A/N – HEY THERE YOU GUYS.. No.. we are not "really" posting this story over here again, but we have LOTS of people writing to ask where they can find it. As you can see we are up to chapter 19, and a lot has happened to our poor Bella.
So, if you are wanting to find this story again, and continue on the journey with us, please come on over to The Writer's Coffee Shop.
You will need to make an account to read this story, as it is NC-17. (And it lives up to the rating.. another reason we are not posting this story here.)
If you are not interested, just consider this a one shot about a poor desperate Charlie… He needs your love.
Hope to see you at the Coffee Shop.. We are having a blast.
Chapter 19 – Desperation Charlie's POV
I sit here and stare at the brown box lying next to me on the passenger seat as I'm parked in front of yet another nameless "no-tell" motel. Unlike most of the patrons at this shit hole of an establishment, I am not here for the hourly rate. I am here because my life has been torn apart and the only two things that are constant in my depressive existence are seedy motels and my brown box.
Within this box lays my only reason for living. The contents consist of maps with the small marks of the towns that I have covered, various newspaper clippings from cities throughout Arizona, thousands of fliers that will be reposted all over the town I am currently in, and pictures of my beloved daughter from her current year in high school.
In 2 months, this was what I had become.
Why wasn't I a better father? Why didn't we call each other every week? Millions of questions like this and so much worse have blackened my soul. I am currently on temporary leave from the force, going through my savings faster than I can count, and if this continues, I will have to sell my house.
Not that any of that matters to me. My little girl was missing, and I would not rest until I knew what happened to her.
When I first learned of her disappearance, she had already been gone for two weeks. School officials said that she had been withdrawn from school with little or no explanation by her mother. They had waited two weeks for a new enrollment request from another school, so they could send her records.
When the request never came, the attendance clerk became worried. I replay every word of her phone call in my nightmares ever since.
"Chief Swan." I spoke into my station house phone.
"Um, yes. Is this Charlie Swan?" A timid voice asked.
"Speaking. What can I do for ya?" I answered while paying more attention to the mundane task I was doing.
"I am sorry to bother you sir, but I am calling about your daughter."
My heart stopped. I knew right then that something was wrong. "What is it? Has something happened to Bella?"
"No, no…I am so sorry to worry you." As my cop instincts kicked into high gear I realized that she was not being forthcoming, and I thought for a moment she might even hang up.
Grabbing the nearest pencil and pad of paper I asked, "Who is this?"
"My name is Margaret Cope, and I am the attendance clerk at Desert Vista High School where Bella was attending school." She replied.
After scribbling down her name, I sat up in my chair as her words began to sink in. "What do you mean WAS going to school?"
"Yes sir. Bella was taken out of school by her mother almost 2 weeks ago, and I am calling you because I need to find out where to send her permanent record."
"Mrs. Cope, I think there must be some mistake. My wife and daughter haven't moved anywhere. Have you tried contacting their home? There has to be an explanation." My mind was refusing to process. I didn't want to admit that something was wrong. There had to be a reason.
"Yes. I have called all the numbers listed many times, but I have not been able to get a hold of anyone. In fact, during my lunch break today, I decided to go over to their house. I am not sure what I expected to find, but I just didn't feel right about this situation."
She paused for a moment, as if she was nervous. "I know it is not my place, and I am sorry for intruding in your family's lives, but Bella was a special girl. She was one of those students that you just remember forever. I know she has a bright future ahead of her, and when I didn't get a request for records indicating that she had enrolled in another high school, I became worried that something had happened."
"Mrs. Cope? I need you to tell me what you found at their house. Don't leave out any detail." I was doing my best to stay calm, but I knew I was failing.
I heard a sniffle from the other end of the phone, but I was met with nothing but silence.
"Take your time, Mrs. Cope. You are doing a great job." I tried to reassure her while my mind was screaming.
"There was no answer at the door, but it was clear that no one had been living there for a while. Newspapers were piled up on the front doorstep. Notices for packages were stuck to the door, and all of the plants in the front yard were withered and dead."
I heard more sniffling, but she continued without prompting this time. "I am ashamed to admit, but I went around the house looking in the windows. I don't know why I did it, but I just felt compelled to find some answers."
"What did you SEE, Mrs. Cope?" I said in a harsh tone as I was losing my resolve.
"Nothing but everything." Was her cryptic answer.
