No One Saw – Beverly Long

With a week’s worth of mail in one hand, A.L. McKittridge unlocked his apartment door with the other. Then he dragged his carry-on suitcase inside, almost tripping over Felix, who had uncharacteristically left his spot by the window where the late afternoon sun poured in. He tossed the collection of envelopes and free weekly newspapers onto his kitchen table and bent down to scratch his cat. “You must have missed me,” he said. “Wasn’t Rena nice to you?” His partner had sent a text every day. Always a picture. Felix eating. Felix taking a dump. Felix giving himself a bath. No messages. Just visual confirmation that all was well while he was off in sunny California, taking a vacation for the first time in four years. I can take care of your damn cat, she’d insisted. And while he hadn’t wanted to bother her because she’d have plenty to do picking up the slack at work, she was the only one he felt he could ask.

His ex-wife Jacqui would have said no. His just turned seventeen-year-old daughter, Traci, would have been willing but he hadn’t liked the idea of her coming round to an empty apartment on her own. Baywood, Wisconsin—population fifty thousand and change—was generally pretty safe but he didn’t believe in taking chances. Not with Traci’s safety. She’d been back in school for just a week. Her senior year. How the hell was that even possible? College was less than a year away. No wonder his knees ached. He was getting old. Or maybe it was flying coach for four hours.

But the trip had been worth it. Tess had wanted to see the ocean. Wanted to face her nemesis, she’d claimed. And she’d been a champ. Had stood on the beach where less than a year earlier, she’d almost died after a shark had ripped off a sizable portion of her left arm. Had lifted her pretty face to the wind and stared out into the vast Pacific. She hadn’t surfed. Said she wasn’t ready for that yet. But he was pretty confident that she’d gotten the closure that she’d been looking for. She’d slept almost the entire flight home, her head resting on A.

L.’s shoulder. On the hour-plus drive from Madison to Baywood, she’d been awake but quiet. When he’d dropped her off at her house, she hadn’t asked him in. He wasn’t offended. He’d have said no anyway. After a week together, they could probably both benefit from a little space. Their relationship was just months old and while the sex was great and the conversation even better, neither of them wanted to screw it up by jumping in too fast or too deep. Now he had groceries to buy and laundry to do. It was back to work tomorrow.

He grabbed the handle of his suitcase and was halfway down the hall when his cell rang. He looked at the number. Rena. Probably wanted to make sure he was home and Felix-watch was over. “McKittridge,” he answered. “Where are you?” “Home.” “Oh, thank God.” He let go of his suitcase handle. Something was wrong. “What’s up?” he asked.

“We’ve got a missing kid. Five-year-old female. Lakeside Learning Center.” Missing kid. Fuck. He glanced at his watch. Just after 6:00. That meant they had less than two hours of daylight left. “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” The Lakeside Learning Center on Oak Avenue had a fancier name than building.

It was a two-story building with brown clapboard siding on the first floor and tan vinyl siding on the second. There wasn’t a lake in sight. The backyard was fenced with something a bit nicer than chain link but not much. Inside the fence was standard playground equipment: several small plastic playhouses, a sandbox on legs and a swing set. The building was located at the end of the block in a mixed-use zone. Across from the front door and on the left were single-person homes. To the right, directly across Wacker Avenue, was a sandwich shop, and kitty-corner was a psychic who could only see the future on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A.L. took all this in as he beached his SUV in a no parking zone.

Stepped over the yellow tape and made a quick stop to sign in with the cop who was at the door. The guy’s job was to ensure that there was a record of everybody who entered and exited the crime scene. Once he was inside, his first impression was that the inside was much better than the outside. The interior had been gutted, erasing all signs that this had once been the downstairs of a 1960s two-story home. There was a large open space to his right. On the far wall hung a big-screen television and on the wall directly opposite the front door were rows of shelves, four high, stacked with books, games and small toys. It was painted in a cheery yellow and white and the floor was a light gray tile. There was plenty of natural light coming through the front windows. The hallway he was standing in ran the entire length of the building and ended in a back door. There was a small office area to his left.

