Faded Memories | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Mystery Bookmark and Share

Faded Memories

FADED MEMORIES Dallas G. Releford ©2004 Dallas G. Releford After my husband Willard deserted me leaving me with two young teenage girls to support, I was devastated by the responsibility of earning a living, maintaining the house and caring for the girls. Tracy was sixteen and Jennifer was eight, barely old enough to put her own clothes on, much less understand that her father wouldn’t be back to see her again. Maybe she was lucky. Maybe we all were lucky because Willard had been a violent husband with his brain fried by drugs and his mind complicated with an obsession for a woman he’d met at work. Finally, the woman got to him and he left town with her. That was after I filed charges against him for abusing me, and the kids. I don’t know much about that woman except she was in about the same sorry condition that Willard was. She’d called the house once and identified herself as Barbara Miller. She mentioned that she was a secretary where Willard worked. I don’t know if that was her real name or not. Barbara Miller sounded like she might be a little empty upstairs. Willard liked to come home after a hard night at the bar—and in Barbara Miller’s bed—beat the tar out of me, and threaten the kids. I guess that made him feel manly or something because he sure did it a lot. When Willard’s brain wasn’t saturated with drugs, he was the ideal husband except that he didn’t like Tracy and ignored her for the most part. Jennifer was his baby and that probably was because she was too young to fully understand why he was so crazy. Jennifer seemed to hate him, too. With a sad expression on her sweet little face, she frequently commented that he hurt her mommy, much to Willard’s dissatisfaction. Jennifer soon learned to stay out of his way and cried when he came home high on drugs because she was afraid he would hurt me. I was afraid, too and soon filed charges against him. Willard left after that and never came home again. A few weeks after Willard left, I received a handwritten letter from Willard stating that he couldn’t live at home anymore and that he was releasing me from our marriage. That was Willard’s way. Since he’d deserted us and had admitted it in writing, my lawyer pursued the possibility of getting our marriage annulled and going after him for child support. The letter was a legal admission of desertion and my lawyer thought that I might have a chance of getting both a divorce and help for the kids. The letter did not have a return address. The letter had been postmarked in Lebanon, Ohio. That was the last I heard from him and slowly, his terrible association with us dwindled as our lives took on new meanings. Six months after that, on a hot July morning, I took the kids shopping at a convenience store on Hamilton Avenue. We were planning on spending the day in the park and thought we’d pick up a few things to prepare a picnic basket. With little money to do anything else, we found that spending a day in the park gave us a refreshing outlook on life and got us out of the house. Purchasing a few items, I paid for them and hustled the two excited girls out the front door, and into a nightmare of unexpected proportions. That event haunts me to this day. Turning and walking toward our car that was parked in front of the store while holding Jennifer’s hand so she wouldn’t walk in front of a car, I was completely unaware of what was about to happen. “Stop!” The voice was that of an elderly man and he was obviously excited because I could hear the stress in his voice. Something else about that voice tantalizes, disturbs me to this day. His voice was weak, labored and I thought that he was tired from running. I couldn’t understand why he’d been running. Crazy images flashed in my mind and at first, I thought he was talking to us. “Robbery. Stop. Someone call the police,” the voice yelled. Horrified and shocked that such a thing could be happening to me, my first concern was for the girls. Turning, I grabbed Tracy and shoved her toward a nearby car hoping that she’d take the hint and seek cover. It didn’t happen. Tracy froze in her tracks standing not more than ten feet from the man who’d run from the store. Four other men with ski masks on their heads were by now running toward a white van parked in the middle of the lot and the balding, middle-aged man was staggering toward them with a pistol in his hand. Broad shouldered, wearing glasses, a blue button down shirt and dark pants, he continued to stagger toward the escaping men waving the gun at them. Noticing blood on his shirt and on his baldhead, I wanted to do something, and do it quick. Things happened very quickly then and even though it hurts, hurts real bad, to think about it, I still can’t wipe it out of my mind. Once I begin thinking about it, the entire sequence of events flow past my eyes like a video. Things happened very quickly and for me, it was as if everything was happening in slow motion. Realizing that I knew the man waving the gun, I wanted to do something to help him. He was George Koontz, the owner of the jewelry store next to the convenience store. Apparently, the four men had robbed the establishment, beaten the owner violently