Friday, January 26, 2001
Jenna Leigh Stetson slowly opened her eyes, wincing at the pain that shot through her head. There was a funny, kind of sweet taste in her mouth, like when she got fluoride at the dentist’s. It was a taste which made Jenna’s stomach feel slightly queasy, and combined with the pounding of her head it actually made her feel pretty awful. Usually when Jenna felt this bad she could count on her Mom to be there with the homemade chicken soup and the ginger ale, but not this time, apparently. She sat up as slowly as she could, her hands grasping the edge of the bed to balance herself as the world seemed to tilt for a moment. The fog in Jenna’s mind was slowly clearing and she looked around. It was a bedroom, probably a girl’s bedroom. It had a rainbow bedspread, matching curtains, and a purple rug on the wooden floor. There was a lamp on the bedside table, also with a rainbow lampshade. The walls were painted a pale blue color, and there was a bookshelf to her left which held a CD player, some books and a row of dolls and worn stuffed animals. To her right she could see two doors. One looked like it was probably a closet, and the other door was half-open, leading to a bathroom. A round, pink-framed mirror hung over the bookshelf. There was even a faint trace of lavender in the air, like someone had just sprayed some air freshener. All in all it was a very nice bedroom, Jenna thought. There was certainly nothing wrong with it, unless you counted the fact that it just didn’t happen to be her bedroom. Where was she? Where were her Mom and Dad? Fighting down her growing panic, Jenna tried to think back.
The last thing that she remembered clearly was walking home from school with her best friend, Lisa, around 11 AM -due to the snow classes had been let off early. They had been discussing plans for Jenna’s upcoming twelfth birthday party. Jenna’s Mom had promised her a sleepover this time. And even more surprisingly, her father had promised to tolerate the presence of eleven giggly preteen girls staying up all night, though he’d told her Mom that he didn’t understand why it was called a sleepover if you didn’t sleep.
Jenna remembered saying goodbye to Lisa, promising to call her later. She remembered hanging her backpack on the hook by the door like she always did, shouting to her Mom that she was home- and then what? A sudden image popped into her head, a scary image of a gloved hand grabbing her from behind while she struggled, forcing a cloth over her nose and mouth-the same sickly sweet fluoride smell that she could still taste in her mouth. And after that nothing but darkness. What time was it? Jenna looked at her gold Mickey Mouse wristwatch, a present from a recent trip to Disneyworld. The time read 4 PM, January 26, which meant that about five hours had passed. She should be home right now, Jenna thought. Instead she was trapped here, wherever ‘here’ was. Was it possible to get out? Her hopes rising, Jenna got off the bed, realizing that she was missing one of her shoes. Had it fallen off during the struggle? She kicked the other shoe off too, standing there in her sock feet.
The first place she went to was the window-or rather what was supposed to be the window. The curtains were open, but the window was boarded over. Jenna even tried to see if she could pull the boards off, but the nails were too thick and it was impossible. The door was next, but no matter how much Jenna pulled, kicked and pounded it simply wouldn’t budge. It didn’t even have a lock on it-not from this side, anyway. Jenna yelled, too. She yelled for her parents, for someone, anyone to come- until her voice was hoarse and scratchy. There was nothing. No responding noises, no replies, nothing at all. Giving the door one last kick out of sheer frustration, she finally gave up, sinking back down onto the bed.
Her cell phone! Maybe she could call someone. Jenna quickly searched her jeans pockets, coming up with a stick of gum and absolutely nothing else. Like an idiot she’d probably left her cell phone in her backpack-something her Dad was always telling her not to do. Jenna swallowed very hard, closing her eyes briefly as tears threatened to spill out. Her heart was pounding like a jackhammer, so loudly that she could hear it.
“Kidnapped,” she whispered. It was a crazy idea. Who would kidnap her and why? Jenna was just a normal eleven year old, living in a regular house in Arlington. They were well off, sure, but no one could call them wealthy. Her parents made documentaries for a living- films that were sometimes shown at school. Boring and normal-that described the Stetson family in a nutshell. Kidnappings just don’t happen to normal people, did they?
Of course they do, Jenna told herself. They happened all the time. She’d seen pictures of those kids on the news, heard pleas from the police and their tearful parents. As far as Jenna could remember it hardly ever ended well. Bad things happened to these children. She knew that for sure, even though Dad would turn off the set before Jenna could hear any details.
Would this be her now? She wondered. Her picture on the news, and her parents on the television begging for her return? Would there be a body for them to find? Jenna tried as hard as she could to push that last thought from her mind-panicking and imagining the worst wouldn’t really get her anywhere. The thing to do was to get out of here.
Suddenly there were footsteps, coming closer and closer. Thinking fast, Jenna went over to the bookshelf, scanning the objects. The heaviest thing she saw there was the CD player-maybe she could wait behind the door and hit whoever it was over the head with it. Jenna carefully unplugged the player lifted it-
And froze as she saw her face reflected in the mirror. The face was still hers-the same straight nose, the same dark brown eyes, but the hair- she reached up a hand to touch it. Jenna’s hair was normally long, straight and dark blond in color- a color that her grandmother called dishwater blond. Now it was short, cut into a pixie style, and bright red. Even her eyebrows had been dyed red. A wallet-sized photograph had been hidden behind the CD player. Jenna picked it up and saw what looked like her-only with red hair. One of those school photos. It wasn’t really her, of course, it couldn’t be, but the face-the girl looked like she could’ve been an identical twin.
This has got to be a bad dream, Jenna thought. She was shivering slightly, not knowing if it was because the room was cold or because this was all so strange.
A key turned in the lock. Startled, Jenna dropped both the photograph and the CD player, turning around as the door creaked open. A middle-aged woman with graying red hair stood there, smiling and holding a tray with a plate and a glass of milk.
“I hope you didn’t break the CD player,” she told Jenna. The woman was small and kind of dumpy looking, wearing a long white dress and sensible looking black shoes. “You know how upset he gets if you break something, Marcie.”
“Who?” Jenna said.
“Marcie, don’t joke,” the woman said. “I’m talking about your father, of course. You don’t want to make him mad.”
Maybe this woman was insane. “I’m not Marcie,” she insisted. “I’m Jenna.”
“Of course you’re Marcie,” the woman laughed nervously. “You’re my daughter; I should know what I named you.”
“I’m not your daughter,” Jenna said. She was beginning to get frustrated. “My name is Jenna Leigh Stetson-”
The woman sighed. “We don’t have time to play make-believe. If you’ll just eat your dinner like a good girl-”
“I don’t want to eat dinner,” Jenna’s voice rose and she moved closer to the woman, gesturing with her hands as she spoke. “And in case you didn’t hear me before, I’m Jenna Leigh Stetson. I live at 4247 Maplewood Drive in Arlington and I’d really like to go back there now-so if you’ll just let me leave-”
The woman was protesting tearfully, but that didn’t stop Jenna from walking around her, out of the bedroom door and smack into the barrel of a gun. Jenna had seen guns -her father owned them for self defense. Once he’d even tried to show her how to use it. But no one had ever actually pointed a gun at her before. Her chest felt tight, making it hard to breathe. The man behind the gun cocked it with his thumb- a warning to her. Slowly Jenna backed away, back into the bedroom. The man holding the gun was very tall, with dark brown hair. He smiled at her, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes, which were icy blue and so cold.
“That’s right,” he spoke quietly, walking slowly towards Jenna as she retreated. “Get back in the room, there’s a good girl.” The man uncocked the gun, tucking it into the waistband of his jeans.
“Listen to your father, please,” the woman said. “It’s easier that way.”
“He’s not my father,” Jenna whispered, sitting back down on the bed, not taking her eyes off the man who was looming over her. She realized that she was trembling.
“Marcie, don’t say such things,” the woman said.
“Suzanne,” the man said, “why don’t you go and make some coffee? I can handle -Marcie. Leave the tray.”
“If that’s what you think is best, Gary.” Suzanne carefully put the tray on the floor by the bed and scuttled away. Gary watched her go. He turned back towards Jenna.
“Do we have a problem, Marcie?” Gary asked.
“Yes,” Jenna said. Her voice shook slightly. “I’m not Marcie- and you aren’t my father, and Suzanne isn’t my Mom.” Jenna knew that she was babbling--it was something that she tended to do when she was nervous. “All I want to do is go home, and if you just let me go I won’t tell anyone about who you are or have you identified or arrested or anything. My whole family must be worried sick and I’d really like to be back there, so-”
“Shut up,” Gary said.
The man leaned closer-she could smell the cologne on his blue plaid shirt-oddly enough, it was the same cologne that Jenna had bought her own father this last Christmas. Suddenly Gary grabbed the back of her neck with one hand, squeezing painfully. Jenna tried to pull away, but his grip was like a steel vise.
“Now, what is your name?” Gary said.
“Jenna Leigh Stetson.”
Gary stared, his face expressionless. “What did you say?”
“Jenna Leigh Stetson.”
