Chloe Jacobs sighed and clinched the steering wheel tighter as her daughter continued to badger her about the un-chaperoned sleep-over. A sleepover Chloe had no intention of letting her daughter attend that night.
“Why can't I go to the party? All the other girls are going and I want to go too. This is not fair, Mother," Chloe’s beautiful, thirteen-year-old daughter Danielle, barked at her mom.
Danni was being relentless on this sleep-over conversation and Chloe endured about all of this subject she could. As Danni talked, she was compulsively flipping through the stations on the radio, which made the tension in the car even more unbearable. The two were making their way to the local Klein’s Super Market in Chloe's late-model Honda.
Chloe considered herself to be the typical, single parent. She was thirty-one-years old, but still young enough to remember what it was like to be thirteen. All of those feelings you have as a thirteen-year-old, always feeling like everything is so permanent. She knew Danni believed it would be the end of the world if she didn’t attend the party. When Chloe was thirteen, she believed she knew everything about life: how it worked and how it would turn out. She realized now that she was older, how very wrong she had been. How could she make her daughter understand there would be many more big events in her life? Chloe just wanted Danni to slow down and enjoy being a kid.
Many people considered Chloe a classic beauty with her long, flaxen-blond hair and pale, crystal-blue eyes, all of which still drew the occasional wolf-whistle from men on the street. Those that knew her thought of her as an intelligent, responsible and well-put-together person who made a wonderful home for her only daughter.
Her full-time job with the Aberdeen Family Medical Clinic demanded long working hours and with a teen-age daughter to raise, that left little time for dating. Chloe knew there was no room in their life for a relationship and for now she was content.
"Danni, you are not going to an all-nighter without chaperones and that's final," Chloe said for the umpteenth time.
Danni wrinkled up her face and slumped down in her seat while giving her mom that, 'I am old enough to do what I want' look. Since Danni hit her teens, it was not unusual for them to have these stand-offs over boundary issues, but when push came to shove, Danni was a good kid who minded her mother and was always there when Chloe needed her.
The crime rate in Aberdeen was low and it had always been a relatively safe town. Nothing bad ever happened to disturb the quiet peacefulness and it was small enough to allow local law enforcement to keep a watchful eye on everything. The kids who were planning to attend the party would be safe enough, but this wasn’t about safety. This was about boundaries and Danni needed to learn hers.
"I hate you when you act like I am a baby, Mom," her daughter huffed with a big pout on her face. "I'm not your little girl anymore. I'm thirteen and I know what's happening¾stop treating me like a child. I wish Dad was here."
Danni knew how badly Chloe hated it when her father's name was thrown into these conversations and Chloe was convinced Danni did it for that very reason. This was one of Danni’s manipulations and Chloe recognized it all too well. Danni did it just to make Chloe feel bad in the hope that she would give in. But, Danni's dad wasn't there and Chloe refused to feel guilty…not this time.
"Danni, if you mention this party one more time, I swear you will be sitting in your room until you are at least thirty. Now get over it." Chloe said almost gritting her teeth.
Danni ignored her mom as she stared out the car window at the local scenery. Chloe hoped that would end the conversation. She longed for the days when Danni was easier to get along with.
They passed the outlet mall on I-95, the main highway that ran through Aberdeen Maryland and pulled into the grocery store parking lot. As they got out, Danni rolled her eyes and looked over at her mom with a pout on her face. So much like her dad, Chloe thought to herself. Great. Just what she needed, both Danni and her ex-husband giving her the evil eye all the way through the grocery store. During moments like these¾when Danni was being a defiant teenager¾motherhood was the most difficult. Chloe sighed to herself as she thought.
"Well, since I'm stuck at home tonight while everyone else is at the party, can we at least have pizza for dinner and maybe pick up a movie?"
Danni flipped her hair back in that charming way she had and just like a puff of smoke, her attitude disappeared. It was as if the conversation never took place at all.
“Good idea. Can we have mushrooms on the pizza?” Chloe now beamed at her daughter
“Eeewww…how about mushrooms on half the pizza...your half.”
Danni did a little happy dance into the store.
They started their rounds through the store as usual: cereal, milk, butter, eggs and pizza fixings. These trips to the grocery usually made Danni happy because she liked picking out ingredients for her next 'masterpiece'. That's what she called the crazy recipes she would throw together on her own and serve whenever her mother was late from work. Mostly the meals were pretty good with the occasional flop, but all in all, Danni was turning out to be a fairly good cook. Today, Chloe could see her daughter was really into it, no longer worrying about the sleep-over business.
