CHAPTER 7—THE NIGHT CALLER
“NUMBER 35!” announced the dispatcher with the orange hair. She was stationed behind a glass window. Her cat-eyed glasses scanned the waiting room.
“That’s me!” called out the old woman to my left. She waved her hand overhead. Clutched in her gnarled fingers was the paper scrap on which the winning number was printed. The dispatcher spotted her and motioned for her to come over to the window.
The old woman hitched her purse strap high on her shoulder and cranked herself up out of the chair. She shuffled across the room. Silently, the dispatcher pointed to a door to the right of the window. Then she pushed a button on the wall.
A buzzer sounded. Something clicked. The door unlocked. The old woman grabbed the door handle and pulled. But the door wouldn’t budge. It was too heavy for her. I jumped up and ran over to help.
I opened the door for the old woman. A grateful smile lit up her face.
“Bless you, child,” she whispered, patting the top of my hand. Then she slipped through the door and disappeared into the inner office. The door clanged shut behind her.
I went back to my seat. I was number 36. It was 9:00 Thursday morning. Along with Mai and Emma the dog and a few other people, I was sitting in the tiny waiting room of the Pelican Island Police Station. Mai was reading a book and thoroughly absorbed by it. Emma sat in her lap.
My chair was beside a window that looked out on the parking lot. There was a neon sign in the window. The sign faced the parking lot and spelled out the word POLICE in large blue letters. But, from where I sat, it looked like it spelled ECILOP – only in letters flipped left. The sign was plugged into the wall beside my chair. The sign buzzed like a backyard bug zapper. It was giving me a headache. Annoying sounds make me cranky. I was already cranky because – again – I hadn’t gotten enough sleep. I missed my iPod.
If I were to vote for the most depressing room on the planet, it would have been that one. Even the green chair I sat in was sad. Its vinyl seat and armrests were covered in rips. Clots of white stuffing erupted through the slits. In one corner, a tall plastic plant choked in gray dust. The tile floor was filthy and the throw rug somehow filthier. The wall was crying tears the size of banana peels – the fake wood paneling was flaking off in oblong strips.
I tried to distract myself from my grim surroundings by visiting the brochure rack tucked in the corner by the front door. The brochures were faded, old, dusty, and tossed in helter-skelter disarray. They offered every kind of victim service: hotlines for runaways and battered women, safety reminders for driving sober and keeping burglars out of your car. After flipping through two of them, I needed a double shot of Purell and a year’s supply of Prozac.
I was challenging myself to read a brochure in Spanish when five big college guys in sandy wet bathing shorts and flip-flops crashed through the front door. They entered two or three abreast, ramming the door smack into my back. I bolted forward, bumping my head on the brochure rack. The college boys didn’t even notice. They’d been drinking.
The leader had on red bathing shorts and no shirt. He zigzagged up to the window to harass the dispatcher. He leaned his elbows on the counter and put his mouth up to the little circle cut in the glass window.
“Hey!” he yelled at her through the hole.
The dispatcher was on the phone. She looked up at the shirtless boy and pointed to the sign in the waiting room that advised him to take a number. Unperturbed, she sipped coffee from a squatty mug and kept talking on the phone. She’d dealt with her share of drunk kids before, I gathered.
But the guy in the red bathing shorts wasn’t having it. He ignored her request that he take a number. He got ugly. He smashed his nose into the glass and raised the volume of his demand. “Hey, lady,” he shouted, pounding on the counter, “I’m talking to you.”
“Excuse me,” the dispatcher said to the person on the other end of the phone, still completely ignoring the boy. “Is it okay if I put you on hold?…Thanks!” She pressed a button on the phone. Then, still seated in the rolling chair, she wheeled herself across the floor and pressed a button on the far wall. Then she kicked off the wall and wheeled back to the phone. She picked up the phone and continued the conversation unperturbed.
The door to the inner office opened. A husky uniformed police officer appeared in the waiting room.
“I understand we have a little trouble here,” he said, sauntering over to the boys and coming to a full stop. He tucked his thumbs into his pants pockets and rocked back and forth on his cowboy boots, letting the boys look him over, top to bottom, for a full minute. He wore a gun belt with guns in the holsters. This detail wasn’t lost on the boys. They got real still. The next time the policeman spoke, they were listening. “Now, boys, what seems to be the problem?”
Red Shorts had ratcheted his tone down a lot from the way he’d talked to the receptionist. “One of your officers arrested our buddy last night for no reason,” he explained, “and we’re here to get him out of jail.”
The lieutenant chuckled. “Well, son, I’m sorry, but that isn’t going to happen just yet. Let me explain how this all works….”
“Oh, I get it,” Red Shorts interrupted, returning to being belligerent. Smirking, he opened up his wallet and pulled out a thick wad of bills. He held them out to the officer, flipping the money like a stack of cards. “So, how much you want?”