And then he hit her with his open hand across the left side of her face. Jenna was too stunned even to cry out, though she could feel tears stinging her eyes, blurring her vision and running down both cheeks. Gary hit her again- harder this time-and even though he was holding Jenna’s neck her head snapped back with the force of the blow. The nausea that had been fading earlier came flooding back with a vengeance. Jenna took deep gulps of air, terrified that she might black out. Her ears were ringing and the left side of her face felt completely numb.
“What is your name?” Gary said. He didn’t raise his voice, but Jenna could feel the threat implied in his words. “Don’t make me ask you again.”
“Mar-Marcie,” Jenna whispered. “My name is Marcie.”
Gary squeezed the back of her neck again. “Your name is Marcie Ann Johnston. Say it!”
“My name is Marcie Ann Johnston.”
“One more time.”
“My name is Marcie Ann Johnston.”
Gary let go of her neck. “Good girl,” he said. “And quit saying you want to go home, because as of this moment you are home-and you are never leaving. Do we understand one another?”
Jenna nodded. “Yes.”
“Eat your food,” Gary said.
“I ate at school,” Jenna said. “I’m not hungry now.”
Gary was silent, and for a minute Jenna was afraid he would hit her again. Instead he kicked the tray as hard as he could, breaking the glass and sending the plate flying into the wall. Jenna flinched involuntarily as food and milk splattered over the wall. “Have it your own way,” Gary said. “It’ll be the last you get for a while.”
He left the room, and Jenna heard the key turning in the lock, trapping her once more. She listened carefully as the sounds of Gary’s footsteps faded away. Only then did Jenna allow herself to break down, curling up on the bed, her shoulders shaking with silent sobs.
“You are home-and you are never leaving.” Gary’s words echoed in Jenna’s mind, and paradoxically enough they filled her with determination. She would figure out what was going on here, who this Marcie person was, and she would find a way to get out somehow. Jenna thought of her parents, who at this point must be frantic with worry. Mom, Dad, whatever happens please don’t give up on me, Jenna thought. Overwhelmed by a combination of nausea, fear and pain, she fell into a fitful sleep.
Friday, January 26, 2001
“Lee,” Amanda said. She was sitting on the sofa in the family room, watching as her husband strode back and forth, practically wearing holes in the carpet. “Pacing isn’t going to bring Jenna back.”
“Well damn it, I can’t just sit here!” Lee said. He should be out there doing something. The first 48 hours were crucial in a missing person’s case; he was wasting them waiting here while Agency teams swarmed around the house and neighborhood, looking for evidence. Billy had ordered him to stay put and wait with Amanda while the teams did their work. Lee knew the rules, that he was too close to the case to be directly involved. Still, he had never felt so helpless in his life. “Has anyone called Jamie and Phillip?” he asked.
"Mother called them,” Amanda told him. “They’re on their way now. Mother’s upstairs resting- Dr. McJohn gave her a sedative. It’s funny, I always thought my Mother was a tower of strength, but now with this- Lee, could you please just be still for a minute?”
Lee sat down, a whoosh of air escaping his lungs in the form of an impatient sigh. “I don’t know how you can be so calm about this,” he said.
“I’m not calm, Lee,” Amanda said, her voice cracking slightly. “I’m terrified.” She looked down at her hands, clenching and unclenching them as she spoke. “I just keep thinking that if Mother and I hadn’t been out back when she came home we might have heard her or been able to stop-” Amanda took a deep breath. “Lee if anything happens to her it’ll be my fault. I can’t even imagine what Jenna-what she could be going through right now.” Her voice broke on the last word.
Instantly Lee was beside her, his arms encircling his wife. He could feel her trembling in his arms, Amanda’s tears wetting his shoulder while his own tears dampened hers. With one hand he smoothed her hair.
“Amanda,” Lee said, “this isn’t your fault. There was no way you could have known what was going to happen. We- I- didn’t see this coming, but we’ll find her.” Lee hugged Amanda tighter, trying to convince both of them with his words. “We’ll find her alive and safe and sound.”
And if we don’t, he thought to himself grimly, God help the bastards who took her, because I will make them pay.
Billy entered the room. After Dr. Smyth’s death he had become the head of the Agency, while Francine had taken over his old post as Section chief.
“Any news?” Lee asked him, turning towards his boss but still keeping an arm around Amanda.
“So far,” Billy said. “We know that Jenna was taken at around 11am -tests show that chloroform was used.”
“Chloroform,” Amanda said. “That was what I smelled near the doorway?”
Billy nodded. “It tends to linger for awhile,” he said. “There’s more. We didn’t lift any prints, so whoever took her wore gloves. One of your neighbors saw someone in a ski mask speeding away in a black van with Virginia license plates, but she didn’t get the number.”
“That’s all we have?” Lee asked.
“So far,” Billy said. “We’ll find more.”
“What about Lisa?” Amanda said. “She walked home with Jenna-maybe she saw something.”
“I’m sending someone around to question her,” Billy said, “Thank you for giving us her address. We’re also checking to see whether this is connected with your agency work or anyone from your pasts. This wasn’t some random kidnapping. This was planned.”
Planned. Lee had guessed that already, but hearing the word was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over him. The thought that someone had been tracking Jenna, planning to take her and he hadn’t even noticed- Lee felt Amanda’s hand slip into his, reassuring him.
“Does Jenna have any idea what you actually do for a living?” Billy asked.
“No,” Amanda said. “We were planning to tell her, but it just never seemed like the right time. Do you think this has something to do with our work?”
“I don’t know,” Billy said. “But we’re looking into your recent cases, as well as people who’ve been released from prison in the last month or so.”
“What if this isn’t agency related?” Lee asked Billy. “What if this is a –some stranger?” He couldn’t bring himself to say the words, but the names of past missing children, stories of what had happened to them, echoed in his mind. Lee felt Amanda’s hand tighten around his and he knew she was thinking the same thing.
“Scarecrow,” Billy said. “Whoever it is, whatever the motive, we’ll find them. The Agency takes care of its own.” A shadow crossed Billy’s face. “She‘s also my goddaughter.”
“I know Billy,” Lee said.
Billy took a small notepad out of his jacket. “Right now I have some questions. Has there been anything unusual in the last month? Strange notes, strange gifts, anything like that?”
“No,” Amanda said. “I’m sure Jenna would have mentioned it if there had been.”
“Has Jenna mentioned anything else to either of you?” Billy asked. “Thinking she was being followed, maybe-or a stranger talking to her?” They both shook their heads. “What about the internet or her cell phone? Any strange emails or phone calls?”
“They’re both monitored constantly,” Lee said. “We can give you the records, but there’s nothing unusual there.” As usual, Jenna had left her cell phone in her backpack-Lee kept telling her to put it in her pocket.
“How about school?” Billy said. “Has she made any recent friends or acquaintances?”
Lee shook his head but Amanda chimed in. “Well, there’s a new boy in her class-Paul Davidson. Jenna has a little bit of a crush on him but I don’t think they’ve talked yet.”
Lee looked at his wife. “She never told me about that,” he said.
“Well it’s not the kind of thing that daughters tell their fathers.” Amanda said, “And right now I don’t think it has any bearing on this case.”
“Anything else?” Billy asked. “Think back to the last time you saw her.”
Lee thought back-there hadn’t been any indication then, not that he could remember. The events of the morning replayed themselves in his mind:
“Jenna Leigh Stetson!” he shouted up the stairway. “Do you think you can turn off that noise and get ready for school? It’s nearly eight o’clock.”
The noise suddenly stopped, and his daughter’s voice floated down the stairs. “First of all, it’s not noise, Dad, it’s music. And second, I can get ready and listen at the same time.” The music came on again, slightly louder this time. Lee sighed as he took a sip of his coffee.
“My daughter would argue with a fence post,” he murmured.
“She comes by it honestly,” Amanda said. She was standing at the sink washing the last of the breakfast dishes. “After all, look at who her father is.”
“Right,” Lee said dryly, finishing his coffee. He moved behind Amanda, his arms encircling her waist as he kissed his wife lightly on the neck. “I don’t think that stubbornness comes from only one side of this family, Amanda.”
“Hmm…maybe not,” Amanda said. Putting down the dishcloth she held, she turned around to kiss Lee on the lips. Lee could still hear the noise-the music-coming from upstairs.
“What is that song, anyway?” Lee asked Amanda, reluctantly breaking the kiss. “I swear she’s played it five times already. All I keep hearing is clapping and someone counting.”
“It’s called ‘5678’, by a group called The Steps,” Amanda explained.
“There’s actually a song called 5678?” Lee said, raising his eyebrows.
“There actually is,” Amanda said. “And Jenna and Lisa are planning to do a dance routine to that song at the talent show. So when she’s playing it over and over-”
“-she’s rehearsing, I get it.” Lee glanced at his watch. It was already fifteen minutes after eight. That left him with around forty-five minutes to drop Jenna off at Kenmore Middle School and meet Amanda at the Q Bureau for a 9am meeting. He was about to shout for Jenna again when saw her coming down the stairs, her backpack carelessly thrown over one shoulder. Her dark blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and she was wearing her favorite blue sweater with a pair of flared jeans and Skechers. There was something else too- Lee’s eyes narrowed as he studied his daughter’s face. “Are you wearing lip gloss?” he said.
