Thirteen, Fourteen ... Little boy unseen (Rebekka Franck Book 7)Willow Rose
THIRTEEN, FOURTEEN …
LITTLE BOY UNSEEN
Rebekka Franck #7
Copyright Willow Rose 2015
Published by Jan Sigetty Boeje
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
Cover design by Jan Sigetty Boeje
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sigettys Cover Design
Special thanks to my editor Janell Parque
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AT FIRST, nine-year old Steffen thought it was an animal. That it was some sort of sea creature surfacing from its cave underneath the black water. It made no sound as it broke through the still surface.
As usual on weekends, Steffen was playing by the lake on his grandmother’s farm outside of Karrebaeksminde. It was early afternoon on a beautiful Sunday in January, the last day of Christmas break. It was one of those clear days where you could see your own breath, and the wind bit his cheeks.
He had brought Bastian, his grandmother’s dog to the lake with him, and soon the dog started barking, upon discovering the massive lumps rocking in the water. Steffen stood like he was frozen and stared at the two big chunks. He didn’t realize he had stopped breathing. Steffen finally took in a deep gasping breath. His heart was racing in his chest, just like the time when his grandfather had told him the story of the man who had stolen children and buried them in the forest behind their farm many years ago. Only this was worse.
This was a lot worse.
Bastian kept barking and was moving closer to the water. Steffen wondered what to do. The water was black as coal. The lumps were floating in the middle of the lake. Should he swim out to them? His grandparents had always warned him about the lake.
“It’s bottomless,” his grandmother would say, with those big worried eyes of hers. “Don’t go too close, and certainly don’t jump in. You’ll never be able to get out again, you hear me?”
Steffen had heard her every time, and he feared the lake even more than he feared the tall slim man that his grandfather told him lived in the forest and kidnapped children.
“I don’t know what to do, Bastian,” he said.
He wanted so badly to know what it was that was floating around out there. It could be one or maybe two of those manatees that he had seen at the zoo. It kind of looked like them. Except these seemed to be wearing clothes and to have hair. Did manatees have hair? Steffen didn’t think so. But, again, he had only seen one in the zoo.
Curiosity bit at his stomach. He wanted so badly to get closer.
Steffen took another step towards the lake, feeling how his wellies sank into the soft mud surrounding it. He gasped, remembering his grandmother’s words, then stepped backwards. His wellies made a popping sound when he pulled them out of the mud. He grabbed a long stick and tried to poke the animal, but it didn’t move. He poked it again, harder, but this time the stick went through the skin. Steffen gasped and let go of the stick, which remained inside the skin hole. There was no blood where the stick had poked through.
Many thoughts ran through the boy’s mind as he looked at the floating mass. He wondered if it could be zombies emerging to take over the world. The thought was scarier than anything else he could think of.
He was beyond terrified of zombies.
Steffen stared and gasped for air for a few moments longer, while imagining the two zombies lifting their heads and climbing out of the water. Then, he finally turned around and ran, Bastian running right behind him. His legs were burning as he sprinted across the fields, where he had so many fond memories of him helping his grandfather harvest the potatoes in the early summertime. He ran for his life, not daring to turn and look back to see if the zombies had taken up the pursuit. His mind was filled with images from that World War Z movie his older brother had let him watch once when they were home alone. He knew that zombies could run. He knew that zombies were fast.
There was no time to waste.
HE REMEMBERED everything about her. The man remembered every single little detail. Her long black hair, the birthmark next to her nose that was the same as his own, the way she moved her pointer finger when she explained something, and the way she was careful to only show the tips of her teeth when smiling, because she didn’t like the way her gums showed if she smiled all the way. He remembered all that and so much more and thought about it every day, especially when he looked at his own reflection.
But what he missed the most and what he feared forgetting, was her laughter. That light joyful sound of her being happy. It had been many years since he had last heard that sound, and even if he imagined her from time to time standing right in front of him, imagined her talking to him, he could never recreate the sound of her laughter.
He closed his eyes and imagined he was with her, playing in their backyard. When he dreamed about them, they were always young children, four or five years old, playing on the swing set that their dad had built for them.
Those were the happy days.
Their parents’ life together had started with such promise. They grew up on farms near each other and met when their mother was just eighteen and their father nineteen. Their mother was an exceptionally pretty brunette, and had spent much of her teens fighting off guys who were too fresh. Their father, a tall, shy black-haired man, was different. When their parents used to talk of how they met, their mother would light up and shake her head, while saying with sparkling eyes, “Your father asked me to dance, and at first I thought the good part is, he's not too handsome.”
Three years later, they married and moved to a nearby city. Their mother used to tell people how happy their father had been upon learning that he was going to be the father of twins, and his euphoria when they were born on May 22nd 1986.
