Excerpt from Chapter 1:
A tied-up Christmas tree leaned against the wall on the back porch where Uncle John left it. The two of them were going to put it up last night. But things have changed for Trisha Frankel.
With Mitch, her black Labrador Retriever, on his leash behind her, Trisha closed and locked the door of the apartment. She lived here with her uncle for the past nine years in the mainly African-American neighborhood. People would soon be looking for her if they were not already. Before Trisha talked to anybody else she needed to do something.
She stuck a note under her upstairs neighbor Nell Galock’s door saying, “she needed to see someone, and would come back later.” Last night she was surprised Nell let her sleep alone with just Mitch for company in her own apartment. During the waking hours of the night, she made her plans. She knew she couldn’t stay long with Nell who was scheduled to move to a nursing home soon. Everyone worried about her failing health. Nell’s daughter came around to bring food and take her to appointments since the elderly woman fell last summer. Trisha saw Nell like a frail bird with a broken wing hopping along the ground out of its comfort zone.
Wearing her backpack stuffed with food and carrying a duffle bag in case she didn’t return Trisha and Mitch kept a steady pace. They walked the long route along the snowy streets over the Seventh Street bridge passing many factories to River Street. Here and there someone shoveled a path on their long trek to the city. Stores were busy on Main Street and they jostled with holiday shoppers while avoiding mounds of dirty snow piles here and there. Trisha and Mitch waited to cross through the narrow path at a red light.
After almost an hour in the warm sun, Trisha took off her hat and scarf. The storm yesterday dropped ten inches of snow. Though the wind driven air felt cold, the ice and snow on the sidewalks and streets started melting. Snow began slipping off slanted rooftops with a thud.
Trisha realized they were almost there. After all, she knew the area a little. She and Uncle John would take a bus to Twentieth Avenue on weekends and then go to the Mart walking many blocks to get there. A schoolhouse at one time, someone converted the Mart into a sort of mini-mall or small department store. It was not far from there to her father’s neighborhood, she believed. A long time ago her mother, Anne, wrote the address down on the envelope Trisha kept with her.
On those trips with her Uncle John, she bought books at the Bookstand Bookstore. Uncle John would get a newspaper or crossword book and they would read at the cafe drinking cocoa.
She and Mitch finally got to the street. Trisha glanced at the torn and smudged envelope. Her name was written on the front, along with the address and inside a letter from her mother. The other contents of the envelope were photos. Trisha treasured them. They were all that was left of her family. Pictures of her parents together, some of herself and a few of Uncle John.
Mitch sat on the sidewalk, his tongue hanging out while Trisha sorted through some of the pictures. She came to one of her parents together. In it they were young. It was taken about fifteen years earlier. Trisha had no memory of her mother. In the picture, Anne was in a pink summer dress and sandals, her hair combed back off her face. Trying not to cry Trisha studied the boy in jeans and a T-shirt with short dark hair his arm around Anne. He was her father.
Putting the envelope back in her coat pocket, Trisha sighed. “Come on, Mitch. If nothing else we’ll see what his house looks like,” she said heading down the block.
At the address, she was looking for they stopped. No one was around so Trisha turned back and stood in front. The slender two-story home appeared to have an apartment on both floors and looked recently painted a light green. Sandwiched between its neighbors with narrow alleys, a closed metal gate on one side led down a cracked sidewalk. She stared at it trying to decide what she should do.
She heard people talking and turned. In the middle of the block stood a large red brick building that looked like a restaurant with large front windows. On the shoveled sidewalk in front three men talked.
Trisha decided to walk by them. One of them might be him, she thought. But then two of the men went inside the building and the third, a white man, walked past her. At the doorway, Trisha read the sign over the double doors, Day Mission.
The doors opened and a woman walked out and passed her. Trisha glanced inside the door. Making her mind up, Trisha put down her duffle bag and tied Mitch to the drainpipe at the corner of the building. A beat-up orange truck pulled up and parked in front of the house next to the mission. A lean-built man with spiky short brown hair got out.
Turning to go inside she stopped when the man came over and stared down at Mitch. “That’s a nice dog,” he said.
“Thanks,” Trisha said. Without glancing at her the man went down the alley between the mission and the house.
