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An olive fog advanced upon the bayou. Interrupting the darkness was a thin beam of light, sweeping carefully over the mossy embankments, revealing the shining eyes of alligators crawling among the reeds.
“He has to be out here! Don’t you think so?” Officer Clayton Henry called from his safe spot inside the sheriff’s truck.
“If he is, he’s in the belly o’ one of these here beasts,” Sheriff Tad McDermott replied shaking his head. He took a few more steps to the left when he heard rustling behind him. Whipping around, he shined his light in the face of Officer Clayton. “What’re ya doin’ outta the truck, Clayton?”
“I thought I saw something.” Officer Clayton sputtered his cheeks flushing red.
“Ahh. Alright time to turn in, I’d say.” Sheriff McDermott turned off his flashlight and climbed back in the truck. Officer Clayton followed suit.
Doctor Lawrence Worley of SPL Incorporated. The name had been printed in the Daily World for roughly two months now. When he had first disappeared, the whole town of Port Barre had thought nothing of it. Many scientists in the area tended to get lost trying to set up the new green technology out in the swamps. Those who had gone missing before were always found. Whether they were cornered by alligators or ripped to shreds by these animals, they were still found. This time it was different. No trace of the missing scientist could be discovered.
Alayna Campbell examined the article carefully from where she sat on the barstool at the kitchen counter. She paid particular attention to the pictures of the rooms in his ransacked apartment and a photo of the young brunette scientist with his stunning sky blue eyes barely hidden behind a pair of thick black glasses sporting multiple ribbons and awards for his work.
Beside that article was another reporting Doctor Worley’s work on the side. He was an incredibly intelligent man but he had the tendency to go to the extreme with his experiments. Once, he had come up with a drug that he claimed could bring a recently deceased person back to life. The drug just needed to be put inside the body, and it would quicken the heart rate back to normal. His fellow scientists protested that this drug also had the result of death if mixed with caffeine. They did not want that sort of concoction anywhere near the labs on late nights. His experiment also sparked a few moral debates. Legal matters were brought about and Doctor Worley had to give up his side job.
She swiveled thoughtfully around on the stool at the kitchen counter while Sheriff McDermott poured his seventh mug of strictly black coffee to accompany his lunch of ham, turkey, and mayonnaise sandwich.
“Did you and Officer Henry figure anything out last night?” Alayna’s tiny voice caught him slightly off guard. She had been living in his house for the past two months, yet their relationship was hardly even in the beginning stages of companionship. They had not known each other before her mother’s death, and that did not appear to be changing any time soon.
He cleared his throat. “Nothin’.”
“What about his neighbors?”
“Talked to all of ‘em. All were home. None heard a thing.”
“How does a man disappear like that without a trace?”
“He don’t.” Sheriff McDermott downed his coffee, his crimson mustache bristling in irritation.
“What do you mean?”
“Stop askin’ so many questions!” Sheriff McDermott snapped. He immediately regretted his resentful tone. “I’m sorry. ‘Round here, we don’t ever have nothin’ like this that we can’t figure out. It’s downright frustratin’.” He paused briefly looking to her face for forgiveness. Alayna’s cold expression told him she was done making conversation. “Well, I gotta head on into the station. If ya need anythin’, call me.” Alayna watched her father, the man she barely knew, exit through the back screen door. She stared curiously as he paced back and forth in front of his police cruiser. He paused to take a few deep breaths and ran his hand over the top of his crimson buzz cut.
For a moment she saw herself in every mannerism of his. Her mother was not kidding when she had said Alayna was Tad’s spitting image. Then her mind flashed back to everything else her mother had said about her father. He never listened, he didn’t care, he was worthless, he had left them with nothing; Alayna could go on for hours. Here in the time she had started living with him, he had proven all of these things right. She did not know where she would be going to school or if he had even thought to enroll her anywhere. He had not introduced her to anyone except one of his newest buddies from the station, Officer Henry.
