“911, Where is your emergency?” I prepped my fingers over my keyboard concerned that the caller’s ID number hadn’t popped up on my screen. The station’s phone system had had intermittent problems all week, but as the police dispatcher handling our local emergency line today, I’d hoped everything was fixed. Apparently not.
“Please identify yourself and tell me what your emergency is.”
“Not important who I am. There’s a hullabaloo down on the beach. You need to send someone down here.”
Normally, we don’t get involved with beach events. They have their own keystone cop security team plus the Coast Guard for bigger items. Still, this might be one of those cross-jurisdictional messes that the chief wanted us involved in. I asked the caller for more information.
“Look, you need to send a few officers to this part of the beach. It’s like a circus here. Two young folks were messing around and went in the water and didn’t come back out. I saw them go in with my own eyes. He had his arm around her and then held her hand, almost leading her in. Thought they were simply bodysurfing the waves, but then they disappeared. There’s a crowd of onlookers milling around, and traffic must be backed up for at least two miles.”
I tried to get more details from the caller but all he said before hanging up on me was: “I swear the man looked like an Adonis.”
Not much to go on. I dutifully recorded the particulars of the call in my notes, including the time – which was five minutes after I should have gotten off work and been on the way to pick up my daughter from her summer waitressing job.
Before I could get too mad that my replacement was late, she slid in blabbering about a traffic jam on the beach road. Usually, I tune her and her excuses out, but her mention of traffic and the beach caught my ear. Much as I wanted to get out of the office, something told me I needed to share this 911 call with the Chief. It would be up to him whether he thought it merited getting involved across jurisdictions. I glanced around the office for him, but the only person in my line of vision was Officer Les Wilson, the newbie.
“You know where the chief is?”
He pointed to the Chief’s office. “He’s on the phone with some woman. When the call came in, he got all hush hush and sent me out here.”
Great. Who knew how long the chief would be tied up on the phone? I glanced at my watch.
“Running late getting somewhere now that your shift is over? I’ll be glad to relay a message to the chief for you, Mavis.
“Think not.” Boy, this guy was green. The Chief liked us to be close mouthed about everything, especially if it had to do with him. I’d heard Les was hired as a favor to a friend of the Chief’s. Gloria was going to be mad at me for being late again, but I’d wait for the Chief to come out voluntarily. In the meantime, I tried phoning the restaurant, but its line was busy.
As I hung up from my unsuccessful call, the Chief finally appeared. I thought he’d blow off my feelings about the message, but he didn’t. Instead, for once, he looked darn serious. “Thanks, Mavis. I’ll get a car down there.”
“I can go,” Les offered.
“Not this time,” the Chief said. “I want you to stay here and wait for my call. I may need you to do something more important than directing traffic.”
I swear Les’s chest actually puffed up in response to the Chief’s comment not realizing he was being blown off. Considering this was the biggest thing I could remember happening in our town, it was doubtful Les would find himself with anything to do.
Already twenty minutes late, I went the long way to avoid the beach road traffic. I tried Gloria’s cellphone, but the call went straight to voice mail. She was probably complaining to someone about my being late. From past experience, I could just imagine our ride home once she got in the car. There’d be a moment of stone silence before my middle child lambasted me for always expecting her to be on time, do her chores promptly, and not give her dad or me any sass. Then, she’d point out that she expected, if we weren’t going to give her a car, that at least when her shift ended, I’d be responsible enough to be on time picking her up.
As I pulled into our special meeting spot in the Clam Shack’s back alley, I already could hear her voice ringing in my ears. “Mom! You’re late again! You know how hard it is, what with the tourists and that fishy smell inside the Clam Shack. It’s bad enough when you make me stand out in the alley like this, downwind of the dumpster, but my boss always comes out to check if I need a ride home. He’s such a creep…”
That’s when I’d cut her off and explain I couldn’t help being late today. Things had been crazy at my Police Department dispatcher job because of an emergency. If I spun the tale out enough, I was sure Gloria would stop pouting and complaining long enough for me to get her home.
I braced myself, but Gloria wasn’t waiting for me. In fact, the only person in the alley was her boss dumping a big bag in the dumpster. He let the dumpster lid drop, wiped his hands on his pants, and walked over to me waving.
I rolled down my car window.
“Something I can do for you, Mrs. Murdoch?”
“Just here to pick up Gloria.”
He raised an eyebrow. “She wasn’t on the schedule today. Did she tell you she was?”
Something in his voice or maybe his fishy smell creeped me out. Gloria might have a point. First thing when I got into the station tomorrow, I made a mental note to check him out.
I leaned back into my car. “Silly me. It was a crazy day at work and then hitting the traffic, I mixed up which kid I was supposed to pick up. Guess my car comes here on autopilot. I better hurry to get my son.”
As he nodded, I backed out of the alley. Miss Gloria was going to have some explaining to do when I got home.
When I let myself into the house, something was off. With three kids, there always is noise, but the house was silent. I called out Gloria’s name, but the only voice that answered was my husband, Cliff’s. “I’ll be downstairs in a moment,” he yelled.
Wanting something to do, I opened the front door to go outside to get the mail. Before I could step outside, a police cruiser, with its lights flashing, pulled into the driveway. It stopped, but the driver didn’t turn off the motor or lights before getting out of the car. “Les? What are you doing here?”
“The Chief called and asked me to come over here. Is your husband home?”
“He’s upstairs. Les, what’s wrong? Tell me!”
“I think it would be best if you got your husband down here, too.”
Les followed me inside and took off his cap while he waited by the door until Cliff joined us. “He’s here. Now, tell us what this is all about.”
“Mavis, that mess at the beach. There’s a swimmer missing.”
“Is it Ben? He and Sarah were going to the beach today. What happened to him?”
“I’m not here about Ben.”
I glanced at Cliff, but he didn’t say anything. I could tell, as always, he was waiting to process all the information.
“Your daughter, Gloria….”
“Has she been in an accident? She’s not here and I discovered that she wasn’t scheduled to work when I went to pick her up.”
“The Chief wanted me to check whether she was home. It seems two swimmers were riding the waves and disappeared.” Les fingered the brim of his cap. “Mavis, according to the Chief, people on the beach told him your daughter and the handsome guy she was with judged the sandcastle contest, left, and then were spotted in the water together. Do you know where your daughter is?”
I glanced at Cliff. He shook his head. “We don’t.”
“Well, I guess I better call the Chief and tell him.”
While he pulled out his cellphone and reported to the Chief, I grabbed Cliff’s arm. “I took a 911 call about missing swimmers. I never thought it was one of our kids. Did you know she was going to the beach?”
I stared at him. After all the years of being married, the look on his face told me he wasn’t telling me something. “Cliff, what is it?”
Before he could answer, the front door flew open. Trevor. At least one child was safely home.
— By BWG member Debra Goldstein