"Nothing was out of place, and everything was there. It looked like someone would be home any minute. They didn't take anything with them." She took a long breath, "I knew then that something wasn't right. Why would a beautiful, smart girl be taken out of school, but then never actually moved away?"
"I knew then that I had to get a hold of you. I was hoping that Bella was with you. I was hoping that you knew something about what happened." She said.
"Mrs. Cope, I can assure you I have no idea what has happened to my daughter, but I will be in Phoenix first thing in the morning and I intend to find out what has been going on. I will want to see all of Bella's school records, and talk with her friends and teachers. Someone must know what has been going on. If Bella was in trouble, maybe she would have confided in a friend."
I could tell she was making notes of her own as she said, "I will get it all arranged. Do you want me to call our local authorities?"
"Not yet, if you please. Let me find out some information first. I will see you in the morning, and again, thank you Mrs. Cope."
From that day forward my only thoughts were finding my daughter. The second I was off the phone I tried to call Renee and Bella's cell phones. Instead of the annoying message left by Renee in a vain attempt at humor, I was met with, "The number you have called is no longer in service. Please check the number and try again."
I have been trying every day since. I don't know what compels me to call those numbers day after day, but part of me feels like that is the only life line I have left.
True to my word, I was on the first plane I could get to Phoenix. I had been planning a three-week visit at the end of the month anyway, so I already had the time off.
I was able to read over Bella's records, and I saw the withdrawal papers with Renee's signature. There was no forwarding address listed and no further contact information.
Bella's friends proved to be a dead end as well. The only information I got from them was that Bella didn't end up going to a school dance that she had promised to attend. The next day she was gone without a word to any of them.
A few of the people I spoke with said that Renee had been dating a man, but no one could confirm his identity. The only thing I knew about him for sure was that he was very religious and his name was either Bill or Phil.
After interviewing several of their friends, I made my way over to their house. Just as Mrs. Cope had said, the house looked as if someone had just up and left. Everything was still in its place. If they knew they were leaving, it appeared as if they were planning to return soon.
I was making my way around the back of the house when I heard a woman's voice.
"UUU WHHHOOOO! You there. Excuse me!" She yelled as she waddled over to me.
I recognized her immediately as Renee and Bella's neighbor. She was a nice woman, but was known as the neighborhood gossip. Hopefully, her nosy ways would come in handy for me today.
"Hello, Mrs. Stanley. It's me Charlie Swan. How are you doing today?" I said while extending my hand.
She shook my hand firmly and began, "Oh Charlie. I'm sorry. I thought you were the movers. I swear, I think Renee got robbed when she hired that crew."
"Actually, that's why I am here. Have you seen Renee lately?"
Her smile fell and she pulled her hand away from mine. "Renee and Bella left about 2 weeks ago. They left a key at my house for the movers to be able to get in and box up their belongings."
I could tell she was confused, but I needed answers. "Mrs. Stanley, did Renee tell you where they were moving. I really need to get in touch with them."
Her eyes glazed over as she began to try to remember something that might help me.
"The only thing Renee told me was that she was going to a better place. She seemed so happy, and so in love. I was excited for them.
Charlie, I am so sorry. Do you think something has happened to them?" Her eyes were tearing up so I knew I needed to get my information out of her quickly.
"I am not sure, but that's why I am here. You say that Renee was in love. Did you ever meet the man she was seeing?" I asked.
"Not really. He kept close to the house. He seemed nice enough, always taking the family to do things, but if you asked me, I thought it was strange that they had just met, and here she was moving in with him. Oh God. Do you think they were kidnapped?" From her expression alone I could tell that this story was going to be retold much more elaborately.
Not that I cared what gossip she spread when I left, I just needed the facts now.
"You said you had the key. Do you think I could use it to look around a bit inside? They might have left me a note or forwarding address." I wasn't holding out hope for either, but I had to get her to give me that key.
"Oh sure, sure. I will get it right away." She smiled and returned to her house.
Just as I had suspected, there was not much in the way of clues in the house. The food had been left in the refrigerator, and dirty dishes were stacked in the sink. Now, if it were Renee alone, I would not have thought anything was strange, but Bella was a neat freak like me. She would never leave dirty dishes in the sink, unless she didn't have time to wash them.
I called the local police, and they did their best to help. With the trail being two weeks old, there wasn't much to go on.