That gave the officer a ripe belly laugh. If he was insulted by the attempted bribe, he didn’t show it. “Oh, Sonny, you’ve been watching too much TV! I don’t want your money,” he said, pushing Red Shorts’ hand away. “You and your buddies will just have to cool your heels until the judge gets around to setting bail.”
“What? When the judge gets around to it! And just when will that be?” Red Shorts snorted.
The policeman knitted his brow. “Well, son, I can’t rightly say. You see, Old Judge Harville is kind of peculiar. He might be in at 9:00 this morning or he might just decide he needs some of Rosie’s hot tamales before he can start his day properly. Never can tell when Old Judge Harville might pop in.”
Before the boys realized it was happening, the officer was shooing the boys backwards out the door. I jumped out of the way. “Now you boys just go back to your motel or tent and sleep this one off,” continued the officer. “We’ll take good care of your buddy until you get back.” When the last one was out the door, the lieutenant shut it firmly. I imagined the boys standing in the parking lot looking dumbfounded as to how they had gotten there.
The officer brushed off his hands symbolically. He turned to me. “Now that that’s done – are you number 36?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, I am.” I held up my card.
“Good.” He crossed the room. “I’m Lieutenant Johnson.” He shook my hand.
Mai and I introduced ourselves to him. Then he petted Emma on the head. Next he opened the door to the inner office and held it open for us. “After you, little ladies,” he said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm for me to precede him.
I entered. The door shut firmly behind us like in a bank vault.
Lieutenant Johnson lead Mai, Emma, and me to his office. I explained to him that we were there to fill out a missing person report on our friend, Otto Jorgensen.
“Did Otto have any distinguishing features, ma’am, a tattoo maybe, or perhaps some facial hair?” asked Lieutenant Johnson, pulling out chairs for us beside his desk. He sat facing the computer and began his report.
“I don’t know about tattoos, sir,” I said, “but Otto had a beard as white as Santa’s.”
The station was busy. The desk phones wouldn’t stop ringing and the police radio jabbered away. Everyone was talking and running back and forth.
An officer stopped by the lieutenant’s desk and whispered something in his ear. “Excuse me,” said the lieutenant, stepping away for a moment. When he returned, he said, “Sorry for the interruption. We’re just slammed with work. It’s that marijuana investigation. It’s tying up all law enforcement agencies in the entire tri-county area.”
He returned to typing our report. “Now, ladies, if you could briefly explain why you think Otto Jorgensen is a missing person.” I told him that we were worried about Otto because I’d seen him Sunday afternoon although Mr. Fykes had claimed he’d left that same morning. Mai showed him Emma and told how she’d been left alone. We had to leave out the part about finding Otto’s cap, wallet, and keys in his unlocked cottage. We didn’t want to be charged with breaking and entering and trespassing on private property.
Once we were done, he assigned the report a case number. “I’m not the investigating officer,” he explained, standing up. “I just file the initial report. In a couple of days, you’ll get a call from an officer with the Criminal Investigation Division. Whose cell number should I give him?” I gave him mine. We thanked the officer and went back into the lobby.
Once there, Mai handed me Emma and went off to use the restroom. Meanwhile, I wandered over to read the bulletin board. The board hung near the reception desk where we’d first signed in. The receptionist with the orange hair was still on duty. She wasn’t talking on the phone anymore. She was now filing her nails. They were long, red, and sharp.
The bulletin board overflowed with posters of teenage runaways – mostly girls. There was also a poster of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. I ran my eyes down the page.
My eyes came to rest on the photo of Fugitive #5. “Oh, my gosh,” I said to myself, walking over to the nearest chair and leaning on its arm for support. I felt faint. I lowered myself slowly into the chair with Emma still in my arms.
I think my face went white. I don’t remember much after that until I heard footsteps running. I looked up to see a worried Mai looking down on me in the chair. “Jacey, Jacey, what’s wrong?” she called, mildly shaking me by the shoulder.
“That’s him!” I shrieked, pointing at the poster across the room. People were staring at me. The receptionist had even stopped her nail filing to look. I got up and took Mai over to look at the FBI poster. I pointed at Fugitive #5.
“Mai, remember that guy I told you about on the ferry? That scary biker? This guy looks just like him!”
Then it was Mai’s turn to freak out. “Oh, my gosh!” she said, gasping and squeezing my arm. “I know him, too! Remember Tuesday morning when we tried to return Emma to Otto at the lighthouse but wound up meeting Sid Fykes instead? And afterwards, on the way to town to take me to work, we drove by Tripp’s mansion in the cove?”
“And I was staring at the mansion, wondering aloud how much those marble pillars cost?”
“Then I told you that some creep was watching me from the room in the round tower?”
