He Was Not There

he was not there

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chapter-1

drop-cap-zachary was glad that Tyrrell had called. He had needed a reason to get away from Kenzie for a while. Their relationship, which had begun more than a year ago, had gotten more complicated since Zachary had been attacked, and he needed a reason to take a break from Kenzie’s ministrations. He didn’t want to tell her to leave him alone and give him some space, but he wasn’t sure how else to get her out of his apartment when she came over for a visit.

But his brother Tyrrell’s call had given him an excuse to say that he was busy and needed to deal with a family emergency.

Not that Tyrrell had said it was an emergency. He and Heather were perfectly willing to wait until a convenient time for Zachary, but for Zachary that was a good enough excuse to tell Kenzie that he needed to take care of family stuff and would have to see her later.

“Do you want me to drive you somewhere?” Kenzie offered, still happy to do whatever he needed her to.

“I’m fine to drive.”

“I know, it’s just that…” she trailed off, apparently unable to find an excuse for taking care of him. He hadn’t been drinking. He hadn’t been having a particularly upsetting evening. She just wanted to know that everything was okay. She wanted to keep an eye on him. Zachary appreciated it, but he didn’t want the attention.

“I’m fine,” he repeated, getting his jacket on to signal to her that it was time to go.

Kenzie reluctantly got her coat on as well. She pulled the hood on over her dark, short curls and gave him a brief kiss with her bright-red-lipsticked lips, holding on to him more tightly and longer than was necessary for a goodbye. He gave her a squeeze of acknowledgment and headed to the door. Kenzie walked out ahead of him and watched as he locked up.

“What’s going on with Tyrrell?”

“I don’t know. I need to see him to find out.”

“Is something wrong? Is there anything I could help with?”

“No, I don’t think so. I’ll let you know.”

Kenzie nodded. “Okay.”

They took the elevator down together, and Zachary sketched a little wave as they separated in the parking lot. “We’ll talk later,” he said. “Thanks for coming by.”

He would have suggested that the next time, he would come by her place, just so that he had some control over the timing, but she had never invited him to her apartment, so it was out of bounds. She needed her own space and privacy. He just wished that he could have some of his back too.

As he headed to the meeting with Tyrrell, he thought about his relationship with Kenzie, the medical examiner’s assistant. The relationship had transformed over the months they had known each other. Kenzie had changed from a girl who was just interested in having some fun to a woman who was really interested in him and in taking their relationship further, to one who was in his space a little too often and felt like she needed to take care of him.

It had never been like that with Bridget. He had always felt warm and rewarded when she wanted to do something for him or showed her concern. His ex-wife had more often been angry and critical when he went through a crisis, upset with him for taking too much from the relationship.

He had tried to take care of Bridget too. He had tried not to let it be a one-sided relationship, to put as much into the marriage as he took out of it, but she had never seen it that way. She had only seen him sucking the energy out of her, taking time away from her parties and social events. He’d never felt smothered by Bridget. Like with his relationship with his mother before he was put into foster care, he’d felt like he had to earn every bit of attention and every smile and kindness she might bestow upon him.

It was good that his younger brother Tyrrell was back in his life. Zachary hadn’t had any contact with biological family for thirty years and it felt good to see him again. And he was going to meet Heather. He hadn’t seen any of the others since the fire. He could remember the scrappy little blond tomboy Heather had been. His second sister, a couple of years older than he was, she had been one of his little surrogate mothers. One of the two big sisters who tried to keep the younger children out of trouble and out from underfoot to avoid any unnecessary problems with their mother or father. To him, they had seemed so much older and more mature at the time. He had only been ten and they had almost seemed like adults to him.

He hadn’t expected to meet any of the other kids. Even Tyrrell had said that he hadn’t met Heather face-to-face since they had found each other. They talked on Skype or FaceTime, but hadn’t actually gotten together. What could have happened that had changed that? Was it just the natural progression of their relationship, or was there something wrong? Tyrrell had sounded concerned on the phone. Then relieved when Zachary said they could meet right away instead of trying to put it off and schedule something in the future. But maybe he was reading too much into it.

