Our tour stopped in Las Vegas, not too far from my home, and today I headed there after a short plane ride. I should have gone last night, but I had been working a grueling schedule, so I chose some needed sleep instead of yet another red-eye flight back. We were on the road constantly, and I felt a little guilty pushing the last couple concert dates together for my own personal business.
Today we would finally tell her parents about the baby. As we made it to the second trimester, we were in the clear as far as Chelsea was concerned. She feared another miscarriage but all that worry turned out to be unnecessary. This baby was going to happen, and I only hoped she could finally stop being so stressed about it.
I understood she’d had a miscarriage before, but even the doctor said it could have been for any reason and nothing she had any control over. Her anxiety grew just as strong this time even though she tried to keep it from me. She was nervous to tell her father, and I felt it had to do with me being the father as much as the possibility of losing the child.
We should have eloped in Vegas. Being married before seeing her parents might have made it easier for her, but I also wanted her to plan the wedding of her dreams. After this trip to Wisconsin, it would be all out in the open, anyway.
The hastily purchased ring was in my suitcase. I didn’t take my time picking it out but instead chose a simple gold band in the small jewelry store down the road from our house. After we were engaged, we would pick a better one out together, one I knew she would love.
Thinking back to the night that Amilyn and Phillip came to our house, I should have just proposed then, but I’d overheard her concerns when she was speaking with Ami. Was she really superstitious or did she doubt me? Did she think I wouldn’t be a good husband or father, or maybe both? I needed to prove it to her. To show her I loved her and would do anything for her and this trip to Wisconsin would be the proof she needed.
What would Ed say? My mind went back to the hospital room after my diabetic coma. A time when I thought I had lost Chelsea. Ed didn’t believe I was faithful. He pretty much told her to get rid of me and told me he would never condone a marriage between us. Chelsea didn’t hear that part, and now with the pregnancy, I still had to worry. Would he look at me as doing the respectable thing by marrying his daughter or would he feel she was still better off without me? I would have married her regardless. I loved her so much, and this baby girl was the icing on top.
A little girl. Even though Chelsea didn’t want to learn the sex, I knew. A blue-eyed blonde with curls and a little button nose like her mother. A daddy’s girl. I couldn’t wait to hold her on my lap and read to her or sing her very own little lullaby. I even started to write it while lying awake on the road.
The plane ride went off without a hitch. You never knew in today’s world if there would be bad weather or other delays of some sort, but things were looking good for me. The weather was cooperating, and we would have plenty of time to relax and hang out before the next flight took us to her parents.
Exiting the plane, I didn’t see her in the lobby as we had planned. Of course, she could be running late as traffic issues were still common in the mid-morning after the early rush hour. Thinking I could run to get my bag, I started to text her as I walked to the luggage area. Even after I retrieved my belongings and walked to the front of the airport, I still thought she must be tied up. She didn’t answer my text, but she didn’t text and drive. Convinced she was on her way, I called her phone. She would answer it with her hands-free monitor in her car, and I needed to know when to meet her.
When she still didn’t answer, I started to worry. Even if she didn’t want to take her car and called a ride, she would have been able to text or call. Maybe her phone died? No, when I called, it rang instead of going right to voicemail. It couldn’t be dead, could it?
I couldn’t help but get a bad feeling. Chelsea would have answered me by now and the thought that she was in trouble jumped to the forefront of my mind before I could tamp it down. Nervously, I went to the front gate and had Chelsea paged. What if she was here and didn’t hear her phone? No, it couldn’t be right. She would expect me to call when the plane touched down. There was a nagging part of me that let my mind run wild.
Car accident? She couldn’t respond to me if she was in a car accident. I waited a little while longer at the front of the airport, but now I couldn’t stand it. Going outside, I got a taxi. I gave him the address and told him to hurry, insisting I would pay any fines.
