Chapter Three, Part Two

I called Arlo first, of course, since he had seen her with me that one time and knew what Sella looked like. Then I called a few other people I knew in the area - Gary at the pub, Lindo the grocery store manager, Mouse, who ran a meth lab, and Crazy Eddie, who didn't specialize in any particular activity and was up for anything. No one had seen Sella, they all promised to keep an eye out, and I didn't believe any of them.

I was leaving voice mail for Manny, who trafficked in stolen goods, when I remembered the dock. Would Sella have gone down to the water again? Maybe she got caught up in her nautical daydreaming and lost track of time. Since I hadn't taken off my coat or shoes, I grabbed my keys, locked up and hurried out into the evening cold.

There were a lot of quick ways to the docks, but since I didn't know if Sella had a good sense of direction, I retraced our steps from a few days prior; past the grocery store with grimy windows and sign promising special prices on cigarettes, the pub with its strains of country music and faint odor of fish, and into the seedy dockside neighborhood of pawn shops, cheap apartments and derelicts. A panhandler with a matted beard glanced my way, but we had seen each other around and he knew better than to call out for spare change.

The sun was setting and a bitter wind gusted through the narrow streets. I wrapped my coat more tightly against my body and wished I had brought my gloves. Of all the places I could've run to when the shit hit the fan back home, what was I thinking when I chose Cold Haven? Surely I could've hidden out just as easily in the Florida Keys, or maybe West Texas or New Mexico. But I had been in a panic, and it made me stupid. I escaped to the first place I could think of where I wasn't likely to be tracked. If I had it to do all over again, or if I could just scrape together enough money for bus fare and a little starter money, I would hop the next Greyhound south, and to hell with the risks.

I was deep in thought when someone called my name. It was Scary Carrie, with her limp blonde hair, paper-thin skin and premature wrinkles. From past conversations, I suspected she was my age, but she looked at least forty-five and her fondness for heavy black eyeliner didn't improve matters.

She leaned against a door frame and took a drag on her cigarette. After blowing a desultory trickle of smoke out of the corner of her mouth, she asked again where I was going. "Little early in the evening for a trick. You holding?"

I had made the mistake early on of sharing a stash with her and now whenever she saw me she expected a repeat. "If I was, it wouldn't be for giving away," I told her. "And it's never too early for a customer. Just got done with one about an hour ago."

Carrie raised her over-plucked brows and sucked on her cigarette. "And here you are on the street again. Rent must be due."

I so did not need this. Carrie could be nice enough when she chose, but it was always a passive-aggressive thing, with the bottom line being what you could do for her. "Well, it's nice running into you, but I got to get down to the dock while there's still a little light out."

She ground her cigarette into the door frame. "You heard about it, too, huh?"

I felt a little chill that had nothing to do with the weather. "Heard what?"

"Some kids found a body. Last I heard, a couple cops and some fishermen were trying to get it out of the water, but it's stuck on something."

"It's not a female, is it? Teenage girl?"

Carrie shrugged her bony shoulders. "How the hell should I know?"

"Right. See you around." As I turned back toward the docks, I thought I heard her call, "You sure you ain't holding?" but by now my mind was in a panic and my feet followed suit. By the time I reached the pier and its crowd of curious onlookers, I was running full-tilt and nearly collided with a heavy-set man who I'd seen from time to time hanging around the cheap chowder shops. I stumbled and tried to duck around him but he grabbed me by the arm.

"Hold on, there. Cops are trying to keep people out."

"Right. Someone drowned." I tried to pull free.

"Well, there's too many people down there, getting in everyone's way."

"What business is it of yours?" I wrenched myself away, but he jumped in front, blocking me.

"You're one stubborn bitch, you know that?"

"Yeah. You're the third person to mention it today." I feinted and this time succeeded in darting past. Without looking to see if the guy was trailing me, I hurried to the crowd clustered along the dock and started working my way through, using my sharp elbows and a few well-placed kicks.

I finally reached a point where I could go no farther. Cops and helpful fishermen had strung some heavy rope and were guarding it with a menace more appropriate for a riot than group of onlookers who were merely curious. I worked my way to a spot where I could make out a group of men doing something with a net at the end of the dock. From time to time they called down to someone in the water, adjusted their position and gave the nets a heave.

