As a thank you to all my loyal readers and a welcome to all my new ones, here's an outtake for Dark Side of the Moon. A little change of pace, this is Charlie's experience (as I see it) during the three days Bella was in Italy. Let me know what you think!
As always, I couldn't post anything without my fabulous betas. NoMoreThanUsual and StruckUponAStar keep me in line and on target, and find all my grammar errors, too! Ladies, I love you lots!
Also, Dark Side of the Moon and another story of mine, Seduction, are up for three Eddies and Bellies awards. I'd appreciate your vote at www(.)thecatt(.)net/tw/Vote(.)aspx
Voting ends in two days on the 28th of February.
Thanks so much for all your support!
In Charlie's voice
Saturday, 18 March 2006, 1:34pm
I wasn't surprised to find the house quiet. Bella's truck was still home, but the black Cullen sedan was gone. As uncomfortable as I was with Alice's return, I had to admit that Bella looked more rested than she had in weeks. For once I hadn't heard her scream in the middle of the night. Maybe Alice could convince her to stop waiting for Edward.
I went up to change – my old suit was too similar to the one they'd buried Harry in. I remember Renée picking it out for me. We'd had big plans then, to get out of Forks and move to a big city. But then my folks had become ill and everything changed. I couldn't leave them to die alone.
Peeling off my jacket, I told myself for the hundredth time that I should give it away – it fit even worse than the last time I'd worn it. But it was something Renée had liked.
I guess I shouldn't fault Bella for holding on to him – I wasn't any better, was I?
The first clue I had that something wasn't right was the dried green powder in the bottom of the bathtub. The Comet was balanced on the side of the tub, next to a pair of blue rubber gloves and a sponge. Someone – Bella – had been cleaning but left the job undone. She hadn't been anything but meticulously neat and responsible since he'd left...what had caused this?
Shrugging off my discomfort I went to her room. The door was open, like usual, and I stopped at the threshold. Privacy was important to both of us, and I respected hers.
The first thing I noticed was the open closet door. Clothes hung at odd angles, half off of the hangers. The drawers of her dresser were askew, and her school books were thrown across the floor. Her backpack was missing.
No, not again.
Racing down the stairs, I couldn't help the feeling of déjà vu that choked me. God, it'd been almost exactly a year ago she'd flown out of the house...only to be found bleeding and broken three days later fifteen hundred miles away.
I only glanced at the family room – the sheets and blankets sat neatly folded up on the corner of the couch. The kitchen was similarly tidy; Bella's dish from breakfast was dry in the rack. Then I saw the note.
I'm with Alice. Edward's in
trouble. You can ground me
when I get back. I know it's a
bad time. So sorry.
Love you so much,
She was gone.
No, no, no! I slumped into a chair and slammed the hastily scrawled message on the table in front of me. Edward's in trouble. Crap! Last time she'd run from him, this time she ran to him? After the hell he'd put her through, how could she just drop everything and go to him?
He was in trouble…so what? He wasn't here when she was in trouble – he left her in the damn woods for Chrissakes! Why, Bella?
I knew exactly why.
I knew what it was like to lose the love of your life, to watch her walk away forever. If Renée had called me, saying she was "in trouble," I probably would have done the same thing.
The fact Bella had inherited my inability to move on hurt almost as much as Renée's desertion. Bella was willing to give that boy everything, and he was obviously willing to take it, no matter what it did to her.
Well, I wasn't going to let him ruin her again.
First, I had to find him…no, them. Carlisle. Alice. All of them.
My first call was to the station.
"Steve, this is Charlie. Have you seen a black Mercedes around town?"
"Hey, Chief. Mercedes? Nah, haven't seen one of them since the Cullens left. Why?"
Because my daughter ran away in one. "Alice Cullen was here. I need to get a hold of her."
Steve covered the phone and asked whoever was in the office with him. "Eli thinks he saw a black car race through town this morning – he figured it was one of those tourists from California."
California – that's where they moved to, I remembered – but the car still had Washington plates. "What time was that?"
More muffled talk. "Between nine and ten, he thinks. Headed north."
Three, maybe four hours head start. If they were headed to SEATAC, I could still catch them and try and talk some sense into Bella.
Could I use state resources to track down my daughter? What if she called from the mall in Seattle to tell me Edward had lost his keys? What would I do if it was Pastor Webber's daughter who'd pulled a stunt like this?
I know exactly what I'd say. "She's allowed to go where she wants to, isn't she? If she's not a minor, and without evidence of foul play, we should wait for her to call."
But I'd waited last time, and Bella had come home in pieces. My baby was legally an adult, and if she wanted to leave, I had no recourse to stop her. She'd left willingly so I couldn't honestly report her as missing.
Discretion won over parental panic. "Here's what I want you to do, Steve."
I relayed the plate number and instructions, then hung up. Next to the phone, the answering machine taunted me with its bright red zero. No messages, other than the slip of paper on the table. I couldn't just stay here and wait.
The story was Carlisle had taken a lucrative position at some southern California medical center. Someone at Forks Community Hospital had to know where he went…it took time to process bills and insurance. Surely they had an address for him.
I slipped on my heavy uniform jacket and headed to the car. A personal visit would get me answers faster, and get Bella home sooner.
Sunday, 19 March 2006, 12:19am
They kicked me out of the hospital when the graveyard shift came on.
I'd spent the entire afternoon quizzing everyone in a white coat or scrubs, and gotten the same, vague answer every time.
"He said something about a teaching hospital...USC, UCLA, UCSD...I'm not sure which. He wasn't specific," had been the response, no matter who I asked. "Try payroll," they suggested, but the payroll office was closed until Monday.
I got a little more help in the records room. The clerk spent twenty minutes pulling files and looking for Carlisle's name, but not a single one listed a consultation with anyone outside of the hospital. Even the clerk was surprised – most of the staff doctors called the bigger facility in Seattle for advice from time to time.
She did provide me with a directory of west coast hospitals, and showed me to Carlisle's old office. No one had been hired to fill his position, and apparently no one had wanted the view he had of the parking lot.