They had set up a time and place, allowing them both to meet halfway so that neither one had to drive halfway across Vermont to see each other. Zachary wasn’t sure where Heather lived. Even though he was a private detective, he had never tried to find any of his siblings. They had a right to live their own lives without having to deal with him, especially since he was the reason that the family had been broken up.

Whatever reason Heather had for wanting to meet with him, Tyrrell had sounded pretty serious. Zachary pushed back the worry that it might be just to give him a piece of her mind about the problems he had caused in her life and the way he had ripped apart their family.

They had agreed to meet at a coffee shop. Clintock was a small town, so it didn’t take long to find the little store. In a world that seemed to have been taken over by Starbucks, it was nice to see some independent shops were still alive and well. Zachary sat in his parked car for a few minutes, suddenly anxious about going inside. He knew Tyrrell didn’t hold any resentments about what had happened to their family. But Heather was an unknown. Zachary had tried hard to please his big sisters when he was young. With his ADHD and their family problems, it had been an impossible proposition. One of them would go off on him for some stupid, impulsive mistake he had made, and he would get that knot in his stomach, that feeling that he had again come up short. And the worry that he always would.

Now she wanted him back in her life again. Why? What if he couldn’t meet her expectations? He spent too much of his life with that lump in his stomach, worrying that he would never measure up to expectations. His clients, Bridget, Kenzie, the police officers that he worked with, his doctor and therapist, his surrogate fathers Lorne and Pat. They all had expectations, and he was only too aware of his failings.

The longer he stayed in the car, the harder it was going to be to actually break free of his fears and go in there and see what Tyrrell and Heather wanted, so in spite of his anxiety, he forced his body to climb out of the car, lock the doors, and walk toward the coffee shop. He clicked the lock button on his key remote a couple more times just to be sure, then stood at the door of the coffee shop, staring inside.

He saw them before they saw him. They were sitting at a table in the back. The coffee shop tables were almost deserted. People lined up at the counter to order and pick up their drinks, but they didn’t stay to consume them, taking them ‘to go’ and carrying on with their busy lives. Tyrrell looked much the same as Zachary, but his dark hair was cut longer and shaggier than Zachary’s buzz-cut. They both had dark eyes and a narrow build. Tyrrell was taller than Zachary was, not having spent as many years in a home where the food was inadequate or on meds that stunted his growth. He didn’t have the hollows in his cheek that Zachary attempted to hide with a few days’ growth of beard.

Zachary always lost weight before Christmas, and he hadn’t been able to get back to a healthy weight before the assault. Since that incident, he’d been lucky if he could keep his weight stable. He told himself it was just a side effect of the meds, not admitting how much of his day was spent thinking about what Teddy had done to him and of other assaults in the years before he aged out of foster care. He didn’t want those experiences to be a part of his life. He wanted to forget them.

Heather’s appearance was quite different from Zachary’s and Tyrrell’s. She was blond, with a full figure. Not overweight, but a look that suggested she was a mother, having borne and nourished a few children, giving her wider hips and a silhouette that was no longer girlish, but mature. Her face looked worn and a little sad. She talked to Tyrrell earnestly, but her manner was hesitant, not animated.

She didn’t look angry. Yet.

As Zachary entered the coffee shop, a two-tone electronic chime sounded, and Heather and Tyrrell looked up and turned toward the door. Tyrrell said something to Heather, probably ‘there he is,’ and got up to greet Zachary.

Tyrrell was always cheerful and enthusiastic when he saw Zachary, as if he really were happy to see him. Zachary’s doubts always built up when he hadn’t seen Tyrrell for a while, thinking his brother wouldn’t really want to see him. But when he saw Tyrrell’s face wreathed in smiles, and the way he reached out his hand to shake Zachary’s and then pulled him in for a hug, he couldn’t doubt it. Tyrrell slapped Zachary on the back and then pulled back to look at him.