"Get off my foot, bitch."

I didn't even bother looking at the man who was speaking. "Keep it out of my way, then." I moved my foot.

"You've got a nasty attitude, you know that? What's your problem?"

Had I wanted to, I could've given the guy a laundry list of problems, but right now, the only one that mattered was at the end of the dock, where the fishermen were pulling something dark, heavy and teenager-sized out of the gray water. Something with a blood-colored scarf that trailed, dipping, out of the confines of the net, as if refusing to be brought to land.

The men guarding the rope were watching too, and I took advantage of their distraction to slip past. I know they must have shouted at me, but all I could hear was the pounding of my feet and the buzzing in my brain as I ran down the pier.

The net was on dry land now, and the men were working the body out of the tangles. One of them looked up at my approach, and I guess he saw something in my eyes that hinted at my fears. For a moment the world stopped spinning and I thought he might fix me to the spot forever with his glorious blue gaze. "Do you know her?"

I forced myself to look, really look this time. No, I didn't know her. None of us did. But that didn't mean I couldn't identify those water-logged features. "Her name is Sella."


Chapter Three, Part One

I didn't get back the next day. Or the next. Arlo had some work for me, and I got a callback from a legitimate job I had applied for at a pawn shop. The interview went beautifully until I asked if I could be paid off the books. Things took an awkward turn after that, but as I was leaving I ran into a guy who I'd once gone to bed with for twenty dollars after a night of cheap beer at the pub. He wanted to repeat the performance, and since he was offering another twenty and I didn't find him particularly objectionable, I complied.

When I returned to my apartment later in the afternoon, two damp tens wadded in my coat pocket, I found Father Cash waiting at my door.

"Don't you ever answer your phone?"

His question and tone were so out of line with his usual manner that I was taken aback. I had seen the missed calls, but hadn't thought much of it. "I was with a customer."

He let out a sigh of frustration. "Sella is missing. I had been hoping she was with you."

I fumbled for my key and opened the door, motioning Father Cash inside. "No, of course she's not with me." I scrambled for ideas. "Maybe she went to the store. I showed her where it was the other day, and–"

"She's been gone for hours!" It sounded like an accusation. "There's no note, and I don't even know how to call her. If she has a phone, I've never seen it."

"Could she have gone back home?"

"All her stuff is here, except her coat."

"Well, wherever she is, at least she's warm."  I could tell from Father Cash's glare that this was the wrong thing to say. "We could try calling the cops, report her missing."

Father Cash paced my bare floor. "It's not considered a missing person case unless one has been gone twenty-four hours or more."

"We'll say it's desperate. She's a minor."

"Borderline. If there's no reason to suspect foul play, they don't bother with seventeen year-olds, especially runaways."

"Tell them she's sixteen, then. You're not her dad. If they find her and get mad, just say you misremembered how old she is."

For a moment, Father Cash seemed tempted by the idea, but then he shook his head. "If something bad happened, the cops in this town will probably only make it worse."

I silently agreed. "How about I check with my contacts? Put out a sort of informal APB?"

"Would you?" He turned to me, an absurd light of gratitude his eyes. "I'll do the same with mine, and if we find out nothing by tomorrow..."

"We'll call the cops, no matter how incompetent they are." I finished.

"Yes." He threw his arms around me and squeezed me in a hug that nearly broke a rib. "Thank you, Judith."

And then he hurried out the door, leaving me alone in the suddenly disquieting hush of my apartment.


Chapter Two, Part Two

Sella was right about Cold Haven: there was nothing to look at, unless one liked their world in shades of gray. From the steel of the unforgiving sky to the grimy stone buildings and pitted asphalt of the streets, there was no charm, no bright point of interest. Colors seemed a violation, as if they had been outlawed by some unreasonably puritanical town council of many years past. Even the few pedestrians who were about were dressed in dark muddy hues, as if they had no higher ambition than to be part of the landscape.