They began to talk about things at school. Danni told her mom about the new girl with a nose ring and tattoo. Danni proceeded to tell Chloe about the tattoo she wanted for herself. Chloe cringed at the thought.
“I think a small angel on the back of my neck would be awesome,” Danni beamed at her mom. Chloe smiled, but tried not to encourage or discourage her daughter. There had been enough bickering for one day and she really wanted Danni to be happy.
“I think an angel would be okay, but maybe you should wait a few years before making any major decisions. I used to like frogs when I was your age, but can you imagine me with a big, frog tattoo now. That would be too funny,” Chloe teased and they both laughed at the imagined sight of Kermit tattooed on Chloe.
They made their way up and down the aisles as they continued to laugh and talk. As Chloe turned her cart to start down the next aisle, she noticed an older man a few feet away with a contorted look of pain on his face. She saw this just as he put one hand out to grab the end cap he was standing by, while his other hand went to his chest. He made a grating sound in his throat and his face twisted into an awful grimace that told Chloe he was definitely in trouble. She stepped towards the man to ask if she could help just as his body stiffened and started to fall. Chloe knew she'd never be able to catch the guy, but tried to at least, break his fall. He must have out-weighed her by one hundred pounds and despite her attempts to help, the man hit the floor hard, taking out the end cap display as he fell. Bags of chips, pretzels and tortillas crashed to the floor along with the shelving as the man toppled over.
Vaguely remembering her CPR training, Chloe pulled the man's head back and listened for breath sounds, but heard none. Her heart began to race and her adrenaline shot up. She checked for a pulse, but found nothing there either. She heard Danni ask if the man was dead, but Chloe could only focus on helping the stranger. She did not reply to her daughter. Chloe screamed for anyone in the gathering crowd of shoppers to call 9-1-1 and began giving the man breaths of air as best she could. It felt as if time stopped as she frantically tried to resuscitate the old man. She knew she should be pumping his chest as well, but panic was enveloping her and her mind no longer felt connected to her body.
She frantically scanned the crowd, searching for anyone who could help. A young man she knew as one of the store's stock boys stepped out of the crowd and bent down to the old man. He immediately began giving the man chest compressions as Chloe counted out the breaths she was administering. Hours passed by in minutes. Somewhere in Chloe's head, she heard the sound of whining or was it sirens?
"Here come the paramedics," Chloe heard someone say. She was running out of air as two men materialized beside her and began to work on the old man without missing a beat. Chloe stood up and stepped aside so both paramedics could get to the victim. The scene before her took on a surreal feeling, as if she were watching a movie. She vaguely heard Charlie, the store manager, say something about her quick thinking and good work, but she could not take her eyes from the horrible scene before them. Then, in a commanding voice, Charlie directed the crowd to step back and give the EMTs room to work.
"I've got no breath sounds and no pulse,” the EMTs voice was clear and strong over the murmur of the crowd that gathered.
"Charge the paddles to two hundred,” the other EMT was already into the bag and charging the portable defibrillator.
"Clear," yelled the paramedic and the old man's body jumped.
"Nothing. Charge to three hundred and hit him again."
"Clear," yelled the EMT again and the old man's body danced around on the floor like a rag doll.
Chloe began to think the old man was not going to make it. The crowd quieted and she could now hear the soft crying of an older lady behind her. She was still concentrating on the scene before her and could not bring herself to comfort the woman.
"Still nothing. Hit him again.”
The EMT charged the paddles to three hundred fifty and yelled, "Clear."
This time the man's body seemed to come completely off the floor, falling back down with a thump. The EMT again checked the old man's pulse and shook his head.
"This guy is gone, but we need to get him to the Medical Center." The EMT looked at the people standing around and asked, "Does anyone know who this man is?"
A man in the crowd said he thought the gentleman’s first name was Homer, but did not know his last name. Chloe noticed there were two police officers standing back from the crowd. Funny, she had not noticed them before, but she assumed they heard the emergency response call and followed in behind the EMTs. She had been so focused on Homer, but now her mind was clearing and Chloe realized Danni was not visible.
"Danni.” Chloe called out, but no voice came back to her.
"Danielle, where are you?” Chloe yelled, louder this time and with more force.
As the paramedics loaded the man's body on a gurney and the crowd started to thin, Chloe's eyes scanned the front of the store. She felt a sickening fear rising through her. Where was her daughter?