“Mom said it was okay,” Jenna’s cheeks reddened. . Lee looked at his wife, who nodded in confirmation.
“I told her clear lip gloss was fine,” Amanda said.
“I am in sixth grade, Dad,” Jenna said. “I’m going to be twelve in four days.”
“Wow twelve whole years,” Lee said. “You’ll be getting social security soon.” Lee had meant for it to sound like a joke, but he knew from his daughter’s annoyed expression that he’d failed.
“All of my friends wear more makeup than I ever do.” Jenna said with a small sigh as she came all the way downstairs to stand beside her Dad.
Or ever will if I have anything to say about it, Lee thought. Part of him was not completely ready for the fact that Jenna was growing up before his eyes.
“You look very nice, sweetheart,” Amanda said, looking pointedly at her husband. “Doesn’t she Lee?”
Lee cleared his throat. “Yes, you look very nice today,” he admitted, ruffling the top of Jenna’s hair slightly-something he’d done all the time when Jenna was little.
“Dad, don’t do that,” Jenna said, but she was smiling. “You’ll get it all messy! Anyway, bye Mom-love you.”
She gave Amanda a quick kiss and a hug before she followed Lee out the door.
“There was nothing, Billy,” Lee said. “If we’d had any warning we’d have stopped this.”
“I know,” Billy said. “But keep thinking-there might be something that you missed. Even something small could be a clue.”
“What happens now?” Amanda asked.
“We’ve distributed Jenna’s photo-the one you gave us along with a description of what she was wearing and the vehicle description to local and state authorities,” Billy said. “And an Amber alert has been issued. I promise that you won’t be bothered by the media-all calls will be screened through the agency and we’re stationing a 24 hour guard outside.”
“Thanks, Billy,” Amanda said.
“We won’t give up until we find something.” Billy said.
“What about us?” Lee wanted to know. “What do we do?”
“For now?” Billy said. “We need to you wait here.” He looked at Lee. “I know that’s hard for you, but right now you need to let us do our jobs. There’s always a chance that Jenna may escape or try to contact you. So can you stay here?”
“We will,” Amanda whispered. Billy stood.
“We’ll contact you if there’s any news,” he said. “Try to rest if you can-keep up your strength.” He went out the door. Lee’s forehead dropped onto his hands.
“Rest, that’s a laugh,” he said shortly. “How can I rest when Jenna is God only knows where with God only knows what happening to her.”
“I don’t know, Lee,” Amanda said. “The more I try not to imagine horrible things the worse it gets. I keep hoping this is all just a bad dream and that I’ll wake up and Jenna will be here, in her bedroom.”
“Playing that horrible music,” Lee finished. “I shouldn’t have yelled at her about it this morning, you know, and I overreacted about the lip gloss.” What if that was the last conversation he ever got to have with his daughter? Lee thought.
“Don’t do this, Lee,” Amanda said. “Jenna knows you love her. She knows we both do, and right now, wherever she is, she’s counting on us to be strong for her. We need to stop blaming ourselves. As long as we’re together we can handle anything.” There was a desperate look in Amanda’s eyes as she looked into her husband’s face. “Can’t we?”
Lee pulled his wife into another embrace. “We can,” he said. “Tell me again how I ever ended up with someone as wonderful as you?” he murmured against her ear.
“Just lucky, I guess,” Amanda said.
They pulled apart as the front door opened. The security guard poked his head around the door. “Excuse me, but there are two men here, Jamie and Phillip?”
“Let them in,” Lee said. Jamie and Phillip practically ran inside, dropping their suitcases unceremoniously on the floor. Phillip’s face looked deathly pale, and Jamie’s eyes were red-rimmed. Phillip was the first one to speak.
“We heard the Amber alert over the radio in the taxi,” he said breathlessly, looking at Amanda. “Tell me what’s going on, Mom. Who’s taken Jenna?”
Saturday, January 27, 2001
Amanda couldn’t sleep. Each time she tried to close her eyes the memories sprang unbidden into her mind, like a video recorder that she couldn’t stop:
The front door was wide open. Jenna’s backpack was hanging on its customary hook, but there was no Jenna. Amanda wasn’t sure why, but she immediately knew that something was wrong. Maybe it had to do with the smell-there was strange odor in the air that reminded her of the gas they gave you at the dentists’ office.
“Jenna!” Amanda called out as loudly as she could. She ran through the front door into the yard, her eyes scanning the snowy lawn and the street, noting that the front gate was wide open. Nothing-there was nothing there. There must be something, Amanda thought desperately. In the snow beside the sidewalk she spotted an object, something that must have fallen off during a struggle. She closed her eyes tightly, fighting to stay calm. From behind her she could hear Dotty’s footsteps.
“That child’s so careless, Amanda,” her Mother said. “She’s just like you were at that age-she must have gone upstairs to listen to some more of that music of hers.”
“I don’t think so, Mother.” Amanda said, turning around with the object in her hands. Dotty’s face turned pale.
“Jenna wouldn’t have left her shoe behind.” Amanda said. “Something happened.”
That was the worst thing, Amanda decided. The not-knowing. Because without knowing anything she kept imagining the most horrible things; Jenna being hurt by someone, Jenna’s dead body lying on the side of the road, Jenna trapped somewhere in a dark room, crying and alone. Listening to Lee breathing beside her, Amanda thought back to all the times that she and Lee had been in danger, and how they had never wanted that to happen to their children. Only now it had.
“I can’t do this,” Amanda whispered. She had to get up, and do- something-she wasn’t sure what, but just lying here thinking driving her insane. She rose from the bed-carefully-she didn’t want to disturb Lee when he’d only just dropped off himself. Putting on her robe and slippers she went down the hallway.
Saturday, January 27, 2001
Jenna was dreaming. She was five years old-and one of her favorite things to do was watch ‘The Wizard of Oz’ with her Daddy. It was 9’o clock at night, which was past her bedtime, but since it was a Saturday and not a school night, Mommy had agreed to let her stay up a little bit longer. As much as Jenna hated to admit it, she was getting awfully sleepy. She was already wearing her pajamas, and in one hand she clutched a stuffed Scarecrow doll-her favorite stuffed animal since she’d gotten it the Christmas before last. Jenna leaned back, resting her head on Daddy’s chest as they watched the end of the movie together.
“What have you learned, Dorothy?” the Tinman asked.
“Well, I -- I think that it -- that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em” Dorothy said, “and it's that -- if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?”
“That’s all it is,” Glinda trilled.
“That’s not fair,” Jenna commented, looking up at Daddy. “If Glinda had told her she could’ve gone home right away.”
“Well she could have,” Daddy said. “But then there wouldn’t have been a movie.”
“Guess not,” Jenna said with a yawn. “And Dorothy wouldn’t have met her friends, would she? Like the Lion and the Tinman…” her voice trailed off.
“Yeah,” Daddy said, ruffling the top of her head. “But who’s your favorite, munchkin?”
“The Scarecrow!” Jenna shouted it, which made Daddy laugh. Mommy appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on a dishtowel.
“I think it’s time for munchkin to go to bed,” Mommy said.
“Hmm…” Daddy said, looking down at Jenna. “Think maybe Mommy’s right?”
“Mommy’s always right,” Jenna said stoutly.
“Well I won’t disagree with that,” Mommy said. Bending down, she gathered Jenna into her arms. “Let’s get you into bed.”
“Night Daddy,” Jenna said.
“Night, munchkin,” he said. And Mommy carried Jenna upstairs, tucking her into bed and kissing her lightly on the cheek. Jenna tucked her Scarecrow doll under her arm.
“Goodnight, sweetheart,” Mommy said. “Want me to leave the nightlight on?”
Jenna nodded. “Mommy, if I ever went to Oz, do you think I could get back home just like Dorothy did?”
“I know you could,” Mommy said. “Home is never hard to find.”
Jenna woke up. For a brief moment she thought she was back in her room again and that it had been nothing more than a bad dream. Her heart sank as she slowly sat up on the unfamiliar bed, looking around at the shapes as her eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness. Her face felt stiff and sore-and the back of her neck throbbed. Slowly Jenna brought her hand up to her cheek, wincing at the pain caused by the lightest touch.
“Home is never hard to find,” she murmured, repeating her Mother’s words from so long ago. She fell back onto the bed, curling up onto her side, her hands wrapped around her knees. “All I have to do is find the way.”
Saturday, January 27, 2001
Lee shouted his daughter’s name out loud as he sat up in bed. His heart was pounding wildly, sweat running down his brow. He’d had a horrible dream-Jenna had been lost in a maze calling for him, and no matter how hard Lee searched he wasn’t able to locate her.
“Only a dream,” he said to himself.
Except that it wasn’t, not really. His daughter was gone and he had no way of finding her. Not yet.
“Amanda,” he said, looking to the right side of the bed where his wife usually lay, but she wasn’t there. “Amanda!” Lee called again, a little louder this time, wondering for one crazy second if she’d disappeared too. A young man’s shape appeared in the doorway-it was Jamie.