The door was open and there was a desk with a couple guest chairs. The space looked no bigger than ten feet by ten feet and was currently empty. He sent Rena a text. Here. A door at the far end of the hallway opened and Rena and a woman, middle-aged and white, dressed in khaki pants and a dark green button-down shirt, appeared. Rena waved at him and led the woman in his direction. “This is my partner, Detective McKittridge,” she said to the woman. She looked at A.L. “Alice Quest.

Owner and director of Lakeside Learning Center.” A.L. extended a hand to the woman. She shook it without saying anything. “If you can excuse us,” Rena said to the woman. “I’d like to take a minute and bring Detective McKittridge up to speed.” Alice nodded and stepped into the office. She pulled the door shut but not all the way. Rena motioned for A.

L. to follow her. She crossed the big room and stopped under the television. “What do we have?” he asked. “Emma Whitman is a five-year-old female who has attended Lakeside Learning Center for the last two years. Her grandmother, Elaine Broadstreet, drops her off on Mondays and Wednesdays between 7:15 and 7:30.” Today was Wednesday. “Did that happen today?” “I have this secondhand, via her son-in-law who spoke to her minutes before I got here. It did.” The hair on the back of A.

L.’s neck stood up. When Traci had been little, she’d gone to day care. Not at Lakeside Learning Center. Her place had been bigger. “How many kids are here?” he asked. “Forty. No one younger than three. No one older than five. They have two rooms, twenty kids to a room.

Threes and early fours in one room. Older fours and fives in the other. Two staff members in each room. So four teachers. And a cook who works a few hours midday. And then there’s Alice. She fills in when a staff member needs a break or if someone is ill.” Small operation. That didn’t mean bad. “Where are the other staff?” “Majority of the kids get picked up by 5:30.

According to Alice, she covers the center by herself from 5:30 to 6:00 most days to save on payroll costs. Emma Whitman is generally one of the last ones to be picked up. Everybody else was gone tonight and she’d already locked the outside door around 5:45 when the father pulled up and pounded on the door. At first, she assumed that somebody else had already picked up Emma. But once Troy called his wife and the grandmother, the only other people allowed to pick her up, she called Kara Wiese, one of Emma’s teachers, who said that Emma hadn’t been there all day. That was the first time Alice had thought about the fact that the parents had not reported an absence. She’d been covering for an ill staff member in the classroom that Emma is not assigned to.” Perfect fucking storm. “She quickly called the other two teachers and the cook, everyone who’d worked today, just to verify that nobody had seen Emma. When they hadn’t, she called the police,” Rena said.

“Officers Pink and Taylor responded and secured the scene and began a room-by-room search. I arrived at the same time as Leah Whitman, mother of Emma Whitman.” “When the parent or grandparent or whoever drops off, do they deliver that child to the assigned room?” “I asked that. Alice said that’s what they want to have happen. But there are times, when a parent is in a hurry, that they will leave the child in this general area.” She waved her hand toward the front door. “When they do that, they are supposed to do two things. One, sign a clipboard that normally hangs there,” she said, pointing to the wall, right outside the office door, “and two, make sure they connect to a staff person, that somebody knows there is a child who needs to be escorted to his or her room.” “What happened with Emma?” “Again, according to Troy Whitman, Mrs. Broadstreet supposedly arrived around 7:15 this morning.

She walked Emma into the building. There she saw Emma’s teacher, Kara Wiese, standing in the doorway of the office, and left Emma with her. Then she went to work at her job at Milo’s Motors.” He knew the place. It was a used car dealership on the south side of town. “Did the grandmother sign in?” “There’s no record of it.” Rena crossed the room and picked something up from a table. She returned with the clipboard and sign-in sheet, already in a closed and tagged evidence bag. She showed it to A.L.

