Saturday 31 December 2011
Violent knocking on the front door rudely disrupted Dylan and Charlie’s plans for a quiet dinner in.
‘Partridge, get your ass out here,’ John Hardy yelled as he pounded on the old wooden door. Jumping up from his seat at the small kitchen table, Dylan bolted to the door, throwing it open as quickly as he could, nearly taking a pounding on his face from John’s huge fist for his trouble.
‘John Hardy, well it has been a long time indeed,’ Dylan said offering his hand for John to shake. Instead, John shoved past him and marched in towards the kitchen.
‘Hardy, what the –’
‘Shut up, Partridge. All I wanna know is where she is. So, where is she?’ Hardy demanded as he continued through the small cottage.
‘Who? Where is who? I have no idea what you’re talking about.’ Dylan followed close but not too close, behind Hardy.
‘Amber’s gone missing,’ Hardy suddenly stopped in his tracks when he saw Charlie sitting at the table. ‘I’m sorry for intruding, miss,’ he apologised to a startled Charlie.
‘Well, I can’t say that it’s okay, because one, I have no clue who you are, and two, I have no idea why you’re barging into my friend’s house and interrupting our meal,’ Charlie replied. Her cool stare set John off-balance. He hadn’t expected such a forceful reply, let alone from a woman.
‘John,’ Dylan said, ‘what’s all this about? I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ He’d finally caught up enough to put a hand on Hardy’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him down.
‘I was supposed to meet up with Amber this evening. We were going out to the diner for dinner. I called into her place this afternoon, and she wasn’t there. Her place looked pretty messed up.’ He struggled to stay on his feet. Saying the words made it all feel too real, like she had disappeared for good and there would be no happy ending.
‘And what made you think that I’d know where she was?’ Dylan asked.
John stood silent for a moment, his eyes searching the room for any clue that Amber had been there today. There was nothing.
‘I, uh, she said something this morning about wanting to catch up with you. Said she might have found out something about your sister.’
This time it was Dylan who struggled to stay on his feet. Unsteadily, he walked the short distance to his chair, and motioned for John to sit as well.
‘About Stephanie? She found something? What?’
John shrugged his shoulders. His concern wasn’t for anything that Amber may have found out about Stephanie Partridge, but for Amber herself. She was not the type of woman to simply disappear without a word to anyone who cared for her.
‘Look,’ John started, ‘I really need to find Amber. She was expecting a delivery from the hardware store, so she would’ve been home. But Ben turned up, knocked on the door, left the stuff on her front stoop and drove off again.’
‘Just curious, mister whatever-your-name-is,’ Charlie said, ‘but how do you know that the hardware store guy was at her house?’
John twisted his head around to look at Charlie. He wasn’t sure that he liked her, she seemed overly nosy.
‘I was in her house. She lives next door to me. We’re . . . close. I was worried, because I hadn’t seen her all afternoon, so I went inside.’
Charlie thought for a moment, considered the details that had been presented. She looked at Dylan, who now appeared mildly shell shocked.
‘And you say that the house was a mess?’ Charlie asked.
‘Yeah. Amber’s not houseproud like some other women around the place. She’s more of an outdoors kinda girl, but her house is always clean, and there’s some order to it. This was a mess like someone had ransacked it, or maybe that there’d been some kinda struggle. I tried calling her but there’s no answer on her cell. It goes straight to message.’
Dylan snapped back to reality, a sudden realisation slapping him hard across the face.
‘Ben? At the hardware store. Ben Tollard?’ he asked of John.
‘Yup, junior. Ben Tollard junior. You probably remember his old man. He used to run the ice cream cart around town.’
‘I remember junior. We were in school together. He wasn’t at baseball practice the day Stephanie disappeared, but Ben Tollard senior was there that day,’ Dylan replied.
John nodded, and spoke in a whisper, ‘He was one of the last people to see her, wasn’t he? And Sheriff Barber questioned him, more than once. Hey, you don’t think the Tollards have anything to do with Amber’s disappearance . . . or your sister’s?’
The thought had entered Dylan’s mind on more than one occasion, so much so that he had begun compiling a dossier on Ben Tollard, senior.
‘I didn’t factor junior in to the equation,’ Dylan said. Charlie and John looked on as Dylan went off to his bedroom, and returned with a thick folder.
‘What’s that?’ asked Charlie.
‘Everything I have on Ben Tollard, senior,’ he said as he opened the file and rifled through the pages. ‘If she’s disappeared because of something that she was going to tell me, John, then I think the way to find Amber is by finding out who took my sister. And my number one suspect is Ben senior, although perhaps I should expand that to include junior too.’
. . . To be continued . . .