“Mom’s cleaning Jenna’s room,” the younger man told Lee. “We’ve told her she needs to rest, but she won’t listen.”
“Dear God,” Lee said. He rose from the bed, putting on his robe, and followed Jamie down the hallway. From Jenna’s room he could hear raised voices, Amanda and Dotty.
“Mother, I need to do this! I’ll rest later.”
“It’s practically the middle of the night, Amanda.” Dotty said. “Jenna needs you to rest, keep up your strength.”
“You don’t understand-I need to do this,” Amanda’s voice was verging on the hysterical. “Sitting and waiting is making me crazy-I can’t sleep when I don’t know where my baby is!”
“How will working yourself into exhaustion help you find my granddaughter? Tell me that!”
“If you would both just-” Phillip’s voice broke off as Lee came through the door.
“Lee,” Dotty said. “Maybe you can talk some sense into her.”
“Give us a minute,” Lee said. Dotty, Phillip and Jamie both left the room.
Amanda had removed the sheets from Jenna’s bed. She was kneeling on the floor, holding the bedding to her chest, as she looked at her husband.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” Amanda said. “I was trying to rest, I was trying to be strong and take my own advice, it’s just,” Amanda paused briefly. “I couldn’t sleep, and needed to think and when I need to think I clean. I thought that maybe when Jenna comes back she’ll want clean sheets to sleep on and-” Tears glistened in her dark brown eyes. Lee knelt beside her.
“I understand,” he said softly. “Let’s do it together, huh?” he put his arm around Amanda’s shoulders; together they rose from the floor.
That’s when Lee saw Jenna’s battered Scarecrow doll, lying on the bookshelf. Lee picked it up.
“She really loved this thing,” Lee said quietly. “It was her favorite toy that Christmas, Remember?” He felt his own tears threatening again but he held them back. Right now Amanda needed him to be strong. They both couldn’t fall apart.
“She still does,” Amanda said, rubbing Lee’s back. “Some mornings I come in to wake her and she’s holding onto it in her sleep.” Together they went downstairs to the utility room, putting Jenna’s sheets in the wash, adding detergent and starting the cycle.
Just then the phone rang. Lee dashed for it, picking it up on the second ring.
“Hello?” he said tightly. He felt Amanda’s hand on his shoulder.
“I hope I didn’t wake you,” Francine said.
“What? Oh no, we couldn’t really sleep anyway,” Lee said. Dotty, Jamie and Phillip were surrounding him now. “Do you have some news?” he asked.
“They found the black van by the side of the road,” Francine said. “Wiped clean, no prints.”
“How do you know it was the right van?” Lee asked.
Francine paused. “We found some hair in the van.” She said. “Someone had chopped it off. Long, dark blond, still in a blue ponytail holder just-”
“-like the one Jenna was wearing.” Lee finished her sentence, his mind racing. Why would someone have cut Jenna’s hair off.? Some sort of disguise, maybe? Lee’s fingers began to feel numb and he realized that he’d been clutching the receiver so tightly that he’d cut off his own circulation. “Is there anything else?” he asked.
“The forensics people are still running tests, but in the meantime we traced the plates,” Francine said. “The car belongs to a Gary Johnston-he reported it stolen two days ago.”
“City Councilman Gary Johnston?” Lee said.
“That’s him,” Francine said. “You know him?”
“I met him at a charity function this last Christmas, with Amanda,” Lee said. “Why? Do you think he had anything to do with what happened to Jenna?”
“It’s doubtful,” Francine said. “But it’s possible that he might have seen something or has information about who took the van. I’d like you and Amanda to interview him-I know it’s unorthodox, but I did clear it with Billy.”
“That’ll be fine,” Lee said.
“I know you and Amanda must be going crazy with just waiting.” Francine said.
“You have no idea,” Lee said. “We’ll talk to Johnston later this morning, Francine-and thank you.”
“No problem,” Francine said. Was it just his imagination, or was Francine’s voice actually shaking? “And Scarecrow-we will bring her home. I promise.”
“I know we will,” Lee said, reaching up to his shoulder and covering Amanda’s hand with his own. No business for a pessimist, he thought to himself. He just had to hold on to that hope somehow, because Jenna was depending on it.
Saturday, January 27
“I wanted to make her breakfast, Gary.”
“She doesn’t get any damn breakfast! Not after she didn’t eat her dinner.”
The shouting voices were what woke Jenna up. In her fogged state, it took a moment to register that the voices were coming from downstairs.
No wonder Marcie left, Jenna thought. If this is what I had to wake up to this every morning I’d leave too. Mornings at home were always so peaceful and pleasant, her Mom tried to make it that way. Even when her Dad told her to turn her music down or bugged her about her homework, it wasn’t that bad. It certainly wasn’t anything like this.
“Where’s my coffee, Suzanne?” Gary was shouting. “You can talk about making that stupid kid breakfast but you can’t make something for me? Is that it, huh?”
“Gary, please don’t do this,” Suzanne’s voice came again, so full of fear. There was a loud sound, like a hand clapping, followed by a soft cry and a thud that made Jenna shiver.
She had to find a way out of here, she decided; the sooner the better. Slowly she stood, making her way to the bathroom. After using the toilet and washing her hands, Jenna carefully studied her face in the mirror.
“Oh my gosh,” Jenna said. Seeing the short red hair was still a bit of a shock, but her face-her face was worse. The left side carried a large, hand-shaped bruise and looked slightly swollen. Her top lip was split open and swollen too-her mouth and chin were both covered in dried blood. Jenna wet a washcloth, using that to carefully clean her mouth and face. There, she thought, looking at her reflection. Better than it was before, anyway. The next thing was to figure out where she was. Hopefully Gary and Suzanne would stay downstairs long enough to let her search the room.
Leaving the bathroom, Jenna noticed that Marcie’s bed actually had drawers on one side. Perfect! Buoyed by this discovery she knelt by the bed, pulling out the drawers. The first one she searched had nothing but videotapes, the second held a stack of music CD’s-mostly pop music and boy bands. The third drawer held only one thing, and that was a small black book. Jenna opened the book. Maybe it had been a diary, but now there were no pages. Someone had ripped all of them out. Jenna gave a hiss of frustration. Another dead end, she thought.
The sound of footsteps startled her, and as the key turned in the lock Jenna threw the book behind her, hearing it thump softly as it hit the floor in the corner. She didn’t want anyone to know she’d been prying-especially Gary. Memories of him hurting her were still fresh in her mind.
The door opened, and Jenna gave a sigh of relief. It was Suzanne, and she was carrying a glass of ice water. The woman was trying to hide her face, but Jenna could see that one of her cheeks was bright red. Gary had hit her too. If she wasn’t being held prisoner Jenna could almost feel sorry for Suzanne.
“This is all I’m allowed to give you,” Suzanne said. “And you better drink it. Your father wasn’t happy with your behavior last night, Marcie.”
“That’s all right,” Jenna said. “I wasn’t hungry anyway.” That was a lie, actually she was ravenous. Jenna hadn’t eaten since an early lunch at school yesterday, and she was sure she could hear her tummy rumbling.
You can’t think about food right now, she told herself sternly. You have to find out where you are.
. “Can I go to Ballston Common Mall today?” Jenna asked casually, figuring that if the woman gave her a blank look she would know she was miles from Arlington.
“Marcie, you know your father doesn’t like you going there-oh dear, would you look at that mess?” Jenna followed the older woman’s gaze towards the broken remains of last night’s supper. “Just let me go get something to clean it with. I’ll be right back.” Suzanne said. “Stay here.” And she went downstairs- without locking the door.
It was her chance, Jenna thought. Now that she knew she was still in Arlington there was no way she was going to ‘stay here’ a moment longer than she had to. Jenna rose from the bed and tiptoed out the door to the hallway, towards the foot of the stairs.
“Suzanne what are you doing?” Gary’s voice floated up the stairs, startling Jenna and causing her to fall back into the shadows. .
“I just want to clean a mess in Marcie’s room,” Suzanne was explaining.
“Well hurry it up,” Gary said. “We have company coming over and I want you to make yourself presentable.”
She’d have to leave her escape till later, Jenna thought. Sometime when Gary was gone or everyone was asleep. But how could she keep the door unlocked? An idea came into her head, something she’d seen in a movie once. Tiptoeing back into the room, Jenna grabbed the napkin from the broken tray remains, stuffing it into the hole that the lock fit into. On a whim Jenna grabbed a fork thinking that it could be a possible weapon. Footsteps were coming back up the stairs. Jenna ran back to the bed, put the fork under her mattress, and grabbed the glass of water, gulping it down.
“Don’t drink it too fast,” Suzanne said as she began to pick up the broken plate and glass and put it in a garbage bag. “You might get sick.”
“I know,” Jenna said, “But I really do like water”-she continued talking as she drank, wincing slightly as the cold rim of the glass touched her split lip. “I like bottled water and water right out of the faucet, but ice water is probably my favorite, ‘cause you can crunch the ice and-what?”