Knowing that they drove their car, I hoped that someone had seen them in a hotel, restaurant, or gas station in the area. I started posting fliers and talking to people in towns all around Phoenix from that day forward.
My strategy was to work in a circular movement all through Phoenix and then continue working my way out. Someone had to have seen them somewhere, and then I would know what direction they were traveling.
I got luck on my third day as I pulled into a gas station about 20 miles from Renee's house. The clerk in the store remembered seeing Renee at the stop about 2 weeks prior. She remembered her from the picture I showed her. She said she stood out because she had this eerie "happy" look. I am not sure what she was talking about, but with Renee, there is no telling.
She said Renee came in and bought some water and peanuts, while a man filled up the car. The clerk also noticed how the man never took his eyes from Renee, and that he gave her the creeps.
Unfortunately, the store's 24 hour surveillance had not been working that night, so I was unable to get a picture of the male that was with them.
All in all, that was about all the details that I had to go on.
That was what has led me to be sitting outside this sleazy motel holding every piece of evidence that my daughter ever existed in the cardboard box next to me.
As I started to get out of my truck, I notice a bar across the street. Instead of checking in to get a good night's sleep, I began my restless ritual. I will never stop. I knew my daughter was out there somewhere, and someone has to know something about where that is.
After I tuck a few flyers in my pocket, I close the door to the truck with a slam.
The smell of stale beer and cigarettes hit me as I walked through the bar's front door. As always, I get a few looks from the locals as they size me up before returning to their beers.
I make my way to the back to find the bartender on duty. Pulling up a stool, I am greeted by a man behind the bar holding a rag.
"What can I get for you?" He asked.
Now I learned a long time ago that if you want a bartender to give you information, you better make it worth their while, so I ordered a draught beer.
When he came back with my frosty beverage in an icy mug, I laid one of my flyers on the bar.
"Can you take a look at this picture to see if you recognize this girl?" He eyed me for a moment, but did eventually grab the flyer. He studied it for a second and then shook his head, "No, can't say that I have seen her, but she is a beautiful one." He handed the flyer back to me and asked, "You her father?"
I nod but make no move to take the paper from him. "You think I could put one of these up on your door. Maybe someone has seen her. I would really appreciate it."
Just like the hundreds of people before him, I saw the pity in his eyes, but it doesn't bother me anymore. I will take their pity, their hate, their charity, as long as it gets me closer to finding my little girl.
"Sure thing. In fact, put it right here on the wall next to the register, that way more people will see it. We get lots of truck drivers and other travellers through here, so you never know who might see it."
While the bartender was looking for some tape, I noticed a man sitting next to me watching our exchange. As our eyes met he spoke to me, "You mind if I take a look?" Pointing to the flyer.
I passed it over and watched as he carefully examined the picture.
I heard him whisper what sounded like, "God, I am sorry.", and I said, "Excuse me?"
He looked away from the flyer, but made no move to return it to me, "I said, I am sorry I don't know her. She looks like a very special young lady."
This man was giving me the cop tingle. I wasn't sure what was up, but this was not the normal reaction I got from people that I talked with.
Trying to keep him engaged, I asked, "So, do you have any kids?"
The stranger replies, "Nah. I never had time to settle down. I went from high school to the military to this bar stool. I have always regretted not finding that someone special and having a family of my own, but I guess it just wasn't in the cards for me."
"I hear you." I replied. "Bella's mom left me when she was five, and I haven't even tried to find someone to replace her. Before you know it, life just catches up with you, and then they are gone."
He studied me for a long while, and then asked, "You mind if I keep this? I could show it around, and see what I come up with."
"Absolutely, I have about a thousand printed in my truck. I don't plan on stopping until I find her." I said while taking a small drink of my beer.
"You're a good father. I wish you the best of luck." The stranger said as he peeled a twenty out of his pocket and laid it on the bar.
Before he can leave, I tell him, "If you find anything, I don't care how small you think it may be, please call that number on the flyer. I will answer any time of day or night."
He nods and moves toward the door. There was something odd about his behavior that made me feel like I couldn't let him just go with our getting more information. I yelled after him, "What's your name, so I will know who's calling me."
Once again, he turns to face me. My breath stopped in my throat as I see that his eyes hold the same look of sorrow and guilt that I see every time I look in the mirror.
"I'm Felix." He said with a grim smile, as he turned and walked out the door.