Once alone, I made a quick search of the space, finding only a pencil, a box of staples and a few blank pieces of paper. I sat down in his chair and thumbed through the directory. Page after page of California hospitals, medical centers and clinics greeted me. I had no idea where he'd moved to, only that it was the southern half of the state.
So I decided to call them all – from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
By midnight, I knew the operators who answered 411 by first name, that Ralph Cullen practiced urology in Long Beach and that Martin Cullen delivered babies in Pasadena. Carlisle Cullen, however, had vanished into thin air.
I also checked every phone number – cell phone, pager, fax – every number anyone had for the Cullens – but all had been disconnected or reassigned. According to voicemail, his old cell number belonged to G. Randall, a woman. I left a message anyway – the same one I'd left on every other answering service.
"Hello, this is Police Chief Swan of the Forks, Washington, Police Department. I'm trying to locate Dr. Carlisle Cullen. If you have any knowledge of his whereabouts, please call..."
When the duty nurse came by to tell me the night staff was coming on, she found me staring at the blank wall. "Chief, if there's nothing more for you here, why don't you go home? Maybe with fresh eyes you'll see something you missed. I can leave you a message at home if anyone remembers anything else."
What I wouldn't give for a message from Bella. At the top of every hour I'd dialed my own number. I'd had my hopes raised once, hours ago, when the mechanical voice told me I had one new message. My hope was short-lived, hearing a low, familiar voice on the recording.
"Charlie, it's Steve. The Cullen house is dark. No one's been here for a long time. If you go out there, be sure to bring a machete. No word from the airport yet, but I don't expect to hear from them until tomorrow at the earliest. I left a full report on your desk."
I couldn't help but call her name when I walked in the house, even though I knew I'd get no answer. The place had never seemed so dark and quiet. I was afraid it was meant to stay that way.
When my stomach rumbled, I realized the empty feeling in my gut was more than fear – I hadn't eaten since the wake. Numbly I opened the fridge and grabbed the first plastic container I saw.
Fork in hand, I dropped into my favorite chair in the family room, not bothering to take my jacket off, and popped the lid off. Chicken and rice; Bella must've made it yesterday. I'd eaten with Sue and gotten home late. Leaving Bella alone with Alice had been a mistake – I should have asked her to come with me to the funeral. Maybe she'd still be here if I had.
Bella, where are you?
I woke up to the sun lighting up the windows and with pieces of chicken in my lap. My back ached from sitting in the chair all night and my left hand was numb from supporting my head. I'd been dreaming that Bella was cooking me dinner, reminding me to hang up my coat and wash my hands before she filled my plate. Was that the only memory I'd have of her? Keeping house? No wonder she left.
But what did he have to offer her? Money? She'd never needed much, and wouldn't like the extra attention the wealthy seemed to attract. Jacob had so much more – a history, a home, an equality. With his fancy car and manicured nails, Cullen could never understand Bella. It was no wonder he threw her away when he was done with her. Jake wouldn't do that – he'd do anything for her.
I stiffly lifted myself out of the chair and picked up the mess I'd made. Reluctantly I stumbled up the stairs, making myself finish the job Bella'd started in the shower before cleaning myself up. Even though it was Sunday, I put on my uniform. It was harder to brush off questions from a cop than from a concerned father, and I planned on rattling some cages today.
After forcing down a bowl of cereal and a cup of instant coffee, I headed out. I'd wasted enough time cold calling hospitals; today I'd follow procedure. The Cullens lived here for two years – they had to have interacted with most of the local businesses. I'd canvas the town. If anyone in Forks knew anything about them, I'd find it.
The local postmaster would be one of the first I'd contact. Russell wouldn't appreciate being roused on a Sunday, but he must have some record of where the Cullens had their mail forwarded. I'd also make a personal visit to their house. I hadn't heard if they'd put it on the market yet. One of the local real estate agents would be know; I'm sure they'd all asked about selling the property. Maybe one could arrange to get keys to their place.
Before that came Bella's list of known acquaintances. I doubted her school friends knew anything – Bella had been fine – well, sort of – she'd spent all her vacation time either at work or at La Push. At least until Alice had shown up.
I pulled a U turn and headed for the reservation. Until Alice arrived, Bella and Jake had been inseparable, but since Thursday, I hadn't seen hide nor hair of Billy's son around my place. What was it with the Quileutes and the Cullens?
Jake had been late to the funeral yesterday, and arrived upset. Not sad-upset, more like irate. I hadn't thought much of it, but now I realized he didn't even ask about Bella. He hadn't said a single word to me the entire time.
Jake must know something – he and Bella must've had a falling out when Alice showed up. Considering how Billy hated the Cullens, it'd be no surprise Jake'd be angry if Bella left with one of them.
Billy was right all along in distrusting them. What Edward did – not just dumping Bella but literally throwing her to the wolves – was the act of a lying coward. "She'll be safe with me," he'd once said. Like a fool I'd believed him.
I pulled up in front of the Black's tiny home, surprised when Billy didn't meet me at the door. Knocking, I tried the knob and let myself in.
Billy rolled down the hall toward me. "Charlie? What're you doing here? On your way to Sue's?" He sounded oddly suspicious.
"No. I came out to see Jake." I watched Billy shift in his chair. "Did you know Bella took off yesterday with Alice Cullen?"
"Well, Jake mentioned something about Bella and her…friend." He spit the last word at me.
"What did he say exactly? Did he say where they went?"
Billy rolled over to the rickety coffee table and picked up the remote. "I don't remember anything specific," he said.
"Dammit, Billy – I haven't been able to reach her all night! Why didn't you say something sooner?" He'd known she was gone all this time and didn't say a word? He'd been a nosey busybody about everything else when it came to Bella, but her leaving wasn't important enough to mention?
Billy didn't look up. "She's your daughter. I figured she'd told you about it."
My jaw hit the floor. Some friend he was – one day he was fawning over how nice it was to have a woman around the house and now she was my daughter? Two-faced, self-serving ass!