There were two signatures. Neither of them were Elaine Broadstreet. “I’ve also already bagged and tagged the sign-in sheets located in the two classrooms,” Rena said. “Mrs. Broadstreet isn’t here?” “No. She’s on her way.” “Where are the parents right now?” A.L. asked. “Troy and Leah are in Classroom 1.

They’re shook.” It was a parent’s worst nightmare. He studied the space. The office was maybe six feet from the front door. “You said that Alice called Kara Wiese to see if Emma was here today.” “Yes. Because Alice already had Mrs. Broadstreet’s version of events via Troy, she asked Kara about it.” “And what did Kara say?” Rena’s eyes looked troubled. “That she never saw Mrs.

Broadstreet or Emma this morning.” Somebody was lying or had a real shitty memory. “Height and weight of child?” he asked. “Three-feet-two-inches and forty-four pounds. They had a well-child visit just three weeks ago,” Rena added, to explain the exactness. “She was wearing blue jeans, a pink shirt with a unicorn on it, a gray lightweight hoodie and pink-and-white tennis shoes. And we’ve got a ton of pictures, off the parents’ phones. I had them send me a couple of the best ones.” She held out her phone for A.L.

to see. He looked. Sweet kid. Brown hair to her shoulders, more curly than straight. Round face. Big blue eyes. “Cameras?” A.L. asked, looking around. “No.

” “The whole building has been searched?” A.L. asked. “Yes. Inside and the immediate perimeter of the building.” It would have been too fucking easy if she’d been hiding in a closet. “So we’ve got a five-year-old who hasn’t been seen for over ten hours?” A.L. said. That had to be their priority.

Find the kid. Then figure out what had happened and who was at fault. The temperature in Baywood had been a pleasant seventy-six today, according to the weather app on his phone. He’d checked it at the airport. Tonight it would get down to midfifties. Not great for a kid wearing what Rena had described. He looked down the long hallway that led to the back door. Behind the center was a parking lot for staff and beyond that was rural Wisconsin—lots of corn and beans that hadn’t yet been harvested and even some pastureland for dairy cows. If the child had been dropped off this morning but never found her way to a classroom, was it possible that she’d somehow made her way out the door and wandered off somewhere? Or had someone taken her? Both were terrifying thoughts. “I’ve already reached out to the state police,” Rena added.

“And made a request to the state Justice Department to issue an Amber Alert.” That was how it worked. The police couldn’t unilaterally issue an Amber Alert. They requested and the Justice Department approved. Most people thought about Amber Alerts in connection to motor vehicles, assuming the purpose was to get as many eyes watching for a particular vehicle on the road. However, it could be used anytime a child seventeen or under was believed to be at risk of serious harm or death and if there was enough information to make it worthwhile. Here they had location and time of disappearance and a good description of the child. More than enough. The Amber Alert would be broadcast on radio and television every thirty minutes for the first two hours and then every hour for the next three hours. Also mobile phones would be lighting with a text message and signs on the highway would also share the information.

“Other social media?” he asked. “Post is getting written right now, asking for volunteers to immediately report to this location, but once I knew you were on the way, I waited. Just wanted to make sure we were on the same page. I let Chief Faster know what was going on and he’ll contact the FBI.” She’d accomplished a great deal in less than fifteen minutes. But that was how it worked with missing kids. Balls to the wall from now on out. And while he wasn’t a big fan of Faster, their new chief of police who’d been on the job now for about six months, he should be capable of reaching out to the feds. Getting resources quickly from them would be very helpful. They had experts who could lead the search activities and provide everything from flashlights and snacks to scent-trained dogs.

“The chief said he’d send Ferguson and Blithe,” Rena said. “Faster wants us to focus on figuring out what happened this morning and let the two of them coordinate with the FBI on the search.” That would work. They were both solid detectives. A.L. trusted them. Not as much as he trusted Rena, but neither of them had been his partner for five years. Her phone buzzed and she glanced at it. “Amber Alert is approved,” she said, looking up at him.