The man remembered how his mother would talk about the time of their birth. How she would tell the same story over and over again about their father.
“The nurse asked him, is it boys or girls?” his mother would say with such a joyful laughter in her voice. “And he said, I don't know! I just know there's two of them!”
At this point in the story, everyone would laugh. Even those that had heard it before. It was a great and heartwarming story.
Shortly after their birth, their father had been promoted to partner at his law firm and they had bought a house in Karrebaeksminde, only a fifteen minute drive from the firm’s office in Naestved. It was a small town where they could get a beautiful house by Smaalandsfarvandet, where all the rich people lived or had summer residences if they lived in Copenhagen.
Soon, their father became a very respected lawyer who worked for many wealthy clients, while his wife took care of the twins at home, something she considered a privilege. They were happy and at the peak of their life.
The man opened his eyes and looked at his own reflection in the mirror of his bathroom again. Sadness came over him as it always did when he took these trips down memory lane. His mother had told most of it to him, especially how it had been in their younger years, but some he rememb
ered, some small parts he remembered vividly, and was often haunted by those parts in dreams.
He bent over and turned on the faucet. He splashed water onto his face, and then wiped it with a towel. He touched his cheeks gently and felt his beard. It had taken awhile to grow it, but he finally seemed to have succeeded. But that also meant his hair was thinning on top, just like it had done to his dad when he had been that age. It was the course of nature when you were a man, and there was no way to avoid it.
It’s no use fighting who you are, his father had always said. You get what you get and you make the best of it.
The man didn’t like to remember his childhood, but on certain days he couldn’t help himself. Like today…when it was their birthday. But it wasn’t time for him to dwell on sad memories now. He sighed and looked at himself in the mirror while getting dressed. He liked the way he looked in the uniform.
“You would have loved me in this, Alex” he said to his own reflection.
He put his badge on his belt and took his gun from the top drawer. He looked at himself holding the gun in the mirror, and then smiled.
“If only you could see me now, Alex. You would be so proud. This is all for you, you know.”
The man smiled again, then pretended to shoot the dresser next to him, making the gun’s noise with his mouth like he used to when playing policeman as a child. Alex had loved to play cops and robbers. It had been her favorite game when they were children.
But it’s not a game anymore. No this is serious. D-e-a-d-ly serious!
The man grinned, then put the gun in the holster and corrected his hat to make sure it was straight. He grabbed the car keys from the table by the door, and with the address of his next victim in his hand, he left the house.
“WELCOME BACK. How was your Christmas?”
Sara looked like she had been sitting in the same spot all through Christmas break. She was in the exact same place as I had left her two weeks earlier. She was even wearing the same dress and black stockings. The pastry sitting in front of her seemed new, though.
I walked to my desk and put down my laptop. “Great. It was really nice to have a break from things,” I said, and took off my jacket.
The office was a mess, but I didn’t care. I had chosen to take the two weeks off when the kids were out from school. Sara had taken care of the office while I was gone. I smiled and looked at her as I pulled out my chair and sat down. She smiled back. Her red hair was messier than usual. Somewhere in there, a butterfly hairpiece had gotten lost, and I could see a part of it that was sticking out.
“How were things here at the office while I was gone?” I asked.
She shrugged and slurped her coffee. “Quiet, I guess. Plenty of drunk drivers on the scanner, a burglar got caught yesterday, and someone stole a boat at the marina two days ago, but other than that, pretty quiet.”
I got up and went into the small kitchen and poured myself a cup. I was tired. Since the accident in October where I had been trapped underground in a sinkhole, my sleep had been difficult. I had constant nightmares and had been very edgy, jumping at the smallest sounds, or even worse…getting anxiety attacks when left alone. Those were the worst times, when everything went quiet. I couldn’t stand it. I needed people around me, and I needed there to be noise, ordinary noise, like traffic. Oh, how I had started to love traffic. And nature. I loved driving outside of town and just walking in the forest or along the beach, or just stopping the car and taking a walk in a field. The open spaces and the blue sky were my rescue. I craved them constantly.
Sune had been great through most of it the last couple of months. But I got the feeling he didn’t quite understand how I felt. Of course he didn’t. How could he?
I grabbed my coffee and went back to my desk. Work made me forget and not think of being trapped. I looked at my face briefly in the mirror as I passed it and sighed. I was still very skinny and hadn’t gained much of the weight I had lost while trapped underground. I hadn’t had much appetite and had to force myself to eat. It was hard when you didn’t feel good. I had this sense of anxiety constantly lingering in my stomach, that urgent feeling, a slight panic that came over me from time to time. The smallest noise would make me jump. I woke at night with a fast beating heart and simply had to run outside, just to make sure the sky was still there. Just to breathe the fresh air. Sune seemed to understood most of it, he understood why I was scared, why I had these attacks, but he had a hard time understanding how long it took for me to get rid of the feelings. Some days I ate a lot. I would stuff my face in fear of never seeing food again, but then it would be too much for my body, and I would feel sick for days afterwards and hardly eat anything. It was like there was no middle ground.
