The Man Who Disappeared Suspense Short Fiction By Rachel Sterling

The Man Who Disappeared: Suspense Short Fiction By Rachel Sterling

Rachel Sterling, author of “The Man Who Disappeared”, has previously published short fiction in The Portland Review, Soundings East and Negative capability.

*****

I heard the screaming coming from the apartment next door . A sixty seven  year  old man lived there.

I didn’t know what to do at first. This gentleman was somewhat reclusive and I didn’t want to invade his privacy by calling the police.  The screaming did not stop , so I decided to call the police to see if they could come by and determine if this man was alright .  On the phone , the police said that they were very busy with other matters at the moment ,but that they would  send someone over soon to check on this man .

After more than a half an hour , a police officer arrived and proceeded  to knock on my neighbor’s door.  When there was no answer , the police officer knocked on my door and asked me  about the noises coming from the apartment  next door.  I told him I had no idea what was happening  but  that I had been concerned about the noises coming from the apartment . I told him that the problem  was in his hands and to please take care of it.

After more than a half an hour , a police officer arrived and proceeded  to knock on my neighbor’s door.

The police officer continued to knock on my neighbor’s door but there was still no answer . After five minutes , the officer decided to get into his squad car and drive away.  I thought this was strange since my neighbor could have been in some kind of trouble. I kept hearing the screaming and the loud crashing noises coming from his apartment day after day and at all hours of the night . After  three days of hearing these things , I decided to call the police again on my cell  as I was driving home from the supermarket . I told them that my neighbor had not raised or lowered his window blinds in eight days and that this was very unusual  since he always raised his blinds every morning and then lowered them in the evening.

I asked them once again to go check on him .  When I returned home later that day I noticed that there was a sign on my neighbors  apartment door reading ; This apartment has been condemned by the  Shafton Board of health  and no one is allowed to enter the premises until it has been inspected by the health department .

For weeks I had no idea what had happened to my neighbor. I noticed that an industrial cleaning company had been hired by someone to clean his apartment. Their white trucks with red lettering on the side  saying  Hazardous materials stood parked outside my neighbor’s apartment for a number of days. I kept hearing the phone ringing from his apartment but there was no one there to answer it.

Life went on as usual after my neighbor had suddenly disappeared . I wondered  what had happened to him now and then . My sister Meg called and I told her that my neighbor had mysteriously disappeared and that his apartment  had been condemned  by the town Board of health . ‘Sounds fishy to me was my sister Meg’s response.

I decided to go down into the basement of our building to get something out of the storage area. My neighbor’s storage area was right next to mine . I noticed a large open box of black and white photos  at the entrance of my neighbors storage area . On the top of the pile of photos  there was a photo of my neighbor as a teenager standing with his mother and father in front of a small white house . The house in this picture looked very familiar and I was certain that I had driven past it many times before .

After coming home one afternoon I noticed a strange car parked near our mail boxes  and there was a 92 year old woman I recognized as my neighbors mother standing  by the mailboxes.  I walked over to her and told her that I had called the police on her son.  She dropped her sons mail on the ground , turned to me with a shocked look in her eyes with her mouth wide open and said ; “ It was a good thing you did call the police , otherwise he would be dead . I asked her if he had had a heart attack and she told me he had had a diabetic attack and that he had been unable to get himself out of his bathtub .  I told her that I had called the police twice to check on her son but that they did not go into his apartment  the first time that they came .  She looked shocked and upset  when I told her that the police had just left without checking on him the first time .

A few days after I had spoken to this man’s mother a letter arrived  in the mail . It was from my neighbor . In the letter he thanked me for saving his life . The letter read;

 

Dear Ms. Steinberg :

Thank you for getting the police to go into my apartment in the early hours of Monday April 5th . I understand you had to call them twice. You saved my life , and I am deeply grateful .

I am sorry to have disturbed your sleep . I fell in the shower and the shower door came off the track , wedging me in the corner of the tub . I could not get up .

I know I have not always been an ideal neighbor, making too much noise at night . I have made an effort however in the last year to turn my music low enough after 10:00 PM. If you have any comments to make to me , you may email me at the above address.

I hope that we may have better relations in the future . Thanks again for your help .

May the spring bring the realization of all your hopes and dreams.

Sincerely

Lawrence Kincaid  lll

 

Lawrence Kincaid was recovering at the Hospital in the next town over. His absence from the building was just as strange as his presence in the building . He was always very reclusive while living here , never interacting  with any of the other tenants . One month went by but Lawrence Kincaid did not return . Two , three ,four and five months  went by and there was still no clue as to when Mr. Kincaid might be coming home to his apartment  which had been carefully cleaned by the industrial cleaners . I heard his telephone ringing everyday and the recording of his voice on his answering machine saying  ; So glad you called . Would you be so kind as to leave your name and the reason for your call. Thank you.