Fine, I'd go to the source. "Where's Jacob? Jake, you here?" I practically yelled.
That got Billy's attention. He rolled toward me, blocking me from the bedrooms. "He's sleeping – he had a late night."
He had a late night?
We both heard the grunt from the bedroom, and I glared at Billy. "Sounds like he's awake to me. Jacob Black, get your butt out here, NOW!" I commanded.
"Coming," a voice said, barely muffled by the thin walls. No witty remark or teenage whine. He isn't surprised I'm here.
Billy backed off, grabbing his coffee cup. For the first time in a decade, he didn't offer me any.
"Hey, Charlie, what's up?" Jake said with a yawn. Wearing nothing but cutoff Levi's, the kid towered over me. He ducked under the beam holding up the ceiling before pulling a t-shirt over his head.
"Jake, tell me what you know about Bella disappearing with Alice Cullen." No beating around the bush.
He looked at Billy with tired eyes. The elder Black said something in Quileute, and Jacob looked at the floor. "I don't know anything."
I slammed my fist against the wall, leaving a dent in the sheetrock. "Don't do this to me! She's gone, and all I have is a note! What the hell happened?" I didn't have jurisdiction on the reservation, but I'd find a way to give them grief if they refused to help me.
Jake's face went slack. "I went over to see how she was doing before the funeral, and she was packing. All she'd say was that b...b...bastard Cullen was in trouble." He tripped over the words and his eyes narrowed, burning with jealous fire.
"Edward Cullen," I clarified.
Every muscle in Jake's body rippled with anger. "Yeah, Edward. She had to go…help…him."
"Where? Where'd she go, Jake?"
He started toward the kitchen. "I don't know." He shoved his head in the fridge and started digging around.
I may be a small town cop, but I'm not stupid. He knew where she was, or had a damn good idea. Billy avoided my gaze as well…he knew too! "What exactly did she say to you? You have some idea – where the hell is she?"
"Honestly, Charlie, I don't know. She wasn't making a lot of sense." He stood up with a gallon of milk in one hand, a loaf of bread in the other. "I tried to stop her, I really did. But she wouldn't listen to me."
Part of what he said was true. He didn't want her to go, that I got. "You're a crappy liar, Jake. What are you hiding? Are you protecting Alice Cullen? 'Cause if Bella's in trouble..."
Jacob spun around toward me so fast I automatically reached for my gun. "Me? Protect Alice Cullen? Never!" he snarled.
I took a step back.
"Settle down, Jake. Charlie's just worried about Bella," Billy said.
Jake gave him a look that screamed, "He should be."
"What kind of danger is she in, Jake? Please, help me find her," I pleaded.
He gave Billy a frown, then put the mangled loaf of bread on the counter. "I wish I could help you, Charlie, but there's nothing else I can tell you. I begged her to stay, she said 'no.' End of story."
He turned his back, and my temper went full-boil. "Don't walk away from me, Jacob Black!"
"Charlie, stop it. She's not here, and Jake doesn't know anything. You've heard everything." Billy rolled between me and his son. His chin pointed up at me in defiance.
"What makes you think Bella's in danger, Jacob?" I said, ignoring Billy.
Jake shivered, but didn't speak.
"He didn't say that," Billy said. "But the Cullens have always meant trouble, especially for Bella." He spun his chair around, shutting me out. "How about you start another pot of coffee, Jake."
I threw the front door open, leaving another dent in their wall, stopping when I pushed the screen back. Betrayal ate at me from the inside out.
"If you think this is over, you've got another think coming. I thought you two cared about her. Some friends you are." Something crashed in the kitchen, but I didn't look back.
Fine. I'd find her without their help.
"I told you on the phone there wasn't much." Russell handed me the small stack of mail addressed to Dr. Carlisle Cullen. "I only keep it cause he didn't file a forwarding address, only a stop delivery request."
I flipped through the envelopes: a PUD notice, a magazine renewal, and what looked like a greeting card from the hospital. The last postmark was over three months ago.
"No cable bill or bank statements, huh?" When my folks died, I got mail for them for years.
Russell glared at me. "Ya think I go through everybody's mail?"
I gave him a disbelieving snort, but didn't lift my face from the letters.
He whipped off his hunting cap and wadded it into a ball. "They never got much in the way of bills or letters. You might try Hal over at UPS – he use ta complain 'bout that hidden driveway of theirs."
I handed the stack back to him. "Thanks, Russ, I'll do that. I appreciate you opening up for me on a Sunday."
Turning to go, Russ opened the door for me. "So what'd the Cullens do, Charlie? Why you hunting them down after so long?"
"I just am. If you hear anything, give me a call." Admitting Bella had run off again was just too hard. I hadn't even told Renée...a task I was dreading.
The secret would be out tomorrow, if Bella didn't show up at school. Why couldn't she just call?
"Hey, Chief, how ya doing?" Mark looked up from the solitaire laid out across his desk.
I pretended not to hear him. He didn't want to know how I was doing. "Have you heard from SEATAC yet?"
"Uh, yeah." He carefully moved one stack of cards and revealed a pink message slip. He squinted at the scrawl on the scrap. "They confirm the car is in their short term lot, but won't take any further action without a court order. If it's still there after three days, it'll be considered abandoned and will be towed."
A court order…which meant a police report and an official declaration that Bella's disappearance was under suspicious circumstances. Jacob's nonverbal accusation still stuck with me – he believed she was in danger – but was that enough to file a missing person's report?
"Is that from Cora's?" Mark pointed to the white bag in my hand.
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Here, you can have it." I'd visited every open business in Forks and ended up at the diner. Cora had handed me the sack, saying something about the special.
Mark didn't hesitate and snatched the bag. "Thanks. Isn't Sunday apple pie day? Oh, yeeesssss." He waved a Styrofoam box under his nose.
I'd pulled out the phonebook and was thumbing through the real estate section while he polished off the last of the pie.
"You okay, Charlie?"
I pushed myself back from the desk. "No, not really. Bella didn't come home last night." I felt like I'd swallowed a baseball.