Neither Mai nor I could be one hundred percent sure it was him. The biker I’d seen had a mustache but the one in the photo didn’t. After she thought about it for a while, Mai decided that she had been too far away from the tower to make an absolutely positive i.d. Anyway, it was scary. The fugitive’s name was Juan “Drago” Mondragon. The FBI was offering a $100,000 reward for his capture. He was wanted for kidnapping and murder. What if it were true, though, and I’d been isolated out on a ferry in the middle of a channel with a murderer?
Later that same morning, I was sketching on our balcony. It was one of those rare, clear days when I could see Pelican Point perfectly. The sun felt good on my bare legs.
My phone rang. It was Cody. “Hey, what’s up?” I asked, setting my pencil in my lap.
“Hey, I’ve stumbled across a used iPod you might want to take a look at.”
“Really?” I asked, sitting up taller. My pencil rolled off my lap onto the concrete floor.
“Yeah. I’m over at Pelican Pawn & Tackle on Sixth and Orr. I’m searching for cheap surfboards to make into benches.”
“Oh. What color is the iPod?”
“Same as yours – hot pink.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought, too.”
I sighed. I hated to spend my vacation money on another iPod only to have the old one turn up. “Cody, just for fun, will you ask the clerk how much he wants for it?”
“Sure thing, Jacey. Hold on.” I heard him speak to someone. Then he came back on the line. “The manager’s asking eighty for it. He says it’s worth more than that, but he’ll give you a discount because of the scratch.”
I froze. “What scratch?”
“Gee, I don’t know, hang on again, okay?” There was another delay. I heard him ask the clerk to open the case and show him the iPod. “Jacey, you still there?”
“I’m holding the iPod. The scratch is on the front.”
My heart beat harder. “Cody, this is really important. Where on the front?”
“Jacey, the scratch is tiny. You won’t even notice it.”
I controlled my voice to hide my growing irritation. “Cody, you don’t understand. Where exactly on the front is the scratch?”
“Hmmm…let me see….You know that little dial on the front? Where the word, “Menu,” is? It’s under that.”
My heart skipped a beat. “Cody, that’s my iPod! I put that scratch there on Sunday, the day I came over on the ferry!” I jumped off the chaise and landed with bare feet on the hard concrete. Ouch.
“Wow! You really think it might be yours?” asked Cody, lowering his voice.
“It has to be! Don’t let that guy sell it to anyone. I’ll be right over – once I find my shoes.” I limped into the living room to search for my sneakers.
I wanted to hang up but Cody kept talking. “Wait a minute, Jacey. If you want your iPod back, you have to prove it’s yours. Your iPod was probably stolen.”
“Yeah, stolen. Anyway, the pawn shop owns it now. They aren’t going to just hand it over to you because you say it’s yours.”
“But it is mine. How on earth am I going to prove that?” I lifted the dust ruffle of the couch and looked underneath. No sneakers. Then my eyes fell on Mom’s straw purse. It was on the floor next to the sofa – sitting on top of my sneakers.
When I spied Mom’s straw purse, a light bulb went off in my brain. It was a Eureka moment if ever there was one. “Never mind, Cody,” I said, calmer now. “I just found my shoes and maybe the proof I need. I’ll get back with you, okay?”
I hung up and began digging through Mom’s purse. Bingo! The iPod receipt was wadded up in the bottom.
I called Lieutenant Johnson, reported the loss of my iPod, and gave him its serial number from Mom’s receipt. He told me to stay put, as we was going to pay Pelican Pawn & Tackle a little visit himself.
That night I couldn’t fall asleep. I was freaking out about a thief being in my room. Who had stolen my iPod? The maid? If it was the maid, she had a key to our condo. That meant she could get inside it anytime. She could even come in the middle of the night while I was sleeping.
Then I began thinking about Lindsay. How was I going to tell her that Tripp was two-timing her with Valerie? Why did she hang out with such people? Surely she could see that they were no good. I began to obsess about it.
I had been lying there staring at the ceiling forever, when a car alarm went off in the other side of the resort. Another burglary? My mind buzzed with new worry.
I got out of bed and put on my robe, then headed through the condo and out on the balcony. I wanted to see what was going on. I grabbed Mom’s binoculars. I looked across the pool to the other side of the resort and into the lighted parking garage beneath. The Eggmobile was driving up. The night security guard got out and walked over to a red sports car. Someone got off the elevator and joined him. I watched until they got the alarm turned off.
I shuffled back to my room, finally sleepy. I cracked open my window to listen to the night sounds. The soft sea breeze swept into the room, ruffling the curtains. I was drifting to sleep when I heard potato-potato-potato. A Harley was in our parking garage down below. Its idle was so loud it could have waked the dead.
Read next chapter, Chapter 8: A Cry for Help.