I could hear the first message  spoken by  a woman  with a high pitched voice  saying ; Lawrence , No need  to worry , we know where she is and she is safe . Who was she ?  Another message a day later was a man’s voice saying ; I know we can work something out my friend . I will be there to pick you up at 7 pm . I’ll be driving a grey Lincoln with silver trim.

Neither of these callers were aware apparently that Lawrence Kincaid the lll had collapsed in his bathtub after having a diabetic attack and was still recovering at the hospital .  His phone continued to ring just the same .

Every night the frogs croaked for hours in the huge puddle in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s windows. Even they were wondering when Lawrence Kincaid the lll was going to return . Even the June bugs blinked on and off in Lawrence Kincaid’s windows each night patiently waiting for him.

As the Days and weeks passed I couldn’t help noticing that piles of small to medium sized cardboard boxes left by the mailman were beginning to accumulate on the front porch in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s door. Each box appeared to have a carefully addressed white label on its side . I began wondering who was going to come and pick up Lawrence Kincaid’s boxes . His mother had stopped coming to pick up his mail for some reason .

I kept thinking of the photo of Lawrence Kincaid as a teenager standing with his mother and father in front of the small white house that I had noticed in Lawrence Kincaid’s  storage area down in the basement . In the photo, Lawrence Kincaid is smiling brightly and he looks very healthy and optimistic about life.  Lawrence Kincaid’s father’s right arm is resting on Lawrence’s shoulder in the photo .  The expression on his mother’s face is one of great pride in something . Could this photo have been taken for a special occasion ?

My sister Meg came over with her two girls Susan and Rachel and we went out to dinner at Meg’s favorite place , The Soup and Sandwich . Meg was so excited because Rachel had just won a scholarship to the college she was accepted at and Susan was going to France as a foreign exchange student  in the fall .  Rachel’s blue and white  dress blended well with the blue table cloth at the corner table where we were sitting.

She smiled when I told her how happy I was for her . Strings of small white lights covered the restaurant wall near the kitchen . Basso nova music flowed endlessly out of the speakers  around the windows by the front door.  “Any news about your Mr. Lawrence asked Meg as she searched in her purse for a mirror . “Nothing much was my reply when the waiter appeared at our table and asked if we were ready to order . We’ll all have the humus plate” said Meg when she lifted her mirror out of her purse .

“There are about 200 cardboard boxes on the porch in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s front door I said as Meg fixed her makeup in the mirror . “ I wonder what’s in them ?” said Rachel when the waiter placed her hummus plate in front of her.  A large truck splashed water onto the window near the street  as it sped by.

A small group of grammar school children walked along the sidewalk outside . Some of them put their little hands up against the restaurant window and peered in . “The phone rings all the time in Lawrence Kincaid’s apartment I told Meg when Susan left the table to go to the restroom . A woman with a high pitched voice is always leaving messages on his answering machine . “Sometimes she sounds like a being from another dimension “ I told Meg as she stared into my eyes .  “Maybe she has no one else to call said Rachel as she brought her glass of water to her mouth . Some people just need to leave messages at all hours of the day and night .

At night the scratching noises coming from the squirrels living in the attic could be heard for hours . The landlord said it would be difficult to get rid of all the squirrels who have burrowed their way through the insulation  and have made it their home . When they were not in the attic the squirrels would be attacking the bird feeder in the backyard . Lawrence Kincaid used to sit at the picnic table next to the bird feeder playing chess with himself . Sometimes he would have a pitcher of lemonade on the table .The birds would hop around next to him as Lawrence Kincaid contemplated his next chess move.

On the morning of September 15th ,the man who left a message on Lawrence Kincaid’s answering machine saying he was going to pick up Lawrence in a Grey Lincoln continental stopped by and loaded all the cardboard boxes in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s door into the trunk of his Grey Lincoln Continental.

The man was quite tall with salt and pepper hair wearing a tan suit and sun glasses . He dropped several boxes onto the road as he was carrying them . After he had transferred all the boxes into his trunk he just got into his grey Lincoln continental and drove away .

In the early hours of the morning I started noticing a car driving at a high speed up and down our lane. I knew I had seen this car before. When I turned a large camping light in its direction I saw that it was Lawrence Kincaid’s mother in her dark blue Subaru station wagon. She looked quite frazzled with her hair unkempt ,falling about her shoulders . Her bony hands tightly clutched her steering wheel and then she ran over the wooden mailboxes at the end of our building . After wards  she drove  quietly away into the night. I decided not to notify the police and to let the landlord take care of it.

Every few months three bulldozers and backhoes come onto our lane to smooth out the dirt road which is constantly developing deep potholes. The bulldozers came on Friday the 27th at 8 in the morning . As they drove slowly pushing gravel back and forth , the beeping warning bells on their vehicles rang like alarm clocks to wake up the sleeping residents of Ball lane .After an hour ,when they were finished ,Ball lane was flat once again with fresh gravel .

