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Jack & Jill (Part Three)


I had to drive two hours north on seventy-five and another half hour after that to get to the Piper’s big hunk of land, which sprawled across one of those counties you only think about when you’re driving up north and you try and decide if you’re going to stop before Flint or after Flint. Because you don’t want to actually stop in Flint, that’s for damn sure.

The house was big, ugly and dull. Just a big box that sat on an expanse of land. It had probably just started out as some plans for a house half that size that they got an architect to upscale for them. Getting into the house made me wish that I wasn’t so cynical, because it would be nice not to hear myself say I was right so much. The rooms were big and empty looking, because they had enough money to build big square rooms, but not enough money to hire proper decorators or a sense of style. The place looked like a typical American house that had just spread out and become larger without doing any real work towards presentation.

“Hello Mister Collier.” A small woman, probably from when this was a two room ranch house, said to me as she opened the door. “Mister Piper said to expect you.”

“You would be?” I asked,

“Polly, the cleaner sir.” She shook her head. “Shall I put the kettle on? Would you like some tea?”

“No, I won’t be here long enough for that Polly.” I said.

“Shall I take you to Jill’s room then?” she asked, trying to please.

“Yeah.” I nodded.

Jill Piper’s bed room was a mess, as I feared, but there was an orderliness to the mess. A careful viewer could tell what she thought was most important and what things were to be ignored for another week or two. I saw a small glass unicorn that had been knocked over, but the thin layer of dust that had settled on it and around it told me that it had fallen over some time ago. A less skilled gumshoe might have missed the layer of dust and decided that it had been knocked over by a careless kidnapper. I was a more skilled gumshoe though, and so I decided that I could ignore it.

There was a basket of folded clothes near her bed, a few things had been ransacked but for the most part left alone. The drawers of her dresser were open and bits of clothing hung over the edges. The drawers of her desk were closed and the smaller dresser, where I assumed her undergarments were kept was also closed. I looked at the basket, then at the clothes drawers. That looked wrong. When I was a kid, I would often leave clothes in the basket instead of putting them away. I would rarely put things into the drawers, leaving them half empty most of the time. An adult wouldn’t think like that though. An adult would look in the drawers. An adult in a hurry wouldn’t bother with keeping the drawers neat, expecting that kids are already messy things.

I must give Polly credit for not hovering over me like a hawk the entire time. I looked at the smaller bureau and decided that I wasn’t going to get my answers by being coy about it. I opened the smaller set of drawers and found what I thought I would. An assortment of bras and socks that had been matched and rolled in one drawer, neatly folded panties in the next drawer. I closed the drawer without further examination. I’m not sure I know of anybody who would leave town without their underwear, unless they were compelled by a pretty frightening force.

Her computer was a lap top, which was helpful at least. I looked at the lap top and glanced around the desk, and saw the black nylon bag. I picked up the computer and slipped it into the case, checking that the power cord with its brick half way up the length were in there as well. There was a large yellowish pillar candle on the desk, I picked it up and gave it a sniff to confirm that it was vanilla scented then set it back down.

I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something here, that there was something I wasn’t seeing. I lifted the mattress and found a small leather bound book. Nothing good could come from a book that had been shoved between the mattress and the box spring, but I had to look anyway. It would either be her diary, or a book of things she thought were deep and insightful thoughts.

It was worse than either of those choices. It was a hand written tome of erotic poetry. She wrote poetry. Bad poetry. Bad erotic poetry. Reading through it gave me a perfect insight into how it would feel to watch two teenagers fumbling around in the back seat for the first time. To them it’s quite sexy and adventurous, but to me it was a litany of mistakes.

Her verse structure was a bad imitation, like someone trying to kiss the way they’d seen Hollywood stars kiss in the movies. Her descriptive phrases were as sexy as a boy’s clammy hand reaching for his first undershirt grope in a movie theater. She probably thought it was impressive and she probably thought it was quite sophisticated. I thought I was pretty hot shit when I first put my hand up Suzy Jenkins’s shirt during Batman Returns, and only saw later how dumb that had been.

I closed the book and slipped it into the computer bag. I might need it later and it would be good to say that it had been with the bag I was expected to take anyway. I tried to think of anything else that might be of importance to look at, but I was pretty sure that as a modern kid she would have everything on her cell phone and her computer. I would have to call Ding Dong and get them to give me her text records, and then start to hack through the computer before I’d know anything. I closed the bag and left the room, taking one more turn to look at the mess before I left.