Mark pushed his hat back on his head. "Holy smokes, Charlie. I'm sorry." He set the bag down on my desk. "And the Cullens have something to do with her disappearance?"
I nodded. "She was contacted by her ex…" I choked "boyfriend and went to him. I just want to make sure she's okay."
"You think she's not?"
"Honestly, I don't know. But the last time..." I rubbed my eyes.
Mark walked back to his desk and cleared his throat. "You know – not that I'd ever tell you what to do, mind you – I'd go ahead and file a missing persons. My friend on the Seattle PD says people do that all the time, and it gives them access to things like phone records. He says they usually track the missing kids down in a few hours that way."
But there weren't any phone records…were there?
Yes! I flipped on my computer and drummed my fingers waiting for the thing to boot up. "That's a great idea, Mark, thanks." Edward had called Bella. If I could get the number he'd called from, I'd know exactly where Bella went! Something Alice'd said put a hole in my new balloon of hope.
"The last time I spoke with him, he was in South America."
No, she couldn't have left the country. Did Bella even have a passport?
"If you need any help, let me know." He gathered his cards and shuffled. "By the by, there's still a tasty looking sandwich in the bag. Cora'd kill me if I ate your whole lunch."
Lunch? What time was it?
Looking up at the clock, I cringed. Bella'd been missing for more than twenty-four hours.
"I'm gonna grab a bite, can I get you something?" Mark pulled his coat off the back of his chair.
"Nah, you go ahead."
"You'll find her, Charlie, I'm sure. Try and get some rest, 'kay?"
My eyes rose from the latest set of forms I'd printed off the internet . "I know, thanks." Finding Bella was one worry, finding her alive and healthy was my real fear.
With a sloppy signature, I picked up the stack of papers and shoved them in the fax machine. Even after filing the missing persons report with the State Patrol, I'd had to fill out form after form to get access to my own phone records. My hand ached, the printer was out of toner, and I was no closer to finding Bella.
When files had been downloading, I'd snuck in a few calls trying to find out the status of the Cullen property outside of town. Like every other question, the answer was "there's no record of anything." How, in the twenty-first century, could an entire family just disappear?
Every time my phone had rung, I'd grabbed it, hoping against hope it would be Bella. When it rang this time, I moved a little slower, expecting it to be another apology and dead end.
"Hi Charlie," the quiet woman's voice said.
"Sue? …Sue! Oh, shoot, I was supposed to come over tonight! I'm so sorry." I'd been so wrapped up in finding some trace of Bella, I'd forgotten that Sue had been expecting me for dinner.
"It's okay, I'm sure you're busy. Billy told me what happened. You must be frantic." Her tone wasn't accusing, just exhausted. More bad news on top of her own nightmare.
"I'm doing all right, thanks." I looked at the picture of Bella smiling back at me from the computer screen, next to her description. I'd had to scan the picture sitting in the frame on my desk – the one from her birthday. "I'd probably better take a rain check, if you don't mind," I said with a guilty twinge.
If Sue was disappointed, she didn't let it show. "I understand. The kids are here. We probably could use a little time alone."
"I'm sorry. How about I come over tomorrow, or Tuesday, maybe?" Sue was counting on me to go through Harry's garage with Seth.
There was a quiet pause on the other end. "How about Tuesday? The kids are going back to school tomorrow, and probably need a little time to adjust to that."
"Okay. I'll come over after work. Take care, Sue."
"You too, Charlie."
I hung up the phone with a sigh. Bella was supposed to go back to school tomorrow, too. What would I tell them?
Rather than figure that out, I dialed the house for the twentieth time.
"No new messages," was the response.
I woke with a start. What was that beeping?
As soon as I moved, the sound stopped. I realized my hand had fallen on the keyboard and pressed enough H's to make the darn thing freak out. Rubbing my eyes, I shut it down.
I'd been staring at airline schedules, thinking I'd figure out what flight Bella and Alice might have taken. I didn't bother calling the airlines; I knew passenger lists wouldn't be released without a really good reason, and only if specific flights were requested. Requesting lists for an entire day's worth of flights because my daughter had runaway would get me laughed out of the airport.
Reluctantly I locked up and went home. The house was deathly quiet, just like it had been a year ago. Not even a year – it'd only been six months ago I'd found another note that'd led to an even more desperate search.
Going for a walk with Edward up the path.
I looked out the kitchen window at the edge of the forest. She'd been found, hypothermic and catatonic. How would I find her this time? Would I find her this time?
I trudged to my chair, unable to face her empty room. I didn't know how I could be a better father or friend to Bella, but as I settled myself in my chair, I promised God I'd try.
Please, God, give me the chance.
Monday, 20 March 2006, 8:01 am
I was waiting at the door of the hospital payroll office when the secretary unlocked it.
"Good morning, Chief Swan, you're here bright and early," the woman said with a smile. We'd never met, but I wasn't surprised she knew who I was.
"Yes." I followed her into the office. Today I'd woken up stiff, again, but with a purpose. While Monday brought with it the reminder that Bella had been gone for two days, it also brought more possibilities to for finding her. State offices and banks would be open, as well as this office.
She set down her newspaper and travel mug and hung up her coat. After she'd settled herself behind her desk and offered me one of the opposing seats, she asked, "What can I help you with today?"
"I'd like to see the employment records for Dr. Carlisle Cullen, please."
She looked over her glasses at me before rising and opening the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet in the corner. "May I ask why?" she said with her back to me.
"I need to contact him. No one here seems to know where he's moved, and I assumed you'd have his new address on file." The woman's neat appearance and precisely aligned papers told me she was not only organized, but proud of it.
She pulled out a manila folder and set it on her desk, exactly centered between her keyboard and newspaper. "You assume correctly, Chief. But I can't give this information out to just anyone." She laid a hand on top of the folder.
I wasn't in the mood to play King, or in this case, Queen of the Mountain. "I'm an officer of the law, ma'am, sworn to uphold it, not abuse it. Misusing that information would be like writing tickets on a car that's legally parked." I glanced at the keys partially hanging out of her coat pocket. "Like a Nissan, perhaps. There's not many of those in Forks."