I decided to drive past the small white house at 2897 Chestnut road which had been Lawrence Kincaid’s childhood home .  When I drove onto his street I noticed three children running on the front lawn of the small white house. They were laughing and squirting water at each other with yellow and red squirt guns. A girl in orange shorts and blonds hair kept squirting a brown haired nine year old boy who could not out run her. A woman who appeared to be their mother turned on a garden  hose on the side of the house and sprayed the three children who started screaming as the forceful streams of water hit their faces.  “Time for lunch “ said the tall woman in green shorts as the children ran onto a screened in back porch .

After I had parked my car I started walking along the sidewalk in front of the small white house . An elderly gentleman smoking a pipe was walking towards me . When he noticed me staring at the number 2897 on the front of the small white house he turned to me and said; “It’s a prime number “. “It is I said surprised that this gentleman wearing a brown tweed suit would know such a thing . “How do you know “ I asked the odd looking man as he blew smoke from his pipe into the humid air .”Well I’ve been studying these particular prime numbers which have the property that the sum of the cubes of their digits plus the prime equals another prime number squared. 2897 is one of the prime numbers that has this property. When you cube it’s digits ,add them and then add 2897 to that number you will get the prime number 67 squared “ said the strange fellow as he emptied his brown pipe onto the cracked sidewalk . “That’s very interesting I said when the man tipped his hat towards me ,said good day and then continued to walk along the cracked sidewalk .

I continued to try to be inconspicuous as I gazed at the façade of Lawrence Kincaid’s childhood home . It still looked exactly like the small white house in the photo in the basement of our building.

The only difference was an extension that was added to the back of the house which made it look much larger from the side. In fact the extension to the house doubled its size.

Groups of brown cardboard boxes continued to be left in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s door by the mailman . I noticed that one of the boxes had a return address from Paris France. Broquet Automotive supplies was the name of the business on the return address. When I googled Broquet automotive supplies a picture of a large grey building came up with a sign in bold red capitol lettering on the front saying BROQUET. There was a phone number on the webpage 017-5971. When I called the number it rang and rang but there was no answer.

Meg called and said she wanted to meet in town at Charlene’s Tavern for bloody Mary’s. It was a humid night and there was more traffic than usual driving along the post road into Shafton.  The police had pulled over a speeder at the corner of route 116 and Apple orchard  way . His flashing blue lights distracted many drivers who couldn’t  help slowing down to gawk at the police officer  as he studiously wrote out the poor sods ticket.

I parked in back of Charlene’s next to a volks wagon bus that was covered with pink and yellow flowers . Charlenes was oddly packed for a Monday night . Meg was sitting on the patio by the sidewalk . She waved me over and smiled broadly when she noticed me making my way through the crowds of Monday night party folks. Meg stood up and hugged me when I reached the table . I could tell that she was a little upset about something.

What’s wrong hun?  I said when I noticed a few tears fall onto Meg’s arm . Meg wiped her eyes with a blue handkerchief and then stuffed it into her black purse sitting on the table . “I found these on the floor in Jakes BMW said Meg tearfully when she pulled a scrunched up ball of yellow panties out of her purse and placed them next to the amber candle glowing in the center of the table . A blonde waitress in a green blouse came to our table  and said ; “Can I get you two ladies some drinks ? when Meg quickly stuffed the yellow panties into her bag.

“Two bloody Mary’s said Meg when the musicians in the next room started to play something from the 70’s. “I knew something has been very different about Jake for the past few months said Meg. “Now I know what’s going on at least . It must be his office intern Becky who’s been coming to the office wearing those skimpy outfits said Meg when she turned and looked across the street over the hedges next to the patio. “He cant be serious about her though . She’s half his age I said when I took a sip of my Bloody Mary.  Three waiters came out of the kitchen holding trays full of shrimp and French fries.  They placed them down on a long thin table where a well dressed party of twelve were sitting  by the bar.

A grey haired man at the head of the table held up his glass of red wine and said ;  “A toast to a wonderful lady who’s made all our lives so much brighter when he motioned towards an elderly woman at the other end of the table . That’s nice , they’re celebrating some accomplished woman’s birthday I thought when I noticed it. I didn’t realize it right away but when I looked closer at the old woman at the end of the table I realized that it was Lawrence Kincaid’s mother.  She was dressed in a red formal gown and she had a pink corsage pinned on her left side.  She smiled broadly and held a young girls hand while people at the table made the toast. “ I cant believe it I said to Meg who was clutching her ice cold bloody

Mary in her tear stained hands. ‘what  said Meg when she reached into her purse . It’s Lawrence Kincaid’s mother sitting at the end of that table I said when I motioned towards the long thin candle lit table next to the crowded bar.