“How are you, Zach? Doing okay?”

It was the first time Tyrrell had seen Zachary face-to-face since the assault, so he looked Zachary over searchingly, wanting to verify for himself that Zachary wasn’t horribly mutilated.

“I’m fine,” Zachary assured him. He looked past Tyrrell to Heather, who had remained sitting and didn’t rush forward to be reunited with Zachary. She watched the two of them, her expression pensive.

Tyrrell turned and looked toward Heather. “Come and meet her.”

They walked over to the table. Heather gazed up at Zachary and still didn’t stand up to hug him or shake his hand. He sat down and she nodded to him.

“Hi.”

“Hi, Heather.”

Her eyes moved over him, taking everything in and finally stopping on his face. “Wow. You know, you look just the same.”

“Really?” He thought of himself as almost a completely different person from who he had been before the fire. He’d only been ten years old, how could he look the same as an adult?

But he remembered recognizing Tyrrell’s eyes. How they danced just the way they had when he was five. It didn’t matter if the rest of him had grown up, Zachary had still seen his little brother in those eyes.

Heather nodded. Zachary fumbled for something to say. “You… grew up.”

She gave a little smile. “Yeah. That’s the way it works.”

He didn’t see it yet. He couldn’t find the little girl’s face he remembered in this grown-up woman.

“So, how are you? Tyrrell said that you are married with a couple of kids?”

“Yeah. They’re grown up now, but I have a boy and a girl. And Grant.”

“Grant is your husband?”

“Yeah.”

“You’re still married after the kids moved out? How many years is that?”

“Twenty-four.”

“Wow. Coming up on the big one. That’s really something. Not a lot of people make it that far anymore.”

Of course, his perspective was slightly skewed, spending hours following unfaithful spouses during or before divorces. But lasting twenty-four years was still a big accomplishment.

“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Heather said. “But… I never really considered leaving him over any of our issues. We just pressed on through them. You’re not married?”

“No… divorced. We managed about two years. Doesn’t measure up too well to your twenty-four years, does it?”

“Living with someone else can be hard.” Heather’s voice was toneless, she sounded as if she were far away. “If there are things that you can’t come to terms with…”

Zachary nodded. “I guess… we were just too different. We wanted different things.”

But it wasn’t really their philosophical differences that had precipitated the divorce. The truth was far more painful than that. Zachary didn’t see the need to bare his soul to Heather yet. They hardly knew each other. He had the feeling she had come to him in some kind of trouble. She needed him for something. There was no point in telling her all of his problems when she was looking for help.

Heather nodded and had a sip of her coffee. Zachary realized that he hadn’t ordered, and probably should have. He had to decide whether it would make Heather more uncomfortable for him to be sitting there without a drink or for him to take a break to go get one. On balance, he thought it was probably better to stay where he was. Heather seemed like she would spook at the slightest provocation. He glanced at Tyrrell to see what he thought of the situation. Tyrrell gave him a quick nod of encouragement. But Zachary didn’t know where to go with the conversation.

“So… are you in contact with any of the others? Other than Tyrrell, I mean?”

“Me and Joss have kept in touch pretty well. There were times when we couldn’t, but as adults… we reconnected and have kept up with each other.”

“You and Joss didn’t stay together?”

“No. We were put in the same home to start out with, but… well, they said they couldn’t handle both of us, and that it was interfering with their discipline to have us both there because we always got in the way. You know, if one person was getting crap, the other one was always jumping in. So they said that one of us had to go, and I was the troublemaker, so…”

“You were a troublemaker?” Zachary repeated. He could remember how Heather used to get after him when he had screwed up. He had always thought she was next to perfect. She and Joss were always trying to help their mother by taking care of the younger kids and whatever they could around the house. They were nearly adults, as far as Zachary was concerned. They couldn’t have been more than twelve and fourteen when they were separated. That was awfully young to be taking care of all of the other kids. And Joss and Heather had been trying to drag up the rest of the children since they were much younger than that, probably nine or ten.