Grasping at anything, I headed left. "I'll show you where the store is," I said. "You might be at home by yourself one day and need something." Sella pouted but tagged along beside me to the corner and across the street. "That's it." I pointed needlessly to the sad-looking storefront. "Lucky's is open 24/7. Crackers, chips, cookies, beer...there's coffee in the mornings, but it sucks. You're better off asking your uncle to make some, if you want caffeine."

Sella looked away, which I took for indifference, so we continued on. There weren't many points of interest, but I did my best to tell her about what little there was: the barbershop that never had customers and was a front for drug-dealing, the pizza place that would only disappoint if one had ever had a decent pizza anywhere else, and the grimy pub that always smelled vaguely of fish. "They guys from the docks and the cannery like to hang out here," I explained.

"Are we near the water?"

I had become so accustomed to her silence that Sella's question startled me. "It's a few blocks away. Do you want to go there?"

She didn't say yes, but there was a spark I hadn't seen in her eyes previously.

"It's not much to look at," I warned. But since she was still watching me with that oddly hopeful expression, I took her to the next block and across the street. Getting to the docks meant going through a blighted area of pawn shops, bondsmen, and liquor stores. Here the dope dealers and street-walkers had their unmarked territories where they performed their daily hustle, although they were thankfully few in number today. As we passed a man passed out drunk in a doorway, I wondered if this had been such a good idea after all. Father Cash would be pleased I had gotten Sella out of the house, but he wouldn't be so happy about where I took her.

This was only confirmed a block later when a sallow man with a thin mustache and a grimy knitted cap waved to me from a stoop. "Yo, Judy! Got a little work for you if you want it."

I could sense Sella tensing up beside me, but I couldn't ignore one of my best leads on drug hand-offs, so I gave Arlo a little wave. "Uh...yeah, man. I'm showing a friend around, but I'll call you in a little while."

Arlo grinned at Sella. “Welcome to the neighborhood, little lady.”

Sella mumbled something noncommittal and I grabbed her by the elbow and steered her away. We continued on, and I waited for her questions, that thankfully never came. Soon we were among the fishing gear shops and dockside chowder dives, with the masts of a few docked boats visible in the distance. The street made a jog to the right, broadened out, and there in the distance was the iron-gray water, with a few fishing vessels bobbing at the pier. Seagulls soared overhead and squabbled over trash near a well-fed ginger cat who lounged in the satisfaction of being one of the few creatures to actually thrive here.

"The fishermen mainly go for herring," I told Sella. "Or maybe it's sardines." It was a little embarrassing to have lived here nearly a year without knowing what species of fish maintained the legitimate portion of the local economy, but the girl paid me no mind and seemed transfixed by the dull water.

"Can we go out there?"

Why anyone would want to get any closer to that filthy water was beyond me, but since it was the first time I had heard her express any sort of desire or preference, I nodded. Gulls sullenly moved out of our way as we went out onto the dock, which was slippery with sea spay, fish slime, and who knew what else. Sella walked out ahead of me, keeping her footing with surprising ease. When we neared the end, a few boys in grimy baseball caps who had cast their lines in hope of catching something edible, glared up at us but said nothing.

Sella ignored them, and stood for a long time gazing out to sea, the ends of her red scarf fluttering on the breeze like a caress, the only color in a world of gray. Not wanting to stare, I cast about for something worthwhile to look at, occasionally stomping my feet from the cold and wishing I could hurry Sella home so I could find out what kind of work Arlo had for me today. With any luck, the pay would be sufficient to get my gas turned back on.

Either my impatience communicated itself to her or she finally grew bored with the dismal view and glanced my way. "Can we go back now?"

I took her back down a different route, avoiding some of the rougher blocks where I risked running into more of my contacts, or where we might have even run into Father Cash, hunting up a little afternoon delight. It was with an odd sense of relief that we reached our clapboard apartment building, scarcely distinguishable from others like it, except for some chipped trim that had at one time been green, and a crude representation of a fishing boat carved into the mantel of the front entrance.

We went inside and climbed the creaking stairs to Father Cash's flat, where Sella hesitated at the door, as if debating whether she should invite me in. I had a contact to call, though, and headed off that thought before she could speak. "I'll see you around, I guess."

Sella nodded, her hand on the door frame. "It was nice to get out."