I decided to get up out of my cushioned chair and walk over to the lavishly decorated table where the twelve were sitting , hoping Mrs Kincaid would not recognize me .When she turned towards me she looked startled ,quickly put down her drink and said in a strong and certain tone ; “Lawrence will not be returning to his apartment “. “Why not ?  I asked curiously when a waiter walked between us . “He just wont be coming back was all she said as she swallowed a large portion of her Martini.

On the street in front of the patio a car suddenly slammed on its brakes as a stray dog walked to the other side of the street.  A few pedestrians took notice of the dog and gave him some cookies that they pulled out of a small brown paper bag.  The music coming from the bandstand continued to play familiar cover tunes from the 1970’s.  Meg continued to sip her Bloody Mary at our table while holding onto the scrunched up ball of yellow panties in her purse. The drink had certainly seemed to numb her out to the harsh reality of Jakes office adventures  with Becky. I gave Meg a hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her I needed to go home. Seeing Mrs. Kincaid and hearing Meg’s tale had been enough to make me call it a night .

When I pulled into the driveway I noticed a new group of cardboard boxes stacked very neatly in rows of five in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s door . One of the boxes was leaning against the front door at an angle. It was a darker brown color than the other boxes and its label was orange and diamond shaped. The corner of another box looked like some animal had been chewing on it with its sharp teeth since  the cardboard was all shredded and concave in that corner. When I stood at my front door turning the key in the lock I could hear the phone ringing in Lawrence Kincaid’s apartment.

It rang for a long time before his answering machine picked up .  I could hear Lawrence Kincaid’s familiar greeting coming from his machine ; “ So glad you called . Would you be so kind as to leave your name and the reason for your call . Thank you “.  There was a brief pause and then a woman began to leave a message : Lawrence , April  is here  and she remembers you as a boy riding your bikes together along the Marne river. She recalls how confident you were always taking risks and doing things that the other boys were afraid to do .  April has been aching to see you again after all these years . She has the notebook containing your contacts and acquaintances from that time . Then there was an awkward sounding stumbling noise and a loud dial tone.

As I listened to the loud dial tone noise coming from the apartment I wondered why Lawrence Kincaid’s mother had told me that he wouldn’t be returning . I wondered what complications had occurred that made it impossible for Lawrence to come back. The clock on my desk made a loud ticking noise while I lowered the front window shades.  A blue truck drove down the lane and parked in front of the mailboxes. A tall man wearing an orange coat got out of the truck and picked up the letters that were neatly tucked inside Lawrence Kincaid’s mailbox. He was wear a baseball cap and red sneakers.  The man quickly got back into his truck holding the letters in his right hand and then drove away .

Meg called and told me she was planning to divorce Jake because he couldn’t answer her questions about a number of different things.  She said he was gone much too often and that she found another pair of panties on the floor of his BMW. Meg  said she was glad that at least they managed to get Rachel and Susan into college before the divorce happened .

When I woke up after a long nights sleep I saw the Grey Lincoln Continental out the window parked in the driveway. The tall man with sun glasses , salt and pepper hair wearing a tan suit slowly opened the door of the continental and then walked briskly over to Lawrence Kincaid’s stoop . I noticed that one of the pockets on his suit was ripped and there were long tan threads hanging from his waste . A flock of pigeons landed on the grass in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s windows . The man bent over the fourteen neatly stacked boxes on Lawrence Kincaid’s stoop and clutched several of them in his hands.  Then he slowly walked over to the Lincoln  Continental and began  loading the boxes into the trunk .

When the man turned to the right I noticed that there was a heal missing on one of his shoes and that he wasn’t wearing any socks. He coughed twice as he hovered over the second group of boxes on the stoop . He pulled a red handkerchief out of his blazer pocket and rubbed it across his mouth and then he mumbled something to himself. After he placed the rest of the boxes into the trunk he checked his watch and got back into the grey continental . When he started to drive away I quickly grabbed my car keys and decided to try to follow this man in my car.

I kept a safe distance from him as he sped ahead along the main road out of Shafton. It started to rain and there was a school bus in front of the grey continental taking his time.  I needed to know where this man was taking Lawrence Kincaid’s boxes.  The school bus made a left turn and the man in the grey continental began to speed ahead .  When he stopped at a traffic light I did my best to stay at least three cars behind him and in the right lane.  When we started again  the grey continental made a right turn onto the dirt service road  to Bryerton. The rain had turned the service road into one sprawling mud puddle . Luckily a white poultry truck was between us as we sloshed through long stretches of the muddy field road.