He couldn’t believe that Heather would have been identified as a troublemaker. Zachary had always been a disciplinary problem, but not the girls.

“Sure,” Heather gave him the corner of a grin, looking engaged for the first time. “You don’t remember all the stuff I used to do? I was always getting in trouble for leading the rest of you into trouble. If everyone was into something, it was always me who had started it. I had brilliant ideas of fun things to do to entertain ourselves and they didn’t always turn out well.”

Zachary smiled. He did remember that Heather had been the more fun of his older sisters. She had been better at thinking up things to do and keeping the younger kids engaged and involved in a game or project. He didn’t remember them ending badly because of Heather. He was so often in trouble himself, he just assumed that he had been to blame for whatever trouble they got into. “You used to make up great games. Imaginary zoos or trips. Going on an adventure. Cops and robbers.”

“Yeah. We were all pretty good at pretending.” Her expression grew distant again. “Maybe too good.”

“What else were we going to do? It wasn’t like we had electronics or the latest toys. We had ourselves, whatever we could find outside. Rocks, sticks, stuff we scavenged from other people’s garbage. We had to do something.”

“It was really different raising my children. They expected to have all of the things that their friends did. To be able to do all of the same things. I was always trying to get them involved in imaginary games, role playing, stuff like that, and they just wanted to watch TV or play video games. We never had that choice. We had to use our imaginations.”

Zachary nodded his agreement. Tyrrell gave a bit of a nod, but he wouldn’t remember much. He had only been five or six when they had been separated. He wouldn’t have much memory of those lean times and how much they had lacked that other kids had. Not having the latest and greatest toys had not been their worry. They had been more concerned with getting enough to eat, and avoiding the back of one parent’s hand or the other’s. Or worse.

“So they moved you out how long after we were separated?” Zachary asked. “Was it right away? They never gave me an update on how either one of you was doing. I used to ask Mrs. Pratt, but she would just give me the brush-off, like she didn’t even know. I knew she knew. She just didn’t want to tell me.”

“I don’t know how long we were together. Maybe a few months or a year. Then they decided I needed to go somewhere else.”

“Did you get moved a lot?”

“No, not too much. I was mostly with one family, the Astors. They weren’t too bad.”

Zachary nodded slowly. It was good if she’d managed to stay in one place. Not like him, jumping from one family to another so quickly that sometimes he couldn’t remember where to go home after school. And institutions and group homes in between, when his behavior or anxiety was too much for a family to handle.

“I was there until I was sixteen, almost seventeen,” Heather offered. “Then… mostly groups homes and shelters until I aged out. I figured I’d better get myself straightened out and either get a husband or a job, or I wasn’t going to be able to last on the streets.”

“Yeah.” Zachary too had been driven to find a way to support himself right away. Mr. Peterson—Lorne—was the one who had suggested putting his photography skills to use in a way that would bring in some money. Art obviously didn’t make anything, but private investigator work had brought in enough to pay the rent most of the time. “So what did you get into?”

“Into?” she repeated vaguely. “Oh… I didn’t ever really find a job that would make me anything. I was in and out of a few relationships before I found Grant. Since then… he’s a good supporter. I didn’t have to work when the kids were little. Then once they were gone… he said there wasn’t any reason for me to be rushing out to find a job just because they were old enough to look after themselves. So… I didn’t. I just stayed at home. Kept house. Kept myself busy.”

“Yeah? Good for you. I bet you were a really good mom. You were so good with us when we were kids.”

“I don’t think I was too bad at it. But… I don’t think I ever really excelled at anything, including being a mother.” She shook her head and made a face, as if he’d tried to feed her something bitter. “I didn’t come here to talk about small-talk and get caught up on each other’s lives.”

Her words were clipped and abrupt. Zachary blinked at her. He thought that he’d been putting her at ease so that she would be able to share whatever it was she had come to him about. If it wasn’t about the family and reuniting, then what was it?

