When He Said Goodbye

book cover      The door wasn’t where it was supposed to be.
     For years, Marcie Wicker had wakened to the light filtering through the adjoining bathroom window. Bright gold in summer, soft silver in winter.
     But that was another bedroom, another time. Reality drove away the last remnants of sleep. She waited for the pain to come. Not the tsunami-like pain that once had caused her to curl into a fetal position and moan. Now the pain was muted, a dull ache, but still there.
     Rising, she dressed in comfortable slacks and a light sweater. In two days, it would be the third anniversary of her husband’s disappearance. The SBI and FBI had decided Stan had drained their savings account and fled the country. Her only hope was the local police, who kept an open file that she admitted was due to her constant prodding. She had visited almost daily at first, pleading for any news, then monthly, and finally every few months. And now, to mark the anniversary.
     She entered the Remount Police Station, knowing that if there had been any news, someone would have told her. Behind a glass window, a uniformed man, intent on his cell phone, looked up and away again. Marcie waited, admiring the way his index finger and thumb danced across the tiny keyboard. Finally he looked up again, clearly annoyed that she hadn’t gone away.      “Help you?” he said, his voice distorted through a hidden microphone.
     “I’d like to see Detective Rosebud.”
     “He retired two months ago.”
     “Then whoever replaced him.” She repressed her annoyance that she hadn’t been told of this change and kept her voice calm. “Or whoever took over my husband’s missing person’s case. Stan Wicker?”
     “I’ll see if Detective Kennedy is free.” She expected him to pick up his phone again, but he got up and walked through the door behind his desk. A few minutes later he returned, opened the door next to the window, and motioned for her to come in. She followed him as though she didn’t know the way from countless other visits. He stopped and pointed to an      open door halfway down. “In there.”
     “Thank you.” She walked down the tiled floor to the indicated doorway and stepped inside.
     This room contained several filing cabinets, a dying philodendron on a windowsill, two wooden chairs, a utilitarian desk, and a man sitting behind the desk. He jutted his chin to the straight-back chair nearest him. “Mrs. Wicker. Have a seat.”
     She obeyed, folding her hands in her lap. “Detective Kennedy, I’ve come about my husband. I’m not sure you’re familiar with the case—”
     “Everything that could be done was done. There were no leads, as I’m sure you know.”
     “Someone must know something. People don’t disappear into thin air.”
     “Ah, but they do. If someone doesn’t want to be found …” He spread his hands as if giving absolution to the pile of folders that littered the desktop.
     “I know the theory is that Stan took our money and ran off. But the people who hold that theory didn’t know Stan. He’d never have left his family. Something happened to him, and I want you to find out what.”
     Kennedy sighed. He was past middle-age and looked tired, as if the years had not been kind. Disappointment drew his features downward, his jowls drooping like a basset hound. “Have you thought he might be having an affair?”
     Shock left her voiceless. She stared, then swallowed, finally recovering enough to answer vehemently. “No! It never crossed my mind. Stan was devoted to us.” She almost added, “We were all he had,” but caught herself.
     “The wife is always the last to know.” He said this sadly, shaking his head.
     “If that were true, I’d know. Stan was completely without guile. He couldn’t keep a secret if his life depended on it. And he certainly didn’t act guilty that day, or any other.”
     “Just the same, he drew out the money in increments, never large enough amounts to be reported to the feds by his bank, and squirreled it away somewhere. Over a period of two years. And he kept that secret from you quite successfully.”
     “He told me several years ago that he didn’t trust the banks and that he was looking at alternatives. I told him to do whatever he thought best. It was his money. He didn’t mention it again, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have told me if I’d asked. I just never thought to ask.”
     “You didn’t miss the money?” He looked grave, as if he couldn’t believe she was so naïve.
     “It was our savings account. There was always enough in checking to pay the bills.” Until there wasn’t. She tried to control the quiver in her voice as she explained, “The money was to go for the twins’ college tuition and other expenses. I can’t believe he would jeopardize their education.” Her hands twisted into a knot. “I don’t believe it. Something happened to him, and you aren’t looking hard enough.”
     “Unless someone who knows something comes forward, we’re at a standstill. Mrs. Wicker, I know you don’t want to accept it, but everything points to your husband methodically hiding his money away and then making a getaway under a new name and identification—with or without an accomplice.”
     “You searched his computer. There was no evidence to back up your theory.” She tightened her fists to stop their trembling. “And you never found his car, either.” She didn’t mean to sound accusatory, but anger sharpened her tone.
     “Every policeman and State Trooper in the contiguous counties were on the lookout for that silver Lexus. We checked the airport and train and bus stations. It’s possible he abandoned it somewhere and removed the license tags. Did he have a passport?”
     The abrupt change of subject rattled her. “We all did. We planned on taking a cruise that summer before the kids went off to school. But Stan’s is still in his desk drawer. He couldn’t have left the country. Doesn’t that prove he didn’t run off?”
     He didn’t reply and she wilted. There was no help here. Still, she had to try. “Can’t you agree he might have met with harm somewhere between the bank and home?” She stopped when she saw him shaking his head back and forth.
     “May I remind you, money pays for a lot of things, including a new identity. And a new passport in a false name. He had plenty of time to plan this. It took him almost two years to empty your account.”
     He ignored her, shuffling through the papers on his desk. Then he looked up. “Didn’t you tell Detective Rosebud that he’d recently received a huge check? For, what was it, some kind of game he invented?”
     “I remember he paid taxes on it and I thought the amount the government took out was ridiculous. But the money was never deposited in either our savings or checking accounts. And the SBI man, Agent Phelps, said there were no other accounts in his name in the area.”
     “Off-shore accounts, Mrs. Wicker. Very common way of keeping your money safe from the government—"
     “But he paid the taxes!”
     "—or a wife.”
     She felt the threat of tears and willed them away. She had to stay calm. “Stan did not open an off-shore account to keep me from accessing his money. You didn’t know him. Your theory is implausible and only keeping you from investigating what really happened. Stan never came home because something terrible happened to him!”
     “We have no reason to believe your husband is dead.” His words were curt, final. “We’ll keep looking, of course, but I don’t see a much hope of learning anything after three years. He did a good job of hiding himself.”
     Marcie felt a metallic taste in her mouth and realized she’d bitten the inside of her cheek. She wanted to scream, “You’re wrong!” but knew it would do no good antagonize him. He’d said they’d keep looking. That was the best she could hope for.
     Kennedy stood and she had no recourse but to stand with him. He put his hand on her shoulder as he guided her to the door. “If we learn anything new, we’ll let you know.”
     She didn’t thank him. She managed to walk down the hall and through the doors that led to the outside. Once there, she took a deep breath and walked away.v      She’d go back again. And again. Until they believed her. She owed it to Stan.
     She drove home, her hands clenched on the steering wheel, making turns and stops automatically while her mind went over the interview. They were so wrong! Stan had been as delighted as the kids about the cruise. While she’d visited Europe as a student, and vacationed in Mexico with her parents, he’d never been out of the States. He’d looked forward to seeing Rome, the Coliseum, the Vatican—
     They all had.
     She pushed the memory aside. The cruise was no argument in her favor. She could almost hear Detective Kennedy mutter: He must have been a good actor.
     They were never going to believe her.