Officer Henry had arrived in Port Barre only a few days before Alayna had, but her father and the man bonded instantly. They shared a love for all sports and Alayna always found Officer Henry on her couch on Saturdays, when she woke up, hooting and hollering at the television. She did not like him or trust him, but then again, whom did she like?
The back door slammed shut ripping Alayna away from her thoughts.
“Err. Sorry.” Her father was back inside. “Forgot my keys.” He snatched them off the counter, walked toward the door, but turned back to her instead. “I might be home late, so if it gets to be dinner time go ahead and get ya somethin’ to eat. There’s a nice lil’ Cajun restaurant on down the street if you’re up for walkin’. Here’s some money.” With that her father placed a wrinkled up twenty-dollar bill on the counter and exited the house.
“Sheriff, I went in with the forensics unit to check out Doctor Worley’s apartment. We found some new interesting things,” Officer Henry announced emptying the fresh, steaming contents of the coffee pot into a mug as Sheriff McDermott strode into the tiny police station.
Sheriff McDermott snatched up the mug and downed half the beverage.
“Tad, that’ll be the death of you,” Officer Henry shook his head patting the older man on his back.
“Don’t I know it.” Sheriff McDermott chuckled. “So what’d ya’ll find last night?”
“We found a pair of thick, black glasses just sitting on the bedside table. We are all confident they were not there before. The area was swept clean, sir.” Officer Henry took a seat on top of the Sheriff McDermott’s desk.
“Pairs of glass just don’t show up.” Sheriff McDermott plopped down into the chair behind his desk and buried his face in his hands. He looked to the squad behind Officer Henry as they exchanged uneasy glances.
“Yes, I know, sir. But there’s no way we missed them. They weren’t there. Pictures were taken of every room. The glasses were not on the table.”
“Anythin’ else, Clayton?” Sheriff McDermott sucked down a giant gulp of the coffee.
“I picked up this insect of some sort. I’ve never seen anything like it back in Kansa. You recognize it?” Officer Henry held up a small plastic bag containing a dead brown beetle with off-white lines running across its back.
“That there’s an Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle. Those lil’ rascals are out all over the bayou.” Sheriff McDermott stood up, reaching out for the bag from Officer Henry. “Ya say ya found this in the apartment?”
“Yeah, it was just sitting in the middle of the floor. Once again, not there the first time anyone went through.”
“Ya’ll didn’t drag it in?”
“No sir. None of us have been out to the bayou recently. Well, besides you and I, but you weren’t in his apartment, and I didn’t step foot outside that truck.” Sheriff McDermott stopped short. Officer Henry had been outside the truck, but maybe that was beside the point?
“What on earth is goin’ on here?” Sheriff McDermott’s voice thundered off the walls startling Officer Henry.
“I’d say someone has been in the apartment. Maybe it’s the abductor. Maybe they’re holding Doctor Worley out there in the bayou, but we’re not looking hard enough.”
“Ya know we’ve scoured those banks a number of times. There ain’t nothin’ and no one out there.”
Officer Henry broke the tension-filled silence. “Sir, I think you should go home and spend time with your daughter. Take a break. You’ve been working on this case non-stop for the past two months. I can see it’s taking its toll on you. Coming back with a fresh mind tomorrow morning will help you get a new outlook. Let me and the rest of the guys take care of everything tonight. Besides, it’s probably a good idea to get to know your daughter, since you’ve been given the chance. You owe her and yourself that much.”
Sheriff McDermott groaned. “She hates me.”
“Give her reason not to.” Officer Henry shrugged placing the evidence back in a box.
Sheriff McDermott dug out his keys from the bottom of his pockets. “I’ll go home early tonight, but ya can bet I’ll be here first thing in the mornin’.”