Next, I called the police so certain something had gone wrong. Was that sane? I didn’t care. I needed to get to the bottom of it. I asked about any accidents along the road she would have taken to get to the airport, sure they thought I was nuts. When I used my celebrity status and insisted someone go to the house, they went begrudgingly, telling me they would send an officer as soon as they could.
Minutes went by as I continued to try her phone. I left message after message, trying to get a hold of her praying she would answer but deep down, I knew she wouldn’t. I was convinced something was wrong.
The phone rang in my hand, an unknown number popping up on the screen. Quickly, I answered to discover the police. “Did you find her? What is going on?” I knew I sounded like a raving lunatic and I didn’t care.
“We have a situation. We need you to come to your place of residence.” A situation? Just the words took on an ominous veil.
“What? What situation? What is going on?” My voice strained to understand.
“The officer who went to your house found the back patio door shattered. There seems to be no one in your house.” The words drained the blood from me. Shattered door? Chelsea wasn’t there? What the hell happened?
“I am on my way. I should be there in...” Looking at the route I estimated, “... a half-hour.” And then as an afterthought, my voice cracking, “Find her. Find her please.”
Snapping at the driver, I yelled for him to drive faster. He went speeding along the highway but it was excruciatingly slow in my mind. My gut reaction knew something was wrong, but I would not let my mind go there. There had to be a reasonable explanation for this. The glass shattered because of some hidden imperfection and right now she sat fuming at the airport wondering where I went after my plane landed. The thought brought little comfort, but I clung to it as a lifeline to my sanity. Her pissed off at the airport seemed better than the other scenarios running through my head. I would gladly deal with her fury with missing our flight to Wisconsin when I saw she was okay.
Finally, I made it to my road. I saw the flashing lights of the squad cars as the taxi pulled into the circular driveway. Flinging the wad of cash from my wallet at the driver, I grabbed my bag and ran to the entrance of the house looking for Chelsea. Inside the wide open door, officers walked around yelling orders, but she was nowhere to be seen.
The first officer I saw stopped me, “Wait a minute. You can’t go in there. This is a crime scene.” A crime scene?
“What is going on? This is my house. Chelsea! Chelsea!” I yelled her name, unable to contemplate the commotion caused by the authorities. She must have been inside. Inside and talking to the police. Maybe it was just a botched break-in leaving her tied up in the basement but otherwise all right. I should have gotten a security system. Well, now it would be done as soon as we get back, as soon as I found out she was all right.
The officer that stopped me motioned to an older officer, and he came over, standing in my way. “Sir, is this your house?”
“Yes, yes!” I threw back my answer trying to get around him.
“Sir, you need to come with me. No, not that way. Please.” He stopped me before I entered the front door of the house. Instead, I let him guide me around the outside of the house to the back. We went up the deck steps to the pool area. More sirens sounded in the distance, and I kept asking him what was going on. It wasn’t until we made it on the deck, and I saw the shattered door for myself I knew, beyond a doubt, something bad happened.
“Mr. Stennet, I presume?” His eyes searched mine knowingly. He held the answers I needed, so I nodded anxiously for him to continue.
Standing close to the broken glass scattered along the side of the house, I demanded he gave me everything he knew. “What the fuck is going on? Will someone please tell me what is going on?” How could he look at me so calmly?
“Can you tell me where you’ve been for the past several hours.” What the hell did that mean? Why was he not telling me about Chelsea?
Annoyed, I spit out, “I... I just came from Vegas. My band had a gig last night. Chelsea was supposed to meet me at the airport.” He nodded and then looked down. “What the hell is going on!” Getting mad, I hated that I called them, and they treated me as a suspect. This was bullshit. “If you don’t tell me what is going on I will--”
“There has been a break-in. It appears that someone threw a patio chair through the glass doors to your house causing some sort of struggle inside. We can’t find your girlfriend.” Break-in? Struggle? Chelsea missing?
I ran to the door to see for myself, but they stopped me and held me back. “Hey, you don’t want to do that. It is a crime scene, and we need to dust for prints.”
“I need to see for myself.” I tried to push past him again and another officer came to help hold me off.
