Mal’s fourth day in his grandparent’s house began with the phone ringing. Mal was confused at the sound – he couldn’t recall the last time he owned a phone that actually rang like a bell. By the time he untangled himself from the sheets and stumbled into the living room, the ringing stopped. He stared down at the old corded phone and wondered who tried calling him. Very few people knew this number. His lawyer and Elise were the only two he could think of. He wanted to speak with neither.
After a shower and breakfast, Mal had nothing to do. He finished unpacking before he went to sleep the night before. Out of habit, he turned on his laptop and sat down. Only after booting up completely did he realize he had no internet connection. Without cellphone reception, there was no way for him to connect wireless, and he didn’t know if the local phone company offered internet.
He flipped through channels on the television, but he only had a basic package. He hadn’t bothered to upgrade it yet. Talk shows, cooking shows, and kids cartoons. He turned it off.
He jumped when the phone rang again.
“Damn, that thing is loud. Hello?”
“Malcolm?” It was a man’s voice.
“Yes, this is Malcolm.”
“Hey, Malcolm, it’s Martin Ross from Sandel and Ross.”
“Listen, I called because I need your signature on a few things. The final paperwork from the union. Do you have a fax nearby?”
Mal laughed. “Martin, I don’t even know if this town has a fax machine. But I don’t have one.”
“Uh huh. Well, what’s the nearest big city? Seattle?”
“Tacoma. But Yelm is closer, and it’s a nice size. There has to be a fax machine there. I need to do some shopping anyway.”
“Well, when you get into town there, give me a ring if you find a fax. Otherwise, I can get this mailed out this afternoon.”
Mal rubbed his forehead. “Right. Uh, Martin, is there anything I should know about this stuff?”
“Nope. Pretty much everything we agreed on. You’re getting your full severance and retirement for your time. Honestly, they wanted this done as quietly as possible. Made my job a lot easier.”
“Right. What about the other stuff? Anything new there?”
There was a pause.
“Sorry. I – uh, assistant walked in. Um, no, nothing new. Still waiting on your wife’s people to get back to me. But I still think we’re sitting solid there. She doesn’t have an alimony claim, we’re offering her the house here in San Francisco and the other two cars, and you get to keep what you got there. The tough part will be support and custody.”
“The good news is your daughter will be eighteen soon, so if we drag it out you might not have to pay at all for her. And now that your wife officially makes more than you, your burden might be somewhat less. Can’t say for sure. It depends on what we can bargain with and what the judge says.”
“Okay. Malcolm, give me a call before…three? Okay. If I don’t hear from you by then I’ll express this out tonight and it should be there tomorrow or the next. I need it back as soon as possible, too. You know the drill, express, insured, certified, blah blah.”
“Alright. Thanks, Martin.”
“No problem, Malcolm. Give me a call if you need anything.”
Mal put on some clean clothes and hopped in the Explorer. The sky was cloudy and grey, something a California native was not used to seeing in June.
“I really hate this state.” He told the Explorer.
He hung a right out the driveway and drove towards the highway, town, and, eventually, civilization. He was actually looking forward to visiting Yelm – a town he would normally consider small, but one looming large compared to the farming hamlet he was banished to.
Mal spotted several black and white State Patrol cars parked along the road as he reached Bunker Hollow. He slowed to a languid roll and looked down the overgrown drive leading back into the woods. The gate, a rust colored metal bar, was open. A newer-model SUV, with Washington State Patrol markings, was parked further down the lane. He thought he caught a glimpse of Anders’s green Jeep.
“Little too much for a stalled car.” He muttered, “Something must have happened to that Jessy girl.”
He shook his head and sped up. Not his problem. He imagined Anders would have his hands full, though. This was probably more action than he’d normally see in a year, or even a decade.
In Copperside, Mal stopped at Smith’s Gas and Tire to grab something to drink and snack on. Behind the counter of the little gas station/convenience store/garage was a man a few decades Mal’s senior, with a large, white mustache and cowboy hat.
“You’re Mary Ambrose’s kid, ain’t ya?”
Mal sighed. Did nobody in this town know his mother had been married forty years and a widow five when she died?
“Yeah. It’s Evers, though – Malcolm.”
“Oh. Didn’t know that. Grayson says you’re living out at her old place. I’m Mike Smith.”
“Nice to meet you, Mike. Yeah. The house is my inheritance.”
“So, you know about what’s going down at Bunker Hollow then, right?”
“Something. Deputy Anders found an abandoned car out there, I think.”
“Yeah. Jessica Larson’s car. She’s been gone almost two days now. Melanie over at the store says her keys, purse, and everything was still inside the car. Sounds like they think she got lost in the woods or drowned in the bunker or something.”
“Well, there’s a few State Patrol cars out there now.”
“Yup. The Sheriff is sending some search and rescue out, too.”
“Good. I’m sure she’s fine. Just scared and alone.”
“If I was younger, I’d go out and help. Jessy ain’t exactly the best kid, and Lord knows I could do without her parents, but it ain’t right just sitting here and waiting for the news, you know?”
“Grayson says you used to be a cop. Maybe you could go out and help.”
“Maybe. It’s my experience that forces don’t like outsiders on their investigations.”
“Wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
“No, I suppose not.”
Mal left the gas station with something gnawing at his stomach. His detective instincts were kicking in – something wasn’t right about Jessy’s disappearance. He pulled out of the lot and prepared to merge back onto the highway. For a brief, but agonizing, second he considered abandoning his trip to Yelm and offering his assistance.
“If you call attention to yourself, Mal, they’re bound to look you up.”
No need for the entire town to know why he moved up here – he doubted they would look favorably on him, regardless of his reasons or intentions.
He turned the blinker off and then signaled the opposite direction. To Yelm, to a city with more than one light, and real stores.