Bright Young Things
There was only one thing to do on weekends in Patterson. And that wasn’t hyperbole. There was no movie theater, no bowling alley and not even a street long or straight enough for illegal drag racing. So if kids didn’t have transportation or permission to hang out in neighboring Kent, they wound up at the Patterson Baptist Church Ice Cream Social every Friday night. Most of the girls didn’t actually eat the ice cream or sundaes or other sweet desserts, and most of the boys ate way too much of everything, but it was primarily a place to see and be seen.
No one was foolish enough to dress up for it, but there was a kind of contrived casualness about the outfits. The jeans were just a little bit too distressed, and the shirts lightly crumpled but clean. The social started at eight p.m. and sometimes went just past midnight, which Reverend Sadler took as a sign that he was succeeding in his goal to make his church “a place of open arms for young people” but some couples just took advantage of the time to go out back to make out in the densely-forested area just behind the rectory. That’s where everyone said Meghan probably went when she didn’t show up back at the church to get a ride home from Kelly after the Social.
Kelly and Meghan rode together in Kelly’s mother’s Buick. Meghan had been excited to see Chance Powell who was Patterson High’s big man on campus. Chance was known to get really intense about a girl for about three months or so and then without warning drop her for someone else. But that didn’t seem to dissuade anyone. If anything, it made all the girls more excited, awaiting their turn for when he might bestow his somewhat over-the-top attention on them. It appeared to be Meghan’s turn. Chance had left a rose stuck in her locker door with a note the day before and had asked her to meet him at the Social. Everyone was all atwitter about it because it meant he was done with Jessica Shirley, one of the prettiest girls in school. For Meghan to be chosen over Jessica meant that she was almost certain to be catapulted into the rarefied world of the cool kids, Kelly explained. So she was excited as they drove over to the Social and told Kelly that if Chance tried to kiss her, she would let him, even though it was probably smarter to play a little hard to get.
And then they’d gotten to the Social, and Chance wasn’t there.
“Meghan moped around for a little bit,” Kelly explained. “And then she finally started talking to this other boy in our class when someone called her on her cell.”
“Who was it that called her?”
Deputy Monica Jensen leaned slightly forward, staring directly into Kelly Arlington’s eyes. You never knew with these kids, what they would tell and what they would conceal. Her own teenage years were recent enough that she recalled the secrets, the pacts she made with girlfriends, even when it was against their best interests.
“I don’t know,” Kelly shook her head.
She had the flaming red hair and hazel eyes that were practically a staple in Patterson. The town had been an early enclave for Irish immigrants, far from the discrimination and scorn of some of the bigger cities to the east. Though some of the family names didn’t reflect it anymore, Irish roots ran deep here.
“She didn’t tell you, or you didn’t ask?” Monica pressed.
“As soon as she got the call, she kind of went to the side of the room and turned her back so she could speak in private. And then when I looked over again she was gone.”
Kelly’s eyes were rimmed in red, as though she had been crying. Monica had no doubt that she had been. Meghan Sheehy’s parents were none too pleased with her since she was the last person with whom they had seen their daughter who now, 72 hours after the Social, was officially a missing person.
“At what time was this?”
“Maybe just after nine. Pretty early.”
“How late did you stay at the Social?”
“I stayed ‘til eleven,” Kelly said. “And then I figured she wasn’t coming back so I went home. I texted her a couple times before I left but she didn’t answer.”
“Where did you think she was?” Monica asked. She looked down at her notepad as she asked the question because she knew Kelly would get defensive, and wanted the inquiry to appear as casual as possible.
“I thought she went to meet up with Chance,” Kelly said. “I mean, that’s the only reason I could think of that she wouldn’t answer. Because she was with him.”
“And you said Chance wasn’t there, is that correct?”
“No, he wasn’t there.”
“Okay, Kelly. I think that’s all I have for now,” Monica said, smiling sympathetically.
Kelly looked surprised, her eyes widening. She sat there for a moment, across from Monica’s desk, worrying a loose button on her sweater. Poor girl would probably be a pariah; at least until they found Meghan and brought her back home. She had definitely broken ‘girl code’ by leaving without her best friend.
“That’s it?” Kelly asked.
“For now. Thank you, Kelly.”