and he was attempting to stop them. Wanting to call the police and report the robbery, do something to help him, I suddenly realized that I’d left my cell phone in the Malibu just as George raised his gun and fired at the men. Almost to the white van by then, the men stopped, turned around, and began shooting at George Koontz. One of the men had an automatic shotgun, one of those guns with a handgrip, short barrel and clip beneath the barrel. I think they call it an assault weapon. All that matters is that George staggered back toward us with bullets ripping through his body throwing blood, bone, and pieces of his shirt toward us. I could hear the bullets tearing through his body and ricocheting off the concrete walls of the convenience store behind us. Appalled, I struggled to keep myself from fainting. I had the kids to protect. I couldn’t pass out. They needed me, only I didn’t realize then just how much they needed me. As George Koontz slumped to the hot pavement in a parking lot that he’d parked in for seventeen years, the four men kept shooting. Bullets plowed through the windows of the convenience store spraying slivers of glass all over us and on the street around us. Terrified, confused and in deep shock, Tracy ran toward George, who was lying on his back on the pavement. I’ll never forget what happened next for as long as I live. Running innocently toward George Koontz, Tracy ignored the stinging wall of hot lead as if it wasn’t there. Dozens of bullets tore through her young body knocking her backward as if a strong wind had tossed her aside. The police investigators told me later that Tracy was dead before her body hit the ground. Completely frantic, out of my mind, I ran toward the men who’d stopped shooting and were running toward us. I wanted to grab them, take their guns, and give them the same treatment they’d given George Koontz and my daughter. Before I could do anything, except hit at them with my clenched fists, they were upon me. Screaming hysterically, I called them every bad name that I was familiar with. All I could think of was my dead daughter lying there in the parking lot with her young life blasted from her. I was frantic and in a state of despair that rendered me helpless. “Crap!” I heard the voice plainly then, and I can hear it now. The voice sounded stressed, nervous and it sounded familiar, except I couldn’t fix the voice to a face. “You shot the girl, you stupid bastard,” another man said. “You killed the girl. Killing George was bad enough. The cops will really be after us now. Get the other girl. We may need her as a hostage.” That was the last straw and even though two of them held me securely, I managed to scratch, poke and hit until they let me go. “No,” I yelled, “You can’t take my baby away from me. You killed Tracy and I’m going to kill you if it’s the last thing I do.” “Bitch,” one of them said rubbing his face where I’d scratched him. I’d torn part of the ski mask away from his face and I could see deep gray eyes, bushy eyebrows, and a hawkish nose. Shoving me with his left hand, he hit me on the head with the barrel of his gun. Willard had beaten me many times and I’d thought that was bad, however, that blow that I received to my head was the most horrible thing I’ve ever suffered. The pressure from the blow sent me reeling backwards as blackness blanketed with small dancing bright lights enveloped my vision. Struggling desperately to keep on my feet, I felt my legs go numb. Numbness was something that I’ll never forget. It swept up my legs into my stomach and was joined by a tingling sensation like a million needles being stuck into my skin that cascaded down from my head. My head was deadened by the time I realized that I was on the ground. Hearing voices that sounded far away, I tried to focus my mind on them and was unable to do so. Fighting desperately to stay conscious, I struggled to keep my eyes open, to keep my ears working and to get another look at the men that had killed my daughter. Even though my vision was blurry, almost non-existent, I did manage to get a glimpse of them. My body was without sensation and the needles were so painful that I could only manage to open my eyes for a brief few seconds before being forced to close them again. I was breathing fast, my heart raced and I knew I was dying. One man was wearing cowboy boots, the kind with the designs sown into them. Another thing I remembered was a silver belt buckle with a bull’s head on it. “Jennifer will make the perfect hostage,” someone said. The voice was that of a woman and I heard a door slam. Her voice sounded familiar. I passed out then and didn’t remember anything more until I awakened in the hospital sixteen hours later. Angela Carlisle visited me in the hospital as soon as someone at the hospital notified her that I was awake. We lived in a small Kentucky town called Cold River and they could only afford two full-time detectives. Angela was one of those detectives. Displaying her badge and identifying herself, she asked me how I was. Unable to talk very well, I told her what had happened as best as I could. I’d suffered a mild concussion, if there is such a thing, and the doctors didn’t want me to be disturbed. I insisted that I wanted, needed to talk to Angela and they