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American Crime Mystery

Come Back Little Sheila—George Davis

  I am staring out my bedroom window, as I have done every night since someone kidnapped my little Sheila. She was only six years old, a small, tow-headed bundle of joy, my joy. 

It all started seven years ago tonight. My wife and I were sleeping down the hall from our little girl. My wife, I’m surprised didn’t hear anything. She is a very light sleeper. I, on the other hand, could sleep through a raging hurricane. Well, the next morning, my wife got up and was her custom, checked on our daughter. “Stanley, come quick. Sheila is gone.” I hurried down the hall to our little Sheila’s bedroom. The first thing I noticed was the down comforter we bought for her last fall was pulled back and laid at the foot of the bed. The sheet was pulled down, and there was a note pinned to her pillow. If you wanna see yor dorther again, you won’t call the polise. I will get back to you later with the terms of her relise. 

  “What does all this mean, Stanley?” 

  “I don’t know. My head is spinning, Martha. Let me think.” I sat on the edge of Sheila’s bed, head in hands, thinking. Why would anyone kidnap my Sheila? I’m not a rich man. Sure, I’m a surgeon, but I have bills too. Two new Kia Souls sitting in the drive, an eighteen-foot watercraft, three 45” LCD HD TVs on credit. 

  People must think all doctors are millionaires. If they only had a wife who could spend every cent you make on inane gimmicks she sees on TV and the Internet. It’s a wonder I have any money in the bank.

  That afternoon, having taken a day off, sat waiting for the phone to ring. It was seven o’clock that night when the phone rang with a theme song from Hercule Poirot movies. “Hello.” 

  “Doctor, this is me speakin,’ and I am calling about this little package I have here beside me.” I could hear my sweet Sheila sobbing. “What did you do to my daughter?” 

  “Nothing…yet, but if you fail to follow my instructions. She will…die. I need you to put ten-thousand dollars, in small bills, in a locker at the Greyhound bus terminal. I will send you the key. If you do not respond within two days. Well, I guess you know what will happen.” Dead air. 

  “Martha, he wants ten thousand dollars for our daughter’s return.” 

  “Pay it, Stanley. Whatever it takes. I want my daughter home with me.”

  “I believe we have the money in the bank, right, Martha?” She hesitated. “Er…I think so, but I’m not sure. I bought a new table and chairs for the patio, a string of outdoor lights, a new smoker, and I ordered a swimming pool for our backyard. The whole thing came to twelve thousand, Stanley.”

  “Did you pay the pool installer?”

  “Yes, I wrote him a check yesterday.”

  “Call the bank and put a stop check on it, Martha.”

  “It’s something we’ve wanted for years, Stanley.”

  “You do want our daughter back, don’t you?”

  “Of course.”

  “Then call the bank first thing tomorrow morning.” Disgusted with my wife. I went into the kitchen and sat at the table. I wasn’t in any mood to listen to her try and tell me her shopping sprees were for both our benefits. 

  The next morning, and the next eighteen hundred mornings. I wait for that call, but it doesn’t come. The day after the stranger called. I received key #109 Greyhound Terminal. There was a note inside the envelope. I will get back to you. Sit a time. Rememba. No polise. 

  These last five years have been torture; waiting for that call, and finally falling asleep in my recliner. 

  When I got to the hospital Monday morning waiting for my first surgery. I heard voices outside my office door. I heard Sheila’s name. I rushed to the door, flung it open, and was face to face with a short man with small-beady eyes and an eight-strand comb-over. 

  “I’m sorry, Doctor. This man pushed right past me,” Bertha Grant, my nurse assistant said. 

  “It’s okay, Bertha.” I said to the stranger, “who are you?” 

  “My name is Andrew Leadbetter, attorney at law. And, I assume you are Doctor Stanley Morse. Is that so, Doctor?” 

  “Yes, I’m Doctor Morse. What do you want, Mr. Leadbetter?” 

  “I represent a client who, shall we say, would like to talk to you.” 

  “And who is this person?” 

  “His name, for the time being, is unimportant, Doctor. I can only tell you, his reason for wanting to meet with you is…well, it concerns a valuable piece of your property.”

  “If that rat from Smith Reality hired you to get me to change my mind. I am not selling my home to him or anyone else. Is that clear, Mr. Leadbetter?”

  “This has nothing to do with real estate, Doctor Morse. It concerns…your…daughter.”

  “My daughter? What about my daughter. Did your client kidnap my precious little girl? If he did. I will kill him.”

  “Easy, Doctor. My client is serving a life sentence in the State Prison for first-degree murder. He killed a man five years ago in a barroom fight.”

  “Is he the man who stole my daughter, Mr. Leadbetter, or isn’t he?”

  “You will have to determine that yourself, Doctor. I am only the messenger.” He took out a silly handkerchief and wiped his sweaty brow. “Will you go up to see him, or not?” 

  “Out of curiosity if nothing else. I will go up there tomorrow and see this client of yours. What’s his name?”

  “It is Ted Swanson, Doctor. He’ll be waiting for you, tomorrow. Thank you for seeing me. Good day.” The small man doffed his hat and walked quickly from my office.