Her face turned to stone. "Of course, I didn't mean to imply anything, Chief." She passed me the folder.
"Thank you." I eagerly flipped open the file, finally having located the information I'd been seeking for two days.
It only took the briefest of inspections to tell me the information inside didn't have anything to do with Carlisle Cullen. "What is this?"
Yellowed pages that had to be twenty years old were stuffed in the folder, all labeled Robert Colton.
The woman came around the desk with a sigh. "It's a chronological record of employment, starting with Dr. Cullen's application and ending with his resignation. It's all very…" she leaned over my shoulder, "clear."
I pointed at the name on the first page. "Oh, it's clear all right."
She pushed her glasses up a little higher. "What is this?" She double checked the tab on the folder – it did say 'CULLEN.' It was the only thing that did.
I would have laughed at her confusion, had I not been so disappointed. "Whatever it is, it's the wrong file."
With a swift motion, she swept the aging pages out of my hands. "I see that. How did this happen?" She flipped through the pages, her finger visiting her lips every five sheets or so. "Dr. Colton hasn't worked here for years. His file is supposed to be in long term storage!"
At least there might be hope. "Do you think Dr. Cullen's file got sent to storage instead?"
The woman scowled. "No, that's not possible." She stooped down to the drawer where the file came from and paged through it. "I check every file that gets sent out. It's not possible," she repeated.
Clearly, it was. My luck couldn't get any worse.
She switched to another drawer, her cheeks getting redder by the second. "I don't understand what happened! I've been here for two years, and completely inventoried and organized all the files. Everything, and I mean everything, was in order on Friday."
"When was the last time you checked Dr. Cullen's file?" I asked.
She slammed the drawer shut and sat down. "It's been a while, now that you mention it." She tapped a few keys on her calendar. "Actually, I haven't received any requests for Dr. Cullen, either payroll or insurance-wise since he left, last September."
More oddities in the Cullens' disappearance. "Is that normal?"
She turned back to me. "Not so much with reimbursement, Dr. Cullen probably had direct deposit set up." She held up her hand. "And yes, that would be in his file. But normally there'd be some activity on cases he'd left open. Insurance claims are notorious for being late."
I stood up. Just another dead end. "Well, thank you for your help."
The woman stood also, and straightened her skirt. "Chief Swan, I'll find out what happened to the records. It'll take a few days to locate Dr. Colton's records in cold storage, but I promise you I'll get to the bottom of this." She flipped open a gold case lined up next to her stapler. "Here's my card. I'll contact you as soon as I locate Dr. Cullen's information. In the meantime you might check with the state board. They should have some records regarding Dr. Cullen."
"Thank you, Ms. Patterson. I appreciate your dedication."
I left her thumbing through a third drawer in her cabinet.
Just like the hospital, I mingled with the first customers of the day in front of Forks Federal Bank, waiting for the doors to open. Janet Stanley took her time opening the door, checking out each person standing outside as she did.
"Good Morning, Chief," she purred as I walked past.
I gave her a nod, and headed back to Charlotte Gerandy's office.
Like her husband, Charlotte Gerandy was a practical person. She didn't seem to be quite the gossip Janet was, and not a power-grabber like Ms. Patterson at the hospital. I expected this visit to be efficient and fruitful.
Unfortunately, I was only batting five hundred today.
"I'd love to help you, Charlie, but the Cullens didn't have accounts here. And, to save you some leg work, I'm pretty sure they didn't have any at the other local banks either." Charlotte picked up a pencil. "You'd have to ask around, but I think they paid for everything with credit or cash. I've never seen a check with their name on it."
"Rough life," I mumbled. The folding chair I was in squeaked when I stood up. "Thanks for your time, Charlotte. Give my best to your husband."
"Let's go, Charlie." Mark tugged on my jacket, trying to get me out of my chair.
"Where?" I'd been staring at the computer screen for an hour and had to work to focus on my deputy's face.
"Lunch. On me. You look like you've been run over by an eighteen-wheeler. Let's head over to the diner and stretch our legs. A little fresh air would do you some good, I think."
What had started as a day with possibilities had turned into one disappointment after another. I'd come back to the office to search the Washington State physicians database. Carlisle Cullen was listed, but the site hadn't been updated. His residence was listed as Forks, he'd applied for a license to practice in the state in 2003, and was approved the same year under a reciprocal licensing agreement with Alaska. The record had no other information in it.
I'd found the California site as well, but no Carlisle Cullen was listed in any county. Maybe I did need a break – I'd planned on searching every state's list, but my eyes were already drooping.
"You're right. Let's go." It was an unusually sunny day today, a day Bella would have enjoyed. With a sigh, I followed Mark across the street.
Our regular booth was empty even though the rest of the restaurant was bustling. Monday was the day the locals reclaimed their territory from the weekend tourists, and the day Cora served her Open-faced Lumberjack Roast Beef sandwich. I had one every Monday.
"Chief, Deputy," Cora said, setting down an iced tea in front of Mark and a water in front of me. "You look like you could use something a little stronger, Charlie. Would you like a cup of coffee, too?"
"Thanks Cora, that'd be great."
She left to warn the cook that "the fuzz is in the house," her way of placing our orders. I took a sip of water, wishing for the thousandth time that I'd wake up from this nightmare to find Bella making pancakes at home.
"Still haven't heard from her, huh?" Mark asked. He dumped three packets of sugar in his tea and stirred it with his straw.
"No." I really didn't want to discuss Bella with him in such a public place – Janet Stanley was only two tables over.
Mark leaned forward. "You know, you could contact that guy at the FBI you know…Agent Steel."
"Agent Siols. I know. I've thought about it." Most of the night. The more I'd thought about the Cullens' complete disappearance, the more I'd wondered if there wasn't more behind it than just a job change. "The FBI is a big deal, though." I hadn't even gotten up the guts to call Renée.
"She's been gone, what, two days now? It's time to call in the big guns."
At that moment, Cora set my coffee on the table. "Here you go, Charlie."