Suzanne was staring at her. “You’re a lot more talkative than usual, Marcie,” she said slowly. “It’s usually a struggle to get two words out of you in the morning. Is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine,” Jenna said, with false brightness. “I’ve always been a morning person.” And I’m still not Marcie, she thought.
Suzanne said nothing, just wrung out her washcloth as she cleared away the last of the broken tray and the food. “Just finish the water,” she told Jenna.
Jenna waited until Suzanne’s footsteps faded away before she tried the door. To her surprise it actually worked-the door opened. All she had to do now was wait for the right moment. A wave of dizziness washed over Jenna suddenly. She walked over to the bed, giving in to the sudden urge to lie down. Everything in the room seemed to blur together. So tired…Her last thought was that something was very wrong, but then her eyes closed and the world faded into nothing.
Saturday, January 27 2001
“Thanks for seeing us at such short notice, Councilman Johnston,” Lee said, once he and Amanda had produced their identification. .
“It’s no problem,” The councilman said. “I’ve seen the news; it’s terrible when something like this strikes so close to home. I have a daughter Jenna’s age,”
“Yes you told me about her at the party,” Amanda said. “Marcie, wasn’t it?”
“That’s right,” the Councilman said. “Fortunately Suzanne and I homeschool her-it allows us to monitor things more closely. It’s a dangerous world, you know.”
“Yes, I know,” Amanda’s voice shook slightly. Maybe the man was only trying to be nice, but it was starting to feel like an attack, almost. She felt Lee’s hand on her back and fought to remain calm. “Councilman Johnston, we have a few questions for you.”
“Call me Gary-I do recall we’ve met once before.” Gary Johnston motioned for Lee and Amanda to sit on the sofa while he took the chair opposite. “Can I get you something to drink?” he said.
“No thank you,” Lee and Amanda said in unison.
“Then what is this about?” Gary asked.
“It’s about your van, Gary-the one that was stolen,” Amanda said, looking at her clipboard. “According to the police report you filed it was stolen somewhere between 7 and 7:30 AM Wednesday morning.”
“That’s right,” Gary nodded. “I called the police right away.”
“How can you be so exact about the time?” Amanda asked.
“When I went out to get the paper at seven the van was still there, and when I came out to water the lawn about a half-hour later it was gone.” Gary said.
“Did you see anything? Hear anything?” Lee said.
Gary fell silent for a moment. “Now that you mention it, I do remember hearing the sound of a car pulling away,” he said. “I guess I just thought it was my neighbor leaving for work. Why all this interest in my van? Has it been found? ”
“It has,” Amanda said. “We believe that the van is connected to Jenna’s disappearance.”
“Oh no,” Gary ran a hand over his face, an anguished expression on his features. “I’m so sorry. Are you sure?”
There was something strange about his expression, Amanda thought. It didn’t seem to reach his eyes. But maybe she was imagining things; after all, she’d hardly slept and wasn’t really at her best.
“We’re sure,” Amanda told him. “That’s why this is so important-if you saw anything or anyone suspicious that day it could lead us to the kidnappers.”
“If I knew anything I’d tell you,” Gary said. “I really didn’t see anything.”
“Is there anyone you know who might have taken your van?” Amanda said. “Maybe someone with a grudge or someone who wanted to frame you for this?”
“If I had someone who was that angry at me, Mrs. Stetson, I think I’d know about it.” Gary said. “There’s no one.”
“What about your wife or your daughter?” Lee said. “Maybe they saw something that morning. Something you missed.”
“Well Marcie’s not really a morning person,” Gary said. “I doubt if she saw anything, but my wife may have. Suzanne!” He called out.
Suzanne came in from the kitchen, a dishtowel thrown over one shoulder. “Yes?” she said, looking at her husband. Her expression was hesitant, almost fearful. When she turned her head Amanda saw a bright red mark on her face. Suzanne caught Amanda’s stare and blushed.
“You have to forgive my appearance,” she said. “I’m afraid I ran into a door this morning.”
Yeah, I bet you did, Amanda thought. She looked over at Lee-her husband’s face bore no expression, but she could see a muscle in his jaw clench. Out loud Amanda said. “I understand. I’m very accident prone myself.”
“Come over here, Suzanne,” Gary said. “These people have some questions. Remember on Wednesday when the van was stolen?”
Suzanne hesitated for a moment. “The van?” She said. “Oh yes, the van that was stolen. I’m sorry, but I didn’t see anything.”
“Suzanne, honey, these people have lost their daughter,” Gary said. “So are you sure you didn’t see anything at all?”
“I’m sure,” Suzanne said, turning to Amanda. Unlike her husband, she seemed genuine in her sorrow. “I’m so sorry about your daughter. Believe me, if there was anything I could tell you, I would.”
“I know you would,” Amanda said.
“Can I see a picture of her?” Suzanne asked. Amanda fished one out of her wallet and handed it to her.
“That was for the sixth grade yearbook,” Amanda said. Suzanne was silent as she stared down at the photo.
“She’s very beautiful,” Suzanne said to Amanda as she handed back the photograph. “She has your eyes.”
Amanda’s throat felt suddenly tight. “Thank you,” she whispered. Lee patted her hand.
“That’s Marcie,” Suzanne said, pointing to a painting over the mantelpiece. “She hated posing for it, but I think it turned out nicely.”
Amanda looked briefly at the painting and then down again. “Very nice,” she said tonelessly. A wild thought flashed through her head-if they never found Jenna would this be the way she would always feel when other people talked about their children?
“That’s enough, Suzanne,” Gary said. “I think you’ve bothered these people enough. Unless you have any more questions?”
“I think that’s everything,” Amanda said. She and Lee both rose to their feet. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Gary Johnston said with a smile. “I just hope my van will be returned soon-it’s hard to get around in a rental-the one they gave me was much too small.”
“We’ll return it as soon as we can,” Lee said. Gary opened the front door and Amanda and Lee walked down the sidewalk to the car. Lee held open the door for Amanda, then went around the other side and let himself in.
“Well that was a giant waste,” he said, starting the car and putting it into gear. “I would sure like to return Gary’s van, though- and put it where the sun doesn’t shine.”
“I’m not so sure,” Amanda said. “Didn’t he seem a little odd to you?”
“Amanda, I’m not sure ‘odd’ is the right word,” Lee said. “The guy seemed like a creep, and probably someone who abuses his wife. For all we know he abuses his daughter too. But none of that translates into a motive for taking Jenna, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Maybe not,” Amanda said. “But wasn’t it strange that Suzanne didn’t seem to remember anything about the van being stolen?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t surprise me,” Lee said. “He probably keeps her in the kitchen most of the time-the woman moves like someone who’s afraid of her own shadow.” They were stopped at a traffic light. Lee looked over at his wife and Amanda could see the pain in his eyes. “I’m worried that you might be grasping at straws-I don’t want you to get your hopes up and be disappointed.”
“I won’t Lee, I promise,” Amanda said. But she couldn’t stop thinking that there was something she was missing-something right under her nose.
Saturday, January 27 2001
Nine years old and Jenna had never once jumped off the high dive. Now, finally standing here and looking down at the water below, she wasn’t so sure that she wanted to.
“Jenna, you said you wanted to do this,” Dad said. He was down in the pool, swimming with her Mother.
“I do,” Jenna said. “It just looks a lot higher from up here.”
“You know you don’t have to do anything you want to,” her Mom said. “You can always climb back down.”
“I know,” Jenna called back. But climbing back down involved having to climb past the other waiting children who were probably already laughing at what a scaredy-cat she was. Also she didn’t really want to do that.
“Just jump,” Dad’s voice was reassuring. “I’ll be right down here to catch you.” He held out his arms. “Trust me.”
Holding her breath, Jenna jumped-but her father wasn’t there anymore, only bits of straw in the water…
Jenna sat up. The first part had been an actual memory, but that last bit had been bizarre. Straw? Maybe that had something to do with the fact that her head felt as though it was full of straw and her mouth felt like she’d been drinking sand. Had she slept the whole day through? That wasn’t like her at all. Slowly her eyes focused on the empty water glass by her bed. Jenna picked it up and looked inside-she could see some sort of white powder on the bottom. They must have put something in it, she thought-something to make her sleep. What was the time? Jenna squinted at her watch. It read 10 PM. By that time her parents were usually in bed. But were Gary and Suzanne asleep? Only one way to find out. Heart pounding, Jenna picked up the fork, slowly opening her bedroom door. In her sock feet she tiptoed to the foot of the stairs, listening. There was nothing-it was dark down there. Jenna tiptoed down the stairs, her eyes slowly growing accustomed to the darkness. She could see the front door up ahead. There was a little shelf next to the door, and on that shelf something was faintly glowing. Jenna picked it up-it was a cell phone. Perfect, she thought. Almost unable to believe her luck, Jenna slipped the phone into her front jeans pocket, carefully unlocked the door and went outside. There were some bushes close to the house and Jenna squatted behind those bushes, her back against the rough brick wall. It was cold out here-her sweater alone wasn’t much protection against the January weather. With shaking hands Jenna took the cell phone out of her pocket-she needed to call someone and let them know where she was. She flipped open the phone, dialing a familiar number.
