Sorrow
© 2009 Julien Gregg
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Jen sang to herself as she cooked. Paul would be home from work soon and Conner would be back from Cory's in a matter of minutes. She'd already called Mary Dickerson to ask her to send Conner home. It was two blocks; a short walk for a thirteen year old. She smiled as she thought about how exited he'd been about his new video game that morning. Of course he'd wanted nothing more than to run to Cory's to play the game with his best friend.

Paul had asked that she give Conner the game while he was at work. That way he'd have a chance to play it and figure most of it out before his father came home. Jen laughed as she thought about Paul's motive. He'd need Conner to teach him to play the game so they could spend time together on Sunday while Jen and Livia were cooking and getting dinner ready for the family.

The Gish family always got together on Sunday for dinner. Jen had come from a small family and relished the closeness that she'd experienced growing up with one brother and no extended family. When she'd married Paul fifteen years ago she'd been worried about the large family he'd come from, six siblings, their spouses and children. Then there was his mother and father to think about. She'd quickly learned that love and closeness aren't sacrificed just because a family is large. In fact, these things were even more prominent in the larger Gish family than in her own smaller family.

Paul had wanted more children. Jen had reluctantly agreed to four, but after having Conner her body just couldn't support another pregnancy. The news had nearly crushed Paul, but they just loved Conner even more because he was their "Lone Ranger". She still thought that love grew best in smaller families anyway. Their small family sure had enough love.

Where was Conner? She looked at the clock and wondered what was keeping her son. She thought about calling Mary again, but perhaps he'd stopped to talk to another friend. With a sigh she went back to setting the kitchen table. It wasn't completely unlike Conner to get sidetracked. She'd give him a few more minutes and then she'd call Mary to see if she could see him out her living room window. It was most likely that he'd stopped two houses down from the Dickerson house to talk with Ralph and Barry Kissinger.

She still hadn't seen him by the time she'd set the table and started to dish up the food. She glanced at the clock and realized that Conner should have been home a half-hour ago. She sat the last bowl on the table and then went to the phone on the wall beside the fridge. She dialed the Dickerson house and waited.

"Hello?" came the voice of Mary Dickerson on the other end of the line.

"Mary, it's Jen Gish," she said. "I still haven't seen Conner. Could you look out your living room window and see if he's out front with the Kissinger twins?"

"Sure, Jen," replied Mary. "Hang on."

Jen waited, haring Mary put the phone down. She heard her asking Cory if he would go down the street and look for Conner. Evidently she couldn't see him outside. She heard Mary tell Cory to try the Kissinger house; then she was back on the phone.

"I can't see him outside, Jen," she said. "But Cory's gone to look. I'll call you back if he finds him."

"Thanks, Mary," said Jen, smiling. She could always count on the neighborhood. "I'm sure he's just stopped in somewhere."

"Oh, don't I know how the boys are?" laughed Mary. "I'll talk to you soon, Jen."

"Thanks again," relied Jen, hearing Paul coming in the back door. "Bye."

"Hey, Babe," said Paul, kissing the back of her neck. "Where's the Conner Man?"

"He went to play his video game with Cory," she replied, turning in his arms to embrace him. "I called Mary, and she said he isn't out front anywhere. Cory's gone to find him."

"He'd better hurry," laughed Paul. "Supper smells great. I won't leave him any if he's too late."

"You go wash up," she laughed with him. "I'm sure Cory's rounding him up as we speak."

They were interrupted by insistent knocking on the front door. Paul went to see who it was while Jen finished putting the condiments on the table. She was humming to herself as she worked, and Paul smiled as he walked out of the kitchen. He was a happy man, and he didn't think anything would dare threaten his happiness.

Mary Dickerson was at the door with her son, Cory, and their neighbor, twelve year old Alyssa Melford. Mary's pale face looked sick while Cory and Alyssa looked worried. Paul noticed that Conner wasn't with them. He wondered what was going on as he opened the door.

"Paul, you'd better get Jen," said Mary as she all but pushed her way inside the house.

