photo Jonnie Jacobs
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THE ONLY SUSPECT

[cover]I had been dreaming of Lisa. It was late spring and we were strolling through Boston Common as we did so many Sunday mornings back then, wrapped in the simple pleasure of being together. I was pushing Molly in the stroller. Lisa circled her arm around my waist and told me she loved me. The joy I'd known—so fresh and boundless—was tempered, even in my dream, with the sorrow of what followed.

I clung to the memory as an intrusive ringing tugged me toward waking. It had been a long time since I'd felt Lisa's presence so vividly.

The persistent chirping of the phone finally won out. When I groped to retrieve it from the night stand, my hand found nothing but air. In an instant, I was fully awake. I opened my eyes and realized I had not the slightest idea where I was.

Okay, I was in a car, I figured out that much. My car, in fact. In a ditch by the side of some narrow, dusty road. I'd probably spun out in the process of getting here since the car was facing backwards and tilted at an angle. I had a hammering headache and a mouth that felt like the bottom of a bird cage.

I examined myself quickly—limbs intact, no significant wounds or contusions. As far as I could tell, I wasn't injured. Not badly at any rate. That assessment held even as I became aware of fresh aches and pains, most notably through my back and neck.

Not injured, maybe, but damn addled.

What day was it? What day did I last remember? I struggled to pull anchor points from my cottony brain. They came slowly, when at all.

The sky was clear with only a few high clouds. That was a good sign, because it felt familiar. I ran a hand along my jaw, discovering yet another spot that hurt. But the stubble from my beard was barely a day old. That was also a good sign. Whatever had happened, I hadn't been out of commission for long.

The phone, which had stopped ringing before I was fully awake, now started in again. I reached into my jacket pocket and checked the number. My answering service.

"Dr. Russell? I have a call for you. A woman by the name of Sherri Moore. She's says she's not a patient but she needs to talk to you."

Sherri was the mother of Molly's best friend, Heather. I was relieved to feel the bits and pieces of my life slowly coming back to me. "Put her through."

"I'm sorry to bother you, Sam, but it's almost noon." Sherri sounded as though she was working at not being angry. "Where are you?"

"I'm, uh..." I glanced at the dry, rocky terrain around me. I hoped I was somewhere close to home, though I couldn't be sure. But I knew that wasn't what she meant. "There was an emergency," I offered by way of explanation. Not entirely untrue.

"I figured as much. I wouldn't have called but the other girls have left and Molly was getting worried." Sherri paused. "Maureen said one of you would be by to pick her up at nine."

"Be by..."

"Heather's slumber party, remember? Molly spent the night here." Sherri's tone was one I'd heard before from Maureen's friends. Men, what do they know?

"Where's Maureen?"

"I don't know, that's why I finally called your service. I tried the house all morning and no one answered. She's not picking up on her cell number either."

"I'm sorry, Sherri. I think Maureen and I got our wires crossed. I can be there in..." I looked around again. The terrain was steep and rocky, covered mostly with scrub. Where was I, anyway? "In an hour," I concluded. It was better than admitting I hadn't the foggiest idea how long it would take.

"No hurry really. We were just worried. Here, let me put Molly on."

"Where are you, Dad? Did you forget me?" Her tone was plaintive, and maybe just a bit accusing.

"I didn't forget, honey. I got tied up at work. You know how that happens sometimes." Unfortunately Molly knew all too well, and I was disgusted with myself for lying to her. For being in a situation where I had to lie. I thought I'd put all that behind me. "I'll make it up to you this afternoon."

"It's already afternoon," she replied with the cutting clarity of an eleven-year-old going on eighteen.

I ignored the jab. "I'll be there soon," I told her. "I love you."

"Me, too. Bye."

 

© Jonnie Jacobs. Web site by interbridge.