gave us fifteen minutes. In that brief time, I told her everything I could remember. I wanted Jennifer back. I wanted her back home with me and I wanted those people who’d taken her dead, or in prison. I didn’t care which. Convinced that I’d feel better if they were in Hell, I vowed that I’d put them there, if the opportunity ever presented itself. Angela Carlisle didn’t look like a cop. She reminded me of one of Humphrey Bogart’s female companions and I expected him to walk in through the door at any moment. Tall, with long blond hair, large, deep blue eyes, slightly high cheekbones and a light tan that was hardly noticeable, she was sexy with a figure that would entice Einstein. In a small town, everyone knew all the cops and Angela was no exception. I’d met her at the library once and we’d exchanged a few words. Angela was sweet, kind, and nice. Standing next to my hospital bed looking down at me with a notebook and pen in her hand, she asked, “So, Mrs. Reagan, you don’t remember anything about any of those men; do you?” “They wore ski masks and I was out most of the time,” I answered. “I know that. I just thought maybe you might have seen something about them that would help us find out who they were.” Angela waved the notebook around, back and forth, as she spoke. “Cowboy boots,” I said. “One of them wore cowboy boots and another, or the same one had a belt buckle with a silver bull’s head on it. I saw it when he stooped down to examine me. I guess he was wondering if I was dead, or just hurt bad.” “The arrival of the police units scared them off,” she replied. “They were gone before the officers got there.” “How unfortunate,” I told her and I had the feeling that she could detect the anger in my voice. “I mean, I wish that they’d been able to catch them before they took my little girl away.” “I’m sorry, very sorry,” Angela said, and I believed her. She seemed to be the type that took her work seriously and became involved with people. I decided right then and there that Angela might just be someone that could help me get Jennifer back. Over the next three years, we’d become the best of friends. We both had the same initiative, the same objective in mind, finding my daughter, and putting the men who’d kidnapped her behind bars, or in their graves. “One of them was a woman,” I said. “I remember hearing her say something just after they hit me and I passed out.” “Did her voice sound old or young?” “Not too old,” I concluded. “She might have been in her thirties or older.” “That’s helpful,” Angela said, serious-like. “Anything else that might help us find them, and your daughter?” “The woman had red hair.” “How do you know that?” “A few strands were hanging out from under her ski-mask,” I told her as images of the incident painfully popped in and out of my mind presenting a confusing disarray of scenes that reminded me of a distant television station. Something else about that woman bothered me. I felt as if I knew her. I just couldn’t place where I’d seen her before. “You have a good memory,” Angela replied, “even when you’re under a lot of stress.” “Anything else, Sheila?” Searching my memory, telling myself that Jennifer’s life might depend on what I remembered about the kidnapping, I kept thinking about the white van. I’d already told Angela everything that I could remember about it, or at least I thought that I had. Then, I remembered something else. “That white van had Kentucky plates,” I suddenly recalled. “And the tires were muddy with what I think was red clay. In fact, I’m sure that it was red clay. I remember that my uncle used to live over around Highland and when we visited him when we were kids, we used to make clay dolls from that stuff. It’s abundant in some parts of this county, mostly in the knobs.” “That might be a good clue,” Angela said, surprised. “At least, it’s something to give us a little hope.” “I could use a lot of hope,” I said, fighting back the tears. “I know,” Angela said, softly. “I know.” We talked for more than fifteen minutes and the nurse had to ask Angela to leave so I could rest. Before Angela left the room, I was asleep. The sleep was deep, dreamless, and later, I realized that all the drugs they’d given me for pain had given me the best rest I ever had. On Thursday, three days after the incident, I was released and told that I could go home. Angela was there to help me and I was grateful for her help because I didn’t have any family in town or friends that could help me. On the way home, I wanted to ask Angela several questions. Who were the people that had killed George, killed my young daughter, kidnapped Jennifer, and assaulted me. How could anyone do such things? I knew Angela didn’t have an answer for me so I told myself that I’d eventually find my own answers. I wouldn’t give up until I did have the answers to those and other questions that puzzled me. During the next few weeks, I devoted all my spare time to circulating posters with Jennifer’s picture on it to every business and public place in a fifty-mile radius. The rest of the time I spent on the Internet researching missing persons organizations, sending information to anyone that would listen to me and I did a lot of praying for Jennifer and myself. I’d taken two weeks off from my job at the