Anniversary Excerpt: Missed (Mist)

Today is the one-year anniversary of Mist, my story about a woman who was kidnapped -- then escaped. Now it's time for her revenge ... but first she has to put her past behind her, if she can.

We approached a small huddle of people, many wearing hard hats and others apparently civilians, like Ned and me. I didn't recognize anyone, but that didn't surprise me. Ron and I had lived on the street for just two years and we were both busy and didn't socialize much. I left after the abduction and never came back and if what Bob Bertowski said was true, the neighborhood had fallen on hard times since then. The residents who lived here when I lived here were probably long gone.
I looked past the group of people and saw my house still standing, next in line for the wrecking ball, constructions workers scurrying around it and the other houses nearby. The house had aged badly. The dark blue paint was peeling and the upper sleeping porch sagged as though it would tumble down of its own accord any minute. The appearance surprised me. I still remembered it as I left it. At that time, it had been repainted to its former Edwardian glory with contrasting paint on the trim and porches. The sleeping porch was slated for replacement during the spring when we tackled the upstairs remodeling.
But spring came and went with no one there to oversee any repairs. I was deep into therapy and when I wasn't talking to a shrink, I was at the hospital with Ron. This was the first time I was back since that day when I was drugged and forcibly removed. I had never returned, not even to get clothing or personal effects. I found a furnished apartment near Ron's hospital and later his nursing home so I could spend time with him. After the police were done with the house, friends and volunteers came in and had the furniture and household goods moved to a storage locker. The only item of furniture I really cared about was my desk, a battered old drop-front that Ron bought me at an antique sale when we first met. The desk and whatever other things they brought out were still in the locker, ten blocks away. I wasn't sure I'd ever look at any of it again.
I followed Ned to a tall man holding a clipboard. "O'Malley," I said, looking at the list of names on the paper clipped to the board.
He put a check next to the name and gestured to a row of paper bags near the curb. "Blue bag," he said then turned to another person approaching him.
Ned picked up the brown bag with the blue square of construction paper stapled to the front. He opened it and peered inside then closed it quickly. "What is it?" I asked.
"Just stuff," he said. "Probably from the house."
One of the construction workers overheard. "We went through the house and picked up the stray things we found. Weren't sure if it was important or not."
"What could be left?" I took the bag from Ned and looked inside. Memories flooded me. A small, grinning stuffed pumpkin that used to sit on top of the television. The broken remnant of a cat statue my mother gave me on my tenth birthday. The remote control to the DVD player. A tattered scarf, the 'tug toy' Ron used to tease Molly into a tug-of-war. And there was Molly's cloth Raggedy Ann doll, the worn and grubby thing that Molly carried with her wherever she went. I pulled it out and touched the crusty, bloody stain on Ann's leg. Molly used to sleep with Raggedy Ann, wrapping her doggy legs around the doll and resting her pug head on Ann's head so it looked like they were both dreaming together.
Ned took the doll from me and stuffed it back in the bag. "We'll look at it later," he said, jamming the bag under his arm. He nodded to the worker. "Thanks."
I nodded, too, unable to speak. Who would have thought, after all this time, that the memories could hurt so much? Ned tucked my arm under his and I leaned gratefully against him, his solid warmth and calm presence like a balm. Ned always provided a bulwark of comfort, silently there like a wall that I could lean on when I needed it. He didn't say anything, just walked with me a few steps away from the others where I stopped to stare at the house.
A few months ago a restoration group had contacted me, asking to purchase anything of authentic value in the home. I gave them my permission to gut the place once I knew the building would be razed. So now the windows were gone, the trim around the front porch had vanished, the decorative finials and fencing was torn away. I'm sure the inside looked as bereft as the exterior. The house stood like a poor sister stripped of her finery. I sighed as I remembered the work that went into the house. We hadn't even begun the upstairs restoration. It took us most of a year to do the downstairs, getting all of the historically accurate parts needed for a true rehabilitation of the old house. Ron was fussy about that, only buying reproduction work when he couldn't find authentic doorknobs, millwork, or flooring.
