Two single days marred my childhood. The day my mother disappeared, and the day my father was arrested. My annual visit to the Riverbend maximum security prison pulls out memories I keep neatly tucked away.
I make a point to visit my father every year on my mother’s birthday. January comes around and I start planning for my trip. February begins, and besides valentine’s day concerns, I dream of my last days with her. Each day that follows feels like I’m dragging my body towards the gallows. My thoughts are scattered by the middle of March.
Preoccupied with the trip—I know not to schedule any specialized jobs. Regardless of whatever else is happening in my life. I see my father on the seventeenth.
Everyone thinks my father killed my mother, but no evidence exists either way. I would like to believe he couldn’t hurt her—this one woman would be beyond his sickness. That would be a good thing for me. It would give me some hope.
There have been times I felt a real bloodlust rush in my veins. Deep in my core, I know he killed her. I know it’s what broke him. I don’t get too familiar with my women. I suppose I use this yearly visit to remind myself not to break that rule.
My father claimed she left because she was angry at him. The problem with that story is my mother didn’t just leave—she vanished. She didn’t take her purse or her car, and none of her credit cards were used again.
According to the police reports, these facts were very telling to the detectives. My father is the prime suspect in her disappearance. There was a timeline established and it ended while she was at home alone with him.
Initially, my father said she would calm down and return. Some days I watched for hours from my second-story bedroom window. I imagined her walking up the driveway, dusty and dirty, having just escaped some evil thing. I imagined a lot of scenarios that explained how she could leave without taking me with her. Some circumstances beyond her control existed, allowing her to still be alive.
My father’s plan was to fix all the things she harped about. He repaved the front drive in the dark gray slate chips she wanted. They argued over the rocks, argued over the weeds, but they never really fought. At least they never fought in front of me. As an adult, I understand now how much she loved him. She must have. Her life was spent keeping us happy and fed. I remember how she doted on him. In my observations, such devotion is rare.
The last thing my father did was bulldoze a few old outbuildings and pour her a parking pad. His crew poured the cement. I carved my baseball number and her birthdate in the front corner. One of his friends came out with a flatbed truck stacked high with wood. He built the frame and the roof of the carport. I helped paint it red to match the house.
We parked her bug in the bay closest to the front door and covered it with a canvas tarp. She loved that little blue car. I think the damn thing still sits in the same spot today.
My father was arrested when I was fourteen—two years after she vanished. My aunt Sissy kept the taxes paid until I could manage, but I don’t live there. A local guy watches the place, fishes in the stream, and keeps the weeds under control. He’s always asking to buy it from me. Maybe one day I’ll let it go, but I’m hanging on to it for now. It’s irrational, but I expect to see her in the kitchen when I visit the house. I always look even though I know all I will find is dust.
They make you wait forever in this God-forsaken, puke orange room. You sign in, empty your pockets, and submit your person to a search. Then as a reward, you get to sit and wait inside a pumpkin-colored room for an hour.
The air is always stale and thick with the smell of cheap perfume and cigarettes. The scent of painted concrete and old iron clings to every surface it touches. It’s punishment just to visit. The cramped flight into Tennessee was a pleasure compared to the visitor waiting area.
I always snicker. If the guards knew what I do for a living they wouldn’t let me leave. The level of illegal activities I participate in requires showmanship and skill. If you allow yourself to get sloppy and caught then, you deserve the red jumpsuit.
The faked identity I use when I visit shows me living in a college town. I even have a fake wet and reckless on my fake record. Nobody likes a choir boy, so you need at least one stain. The prison believes I’m his nephew. As far as I know, I’m his only guest today.
My father was convicted of murdering five women, and he has groupies like a fucken rock star. Women write to him and visit him. They have to pass a background check and all sorts of paperwork before they can visit. I find the whole lot of them sickening.
After my father went away, my aunt Sissy took care of me. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Since that cancer killed my grandmother, Sissy assumed it was a death sentence. She panicked, reducing our lives to contingency plans and neatly labeled boxes. We ceremoniously moved all the boxes to the house each weekend until her apartment was nearly bare.
Having many, mostly male friends, Sissy found me a good home with the richest one. The family lost their son. The house was still heavy feeling and dark years after his accident. The boy was playing in the street on the way home from school. Reports show the driver was released from any negligence. There was no alcohol or speed involved. The boy just walked out in front of the delivery truck.
After a few years, Nick adopted me. He gave me his name and eventually taught me his business. His wife is good to me, and his young son treats me like I am his blood. But this pleasant life hasn’t stopped me from looking for answers surrounding my mother’s disappearance.
As the guard walked the visitor waiting room. The anticipation in the air rattled to life. I waited, letting the others pack the doorway like cattle in a chute. The romance of the family visit was totally lost on me.
My father sat at a light blue, round table at the far back of the room. He looked older than last year and was clutching a fresh black Bible in his tanned, veiny hands. His red jumpsuit topped a stark white undershirt. Death row inmates look like a Santa Claus troop. The irony of that ridiculous scene did not escape me. I approached him, laughing.
“It’s good to see you in such a pleasant mood there, boy.”
“So did you find Jesus in those pages since last we met? I see you’ve let your hair grow back out. Did the skinheads reject you?” It was strange to see my father calm and well-groomed. He looked like anyone’s happy old grandfather fresh from tinkering in the garage.
“All men are guaranteed forgiveness if they will repent their sins, William.” The sound of my birth name booming out of his withered old mouth almost made me vomit.
“Don’t call me that. You know I go by Jake now.” It was like nails on a chalkboard, although that actual sound never bothered me. I came prepared for him to poke at me.
“It’s your name, Son. I know. I gave it to you. That other man may have given you his name, but my blood runs through your veins. What is his name again, Papadopoulos? The cement companies. They called him the Greek.”
