Kate woke up frightened fourth night in a row! The antique mahogany clock chimed the hour. Three loud chimes!!
“3 AM again!” she thought. She turned the bed lamp on. The light flickered for a few seconds and went dead. Her heart raced at light-speed as she saw a dark figure standing near the lamp in those flickering moments. She sprang up immediately in reflex, lowered her legs cautiously and stretched her arms in the darkness. She could feel the hair on the back of her neck stand up, each strand in perfect synchronisation. She withdrew her hands back, as she felt something sharp prick her fingers. Overcome by fright and guided by her sense of direction, she frantically ran towards the door. Her screams couldn’t leave her mouth as the adrenaline choked her vocal chords. In her blind frenzy she collided with something mid-way, lost her balance and fell on the floor banging her head hard on it.
The loud thud of the impact woke Tracy from her sleep. She knew Kate was experiencing trouble with sleep. She looked at her husband Josh. He had been sick for few days. She did not wake him.
Kate’s head was pounding because of the impact. She could hear noise coming from downstairs, “They’re awake”, she sighed relief. But it was short-lived as fear crippled her almost immediately. She could feel heavy breaths on her neck. There was someone standing behind her.
Kate’s scream pierced the night’s silence. Tracy froze in her steps, “Kate! What is it? Probably it’s just another nightmare” she sprinted towards Kate’s room and pushed opened the door. It was dark. She switched the lights on. The windows were open and the early morning breeze flowed in to witness the tragedy.
The room was empty. Kate was gone.
“Whose picture is that?” asked Troy, wondering why his boss always stared at it.
Khalid missed Amanda. It had been a year since her death but he has not been able to forego the guilt and overcome the grief. He moved to Richmond three months after the triple murders in Delaware, Ohio (Read The Shadow). Sergeant Anderson took pity and fixed him a job to work as a private detective at Richmond. The Richmond Sheriff Office was kind enough to let him tag along to crime scenes, especially the ones that were unusual in nature or was a waste of time for them.
“Who is she?” Troy asked again. Seeing that Khalid was lost in his thoughts, he picked a stack of dusty files and deliberately let go of it. The files closely followed each other and fell on the table releasing a thick envelope of dust. Khalid jerked out of his slumber.
“Watch out!!” Khalid coughed out the dust.
“I am sorry. My fingers are clumsy today”, Troy hid his smile.
“You are getting clumsier as the days pass”, Khalid stood up and was clearly disgusted by what he saw. He held Troy by his ear and pinched it really hard, “Why are you not wearing your pants? And what abomination is this?”, Khalid pulled the right string of the underwear that Troy wore.
“Let me go!” Troy tried to squirm out of Khalid’s hold, “I had a late shift and I had no time to change”.
Troy worked as a pole dancer in a gay bar during nights. He was seventeen when he told his parents that he was gay. His parents kicked him out of their house as homosexuality was something that their catholic god did not preach. Dejected he had nowhere to go. Khalid found him sleeping outside his office. He let him in and offered him a place to stay. In return, Troy works as his assistant.
“You are practically naked. They don’t cover as much as they reveal”, Khalid pinched the ear harder.
Troy’s ear was red now, seeing no escape he slid his hands inside Khalid’s shirt, “Seems like you have taken a fancy to them”.
A startled Khalid let go of Troy’s ear and immediately held him by his collar now, “I have told you a thousand times not to do that”.
“Alright! I am sorry. I won’t do it again. You don’t have to mishandle me”, Troy pretended to fight and winked at Khalid.
Khalid eased his grip on his collar, “Don’t teach me how to handle you. Go wear your decent pants. We have a crime scene to visit”.
Khalid parked his Tundra, rolled down the window, “1010 E. Looks like this is the house”.
“It says no parking”, Troy pointed at the sign hanging right in front of Khalid’s eyes.
“Ignore it. Let’s go”, Khalid stepped out of the truck and gestured Troy to get out.
“You know! If you had saved the money you pay for parking tickets every time. You could have been a millionaire by now” Troy never quite understood Khalid’s disobedience for rules.
Khalid face-locked Troy gently, “I would have been a millionaire if I did not have to pay off the cops who arrest you every time you slut around”.
The nameplate had The Johnsons carved on it. Khalid rang the doorbell.
“God knows how many times I have driven up and down the Marshall St and I have always wanted to visit one of these houses”, Troy was carefully examining the cast iron porch which clearly was a French inspiration.
Khalid stood perplexed staring at him.
“What? I have architecture as a subject in college”, said Troy who was clearly enjoying the confused look on Khalid’s face.
Grabbing the opportunity to show off further, Troy continued, “Did you know? These houses are called “Putney Houses.” They were built for Sam Ayers in 1859, however, they are named for the residents Samuel and Stephen Putney: a team of father and son shoe manufacturers of Battle Axe Shoes in Richmond who owned and lived in these houses from 1862 – 1894.”
