Flynn reached for her and she wasn’t there. Her side of the bed was cold and he was a detective, so he came immediately awake.
He rolled out of bed, slid his feet into his slippers, and set off into the midnight house. It was November 16, 2002, the time was twelve-forty, the house was cool but not cold, there was no obvious sign of foul play.
Hurrying now, he went downstairs, turning on lights as he passed the switches. By the time he reached the kitchen, he knew that she wasn’t in the house and that there was no point of entry that would suggest a forcible kidnapping. In any case, he couldn’t imagine why she would be kidnapped or by whom. But he’d been a cop for six years, a detective for two. In that time, he’d made a couple of hundred very bad people very mad, and some of them were people who might do just about anything.
Going back over his cases in his mind, though, he couldn’t see a revenge kidnapper, at least, not one that was presently at large.
Just to be thorough, he checked the basement. They were in the process of finishing it, and it was full of boxes of ceiling tiles and Pergo flooring.
She wasn’t there.
All doors were locked, all windows were locked. The alarm system was armed. So nobody could’ve come in here, not without all hell breaking loose.
She’d gone out. Had to have.
He called her cell—and heard it ringing upstairs. He went up. It was on the dresser but not in its usual place in her purse. Her purse was gone.
The first cold tremble of fear passed through him. Something was obviously very wrong here. Abby didn’t get up in the middle of the night and go out. Never, not without telling him.
Following the rules, he dialed 911. “This is Detective Errol Carroll. I’d like to report my wife, Abigail Carroll, missing. Probable foul play.”
The 911 operator responded, “We have a car moving, Flynn.”
Next he called his boss, Captain Edward Parker. “Eddie, it’s me, I’m sorry about the time. Abby’s gone missing.”
As the reality set in, a terrible, frantic urgency swept him.
“Okay,” Eddie said. “Okay. Any evidence of an entry?”
“The alarm system is still on. Nobody broke in.”
Silence. Flynn could practically hear Eddie thinking. They’d known each other since they were kids and they’d both known Abby almost as long. Both had dated her. Flynn had won.
“You guys doin’ okay?” Eddie asked. It was his way of broaching the question that was going to be on everybody’s mind.
“Eddie, this isn’t a marital thing. Somebody got Abby.” He knew that every word had to be measured tonight, because if he wasn’t careful, this would get knocked down to an adult missing person real fast. “Look, I can’t stay in here. I gotta roll.”
“Wait for the uniforms. I’m sending a detective right now. Mullins. Tom Mullins, he’s duty.”
He didn’t much like Tom and Tom didn’t much like him. But Tom did his job. Sort of. “Okay, I’m gonna back him up, though. He’s not gonna drop this down to an MPA because it’s not an MPA, Eddie.”
“You got it.”
There came a knock at the front door. Decisive, loud, the way cops knock.
Where are you, baby?
He disarmed the alarm system and let the uniforms in. It was Willy Ford and a deputy sheriff he didn’t know, name of Menchaca. “Hey guys, thanks for doing it so fast. I got a missing wife. Almost certainly a kidnap.”
“Jeez, Flynn, Abby’s been kidnapped?” Willy had flirted with Abby at the Memorial Day barbecue last year. Lots of laughs.
“Looks like it.”
“Is there a point of entry?” Menchaca asked.
“Not that I can see.”
A car pulled up and Eddie got out. He hurried up the walk, his belly bouncing, his gray hair fluttering in the night wind. His fly was down. You could see pajamas in there. Flynn had a damn good friend in Eddie.
“Anything?” he asked as he came in.
“We need prints out here,” Flynn said. He shuddered. He was freezing cold on a hot night. “Look, I can’t stay here. I’m gonna drive.”
“No you aren’t. I got the troops moving. Every car’s on, everybody’s looking.”
Eddie was right. Flynn’s going off into the night wasn’t going to help anything.
“Who comes in through an alarm system?” Eddie asked.