Monica watched as the girl pushed herself up from her seat and walked slowly out of her office. Her parents, who had been waiting in an anteroom, emerged and hugged her. The father gave a brief wave as they left. On the Chief’s order, Monica was interviewing every kid who had been at the Social, Rev. Sadler and his two deacons who acted as chaperones for the event. But there was already a growing consensus in the department that Meghan had probably run away. Running away was a fairly common occurrence among Patterson’s teenagers. They rarely went very far or for very long, but run away they did, usually to Indianapolis, the closest big city, or to Cincinnati. Some of the kids were troubled and dabbled, predictably, in drugs, others were seeking thrills after deciding – not without reason – that Patterson was too close, too protective, maybe even stifling as a community.
Monica had run away herself once. But she only got as far as Kent before she realized that feeding and housing herself on the two hundred and seventeen dollars in babysitting money she’d taken with her, was a ridiculous pipe dream. She’d returned home the same day, only fifteen minutes late for dinner. She still remembered that her father, then Chief of the Patterson Police Department, had been talking about kids doing methamphetamines in the woods. She realized then that she was hopelessly sheltered and not suited for running away because she had no clue what methamphetamines were.
Monica looked down at the list of names supplied by Reverend Sadler. It was a long one and she had gotten through most of it in the last ten hours. The interviews yielded very little by way of information, including her interview with Rev. Sadler. He required kids at the Social to sign in, he said, because he wanted to reach out to them later for other church activities. And also because, he would later add, parents sometimes wanted to know when their kids got there and when they left.
“I generally tell them when they ask,” he explained. “It takes a village, after all . . .”
Monica could only imagine how much less popular the Ice Cream Socials might be if the kids knew they were being monitored in this way. But she had no objection. Being on the force made her only too aware of the kinds of antics kids were up to these days. Just last week, one of her colleagues had gotten wind of some idle talk about “offing” an unpopular teacher. A couple kids were opining on a social networking site about how much better their lives would be without this particular Patterson High faculty member. The talk had begun as what was clearly a joke but with each successive post had begun to sound an awful lot like planning until someone called in a tip. Sometimes that’s all it took – idle talk and one or two seriously alienated and messed up kids, and mayhem ensued. In this case, thankfully, a visit by an officer from Patterson PD and the kids in question were scared straight. They had, however, earned themselves a place on the delinquency watch list that was shared with the school.
Next on her interview list was the young man of the hour: Chance Powell. Monica had to admit she was at least curious. For someone who hadn’t even been at the Social, his name sure seemed to come up quite a bit. Probably eighty percent of the girls she’d interviewed were aware that he was expected to come to maybe “hook up” with Meghan, even the girls who acknowledged they were friends with neither. That, at least, hadn’t changed – the high school rumor mill was as active as it had been in her time.
Monica stepped out of her office to head for the break room. She would grab a coffee before talking to the Powell kid. He was likely to be interesting, at least. On her way out, she bumped into someone, poised to enter.
“Jensen. How’s it going?”
It was Kurt Jacobelli, her nominal partner. The department was small enough, with just twelve officers that ‘partners’ had limited meaning. But the chief felt strongly that every officer have someone they buddy-up with, even if only to have someone to listen to them gripe about how much they hated the job. Jacobelli had moved to Patterson from someplace else, a rarity, and been promptly paired with Monica because of his relative experience. He had seven years in New York City under his belt.
“About as expected. A lot of nothing.”
“I can sit in if you’d like.”
“If you have nothing better to do, you’re welcome.”
“I have nothing better to do.”
“So maybe you can start by getting the coffee and I’ll get the kid,” Monica said.
Jacobelli smiled. He was one of the few guys in the department secure enough to allow her to occasionally treat him like a grunt. Monica figured he had nothing left to prove after being part of the NYPD. He’d served on 9/11, so the word was that he’d come to a small town to get away from the memories but remain in the profession he loved. No one had the stones to ask him anything about where he’d been that day, and what he’d seen. Monica certainly didn’t.
There was a lone kid in the waiting area when Monica walked in. She glanced toward the door, expecting that at any moment a concerned parent would show.
He looked up and Monica had to admit, Chance Powell was definitely a handsome brute; the kind that would make young girls’ hearts flutter, what with the cornflower blue eyes, tan and rakishly unkempt, slightly too long sandy hair. He stood and towered over Monica’s slender five foot four frame. She put him at about six-foot two and one-ninety.
“Yup. That’s me.” He held out a hand which Monica ignored.
“I’m Deputy Jensen. I’ll be talking to you about Meghan Sheehy. C’mon back, Mr. Powell.” She turned and led the way to her office.
“How old are you?” she asked as they sat.
“Eighteen in November,” he said.
Ah, the good old days, Monica thought. When you answered that question with the age you were about to be rather than the one you were.
“That makes you a minor,” Monica said. “I’d feel more comfortable if your parents were here to at least . . .”