hospital where I worked as a nurse so I could devote my time to recovering from my ordeal, and looking for Jennifer. As the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, Angela visited me almost every day informing me of any progress that the investigators had made, no matter how trivial it was. Each day, we asked ourselves the same questions repeatedly never growing tired of hearing ourselves ask those questions. Who were the robbers? Where was Jennifer? Frustrated that we weren’t getting answers to those two questions, we kept telling each other encouragingly, that we’d know the answers someday. I had to believe that because it was the only hope I had that I’d see Jennifer again. Four months after the terrible incident, Angela called and said they’d had a break in the case. They’d located the van. Optimistic, I listened as she told me that they’d found the van near Highland on a farm owned by a man named Barney Larson. He claimed that someone had borrowed the van and that they’d returned it the next night. He hadn’t reported the vehicle as stolen and he didn’t have an alibi for his whereabouts that day. The police had arrested him on suspicion and he was at the police station. Angela wanted me to come down to the station and see if I could recognize him as one of my assailants. I’d never been in a police station before. My only knowledge of them was from what I’d seen in the movies and on television. Expecting a lineup of suspects, I was somewhat surprised when Angela escorted me to a small room with a window in it. I was told that it was a window with a mirrored surface on the other side. We could see through the window and into the room on the other side, but people in the room couldn’t see us and I was appreciative of that. Walking up to the window, I immediately recognized the belt buckle. My heart racing, my mind suddenly going blank, I could only stare at him. Attempting to imagine that face with a ski mask over it was difficult. However, I managed to put a quick image together and when I had it clearly in my mind, I was almost convinced that Larson was one of the robbers. Jubilant, I told Angela that I was almost certain that he was one of the killers. Angela gave me a look that told me that what I’d said wasn’t enough to charge the man. Being almost sure wasn’t good enough. I was sorry that I couldn’t definitely say that he was the man that had done all those horrible things. “He claims that he doesn’t know anything about the robbery,” Angela told me. I wanted to protest. I didn’t want the police to let him go. Something told me that he might be the only known link with my daughter, Jennifer. Any link was better than none at all. Of course, he was going to say that he was innocent. All criminals denied involvement in a crime. The prison system was crowded with innocent people. Despondent, we watched him being led out of the room. I could hear his protests; hear his anger, and his threats about suing for false arrest even as he was pulled down the hallway. His gruff voice sounded vaguely familiar. “He sounds like the man that had that weird shotgun,” I mumbled. “If it weren’t for that damn mask, I could identify him.” “What weird gun?” Angela looked at me with eyebrows raised and I realized then that I’d forgotten to tell her about the shotgun. “The automatic shotgun,” I replied feeling stupid for not remembering it. I knew that every clue was important. “One of the men, and I think it was this one, had one of those automatic assault shotguns with the pistol grip and all that. He was big with wide-shoulders, like the man that was just here.” “You can’t identify him, though,” Angela said, soothingly. She knew I was angry, desperate to find Jennifer, clawing for any clue no matter how slight, and she sympathized with me. “He had a mask on and you can’t say for sure that he’s the man unless we can find that shotgun and it has his prints on it.” “I guess not,” I said as I followed her out of the room and down the long hallway. Another hopeful prospect had ended in failure. “They didn’t find anything at his house or in the van that would connect him with the crime; did they?” “We’re still working on it. So far, the lab boys haven’t turned up anything. He wasn’t married or didn’t have a family. Living alone, he raised a few cattle, hogs and chickens to make a living. It doesn’t look like he had much money. If he was a robber, then he didn’t have time to spend any of it.” “Could be that you caught him before he had time to spend any money from the robbery,” I commented. “What can we do now?” “Keep looking for them,” Angela said, sighing deeply. “The State Police, FBI and every police officer in the country are looking for those men, and Jennifer. Let’s hope they haven’t taken her out of the county yet.” I hoped that too and for the next several months, I wondered if Jennifer was all right, if she was still alive and if I would ever see her again. Working during the day, I spent my evenings sending email to people that I thought might help me find her. As the months zoomed by and the police still hadn’t found her, I grew more depressed, despondent, and worried. Three years ago, I’d had a family and now I had nobody but myself. Sitting alone one night three years after Jennifer was abducted, I