"Thanks." I shot Mark a glare so sharp it'd cut glass.
"Sorry," he mouthed.
Cora's next stop was Janet's table. Their heads bobbled up and down so fast I was pretty sure they weren't actually connected to their bodies. So much for keeping Bella's disappearance quiet.
We didn't speak again until our lunches came. The hoagie buns were piled high with roast beef, horseradish, and mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, but I couldn't find the urge to eat it. I picked at it instead, dipping my fries in the gravy.
"So what are you going to do next?" Mark asked after checking to see that the dark-haired town gossip had left.
I picked up my coffee cup. "I don't know. Wait, I guess." Wait for the records check at the hospital. Wait for my phone records to show. Wait for the Mercedes to get impounded.
Wait for Bella to come home.
"Why don't you take tomorrow off? I can cover for you. Maybe pay a visit to Seattle and see what you can find there." He popped the last of his sandwich in his mouth.
"Maybe." What if she came home while I was gone? In a rush of déjà vu, I heard myself scolding Bella.
"No calls, no letters, no contact. You can't keep waiting for him."
I can't just wait for her, either. I'd spent my whole life waiting, it seemed. Waiting for Renée, now waiting for Bella.
No more waiting, not when I could still do something. I tossed my money on the table before Mark could get his wallet out. I had a phone call to make.
"Thanks for lunch."
"You've reached Agent David Siols. I'll be out of the office the week of March twentieth. To reach my superior, Agent…"
I hung up the phone. It'd taken me twenty minutes to get up the nerve to call Dave – I hadn't seen him in two years. I'd been counting on him remembering me from the Homeland Security seminar he'd given, and that he'd be willing to do me a favor. With possible leads on the Cullens dwindling, I needed help.
But I couldn't leave him a message. "Hi Dave, my daughter ran off with her girlfriend to help her ex-boyfriend and now all of them, including the boy's talented surgeon foster-father have disappeared off the face of the earth. Give me a call, 'kay?"
There were other agents in the Seattle field office, I should just call one of them. It seemed likely Bella crossed state lines…wasn't that enough to get a little help?
I started to dial, but hung up the phone, again. No, I couldn't tell a stranger. I'd make the drive to the Seattle office tomorrow and do my begging in person.
I picked up the phone a third time, and without hesitation dialed the house. When I heard "you have one new message," I almost cried. When I heard the voice on the message…I wanted to cry.
"Hi Bella, it's Mom. Haven't heard from you in a few days, baby, was wondering if something was up. Call me soon, okay? Love you."
And I thought it was hard calling the FBI. How would I tell Renée I'd lost Bella…again?
I flipped on the monitor and pulled up the listing of licensed physicians in Arizona while I thought about it.
Forty-seven states later, I shut down the computer and went home.
I'd successfully put off calling Renée long enough that I couldn't do it tonight. Ten o'clock here meant one o'clock in the morning in Florida. I'd wait until morning.
There was one Cullen in Florida. She's a podiatrist.
I'd had one other message on the machine – Mrs. Cope asked about Bella's absence from school. I'd put her off, too, pretending I didn't get her message until after the school'd closed for the day. Maybe I could leave her a message in return and avoid getting questioned about Bella.
By the time I got home, I was a walking zombie. I couldn't remember most of the drive, and when I parked in the driveway, I was sure I saw something big moving in the trees. A quick sweep with my flashlight proved how out of it I was.
Mark had been nice enough to have my lunch bagged, so I had 'real' food to eat for dinner. Even as depressed as I was, I managed to consume the cold meat and potatoes, though I didn't taste any of it.
Convincing myself I had to get at least one good night's sleep before I tackled the four hour drive to Seattle, I climbed the stairs. It took me quite a bit longer to make it into my bed.
I stopped at Bella's door. The hall light shined right on her bed, a fact I used every night to check on her. She took up most of the mattress now, but as I stood there, I saw a younger Bella curled up under the quilt.
"Will it be sunny tomorrow, Dad?" she'd ask every night.
"I don't know. You'll just have to wait and see," I'd answer. She'd always been more worried about the rain than about monsters under her bed.
An even younger Bella had stood in a crib in that same spot. "Dadda," she'd call, one hand out, the other clutching the bars, steadying herself. "Story, Dadda," she'd beg. I made up stories about princesses and heroines, princes and villains, until I was blue in the face. It was always the "and they lived happily ever after" that was her cue to go to sleep.
What I wouldn't give for one of those.
Please call, Bella. Even if you don't come home, please, just call.
Tuesday, 21 March 2006, 4:33 am
I didn't hear the phone ring in time. By the time I'd realized I'd actually been asleep, and then what had woken me up, the answering machine picked up.
"Hello, Charlie, this is Carlisle Cullen. I'm sorry to call so early, but…"
"Hello! Carlisle?" I croaked. I still wasn't sure I was awake.
"Yes. I was saying I was sorry for calling so early, but I wanted to let you know Bella is safe. She's here with us." He sounded strange. Sort of angry, sort of disappointed.
"Let me talk to her."
A sigh. "She's in the shower. She didn't want to wake you."
"I…where…what the hell happened?" I rolled onto my back, trying to get my thoughts in order.
"I'm not really sure. Esme and I got back a few hours ago and found Bella with Edward and Alice. The exact reason why she's here hasn't been forthcoming." His voice tightened. "I hold my children responsible, however."
So do I. "The last word I got from Bella was a note saying 'Edward's in trouble.' That was three days ago, Carlisle! I expect answers." My voice broke. "And I expect my daughter to come home."
"We're leaving for the airport in a few minutes. We'll have her home by noon, I promise."
I started to ask "which airport," but was interrupted by a doorbell in the background.
"Charlie, I hate to cut this short, but that's our shuttle." His voice became muffled. "Esme, tell Bella it's time to go." There was a clunk, and he spoke to me again. "We'll get her back to you as fast as we possibly can, Charlie. See you soon."
"Wait, Carlisle, let me –" CLICK. He'd hung up.
