- not parents, friends, law enforcement, child-care organizations, or centers for missing people-knows where these children go. Into graves, possibly; into cellars or the homes of pedophiles; into voids, perhaps, holes in the fabric of the universe where they will never be heard from again.
Wherever these three hundred go, they stay gone. For a moment or two they haunt strangers who've heard of their cases, haunt their loved ones for far longer.
Without a body to leave behind, proof of their passing, they don't die. They keep us aware of the void.
And they stay gone.
"My sister," Lionel McCready said, as he paced our belfry office, "has had a very difficult life." Lionel was a big man with a slightly houndish sag to his face and wide shoulders that slanted down hard from his collarbone, as if something we couldn't see sat atop them. He had a shaggy, shy smile and a firm grip in a callused hand. He wore a brown UPS deliveryman's uniform and kneaded the brim of the matching brown baseball cap in his beefy hands. "Our mom was a-well, a boozer, frankly. And our dad left when we were both little kids. When you grow up that way, you-I guess you-maybe you got a lot of anger. It takes some time to get your head straight, figure out your way in life. It's not just Helene. I mean, I had some serious problems, took a hard bust in my twenties. I was no angel."
"Lionel," his wife said.
He held up a hand to her, as if he had to spit it out now or he'd never spit it out at all. "I was lucky. I met Beatrice, straightened my life out. What I'm saying, Mr. Kenzie, Miss Gennaro, is that if you're given time, a few breaks, you grow up. You shake that crap. My sister, she's still growing up, what I'm saying. Maybe. Because her life was hard and--"
"Lionel," his wife said, "stop making excuses for Helene." Beatrice McCready ran a hand through her short strawberry hair and said, "Honey, sit down. Please."
Lionel said, "I'm just trying to explain that Helene hasn't had an easy life."
"Neither have you," Beatrice said, "and you're a good father."
"How many kids do you have?" Angie asked.
Beatrice smiled. "One. Matt. He's five. He's staying with my brother and his wife until we find Amanda."
Lionel seemed to perk up a bit at the mention of his son. "He's a great kid," he said, and seemed almost embarrassed by his pride.
"And Amanda?" I said.
"She's a terrific kid, too," Beatrice said. "And she's way too young to be out there on her own."
Amanda McCready had disappeared from this neighborhood three days ago. Since then, the entire city of Boston, it seemed, had become obsessed with her whereabouts. The police had put more men on the search than they had on the manhunt for John Salvi after the abortion clinic bombings four years ago. The mayor held a press conference in which he pledged no city business would take precedence over her disappearance until she was found. The press coverage was saturating: front page of both papers each morning, lead story in all three major telecasts at night, hourly updates inserted between the soaps and talk shows.
And in three days-nothing. Not a hint of her.
Amanda McCready had been on this earth four years and seven months when she vanished. Her mother had put her to bed on Sunday night, checked in on her once around eight-thirty, and the next morning, shortly after nine, had looked in at Amanda's bed and seen nothing but sheets dented with the wrinkled impression of her daughter's body.
The clothes Helene McCready had laid out for her daughter-- a pink T-shirt, denim shorts, pink socks, and white sneakers-- were gone, as was Amanda's favorite doll, a blond-haired replica of a three-year-old that bore an eerie resemblance to its owner, and whom Amanda had named Pea. The room showed no signs of struggle.
Helene and Amanda lived on the second floor of a three-decker, and while it was possible Amanda had been abducted by someone who'd placed a ladder under her bedroom window and pushed the screen open to gain entry, it was also unlikely. The screen and windowsills had shown no signs of disturbance, and the ground at the foundation of the house bore no ladder marks.
What was far more likely, if one assumed a four-year-old didn't suddenly decide to leave home on her own in the middle of the night, was that the abductor entered the apartment through the front door, without picking the lock or prying the hinges loose from the jamb, because such actions were unnecessary on a door that had been left unlocked.
Helene McCready had taken a hell of a beating in the press when that information came out. Twenty-four hours after her daughter's disappearance, the News, Boston's tabloid answer to the New York Post, ran as its front-page headline: COME ON IN: Little Amanda's Mom Left Door Unlocked.
Beneath the headline were two photographs, one of Amanda, the other of the front door to the apartment. The door was propped wide open, which, police stated, was not how it was discovered the morning of Amanda McCready's disappearance. Unlocked, yes; wide open, no.
Most of the city didn't care much about the distinction, though. Helene McCready had left her four-year-old daughter alone in an unlocked apartment while she went next door to her friend Dottie Mahew's house. There she and Dottie watched TV-two sitcoms and a movie of the week entitled "Her Father's Sins," starring Suzanne Somers and Tony Curtis. After the news, they watched half of "Entertainment Tonight Weekend Edition" and then Helene returned home.
For roughly three hours and forty-five minutes, Amanda McCready had been left alone in an unlocked apartment. At some point during that time, the assumption went, she had either slipped out on her own or been abducted.