It was five o’clock when Alayna’s stomach began to grumble. She glared menacingly at the crumpled up bill lying on the counter from the couch in the living room. Why on earth would she want Cajun food? Pennsylvanians do not eat Cajun they eat Philly cheese steaks. That was when she heard the car door slam. Her father let himself into the back door and traipsed through the kitchen to his coffee machine. She pretended to be watching the television, but listened to the sound of his coffee sloshing into the mug. Sheriff McDermott let out a sigh and crossed into the living room taking a seat in his recliner.
“How was your day?” he inquired clearing his throat simultaneously.
“Ya been pretty interested in any case ‘bout that scientist Doctor Worley, haven’t ya?”
Still no answer.
“Ya know, Alayna, if ya expect to live in my house for much longer, conversatin’ will be happenin’ on a daily basis, darlin’.”
“Yes, I find your line of work pretty interestin’.” Alayna mimicked her father’s accent for a brief moment.
Tad grinned. “Then I s’pose you’d like to know that we found new evidence that might point to somethin’. I just can’t quite put my finger on it.”
Alayna’s eye lit up. “Well, tell me!”
“My forensics unit found a pair o’ thick glasses and a beetle that’s very common out on the bayou. Neither was in the man’s apartment before.”
“Thick glasses?” Alayna jumped up from the couch at a dead run up the stairs. She returned no even ten seconds later shoving the article about the missing scientist under her father’s nose. “Doctor Worley has thick glasses. If he was abducted or whatever, do you really think his glasses would still be intact? He would have at least tried to fight this person or people off. Shattered glasses are inevitable. Unless…”
“What’re ya tryin’ to say?” Sheriff McDermott trained his curious eyes upon her.
“Unless Doctor Worley staged his own abduction. That would explain why none of his neighbors heard or noticed anything unordinary the night of his disappearance.”
“If that’s the case, Whaddya reckon is his reasonin’?” Sheriff McDermott pulled at his mustache as a sharp pain sprang through his chest. The living room began to spin. Sheriff McDermott could no longer see the face of his daughter. Blackness overcame him.
“Alayna McDermott?” a nurse called into the waiting room the next morning in the emergency wing. She did not want the trouble of having to explain to the staff her life story to show that she was indeed Sheriff McDermott’s daughter, they just did not share the same last name.
She stood up cautiously. “Hi.” Her voice hardly came out as a whisper.
The nurse spoke swiftly. “Your father has been stabilized. We’re still detoxifyin’ his system of the drug he ingested. That’s what hurt him. I’ll let him explain it to ya. He’ll probably do a better job of it than I can. He’ll need to be here for a few more days, but you can go on in now and see him. He’s awake and cheery as ever.”
Alayna was silent.
“Do ya have anyone ya can call to stay with ha while we keep him?”
“Not really.” As she responded, Officer Henry came around the corner with the squad.
Alayna.” Officer Henry spoke softly placing a hand on her shoulder. “Myself and fellow officers will take care of you until he feels better.” Alayna forced herself into a chair while a couple nurses asked her if she needed anything.
Officer Henry pulled aside nurse who had made the announcement to Alayna. Ignoring everything else going on around her, Alayna watched Officer Henry and the woman carefully. She picked up bits and pieces of the conversation.
Officer Henry. “What happened? Heart attack?”
Inaudible words from the nurse passed between the two, but Alayna did see the nurse shake her head.
Officer Henry’s voice was not hard to hear. “A drug in his bloodstream reacted with the caffeine? What kind of drug?”
Alayna tried harder to hear, but the nurse’s response was too soft.
Officer Henry was stunned. “I’m surprised he survived with that much in the bloodstream. He’s one tough Southern man.”
Officer Henry crossed back to Alayna. “I don’t mean to go all psycho detective on you, but I am going to have to ask you a few questions. You understand that right?”
Alayna nodded suddenly taken aback at the sight of Officer Henry’s sky blue eyes. “Why are your eyes different?”
She caught him off guard and noticed him catch his reflection in the metal of the chair she sat on. “They change colors sometimes.”