Khalid looked around in surprise, “Houses??”
“Samuel’s house, the one we are standing right now, is markedly fancier than Stephen’s on the right… Maybe a little father/son one-up-man’ ship?” replied Troy.
Khalid noticed the red building next to The Johnsons’, “Oh! Okay”. He turned his face towards the door deliberately looking disinterested.
The door lock clicked, a lady in her mid-fifties opened the door. She looked at both men, “Apologies for the delay. My husband’s sick. I was upstairs attending to his need. How may I help you?”
“I am Detective Khalid Hussain. I am a private investigator. This is Troy, my assistant. The Richmond Sheriff Department has forwarded us your case”, Khalid looked at Troy who was still busy examining the porch.
“Alright, please come in. I am the one who made the call”, she gestured for them to come in.
Khalid caught hold of Troy’s shirt and dragged him along inside. As soon as they entered the room, Troy wandered off to the farthest corners relishing the insides of the house.
“You said your daughter was abducted”, Khalid wasted no time and jumped directly to the investigation mode.
“I and my husband were downstairs in our room sleeping when we heard her scream around three in the morning” replied Tracy.
“You mean upstairs”, said Troy emerging from the shadows.
“Excuse me!” Tracy did not quite understand the statement.
“I thought, you said your husband was upstairs in his room”, remarked Troy.
Khalid was pleasantly surprised by Troy’s attention to detail.
“I am sorry. Must have been a slip of tongue” replied Tracy.
“Which one upstairs or downstairs?” Troy was absolutely enjoying putting the poor woman in a predicament.
“Downstairs” Tracy confirmed, “He is downstairs”.
“We would like to talk with him”, said Khalid. He gestured at Tracy to show the way towards their room.
“Unfortunately, he won’t be able to talk with you. He is sleeping right now”, Tracy stood blocking the way to the bedroom.
“Alright, in that case, let us check out your daughter’s room”, Khalid moved pass Tracy and started to climb stairs. Troy and Tracy followed him.
Khalid grabbed the knob and twisted it to open the door but it did not budge from its place, “Mrs. Johnson?”
Tracy who was standing behind Troy came forward and was surprised to see that the door was locked from inside, “The door was open a minute ago!”
“You can’t possibly believe that. You were downstairs with us a minute ago” quipped Troy.
“What I meant was that it was open a while ago. I don’t understand” Tracy struggled to open the door.
“Step aside”, Khalid asked Tracy to move back. He pushed the door but it did not let him pass. He flexed his muscles and began pushing the door with all his might.
“Let me help you” offered Troy and began kicking the door. They could feel the hinges getting loose.
“Excuse me!” Tracy interrupted.
“Yes! Do you have a better idea?” Troy tried to keep a straight face but he let a squeak out when he realized that Tracy was holding the spare key to the room.
Khalid grabbed the key from her hand and opened the door. Three of them walked in together.
“Wait! Is that?” Troy’s balls were in his throat in bewilderment.
“Kate!” Tracy couldn’t believe her eyes. Kate was sleeping peacefully in her bed.
“You said she was missing!” Khalid was confused at the development.
“Yes! She was. I don’t understand this”, Tracy sat beside Kate and caressed her face carefully not to disturb her.
“Is she dead?” Troy uttered when his balls retreated to a convenient position.
“No! She is breathing”, Khalid stooped over Kate for a closer look, “She is unconscious”.
“Mrs. Johnson, you said your daughter was abducted. I bet she never told you that she is the new Sleeping Beauty in town”, Troy stared deep into Tracy’s eyes in hope to find an answer. But all he got back was an equally confused look.
“She wasn’t here. I don’t know”, Tracy didn’t know how to feel. She was happy that her daughter was back but was in shock that she was unconscious.
“Looks like the case is solved. The missing girl is back. Let’s get back home Khalid. What a waste! I had so many things planned for today”, Troy walked and stood beside Khalid who was looking out of the window now.
“The room is on the second floor and there is nothing around to climb out or climb in. Considering the girl was missing. How did she enter the room when we were standing at the main door?”, Khalid told Troy.
“What if she…”, Troy’s words were cut short by the deafening scream that echoed the house, “What! Who is that?”
“Oh my God! Josh!” Tracy ran downstairs.
Khalid and Troy stood fixed at their respective places perplexed by the situation. They walked out of Kate’s room and began descending the stairs.
They were still on stairs when Tracy came out running from the room, “He is gone. He is not there”. She was shaking and in tears.
“Who? Your husband?” questioned Troy.
“Yes, he is not in his room. He was taken just like Kate” Tracy was inconsolable.
“Show us!” Khalid asked her to show them the room.
Before the three of them could enter the room, another scream filled the hallway in dread. It was from upstairs.
“Kate!”, Tracy ran up in fright. Khalid and Troy sprinted behind her.
They entered the room. Troy and Khalid were at loss for words. Tracy sat on the floor crying, Kate was gone.
The room was empty.