She was just fourteen, not even old enough for a learner’s permit yet. She would have been a high school freshman if her mother had let her go to school. Someone was holding her, somewhere out there. I worried that while I was fucking around in her room, reading her bad poetry, someone was doing unspeakable things to her. I couldn’t help that though, I can only go as fast as I go. If I went faster I might miss things and then she might be killed. I’d gotten a lot of people killed in the past, almost always the person I had told not long before that everything would be alright, that I’d take care of it. I really didn’t want or need another notch on my belt of death.

I walked out of the room, thanked Polly and left the house. When I got into my car I sat for a while. I looked at the house and then at the steering wheel and had another one of those moments I’d had ever since coming back to Michigan. I had one of those moments where I ask myself why exactly it was I decided to come back to this state. I know the answer of course, but we’re not going to go into that right now. I had a reason, let’s leave it at that.

My phone chirped and I picked it up and answered it with my normal routine. Since I was waiting for the call, I wasn’t too surprised by who it turned out to be. Piper had said he’d get him to get in touch with me.

“Mister Collier?” The pleasant voice said. “This is John Flynn at Ding Dong.”

“Oh hello.” I said, leaving the car waiting while I talked. “I suppose Mister Piper told you what I would be needing?”

“Yes.” He agreed, but sounded like something was wrong. “There is a problem though. All the records for the Piper family up until yesterday were wiped from out computers.”

“What, all the texts?” I asked, knowing it would be more than that.

“Everything.” He said. “All the calls for all three phones, all the text messages, all the wireless internet usage. Everything.”

“I see.” I tired not to let my dejected feeling enter my voice, but I may have failed in this endeavor. “I don’t suppose the accounts have been canceled or anything?”

“No, just the records have been wiped clean.”

“Okay.” I said. “Thank you. If I can think of something else I might need, I’ll let you know.”

“I wish there was more I could do to help.” He said. “Jill is like my own daughter.”

“Who is in charge of you IT department?” I asked, deciding that sometimes the CEO is one of the worst people to talk to. “Maybe if I can talk to the IT people I can work out a way to undelete the old records or something.”

“I’m not sure that would help.” Something odd entered his voice there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about him all the sudden. “We’ve got our people working on it as hard as they can.”

“Yes.” I agreed. “But there may be something more that can be done.”

“Very well.” He agreed, but I could help but feel he was doing it to try and make me not think about the tone that was in his voice. “Our IT head is Tom Stout, shall I have him call you?”

“Why don’t you give me the number?” I said. “I’ll have to do a few things before I’ll be ready to call him.”

“I’ll tell him to expect your call.” He said, and then gave me the number.

I thanked him, hung up and started the engine of the Hudson. Something was already starting to sound wrong, something had already gone wronger than it should have. I should have been able to pick up her records in five minutes, even have them e-mailed right to my desk, but they didn’t exist now. They had been removed, which raised the level of complexity quite a bit. This wouldn’t just be an ordinary common garden variety snatch and grab job then. It would be something someone planned and possibly used Jill to help plan. I worried that someone had decided to make her part of her own kidnapping.


As I drove long the street, I passed what looked like a birthday party, or possibly a graduation. There were balloons taped to the mail box and a few had fallen to the side of the road. I saw a blue balloon get caught up from the side of the road by the air stream from the car in front of me. It danced through the air, carried on the currents of the road. It zipped around my car and I sort of hoped that I didn’t roll over it with my tire and crush it. When I glanced in my mirror I saw that it was still around, and was caught by another car going the opposite direction. It then spiraled on the dying current of air and settled neatly on the other side of the road.

I wished it well, hoping that its journey was complete and that it had got to where it wanted to go. I hoped it was going to be picked up and tossed back and forth across the road until it was finally smashed under a tire it couldn’t get away from. One of us, between me and the balloon, should get to where we were going without having to be crushed.

I got on the highway and started back to my office, wary of what I would find on the computer when I opened it up and got a good look. I knew that a lot of the time it turned out that these girls were run aways, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still in danger. It would mean that she could be harder to find though, because she wouldn’t want to be found and might have covered her tracks.

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