Saturday, January 27 2001
“I know what it is,” Amanda said suddenly, staring at her laptop. “I can’t believe I didn’t see it before.”
“Didn’t see what?” Lee asked. Amanda motioned him over.
“Just look,” she said, pointing. “This is a photo of Jenna, right? And this is a photo of Marcie that I found on Gary Johnston’s website from the last time he ran for office. If you use Photoshop to cut Jenna’s hair short and dye it red- and we know that someone did cut Jenna’s hair-” Amanda’s fingers moved expertly over the keyboard, leaving Lee in awe. He and computers had never had an easy relationship. “Do you see?” Amanda said, looking up at him.
“You’re right,” Lee said. “The resemblance is uncanny. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”
Amanda’s mouth was set in a stubborn line. “It means something, Lee. I know it does.”
“We need more than something,” Lee said. “I can’t make Gary Johnston our chief suspect just because our children happen to look alike”
There was a knock on the door and Francine came in. “As of now Johnston is our chief suspect,” she said.
“Why?” Lee said.
. “His story about the van didn’t fit.” Francine said. “It wasn’t actually hotwired. Someone pulled out a couple of wires to try and make it look that way and your average person wouldn’t have bothered to double-check. But Gino says that whoever drove that van would have had to have used a key.”
“Did forensics find anything else in the van?” Amanda said.
“Just traces of hair dye,” Francine said. Amanda was looking positively triumphant. Lee was about to apologize to his wife for dismissing her theory when his cell phone rang. It was probably either Dotty or the boys, calling to hear if there was any news. Lee flipped open his phone and put it to his ear.
“Stetson here,” he said. At first he just heard breathing. “Who is this?” He said.
“Dad?” a voice said tremulously.
“Jenna?” Lee said, fighting to keep his voice calm. Amanda was beside him now, her fingers clutching his arm. “Sweetheart, are you all right, are you hurt?” Lee asked Jenna.
There was a pause. “I’m okay,” Jenna said finally. “I got out-I took his cell phone.”
“Good girl,” Lee said encouragingly. “Just tell me where you are and we’ll be right there.”
“I don’t know the address, Dad” Jenna said. “But his name is Gary Johnston. He’s-”
Suddenly there was silence. “Jenna?” Lee said, his voice rising. “Jenna, answer me!” There was a bleeping sound as the call was abruptly disconnected.
“Jenna’s at Johnston’s house,” Lee told his wife and Francine while pulling on his jacket. “She escaped and stole his cell phone-she could be in danger right now.” Amanda was pulling on her coat and gloves.
“You and Amanda go,” Francine said. “I’ll be sending a team to back you up-good luck.”
“Thanks, Francine,” Lee said.
Saturday, January 27 2001
“Okay,” Gary Johnston stood in front of her, wearing an undershirt and shorts and holding his gun. With one hand he reached out and snatched his cell phone. “Enough with the cute tricks. I want you to stand up now-very slowly. We’re going back inside.”
Jenna stood up, carefully keeping the fork she still held out of sight. Something-she had to do something, because she’d already gotten this far and she couldn’t just give up.
“Hi there!” Jenna called out, looking over Gary’s shoulder and waving at a non-existent person. “Nice night, isn’t it?”
That did it. Gary turned around, and when his back was turned Jenna stabbed him in the arm with the fork, as hard as she could. The tines of the fork dug deep into his arm, and Gary howled with pain. Jenna pushed him over and ran out of the yard and down the sidewalk. She wasn’t quite sure where she was running to, only that she needed to get as far away as possible, maybe find another phone. Jenna saw a stop sign in the distance and her hopes rose. Nearly the end of the block, almost there-
Something heavy barreled into her and Jenna was knocked to the ground. Stars danced before her eyes-for a moment she felt like she couldn’t breathe.
“Nice try, Jenna,” Gary’s voice said in her ear. “We’re going back now. Any more games and I’ll blow your pretty little head off. Do we understand one another?” Something hard pressed into the back of her head. “Answer me!”
“Yes,” Jenna managed to gasp out. She seemed to be able to breathe again but the pain in her chest was getting worse by the moment. Roughly Gary pulled her up, forcing her arm up behind her back as he frog-marched her back to the yard, back inside the house. Once inside, Gary let go of her arm and threw her to the floor. Jenna quickly scrambled to a sitting position. She noticed that her right jeans leg was torn and splattered with blood.-she’d scraped her knee.
“You little- now you’re going to pay for what you did to me,” Rivulets of blood ran down Gary’s arm, his eyes full of rage as he walked towards her. Jenna backed away, until she was up against the wall. Gary laughed, the sound giving her chills.
“Nowhere left to run, little girl.”
“I called my dad,” Jenna’s voice shook. “Someone will be here soon.”
“Yes,” Gary said, “but by then it will be too late.” He raised the gun.
“Gary, no!” Suzanne’s voice came from behind. Jenna watched as the woman grappled with her husband. “Let her go, please! I’m begging you-” Gary threw her off, turning towards his wife.
“This is the last time you’ll interfere,” he said. And then he fired. Jenna watched in mute horror as Suzanne fell to the floor like a broken rag doll, red blossoming across her shoulder.
“We’re going on a little ride, Jenna,” Gary said as he knelt beside her. His voice took on an oddly gentle tone which frightened Jenna even more. She tried to move away as he ran the cold metal barrel up the side of her face. “Would you like a ride?”
I’d like to go home, Jenna thought. But right now she was too frightened for words.
“Say goodnight,” Gary whispered, his mouth close to her ear. Jenna felt a sharp pain in her head, and after that nothing at all.
Saturday, January 27 2001
“Oh God no,” Lee said, as they pulled up to the Johnston residence. The door was wide open and the rental car that Gary Johnston had been driving was not in the driveway. He and Amanda both got out of the car and ran towards the house.
The first thing Lee saw was blood-there were smears on the floor in the foyer, on the carpet and even on the door itself. The second thing he saw was Suzanne Johnston, lying propped up against the wall. Her eyes were closed, blood covering her shoulder and arm and pooling underneath her. Lee knelt beside her. For a moment he thought that Suzanne was dead, but he felt a weak pulse and could see that the woman was breathing shallowly.
“Amanda, call an ambulance,” Lee said, carefully removing the woman’s sweater. “Tell them a woman’s been shot.” He could see that Suzanne had been shot in the shoulder-the bullet had probably passed straight through. Lee carefully lowered the woman to the floor, taking off his jacket and putting it underneath her shoulder. Suzanne’s eyes opened and slowly focused on him.
“Mr. Stetson,” she said. “He shot me-Gary shot me.”
“Where is he now?” Lee asked. “Where did he go?”
“He took Marcie,” Suzanne said. “Only she’s not Marcie, is she? She’s your Jenna, and my Marcie is-” Her voice broke off in a sob.
Lee fought off the urge to shake the woman. “Just tell me what happened, Suzanne.” he said.
“Jenna tried to escape,” Suzanne said. “She ran away, but Gary caught her, knocked her out. He said he needed to take her somewhere to be punished for what she did.”
“To be punished?” Lee repeated, his fear growing by the second. “Suzanne, where would he have taken her? Tell me!”
“He knocked her out, put her in his car,” Suzanne’s face was white with fatigue. It seemed to be taking every last bit of energy just to speak. “He has a cabin in Wise, we used to go there when she-Marcie was little. High Knob Lake.”
“Lee the ambulance is on its way,” Amanda said, flipping her cell phone closed. “What was that about Jenna?”
“Gary’s taken her to High Knob Lake,” Lee said. “That’s probably where he plans to-” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence, but Amanda’s face blanched-she knew what he meant.
“Lee, High Knob Lake is almost seven hours away,” Amanda said. “It’s near the Kentucky border. And Gary’s already got a head start.”
“I know,” Lee said. “Get Francine on the phone, Amanda-we’ll take the helicopter, get there ahead of them.”
Sunday, January 28, 2001
Jenna’s head hurt so badly; that was the first thing she was aware of. The next sensation was the cold, which went right through her thin sweater and jeans and made her shiver. Her cheek was resting on something rough-it felt like carpet. Slowly she tried to move and realized that her wrists were tied tightly behind her back and her ankles were tied together as well. She was in a car-Jenna could feel vibrations and hear the motor. The car went over a bump and suddenly Jenna’s chest felt like it was on fire. As hard as she tried she couldn’t suppress a cry of pain.
“You’re awake, I see.” Gary Johnston said. At the sound of his voice memories came flooding back to Jenna-the gunshot, Suzanne with blood on her shirt-oh gosh-she felt tears seeping out of the corners of her eyes.
“We’re nearly there,” Gary said, his tone matter-of-fact. “It’s almost over-well for you, anyway.”
“Please,” Jenna said. The pain in her chest was worse now—the shivering didn’t help. “All I want to do is go home.”
“All I want to do is go home,” Gary said, mocking her. “You’re a whiner, Jenna. Just like Marcie. She didn’t learn her lesson either. I thought you might be different, but I guess I was wrong.”
“You killed her,” Jenna said.