He blinked at her serious expression, noticing again the sick look in her eyes and the worried expressions of the children. A sinking feeling began in his stomach as he turned to go back to the kitchen for Jen. Where was Conner?

"Who was it?" Jen asked, putting a pitcher of milk on the table. She smiled as he came into the room.

"Jen, it's Mary and Cory," he said. "Alyssa Melford is with them. They want to talk to us."

"What's the matter?" she asked, noticing the worried look in his eyes. "Is Conner with them?"

"No," he said. "Let's go find out what they have to say," he said, taking her hand and leading her out of the kitchen.

"Hi, guys," Jen said, smiling at their guests as she and Paul sat on the sofa, facing them. "What's up?"

"Alyssa," said Mary, looking away from Jen's smiling face. "I want you to tell Paul and Jen what you told Cory."

"OK," she said timidly. Her worried face turned to Jen and Paul as she spoke. "I saw Conner get into a blue van in front of my house. He stopped to talk to the man driving the van, but I couldn't hear what they said. Conner left with him."

"Oh, God," said Jen, leaning hard against her husband as a million terrible thoughts ran through her mind. "Paul?"

"Tell me everything you remember about the van, Alyssa," he said. "Jen, you'd better call the police."

"It was a blue van," said the child. "It had dark windows, but the front windows were rolled down. There was a dog in the van, too."

"What kind of dog?" Paul asked, trying desperately to keep his voice calm as he spoke.

"A shaggy one with brown fur and a red collar," she replied.

"How long ago was this, Alyssa?" Mary asked.

"Not very long ago," she said. "'Polly's Park' was on."

'Polly's Park' was a children's television show that some of the kids liked to watch. Paul knew that it came on at four-thirty. It was a quarter past five now, so that meant at least forty-five minutes had passed since Alyssa had seen Conner get into the van with dark windows and a shaggy brown dog with a red collar.

He questioned her relentlessly, trying so hard to keep his voice calm and steady while inside he was nothing less than frantic. His son, his only son, had gotten into a blue van with a strange man. Alyssa said the man had gray hair and wore a little hat like her grandpa wore. Mary quickly told him it was a fedora hat, and he nodded absently. He was trying to commit the girl's details to memory as he heard his wife nearly sobbing into the phone.

It seemed like hours before the police arrived, but it was really only ten minutes. It was fast for Dade Police. Paul was appalled that he could think of the policemen's punctuation at a time when his son was in a blue van with dark windows, driven by a gray haired man in a fedora hat with a brown shaggy dog, sporting a red collar.

Then they were answering questions and trying to remember everything that had happened in their day. Paul had been at work. He told them about the new engine that his team was designing, and Jen told them about laundry and lunch. The normality of it seemed absurd with what they were facing now. How could an ordinary day turn into such a nightmare?

The police talked with Alyssa once her mother was there to give consent. Everyone was frantic when they heard the news. Paul called his family and they arrived one by one until the house was full. Jen sat on the sofa, crying quietly with Paul's mother holding her hands. There were no words to comfort her at a time like this. This was one of the ultimate hells a parent never hopes to face.

Pictures of Conner were given to the police. It seemed everyone in the family had a "recent photo" when the officer asked for one. They asked Alyssa's mother, Janice, to bring her down to the station where she could work with a sketch artist to get a likeness of the driver. Paul and Jen were told to sit tight, and then they were gone.

Supper, now cold on the kitchen table, was in the process of being nuked so that the family could eat. Paul couldn't put even a bite in his mouth, but Jen ate mechanically until her plate was empty. She had such a vacant look in her eyes that Paul was worried for her mental health. Could she handle this? Could he?

"Paul," said his mother, her brown eyes filled with concern for him. "You have to eat, dear. You can't neglect yourself now."

"I'm eating," he mumbled. For a moment he wanted her to take him into her arms as she had when he was a small child. He wanted her assurance that everything would be fine. He knew it was irrational to want this, but at that moment he felt like a lost little boy who needed his mommy to make everything all better again.