A man driving  a harvesting machine drove though the cornfield  on the left. The man in the grey continental  stopped at a dilapidated barn next to a large chicken coop . He got out of the car and walked over to a small brown door on the left side of the barn . He knocked quickly on the door and I heard him yell ;” Come on it’s pouring out here . Let me in “. I could see a light coming from a large square window in the loft of the barn . I took a few pictures of the barn with the grey continental parked along side it.  It was getting late so I drove back in the pouring rain still wondering what the man in the tan suit and sun glasses could have been doing in that dilapidated old barn in Bryerton .

I couldn’t stop thinking about the message that woman had left on Lawrence Kincaid’s answering machine saying ; Lawrence, April is here and she remembers you as a boy riding your bikes together along the Marne river. She recalls how confident you were always taking risks and doing things that the other boys were afraid  to do .  April has been aching to see you again after all these years. She has the notebook containing your contacts and acquaintances from that time . After this it sounded as if the woman had been cut off by someone . Had Lawrence  spent part of his childhood in France ? That’s where the Marne river is . It’s  a tributary of the Seine river which runs through Paris . Who was this April  who  obviously admired Lawrence so much ?  After all she’s aching to see him after all these years . And what about the notebook she mentions containing all those contacts and acquaintances ?

There’s a one hundred year old tradition that takes place at a certain point on the Marne river  where a large group of boys sail their model sail boats all day long.  Their conscientious upper middle class fathers and  mothers  sit on the grassy banks keeping an eye on the drifting sail boats being pushed along by the gentle current of the Marne. Boys in grey and black suits would push their crafts with long bamboo poles gently guiding them away from wayward rocks and tree branches . “ Time for lunch” someone would yell and all the boys would pull in their boats with the white hooks that were attached to their poles. Then they’d run to a large group of tables containing ham sandwiches and fruit.

Lawrence Kincaid’s father Maurice had grown up in Paris since his father Octave was an exporter of spices and silks to the united states. He owned his own ship which brought hundreds of pounds of Nutmeg, Aniise  and white pepper to New York twice a year.  The Kincaid’s moved to the states when Maurice sold his business to the Orion brothers of Pittsburgh in 1952.

I had decided to go to bed early since Meg and I were planning to go for a jog early in the morning the next day when I heard the phone ringing from Lawrence Kincaid’s apartment. There was the familiar Kincaid greeting and then the voice of a man with a heavy French accent began to say ; ‘ Monsieur Kincaid , this is Jacques Broquet from Paris. It seems that you have not kept up your part of the bargain Monsieur.

We had a contract. The best Horse in the world was delivered to your residence in seventy two separate boxes and we have received no reply from you monsieur. What are we to think ? We need your honest opinion of our carefully cut product monsieur . This matter is in the hands of our problem solving  men if you catch my drift monsieur “. There was a loud sound of a door slamming and then the man hung up . Not being very knowledgeable of the slang names for narcotics I soon realized that the Horse that Jacques Broqeut was referring to in the message was Heroin. No wonder Lawrence Kincaid was so reclusive and always keeping to himself.  He was a Heroin dealer. Lawrence Kincaid’s mother was no doubt aware that Lawrence had always been up to something.  That would explain why she seemed so upset when she said ; “Lawrence will not be returning” at the dinner party at Charlene’s tavern a few weeks ago .

The image of Lawrence Kincaid smiling standing next to his mother and father in front of the white house jumped into my mind when Meg called to tell me she was planning to move into our parents house in Lindenville . She dropped the phone and after she picked it up again she asked me to help her load ten of her suitcases containing clothes and shoes into the brown Ford family van.  I couldn’t stop wondering what Lawrence and his parents were smiling about on the lawn in front of the little white house that summer day so long ago . Food and clothing and everything else was so much cheaper back then . It was an easier and more relaxed world and Lawrence and his parents appeared to benefitting from the different things in that very different world.

Even though ominous rain clouds were meandering their way through the evening sky, I decided to get into the car and drive towards Chestnut street to see Lawrence Kincaid’s childhood home.  A large green vegetable truck moved slowly in front of me as I drove past the Birchwood elementary school.

Perhaps this was the school that Lawrence Kincaid walked back and forth to everyday as a boy.  When I turned onto chestnut street I noticed a collection of old furniture and boxes of things sitting on the grass in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s former house.  There was a cardboard sign saying Free in large red lettering resting in front of the collection of furniture and boxes. An elderly woman wearing a grey coat strolled by walking a small white dog. I parked on a side street and walked over to the boxes and chairs .

There was a strange looking wooden object sticking out of one of the boxes at an angle . It looked cracked down the middle and its black and white paint was peeling off.  When I picked it up I realized that it was an antique boat of some kind.  It’s black  paint fell in chips into my hand  and onto the ground. There was a place on the ships deck that once held a mast and a sail . When I looked at the back of the wooden boat I noticed small black writing that read  ; Maurice Kincaid 97 Rue de la fleur . This must have been the sailboat that Lawrence Kincaid’s  father  Maurice had sailed on the Marne river with his friends so many years ago .