Angie and I had followed the case as closely as the rest of the city, and it baffled us as much as it seemed to baffle everyone else. Helene McCready, we knew, had submitted to a polygraph regarding her daughter's disappearance and passed. Police were unable to find a single lead to follow; rumor had it they were consulting psychics. Neighbors on the street that night, a warm Indian summer night when most windows were open and pedestrians strolled at random, reported seeing nothing suspicious, hearing nothing that sounded like a child's screams. No one remembered seeing a four-year-old wandering around alone or a suspicious person or persons carrying either a child or an odd-looking bundle.
Amanda McCready, as far as anyone could tell, had vanished so completely it was as if she'd never been born.
Beatrice McCready, her aunt, had called us this afternoon. I told her I didn't think there was much we could do that a hundred cops, half the Boston press corps, and thousands of everyday people weren't already doing on her niece's behalf.
"Mrs. McCready," I said, "save your money."
"I'd rather save my niece," she said.
Now, as the Wednesday evening rush-hour traffic dwindled to some distant beeps and engine revs on the avenue below, Angie and I sat in our office in the belfry of St. Bartholomew's Church in Dorchester and listened to Amanda's aunt and uncle plead her case.
"Who's Amanda's father?" Angie said.
The weight seemed to resettle onto Lionel's shoulders. "We don't know. We think it's a guy named Todd Morgan. He left the city right after Helene got pregnant. Nobody's heard from him since."
"The list of possible fathers is long, though," Beatrice said.
Lionel looked down at the floor.
"Mr. McCready," I said.
He looked at me. "Lionel."
"Please, Lionel," I said. "Have a seat."
He fitted himself into the small chair on the other side of the desk after a bit of a struggle.
"This Todd Morgan," Angie said, as she finished writing the name on a pad of paper. "Do police know his whereabouts?"
"Mannheim, Germany," Beatrice said. "He's stationed in the army over there. And he was on the base when Amanda disappeared."
'Have they discounted him as a suspect?" I said. "There's no way he would have hired a friend to do it?"
Lionel cleared his throat, looked at the floor again. "The police said he's embarrassed by my sister and doesn 't think Amanda is his child anyway." He looked up at me with those lost, gentle eyes of his. "They said his response was: 'If I want a rug rat to shit and cry all the time, I can have a German one.' "
I could feel the wave of hurt that had washed through him when he'd had to call his niece a "rug rat," and I nodded. "Tell me about Helene," I said.
There wasn't much to tell. Helene McCready was Lionel's younger sister by four years, which put her at twenty-eight. She'd dropped out of Monsignor Ryan Memorial High School in her junior year, never got the GED she kept saying she would. At seventeen, she ran off with a guy fifteen years older, and they'd lived in a trailer park in New Hampshire for six months before Helene returned home with a face bruised purple and the first of three abortions behind her. Since then she'd worked a variety of jobs-Stop & Shop cashier, Chess King clerk, dry cleaner's assistant, UPS receptionist-and never managed to hold on to any for more than eighteen months. Since the disappearance of her daughter, she'd taken leave from her part-time job running the lottery machine at Li'l Peach, and there weren't any indications she'd be going back.
"She loved that little girl, though," Lionel said.
Beatrice looked as if she were of a different opinion, but she kept silent.
"Where is Helene now?" Angie said.
"At our house," Lionel said. "The lawyer we contacted said we should keep her under wraps as long as we can."
"Why?" I said.
"Why?" Lionel said.
"Yeah. I mean, her child's missing. Shouldn't she be making appeals to the public? Canvassing the neighborhood at least?"
Lionel opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked down at his shoes.
"Helene is not up to that," Beatrice said.
"Why not?" Angie said.
"Because-- well, because she's Helene," Beatrice said.
"Are the police monitoring the phones at her place in case there's a ransom demand?"
"Yes," Lionel said.
"And she's not there," Angie said.
"It got to be too much for her," Lionel said. "She needed her privacy." He held out his hands, looked at us.
"Oh," I said. "Her privacy."
"Of course," Angie said.
"Look."Lionel kneaded his cap again. "I know how it seems. I do. But people show their worry in different ways. Right?"
I gave him a halfhearted nod. "If she'd had three abortions," I said, and Lionel winced, "what made her decide to give birth to Amanda?"
"I think she decided it was time." He leaned forward and his face brightened. "If you could have seen how excited she was during that pregnancy. I mean, her life had purpose, you know? She was sure that child would make everything better."
"For her," Angie said. "What about the child?"
"My point at the time," Beatrice said.
Lionel turned to both women, his eyes wide and desperate again. "They were good for each other," he said. "I believe that."
Beatrice looked at her shoes. Angie looked out the window.
Lionel looked back at me. "They were."
I nodded, and his hound dog's face sagged with relief.
"Lionel," Angie said, still looking out the window, "I've read all the newspaper reports. Nobody seems to know who would have taken Amanda. The police are stymied, and according to reports, Helene says she has no ideas on the subject either."
"I know." Lionel nodded.
"So, okay." Angie turned from the window and looked at Lionel. "What do you think happened?"