Chloe looked at every face in the fading crowd and the area all around her. She moved towards her cart and headed to the back of the store. She quickly made her way through the swinging doors that led back in the direction of the stock room. The ladies restroom was the last door on the left. Chloe burst through the door and quickly checked all the stalls, yelling Danni's name as she went. Complete panic was setting in now. Chloe knew her daughter would never intentionally scare her by disappearing this way. Finding no signs of Danni, she turned and flew back towards the front of the store.
The young, stock boy who helped her with the old man was standing close to the front entrance. Chloe jerked him by the arm, spinning him around to quickly ask if he had seen Danni.
"Have you seen my daughter? Have you seen Danni?" she demanded.
The boy's puzzled look made Chloe even more anxious and before he could say anything, Chloe spoke again.
"You've seen her before. You know, thirteen-years-old, about four-eleven, thin build, long, blond hair. She was wearing dark, blue shorts, tennis shoes and a light, blue ball shirt with 'Aberdeen Blue Angels' on the front and #33 on the back."
Halfway through her description, one of the police officers seeing her distress, approached her and the young man.
"My name is Officer Parker. Can I help, ma'am?"
"Yes, please. I can't seem to find my daughter. She was standing right here when the gentleman fell and I know she was here part of the time. I was trying to help, but then I lost track of her. It's not like her to just walk away. I don't understand where she could be."
Chloe massaged her temple.
The stock boy began to speak with concern in his voice, "I am sure she was standing right behind you when I first came up to help, but after that I just don't know. I'm Sorry. Let me help you look for her."
The officer looked up from his note pad, "Can you give me that description again?"
Chloe ran through it quickly for him. She began to feel a little better. The police would surely find Danni and things would go back to normal. Then, they would go on with their evening as planned.
"I will notify the manager and have him lock down the store. No one in and no one out. My partner and I will check around the back of the store and cruise the parking lot to see if we can find her. She probably just stepped outside. Maybe this whole thing upset her, you know how kids are? You stay close by in case she returns. We'll be back shortly."
The officer then turned to the stock boy and asked him to look around the store for Danni and to notify the other employees to do the same.
The boy quickly spun around and started walking towards the meat department, looking down each aisle as he passed by. He yelled out to the man behind the meat counter, giving him a quick description of Danni. The butcher then turned and started toward the back of the store, relaying the description of the missing girl to the store manager as he passed him. The store manager headed towards the customer service area. Only a few moments passed before Chloe heard him paging Danni over the PA system, requesting she come to the front of the store.
She turned to walk out the front entrance to check whether or not Danni might have gone to the car. When she reached the front door, she was detained by a clerk who informed her she could not leave. The store manager overheard the conversation and informed the clerk Chloe was the missing child’s mother and would be the only one permitted to exit or enter the store, besides the police.
By this time, Chloe was starting to freak out. Danni knew how easily she worried and Chloe wondered why her daughter would just disappear without saying a word. Surely Danni hadn't decided to walk home or to a friend's house. No, she wouldn't do that to me. Would she? Chloe thought to herself as she scanned the spaces between the parked cars. Her mind raced through every scenario she could think of. Where could Danni be?
As she arrived at her car, she could see Danni was nowhere in sight. Panic began to rise again and Chloe felt breathless, almost choking. She pulled out her cell and started thumbing through phone numbers, but thought better of calling anyone. Chloe knew Danni was not the sort of kid who did things like this and now she was even more worried.
Just as she slipped her cell back in her pocket, the two police officers pulled up and Officer Parker whom Chloe had given the description to jumped out of the car and came towards her. For the second time today, the minutes moved like hours. Chloe could see a look of dread on the officer’s face and she started to shake. Her mind began to race again as the officer strode towards her.
"Ma'am, was your daughter wearing any jewelry when you last saw her?" the officer asked with a strange tone in his voice.
"I'm sure she probably had on earrings. Her ears are pierced so she wears them all the time. Why?"
Chloe's voice was shaking now. Blood was pounding in her head. What was happening?
"Anything else? Any other jewelry?" the officer asked again.
The answer flashed through Chloe's mind.
"A watch…a “Twilight” watch. It has a picture of Edward and Bella on the face. I just bought it for her last week. It's her favorite book and…"
Chloe was breathing too hard and her hands were trembling now, almost uncontrollably. Fear gripped her stomach nearly making her gag.
The look on the officer's face as he held out his hand to her was one Chloe would never forget.
