I usually don’t listen in on other peoples’ gossip but what I heard this time really set me off. It seems a woman working near my department was telling a friend of hers about some weird goings-on with one of her neighbors. I started to ignore it and go back to what I was doing when I heard something about a little girl staying locked up in a shed in the back yard.
The friend asked the other woman if she called the cops and she said “no way – I don’t get involved. I don’t want nothin’ happening to me or my family.”
I watched the two of them chat it up a little bit longer, then they went back to their desks. I approached the woman talking about the kid in the shed and asked her some questions about what the little girl looked like, if she can remember.
“I think she was blonde, has her hands cuffed in front of her all the time –she wears the same clothes every day.”
“What do the clothes look like?”
“Blue jeans and sometimes she wears a sweatshirt, sometimes just a tank top. This sicko once made her stand out in the rain and she wasn’t even wearing the sweatshirt.”
She laughed, “Why are you so concerned about this, if you don’t mind my asking.”
I stared at her for a second and looked around to make sure no one else could hear us.
“Look, here’s the thing. My daughter’s been missing for almost a month, and the clothes you described sound like the things she wore the day she disappeared.”
She gasped and put her hand to her mouth. “Missing? Oh, my God, I’m so sorry.” She stared at my face and I could see the light switched on upstairs. “You’re Sammy’s father…uh, the girl with the bike…I thought you looked familiar…”
"I’ve been looking for her constantly since she disappeared.”
“No wonder you always look so beat when you come in, and you’re always so moody. I misjudged you completely. I just thought you liked to party a lot. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you, but there’s no need. I didn’t want to bring this in here, but maybe I should’ve. Up to now, my boss was the only one who knows about this, but neither here nor there. These creeps in your neighborhood – what’s the location?”
I cringed when she told me. There was an old dilapidated apartment complex across from where she lived on 87th street, west of Harlem Avenue in another neighboring burg.
It was smack in the middle of an industrial area littered with liquor stores, strip clubs, pawn shops and dirty, slimy motels. I drove through this area when I was house-hunting years ago, and I always prayed my little girl would never know of its existence. Yet, I was now faced with the pungent possibility of my baby being mired in this morass.
I told my boss what was up and that I had to take off. I changed clothes and ran like crazy, punching the down button on the elevator. It couldn’t come fast enough. I raced to my car and over to the scene of this debacle. I didn’t want to leap into action right away – didn’t want to do anything rash. For all I know it could be someone else’s kid – maybe even the sicko’s own kid. I just had to go over there and see for myself.