“Killed is such an ugly word, Jenna” Gary said. “I like to think that I returned her-she was defective merchandise.”
Defective merchandise, Jenna thought numbly. So Marcie was dead and pretty soon she would be too. Now she would never see her family, never be able to say that she loved them-not ever. Scenes from Jenna’s life flashed through her mind and it took every ounce of self control not to start bawling like a baby.
Sorry Mom, she thought. This time I couldn’t find the way home.
The car came to a stop. Jenna heard footsteps and the door opened, bringing in a rush of frigid air. “Here we are,” Gary’s voice said. “High Knob Lake. You excited? I know I am.” Gary grabbed her by her wrists, pulling her roughly upright. He was holding a piece of duct tape and he slapped it over her mouth. “I don’t think that anyone would hear you scream,” he said. “But just to be on the safe side.” Gary threw Jenna over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. The blood rushed to Jenna’s head, making the pain even worse as she was carried out into the darkness.
Suddenly there were bright lights surrounding them-so bright that she had to close her eyes. The next sound that Jenna heard was a loud click, followed by a strangely familiar voice.
“Ok, Johnston. Put her down!”
Sunday, January 28, 2001
Lee and Amanda watched as Gary Johnston froze, looking very much like a deer caught in headlights.
“ I said, let her go,” Lee told him. “You know you’ve lost. Now put her down-gently. ”
Without warning, Gary dumped Jenna headfirst onto the ground and ran.
“Oh no you don’t, you son of a-” Lee muttered under his breath. Tucking his gun into his pants he took off after Gary, tackling the man to the ground and cuffing him. Lee grabbed the man by the collar and yanked him up to a standing position.
“End of the line, councilman.” Lee said through gritted teeth. He kept pulling and twisting Gary’s collar, making it tighter around his neck.
“I can’t-” Gary gasped out the words. “Can’t breathe.”
“Oh you can’t?” Lee said, tightening the collar even more. Even in the half darkness he could tell that the man’s face was turning purple. “If I had my way, Mr. Johnston, you’d never breathe again.”
“Lee!” Amanda was calling him. Drawing his fist back, Lee hit Gary as hard as he could in the stomach. The man doubled over and Lee followed with an uppercut to the jaw. Gary fell to the ground and lay there, unmoving.
“That was for Jenna,” Lee said. He left Gary Johnston lying there while the State Police and the FBI took over. Lee ran over to Amanda, who was kneeling over Jenna and untying the ropes that bound her arms and legs. Carefully Amanda turned Jenna over onto her back.
“Oh my gosh,” Amanda said.
Lee fell to his knees beside his wife, fighting to keep his emotions under control as he looked at his daughter’s face-one side of it was swollen and bruised and there was a large gash on her forehead. Duct tape covered Jenna’s mouth. Lee ripped it off in one quick motion. He noticed that the leg of her jeans was torn and bloody—on further investigation it turned out to be nothing worse than a scraped knee. Lee felt Jenna’s pulse. It was a little weak, but steady. That was a good sign, but there was something wrong about her breathing. It seemed to him to be very shallow and labored.
Just then Jenna’s eyes slowly opened. She seemed confused, struggling to focus.
“Dad?” she said. “Mom? But how-”
“Never mind how, munchkin,” Lee said. “We’re here and you’re safe.”
Jenna coughed suddenly, her eyes filling with tears, spilling over and making thin tracks down the blood and grime on her face. “Hurts,” she said.
“What hurts?” Amanda said. Jenna’s eyes closed for a moment, and Amanda gently shook her daughter awake. “Sweetheart, tell us what hurts.”
Jenna’s face wore a puzzled expression. “I don’t know,” she said.
Amanda and Lee exchanged worried glances. “You just told us that something hurt when you coughed.” Lee said gently. “Don’t you remember?”
“My chest,” Jenna said.
“Your chest hurts?” Lee said, feeling a cold stab of fear. Someone tapped him on the shoulder and Lee looked up at a man who was wearing a paramedic’s uniform. “We can take it from here, Mr. Stetson.” The man said.
Lee nodded and stood, helping Amanda to her feet as well. They stood back as the paramedics fitted Jenna into a neck brace, lifting her carefully onto a back board and then onto a gurney. One took her pulse, while another shone a penlight into Jenna’s eyes.
“Pupils are dilated but not uneven,” the paramedic with the penlight said.
A female paramedic was busy putting an IV into Jenna’s hand, taping the needle into place.
“When was the last time you ate?” the paramedic asked her.
“Friday lunch,” Jenna said. “At school, I think.” Someone scribbled that down on a chart. Behind him Lee heard Amanda gasp.
“Does she have any allergies?” the paramedic said, turning to Lee and Amanda.
“No allergies,” Lee told the paramedic. “But she said that her chest hurts—and she seems a little confused.”
“A certain amount of confusion is normal with a head injury, Mr. Stetson. And also there’s the fact that she hasn’t eaten in three days. Now let’s see about those ribs,” Another paramedic, the one who had first spoken, carefully lifted Jenna’s sweater. Lee swallowed hard as he saw the bruising covering his daughter’s torso and abdomen. As the paramedic began gently pressing along the sides of Jenna’s ribcage, the expression on Jenna’s face became one of pure terror.
Sunday, January 28 2001
“No!” Jenna tried to shout but it came out in a squeak instead; the feeling of a stranger’s hands touching her sent her into a blind panic. “Please don’t,” she whispered, trying to sit up, to protect her chest with her arms. “Please-”
“Jenna,” suddenly her Mom was standing by her side. “He just wants to see if you broke any ribs, that’s all. He won’t hurt you.”
Jenna hesitated. “Okay.” She said finally. Mom took her hand—the hand without the IV in it and squeezed it gently as the paramedic completed his examination. Dad was on the other side of her now, his hand resting on her shoulder. “Are they broken?” Jenna heard her father ask the paramedic.
“I’d say that her ribs are only bruised, but we’d need an x-ray to know for sure,” the paramedic said. “Jenna, can you tell me who did this?’
“Gary-” Jenna said. “-knocked me down. I was trying to escape and I stabbed him with a fork.” The memory of that frightening chase flooded back. “He’s not here, is he?” she tried to sit up again but her Mom pushed her gently back down.
“Jenna, you need to rest.” Mom said.
“I just-I don’t want him here.” Jenna said. “Not here. He was going to kill me.”
“He’s been taken care of,” Mom said. “Don’t worry about him.”
“Promise?” Jenna felt tears threatening again.
“I promise,” Mom said.
Dad had a funny look on his face, almost as though he was about to cry. It frightened her a little-she’d never seen her father look that way. Jenna wanted to tell him not to be sad but she didn’t think she had the energy. Someone covered her with a foil blanket.
“Sweetheart,” Mom asked her. “I know this is a hard question, but is there anything else, you know, that he might have done to you that we should know about?” Jenna felt Dad’s hand tighten slightly on her shoulder, waiting for her response.
“No,” Jenna said. “There isn’t anything else.”
“Thank God,” she heard Dad murmur.
“We need to get her into the ambulance,” someone was saying. “Which one of you would like to ride with her?”
“Amanda you stay with Jenna,” Dad said. “I’ll follow in a police car.” Jenna was put into the ambulance-a clear mask put over her nose and mouth. She remembered Mom smoothing her hair, telling her over and over that she was safe. Jenna Leigh Stetson fell into the first real sleep she’d had in days.
Sunday, January 28 2001
Norton Community Hospital
“Well, I told mother and the boys that we found Jenna,” Amanda said, walking over to Lee who was sitting in the waiting area. .“And that we might need to stay here for a few days. Any news yet?”
“No,” Lee said, running his hands through his hair. “And. I don’t know why it’s taking so long. It’s been over three hours, Amanda. How long can it take to examine an eleven-year-old girl?”
“This isn’t the first time you’ve been in an emergency room with a child,” Amanda said. “You know how long things take.”
“Maybe, but it seems like we should have heard something!” Lee gestured over to the Nurses’ station, which held a trio of very annoyed women all glaring in his direction. “And they won’t tell me anything, either, no matter how many times I ask. Is it top secret or something? Need to know?” He saw the look on Amanda’s face and sighed. “I guess I am being impossible, aren’t I?”
Lee’s arms encircled Amanda, and she leaned her head against his chest. “Only slightly impossible,” Amanda said. “But it’s just because you’re worried about Jenna.”
“Damn right I’m worried,” Lee said, his hand stroking Amanda’s hair as he held her close. “She was having trouble breathing, a concussion, she seemed so confused-I just want her to be okay.”
“I think she’ll be fine, given enough time.” Amanda paused. “I also spoke to Billy,” she said. “He told me that they found Marcie’s body in the cabin. They haven’t done an autopsy yet, but they think she was probably beaten to death.”
“Jenna almost joined her,” Lee said. “Gary must have taken her as some sort of replacement.”
Amanda nodded. “I showed him Jenna’s picture at the Christmas party, you know, the one from her dance recital. I was showing it to everyone. He must have seen the resemblance.” She took a shaky breath. “Then after he killed his own child, all he had to do was wait for the right moment to take ours.”
