All The Hidden Pieces(8)

By: Jillian Thomadsen

Hobbs nodded. “There’s also Greta’s ex-husband, John’s biological father, Griffin Brock. We’d like to call him in and see if he knows anything.”

“By all accounts, yes, bring him in here,” Weaver said. “Anything else?”

Hobbs nodded but instead of looking at him, she looked out the window of his office. Vetta Park was a small municipality in Eastern Missouri, just twenty miles or so south of St. Louis. On clear days, such as this, she could see the Arch from his office – burnished and looming, like a beacon signifying the big city.

“Detective?” Weaver prompted.

Hobbs brought her gaze back to Weaver. “One other thing, Captain. The eighteen-year old, John Brock. I have a funny feeling about him. I don’t know if it’s because the neighbor said his friends were inconsiderate or the mechanic who said he heard John was bad news. I can’t put my finger on it. Also I couldn’t find anything about him online. No social media or online presence, and I just—”

Hobbs swallowed hard, tasting the metallic ripple of a lump that had formed in her throat. “I just think something’s off.”

Chapter Four

May 6, 2004

The sun shined down on Edwardsville Elementary School’s Kindergarten picnic. It was a beating sun – not ferocious but not obscured by a single cloud in the sky. The five and six year olds ran around the playground carelessly while parents worried themselves with sunscreen and hats.

In one corner of the grassy area – far from the other kids – John Brock busied himself with a self-instructed task. He was to count all the flower petals on top of the rusty wire gate that separated the schoolyard from residential housing. It was an impossible task; the schoolyard stretched for almost half a mile end to end. John usually got up to two or three hundred before losing count, quietly chastising himself, and starting the pursuit from the beginning.

“Johnny, don’t you want to play with the other kids?” Greta asked. John squinted as he turned to face her. At twenty-five years old, Greta looked flawless. Wherever she went, she captured the gaze of admirers – usually until they saw the brown-haired tot pattering next to her or the plain gold band on her finger.

“No Mommy, I don’t,” John responded. “I’m busy here.” He then glared at her and resumed his count from the beginning. “One, two, three…”

Greta reached into her bag and pulled out an envelope. “I know it’s a day early, Johnny, but I got you a birthday card.”

John abandoned his count for a moment and looked suspiciously at the red envelope, which Greta had adorned with hearts and stickers. “Is there money inside?” John asked.

“Open it up and see,” Greta said.

John leaped forward, took the envelope and tore it open – paying no mind to the scraps of ripped paper that fell onto the grass. When the card was free, he opened it, turned it upside down and shook it. “Awww there’s no money!” he protested.

“Read it,” Greta urged, smiling at him.

“It says I love you,” John said with a scowl.

“It doesn’t just say that,” Greta said. “Read the rest.” She stayed smiling at him as she waited. This wasn’t a fool’s errand; John’s teachers routinely send home notes about how well the class was progressing. Greta knew they had all surpassed the standards for phonetic reading of two and three letter words. John’s main problem was that he needed to slow down…he tended to race through words as though they were quaffs of liquid, satisfying a thirst. It was always the same books – the ones with clever rhymes and anthropomorphized animals…the books she used to read to him religiously that he now read to her and in the classroom. Now, she stood next to him patiently as she waited to hear the remaining two words of the little note she’d written inside the card.

John turned the card upside down, studied it for a moment, and then threw it into the grass along with the discarded shreds of red envelope. “I can’t,” he said hopelessly.

“What do you mean you can’t?” Greta asked. She picked up the card and crouched next to him beside the fence. She pointed to the word to. “What’s that word?” Greta asked.