"Sorry it's not much to look at, but we work with what we've got."


Her eyes met mine, and her lips parted as if she might say something else, but no way could I get stuck here. Not when I needed money so badly. If I didn't call Arlo soon, he'd give my gig away, and there was no telling if anything else would come up today.

"Gotta go now." I affected a brisk demeanor and a cheery smile. "Let's do this again tomorrow or the next day, okay?"

Sella looked away, an opportunity to communicate and maybe connect, now past. "Sure. You know where I am." She closed the door.

Feeling guilty as hell without knowing why, I pulled my phone out of my jacket pocket, speed-dialed Arlo's number, and hurried up the stairs, taking them two at a time.


Chapter Two, Part One

It was two days before I could make time for Sella. It wasn't on purpose. Beggars can't be choosers and when I'm hungry, I do what I have to do. The oxycontin was completely my fault, though, since no one else made it slip out of the bundle I was delivering for a contact, and even then, I didn't have to swallow it with a chaser of cheap gin. Some things are just too big a temptation, though, and so it was that three days after Father Cash's appeal, still a little foggy-headed, I climbed the stairs and knocked on the door of his apartment.

There was no answer, of course. Father Cash was often out during the day, spreading his seed and the word of the Lord. Left to her own devices, it wasn't likely Sella would open the door to a stranger, or even a neighbor. I thought of going back to my room and calling my duty done, but that would only postpone the inevitable. Father Cash would soon come pleading for my assistance, this time on his schedule instead of my own.

I knocked again. "Sella! I know you're there. It's Judith, from upstairs."

Still no response.

"Your Uncle Marcus said I could come for a visit, so let me in."


"I have nothing to do today. I can wait right here until your Uncle Marcus comes. What do you think he'll say, Sella, when he sees you wouldn't even come to the door?"

When there was still no answer, I paced a little and pondered. No way was I going to be out-maneuvered by a teenager. On an inspiration, I scurried back to my apartment and returned a moment later with an umbrella. Out of fairness, I gave Sella one last chance.

"I'm going to knock on this door without stopping until your uncle arrives or you open up. Your call."

Then I sat down as comfortably as I could, and began swinging the umbrella at the door. I fell into an easy rhythm where I could keep it up with very little effort, letting gravity do most of the work.

It took several minutes, but finally there was a scrabble at the lock. I stopped swinging the umbrella and stood up.

Sella opened the door just enough to peek out. "Go away."

"I can't do that, so why don't you let me in?"

After a tense hesitation in which she tried and failed to stare me down, she turned away, leaving the door slightly ajar. I went inside and walked over to the sofa, where Sella had already lain back down. Since there was nothing I could say that wouldn't be awkward, I asked how she was doing. In answer, she closed her eyes and turned her face away.

"You uncle is worried about you. You know that, right?"

Since I thought I detected a slight shrug in reply, I continued. "You're not fooling anyone. Something is wrong at home, otherwise you wouldn't have come here. We can't help you if you don't talk, and if you don't want our help, you can at least get up and do something. Lying on the sofa for weeks on end is no way to live." In the silence that followed, I leaned in close. "You do want to live, right?"

She turned her face back toward me and our eyes met.

"Get up. We're going for a walk."

I said it in a tone that brooked no argument, and with a sigh, she heaved herself off the couch and went to fumble in a small chest by the window, where she took off her robe, pulled on some jeans, and began dressing to go out.

This was going better than I had hoped. "A little fresh air will do you some good. It'll just be a short walk. I bet you haven't even gotten a chance to tour the neighborhood."

Sella paused in wrapping a crimson scarf around her neck. "You don't need to play like this is some kind of tourist destination. There's nothing to see out there."

She was right, of course. "It'll be good for you, nonetheless."

After she was ready, I took her upstairs with me so I could get my coat. No way was I letting her out of my sight, having gotten this far. She looked around my cold, bare flat with an expression I couldn't read, while I tucked my hair under a knit cap. "I haven't got much, but it's home," I said in a flimsy effort at good cheer.

Sella gave a slight shiver.

We went down the wooden staircase, with its musty odor of damp, and out into the weak sunlight of afternoon.