I carefully placed the cracked boat back into the box and then carried both boxes back to my car. When I set the boxes down on the pavement near my trunk ,the screen door of a house alongside my car opened and a man in a cowboy hat walked out with a black German  shepherd  that he had on a leash.  He smiled cordially at me , said “come on to his dog  and continued down the street.  I carefully propped the two boxes into the corner  of the trunk and braced them with weights so they wouldn’t fall over.  As I drove along the service road  I couldn’t help thinking of Maurice Kincaid as a boy excitedly sailing his black and white sailboat with his friends  on the dark waters of the Marne river.

The Marne river is three hundred and nineteen miles long and floods over its banks at different times of the year. Farms and a wide variety of businesses and private dwellings need to be evacuated when the water levels go beyond a certain point. In September of 1997 a dairy farmer and his wife drowned when the quickly rising flood waters of the Marne invaded their modest farm house. And  in October of 2001 three hundred new born pigs were carried away down the river after a heavy rainfall .

As far as insect life is concerned on the river 17 species of dragon flies have been observed occasionally hovering along its muddy banks. And 100 species of birds and over 300 species of plants have been identified in the woods along its waters.

I placed the two boxes underneath the piano by the large bay window in the living room.

Along with the wooden boat  there were  tea cups and saucers  in both boxes.  I place Maurice Kincaid’s wooden sailboat on the mantelpiece over the fireplace next to a photograph of my mother Janet and her three brothers . I wondered how Maurice Kincaid  would feel if he knew that his old sailboat he sailed so many years ago  on the Marne river in France was  resting on the mantelpiece above my fireplace.

The boat looked like it had been  well used for a long time judging by the extreme wear on its bottom . When I looked at the roof of the miniature cabin for sailors to go below deck on the boat I noticed something curled up and protruding from the cabin.  It was a piece of paper that was discolored and cracked around the edges . There was writing on the paper which read ; Maurice don’t forget to wash the paving stones around the back door when you get home . And bring your bicycle into the barn in case it rains . Your Father .

I slipped the note back into the cabin on the deck of the boat and then placed the sailboat back on the mantelpiece . What would Lawrence Kincaid think if he knew I had read this note that his grandfather Octave had written to his father Maurice so many years ago ? But I was sure that Lawrence Kincaid had already seen this note  and that he had fond memories of his grandfather always making sure that his son had wooden sailboats to sail on Sunday afternoons on the Marne river.

As I looked at the cups and crockery saucers in one of the boxes  I heard a loud knocking  on the front door.  When I moved the curtains to see who it was I saw an old woman with long disheveled gray hair falling over her black wool coat.  She was holding a light blue shopping bag that appeared to be full of something . I realized that it was Lawrence Kincaid’s mother and I quickly opened the door.  When she saw me,her distressed facial expression was most evident when she handed me a small paper bag and said Lawrence told me he wanted you to have this . I leaned forward, took the bag and said Thank you very much and then Mrs Kincaid turned around  ,walked  to her dark green Subaru and drove away .

When I opened +the paper bag there were thirty two wooden chess pieces . On the bottom of each piece the initials L.K. had been written in black ink. Why did Lawrence Kincaid want me to have his chess pieces ?  The memory of Mrs Kincaid’s anguished facial expression kept coming into my thoughts as I placed each chess piece in a row along the kitchen window sill . They were quite old and very worn and chipped from years of handling.

Meg called to say that she ,Rachel and Susan were planning on going hiking in the White mountains

On Saturday and asked if I’d like to join them. I told Meg that I would love to come and that it would give me a chance to take pictures and to break in the new pair of boots I purchased two weeks ago. Meg told me that the divorce from Jake was final and that she and the girls will be moving back into the house next month. She said Rachel was almost finished with  college and that Susan would begin teaching the fifth grade at the Parker school on the other side of town in September .

I was getting ready to go grocery shopping when I heard the phone ringing in Lawrence Kincaid’s apartment. There were two loud clicking noises before his answering machine picked up  and I could hear Lawrence’s voice saying ; ‘ So glad you called . Would you be so kind as to leave your name and the reason for your call.  Thank you “. Then I could hear a woman’s voice saying ; Lawrence , April has been telling us that she’s  more than willing to forgive everything that happened  so many years ago . She said she forgives you and there’s nothing to worry about. Then I heard a loud banging noise and the woman’s  voice stopped.  What did April forgive Lawrence for ?  Was April Lawrence’s former girlfriend whom he used to ride bikes with as a boy along the Marne river ?