  I drove up to Warren to the State Prison. After being thoroughly checked out, and searched, I was taken to a small room where a tall man who looked as if he might have died yesterday sat staring at me as I entered. He was an unkempt man with beady eyes, and a pallor close to a corpse’s color.

  “You, Swanson?” I asked.

  “Yes, you are Doctor Morse?”

  “Yes, now tell me where my daughter is, you scumbag.”

  “Calling me names won’t help, Doctor. I’m tryin’ to help you.”

  “If you want to help me. Tell me where my daughter is.”

  “It isn’t that easy. Let me start at the beginning. After I sent you the key to the locker, I was arrested that night, and sentenced to life for killin’ a dirty, rotten piece of garbage in a barroom on Federal Street in Portland.” He pulled himself up into a more sturdy position in his chair. With his eyes darting back and forth. I think he’s on drugs. “Doctor, I put the ladder up to your daughter’s window, but that’s all. My girlfriend at the time climbed up and took your daughter.”

  “Who is your girlfriend, Swanson? Come on, tell me.”

  “If you just let me tell you everything it will make sense to you.”

  “The only sense I want is, you tell me where my daughter is.”

  “That girlfriend and I broke up two days after the kidnapping. She took your daughter and left me.”

  “Where’d she go?”

  “She moved to Portland, got an apartment on Cumberland Avenue somewhere. The last I heard, she’d moved twice since we broke up. As far as I know, she is still in Portland. Her name is Norma Maxwell, Doctor. That’s all I can tell you.” 

  “If you weren’t in prison I’d….” 

  “I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you, Doctor. You see. I'm already serving a life sentence. I’m just trying to help you. I know what I did was wrong, really, really wrong, Doctor, and I’ve thought about my sins these last few years. I’ve had time to think.” 

  “Is that all you can tell me? Where is my little girl?” 

  “I wish I knew, Doctor.” The guard led Swanson back to his cell. I got up left that dreary place, and drove back to Bickford with the news. “Martha,” I said to my wife. “I got the name of the woman who has our daughter. Her name is Norma Maxwell. She lives, he thinks, in Portland.” 

  “What are you going to do now, Stanley?” Getting out the Portland phone book, I searched the Ms. Manning, Marshal. “Ah, here is an N Maxwell, 555-6767 on State Street. 

The woman who answered the phone had a nasal twang probably from a deviated-septum. 

  “Hello.”

  “Hello, Ma’am, are you Norma Maxwell?”

  “Yes. Who wants to know?”

  “My name is Doctor Morse. I need to ask you a question.”

  “Well, make it snappy, I’ve got work to do.” “Do you know a Ted Swanson?” She laughed. I ought to know him. He’s my son. He’s been nothing but trouble his whole life, mister. He’s upstate serving time for murder.”

  Is this the woman who has my daughter, or is Swanson playing an evil trick on me? 

  “Mrs. Swan…Maxwell when did you see your son last?”

  “Six years ago, and that was too soon for me. He’s been a millstone around my neck since his birth.” I wasn’t sure if she was playing me or not. “What’d you say your name was, and why do you ask about that son of mine?” I decided to tell her the story. I did, and she said she felt sorry that her evil son did this to me. 

  “Do you know any of his girlfriends, Mrs. Maxwell? I mean, any steady girls? If you don’t mind, go back five or six years.”

  “I don’t mind. He had one girl he was going to wed. I felt sorry for her. She didn’t know what she was getting into.”

  “What was her name?”

  “Let me think. I ain’t as quick in the memory department as I used to be.” 

  “Take your time.” 

  “Brenda, Brenda Williams. She was a cute little blond, and very polite. She always thanked me for anything I did for her. She was too good for that no-good son of mine.” 

  “Do you know where she lives now?” 

  “Oh heavens no. I ain’t seen her in five years.” 

  “Do you know where she was living back then?” 

  “Yup, Danforth Street in an apartment house.” 

  “Thank you, Mrs. Maxwell, for your help.” 

  “If you see that son of mine tell him, I hope he rots in prison.” 

  “I will certainly forward that information, Mrs. Maxwell.” I looked for a B Williams. There was no listing. I was at a dead-end to my search for little Sheila. Every time I get a lead my heart is frustrated all over again. This has been the worse seven years of my life. 

  I drove up to the prison again. I was ushered once more into the same small room. Fifteen minutes later, the door opened, and a guard came in. “Are you here to see, Ted Swanson?” 

  “Yes. Don’t tell me, he doesn’t want to see me.”   

  “Ted Swanson is dead. We found him laying on the floor of his cell, unresponsive. We tried all we could to revive him, but could not bring him around.” 

  Now what? The one link I had to my little girl’s disappearance, and he’s dead.

  “He’s dead?” Martha said. “What now, Stanley?”

  “I don’t know. I’m going into Portland and talk with his mother.” The trip to the big city was a beautiful drive, the fields abloom with myriad patches of colorful blossoms, trees in their summer dress, and the smell of new-mown hay. But, today, I was not interested in the scenery. I was on a mission to find my little Sheila.