prayed to God as I always did and begged him to help me find her. Alone, desperate, and helpless, I wondered if he were listening. After three years, I began thinking about Willard. I don’t know why because he sure wasn’t thinking about me. I suppose that even though he was mean to me, I reckoned that he should know that Jennifer was missing and about the other things that happened. After some consideration, I figured that he wouldn’t care about us anyway. Pushing his memories into the back of my mind as far as I could, I decided that I didn’t want to think about Willard anymore. He had what he wanted and I wasn’t included. Angela kept in contact and visited me at least a couple of times a week helping to strengthen my resolve in finding Jennifer. When I felt down, she was always there to help me feel better and to boost my spirits. What she’d had to tell me really helped to allay my fears that I’d never see Jennifer again. Police detectives and the FBI had been watching Larson. Someone had transferred twenty thousand dollars into his bank account recently and Larson had been making a few improvements in his life. Selling the van, he’d purchased a newer car and had made some improvements on his home. The bank had reported the deposit to the IRS and they’d questioned Larson about where the money came from. Larson had told them the money came from livestock sales. He didn’t have receipts or a bill of sale to prove it. Indicating that he hadn’t thought about the plan very well, he hastily told them that he’d dealt on a verbal agreement basis. The buyer got the cattle, hogs and a few sheep and they transferred the money into his account. The IRS and the FBI had been able to trace the transaction. The money had been deposited in a bank in Lebanon, Ohio under a phony name. A few days later, someone had transferred it to Larson’s account. Angela was hopeful that the FBI would be able to coerce Larson into telling them about the robbery and where Jennifer was if they put enough pressure on him. Larson had paid the IRS for all the due taxes, so he really hadn’t committed any crime except he couldn’t prove who had given him the money and why. It appeared that we’d reached another dead end. At dinner that evening, in a small restaurant on Main Street, Angela attempted to make me feel better. For some reason, something kept bothering me. After three years, we still didn’t know who the four people were that had committed those crimes and kidnapped Jennifer. Larson was an excellent suspect and even the FBI thought he was involved. The question remained; was Larson one of the people that had committed those horrible crimes? If so, who were the other three people, and where were they. “The FBI thinks that eventually, Larson will contact the others, especially when he needs more money,” Angela explained. “They believe that the gang has committed other robberies. Curiously, robberies in the area have subsided in the last few years indicating that they were the ones robbing small businesses. Hitting small retail stores, isolated gas stations and places like that seems to have been their trademark. When they’re out of cash, they’ll act again. We have to be ready to follow them. I have a funny feeling they’ll lead us to Jennifer. You can also bet Larson will be with them.” I hoped Angela was right about that. I didn’t say anything, though. I had reason not to say anything. Worrying more than ever, I sat there silently picking at my food, swallowing a few bites when I could choke it down as tears filled my eyes and love for Jennifer filled my heart. A secret so bizarre that it chilled my blood just to think about it inundated my thoughts and transfixed my mind so that it was difficult for me to think. I knew that I couldn’t tell Angela. To do so would mean putting Jennifer in even more danger. “What’s wrong, Sheila?” Angela sat across the table from me staring at me as if I’d done something wrong and in truth, I had done something that I should not have done because I couldn’t tell her my terrible secret no matter how much she pried. “What’s bothering you? You’ve been quiet all evening.” “Nothing, nothing at all,” I said, lying. “I’m just tired and depressed.” I wasn’t lying about being depressed. I really was. The years of searching, listening for news that might tell me where Jennifer was and staying awake for long hours had taken it’s toll. “Come on, Sheila,” Angela pleaded. “We’re best friends. We’re in this together, all the way to the end. You have to trust me because that’s the only way that I can help you. Now, what’s bothering you? Did someone threaten you, or something?” “Nothing like that,” I told her and that was the truth. Then I realized that Jennifer couldn’t be in any more danger than she already was. At least I knew that she was alive or at least I thought she was alive. Angela was right. We were best friends and friends had to trust each other. Picking up my purse from the empty chair next to me, I pulled out a long envelope and handed it to her. Wondering if I’d made the right decision, a decision of life and death, I waited as she opened it and read it. “Oh, my God,” Angela remarked after she’d read it. “Have you showed this to anyone else?” “Of course not,” I stammered. “I was reluctant to show it to