“You drop time on any professionals? Time that they may have served?”
Cops were routinely informed when their collars were released from prison. “Nobody.”
“What about ever?”
“You know my collar history.”
“Yeah, you got a fair number, buddy. Some bad’uns.”
“Nobody special, Eddie. Nobody—” He gestured toward the emptiness of the house. Another wave of fear was hitting him. He imagined Abby being tortured, buried alive, raped.
He wanted to run through the streets calling her name. He wanted to drive and drive, searching every crack house, every flop, every crib he knew. She was out there right now. Abby was out there and suffering right now.
Detective Charlie Mullin came in. “Where are we?”
“Doing an APB,” Eddie replied. “Get me a picture.”
Flynn strode across the living room and grabbed the photograph that stood on the mantel. It was a studio portrait taken two years ago, for her father while he was dying in St. Vincent de Sales, choking out his lungs, poor damn guy with his cigarettes and his unfortunate opinion that the dangers were overblown.
Eddie put the picture down under a lamp and took a few shots of it with his cell phone. He then took a verbal description from Flynn and inside of three minutes the all-points bulletin was appearing on police computer networks all across the state.
Flynn knew the statistics. Every hour that passed, it was less likely that she would be found.
“You have any idea when this happened?”
“I might.” He went to the side table in the hall and dug out the alarm system’s instruction book. “The system might tell us the last time it was disarmed and rearmed.” He glanced at Eddie and Mullen. “He had the code. Had to have.”
“Who had it?” Mullin asked.
Flynn shook his head. “Me and her, far as I know.”
“Parents? Brothers and sisters?”
“No brothers and sisters. My mom and her folks have passed. My dad doesn’t have it.”
“Unless she gave it to somebody, which I very much doubt.”
“She didn’t,” Eddie said. “She was way too smart and too careful.”
Flynn input his code, then followed the instructions. In a moment, the answer appeared on the system’s LED screen. “Three thirty-two,” he said. Then the next figure flashed, the time it had been re-armed. One minute later. “This can’t be right,” he said.
“What time?” Mullen asked.
“Within the minute. Three thirty-three.”
There was a silence. Then Mullin said, “We need an inventory, Flynn.”
“She was kidnapped!”
“Somebody came in here and took her in under a minute? Who would that be?”
“Hell if I know!” He turned to Eddie. “For God’s sake, don’t cancel that APB, don’t cancel anything!”
Eddie held out his hands, palms up. “Hey, I got the county choppers up. I’m goin’ all out, Flynn.”
This was a small police force in a small city, with a compliment of just thirty personnel. They liked to think that they were good, but at the same time, there were a limited number of challenges. A murder every six weeks or so, a meth lab or crack house a week on the south side, a thin but steady stream of family disturbances, assaults, burglaries and robberies.
“I gotta admit, I can’t remember the last time we had a kidnapping,” Eddie said.
“Nineteen ninety-six. Kid named Angela Dugan, fifteen years old. Turned out to be her boyfriend. They were brought back from Tijuana—married.”
“So, you got any ideas yet?”
He didn’t. “Let’s canvas,” he said. “Before people take off for work.”
It was cool and still outside, the silence broken only by the busy clatter of lightbars left running. The morning star hung low in a blood-red eastern sky. Up and down the street, lights were coming on. Across the street, Sarah Robinson stood on her front porch in her robe, her arms crossed on her chest.
Flynn gazed across at her. “She and Abby are planning to have their babies together.”
He started across the street. “She hadn’t said anything.”
In times of extreme stress, details come crowding in, the crisp scent of the air, the soft crunch of grass under your sneakers, the distant pumping clatter of one of the county choppers patrolling above the silent streets.
“Are you guys okay?” Sarah asked, her voice constricted, her smile choked back into her face.
“Oh, Flynn, oh my God.”
“Did you see or hear anything?”
She shook her head. “The cars woke me up. Let me get Kev.”
“I’m here,” Kevin said, coming out from behind her. “Same story from me. Nothing.”