It wasn't just the house he restored. He made sure to purchase period furniture and furnishings, haunting antique shops and auctions around the country in order to find what he wanted. His wealth made such trips possible, of course. For Ron, money truly was no barrier to getting what he wanted. Those antiques were still in the storage locker, part of the estate contention I was fighting over with Ron's sister, Clarissa.
It was Ron's money and his connection to one of the wealthiest and famous families in Pittsburgh that first made the police assume I was simply kidnapped for ransom. It wasn't until days later, when no ransom note appeared, that they started to realize I was truly gone. And it wasn't until I escaped and another woman was kidnapped that they realized I had been a prisoner of a serial, sadistic rapist.
"Stand back, folks," someone said.
I started, surprised to find myself back in this place and time. Ned stepped to one side and I followed his lead as the crane moved forward, swinging a gigantic wrecking ball ponderously toward the house. There was one hesitant moment as I wondered if the house would withstand the pummeling then the front wall collapsed, dust and rubble shooting upward with a cracking noise, as though thousands of twigs were being trod on by a giant, careless child.
I jumped as the wrecking ball swung again, this time connecting with the south wall. That was the entryway into the mudroom from the garage, behind the house and in the alley. The walkway from the garage was a flagstone path edged with daffodils in the spring and daisies in the summer. I had plans for the back yard. I was going to put in a Victorian herb garden and an arbor. Ron and I took a trip to England, a combination of research and pleasure. The highlight of the trip was a visit to Sissinghurst, where I fell in love with the beautiful garden 'rooms.' I came home from that trip with plans to do something similar in our little plot of Pittsburgh soil.
"I thought you'd be here."
I turned when at the sound of a low, gruff voice behind me. Detective Eric Albert had aged in the three years since I saw him last, right before I left town for good. His dark brown skin seemed to hang in folds on his face, giving him the look of a bloodhound. He still shaved his head and his neck still disappeared into the lines of his shoulders, adding to his squat, linebacker image but he was heavier now than before, with some of the muscle going to fat. When I knew him, he was in his early sixties. A year after I left, I got a card from him, saying he had taken retirement. The Bridal Murders probably hastened his decision.
"Hi, Eric." I extended my right hand and after a brief hesitation, he took it and gave it a brisk shake. His gaze went to Ned. "This is Ned Buchanan," I said. "He's a friend."
Eric frowned, his bloodshot brown eyes assessing Nate in one long, sweeping glance. "Name sounds familiar."
"He was a friend of Ron's," I said in explanation. I looked beyond Eric to the ruins of my home, my shoulders hunched against memory and cold. "Ned and Ron were in the Marines together. Ned used to live in Pittsburgh, too."
"I investigated Carolyn's case." Eric glanced at me then his speculative gaze went back to Ned. "Maybe I talked to you back then."
Ned shook Eric's hand briskly. "I had lost touch with Ron. You probably didn't get around to me." He turned to watch the wrecking ball demolish my house, obviously closing the subject. Talking about Ron always shook Ned.
"When I found out you sold the house, I wondered if you'd come back. Then when I read it was being torn down, well, that's when I was sure I'd find you here." Eric's voice reflected sympathy and understanding. "You held out for a long time."
"They made me an offer I couldn't refuse." I tried to smile but it just wouldn't come. I had been playing a game for a long time and today I didn't want to play anymore. I just wanted to watch the last of my past life die before me, without witnesses to evaluate me or assess me.
"You worked the case? Have they found anything new?" Ned asked, releasing my arm and turning his back to the ruins of my home, his head tilted toward Eric, the angle of his body inviting Eric to turn and talk to him.
I silently blessed him for diverting Eric's attention. I let their conversation fade into the background as the last corner came crashing down at the back of the house. That had been my office, a cozy room with flowered wallpaper that faced west, shady in the summer from the maples and warm in the winter when the leaves were off the trees that lined our back yard. Molly used to love to curl up on the rug under my desk and doze, her snores like little pig snorts as she breathed through her pug nose.
Something pressed into my hand. I looked down and a tear fell off my chin. I raised the handkerchief Ned had given me and dabbed at my eyes. "Sorry," I mumbled.
"You go ahead and cry all you want," Eric said. His turned his face to the house as though offering me privacy. I glimpsed the telltale glistening of tears in his eyes, too. "All you want."

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