Take the Bait Chapter 1

Take the Bait Chapter 1

Frank Bennett tried to ignore the phone ringing over the shrill whine of his table saw, but the caller’s persistence got the better of him. Brushing the sawdust from his sleeves, Trout Run’s police chief took the stairs from his basement workshop two at a time, arriving at the phone cross and out of breath.

“Yeah?” he rasped.

“Hello, Frank. It’s me. We have a missing persons case. I think we have to get on it right away.” Earl’s voice was so loud, Frank had to hold the phone six inches away from his ear.Puzzle Pieces- TAKE

“Who’s missing?”

“Janelle Harvey. Jack’s daughter.”

The name meant nothing to Frank. He had lived in the town for less than a year, and as small as Trout Run was, there were still people he didn’t know.

“A little girl?” Frank asked, keeping his voice calm although he could already feel a knot of dread forming in his gut at the mere mention of a missing child. “What, did she wander out of her yard?”

“She’s not a little kid, she’s a teenager,” Earl informed him.

“She’s been missing for four hours.”

“Oh for Christ’s sake, Earl!” Disgusted with himself for that moment of panic, Frank lashed out at his young assistant. “That’s what you’re so worked up about? Kid’s probably at her boyfriend’s house.” Missing teenagers were not the same as missing children. They almost always had taken off in some act of underhanded or intentional defiance, and turned up again soon enough, dragging their tails.

“Uh, her father checked that out,” Earl said. The slight hesitation in Earl’s voice was enough to tell Frank that the kid was lying. No doubt he had been so rattled by this report of a serious crime while he was on duty that he had failed to question Jack Harvey thoroughly. “He’s real upset. He wants us to help him search. He asked for you specifically,” Earl added.

Frank smiled as he kicked off his work boots. Certainly no one in town would specifically request Earl. Now that the police chief’s position had been filled, everybody expected to get their money’s worth from Frank. “Don’t worry, Earl, I won’t send you out there to deal with Mr. Harvey yourself. I’ll swing by the office and pick you up.”

Not bothering to change into his uniform, Frank jumped into his truck and drove toward Trout Run. He’d stop by the Town Office and pick up Earl, then head out to Jack Harvey’s place.

Three roads led into Trout Run. Where they intersected, a sort of haphazard town square had been formed. The village proper didn’t amount to much. It had sprung up near the spot where Stony Brook widens and deepens, forming an ideal habitat for trout. The village had none of the postcard quaintness that towns across Lake Champlain in Vermont leveraged into big tourist dollars. There was no revolutionary war hero standing in a town green, no white steepled church, certainly no chintz-bedecked tea shops or pricey antiques stores.

And yet, Trout Run possessed a definite charm. Perhaps it was the way the mountains surrounded it, holding the town in their protective embrace. Perhaps it was just the carefree way children pedaled their bikes through the streets, dropping them heedlessly in front of the general store, where they went in search of ice cream and candy.

The Town Office, a little clapboard building painted barn red, sat on the north side of the square. On one side of the center hall the tax collector, water authority and road department were each represented by metal desks.

Today, the building was empty except for Earl, the civilian assistant Frank had inherited from his predecessor. When he entered the police department’s side of the building, Frank fully expected to find Earl in his characteristic posture–scrawny backside perched on the edge of the swivel chair, work boots up on the metal desk, slightly grimy hands clasped behind his head. But instead, Earl was pacing the five steps from window to phone and back again.
“What took you so long?” he demanded as Frank walked in.
“I didn’t even stop to change!” Frank protested, dusting wood shavings from his pant leg. Then, annoyed at himself for offering Earl any excuse at all, he snatched the incident report Earl had completed from Jack Harvey’s call and scanned it quickly.
“Maybe you think I could have handled this myself,” Earl said.

Frank shook his head. There was very little he thought Earl could do by himself, including filing things alphabetically, driving the patrol car without denting it, and directing traffic without causing a major pileup. “You did the right thing. Let’s go out and get this settled, huh?”

Earl filled him in on the Harveys as they drove. For all his faults, Earl was invaluable as a source of background information on every citizen in Trout Run. He categorized everyone he knew as either “from around here” or “not from around here.” Earl himself fell into the first group–his family had been scratching out a living in the beautiful, harsh Adirondack Mountains for over a century. Frank would forever remain in the second group. Even if he lived to be ninety-eight, he would only have spent fifty years in Trout Run, hardly enough to make him “from around here.”
“Jack’s in his early forties I guess,” Earl began. “Works over at the lumberyard. His wife, Rosemary, died from some disease when Janelle was real little. So it’s just him and Janelle. You see them around together a lot. He started up a girls’ softball league and coaches it, just so she’d have a team to play on.

“Jack’s sister Dorothy lives in the house right behind theirs. They inherited the property from their parents, and Dorothy built a new little house behind the old farmhouse.”

“Is she married?” Frank asked.

“She was till two years ago. Her husband was coming home from the Mountainside Inn on a rainy night and skidded right into Long Lake. Drowned.”

“Sounds like a family with a lot of bad luck.”

“Maybe not so bad in that case. Dorothy’s husband was real mean. Drank a lot and never worked much. Seems like she supported them and their son, Tommy. Everyone kinda felt she was a lot better off without old Tom.”

“What about Janelle–you know her well?”

“Not really. She started high school a year after I graduated.”

“You’re twenty-one, so that makes her seventeen.”
“Yeah. Tommy’s a year older, but they’re both seniors. I think she skipped a grade in grammar school. This is the driveway,” Earl added as they were nearly past it.Siren Image
They pulled up to the house with a squeal of tires and a cloud of dust, providing the kind of drama that Frank knew Earl enjoyed.


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