"Is this the watch?"
Chloe's knees started to go weak as the officer spoke.
"Oh my god. Where did you find this? It's Danni's watch! Oh my god! Where is my daughter?" Chloe screamed at the officer.
"We found it around back of the store, ma'am. There were some tire marks in the lot next to where the watch was laying, as if somebody took off in a hurry. We spoke to an older woman who lives next to the back parking lot. She was out in her yard and thinks she saw a dark blue or black car leaving the lot in a hurry. She noticed because she heard the tires squealing," he explained to Chloe.
"We think Danni must have dropped the watch by accident. Is Danni close with her dad? He could have picked her up and she may have dropped the watch while getting in his car. Is that possible?”
"No, no. Danni's dad is gone. There is no one she could have left here with. Her grand parents are dead and besides, Danni would never just leave and not tell me," Chloe stammered.
"Does Danni have a boyfriend? Is there anyone you can think of who she could have gone to visit? Did you two have a fight or disagreement? Maybe she ran off mad or…”
"No! Oh god. Someone must have taken her! Please help me. Someone had to have taken her. She's a good girl. She would never worry me like this. Please help me find her," Chloe begged, beside herself, tears rolling down her face.
Panic tasted like vomit in her mouth and she half fell, half sat down right there in the parking lot. The officer stooped down and touched Chloe's shoulder. He turned his head and silently directed the other officer to call for medical assistance. Chloe’s head began to spin and bright flashes of light appeared before her eyes.
"Don't worry now, ma'am. Your daughter is probably just walking around somewhere or heading home. I'll call this in right away. Normally, we don't follow up on these things for a certain period of time, but this watch makes me uneasy. Since you declared there is no one else she could have left with, I’m going to contact my chief who will in turn contact the Detective Division. They will be the ones who will determine whether an Amber Alert should be issued. We are going to cordon off the area and radio this in. A detective will be here shortly and we’ll start processing the witnesses inside the store. Stranger abductions are considered the most crucial and in those cases time is very important. You should call everyone your daughter might have been in contact with while we wait. Do you feel like you can get up? My partner will help you inside where you’ll be more comfortable. After I talk to the chief, I'll be back inside. Do you have a picture of Danni with you, by any chance?”
Chloe then realized she left her purse in the cart she had been pushing in the store.
“I do, but I left my purse inside. Do you really think someone has taken my daughter? But why? Why would anyone want to take Danni? Why?" Chloe cried.
"I don't know, ma'am, but I don’t want to take any chances on this. If she shows up, well, that’s a good thing, but we have to go at this as what it looks like…an abduction. Now you head inside with Officer George and he'll help you with the phone calls. I'll come in when the detectives arrive. I know this is difficult, but please try not to worry," the officer said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get your daughter home safe.”
The officer tried to help Chloe up, but by this time she was on the verge of hysteria and could barely stand or speak. She ran the question through her mind. Why would someone take her Danni? She just could not comprehend it. Not her sweet baby girl, Danni. Not her only child. This couldn't be happening…not to Danni…not to her.
She braced herself as Officer George helped her to her feet. They walked around to the front entrance and the store employee opened the door for them. The store manager saw them enter and immediately grabbed a chair for Chloe to sit in. Her mind was so tired. She could barely think as the officer asked her for numbers from her cell phone.
Officer Parker strode to the police cruiser and grabbed the microphone, dread washing over him as he went.
“Central, this is car thirty-six, come back.”
“Thirty-six, this is Central, go ahead.”
“Central, we have a Code Adam at Klein’s Super Market. I need to speak to the chief, ASAP.”
“Connecting you now thirty-six, go ahead.”
“Chief, this is Parker. We have a Code Adam at Klein’s and we need a detective on-scene right away.”
“Copy that, Parker. I’ll issue a BOLO immediately and send Detective Howard right out. Give me a rundown and description of the victim.”
Parker knew a BOLO was a “Be on look out” and exact descriptions were imperative for locating a suspect or victim, but they had very little to go on. Parker ran through the description of Danni and what they found in the parking lot. He also told the chief about the small car that was spotted leaving the scene. The chief assured him Detective Howard would be there in no time and quickly ran through procedures on questioning the witnesses.
Parker had barely hung up the microphone when he heard sirens in the distance getting louder as they approached. What had gone from a 9-1-1 medical emergency call, escalated into something far worse. Parker never worked a kidnapping in Aberdeen and had a bad feeling this was not going to end well.