Their quiet supper was interrupted when two men in black suits came to the front door. They both wore grim expressions, matching dark hair that was cut almost in the same short style and piercing dark eyes. Paul knew they were FBI before they said anything to him. He knew that something more had happened just from their presence.

"Mr. and Mrs. Gish, my name is Robert Kolsom," said the older of the two men. "I'm a Special Agent with the FBI. I know you've been over all of this with your local police, but I need to get some information from you. We've decided to issue the AMBER Alert for Conner, and any information you can give us will be helpful."

Paul had heard of the AMBER Alert. It was the special alert that went over emergency broadcast channels on the television and radio when a child was abducted. This meant that they thought Conner was in serious danger. It made his blood run cold to even think of the alert being associated with his son.

Paul gave them as much information as he could. He gave them more pictures of Conner and answered every question. Jen still hadn't said a word. She sat beside him, holding tightly to his hand and crying silently. He was sure she knew what was happening. She wasn't catatonic, but she was close. He was worried about her, but he was also worried about himself.

"Why have you decided to issue the alert now?" he finally asked the agent when the questions were over. "Is there new information?"

"Ten year old Ralph Kissinger told police that he was stopped by a man in a dark blue van with a long haired brown dog," said Agent Kolsom. "The man asked directions to the supermarket and asked Ralph to get in the van and tell him how to get there. Ralph ran home as fast as he could. The Kissinger's didn't know about this in time to tell police when they were canvassing the area."

"There's more to it than that, isn't there?" he softly demanded.

"The description of the van, dog and man are the same descriptions given in six other cases in Texas, Arizona and California," said Agent Kolsom.

"So this guy has done this before?" Paul asked. His voice was cold and hollow. He wasn't aware of the fact that his wife was looking at him now.

"Yes, Mr. Gish," said Agent Kolsom. "I'm afraid it has."

"And the children?" he asked. "Did you find them all?"

"We did, yes," Kolsom said, but he looked at his notebook as he said it, making Paul's heart sink.

"Alive?" he forced himself to ask.

"No, I'm afraid not," said Agent Kolsom softly. "That's no reason to think we won't find Conner alive, though. We're on the case a lot sooner than any of the other incidents, and we're hopeful."

Paul stopped listening after that. How many more horrors was he expected to listen to? His son was out there with a serial killer! How could he process this information? Jen's hand tightened in his and he put his arms around her and let her lay her head on his chest.

It was after eleven when everyone was settled down enough that his mother insisted that they try to get some sleep. She gave them both one of her sedatives and sent them to their room. They walked hand in hand silently. Neither of them had words for the terror in their hearts. They had to find Conner. They had to.

The sedatives did their jobs well. He was yawning before he even got himself undressed. He silently slid into the bed beside his wife and listened to the gentle sound of her breathing as sleep took him away from this hellish world and bathed him in darkness.

He had no idea how long he'd been asleep before the terrible screaming woke him. At first his mind was so fogged from the sedative that he didn't even know where the screaming was coming from. It took what seemed ages for the fog to lift and awareness to reassert itself. He was home in bed. Jen was in bed beside him. She was the one screaming! Jen was screaming!

"My baby!" she screamed. "Someone has my baby! Oh God! Someone find my baby!"

The sound was both heartbreaking and soul chilling. She'd broken finally. Paul had to deal with the crushing reality of Conner's abduction returning so violently with his wife's screams as well as trying to calm her when he didn't know what to say. He held her against him, and at first she fought. He made shushing sounds at her, but she continued to sob and scream.

"Conner! Oh God, Conner!" she screamed into his chest as he held her.

Then the door opened and his mother was in the room. She was saying something he couldn't hear but he understood when she started to pull Jen from his arms. He released his screaming wife and stared at his mother in confusion as she led her daughter-in-law out of the room and down the hall. He stared at the closed bedroom door as tears streamed down his face.