“So, what’s on for today?” Sara asked, when I returned to my desk.
“As a matter of fact, I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t heard from Jens-Ole yet. I’m expecting his call any moment now, when they’re done with the morning meeting at headquarters. While I spoke, the phone on my desk started ringing. I could tell by the aggressive sound that it had to be him.
“As we speak of the…”
Sara laughed. “That sure sounds like him.”
“Rebekka!” Jens-Ole yelled into the other end. I smiled at the sound of his voice. As always, he sounded like it was of top urgency. I liked that about him. There was never a dull moment.
“Yes, dear. And a happy New Year to you as well. What do you have for me today?”
He grumbled something sounding slightly like happy New Year, but I wasn’t sure.
“Bodies,” he said. “Two bodies. Husband and wife. Found yesterday in a lake not far from Karrebaeksminde by some boy and his dog. I want them in my paper! If the dog is cute, I want a big photo on the front page!”
SUNE WAS called in and met me by my car that I had parked in the street in front of the office. Jens-Ole had emailed me the details. Sune and I shared a quick kiss before we drove off.
“Was my dad up when you left?” I asked.
“Good,” I said. I was worried about him. He was getting weaker and weaker as the days passed. We had gotten help from the county, and a nurse came every day to take care of him while we were at work.
My father had developed a tendency to stay in bed most of the day. He needed to get up and get moving, the doctor had told us. He was losing his muscle mass too quickly and that was a slippery slope, according to the doctor. It made it harder and harder for my dad to get out of bed, with the result that he only lost more muscle. He simply had to get out of bed every day and get his body moving and his blood pumping. “So, what do we know about the bodies?” Sune asked.
“I called the forensics team a few minutes ago,” I said, and took a right turn as we got to the city limit. “They haven’t identified them yet, but they are a male and a female, about forty-five to fifty years old. The police believe they must have drowned; that they went fishing and the boat sank. They’ve been in the water a long time. Several weeks, they think. Maybe even months.”
“How come they weren’t found before?” Sune asked, as I found the road leading towards Naestved. We were in the countryside now, and the houses were few. Horses in a paddock were wearing covers. Frost had painted the grass white.
“It’s been a rough winter so far. The water has been cold, and they think that’s why it has taken so long for the bodies to resurface. They were found floating face down. I don’t know how much you know about these things, but a cadaver in the water starts to sink as soon as the air in its lungs is replaced with water. Once submerged, the body stays underwater until the bacteria in the gut and chest cavity produce enough methane gas, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon dioxide to float it to the surface like a balloon. But the buildup of methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other gases can take days or weeks, depending on the temperature.”
“I see. So, it was th
e boy who found the bodies floating in the lake?” Sune asked.
“Yes. They can have been there for quite awhile. But our part is simply to tell about the find. It’s as easy as can be. I say we simply interview the boy and get his picture. I spoke to his mother earlier, and they’ve kept him home from school today, since he was in a great shock from the find yesterday. He’s at his grandparents’ place, and they have the dog there with them. Jens-Ole is very keen on getting the dog in the paper, for some reason. He thinks cute animals sell newspapers.”
Sune leaned his seat back with a sigh and a smile. “That shouldn’t be too hard. All dogs are cute.”
I chuckled while the GPS on my phone told me we had to make a left turn down a small dirt road. I blinked and turned, and we bumped towards the small farmhouse behind tall trees. A pit-bull bull ran towards us as I parked the car in front of the main building.
I looked at Sune, who seemed terrified. The dog stared at us with its almost white eyes.
“I sure hope that’s not the dog,” Sune said. “Please tell me that isn’t the dog.”
I couldn’t help laughing. Of course, Jens-Ole had thought it was this little cute dog with big brown puppy-dog eyes that he could put on the front cover and sell a lot of newspapers.
“Maybe we can Photoshop it?” I asked.
Sune shuddered while the dog barked outside our window. It stared at us, looking vicious.
“I think we need a lot more than Photoshop here,” he grumbled.
An elderly woman came out from the house and started yelling at the dog to get away from the car. She shooed it away, and we could finally get out.
I shook the woman’s hand.
“Rebekka Franck, Zeeland Times,” I said. “This is my photographer, Sune Johansen.”
The woman smiled gently and nodded, when I spotted a small boy in the opening of the door. The grandmother saw him too as she turned her head.