you.” “We have to move fast,” Angela said and I knew that her mind was already working like a steam engine pulling loaded cars uphill. Angela was like that. When her brain got going, it was hard to slow it down. “What can we do?” I picked up the letter and read it again as Angela sat thinking about our problem. In bold letters that I thought had been printed on a computer, I read the letter for the sixteenth time. IF YOU WANT TO SEE JENNIFER ALIVE AGAIN, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE. LEAVE FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS IN CASH IN A HEAVY GARBAGE BAG AT THE INTERSECTION OF HOVIS AND MAIN AT ELEVEN THIRTY ON THE TWENTY-NINTH. COME ALONE. LEAVE THE AREA IMMEDIATELY. INSTRUCTIONS WILL FOLLOW TELLING YOU HOW TO RECOVER JENNIFER. A FRIEND “I can’t afford fifty thousand dollars,” I told Angela. “Even if I mortgaged my house, I wouldn’t get that much. I don’t know what to do. They didn’t leave a telephone number or any place to contact them.” “No return address either, but it was postmarked in Lebanon, Ohio. Maybe that means something.” “I hope so,” I said not knowing anything else to say. “I most certainly hope so.” “I have a plan,” Angela said and I hoped that it was a good one. “Someone transferred money into Larson’s account from Lebanon, Ohio. Maybe there’s a connection. I’ll alert the FBI to be aware that Larson may be on the move soon. The rest of the plan will involve you. Are you willing to take a small risk to get your daughter back, Sheila?” Of course, I was willing to take risks. I’d do anything to get Jennifer back. On the twenty-ninth of the month at eleven fifteen, I was proving it. After parking my car a few blocks away from the intersection, I walked down the street holding a large garbage bag in my hand wondering what I’d say if someone stopped me. Knowing that dozens of FBI agents and plain-clothes police officers were in houses, in alleys and in parked cars all around me didn’t make things any easier. It took me fourteen minutes to walk the few blocks to the intersection. The streets were nearly deserted and I didn’t see a soul around me. Feeling alone, I wondered if Larson or someone else that belonged to the gang was out there watching me. Dropping the bag on the street next to some trashcans, I turned around and surveyed the area. Wondering if I should wait until eleven thirty exactly, I stood thinking a few minutes before continuing up the street toward my car. Nearing the top of the hill, I turned around and looked back down toward the intersection. The bag was gone. It had happened that quickly. Unlocking my car, I got in and started the engine, then waited keeping my eyes on the green Malibu in front of me. Two dark heads, shadows, appeared where none had been before. Someone started the engine and I saw exhaust fumes plummeting up from the tailpipe obstructing my view through the rear window. When the fog cleared, I saw another vehicle pull out from a side street near the intersection and turn left away from where I was. The green Malibu pulled out without it’s headlights on and I followed it. The chase was on. We were following whoever had taken the bag. Turning on the heater because of the cool night, I waited for the warm air to soothe the chill that seemed to enshroud my trembling body. “Everything’s going according to plan, so far,” a sweet voice said from the back seat. I glanced into the rearview mirror happy to see Angela’s face. “Just keep driving, Sheila and hang back. Let the FBI in the Malibu do the tracking. We’ll just follow at a reasonable distance.” I knew I could handle that because that clown in the car that had picked up the trash bag could lead us to my daughter, but he didn’t. I heard the frantic, confused conversation between the FBI agents and the locals on a portable police radio that Angela had as Larson drove back to his farm followed by more than fifty law enforcement officers. I was aghast, confused, and disoriented. What were we going to do now? Their plan had been to pick up the money, drive back to the farm and then Larson would call the other members of the gang and let them know that he had the money. We figured that it was Larson in the car because it was registered to him. Now, I knew we were in a fix and that we’d made a fatal mistake. The trash bag was stuffed with square pieces of newspapers. Once he discovered the deception, he was sure to call the other members and they’d kill Jennifer. Horrified, I glanced back at Angela as the car in front of me turned off on a dirt road. In the distance, even in the dark, I could see Larson or whoever was driving his car turn on another long dirt road. I followed the FBI car in front of me. “Follow the FBI car,” Angela said and I could detect a tinge of concern in her voice and saw a hint of disappointment on her beautiful face. “Keep on his tail. We’ll be at the FBI stakeout in a minute.” “What can we do now? If he finds that newspaper and calls someone, then Jennifer is dead.” “I know,” Angela said, “but let’s see what the FBI have in mind.” The long graveled road led to an old farmhouse that was on the farm next to where Larson lived. Both houses sat on a hill. The houses were more than two miles apart and were separated by a deep, wooded hollow. The FBI had