“Okay.” She knew as well as he did that once the social media post and/or the Amber Alert went, the press would be on this story like flies on shit. But it would also bring in the volunteers. And they were going to need them for any substantial search activity. “I want to talk to the parents before we push both the alert and all other social media. Tell them we need five minutes.” Rena typed as they walked down the art-lined hallway. They’d had a box—hell, Jacqui might still have it—of similar masterpieces that Traci had created. Every night before he’d left for work—he’d been doing nights in those years—he’d made a big deal out of what Traci had produced that day. What the fuck would he have done if one of those days she simply hadn’t come home? He knocked on the classroom door before pulling it open.

Leah Whitman was perched awkwardly on a small plastic chair. Troy was in the far corner of the room, his back to the door, his cell phone at his ear. He turned when he heard the door and ended his conversation. He put his phone in his pocket as he crossed the room. He was wearing matching blue work pants and shirt and he smelled faintly of oil and sweat. “Any word?” he asked, looking at Rena. “No, sir,” she said. “This is my partner, Detective McKittridge.” She turned to A.L.

“Troy Whitman.” A.L. stuck out his hand. “I’m sorry for the circumstances, sir. But we’re going to do everything we can to find your daughter.” Now the woman stood. “I’m Leah Whitman. This is just terrifying.” “It’s crazy,” Troy said, in a tone that sounded as if he was correcting his wife.

Terrifying? Crazy? For more than ten hours, a five-year-old had been unaccounted for. It was no time to quibble over words. A.L. flipped open his notebook. He wrote the date and by habit, looked at his watch. Notes were always dated and timed. It was twenty-three minutes after six, or 18:23 in military time. Then he did the math, using seven fifteen that morning as the floor. That’s when the clock had started clicking.

Didn’t matter that they’d just heard about it. What mattered was how long the child hadn’t been seen. They were somewhere near the start of hour twelve and that’s what he wrote on the second line. Behind before they’d barely gotten started. “Can you walk me through your day?” A.L. asked. “It was just a day, an ordinary day,” Troy Whitman said. “A few details would be helpful,” A.L.

said, looking up. “Either one of you can start.” “I left the house early,” Leah said. “What do you do, Mrs. Whitman?” Rena asked. “I’m a paralegal at Bailey Shepherd.” The law firm of Bailey Shepherd was located just down the street from the police station. On the rare days that he took time for lunch, he passed it on his way to his favorite diner. “Why did you leave the house early?” “I had…a meeting.” “Where?” “Madison.

” “And what time did it start?” “Why does that matter?” It wasn’t a hard or tricky question. A.L. kept his gaze steady. “Eight o’clock,” Leah said. “Thank you,” A.L. said. “What time did you leave your house?” “Six thirty. Maybe even a few minutes earlier.

Emma was still sleeping when I left. The last thing I did was look into her room.” She turned to her husband. He took the ball. “I woke her up about 6:45. She got dressed and ate a bowl of cereal. She watched a little television while we were waiting for Leah’s mom to pick her up.” “She was late?” Rena asked. “No. We were early.

I guess I was anxious to get going. Leah normally takes care of mornings. I do afternoons. Anyway, Leah’s mom got there and she brought Emma here.” “Anything odd or off about the pickup?” A.L. asked. “No. I mean, I saw her pull up and Emma and I met her at the car. She made a comment about it.

That I hadn’t even given her a chance to come inside.” He looked at his wife. “My mom…repeats herself,” Leah said, almost apologetic. “I guess I’m used to it, but it drives Troy crazy.” “I needed to get to work,” Troy said, his tone testy. “I have to work. Especially…” His voice trailed off. A.L. gave him a minute.

“Especially now. We’re busy,” he said.

.

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