CHAPTER 2- Train Ride
Sloanne Mae Kelly's cab stopped short of the unloading area that lined the front curb at sprawling Penn Station. She dropped a twenty dollar bill into the cash slot, said a quick, 'keep the change' and jumped out of the cab, grabbing her two, small bags and her lap top as she went. The train to Aberdeen Maryland would be leaving soon and she had to pick up her ticket before the gates closed. People seemed to sense the urgency in Sloanne's determined look and hurried pace, stepping to the side, allowing her to pass.
Penn Station was a massive, cavernous space that boasted unique architecture and was filled with people of every size, shape and color. The intensity of the noises and smells assaulted Sloanne’s senses, making her want to run away, but instead she pressed forward. In her mind, she ran through a million different destinations she would rather be traveling to. Instead, she was heading back home, if home is what it could be called. Her brow tightened at the selfish thoughts. She knew this trip and the circumstances behind it, where all that mattered.
Sloanne held a lucrative position as an interior designer at a top firm in New York City, where she now resided. She loved the city and took advantage of all the things it had to offer. She took Yoga, she went to power lunches and ran in the best circles with some of the city's elite--most days. But this particular day, she was just a girl heading back to her past. Back to a place she would rather not be going. No, she never wanted to return to Aberdeen, but she had to support her best friend who desperately needed her now.
She ran through the station and out onto the platform where her train waited, the day’s events thrumming through her head like a hurricane ripping across the shoreline. A knot rose in her throat as she willed back the burning sting of the first tears in her eyes. This day was an unthinkable nightmare, but one she would not awaken from. She stepped onto the train and glanced at her ticket for the seat number: 26A. She turned side-ways, lifting her bag over the other passengers’ heads as she made her way to her seat. There was no one in the seat next to hers and for this, she was grateful. The air felt like walls closing in around her on all sides and her mind was overtaken by grief. She placed her bags in the overhead compartment, then took her seat just as her cell phone rang, jolting her out of her thoughts.
Sloanne’s assistant Ann, was calling. She left the woman a hasty message to give her a call as soon as possible and now she had to tell her assistant why she would be away for a few days. She would have to acknowledge aloud why she so quickly departed from her job and her life to assist her friend. Sloanne's beautiful, charming, loving goddaughter had been abducted.
“Thank you for getting back to me so quickly,” Sloanne breathed heavy into the receiver.
Her mind rebelled against the story she was about to relate to her assistant and the words were like acid in her throat.
“Ann, I received some terrible news earlier today. I am on my way back to Aberdeen now. My best friend’s daughter was abducted and Chloe needs me desperately.”
The gasp at the other end of the line told her that her assistant was shocked by what she was hearing. Sloanne kept a lovely picture of Danni on her desk and everyone in the office, including Ann, often commented on what a beautiful girl she was.
“I will need you to cancel all my appointments and forward all my emails to my personal account. Also, please call Mr. Miera and let him know the situation. Tell him I will be in contact with him as soon as I know more. I can't say at this point, how long I'll have to be away, but please reassure him I am holding up as well as can be expected.”
The last words faded off to a whisper, as tears slipped from her eyes.
Sloanne thanked Ann for her help and quickly got off the phone. Her head ached as she thought back to the earlier phone call she received. The last time she'd been home was in 2003, to bury her parents. Back then she made a vow: it would be the last time she would ever go back, until today it had been. She kept her word to herself for all these years, but someone had taken her goddaughter. Now she was forced to go back.
At exactly 6:30 p.m. this evening, she received the phone call that no one ever wants to get or imagines possible. Chloe Jacob’s neighbor called to say that Chloe’s daughter Danielle--or Danni as they liked to call her--had been abducted. Sloanne could barely hold down the hastily-eaten, take-out dinner she ordered earlier in the day. The word tore at her insides: abducted...taken from a grocery store in broad daylight in her own home town. It was not something that ever happened in Aberdeen. Sure, the town had its share of petty crimes, but child abductions were unheard of. In fact, she couldn't remember a single child who had ever been taken from that area.
The one thing that made the events even more unbelievable was the manner in which Danni was abducted. An elderly man suffered a massive heart attack. While Sloanne's best friend worked desperately to help a complete stranger, some asshole helped himself to her daughter.
According to the local authorities and from what she already knew, the first forty-eight hours were the most crucial time period in an abduction situation. It was during this period when most kids were found. Chloe knew no matter how much Sloanne would hate returning to Aberdeen, she would drop everything and high-tail it back. She had run out of the office, gone home, grabbed a few things and caught the first train smoking out of Penn Station.