set up an operations center in the old farmhouse where they could watch Larson. By the time we’d reached the front porch, more than twenty cars had parked in the yard in front of the house. Angela introduced me to Jason Crowe, the FBI agent in charge of the operation. Crowe was tall, dark haired with blue eyes and a wry grin. He seemed anxious, maybe worried, but calm. “Tough break,” he said as he led us though the front room where a couple of agents sat at computer terminals with their faces illuminated by the computer monitors. Jason directed us into the back room where various listening devices and telephone monitoring equipment had been installed. “We monitor all cell phone calls that occur in this area. As far as we can determine, Larson doesn’t have any kind of telephone so we’re monitoring the CB and other radio bands just in case he might be using other forms of communication. Larson may go to a telephone booth later to make the call. We can only locate one public telephone in a five-mile radius and that’s at Skyline Restaurant on top of the hill on US 127. That telephone has a tap on it. We can hear him if he calls anyone from there.” “What are all the satellite dishes for?” I was mesmerized, overwhelmed, and baffled by all the electronic equipment. Several agents were sitting at tables in front of banks of electronic equipment with headphones on occasionally writing notes. “Even though his house is more than two miles away, we can eavesdrop on him, hear everything that goes on over there. Those two large parabolic reflectors out there make that possible. They are the most powerful microphones in the world. Coupled with powerful amplifiers here in the house, they allow us to hear a cricket chirping more than two miles away.” “Amazing,” I said and I meant it. If all that would help get Jennifer back then I didn’t care how much of the taxpayer’s money they spent. After all, I’d contributed some of it to the IRS, and I’d paid plenty of taxes in my lifetime. One of the operators stood up and walked over to Jason. “He’s making a call. Larson has a cell phone. We have the cell phone communications plugged in now and we can hear him on the big microphone, the ear.” We stood frozen in our tracks as they put it on a speaker where we all could hear it. I noticed that the conversation was being taped. I heard Larson speak and my blood ran cold, my heart raced and before the conversation was over, I would learn of the evil that men really do. It was unbelievable. “Yeah,” Larson said. “Just a bunch of newspapers all cut up to look and feel like money. We’ve been had.” “Are you sure you weren’t followed?” The second voice sounded familiar to me and I wanted to scream. That passed quickly as the silent scream hung down there in the bottom of my throat and wouldn’t come up. Wanting to vomit, I tried to think about what was happening and the urge drained away along with my strength. My legs felt weak, my hands numb, and my throat dry. “Red haired woman,” I mumbled. Crowe either ignored me or didn’t hear me. The voice on the speaker was loud, clear and we could hear everything that was said. Angela looked at me with a quivering lip that told me she had heard me. Angela leaned close with her face next to my ear. “What are you talking about?” “Red haired woman. That’s her.” “You’re kidding?” “I’m serious,” I said and I meant that, too. The voice on the speaker was the same as the woman I’d heard at the scene of the crime. “Are you absolutely sure you weren’t followed?” Her voice boomed from the speaker and sent cold chills all over me. Shivering, I stood wondering if Jennifer was listening to the conversation, too. “Yeah, I’m sure. Nobody followed me, Barbara. What do we do now? I’m strapped for cash. Do we kill the kid and pull a few jobs before heading west?” “Nah, I’ll give that woman, Jennifer’s mother, a call and throw a little scare into her. Knowing that we are serious this time, she’ll come up with the money. I can’t visualize her pulling something like this. Maybe we should send her one of Jennifer’s fingers. Maybe that will convince her to cooperate.” “Red-haired woman,” I said. “Barbara Miller.” “What’s are you saying? Do you know her?” Angela leaned in closer so she could hear me above the voices on the speaker. “Tell me what you know, Sheila. Jennifer’s life is in danger.” “Barbara Miller was my husband’s girlfriend, the one he ran off with.” “She’s the mastermind behind the gang that hit the jewelry store,” Angela said, excited. “That means that your husband was in the gang that kidnapped Jennifer. Jennifer is probably with him right now.” Angela was right. Things were beginning to make sense. As I stood listening to that voice, succumbing to the anger that was swelling inside me, I remembered many things that hadn’t made sense before. The shotgun, the rough talk, the weird belt buckle and the cowboy boots all made more sense than they had before. For three years, I’d been focused on finding Jennifer, wondering if she was alive or dead and that obsession had blocked many things from my memory. “Motorcycle gang,” I replied half in shock and half crazy with fear for Jennifer because now I knew just what kind of danger she was in. “Motorcycle gang? What about it?” Agent Crow was fully aware of our