This was Hell and he couldn't endure it. How was he supposed to deal with the fact that someone had taken his son? He knew he should be the one comforting his wife, being strong for her, but he couldn't comfort himself. He wasn't strong. He was weak, and all he wanted was for God to let him have his boy back and make everything better again.

The sun was starting to come up. He could see it through the bedroom windows. He sat there, wrapped in the blankets of his bed, silently cursing God for giving them a beautiful day to fear for the safety of their son. He couldn't bear this.

He cried in the shower where he could hide it. He didn't want any of them to see him cry. He had to be strong. Strong men don't cry. He kept telling himself that over and over again while his heart ached fresh with each thought of Conner and what could possibly be happening to him while his father cried in the shower like a coward.

"Send him home to us, God," he said, letting the water wash over him, washing his tears away as fast as he could cry them. "Please."

The water started to turn cold as he reached to turn the knobs and stop the flow. He wrapped himself in a bath towel and surveyed his bloodshot green eyes in the mirror. He dropped the towel and looked at his own naked body in the full length mirror. He looked at his muscles, his bloodshot eyes, his wet and tangled sandy hair made darker by the water and willed himself not to cry anymore. He had to pretend. He had to pretend for Jen.

He dried himself and got dressed in his jeans and t-shirt. He padded barefoot to the kitchen where his mother and father were sitting. His sandy haired father's green eyes looked at him with pity and sorrow. His fair haired mother's blue eyes looked at him with sadness and determination. He could only look into those pools of sapphire for a scant second before he felt his heart quiver and the tears threaten to come back.

He sat down as his mother put a plate of food in front of him. He ate without even knowing what it was he was eating. There was no taste to tell him which foods she'd prepared. He ate as mechanically as Jen had the night before. He was being strong.

"Where's Jen?" he asked when he could trust his voice not to waiver.

"She's asleep on the sofa," replied his mother. "I'd hoped you would sleep a bit more."

"No point," he said in reply. "I would be getting ready for work about now any other day."

"Your brothers and sisters will be here soon," she said. "There'll be plenty of people to lean on, Paul."

"I don't lean on people," he said firmly. "I have a wife to comfort."

Tears sprang to her eyes as she watched her youngest son try so hard to be strong in the face of such peril. Oh how she prayed that this evil would be lifted from them and Conner would be returned to them safe and sound. She couldn't bear to watch her son like this.

For five days it continued with no end in sight. The FBI came and went from the house, relatives and friends were there and they weren't. The AMBER Alert went out over the Emergency Broadcast Network and calls flooded the police station and FBI offices. None of them were bore useful information. It seemed the alert had caught the attention of the heartless jokesters who thrived on causing a family already in pain to feel it deeper.

All five nights Jen woke up screaming, and Paul wouldn't allow his mother into the bedroom to care for her. He was being the strong and supportive husband. His mother worried that he wasn't allowing himself comfort and support, but he wouldn't discuss it with her.

Jen could be found sitting on Conner's bed most of the time. She all but refused to leave his room. Paul usually found her holding a teddy bear that Conner had played with as a toddler or his pajamas. Her silent tears were a testament to the crushing ache in her heart. He wished that he could reach her and make her better again, but he couldn't even reach within himself to even confront his own misery.

Seven days after Conner was abducted, Special Agent Robert Kolsom had to deliver the terrible news that Conner's body had been found. He told them as compassionately as he could. He'd come to the house prepared for any reaction. The sight of the complete and utter destruction of the Gish family's hopes was none the less heartbreaking.

"My boy!" cried Paul Gish, shaking as sobs wracked his body. "Please, God, no! Not my boy! Not Conner!"

This was what it took to wake Jen Gish from her silent misery. To see her husband destroyed and broken was too much. She put her arms around him and held him as Agent Kolsom watched in pained silence. For seven days she'd endured with the hope that they would find Conner alive. For seven days she'd been silent. For seven nights she'd screamed her fear and agony. Now she was no longer silent. She was whispering things to her husband that Agent Kolsom couldn't hear. What he heard was Paul's agonized cries of despair. He knew as he watched that their lives would never be the same.