Officers Smith and Wallace walked up to the small white cottage on Morning Lane. The house was in a beautiful disrepair. The porch chairs were chipping paint, and the flower bed that wrapped around the front and side of the house was overgrown, but in a romantic form of neglect. The mailbox bore a brass #73 and showed wear from daily openings and closings over the decades.
Officer Smith knocked on the door and peered into the large square window in front of him. Blocked by drapes, the sunlight rendered the curtains almost transparent. He peered in as far as possible, but no forms moved. Officer Wallace stood behind him, glancing around the porch. Old flower pots, coiled hose, several newspapers. Office Wallace had started on the force just two months ago, and did not want to miss any detail that could be a clue in the case, even if he wasn’t entirely sure what the case was. He had been assigned to work with Officer Smith just this week, and Smith had not shared anything about this visit with Ms. Langham other than the fact that her son was missing.
Officer Smith knocked again, waiting patiently, and, after a few moments, even Officer Wallace could see forms undulate in the light behind the curtain. Ms. Langham slowly opened the door and peered out. Upon recognizing Officer Smith, she smiled slightly, exhaled, and opened the door.
“Officer Smith, thank you so much for coming. Oh my goodness, I have been worried sick. Please, please, come in.” She stepped back and swung the door open widely. Officer Wallace saw a pleasant but sad woman. Weary, middle age. Graying hair, but still stylishly kept. She wore black slacks and a basic white blouse. She wore no jewelry or adornment, save for a silver locket around her neck. She was thin and almost as transparent as the curtain hanging on her door.
“Hello, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith said, “I am very sorry we have to see each other under these circumstances.” Ms. Langham listened carefully and nodded, carefully marking the officer’s words. “This is my new partner Officer Wallace. He joined the force recently, and I know he will be of great help with this case,” Officer Smith promised. Officer Wallace appreciated the vote of confidence, but still felt left out of what exactly was going on.
“Officers, please sit down.” Ms. Langham led the policemen through the small entryway and into the living room of the cottage. Officer Wallace noted the museum-like feel of the home. Perfectly in place, but perfectly inert. The room was simple: a couch, two chairs, and a coffee table. The coffee table was barren except for a Sports Illustrated magazine that was painfully out of place. Officer Wallace noted the issue was at least ten years old, if not older. Ms. Langham sat down in a well-worn chair and pulled a shaw over her lap.
On the large wall behind the couch, a collage of photos of a young man. Dozens of photos, large and small, showing the boy as an infant, a toddler, a child, and then a teenager. Birthday parties, baptisms, vacations, the pictures told a life story. Underneath this story, the officers sat.
Officer Smith began, “Now, Ms. Langham, we received your call at the station. I understand your son is missing. What’s your son’s name?”
“William,” she said quietly but with a practiced cadence. “William Henry Langham. My Henry. Oh please, Officer Smith, you have to help me. I am absolutely beside myself. What can I do? How can we get him home?”
“I understand Ms. Langham. We are here to help.”
“Oh good. I just don’t know what to do. That’s why I called.”
“Now, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith began again, “does Henry go to the local high school?”
“Yes. He’s a junior. On the football team. He plays defense. I can never remember the position names. I just love watching him play. I never miss a game.” Officer Wallace noticed she began to cry but seemed unaware of the tear running down her wrinkled cheek. “There’s a picture of him above you on that wall. There, to the left. Yes, there it is. Do you see it? There he is. He is so proud of that jersey. Will that help you find him? Oh my god, I can’t believe he is missing.”
“It will Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith promised. “Now, can you tell me who the last person to see Henry was?”
“Oh, yes,” she said with authority. “Me. I made him breakfast. His favorite: eggs and bacon. I gave him a big hug and off to school he went. I yelled out to him ‘I love you’ as he went out the front door. I always did that. Every day. ‘I love you!” Every day. I never missed a day. Never missed a day for my Henry.” Officer Wallace watched Officer Smith take careful notes, and he noticed Ms. Langham had tears running down both cheeks now.
“I know this must be very hard for you, Ms. Langham,” Officer Wallace said, trying to provide comfort. It would be his first missing persons case, and he needed to get as much information from her as possible. He knew a calm witness was a good witness.
“Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith said, cutting Officer Wallace off before he could continue, “Do you know of any reason why Henry would go away? Has he ever runaway before?”
“Henry? My Henry? Why, no. Oh no, he wouldn’t do that. Oh no. He knew he was loved. Oh, officer, I can promise you that. Every day, like I said. Every day. My Henry knew he was loved. He knew he was loved. So loved.” Officer Wallace watched Ms. Langham adjust the shaw on her lap. “Henry has never done anything like that. He loved me too. It’s just us, but it’s enough. Oh no, he would not run away.”