“Amanda- you know that none of this was your fault, right?” Lee said. “There was no way you could’ve known what that sick bastard was planning.”
“What about Suzanne Johnston?” Lee asked.
“She’s still in the hospital, but she’ll be fine,” Amanda said. “They’re not charging her with anything-she really didn’t know what was going on. Gary, on the other hand is still in prison, waiting to be arraigned on Monday.”
“Don’t worry, he won’t get bail after what he did,” Lee said. There would be a trial, though at some point, he thought. Jenna might even have to testify -could she do that? The thought of his daughter having to face Gary Johnston in court made Lee feel ill.
“Lee,” Amanda spoke as though she was reading his mind. “Let’s just take this one day at a time.” Her slender hand ran up and down his arm. “Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.”
“You’ve got it, Mrs. Stetson,” Lee said.
A man in a white lab coat approached the couple. The name on his badge identified him as Dr. Dearborn.
“Mr. and Mrs. Stetson?” he said.
“Yes,” Amanda said. She and Lee untangled themselves, still holding each others hands. “What’s going on?”
Dr. Dearborn sat down. “Jenna did sustain a serious concussion ,” he said, “But the CT scan showed no lasting injury or damage to her brain. We would still like to keep her here for at least 72 hours, just for observation, and when she gets home she’ll need to take it easy for a while.”
“Okay,” Lee said. “What about the rest?”
“She bruised her ribs and the cut on her forehead required twenty stitches,” Dr. Dearborn said. “There’s also some dehydration-we’re giving her fluids. Apart from that there are just minor injuries, including her wrists and ankles and the scraped knee. Jenna will be just fine.”
Lee let out a sigh of relief. “Can we see her?” he asked.
Dr. Dearborn nodded. “Of course,” he said. “Just keep it brief-she really needs her rest.”
Jenna was lying in bed, surrounded by IV tubes and various monitors. There was a white bandage covering her forehead and her face was almost as pale as the bandages. The hand shaped bruise on her cheek stood out in stark contrast. Jenna’s eyes were closed, but at the sound of the door they opened a little.
“Hey there,” she said weakly.
“Hey there yourself,” Lee said, bending over to give her a gentle hug. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” Jenna said. “I think they gave me something for the pain, but it still hurts to move too much. Mom,” she said, looking in Amanda’s direction, “How long do I have to stay here?”
“About three days,” Amanda said, sitting beside her daughter’s bed. Jenna made a face. “I know you don’t like hospitals honey, but they just want to make sure you’re really all right before they send you home.”
“And even after you get home you’ve got to take it easy,” Lee told her. “Lots of quiet and bedrest.”
Jenna looked from Lee and Amanda. “So no slumber party, huh?”
“Jenna, I don’t think it would be such a good idea,” Amanda said gently, squeezing Jenna’s hand.. “Maybe later when you’re stronger.”
Jenna bit her lip. “It’s okay,” she said finally. “The way I feel I would probably do too much slumbering and not enough partying. Besides-I –I don’t want my friends to see me with this horrible hair.” Lee could tell that Jenna was trying to smile and make a joke, but her voice was shaky and her eyes were suspiciously bright. Lee pulled up a chair so that he could sit beside Amanda.
“We’ll fix the hair,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder, “And we’ll think of something for your birthday. Okay?”
“Okay,” Jenna said. Lee watched as Jenna’s eyes started to close-but then snapped open as she shook herself awake.
“Jenna, if you want to rest we can go,” Lee said.
“No, not yet,” Jenna said. “I just- I’m so tired, but I really don’t want to be alone right now. I’m afraid if I go to sleep I might dream. I know that sounds stupid.”
“It’s not stupid, Jenna.” Amanda said. “You had a right to be afraid, sweetheart. Anyone would be.”
“I was really scared,” Jenna admitted, turning her head away as she spoke. “All I could think about was finding a way to get home. I almost made it, but then I screwed things up.”
“Jenna, look at me,” Lee said. Jenna’s gaze turned to meet his. “You didn’t screw anything up. If you hadn’t stolen that phone and called us we wouldn’t have known where you were. And then stabbing him with a fork-that was really brave.”
“You’re not just saying that?” Jenna asked Lee.
“He’s not just saying that,” Amanda said. “It’s true.”
Jenna smiled then, a small smile that was cut off by a yawn. “Will you stay with me till I fall asleep?” She asked them.
“We’ll be here right here, sweetheart,” Amanda said.
Epilogue: Happy Belated Birthday
Friday, February 2, 2001
‘Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Jenna
Happy Birthday to you.’
“Thanks, everybody,” Jenna smiled. Her parents were there, along with Jamie, Philip, her Grandmother and Billy and Francine. Even Lisa and her other friend Christy were there. Jenna was sitting in her bed, propped into a sitting position by several large pillows. Her Mom held the cake up to her, and she managed to blow out all the candles while everyone cheered.
“It’s a really beautiful cake, Mom,” Jenna said, looking at the pink icing, roses, and the ‘Happy Birthday Jenna’. She knew that her Mom had been up late last night baking and decorating it. Mom didn’t say anything in reply, just looked a little teary and smoothed and kissed Jenna’s hair briefly. “I’ll just get the desert plates from the kitchen,” she said.
A faint twinge from her bruised ribs caused Jenna to grimace-even with the rib belt they still hurt if she breathed too hard or moved the wrong way. Jenna had wear the rib belt for two to four weeks, and Dr. Dearborn had given her breathing exercises to do so she wouldn’t develop pneumonia. The stitches in her head were due to out in four more days, which was good because Jamie had started affectionately calling her ‘Frankenstein’. As for her hair, Mom had promised her that once the stitches came out she’d take her to the salon and they could dye it back to its normal color. Jenna wasn’t allowed to dwell on any of that for too much longer as people began to hand her presents. A book from Lisa and a Harry Potter DVD from Christy, a new winter jacket from her grandmother, a box of chocolates from Billy and Jeannie, music CD’s from Philip and Jamie –“More noise for you to listen to,” Philip said and Jenna giggled –and a pair of silver hoop earrings from Francine.
”I know you don’t have pierced ears yet,” Francine said. “But once you’re all better we’ll go to the mall and get it done-with your dad’s permission, of course.”
“Dad?” Jenna asked. Dad hesitated briefly but finally nodded. “Thanks, Francine,” Jenna said. Francine gave her a brief hug.
“I’m just glad you’re home,” Francine said.
Then Mom came in with a tray, passing the slices of cake around while her Dad took care of the wrapping paper and stacked the presents on the floor at the foot of Jenna’s bed.
Dad handed Jenna a jewelry box. “This is a present from your Mom and me,” he said.
Jenna opened the box. It was a silver scarecrow pendant on a matching silver chain.
“Read the back of it,” her Dad said. Jenna turned it over.
“There’s no place like home,” she read, tears pricking her eyes. “It’s so beautiful-thank you.” Mom took the box from her and carefully fastened the necklace around Jenna’s neck, kissing her gently on the forehead.
Everyone was talking and laughing. Lisa and Christy both piled onto Jenna’s bed, telling her all about everything that had happened that weekend–at first Jenna was joining in and laughing at all the gossip, but soon her head began to ache a little and all the conversations seemed to meld into one big noise. Suddenly Mom was right by her side, catching the empty cake plate before it fell from Jenna’s hands and onto the bed.
“I think the birthday girl has had enough,” Dad said. Everyone wished Jenna goodnight and left the room, her Mother leaving to see the guests out. Dad was the only one left in the room.
“Do you need anything for the pain?” he asked her as he took all of the pillows but one out from under her and eased her into a lying-down position.
“Not right now,” Jenna said. “I’m just sleepy. This was a nice party, Dad. Thank you.”
“Want me to stay here with you while you fall asleep?” Dad asked.
Jenna hesitated. She hadn’t had a night of sleep yet that had not been interrupted by at least one nightmare. Usually the nightmares were about the kidnapping itself, but sometimes they were even scarier ones about Gary breaking into the house and taking her away again. Jenna would wake up screaming and sobbing while her parents held and comforted her. Everyone, even Billy, kept telling her that Gary was in prison and that he wasn’t getting out again for a long time, but still the dreams persisted. On Monday Dad was going to take her to see someone at his work named Dr. Pfaff-Jenna wondered why a film company would need a psychiatrist, but she didn’t question any further.
“Jenna?” Dad’s voice broke into her reverie. His expression was worried, he probably thought that her concussion was acting up again and making her confused. “If you want me to stay here I will.”
“No,” Jenna said. “I think I’m going to try it by myself. Could you check the window and leave the lamp on?” Dad turned on the lamp and checked the window.
“It’s locked,” he said, turning off the main lights. “Is there anything else?”
“My Scarecrow doll,” Jenna said. Keeping her eyes open was a real struggle at this point. Her voice sounded to her like she was speaking in slow motion. “I’m not trying to be a baby, but-I’d just like something to hold.” Her eyes finally won the battle and closed. Jenna felt her Dad putting the stuffed doll into her arms and tucking her in, then she felt a kiss on her forehead.
“Night munchkin,” Dad said.