As the train sped along on its track, the rain began to fall. Sloanne stared, trance-like, out the window, blinking as each lightening strike blazed across the sky. While she tried to play out all the possible scenarios in her mind, she rolled her shoulders to relieve the stiffness and tension building in her neck. She ran one hand through her long, auburn hair as she gazed out the window and saw the reflection looking back at her.
Her normally bright, green eyes looked somber and heavy and her clear, pale skin appeared sallow and lifeless. The face that usually smiled back at her, was not smiling now. She wondered if she would ever be happy again. Every ounce of her five-five willowy frame was draped in sadness. She wanted to think that by the time she arrived, Danni would have been found at some boy's house or over at a friend's they'd forgotten to call. She imagined Danni spending an eternity locked in her room, allowed out only for school, bathroom breaks and the occasional meal. A slight grin played across the corners of her mouth as she once again told herself, everything would be just fine and life would continue much as it had before.
She wanted so badly to believe all these things, but could not drown out the sound of that nagging voice in the back of her mind. The voice of reason that kept asking the really tough questions. What if they never found Danni? Or worse, what if her best friend's, precious daughter became another face on a flyer, just another name on a long list of missing and exploited children? Worse still, what if they found her and nothing turned out well? What if everything went horribly wrong and Danni was found raped, injured or dead? She reached up and gently traced Danni's name into the fog on the train window, then leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes, trying to shake the terrible thoughts from her mind.
She thought back to her life in Aberdeen and all she left behind. She had been an average, little girl raised by Irish parents and her family was always very close. Her father and her Uncle Patty--who was actually her godfather--were partners for years on the NYPD: New York's finest. They trained together, worked together and were fast friends. Sloanne knew they had even fallen in love with the same woman...her mom. But her mother had chosen to marry her dad and in the end, Uncle Patty understood her mother's decision. He stepped aside, but remained a true friend to them both. Dad and Uncle Patty moved up through the ranks on the force and both made detective within three months of each other. They worked together then as well. Even when her dad was shot in the line of duty and was forced to retire, Uncle Patty was still there for them all.
He helped out: first, when her parents decided to move to Aberdeen so their little princess could live in a relatively, crime-free environment. Later, when Sloanne was older, he'd been her adult confidante. She remembered begging her dad to teach her to drive and he refused, so afraid she would get hurt. Good old Uncle Patty taught her to drive on the sly and took her for her driving test. Her dad never knew until she came home with her driver's license. Dad put on a big front in the beginning, acting upset with Patty for letting her have her way. She believed that secretly, he had been grateful to Patty. Dad would have been terrified to teach her how to drive himself, this way, Patty saved him from that nightmare. Sloanne smiled to herself at the memory of her father’s stern face, but he eventually relented and asked her to drive him to his favorite ice cream parlor. It was then she knew all was well.
Uncle Patty saved the day again when her mom was diagnosed with cancer. He made sure her dad had enough money so it was possible for her mom to receive the finest care available. In a short period, her mother was doing much better and in remission.
As a young girl, she always wanted to live and work in New York City and both, her parents and Uncle Patty, supported her in these hopes. Little had she known in those days, after high school graduation, the desire to live in the city would be overshadowed by her need to be in a drug rehabilitation facility. Those had been her darkest days, but her father and Patty pulled together the love, support and money needed for her to check into the most progressive drug treatment facility in New York. Sloanne never used drugs and was always an excellent student...until she met him in her senior year.
His name was Skyler Anthony Perryman, better known around Aberdeen, as Skip. He was the son of the richest and most influential couple in the area, John A. Perryman and his powerhouse wife, Rochelle Ana. He was into banking and investments and she was into real estate. Skip's parents were the epitome of a well-to-do family and owned most of the real estate in and around Aberdeen, along with some of the private docks and marinas on the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay.
Sloanne believed then, that the sun rose and set because of Skip--for a while. Skip attended a private school that cost more per year than most elite colleges. He was a member of the Lacrosse team, the Rugby team captain and probably the most well known person in and around the community with the exception of his father and mother. Skip was also the local drug connection for every man, woman and child with good breeding and a fat bank account in Aberdeen. His friends hated Sloanne for what she was not...rich and he loved her for what she was...not rich.
