Thursday, September 27, 2018

MUDDY TOES (Part 1 of 2 Parts)


dontravis.com blog post #304
  
Courtesy of Pixabay
A change of pace this week. An action piece. Sorry if it runs a little long.

*****
MUDDY TOES

          Samantha sat in the grass joyfully wiggling her toes in the mud puddle beneath a leaky water spigot. She giggled, anticipating the mock horror her mother would display when she squealed, “Sammy, you’re not a three-year-old girl, you’re a three-year-old piggy!”
          “Four,” Sammy always replied, holding up her fingers with a pudgy thumb folded into her palm.”
          Her mother would laugh. “Not yet, but soon.” Then she would set Sammy on the counter beside the sink and immerse her feet in warm soapy water where the black mud always magically floated away, leaving her toes clean and pink. Then her mommy always tugged on each one, saying, Piggy, piggy, piggy.
          Now as she splashed her feet in the muddy puddle, a shadow fell over her. She twisted around, expecting to see her mother standing there with hands on hips. Instead, it was someone else. Frightened, Samantha scrambled to her feet and raced for the house.
          She made it to the front porch.


          Detective Sandra Winston stared at the small, muddy puddle beneath a water spout in the foundation of the red brick ranch style house. While her partner questioned Rick and Mary Harcaster, the child’s frantic parents, inside, Sandy wanted to inspect the scene of the crime… if that’s what it was. She could easily imagine the girl sitting in the grass where her small bottom made a slight impression in the grass. Petite brown leather sandals sat neatly side-by-side nearby. Marks from the child’s bare heels were clearly visible near the side of the puddle. She could almost hear Samantha’s happy, musical laughter as she gleefully enjoyed a “no-no.”
          Sandy saw where the child had stood, her wet feet slipping just a little in the grass before she bolted for safety. Tiny muddy footprints indicated she made it to the front porch. Then the prints stopped. Stopped where the girl was snatched.
          “Will there be a ransom demand, do you think?” Detective Tom Bales asked as he came out of the house. Tom had been Sandy’s partner for the past year.
          “Father’s a lawyer. Good house in a good neighborhood. And everybody thinks lawyers are rich. Good chance.”
          “Let’s hope so,” he said with feeling.
          After the crime scene unit arrived and chased them out of the front yard, they canvassed the neighbors who confirmed that Sammy’s mother was neither careless nor negligent. She checked on her child regularly when Samantha played in their gated front yard. One elderly man had noticed a black car pulling away from the curb near the Harcaster house. A phone call confirmed the father had been at work in his law firm downtown.
          That task completed, they returned to the house to console the frightened family. A technician was in the kitchen rigging the house phone so that they could listen to and record any incoming calls… just in case. Another took fingerprints from the parents for elimination purposes.
          Eventually, the other officers completed their tasks and departed, including the crime scene unit. Sandy and Tom remained behind to control the situation in case a ransom call was received. The phone rang twice, almost sending Sammy’s mother into a panic, but both were routine calls from family and friends.
          As the day stretched on, the Harcasters became more difficult to bolster. Mary took to her bed with a headache. Rick tried to do business from the den phone’s second line, but he soon gave that up to sit and stare at the telephone.
          Midafternoon, the crime scene commander called Sandy on her cell phone. They’d found numerous prints or partial prints on the front gate, most of which were probably friends and neighbors. But one traced back to someone with a record. Sandy wrote down the information carefully before facing the others in the den, including Mary Harcaster who came out of the bedroom as if summoned by the chime of Sandy’s cell phone.
          She stared at the expectant faces before her. “Do either of you know a William B. Robbins? Is he a client of yours, Mr. Harcaster?”
          The lawyer’s mouth dropped open and his wife let out a shriek, clutching at a chair back to keep from collapsing.
          “That’s my ex-husband!” she wailed. “But… but he’s in prison.”
          “Apparently not. They found his prints on your gate.”
          “He escaped?” Harcaster asked.
          “He’s been released.”
          “That can't be! The prosecutor promised they’d notify us before he was released,” Mary said.
          “Then somebody dropped the ball. He was paroled six weeks ago. At least, he was sent to a halfway house on the west side of town.”
          “Oh, my God! My little girl,” the mother wailed.
          Sandy drew a deep breath. “Mrs. Harcaster, I have to ask a delicate question. Is Samantha William Robbins’ daughter?”
          She gasped aloud. “Good Lord, no! B-but he thinks he is.”
          “Explain, please,” Tom said.
          Mary made an obvious effort to steady herself. “I met Bill at a Ted talk. He seemed nice. You know, ambitious. Motivated. I got swept up in the public persona of Bill Robbins before I learned who the real Bill Robbins was. We were married less than a year before he was arrested by the FBI for bank fraud. I was pregnant at the time, but I had a miscarriage during his trial.”
          Rick took up the tale. “I knew Mary from way back. During the long period from Bill’s arrest to trial, I helped keep up her morale.”
          “Were you William Robbins’ attorney?” Tom asked.
          “Absolutely not! I was just a family friend. Anyway, Mary and I grew close. When we learned Mary was pregnant again, she divorced Bill and married me. Whether it’s a case of self-delusion or not, he insisted that Samantha is his child. The letters from the prison where he was incarcerated got wilder.”
          “Threatening?” Sandy asked.
          “Not exactly, but he claimed he had a right to see his child. To be in her life. He wanted Mary to bring her for a visit. She rejected his request, and the letters grew stronger. That’s when the prosecutor promised to notify us in advance of any change in Bill’s status.”

Continued next week.

*****
Does a crazed ex-con have little Sammy? Will he harm her or ask for a ransom? Next week will tell.

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Don

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