Heather opened her mouth, but she seemed uncertain of herself, no longer able to speak. She looked at Tyrrell as if he might help her.

Tyrrell hesitated for a moment before venturing, “Heather saw reports of what happened with Teddy Archuro.”

So had everyone else in the country. Even on the international stage. Teddy Archuro had been big news. A serial killer who, for so many years, had flown under the police radar, primarily because the men that he used and killed were illegal immigrants whose status as missing persons was never reported to the police department. No missing persons meant no investigation, and he was able to keep torturing and killing men until Zachary had investigated the missing Jose Flores. Then everything had changed.

“Uh-huh,” Zachary waited for Tyrrell to finish the thought and explain why Heather wanted to contact him after the announcement of his involvement with the capture of serial killer Teddy Archuro.

Tyrrell looked at Heather to see if she would explain it to Zachary, but she said nothing, chewing on the inside of her lip.

“Heather wants to know if you would investigate an old case for her. Something that happened a long time ago.”

Zachary looked at Heather. “What kind of case?”

She stared down at her coffee. Zachary again regretted that he hadn’t gotten one for himself as soon as he walked into the coffee shop, but he seemed to have missed the opportunity. He waited, not pressing Heather to answer. She would get to it faster if he waited than if he tried to force her. He’d learned at least that much from his investigations and interrogations as a private detective. The hard-hitting style of the noir private eye didn’t work. At least, not for him.

“It happened a long time ago,” she said. “I don’t know whether there is anything you can even do now. Cold cases are… I know a lot of them never get solved.”

“Some of them do get solved,” Zachary assured her. “Especially as new technologies come into existence. There are a lot of cases that have been solved recently solely on forensic evidence where the technology to use it just wasn’t there ten or twenty years ago, but now they can go back and test the materials that they already have.”

Heather nodded. “I know… I think about that… whenever I see one of those cases…”

“You never know until you try it. What kind of case was it?” Most of his high-profile cases had been murder. With Heather approaching him due to his appearance on the national news scene, he was anxious about whether it was another murder case. What kind of murder could Heather have been involved in years before?

“I saw on the news, about that serial killer, how he would… abuse the men he kidnapped before he killed them.”

“Yes,” Zachary agreed. He focused on the pulse pounding in his head. He didn’t want to go back there. He didn’t need to replay what had happened to him. He had been rescued, and everything that had happened between being kidnapped and being rescued was like it had happened to someone else. He didn’t need to integrate it as his own memory.

“Zachary?”

He didn’t even hear Heather or Tyrrell trying to call him back to earth. He just saw and heard and felt the things that had been done to him. He was in the grip of the memory, trying to pull away from what happened to his body. Trying to separate from it. He didn’t want to allow it to become part of his consciousness.

“Zachary.” Tyrrell’s hand on his arm made Zachary jerk back instantly. He looked at Tyrrell in panic, then looked at Heather, rising an inch or two off of his seat, before he realized that he wasn’t in any danger and plopped back down.

“Sorry.” He swallowed. He looked at Heather. “What happened?”

“I… I was just telling you… about how… I didn’t know whether…” she looked back at Tyrrell for help. He didn’t offer anything, just looking from her to Zachary. “They said that he had captured you. They said it like it was just a few minutes. Was it… just a few minutes?”

It might have been only a few minutes or it might have been hours. Zachary had no way to measure the time that had passed. Teddy had given Zachary drugs so that he could act without any resistance. Zachary had been so doped up, there had been no chance of escape from the sadist who worked him over, doing whatever his twisted little brain could come up with. And yet, he’d been conscious the whole time.

“I don’t know,” he told Heather honestly. “It seemed like a long time.”

Heather nodded, and he saw understanding in her eyes. Not just a surface emotion, but something that told him that she too understood that disassociation and time distortion. As if she, too, had been through a similar experience. He looked at her, hesitating to ask.

“What happened to you?”

I hope you enjoyed this sample of

He Was Not There

By P.D. Workman

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