They did the Monteleones, got nothing but sadness from this gentle, elderly couple.
“The next house is Al Dennis,” Flynn said. “He’s often up at this hour. I’ve seen his lights on when I come in off night duty.”
This time, though, Al had been sound asleep, and he came to the door bleary and blinking, pulling a terry-cloth robe on over his pajama bottoms.
“Al, Abby’s missing. She’s been kidnapped. We’re trying to find out if anybody noticed anything unusual during the night.”
“Lights, voices, a vehicle passing the house more than once, anything like that.”
Flynn saw him look into himself, a sign that detectives come to know, that somebody is genuinely searching their memory.
“Lights about three. A car out there.” He gazed at Flynn. “I thought it was you, Flynn.”
“Why was that?”
“I just assumed it was you coming off duty. I guess it was like, you know, the car stopped there. At your place. I didn’t hear your garage opening, though. I do remember that.”
“Did you see the car?” Eddie asked.
Dennis shook his head. “Sorry. I just—a car came up and stopped.”
“Did you hear it pull away?”
Again, he shook his head. “I got the impression the lights had gone out. Like I said, you coming home. That’s what I thought.”
“A time, Dennis?”
“After three. In there.”
He’d heard the car but hadn’t seen it. “Do you remember anything about the engine noise? A large car, maybe? A truck? Could you tell?”
“God, Flynn, I am so sorry. I wish I could help.”
As he thanked Dennis, he realized that he was beginning the rest of his life, and it would be a time of wondering and suffering and the pain of love that has been stolen, but not lost.
As he expected, the rest of the canvas turned up nothing.
Late in the morning an FBI agent came up from Austin to Menard, a kid named Chapman Shifley. Agent Shifley wore a suit, cheap but carefully pressed. He had a burr haircut and the fast eyes of someone who might have a special forces background. He introduced himself, jamming his hand out and pumping Flynn’s arm, the gesture an unconvincing parody of manly sympathy.
Only one assignment mattered to the FBI in Texas, and it wasn’t this. Either you were on drugs and gangs or you were essentially nowhere. This assignment was nowhere.
The first thing he asked for was an inventory.
“I haven’t done that. Except that her purse is missing.”
“Could we just do a little looking around,” Shifley said, not unkindly. He wasn’t insensitive.
“Please be my guest.”
The house was filling up with forensics personnel, “Lady” Christopher with her careful hands, her supervisor Jamie Landry, who hailed from the Evangeline Country over in Louisiana and made remarkable crawfish bisque.
It would take hours, but the two of them would methodically work over the entire house, looking for fingerprints and subtle evidence of some kind of skilled break-in.
As he climbed the stairs, followed by Eddie and Shifley, Flynn found that he didn’t want to go back into their bedroom. He never wanted to go back in, not until Abby was safely home.
The cheerful curtains, the soft blue wallpaper, the sleigh bed—it was all as familiar as ever, but it now seemed miraculously beautiful, like a room from some past world found in a museum.
Landry came up and handed out latex gloves. “Don’t move things more than you absolutely have to,” he said.
Flynn rolled on his gloves and opened Abby’s top drawer.
Immediately, he saw that clothes were gone, two or three bras, socks, underpants.
“Everything in place?” Shifley asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Because that looks like somebody took stuff outa there.”
“It sure does.”
In the closet, he found her backpack missing. Also, her white sneakers were gone, and some shirts and jeans.
If he’d been working this case on a stranger, he would have said that they’d left voluntarily.
“Flynn,” Shifley said, “were you guys doing okay? I mean, the marriage?”
“She didn’t run out on me.”
“I have to ask.”
“Yes, okay! Yes. We’re happy.”
“Because that’s not what this looks like.”
“Then it’s a setup! She’d never walk out on me. She—we—we’re in love. It’s a happy marriage.”
He knew the Bureau. He knew that they were going to back this down to an adult missing person, probable walkout. That would give the case maybe two more days of search time.