“There’s just my Dad,” Chance interrupted her. “You can call him if you want. But he’s at work.”
“I think we should.” Monica slid him her desk phone and watched as Chance punched out the number.
Mr. Powell was none too pleased to receive the call, and even after Monica introduced herself was impatient, bordering on rude.
“Chance told me about this,” he said. “I told him to do whatever he needed to do to cooperate with you all looking for that girl.”
“I appreciate that Mr. Powell, but I need to be sure that you understand . . .”
“Look, I’m a very busy man. Waste of time as far as I’m concerned. Chance wasn’t even at that little gathering over there by the church and is seeing some other girl as far as I know. So if you want to waste time talking to him and vice versa, be my guest.”
“So you’re comfortable . . .”
“Yes, yes. Good day, Miss Jensen.”
There was a sharp click and he was gone.
Monica replaced the receiver looked up at Chance Powell. He had a barely perceptible self-satisfied smile on his face. She wasn’t sure whether that meant he liked being right, or was simply pleased to have his father put her in her place. Just then Jacobelli showed up with their coffee and after handing Monica hers, grabbed a seat behind Chance without introducing himself. Monica had handed him her notepad so he could read some of the notes from her previous interviews and get caught up.
Taking out a new pad, she looked at Chance.
“So you weren’t at the Social on Friday,” she said. “Is that right, Mr. Powell?”
“Who said that?” Chance asked.
Monica tried not to show her surprise. “You were there.”
“Yeah. I was there.”
“Why are people saying you weren’t?”
“Probably because I left almost as soon as I came,” Chance said. He leaned back in his seat, meeting Monica’s gaze evenly.
“What time did you get there?”
“About seven forty-five. Not too many people were there yet. Then I left.”
“Why did I leave?”
“Yes,” Monica said. “Why did you leave?”
“I just wasn’t feeling it that night, I guess.”
No point trying to pry it out of him. She would get straight to the point. This kid seemed like the kind who might get his kicks out of just having her dance around the mulberry bush a couple times before telling her what he knew and she was way too exhausted to provide that kind of entertainment.
“Did you have plans to meet Meghan there?”
“Yup. I did.”
“And yet you didn’t stay.”
“I have a girlfriend. I felt bad about maybe hurting her feelings if she knew about me meeting Meghan.”
Monica’s eyes met Jacobelli’s for a moment. He was smiling, clearly skeptical of Chance’s portrayal of himself as the sensitive and remorseful boyfriend.
“And so you went home?” Monica asked.
“Never said that,” Chance shook his head.
“Then why don’t you just tell me, Chance?” Monica said, feigning impatience. “This isn’t Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Meghan’s probably run off for a little fun and her parents are worried. If you know something, you can greatly alleviate that worry by coughing it up.”
As expected, Chance Powell was taken off-guard by her using his first name once again. Switching back and forth like that threw most people off, making them unsure of whether or not they were in your favor or not. And try as we might, most people wanted to be in favor, even that of a complete stranger who might be adversarial, like a police officer.
Chance folded his arms and took a deep breath, seeming to consider for a few moments.
“Okay,” he said.
Monica waited and discreetly shifted her gaze to Jacobelli to see what he was making of all this. He was no longer smiling, and had looked up from reading her notes of the earlier interview. His face was very still. Monica could feel the hairs rise on the back of her neck.
“I don’t think Meghan ran away,” Chance said.
Monica took a sip of her coffee to mask her growing apprehension. “What makes you say that?”
“Because I was with her that night,” Chance said.
Monica blinked, forcing herself to say nothing.
“I called her while she was at the Social,” Chance continued. “I asked her to meet me, and she did. We hooked up in the back of my car and then I went home.”
“Where exactly did you . . . hook up?”
“We were near the edge of town. About ten minutes outside of Kent.”
“That’s quite a ways off from the church. How’d she get there?”
“I picked her up, we drove there together.”
“And then you said you went home. Didn’t you take Meghan home first?”
“No. I left her just outside the Frosty Freeze.”
“So you hooked up in the back of your car, dropped her outside of Frosty Freeze and went home.”
“She didn’t object to being left so far from home?”
“She wanted me to let her out, and so I did. It was her idea,” Chance Powell said. His voice had taken on a slightly petulant tone, reminding Monica that he was still basically a kid. But then again, so was Meghan Sheehy, and she was the one potentially in harm’s way.
“And where did she go from there?”
Chance shrugged again. “I don’t know Deputy Jensen,” he said looking her in the eye. “I guess that’s why everyone’s coming here talking to you. So you can find out.”