Chapter 22 – The disappearance

A week after our excursion for ice cream, I was at home preparing for Melissa’s return from school when the phone rang. It was her teacher calling to say Melissa had left her schoolbag behind when my sister picked her up after school. As I heard her saying the words, I could feel a lump of ice forming in my stomach.

“I don’t have a sister,” I croaked, my mind racing with a hundred thoughts, none of them good.

“You don’t? But…but…the schoolyard supervisor said the woman told her she was your sister….and…and… Melissa didn’t seem to mind going with her. It must have been a friend,” she added hopefully.

I had to force myself to breathe, the constriction in my chest all but paralysing me.

Finally, the realization of what had happened shook me out of my daze, and I was able to react.

“How could you do something like that? You let someone take her!” I shouted in a shrill voice. “Call the police! Find her!”

The woman at the other end of the line said she would call immediately, but she wanted me to calm down, she thought it might be a misunderstanding. I could hear the apprehension and doubt in her voice, her words doing nothing to calm me.

I hung up the phone and took a series of deep breaths. I couldn’t panic. I had to think about what to do. Someone had taken Melissa! Who could do such a thing? Why?

I paced frantically around the room, but suddenly stopped in mid-stride.

Of course. It became clear in my mind. It was him. The bastard! He had taken Melissa.

I grabbed my purse and keys, and ran out the door. I was almost blind with fury. I couldn’t believe someone would use a helpless child in such a way, for their own means. I drove recklessly toward his office. All I could think was that the arrogant son-of-a-bitch had taken Melissa and I would make him pay for it if it was the last thing I ever did.

Racing through the office building, I ignored the curious stares. I didn’t care if people thought I was a crazed madwoman.  All I wanted was to dangle his body from the rooftop of this building and let him know the kind of fear that had coursed through me when I had received that terrible phone call.

I strode past his startled secretary, threw open his door, stormed over the threshold, and slammed it behind me. Michael was leaning back in his chair, looking composed and professional, talking on the phone. Upon my entrance, he immediately straightened and spoke to the person on the other end of the line, “Uh, Bill, I’ll have to let you go now. Something’s come up. I’ll call you back later… OK, thanks.”

The sound of my palms hitting the polished surface of his desk echoed through the vast room.

“You slimy, filthy bastard. I’ll see you rot in hell for this!”

His eyes widened and he opened his mouth to speak. I didn’t give him a chance. I continued furiously.

“How stupid do you think I am? Did you think I wouldn’t know it was you? Where is she?”

I was trembling with rage. I wanted to reach across the desk, put my hands around his neck, and strangle him.

Almost before I was aware of it, he came around the desk and grabbed me by my shoulders. His brows were lowered and he looked at me fiercely.

“What are you talking about?” he said, harshly.

“You know very well what I’m talking about. You took Melissa, you rotten, stinking…”

“Melissa’s gone? Did you call the police?”

“Get your hands off me. No, I didn’t call the police because I know it was you who took her. I’ll make you pay for this.”

He pulled me closer until our faces were only a few inches apart. He stared into my eyes and spoke in a slow, deep voice, as if he were speaking to a young child.

“Rebecca, I don’t have Melissa. We have to call the police.”

“No, you have her! You do have her!”

I could hear the pleading in my voice. The hot fire of rage was rapidly turning into another emotion. Panic. Sheer total panic. I brought my hands up to grasp the front of his neatly pressed shirt, and, as I looked up into his eyes, I saw what I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge. Fear. A mirror image of the fear I was feeling. He was afraid for Melissa.