conversation now. “What are you saying, Ms. Reagan?” “It all makes sense, if there is any sense in anything such as has happened to me in the last several years. My husband was interested in riding motorcycles. His secretary at work liked to ride, too and he told me a couple of times that she could handle a bike as well as any man. Frankly, I never thought much about it. He’d go away for the weekend and I just thought he was out with his so-called friends drinking, using drugs, and having a good time. He’d come home drunk beat me and harass the kids until he passed out. After a long while, I filed charges against him and he left. I remember that he mentioned that Barbara had long, red hair.” “Barbara Miller was the woman her husband left with,” Angela told Crowe. “Sheila, who were the other two men that he ran around with? I mean, we know that one of them was Larson and that’s a fact. Who was the other one?” Jason Crowe stepped closer to me attempting to hear my soft voice over the conversation on the speaker. That conversation was being recorded and they could listen to it later. Jason felt that it was more important to learn everything he could from me. I wanted to cooperate. I wanted Jennifer back. I was thinking fast trying to remember every detail about what my husband had told me. He’d never talked about the motorcycle club much except that they went to parties, hung out at bars and occasionally attended meetings with other bikers. He had mentioned Barbara Miller and Larson a couple of times. What was the other name I’d heard him say? Was it Lyle? Maybe Lyle Bennett. At that moment, the room was noisy, distracting and my mind was racing trying to recall that name. I was sure he’d mentioned Lyle a couple of times when he was drunk and for some reason, I thought that his last name was Bennett. “Lyle Bennett,” I told Crowe. “I think my husband said his name was Lyle Bennett. Bennett had shown my husband a shotgun and Willard, my husband, wanted to buy one like it. I made a fuss and told him he didn’t need a gun. Angry, he showed me a picture of it in one of those biker magazines. In fact, one of the men at the robbery had one exactly like it. I don’t know why I haven’t remembered him showing me that picture before.” “You were stressed,” Crowe said, passionately, “and stressed people often have a hard time remembering things. Where did he meet this Bennett character?” I couldn’t believe what I was thinking. It was all coming at me at one time. Once I’d started to remember things, it all came back to me as if I were reading it from a book. “Lebanon, Ohio,” I replied. “He met Bennett and Larson in Lebanon, Ohio at a bikers meeting. I’m sure of it.” “That does it,” Angela said. “We’ll have the FBI and State Police check for them in Lebanon. They probably are listed in the phone book.” Before she could continue speaking, one of the agents interrupted the conversation. “Larson is calling a number in Morrow, Ohio, Jason. We have an address. Do you want me to notify the local office in Cincinnati?” “Yes, get them on it right away and let them know that the gang may have a female hostage.” Regardless of how I felt about my inability to remember all that I’d just recalled until now, things really moved fast after I told the FBI what I did remember. Disgusted with myself because I’d locked all those important facts in the back of my mind, I was appreciative that I had finally remembered it. After Larson finished his conversation, the FBI moved in and arrested him. Two hours later, we received word from the FBI office in Cincinnati that they’d arrested the other three people and rescued Jennifer. She was fine and unharmed despite the fact that her own father had kept her imprisoned for over three years. Dreading the day I’d have to face Willard Reagan in court, I waited at the bus station for Jennifer. Finally, I saw her as she got off the bus. Accompanied by an FBI agent, she walked toward me. I walked toward her and we were reunited at last. Jennifer was much older and I could see that the experience had dampened her smile and crippled her spirits. Hoping that time would heal her wounds, I promised myself that she’d never be far from me for the rest of my life. I knew deep down inside that neither of us would ever forget that her father had caused the death of my other daughter, Tracy, and had kept Jennifer captive for over three years. No matter what I had to do, I vowed right there that I would do it, if it meant that he would spend the rest of his life in prison. As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. Jennifer and me are happy now that we’re together again. I wish things could have been different, but sometimes we don’t have any control over our lives especially, when others take control. Convicted of murder, Willard Reagan, Barbara Miller, Barney Larson and Lyle Bennett all are in prison awaiting their journey to the gas chamber and I can’t say that I’m sorry about that. If it hadn’t been for their greed, I’d have two daughters instead of one. Luckily, my Faded Memories came back to me just in time to save Jennifer. Without them, she might still be a prisoner. The truth is that she’s here with me now, and that is all that matters. The End
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