As usual the postman left a pile of brown cardboard boxes in front of Lawrence Kincaid’s front door

On Tuesday . Then the tall man in the brown suit and sunglasses  showed up a day later in his grey Lincoln continental to take them away. Was he always bringing  them to that dilapidated old barn in the country or was he taking them to different locations ?

I was washing dishes in the kitchen sink late in the day when I accidentally knocked one of Lawrence Kincaid’s chess pieces into the sink. It floated nicely in the mountainous soapy dish water for about a minute before I picked it up and dried it off with a torn dish towel . As I was drying the porous  wooden texture of the pawn I noticed that the bottom of the piece came off and lodged in the dish towel .  I thought this was odd for a chess piece  to have a removable part.  I placed  the dislocated piece on the kitchen counter and then noticed that the pawn piece was hollow and there was what appeared to be a

Rolled up piece of paper stuck inside the pawn.

The rolled up tube of paper slipped easily out of the bottom of the chess piece when I shook it up and down over the kitchen counter. When I unrolled the tattered fragile piece of light brown paper I saw the words ;” Sara , you must help me”written awkwardly in fading black ink . I was shocked and surprised to read this note . How could I possibly help Lawrence Kincaid  ?  I didn’t even know where he was  and his mother told me in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t coming back to his apartment.

When Lawrence’s mother knocked on my front door a few weeks ago she handed me a blue bag containing her sons chess pieces and said ; “Lawrence  wanted you to have these . There must have been  a reason why Lawrence Kincaid wanted me to have his chess  pieces . I decided to check every one of  Lawrence Kincaid’s chess pieces to see if they contained any clues to his whereabouts . When I removed the bottom of the white Queen it contained a rolled up photograph of a woman’s  hands holding three red roses. The hands in the picture were bruised  and very dry looking . There was a silver ring on the woman’s left ring finger. When I turned the picture over the name April Broquet  was written awkwardly  on the back in light blue ink.

I remember over a year ago , seeing Lawrence sitting at the picnic table in the backyard so forcefully practicing his chess moves while the birds pecked at the birdfeeder hanging from the oak branch . What had possessed Lawrence to sit there for hours aggressively moving chess pieces only occasionally  stopping to pour himself a glass of lemonade from a white pitcher on the table. Sometimes there would be a magazine called Chess News lying on the bench next to Lawrence  as the clacking noise of the moving chess pieces seemed to frighten the birds away from the bird feeder above the picnic table .

Meg called to say how much happier she was living in the house without Jake . She said she was in the process of donating all his possessions to the salvation army . She hired a man with a pick up truck  to take it all away she said. Meg asked me to stop by for dinner next week since Rachel and Susan were back from college.

On Tuesday at 8 am , four back hoes and two dump trucks drove onto Ball lane to smooth out the dirt pot holes and fill them with new gravel . The incessant beeping noise of the back hoes woke everyone op on Ball lane  as usual but no one complained since everyone on the lane wanted the road to be smooth again .

“Sara you must help me” was what was written in messy black ink on the piece of paper that fell out of Lawrence Kincaid’s chess pawn onto the kitchen counter.  This message made me worry about Lawrence Kincaid wherever he was . How could I find out where he was ?  What kind of help did Lawrence need  ?  Even if I found him, there’s no guarantee that I could actually help him.

As I was pulling into the parking lot Friday afternoon , I noticed that Lawrence Kincaid’s mother was standing in front of Lawrence’s mailbox. She was removing a few letters from the weather beaten tin box and then stuffing them into her black purse. She looked very tired as if she had been through something terrible.

I waited while she walked slowly to her green Subaru  and got in.  She started to drive away and I decided to follow her from a distance in my car. Mrs Kincaid drove past the old school house on temple avenue at break neck speed and swerved to the right and left  before she turned onto the interstate  at exit 47 going north.  She kept driving erratically and continued to swerve back and forth as she went.  A blue police cruiser sped past me  at quite a clip with it’s lights flashing . Who was he after ? Mrs Kincaid turned off the interstate at exit 61 and drove further north on the service road into the Briarwood hills of Canton . She avoided running down a large deer  that jumped quickly across the service road, Then Mrs Kincaid made a right turn onto a long dirt driveway whose mailbox read Kincaid in small brown lettering on the side.  The dirt driveway went steeply up hill and was flanked by sixty foot pine trees on either side.  I decided to stop my car and wait until Mrs Kincaid was situated wherever she was headed.

I parked my car along the side of the service road  and began what seemed like a long hike up the steep dirt driveway that presumably led to Mrs Kincaid’s residence.  Twisted twigs leaves and gravel crunched under my feet  as I walked slowly  between the sixty foot pine trees that loomed  over the dirt road on either side.

