This is the second part of my original story. Critic and feedback welcomed.
Joseph finishes off his sandwich and settles back in his chair. A glance at his phone reveals that it is just after one in the afternoon. Despite the time, there are not many people around. He looks around at the mall’s food court. Every kind of food joint has a place. Although it is midday, not many people are stopping to eat their lunch. It is mostly the mall workers. The relatively quiet gives Joseph a moment of peace and quiet.
His mind wanders away. As his thoughts turn to his wife, his heart grows heavy.
With a sigh, the man takes a sip from his drink.
The man jolts, “What?”
He looks up and sees a young, attractive woman standing next to him. She sports a black business dress. A few steps behind her is a man in a business suit.
“Please, we’ve known each other too long for such titles.”
“May I join you?”
“If you wish.”
She takes a seat just across from him.
“You have to tell Penny that she needs to stop.”
“I know. She has been trying to find out what is going on since. Well you know.”
“I know but she is making town investors nervous. I understand she wants closure but at some point she is going to have to accept reality. I don’t mean to come off as rude.”
“I know.” Joseph glances off to the side, “She was getting better but then for some reason, she started believing that something was amiss.”
“What? Why? I thought I had just missed her…”
Hannah’s ears turn slightly red but she doesn’t deny it. Joseph feels conflicted. Part of him understands why his wife is hunting for answers. But another part of him aches with the lost.
“Do you understand what is happening right? She keeps going around the lake and asking a lot of questions. The lake stores are started to complain. Her antics are starting to hurt the town as a whole. I know… a note saying that she is running away… and then the bus accident. It is unfortunate and I know it hurts but it wasn’t anyone’s fault.”
“I know.” Joseph admits quietly.
“It was a tragic accident. None of us could have seen it.”
Joseph couldn’t bring himself to answer her. It is too soon for him.
“Please. Tell her to stop. I know it hurts that there isn’t a body. I wish the marina and the police could have… found her. But she needs to step back and let go.”
“I’ll talk to her.”
“Please do. She isn’t helping herself or anyone else with moving on.” Hannah stands up, “And I’m not asking as the mayor. I am asking as your friend.”
“I appreciate it.”
“Have a good day, Joseph.”
“You too, Hannah.”
He watches the mayor walk away. The large man follows after. His eyes slowly scanning the surrounding area. With his lunch spoiled, Joseph stands up to leave.
Penny rubs the temples of her forehead. She opens her eyes and looks at the spread of papers in front of her. Some are news articles while others are copies of official reports. A handful of handwritten notes.
Outside, the sun breaks out again.
The runoff from the ceiling twinkle in the sun as they fall. The rain slides down the window. Cars pass on the storefront. They send up sprays of water.
“Need a refill?”
She glances over and sees a young girl standing with a pot of coffee.
“Yes. Please. Thanks Amber.”
She pours the warm liquid into the cup. Amber’s eyes drift over the various pieces of paper and documents.
“Oh.” She says, “You’re still looking into what happened to Chloe?”
“Yes.” Penny turns back to her work. “I am going to find out who is responsible.”
She hears Amber sniffle quietly.
“Is something wrong?”
“No. Nothing wrong.” Amber turns away and disappears in the back room.
Penny glances back at her research. But her mind is distracted. For a moment, the woman wonders why her focus slips. Penny stands up to relax. She catches sight of Amber standing in the back room. Her hand covers her mouth as tears run down her face.
“Ty!” She calls out.
An older man fixing a coffee maker turns in her direction.
“Yes? Something wrong with your drink?”
Penny steps up to the counter top. In a quiet voice, she says, “No. Is there something wrong with Amber?”
“Amber?” He glances to the back room. He sees her crying silently. “Oh. She’s been crying off and on for a while now. Ever since… Well, ever since your daughter was…”
“Yes.” He says, his face turning red.
“It’s okay. I know she is gone and she isn’t coming back.” Anger puts an edge in her words, “But I do want justice.”
“I understand that.”
“But why would Amber be crying?”
“You didn’t know? She and Amber were great friends.”
Penny glances back at the young girl, “I didn’t know that. Chloe never said.”
“Amber asked her not to say much. They would come here and talk about everything. From school to family stuff. Just a safe place. It is partly the reason why I gave them jobs here.”
“I wonder why Chloe never told me.”
He shrugs, “Who knows. Being adopted sometimes changes behavior.”
“Maybe.” She frowns, “I don’t remember Amber being called into for any questioning.”
“What? Why? Everyone who had contact with Chloe was called in.”
“No.” He replies, “She wasn’t. I even asked but the police didn’t ask.”
“Do you mind if I ask her some questions?”
“If she doesn’t.”
“Okay.” Penny quickly walks over to Amber.
The girl is rubbing her eyes. She looks up and blushes red at her sight.
“Hey Amber. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Just. A bit overwhelmed right now.” Amber takes a deep breath, “If you don’t mind, I need to get back to work.”
“I understand but if you can just wait a moment. I want to ask you some questions.”
“Um. Sure.” Amber pales and she fidgets.