Alayna nodded, pretending to understand in order to reassure the man she meant nothing by it. “My mom’s where like that, too.”
Officer Henry smiled nervously. “I’ll be back later to talk to you. Go in and see how your dad is doing.”
“Alayna,” her father smiled as she entered his room cautiously.
“Have you had any run-ins with Doctor Worley before?”
“I almost die, and all ya care about is that dang’d case?”
“This has to do with who poisoned you,” Alayna whispered coolly.
“Last year, he was testin’ that dang’d drug that s’pose to bring things back to life on poor lil’ critters. I had to write him up a citation and a fairly might fine. He wasn’t happy. He was wantin’ to use that money for more of his research. When that didn’t stop him, I had to go through the courts to outlaw his testin’. He was as feisty as a gator who hasn’t eat in three weeks.” Sheriff McDermott stretched and sat up in his bed. “Now what’re ya talkin’ ‘bout?”
“You said Officer Henry came to work with you, not more than a couple days before I came to live with you, right?” Her father nodded as she proceeded. “That’s the same time Doctor Worley went missing. I was looking at those pictures of him and he has these unmistakable sky blue eyes. I’ve never seen another pair like them. Just now, when Officer Henry was talking to me, his eyes were that color. We can both attest to the fact that they’re normally green. He’s been wearing colored contacts. See where I’m going with this?”
“Ya know, yesterday before he sent me home, Officer Henry told me that he hadn’t set foot outside that truck, but he did. And he was the one that found that beetle. It had to have come from his shoe. The boys were lookin’ uncomfortable when he talked about how he’d gone with ‘em. Come to think of it, he couldn’t have gone with ‘em to examine the apartment. He was with me out on the bayou.”
“Dad…” Alayna groaned.
“Officer Henry ain’t Officer Henry is he?” Sheriff McDermott understood. “That son of a gun.”
“What did he think was going to happen by getting you out of the picture?” Alayna was a little fuzzy on this subject.
“It sounds petty, but he’s wantin’ his testin’ rights back. All I can think is that with me out of the way and havin’ a link to the police station he thought he’d be able to get those rights back.” Sheriff McDermott stated with a yawn. “I need to get me some rest. Ya don’t let nobody in our house, okay? But don’t make it obvious to Officer Henry or Doctor Worley or whoever he is that ya don’t want him there.” Alayna patted her father’s hand, the only true affection she had ever shown him, and exited the room to find Officer Henry standing within earshot of the door.
“You think that this is going to end just like that? Do you think I’m just going to back down and go to my apartment pretending like I’ve been on vacation and it was all a huge misunderstanding? I didn’t spend these past two months plotting to kill your father just to quit after one method didn’t work. You won’t speak a word of this, ever. No one will believe you, and I will get to your father.” Officer Henry grabbed Alayna’s wrist as she struggled to move away.
Alayna flinched as the sound of metal hitting head rang through her ears. Suddenly, the grip on her arm fell away and she turned to see one of the nurses holding a bedpan in her hand with Officer Henry slumped at her feet.
“I’ll believe ya, Miss McDermott,” the nurse grinned.
“In a twisted turn of events, it turns out Doctor Worley faked his own disappearance to take on the appearance of Officer Henry as part of a scheme to take the life of our dear Sheriff, Tad McDermott. Sheriff McDermott’s squad discovered Doctor Worley at the feet of Nurse Jennifer Finn and Sheriff McDermott’s daughter, Alayna. When asked to comment on how Sheriff McDermott came to figure this whole thing out he stated, ‘Nurse Jennifer provided the witness to what my daughter had already figured out and gotten Doctor Worley to admit.’” Alayna read the newspaper article to her father who remained in his hospital bed.
“Now, Sheriff McDermott, I hate to hit ya over the head with a bedpan, but ya can’t drink no more coffee,” Nurse Finn entered the room with a cup of water.
“I’d say I learned my lesson,” Sheriff McDermott chuckled while Alayna smiled at him.