  I rang the doorbell at the tenement house on Cumberland Avenue. The doorbell tag said: N. Maxwell Apt 7. I got no acknowledgment. I rang again. As I was about to leave, I heard the sound of the door buzzer. The interior wasn’t much better than the exterior which was in need of a coat of paint and some restoration. The foyer was drab. The colors of the carpet once matched the wallpaper’s tone, but now was thread-bare and nearly colorless. A tall coat rack sat near the entrance, and two or the four hooks were broken off. 

  Instinct told me #7 was on the first floor. The door marked 5 opened and a small gray-haired man, bent like the letter C craned his neck, looked up into my face. “Who you looking for, mister?” 

  “Norma Maxwell in #7.” He turned and pointed down a short hallway. “It’s that one on the left at the end of the hall.” 

  Norma Maxwell did not fit her voice. She was a small woman, and like her son, her eyes were too close together. She acted suspicious, opening her door to the chain’s link. “Who are you, and what do you want?” 

  “Mrs. Maxwell, I’m Doctor Morse. I talked to you on the phone this week.” She closed the door, and I heard her slip the chain, and the door opened to expose a very clean, neat living room. Not at all what I expected. I thought, by her voice, raspy and low she’d be living in squalor. 

  “Come in, Doctor.”

  She led me into what she called, her sitting room. By its looks, no one sat in here in years. Everything was old but well maintained. A large Morris chair where she directed me to sit. A small mahogany, glass-topped coffee table, a large fabric sofa filled the small space. 

  “Have you seen my son lately, Doctor? How is that reprobate son of mine?” I guessed the prison had not notified her of her son’s death. Before I could tell her, the phone rang. I could tell by the look on her face, she had received the news. “Well, Doctor, that bad seed is dead. I can’t say I’m sorry. I am quite pleased, to be honest. He has been nothing but trouble from birth,” she repeated. 

  “I am still trying to find my baby. I haven’t lost hope yet. I need to find my daughter, Mrs. Maxwell.” 

  From another room, I heard, 'Grammy can I come out now?' She looked startled. She moved toward the center of the room. “No, dearie, you can come out later. I’ve got company just now.” 

I was certain it was my daughter. Something inside of me knew it was Sheila. I went to the door where the voice had been heard only moments ago. She ran to me, pulled on my shirt sleeve. “You can’t go in there, Doctor. My granddaughter is not properly dressed. I must ask you to leave, Doctor. I have to take my granddaughter to her dance lessons.” She pulled me toward the apartment door, trying to force me out. I tugged my sleeve from her grip, opened the door, and for the first time in seven years I saw my little Sheila. 

She asked, “Who are you, mister? Is my grammy all right? Did you hurt my grammy, mister?” 

Stunned I said, “no I did not hurt your grammy. I just wanted to see you.” 

  “Why, mister?” 

  “Because…” My eyes filled with tears. 

  “Why are you crying, mister Are you all right?” You will never know how I felt that day. Seeing my daughter made my heart jump for joy. I wanted to tell her who she was, but that would come later. 

  “I’m sorry, Doctor. My son brought her to me before he was sent to prison. He told me his girlfriend was the mother, and she had died at childbirth. I had no idea until you called that she was not my son’s child.” 

  “What did he say her name was?” I said, fear and anger filled my heart, and they spilled out of my mouth. 

  “He said, they called her Veronica.” 

  “Well, her name is not Veronica. It is, Sheila. Sheila Morse.” 

  “My name is Veronica, mister. My grammy named me. Didn’t you, Grammy?” 

  “I told her, I named her. Actually, my no-good son named this darling child.” 

  I told Mrs. Maxwell, I’d be back with the sheriff to get my daughter. Little Veronica, Sheila cried. “I don’t wanna leave you, Grammy. I love you.” 

  Her eyes filled with water she said, “I’m sorry, child. But I promise I will call you every week.” 

  “I won’t leave you. I won’t. I won’t,” Sheila said, staring daggers at me as I slowly closed the door. 

 Two weeks later, Sheila was back in our home. She, for her grammy’s sake, was trying to adjust to her new family. 

  Five years later, little Sheila was eighteen and graduating from Bickford High School. She adjusted to us in a year. Her grammy called her every week, as promised until I read in the paper, she’d passed away. The obituary named her as a grandchild, but no mention of her son. I wrestled with how to break the news to Sheila. “Honey,” I said. “Your grammy died yesterday.” 

  “She did? But, She called me on Friday, daddy.” 

  “Death isn’t restricted by the clock. Your grammy was ninety-two, sweetheart.” 

  “When is the funeral?” 

  “On Saturday, but it says, she requested no visiting hours or funeral.” 

  “I guess Grammy didn’t want anybody fussing over her. She was a loner. We never had any company. Just once, my father’s girlfriend came by to see me. She wasn’t very nice to Grammy, called her an old hag.” 

  Little Sheila, our beautiful daughter went off to college where she met a fine Christian man. They were married last summer, and I was able to give away my daughter. 

  My wife and I are enjoying our sunset years. Our three grandchildren visit us often, and Sheila and her husband are in ministry in the city of Portland. We are so proud of our family. 

June 09, 2021 13:00

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