“Did you see Chloe last? Do you remember?”
“I last saw her was Thursday. She had come in for one of our cupcakes.” Her eyes dart away. They flicker back for a moment but then away just as fast.
Penny stares, trying to decide how to press the issue. Finally, she decides to ask outright.
“What are you hiding?”
“Nothing!” She pleads with a hint of panic. “Look! I really need to get to work!”
The young teen hurries from the backroom. Penny follows her out of the backroom. A crowd of students from the local college enters the coffee shop. Amber disappears into the crowd. Penny catches a glimpse of the girl as she disappears out of the door.
Penny tries to force her way through the crowd but a hand on her shoulder stops her.
She turns to snap at the person holding her back but she is surprised to see Ty shaking his head. Penny tries to pull away but Ty keeps his grip. With one last look at the door, Penny gives up trying to chase after Amber.
“Why did you stop me? I could have asked her more questions! She knows what is happened to my daughter!”
“You’re not going to give this up are you?”
“No! I can’t!”
“You don’t know what kind of trouble you are stirring up.”
“I don’t care.”
“I’m going to regret this but come after the shop closes. I’ll tell you what I know.”
Reluctantly, Penny leaves the coffee shop. The woman makes sure that she has all her documents. The quiet whispers of other customers follow her out.
Penny waits anxiously in her car. The tree tops shift back and forth in the gentle wind. The sun has long since set. The street lamps light the streets. Most of the storefronts are either dark or only have a few lights on. An ice cream shop and the coffee shop are the only stores still open at this hour.
She taps her foot.
One by one, the last of the customers leaves the coffee shop.
Finally, the last customer leaves. Ty waves for Penny to join her.
She hopes out of the car. The slender woman pulls her sweater tighter against the wind. She notices that two teens are sitting in the ice cream shop. It registers that it is a boy and girl but Ty’s anxious waving drives them from her mind.
“Thank you, Ty.”
“Don’t thank me. I need sleep at night.”
They sit a nearby table. Penny pulls out a notepad and pen. Ty sighs. For a moment he stares at the tabletop. Penny wants to push him for what he knows but she realizes that she needs to be patient.
“Don’t expect me to repeat anything.” Ty says finally, “And I’ll deny that we even had this talk. Understood?”
He sits forward, “Tell me what is bothering you.”
“My daughter is an expert swimmer. She practically grew up on that lake.”
“But there has to be something else.”
Penny is taken aback by his persistence. She debates whether to answer him honestly or not. Ty’s silence and expectant look give her no room to evade the question. With great reluctance, she pulls out a small notebook.
The leather is a light green against a dark brown color. The pages are covered in light green cursive writing.
“What is it?”
“My daughter’s diary. I found it last month. I thought I would start moving on by cleaning and boxing her stuff.” Penny’s voice chokes. Ty gives her a moment to compose herself, “And then I started reading it. She talks about someone finding her secret.”
“What was it?”
“She doesn’t say. Ty. She was scared. Scared that she was going to be killed.”
“Did you go to the police?”
“Yes. And they said that it was just the words of a troubled teen. And had I found it before she…they could have stopped her from…”
“And you disagree?”
“Yes. My daughter does not just write drama things for the fun of it. Something was bothering her. Now. What do you know?”
Ty winces under her glare. For a moment he looks like that he is changing his mind.
Penny taps her notepad.
“Alright.” With a sigh half of resignation and half relief, “This is what I know. Chloe and Amber were arguing over something. I don’t know what. But Amber didn’t want Chloe to go. When I asked Amber if everything was alright, she said that Chloe was going to meet with a stranger over some sort of secret.”
“Something about her past.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know. But she left that night and the next day she disappeared.” Emotions flicker across his round face. “I went out there as soon as I heard that no one could find Chloe I went out to the lake. I found her car. I found signs of a struggle.”
Penny jolts at the news, “But they found my daughter’s car at the bus station.”
He shakes his head, “No. Not that morning. Her car was at the lake. Not the station.”
“I don’t understand.” Penny rubs her head, “Why would they move it? And who moved it? What is going on?”
“And that’s all I know.” Ty stands up, “Now please go.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
“It wasn’t for you. I haven’t been able to sleep since the news release four weeks ago. This is purely selfish reasons.”
“Regardless. Thank you.”
Penny looks up but Ty’s attention is on the window. She looks over but sees nothing out of the ordinary.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. I thought I saw someone outside.”
An 80’s song shatters the silence. Both Ty and Penny jump at the noise.
“Sorry.” Penny apologizes as she answers the phone, “Hello. Joseph? I’m at the coffee shop. I’ll be right home after this. Yes. I promise.”
“Please go now.”
“Why didn’t you tell the police?”
“I tried! They said I was wrong and that the case was closed. Look. I know something isn’t right. I was expecting them to ask why I went to the lake but they didn’t. And this was before the accident with the bus even happened.”
“Can you think of anything else that happened? Maybe a name. Or at least a time?”
“No! Please go!”
“Why are you so afraid!?”
“Because this is the third disappearance that got covered up.”