"Damn him!" I shouted. I suppose I should be glad – the phantom Cullens had reappeared and were bringing my Bella back to me. But if she was so close, why couldn't I talk to her for even a second? I still had no idea where she was!
Noon…If I left right now, I could be at SEATAC by nine. When did Carlisle say they'd get here? Lunch?
I pinched my eyes shut, trying to factor in the drive time from Seattle to Forks. Counting backwards, I figured Bella would have to land by eight, if she was to make it home by noon.
I'd never make it to the airport in time.
I had to wait here.
I pushed the 'Talk' button on the phone just to hear the dial tone. Had the call really happened, or had I dreamed it all? Was I dreaming now?
I decided to follow Bella's lead and take a shower. Then maybe I'd be able to believe she was really coming home.
The coffee maker perked even slower than usual this morning. I watched each drop fall from the filter into the pot, resisting the urge to keep count. One drop took longer than the others, and I was sure that time had actually stopped.
The shower did help me wake up; the first thing I did after getting dressed was to find the phone book. I'd never used the call back feature on my phone before, and had to look up the code.
After dialing *69, I was greeted with the same voice that had woken me.
"You've reached Carlisle Cullen. I'm unable to take your call. If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and call 911. Otherwise, leave your name and number at the beep, and I'll return your call as soon as possible."
I'd hung up, shaking my head. Three fruitless days of trying to reach the Cullens, and he'd called me. And I still didn't know his phone number.
The coffee maker burped and gurgled, announcing it was finished. I decided toast was in order and dropped in a couple slices of bread before pouring myself a cup.
I couldn't help but look up at the clock. 5:53. This was going to be the longest morning of my life.
Call waiting, call forwarding, three-way calling…I had no idea there the phone company had come up with so many features. Each carried its own charge, of course.
I turned the page of the phone book and took another dry bite of toast.
Huh, they had instructions for mouth to mouth in the phone book? Who knew?
I'd decided to sign up for call blocking – once I found out Edward's number – when I heard the newspaper hit the porch.
"Good morning, Mrs. Cope. Thank you for reminding me to report Bella's absence. She'll be out today, too, she's not feeling well," I lied. If Bella didn't have a good explanation for why she took off, she'd better at least be sick with guilt. "Hopefully she'll be back to school tomorrow." I left my work number; if Mrs. Cope needed something important, Mark'd call me at home.
The only section of the paper I hadn't read was the classifieds. I wondered if I'd find any good deals on parts I could pass on to Jake.
The paper crumpled in my hands. No, I wasn't speaking to the Blacks. Jacob was on his own from now on. If I caught him driving in town, he was going to get a personal tour of the Forks Police Department's holding cells.
Thank God for Sportscenter and the NCAA tournament. Finally something that could take my mind off of counting seconds.
"The Elite Eight starts in two days. Who's destined for the Final Four?"
"Next up, more Sportscenter. Who's going to make it through to the Final Four? Who has the wildest fans? And, most important, which cheerleaders have the biggest…pompoms? Stay tuned."
"Today on Maury: Kids who runaway for love…"
"Sham-WOW can soak up an entire bottle of…"
"John, I'm leaving, and taking Marie. Don't try and…"
"Rap artist Jay-Z…"
"Rodents Of Unusual Size? I don't think they exist…"
"First up, West Virginia versus Texas…"
I finished polishing my pistol and loaded it. Sure, Bella would say I was 'going caveman' by wearing my gun when she arrived, but that boy'd better understand he'd better not show his face around here ever again.
I holstered the gun, then checked the expiration date on my can of mace.
I grabbed the phone after one ring.
"No – Sue. Is this a bad time, Charlie?"
Sue…Sue…Clearwater. Shoot! "No, of course not Sue. How are you?"
"As well as can be expected. I was calling to see if salmon would be okay for dinner. I know you eat a lot of fish, and well…" Her voice trailed away.
What day was it? "Is it Tuesday already?"
"Yes, all day," she said with a nervous laugh. "If you can't make it out, that's okay. I know you have a lot going on, too."
"I'm sorry, Sue, dinner slipped my mind. I know I cancelled once, but I finally got word about Bella this morning. She's on her way home." Allegedly.
"That's great news, Charlie, you must be so happy." She sounded sincere. "You should be there to meet her, definitely. You know, she's welcome for dinner, too."
That'd be nice, assuming I ever let her out of the house again. "Thanks, you're too kind. Unfortunately, Bella's going to be grounded for the rest of her life." I heard something in the front yard and walked to the window.
Carlisle Cullen was opening the back door of the missing Mercedes. "They're finally here – I have to go."
I caught her "Bye, Charlie" before the phone hit the floor.
My vision blurred, seeing Bella's lifeless body in Edward's arms. With one hand on my gun, I threw the door open.
So help me, I'm going to kill him.
*~* *~* *~*
Friday, 24 March 2006, 2:50pm (three days later)
"I'm taking off. You got things covered, Steve?" I checked the clock – Bella would be getting out of school in a few minutes.
Steve didn't look up, engrossed in the latest issue of Field and Stream. "Sure. If anything big happens, I'll call you."
The phone rang, interrupting his reading. I put on my jacket while Steve answered it. "Police Department, how can I help you?"
He stopped me with a wave before I could make it out the door. "Hey Charlie, it's for you. A Ms. Patterson?"
Patterson…Patterson…I drew a blank. With another glance at the clock, I took the receiver from him.
"Chief Swan. This is Ms. Patterson at the hospital. We spoke on Monday?"
Oh yeah, the obsessive-compulsive administrator. "Right. That issue has been resolved, Ms. Patterson, I should've called."
"I suspected as much. However, I still wanted to close the loop on the…misfiling…we discovered. You were right; somehow Dr. Cullen's records got switched with Dr. Colton's and were accidentally sent to long-term storage."
I dug my keys out of my pocket. "I'm glad to hear that. I…"
"I have them here, should you still like to see them. Dr. Cullen himself was in this morning to verify they were accurate."
I'm sure he was. "No, that's not necessary. Thank you for letting me…"
"It's quite a coincidence that you ask for his records, and then he shows up. You actually saved me from a very embarrassing situation with the board. They re-hired him, and I needed those records."