“So Wade, you plan to repent your sins after all these years? Is that what you want me to believe?” His props were complete, but I knew the intent was hollow.
“Oh, I repented. Now I’m doing the penance required of all men.” My father’s voice sounded like an evangelical preacher. He committed entirely to his new reality.
“Penance? Is that what you call running the prison trade routes like a fat cow.”
“All my distractions were removed. The word must be read aloud with reverence and great understanding,” Wade expounded.
“Really? Why the hell would you give up that kind of power?” It sounded foolish. Somebody knocked him off his throne.
“With five life sentences. I can do whatever the hell I like.” There he was, with that tone of superiority dripping from every syllable.
“Has your medication changed? This new outlook is out of character, even for you.” His eyes were blue and dark like mine, I suppose that’s backward, but it was hard to look at them peering out of his wrinkled face and not see my own.
“My wickedness was great. I asked for forgiveness and it shall be granted to me. It is written in God’s most holy book. It will be done even if the laws of men will not allow for it in life.”
“All right then. I would like to start this year’s visit by asking where is my mother’s body?”
“Your mother is gone, Boy.” The words shot out his mouth quickly with no embellishments.
“In the spirit of repentance, tell me where she’s gone to, Old man.”
“My woman left me alone.” He sang out into the room. “Though she does visit me in my sleep. Fiery and loud that one. No prescription can keep her from me. She arrives each and every night without fail. Many doctors have tried to block her from my dreams, but they can’t. She is my angel sent to gently guide my soul into the hear after. I’m just biding my time in this place until she comes for me for the last time.”
“You are a crazy bastard. She’s going to drag you straight to hell and watch your ass burn.”
“Don’t get yourself all heated, William. The guards spook easily. Ask me your next question.” He seemed almost giddy with anticipation. The idea to get up and walk out, leaving him no outlet for his manipulation, crossed my mind.
“Did you kill her? And if you did kill her, I want to know what you did with my mother.”
“The woman I married is mine. Until the end of time, she is mine. What has or has not become of her is none of your concern. She is my property and I am most surely hers—body and soul. We need answer only to each other.”
“You have been working on that load of crap all year, haven’t you?”
“Yes, it’s the truth. You claimed you wanted the truth on your last visit. That is my truth.”
“My truth? I fucken hate that saying.” I balled my hands into fists under the table and took a deep breath.
“It’s been twelve years since she vanished. I’m selling my property in Tennessee and moving to Connecticut full time. There is no point coming back for the same tired conversation every year.” As the words filled the air between us, I knew it was the truth. There was nothing for me here.
“You can’t. Your great, great grandfather built the house himself. You can’t sell the land any more than you can sell your own heart and hope to live.” My father was agitated. I could see the veins in his neck pop. I hit a nerve I didn’t realize existed. There was no plan to sell the land, but I never dangled that threat in front of him before.
“Nothing is keeping me here but my yearly visit with you. Clearly, you are too crazy for conversation. There’s no reason for me to come back.”
“I won’t let you sell. It has to be preserved for future generations. You can’t sell our heritage!”
“You used our land as a dumping ground for the women you butchered. People still nail wreaths to God damn fence. The townsfolk of Columbia have not forgotten what you did to their daughter’s. There will never be more generations in that house.”
“Sell it, and your mother will never rest. She won’t find peace.” My father crossed his arms and sat at the edge of the metal seat.
“You dumped my mother where you dumped all your whores and junkies? If we weren’t on camera, I would tear your throat out where you sit,” I growled low and quiet, envisioning precisely how to kill him.
“She wouldn’t leave well enough alone. Anything else I could have fixed, but that look. There was no way to repair what was broken. She left me no choice.” My father’s hands twitched. It looked like the muscles in his fingers were reliving a strangling. I hated him, but I never felt pity for the man before. The new feeling made me hate him all the more.
“It’s my land. I’ll burn it, sell it, donate it to the blackest church I can find. Just to fuck with you.” My father couldn’t look at a person and not see their skin color. It was one of the other things that disgusted me about him.
The old man took two breaths before pounding on the table and screaming the gory details of Cheryl Ann Lincoln’s attack. She was his last victim and barely escaped with her life. She lost so much blood before being found wandering the road outside the house. She lived, but with permanent brain damage. The guards knew what to expect. They stayed close to “protect” me from my uncle.
I suspected my mother was dead the first night she didn’t come home. My father killed my mother, but I only say the words out loud when I’m in his face. I don’t like the feeling of them touching my lips.
Accepting my theories as facts were impossible as a child. She was both alive and dead at the same time. My father all but confessed to leaving my mother’s body on our family’s land. That information alone was worth my trouble and the nine bills I put on his commissary account.
Back in the day, the cadaver dogs hunted all over the property. They found the first girl in the old barn buried about four feet deep. I’ve read the dogs can smell decay in the ground as deep as twenty feet. My father owned a backhoe. He could have buried the body much deeper. Still, I don’t think he had Google or the presence of mind to research body recovery tactics.
The last four women found were left under a duck blind that stood by the river for decades. The teams dug all over the property, but they didn’t find more bodies.
Seventeen girls went missing in the area in the five years before his capture. Ten of those girls were from local families. All those people expected to find closure in the dirt outside my bedroom window. Only five sets of remains were found. Many people weren’t pleased with those results.
Legal requests to investigate the land came in over the years. Nick stepped up and took care of all of it for me.
Getting out of the prison took almost as long as it did to get in. I stopped for a coffee before heading towards home.
I have a job out of state that starts in a few days. If I’m lucky, I can get a local team of dogs out to the property to look for my mother again before leaving town.