Eddie said, “They’re happy.”
“Yeah, I get it.”
His tone said that Flynn was right, and in that terrible moment, he could almost feel her soul flying away from him.
Of course, the locals didn’t quit. Eddie didn’t quit. But police forces live in a strange sort of a straitjacket. A local Texas police force has access to information from other Texas authorities, but not other states, not other countries. To really pull down a sophisticated kidnapper, you need the reach of the FBI with its connections around the world, and the co-operation of Interpol. The motive for stealing beautiful young women, if it was not perverted, was often nowadays for sale into slavery abroad. A twenty-two-year-old blond like Abby could bring big money in hidden slave markets.
By the time Landry and company had finished, Flynn had been awake for more than fifty hours. He was not in grief, but desperation. It wasn’t as if Abby was dead, it was as if she was waiting for him. Abby trusted him. She would believe that he would do anything to find her. She would have faith that he would come.
By sunset on the third day, the house was empty and quiet. Not a single trace of useful evidence had been found. Abby, her backpack, her purse with her ID and a little money in it were all gone, along with three changes of clothes.
His wife had not walked out on him. His wife was out there somewhere, in the hands of a monster. He chose not to consider the possibility that she might be dead, and in so doing joined many thousands of people waiting every day of their lives for closure that never comes.
He had nightmares that she had been buried alive.
He had nightmares that she was being starved.
He had nightmares that she had been sold to some Arab prince.
On and on and on it went.
Every morning at five, he ran. He ran through the quiet streets of his neighborhood and down into the Railroad District where the great grain elevators stood, past their ghostly immensity, past the long lines of hopper cars dark in the early dawn, past the heaving engines with their great, staring lights, past the café with its warm windows and steaming coffee. He ran like a man under threat. Over time, he became narrow and hard, his body steel cable.
He became a master of the handgun, he learned fast shooting and target shooting and he became known among the shooters of West Texas as a competitor to be aware of. He learned tae kwan do and karate, and learned them well. He went beyond the normal investigative skills of a police detective, venturing into areas as diverse as wilderness tracking and the use of sophisticated bugging devices.
His colleagues admired his skills and feared his obsessive dedication to his cases. When he was on a kidnap, he routinely worked twenty-four hours at a stretch and slept three. He could have risen in the department to a captaincy, but he prevailed on Eddie to leave him a lieutenant so that he wouldn’t get sucked up into administration.
As the years wore on, he gradually turned his den into what became known on the force as the Abby Room.
Even though the FBI had abandoned the investigation before it was three days old, Eddie did not abandon it. Far from it, he hid Flynn’s case time for him, allowing him to continue looking for his wife for two more years.
Finally, he quietly and sadly eased it into the cold case file. This meant that nobody could be assigned to it without his personal approval.
Still, though, Flynn’s investigation continued. He became the most knowledgeable expert on kidnap in the State of Texas. Every force in Texas consulted him. The Texas Rangers consulted him. He solved case after case after case. But the Abby Room only grew more full of clippings, of clues, of false leads. He slid his unending search for her ever deeper into his caseload, accepting Eddie’s silent compliance with equally silent gratitude.
Their bond of friendship deepened. Eddie had loved Abby, too. He had sat on the summer porches of youth with her, also. He had never married. Instead, his love affair with her had continued down its own lonely path, and he had watched with pain and joy as she and Flynn made their life together. When he went to their house for cop nights, he’d watch her out of hooded eyes. She’d had a dancing heart, had Abby Carroll, and looks and ways that no man could ever forget.
Not often—maybe once or twice a year—Flynn ran into a case similar to Abby’s, an apparent walkout that seemed to him to be something else. Time and again, the FBI abandoned these cases after a few days.
Flynn did not abandon them.
Somebody was out there taking people, he knew it, somebody very clever and very skilled.
Somebody was out there.
Copyright © 2013 by Walker & Collier, Inc.