“I’ll go in and get some water. If I get up the nerve I’ll ask if anyone knows him. After all, he lives on this street. When I come out we’ll have a snack. You be a good boy,” Trisha said to Mitch as she went into the building.
Mixed smells permeated the large room. She recognized coffee and some kind of cleaner. People were waiting in lines getting food or eating at long tables that filled the sizable room. She roamed around until she saw a table along the wall where a large coffee pot, bottles of water and stacks of cups were organized. She took one bottle and a cup while looking around the room. No one resembled the young man plus fifteen years in the photo. She was about to leave when an older, stocky woman with puffed up cherry colored hair came up to her. The deep wrinkles around the woman’s mouth and eyes were more noticeable as she smiled. She asked Trisha, “Can I help you?”
Trisha busied herself with slipping the bottled water and cup into her coat pockets. “I was looking for somebody but they’re not here,” She mumbled.
“Who are you looking for? Maybe I know them,” the woman asked.
Trisha met her eyes for a moment. She seemed kind, but Trisha just wanted to leave. “No, I see he’s not here,” Trisha said again a little sharper.
She nearly ran from the building only to stop when she saw that Mitch was no longer tied where she left him.
Her legs shook and her voice grew shrill as she called his name thinking that Mitch might have run out into the traffic. Trisha looked down the street, but she saw no trace of him. She rushed to the busy intersection. At the corner, Trisha strained to see him. But Mitch was nowhere in sight. Mitch never ran away and he always stayed where she told him to. Many times she tied him outside the food market on Seventh street.
Horrible thoughts raced through her mind. The traffic on the street rushed past her. Not used to streets quite this busy, the noise and traffic might have frightened him enough for him to run.
People stared, but she did not care. Trisha asked a few of them if they saw him. Those that answered said no.
She ran back to the mission to look again. She almost expected him to be wagging his tail there waiting for her. But he wasn’t. Her duffle bag sat on the sidewalk by itself. A couple of people passed by going into the mission. She noticed that the orange truck was out front double-parked. Trisha went down the snowy side alley between the mission and a square three-story house next to it. She called Mitch’s name and whistling for him even though his paw prints were not in the snow. In the back, there were seven cars in the parking area behind the building. The doors to the garage behind the house stood ajar and the snow in front of it was ice encrusted. Mitch would come if he heard her, but Trisha picked her way over the ice to look inside the garage anyway.
A man came down the alley. He was the same one who got out of the orange truck and spoke to her about Mitch earlier. Then she remembered. When she came out of the mission his truck was gone.
Seeing her in the yard he stopped. “What do you want?” he sneered. “This is my yard.”
“You remember my dog earlier?” Trisha asked, pointing toward the street. “I tied him outside the mission. He’s missing now.”
From the street, car horns began blasting. The man smirked at her. She noticed him closely now, with his rumpled clothes, and unshaven face, but his sarcastic demeanor gave Trisha the creeps.
“No,” he murmured, turning to go into the house. “Your dog isn’t here.”
“Well, my dog was tied out front. You and your truck were there when I went in. Did you see what happened to him?” Trisha said slowly, trying to sound calm.
“No,” he snarled and went into the house.
Trisha looked around at the cars in the parking lot. Then the man came out again nearly dragging a dirty looking beige dog struggling on a leash.
He stopped and glared at her, laughing, “Does this dog look like yours?”
He continued going down the alley toward the street all the while the small dog struggled, it’s head twisting, tail down. A sick feeling engulfed Trisha. Some tears ran down her face. Trisha wiped at them and hurried after the man. Thoughts were beginning to make a picture in her mind. That man’s truck had been moved when she found Mitch missing. Mitch was small for his breed and did not bite. This guy could pick Mitch up and throw him in that truck, she reasoned.
At the truck, the man turned and noticed Trisha following him. She met his stare and waited for him to open the back of the truck. She wanted to see inside it.
He gave the leash several hard pulls then grabbed the small dog’s collar and through clenched teeth, he said to the dog, “Get over here.”
“Leave that dog alone,” Trisha shouted.
~J.D. Holiday http://jdholiday.blogspot.com