I’m serializing a short story I wrote five years ago called The Last Stop, which is appearing in bite-sized pieces throughout the week. It’s probably unpublishable for a few reasons, but I put effort into the thing, so I’m posting it. You are the beta readers.
The Last Stop
© 2009 by Eric John Baker
Across town, he parked at the municipal office and ran toward the police station entrance. As he raced past the sliding doors, a brawny officer threw an arm out and stopped him dead.
“Hold it there, buddy. What’s the big rush?”
Riley composed himself, and the officer released him. He smoothed his shirt. “I’m here to see Detective Spinelli.”
“Ok, then you can walk, not run, up to the window over there and they’ll get him for you.”
The officer gripped his arm. “It’s not a good idea to charge into a police station making crazy faces.”
Crazy? “Yes sir. I understand.” Halfway to the window, Riley whispered, “Jackass.”
The lady at the window picked up a phone and called for Spinelli, who emerged from behind the security door five minutes later, interrupting Riley’s agitated pacing.
Spinelli had gotten grayer and craggier since last time. “Riley Conard. What can I do for you?”
“I want to report a missing person.”
The detective paused to assess Riley’s words, like he often did. This time, he seemed extra suspicious.
Riley, naturally the original suspect in Madeline’s disappearance, was used to Spinelli’s approach. He could see the searching in his eyes.
“Um, your wife’s case is very much active. I know it’s frustrating to wait for news, but I promise you-”
“I’m not talking about Madeline. Someone else.”
“All right.” Spinelli said, inflecting it as a question. It’s not common for one person to make two missing-persons claims in the same year, no doubt.
Riley waited for an invitation to the office, past the security doors, where he would sit at the detective’s desk and tell the whole story, after which Spinelli would vow to find Sophia, and this time he really would, unlike with Madeline.
When the man didn’t move, it became clear the exchange would happen in here in the hall.
“Well,” Riley said, miffed to be reduced in Spinelli’s estimation to a crank, “I used to see this woman on the bus stop across from my office, and she’s not there anymore. She just disappeared, and I’m pretty sure something happened.”
Spinelli took out a notepad. Progress.
“What’s her name?”
Riley almost said Sophia. “I don’t know.”
Spinelli closed the notebook. “Why do you think she’s missing, other than she decided not to ride the bus anymore?”
No wonder this guy can’t find anybody. “I just talked to her friend, who said she was very upset the day before she disappeared.”
Spinelli opened the notepad. “What’s the friend’s name?”
Riley knew where this was going. “I forgot to ask.”
The detective sighed and returned the pad to his pocket. “Riley, what do you want? I can’t open a case without a crime.”
“Can I talk to a sketch artist at least?”
“Not without me opening a case, which I am not going to do until I have a missing person.”
Riley thought of Sophia, bound in a basement somewhere, cold and scared and wondering if any was ever going to save her. “What are you going to do?”
Spinelli said, “Tell me what she looks like. If someone reports a missing person who fits the description, I’ll let you know.”
The wedding photo! “Ooh. Hold on.”
Riley withdrew the picture of him and Sophia from his pocket and unfolded it to its original 8×10 size. About to hand it over, he noticed something wasn’t right, like when a bug crawls up the wall and you catch a glimpse. He held the picture under the florescent light and leaned in close to inspect.
It wasn’t Sophia anymore. It was Madeline, like before.
Riley stared a moment longer wondering how Maddie got back in there. “Sorry, I got confused for a second,” he said, crumpling the photo and sticking it in the trash bin beside the security window.
Spinelli’s tired eyes gazed at him from under sagging lids. “Think about seeing a therapist, will you? I know you’re frustrated with me, probably for a few reasons, but you gotta know you’re acting a little nutty right now.”
Riley found a local sketch artist online. The sketch cost him seventy bucks, because he didn’t like the way the first two turned out and demanded a third. He plastered five hundred copies, with his phone number at the bottom, on telephone poles and construction barricades and at libraries and bars. Spinelli accepted a copy.
He deleted messages from Patrick. The post office sent him a notice saying his box had gotten too full and they were holding the rest of his mail. He didn’t have any money left to pay bills anyway, so who cares.
On Sunday night, the phone rang at 8 p.m.
(to be continued)