“Do that, and you might ruin any evidence we need to find her.” The weight of his proclamation stopped me cold while I slowly backed away. Yes, look for evidence. Find her. Oh God, find her.
The sirens in the distance alerted to more help on the way. They stopped outside my house to set up some type of mobile crime unit, convinced Chelsea had been taken by force. More police officers showed up as the day progressed. A criminal psychologist, forensic units, and beat cops all came in another wave. They all look at me with sympathy. They must have checked out my alibi because now they were giving me more information, what little they had.
There was little evidence to go on. Half of a sandwich on the kitchen floor, a broken plate, and her phone laid cracked by the bottom of the refrigerator. The hall table was tipped over, but the prints on it were hers and mine only. The only good news being a lack of blood, thank God but the prints they found on the patio chair were too smudged to be useful.
It wasn’t until the shrink came over and asked me about family or friends I thought to call anyone. Instantly I thought of Chelsea’s parents. They needed to know. We told them we were coming out, but how could I make that call? What should I say when I had such little information?
Finding their number in my phone, I swallowed down a lump in my throat when Barb answered, “Hello?”
She should not be the one I told. “Barb, I need to speak to Ed.”
“Oh, Brandt are you not coming out? I thought you would be in the air by now.” Her voice was light and airy, almost a mimic of Chelsea’s voice, and it hurt to hear it.
“Just put Ed on. Please.” I didn’t mean to be gruff, but I realized then what call I needed to make next.
“Yes.” Ed’s voice came on, and he sounded put off. He didn’t enjoy talking to me, but he would listen now.
“Ed, Chelsea has been taken.” I blurted it out. I didn’t know a better way to say it.
“What do you mean taken?” His gruff voice took on a note of concern.
“I came home to find the patio door broken and her cell phone on the floor. There was a struggle, and the cops are here. We are trying to find her.”
After the initial shock, I heard him exclaim they would be flying out here. I gave him Amilyn’s number, knowing she would help and to give me five minutes to call her first. He needed to get out here, and Amilyn still had contacts all over the airline industry.
Hanging up with him, I promised he would be the first to know if I heard anything. They were old-fashioned and didn’t even have a cell phone but promised to borrow their son’s phone before flying out. They didn’t even know how to use the thing, and honestly, I didn’t have Jacob’s number. Chelsea had it on her phone. They might let me look at it now since it had been dusted for prints.
I phoned Ami next. Thank God, she answered. Although stunned, I couldn’t give her the details. She promised to help with the flight arrangements, and I told her I would call with more information later. I gave her a brief list of the names of people who would contact her and thanked her for helping me before I ended the call and thought of my next logical step.
Who could help me? Who had ties to an investigation? My next call went to Tom. Normally, he wouldn’t be the first person on my list, but I needed his connections. Tom was my birth mother’s boyfriend, and more importantly, a former cop. He knew how this stuff went and when I told him about what had happened, he promised to come out and help too. He also promised to call his friend Bill, a private detective, and put him in on the case. It gave me some relief. Bill was smart, and if I could get him out here and work with the police, maybe we could find her. Wasn’t the first forty-eight hours the most critical?
They reluctantly brought me her phone to scroll through. I opened it up and saw all of my unanswered texts and voicemails. The officers looked at the last calls listed and her contact lists to see if it would lend a clue to what had happened. I asked for her brother’s number and put it in my phone. They asked me questions about her recent calls, but it didn’t really show much. She didn’t have anyone on there who I didn’t know about. Everyone on it was either family or a close friend. They took the phone anyway insisting their experts look into it.
More calls to and from. It kept my mind busy and off more ominous thoughts. I called my parents, and then I called Louis, who owned the limo company I frequently used. I explained the situation, and he said he could help. Much to my relief, he would work with Ami on flights and details and get them from the airport to here. Call after call kept coming into my phone. Her brothers and sisters. Ami called to update me on all the air traffic and to tell me she was on her way also, cutting her recent vacation short. She had broken up with her last boyfriend and felt she needed a getaway to Mexico. She had gone with some of her friends from work, and it would be a while before she could get here. I hoped by the time she did, I had better news.