I sighed. Edward'd already given me that little gift. He wasn't going anywhere, dammit.
"Yeah, quite a coincidence." She took a breath, reloading for another barrage, but I didn't have any more time to stroke her ego. Using one of the oldest tricks in the book, I turned down the squelch on my radio until it let out a loud, crackly hiss. "Oh, that's a call coming in, I have to go. Thanks for everything," I said quickly and hung up.
"Don't even go there – you do it to your wife." I was out the door before he could deny it.
I thought about driving past the high school – those kids could use a reminder to slow down – but chose the back way instead. Maybe next week. I'd love to give Edward a ticket…or two…or three.
Fantasizing about towing the snobby silver sedan to the impound yard, I pulled into the driveway. Bella's truck was nowhere to be seen, or heard, but she'd be home any second.
I'd hung up my gun belt when I heard the rumble of the Chevy. Through the window I saw Bella hop out of her truck and wait while said Volvo came to a stop six inches from her bumper. Irresponsible showoff!
The look of sheer joy on Bella's face when Edward took her backpack and collected her under his arm made my heart ache. While I loved seeing her so happy and relaxed – she hadn't had a single nightmare since he'd returned – I recognized hers as the face of an addict. He was not only her dealer, but her drug, and she couldn't see how he controlled her.
I stomped into the kitchen and threw open the fridge. What was I thinking, having Bella come stay with me in the first place? I was about as equipped to be a father as I was a surgeon. I winced at my own bad joke.
The front door opened at the same time I closed the fridge. Can in hand, I turned to greet my scowling daughter.
"Hey, Bells, how was school?" I saved my sour look for her escort.
"Fine. Don't you have a job anymore, Dad?" She propped her hands on her hips.
Before I could speak, Edward put a hand on her shoulder. "Bella, your father's only concerned about you. He has every right to make sure you get home safely."
I did a double take. Edward was defending me?
"By the way, here's your mail, Charlie."
I was still collecting myself when he put the stack of envelopes in my hands.
With a huff Bella rushed past, dragging Edward behind her.
I shook my head. I knew what he was doing…what did the kids call it now? Kissing ass. Edward was one slick devil.
Thumbing through the mail, I followed them into the kitchen and leaned against the counter.
Cable bill, Sports Illustrated, a coupon postcard from Newton's, and a fat envelope from the phone company made up my haul for the day. The last envelope was too fat to be a bill. I dropped the rest on the counter and ripped it open. Lists of dates and numbers greeted me, going back to the beginning of the month. Confused, I flipped through them.
My phone records! I'd forgotten I'd ordered them.
While Bella nursed her frustration by taking out her books one by one and slamming them on the table, I perused the pages until I found Saturday's listing. It took me a minute to figure out which were numbers called and which were received, but it one number that stuck out from all the rest. The 323 area code was obvious enough, but the 'Los Angeles, CA' listed next to it confirmed that it had to be Edward's.
There was one way to find out. I picked up the phone and dialed.
Edward started to put his hand on hers when I heard the buzzing. I tried not to laugh when he slid his chair out so he could retrieve his phone from his pants pocket. That's when I hung up. No sense in getting charged for a long distance call.
He looked at the number and then at me. "Can I help you, Chief?"
Rather than answer him, I spoke to Bella. "I was wondering who'd called last Saturday from LA. Now I know." I waved the list of numbers in the air.
"What is that?" Bella asked.
I passed her the papers. "The call log for the house phone." Figures I'd finally get a solid lead after she came home.
"Call log," she repeated, her face turning pale. "This is your number?" She looked at Edward, confused.
"For a few more days. We'll be getting local numbers next week," he said smoothly, stroking her hand. "I'll let you know when we get switched over."
Great. Why don't you take a hike so she can try it out?
Did he just snort at me?
Still confused, Bella gave the papers back. "Why do you have these, Dad?"
"Why do you think? You were gone. I had no number, no address, no idea where on earth you went." I glared at the boy sitting next to her. "Did you think I just stayed home and knitted the whole time?"
She and Edward shared a guilty look.
"Guess not," she murmured, suddenly engrossed in drawing diamonds down the margins of her notebook.
Edward's mouth opened, to apologize again, no doubt, but I turned around and opened my can. If I heard another 'I'm sorry,' I'd puke.
Wisely, he said nothing
It only took Bella a very quiet half hour to finish her homework. She packed up her things, but Edward pushed a new stack of papers toward her.
"What's this?" she asked.
"College applications." He gave Bella a surprisingly stern look.
College – already? I'd just gotten Bella back, and she was already planning her next escape. Even Renée had lasted longer than a year and a half.
"Great," she said, as enthusiastic as I felt. "I already applied to WSU."
Edward didn't blink. "It's good to apply to several universities, to keep your options open."
Bella flipped through the pages. "Most of these schools are back east."
"I thought you'd like to see someplace new. Emmett loves it out there."
Yeah, I could see all of the Cullen kids in Ivy League schools.
"How about Alaska?" I murmured. The farther Bella was from him, the better.
To my complete shock, she smiled. "Yeah, how about Alaska?"
Edward said something I couldn't make out and pointed her to the last page in the stack. "I've got that, too."
Bella set the rest of the pile aside. "I'll do this one first."
Seeing Edward's grimace, I felt a flicker of hope. He didn't have complete control over her.
Hoping to fan this spark of independence, I headed into the family room and turned on the TV. I took a long draw from my drink, comforted by the squeaks and whistles of the NCAA basketball tournament. Maybe things could get back to normal.
But it was still awfully quiet in the kitchen…
"If you need any help with dinner, Bella, I'm right here," I said, turning down the volume in time to hear her sigh.
I'll always be here for you, Bella.
There's a lot going on here that Charlie doesn't see – did you catch all the ways the Cullens covered their tracks? Missing files and forged phone records are just the start.
And who caught Jacob's wolf cameo? It's pretty subtle…
Drop me a review and let me know what you thought!