Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Case of the Missing Husband

"And we now go to our news desk in Singapore where Christine Tan has more on the..."

Her eyes blinked open. Ross Westgate's smooth English accent continued on the TV as she tried to get her bearings. She was in the living room, on the couch. The lamps were still on. So she had fallen asleep watching TV. CNBC...okay, that was on because of the she had been watching American Greed a few hours ago. (Crazy that these Ponzi schemers always thought they could get away with it.)

She sat up. Something was still bothering her. She squinted at the clock on the cable box display, sleepy eyes focusing. 5:10. In the morning. And then she realized what was wrong.

Her husband wasn't home yet.

Odd. He usually wasn't out this late. 1:30 sometimes, sure. Maybe the odd 2:45. But not 5:15. Not the time that most farmers were already at work. Her mind started to get ahead of her. Flashes of him bleeding somewhere in a ditch (why a ditch? She couldn't picture any ditches anywhere near where they lived) leapt unsummoned into her mind. But wait. There was no need to panic yet. They had a system. He would always text her when he was headed home. There was probably an explanation waiting for her in a heartfelt text. Or barring that, at least a timestamp.

She grabbed her phone. Slid it out of its case - it was off. Ah, that's right. She had it on a timer. It shut off every night just after midnight. She powered it on.

Ross Westgate reported that the European air traffic disruption caused by the Icelandic volcano would cost the EU approximately-

She jammed her thumb into the power button on the remote, shutting him up. The bright phone screen sprang to life. She called up the text message menu. There were two unread messages from him. She wanted to breathe a sigh of relief, but played it cautiously. She would wait until she knew for sure.

First text: Staying out. Getting a beer after the show. Will txt when I head home. Love you.

So far, so good. That was at 10:45. Hm. 10:45. The show he was at hadn't started until 11. He must have made plans beforehand. But she had been awake at 10:45. How had she missed it? Maybe the second text would offer insight:

Getting on the train. Love you!

Phew. So he was headed - wait a sec. That timestamp. 2:47 am? Two forty-seven!!? That was two and a half hours ago!

Ohno. Ohno. Ohnoohnoohno.

It's a twenty-minute train ride, she thought. Maybe he's...maybe he', no, no, there's no reason it should have taken him this long. Unless he's dead.

She called his cell. No answer. Of course she hadn't expected one. How could he answer his phone from that ditch? That ditch she had never seen anywhere near Chelsea or downtown Jersey City?

Maybe it wasn't a ditch. Maybe it was the train tracks. People get hit by subway trains several times a year. That must have been what happened. She pulled up the browser on her phone. Found the number she was looking for. Typed it in with shaking hands.

As it rang, she thought ahead to the funeral. Where would she have it? Here, or where their families lived, back in the Midwest? And where would she bury his body? They didn't even have plots. Should they have bought plots? They were too young to think about that, right? I guess not, she thought. You never know when it's going to come. Like a thief in the-

"Port Authority Police," said a tired voice on the other end of the line.

"Um, yes." Her voice was shaky. She realized her face was wet. She realized she was crying. "My husband is missing. He was supposed to be home and he's not."

"Has he been missing for more than twenty-four hours?"

"What? No. But he was supposed to be home and he's-"

"Ma'am, I can't do anything..." - was he yawning? - "until a person has been missing for at least twenty-four-"

"But he's not home." Why did this man not understand?


"Well, have there been reports of anyone dying on the PATH tonight? Did anyone get hit by a train?" Of course that was it. He'd be on the tracks somewhere. Probably reaching out for his phone, bleeding and broken, trying to call her. If, that is, he was still breathing.

"No, ma'am. No reports of anything like that."

"Can you check?"

"There's nothing to check, ma'am." This guy was useless. Was she not conveying the gravity of the situation? A man was in mortal danger!

She hung up. She realized she was standing in the bedroom now; she had been pacing through the apartment the whole time. She tried her husband's phone again. No answer. But his phone wasn't off. It rang for the full number of rings, not just two and then to voicemail. She tried it again. Same.

She felt helpless here. She could do nothing. She grabbed her trench coat. It was time to burn some shoe leather.

No bodies on the sidewalk along the block to the PATH station. That was a good sign. Nor were there any corpses at the turnstiles at the east entrance to the station. She needed to get in. Maybe he had been struck by a train here, when getting out. Or maybe he had just slipped and fallen onto the tracks. The next train could strike him...

She hopped the turnstile, feeling like a juvenile delinquent. But it was excusable, she told herself, because she wasn't riding a train. She was just checking the platform...

...which was empty. Empty of dead or unconscious bodies, anyway. There were people. An odd mix of early morning commuters, stumbling college kids, and the odd bum. After a thorough scan of the platform and both tracks, she emerged up the stairway on the other end of the station. Maybe he was there.

Above ground, the sky had gone from black to a dark blue. The sun was coming up. The sun he would never see again. She pulled out her phone. She'd try him one more time. (Ring.) If only she had known! (Ring.) They could have watched a sunrise together! (Ring.) Had they ever watched a sunrise together? There were so many things- (Rin-

"Hey." He sounded normal! He sounded fine! He sounded alive! He sounded upright and not in a ditch!

"Where are you?" She was flat-out sobbing now. Not on purpose. She couldn't control it.

They met at the traffic light halfway between the two entrances and hugged like they hadn't seen each other in weeks and she thought of that picture of the Times Square sailor kissing his girl on V-J Day or whenever it was and she felt like that girl.

It turned out that he sent his first text at 12:45, not 10:45, and his second text at 4:47, not 2:47. For some reason, the genius computers at Verizon decided it would be a good idea to timestamp these texts two hours off. Just to keep customers on their toes. Perhaps to remind them not to take loved ones for granted.

They drew the blinds to keep out the rising sun and went to bed, she happy that he was alive and he happy that he wasn't in trouble for staying out until 5:30 in the morning.


Susan theiss said...

I love Thursday updates - they're a bright spot in my week. Didn't your mother ever tell you not to walk around New York City alone in the wee hours of the morning? May I request a topic? Think jaw.

Craig . Kate . Xavier said...

That was good, I would read a full length story written like that -- get on it.
Although, where WAS the scumbag until 5:30am anyway??