Watching the gathering of people walking up and down the cliffside made me increasingly anxious. She was out there somewhere, I could feel it.
A plainclothes detective came to talk to me. He dressed in khaki pants and a blue polo shirt with a sports jacket draped over his arm. He brought me into the family room telling me he wanted to talk in a cooler location. The heat of the sun made the hot deck stifling with the reflection of the pool, although I didn’t notice. I didn’t even know the time of day still being in shock from the recent situation.
“Mr. Stennet, I am Detective Oprantz. I would like to ask you some questions.” He was shorter than me and a little on the stout side. He seemed like the type of guy more comfortable in work pants, bent over the hood of a car than in his present work attire. By the way he squinted at me, he didn’t seem to think I was completely innocent even though I had already explained my whereabouts. His demeanor pissed me off, and I already felt on a hair-trigger.
“I know this has been hard on you, but I need to find out what happened. I need to ask some questions. By the looks of it, nothing was stolen. No money or items as the crime happened mostly in the kitchen, which leads me to believe this could be a kidnapping, or maybe somebody has something against you?” My face darkened with the accusation. My fault? It weighed me down like a rock in my chest. Yes, it was possible. Chelsea had no enemies. Everyone loved her. My mind raced to find a solution.
“Well, there isn’t any ransom note, and there hasn’t been a call or contact, so we might be leading to another type of crime. We need to look at all the possibilities. If you were to point the finger at someone you know who would it be?” I realized I wasn’t well-liked by everyone. Not that it bothered me in the past, but there was no one I thought could do such a thing when I told him, so he started to probe me further.
“Anyone, no matter how meaningless it might be. We need a lead to look at.” He tried to keep the desperation out of his voice, and I didn’t get a good feeling from his pleading tone not realizing that this would be so hard. They didn’t have a clue. Nothing to go on. I swallowed and looked down at the floor. Tears stung at my eyes. Where the hell are you Chelsea? What happened? Come back to me. Please.
When I looked back up, I started to name some names, regardless of how far-fetched I thought it to be. Who hated me? Well, my list was a hell of a lot longer than Chelsea’s, for sure. I started with some long-ago bar act when we were still doing dive circuits. They didn’t even know where I lived, but I mentioned them because the lead singer threatened me almost ten years ago. I mentioned LuAnn, even though I knew she didn’t hate me. We made our peace a year ago, but with my mind forcing me to think about grudges, her name came to the top five.
As I worked backward to the very last year on my timetable of crappy people in my life, I thought of Ron. Yes, Ron, my old manager. He was the only one who never liked Chelsea. Mainly because he felt she hurt his money-making potential and the fact she wouldn’t sleep with him, but could he do something so evil?
“Last year we fired our old band manager. He didn’t like Chelsea. He thought she would cause the band to lose money. His money.” I told him as much information I knew about him. I’d found out from Bill, the detective, that he currently wreaked havoc across the states, settling in New York to start a consulting firm there. Just as well too, as I bad-mouthed him to anyone who would listen. Good thing he wasn’t still in town. I would personally go to his house and kill him if I thought he had anything to do with this. Could he have done this though? Who knows? I didn’t think he would hire a hooker to have sex with me either.
Detective Oprantz called from his phone and talked with a detective Parchaz. He relayed the names I’d given him as I noticed a commotion out on the beach. My eyes went to the window as I saw people in wet suits ready to drop into the ocean. Looking back at Detective Oprantz, he explained they were the dive team. I looked down suddenly as tears filled my eyes knowing why they were there. They were looking for a body, giving up and thinking she was dead. Fury rose to the surface as I yelled at him, redirecting my impotence in the situation. When he told me it was only to look for clues, I didn’t buy it. His eyes told me a different story and my stomach twisted in knots thinking I would never see Chelsea again.