"I don't know," he said, and gripped his hat so hard, I thought it might come apart in those big hands. "It's like she was sucked up into the sky."
"Has Helene been dating anybody?"
"Anybody regular?" I said.
"No," Lionel said.
"The press is suggesting she hung around with some unsavory characters," Angie said.
Lionel shrugged, as if that was a matter of course.
"She hangs out at the Filmore Tap," Beatrice said.
"That's the biggest dive in Dorchester," Angie said.
"And think how many bars contend for that honor," Beatrice said.
"It's not that bad," Lionel said, and looked to me for support.
I held out my hands. "I carry a gun on a regular basis, Lionel. And I get nervous going into the Filmore."
"The Filmore's known as a druggies bar," Angie said. "Supposedly they move coke and heroin in and out of there like buffalo wings. Does your sister have a drug problem?"
"You mean, like heroin?"
"They mean like anything," Beatrice said.
"She smokes a little weed," Lionel said.
"A little?" I asked. "Or a lot?"
"What's a lot?" he said.
"Does she keep a water bong and a roach clip on her nightstand?" Angie said.
Lionel squinted at her.
"She's not addicted to any particular drug," Beatrice said. "She dabbles."
"Coke?" I said.
She nodded and Lionel looked at her, stunned.
"Needles?" I said.
"Oh, no," Lionel said.
Beatrice said, "Not as far as I know." She thought about it. "No. We've seen her in shorts and tank tops all summer. We'd have seen tracks. "
"Wait." Lionel held up a hand. "Just wait. We're supposed to be looking for Amanda, not talking about my sister's bad habits."
"We have to know everything about Helene and her habits and her friends," Angie said. "A child goes missing, usually the reason is close to home."
Lionel stood up and his shadow filled the top of the desk. "What's that mean?"
"Sit down," Beatrice said.
"No. I need to know what that means. Are you suggesting my sister could have had something to do with Amanda's disappearance?"
Angie watched him steadily. "You tell me."
"No," he said loudly. "Okay? No." He looked down at his wife. "She's not a criminal, okay? She's a woman who's lost her child. You know?"
Beatrice looked up at him, her face inscrutable.
"Lionel," I said.
He stared down at his wife, then looked at Angie again.
"Lionel," I said again, and he turned to me. "You said yourself it's like Amanda disappeared into thin air. Okay. Fifty cops are looking for her. Maybe more. You two have been working on it. People in the neighborhood . . ."
"Yeah," he said. "Lots of them. They've been great."
"Okay. So where is she?"
He stared at me as if I might suddenly pull her out of my desk drawer.
"I don't know." He closed his eyes.
"No one does," I said. "And if we're going to look into this-- and I'm not saying we will ..."
Beatrice sat up in her chair and looked hard at me.
"But if, we have to work under the assumption that if she has been abducted, it was by someone close to her."
Lionel sat back down. "You think she was taken."
"Don't you?" Angie said. "A four-year-old who ran off on her own wouldn't still be out there after almost three full days without having been seen."
"Yeah," he said, as if facing something he'd known was true but had been holding at bay until now. "Yeah. You're probably right."
"So what do we do now?" Beatrice said.
"You want my honest opinion?" I said.
She cocked her head slightly, her eyes holding steadily with my own. "I'm not sure."
"You have a son who's about to enter school. Right?"
"Save the money you would have spent on us and put it toward his education."
Beatrice's head didn't move; it stayed cocked slightly to the right, but for a moment she looked as if she'd been slapped. "You won't take this case, Mr. Kenzie?"
"I'm not sure there's any point to it."
Beatrice's voice rose in the small office. "A child is--"
"Missing," Angie said. "Yes. But a lot of people are looking for her. The news coverage has been extensive. Everyone in this city and probably most of the state knows what she looks like. And, trust me, most of them have their eyes peeled for her."
Beatrice looked at Lionel. Lionel gave her a small shrug. She turned from him and locked eyes with me again. She was a small woman, no more than five foot three. Her pale face, sparkled with freckles the same color as her hair, was heart-shaped, and there was a child's roundness to her button nose and chin, the cheekbones that resembled acorns. But there was also a furious aura of strength about her, as if she equated yielding with dying.
"I came to you both," she said, "because you find people. That's what you do. You found that man who killed all those people a few years ago, you saved that baby and his mother in the playground, you--"
"Mrs. McCready," Angie said, holding up a hand.
"Nobody wanted me to come here," she said. "Not Helene, not my husband, not the police. 'You'd be wasting your money,' everyone said. 'She's not even your child,' they said."
"Honey." Lionel put his hand on hers.
She shook it off, leaned forward until her arms were propped on the desk and her sapphire eyes were holding mine.
"No," I said softly. "Not if she's hidden well enough. Not if a lot of people who are just as good at this as we are haven't been able to find her either. We're just two more people, Mrs. McCready. Nothing more."
"Your point?" Her voice was low, again, and icy.
"Our point," Angie said, "is what help could two more sets of eyes be?"
"What harm, though?" Beatrice said. "Can you tell me that? What harm?"
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