In the beginning of her relationship with Skip, she told herself he would love her more if she used drugs with him, believing that she would more easily fit into his world by being like his friends, who all used. As time progressed, she managed to convince herself that was the reason she began using drugs.
Luckily, through years of hard work fighting her addiction and facing the reality of it, she now knew it was all about choices. She made the wrong choices. She wanted so badly to fit-in with the high-class crowd Skip ran with, she simply forgot who she was and the things she believed in. Somewhere in loving Skip, she forgot to love herself.
Eventually, it became apparent to everyone, including her parents and the local authorities, that she was routinely testing Skip's drug supply. She became a complicated liability and Skip very quickly left her high and dry. In her family’s mind, all that was left to do was for her to get cleaned up and start over fresh in a new town. Her dad, mom and Uncle Patty were her saviors. Her dad worked out the details with some help from Patty and she was soon checked into a nice room in drug rehab in New York City, receiving the help she needed.
The program at the clinic was operated and overseen by Columbia University. Some of the patients there were alumni of the school and were, for whatever reason, discreetly tucked away to handle their problems away from the watchful eyes of their co-workers, peers and families.
One older gentleman there, Philippe Miera, took the time to really listen to her and never judged her. At the end of their six months together, he offered her an internship at his architectural firm with the stipulation, she go back to school and get her degree. So, that's just what she did. She petitioned his Alma Mater, applying for and receiving several grants. To show her how much he believed in her, Mr. Miera paid for her books, fees and all the extras. He also went as far as to pay her a salary that allowed her to live comfortably without having to ask for help from her family. She studied hard and excelled in her school work, while learning the ins and outs of interior design and architecture.
This arrangement was just fine with her parents and Uncle Patty. They knew she needed the structure and socialization that college and a job could provide. They also believed being farther away made it easier to get Skip out of her mind. These facts, along with the added benefit of building a lucrative career with a highly reputable design firm, made this opportunity golden in their eyes. Toss in the fact she was only a two-and-a-half hour train ride from Aberdeen and everything was nearly perfect.
She made every effort, never to go back to Aberdeen for any reason. There was no need to during her college years. Her mom, dad and Patty would either drive up or take the train almost every weekend to visit. On the weekends they couldn't come, Chloe and Danni made the trip as often as possible and they would all ‘do’ the city.
Now, she thought back to the last day she was in Aberdeen. It was the worst day of her life and one that would live with her forever. Sheets of rain driven by wind, pounded the sea of umbrellas and the sad faces of those without any shelter. Two coffins sat, side-by-side, covered with so many flowers it was hard to say what color they were. Beautiful words were spoken by strangers and friends alike and condolences given from lips, quietly whispered with heartfelt hugs.
"We commit these bodies to the ground. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust," the priest's last words. Sloanne’s parents were killed in an accident while driving up to see her. It was Uncle Patty who knocked on her door that day and as she saw him standing there alone, she instinctively knew. Her dad, while driving with her mom, lost control of the vehicle, which flipped several times before an eighteen-wheeler slammed into the remains of their car. There wasn't much left, really. It took the rescue crew three hours to extract what they referred to as 'the bodies'. But, they were her parents and she'd never gotten to see them again.
She watched as they’d slowly lowered her mom and dad, one at a time, into the muddy ground. They were there for her beginning and she had been there for their end. There were three people in this world who loved her as their child and she wanted to die as she watched two of them disappear into darkness. Uncle Patty was there to catch her as the first shovel full of dirt was thrown in.
"Don't cover them up! It’s dark in there!" she screamed as she dove for their caskets.
But Patty held her back and they both watched and cried as the two best people on earth were buried.
The rest of that day was a blur. People coming and going, bringing food that would never be eaten. Everyone grieved the loss of a wonderful couple. She didn't believe a single person who knew her mom and dad, did not love and respect them and it showed in the number of mourners who came to pay their final respects.
Patty remained close by for months after the funeral. He was her rock and kept her sane in the weeks and months after her parents’ deaths. When she returned to the city, he called her constantly, visiting every weekend to make sure she was okay and that her life was getting back on track. They were family and they did the best they could for each other. She tried to be there for him and he helped her to feel loved as a daughter.
Time was winding down now and in fifteen minutes she would be back there. Back where all those feelings and memories lived. The announcement came, "Next stop, Aberdeen Maryland."
She tensed, knowing she could not run away any longer. This time she had to stay and fight. This time she could not break. She had to be strong for Chloe and even stronger for Danni. She whispered a prayer for guidance, then gathered her things and stepped into the aisle.