Up ahead in the distance I could see lights through the trees. There was a huge Grey and brown  three story house at the end of the dirt driveway that seemed to be growing out of the ground since it blended so well with the tall oak trees surrounding it . There was a garage on the side of the house with a loft in it . I walked slowly to the side door of the garage and looked in the window . Mrs Kincaid’s green Subaru was there and right next to it was the Grey Lincoln continental that had been coming to our building to pick up the cardboard boxes that had been left in front of Lawrence’s door by the mailman .

I walked around the back of Mrs Kincaid’s residence and noticed a light on in one of the basement windows . I could see bats flying back and forth between the oak trees that loomed over the backyard.

When I looked in the basement window I saw hundreds of cardboard boxes stacked almost to the ceiling

There was a long black table in the corner of the basement with a carefully folded tan suit resting on it and what looked like a salt and pepper man’s hairpiece in an oval box. There was a pair of sunglasses next to the box and a pair of silver box cutters beneath a lamp.

A cool breeze blew over and enveloped me as I stood at the basement window looking at the long table and the objects on its surface .  I reached into my pocket to get my cell phone to take a picture of Mrs. Kincaid’s basement . When I turned around I noticed some fox like animal walking near the trees. It stopped ,looked directly at me for fifteen seconds and then galloped into the woods.

As I walked slowly back down Mrs Kincaid’s long dirt driveway I had trouble trying to figure out why there was a Tan suit folded up on the long table in her basement .  And why was there a salt and pepper man’s hairpiece lying in an oval box next to the lamp . Who’s sunglasses were lying  on the edge of the table .  Did the man who picked up Lawrence’s  boxes from our building  live in Mrs. Kincaid’s house  ? The Grey Lincoln continental was parked in Mrs. Kincaid’s garage .

When I was halfway down Mrs. Kincaid’s dirt driveway on the way to my car, I got the distinct feeling that I was being followed.  I heard sticks and leaves crunching behind me in the darkness .

When I started to walk faster I could tell that whomever was behind me was running towards me.  I heard someone yelling in French. It was too dark to see who it was. I started running as fast as I could towards my car.  The person behind me kept yelling in French . I got the impression that this gentleman had been drinking because his speech was slurred and he stumbled as he ran .  I reached into my pocket and pulled out the can of pepper spray I always carried with me . The figure in back of me was getting closer, so I turned around and sprayed a generous portion of pepper in back of me.  Then I heard deep coughing and loud cursing in French. There was  a huge thud like noise of something falling to the ground.  I kept running as a large tree branch fell to the ground on the right side of the driveway.

When I got home that evening I turned on the evening news  and they were talking about an antiquities heist that had secretly been taking place for years from the Louvre warehouse in Paris . Over one thousand pounds of ancient statures and rare artifacts had slowly been removed from the Louvre archives for over a decade .  A full investigation was underway by the French police to try to track down

these rare artifacts.  A newscaster was interviewing the chief of police who said  ; “ I have no idea how the thieves were able to take all these objects without being detected.” “You can rest assured that these valuable representations of French history will be found and returned to France “ said the chief of police as he smiled and tipped his cap.

After I told Meg that I was feeling a bit under the weather and I wasn’t up to having dinner with her and Rachel and Susan , she insisted on coming over and bringing take out. Meg pulled into our lot with Rachel and Susan Friday evening just after I finished two loads of laundry. “So nice to see you two after all your world travels I said as I gave Rachel and Susan a big hug.

Rachel smiled , gave me a kiss on the cheek and said ;”You look a little discombobulated Aunt Sara. Did something happen “?. Lets sit down and I’ll tell you all about it I said as I motioned Meg and the girls to the dining room table with their take out food. “ What happened hun ? said Meg when I placed four plates on the dining room table. “ Well , I was chased down a long dirt road at night by a drunken Frenchman who wouldn’t stop cursing at me I said when Meg poured a generous portion of chicken lomain on Rachel’s plate. “That’s horrible.

What dirt road asked Susan while she poured a glass of orange juice for herself. “ It was Lawrence Kincaid’s mothers driveway I said as Rachel gave me a big hug. “Who was the drunken Frenchman ? asked Meg while she lovingly straightened my slightly disheveled hair. “I have no idea who he was  Meg but he didn’t seem young or happy with me being on the property “ I said as I took a large sip of orange juice. “Why were you on the property ?asked Rachel as I turned on the radio. “ Lawrence Kincaid is in some kind of trouble and a note I found made me worry , so I followed Lawrence’s mother to her house in the country .

When I went to sleep that night after paying bills I dreamt that I was travelling in a small wooden boat on the Marne river in France. There was a confused Frenchman in the boat with me who kept telling me bad jokes and handing me little blue handkerchiefs with the initials MK carefully stitched onto them . I kept handing the handkerchiefs back to this Frenchman ,but then he proceeded to hand them back to me once again . Then he started to sing the Marseillaise in a baritone voice. I gave him fifty francs , and then for some reason he stopped singing.

*****

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