Officer Wallace noted the cracks in the paint on the ceiling. He sat up straight and cleared his throat.
“Now, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith inserted, “that’s all very clear. Thank you, that is very helpful. You know, we see a fair amount of these missing persons cases, and we always have to rule out the runaway angle. And, a lot of time, that’s what we are dealing with. Problems at home, problems at school, and, poof, Johnny’s out the door! Please don’t take any offense.”
“That’s alright, officer. I know you are just doing your job,” Ms. Langham said meekly, her voice growing a little weaker.
“Now, Henry didn’t have any trouble with anyone, did he?” Officer Smith continued.
“No, no, none at all,” Ms. Langham said, stronger. “Henry gets along famously with everyone. Oh, everyone loves Henry. Everyone. I mean, I don’t know that Henry likes his football coach, Coach Tompkins, too much, but I think that’s just because he’s mean to the boys. All the boys. Just plain mean. Making them work so hard. I mean, I’m sorry. Umm. No, I don’t know anyone that Henry has any problems with.”
“Okay, I’ve got that down,” Officer Smith said, as he began to cough, placing his thick hand to his ruddy face.
“Oh, I am so sorry, how rude of me,” Ms. Langham pleaded, “Let me get you gentlemen something to drink.” Ms. Langham placed the shaw over the chair, rose, and slowly walked into the kitchen.
Officer Wallace watch her the entire way and listened carefully, waiting for just the right moment. “Bob,” Wallace whispered, “about the coach…” Officer Smith started coughing again, holding up his hand. Wallace stopped, perplexed. He heard Ms. Langham pouring the drinks. The light cut into the room at severe angles, and, as Ms. Langham emerged from the kitchen with the drinks on a tray, she cut across the light, breaking the line of light from the outside to the interior wall. The light refracted in the glasses, almost blinding Officer Wallace as he sat on the couch, under the pictures, in front of the Sports Illustrated magazine.
“Thank you very much, mam,” Officer Smith said as he sat the glass back down on the tray on the coffee table, “I certainly needed that.” Officer Wallace smiled but did not take his drink.
“Officer Smith, I am so worried about my Henry. I am sick. Please help me. Please help me find him,” Ms. Langham pleaded. She had started to cry again. The room was still, as if her tears sucked all of the little oxygen out of it. No one moved for several hours, or so it seemed.
“Ms. Langham, Officer Wallace and I know how terribly painful and sad this is. What you’ve been able to give us thus far will be of a tremendous help.”
“And,” Officer Wallace began.
“And,” Officer Smith interrupted, “my partner here will be a wonderful asset. We are going to take this information back to the station, review it, and start our search.”
Officer Wallace looked at Officer Smith, wondering where all the rest was.
“I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am that you two can help me. Oh, I am so worried,” Ms. Langham said, as her face froze, then wrinkled into an ugly contortion. The tears did not escape unnoticed now. They ran from her, streaking down her face, her shoulders convulsing up and down as she sobbed. “Please, please, please,” she pleaded.
Officer Smith rose from the couch and walked the few feet to Ms. Langham. He moved the shaw ever so slightly up her legs. “Now, Ms. Langham, you have given us such wonderful information. We are here. We know how agonizing this is, but you don’t have to go through this alone. We will be searching for Henry. I will not rest. You have my word.”
Ms. Langham sat up, exhaled, and caught her breath. Officer Wallace searched her face. Moments earlier, it was if the dam had breached, the pain uncorked. Now, Ms. Langham halted the flood. She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Thank you.”
“I will be in touch with you very soon. You have my number, I know. Officer Wallace and I will be looking for Henry.”
Officer Smith stood up from crouching next to her chair, looked at Officer Wallace, and walked toward the front door. Officer Wallace, spinning and off balance in his head, stood up slowly, saying, “Thank you, Ms. Langham. We’ll be in touch soon.”
Ms. Langham looked at Officer Wallace and then turned her face staring out the side window.
Officer Smith walked to the door, opened it, and motioned with his thick hand for Wallace to exit first. Officer Wallace took a last few steps in the house, noting the high school jacket hanging on the hook by the door, the two umbrellas leaning in the corner. He stepped onto the porch and waited for Officer Smith to follow. Officer Smith carefully and slowly closed the front door. Without looking at Wallace, he turned and walked down the front path.
“Bob,” Officer Wallace said in a muted voice as he caught back up to his mentor, “one thing.”
“In the car,” Smith replied.
The officers arrived at the car, and, as he got in, Officer Wallace looked back at the cottage. The light was now overhead, crashing down on the roof with a visible force, breaking evenly over the small home and scattering around the yard. No light reached the porch, though. Sealed off. He wondered if, somehow, Ms. Langham had the power to cut off that light too.
“Bob,” Officer Wallace began again as he fastened his seatbelt, “Coach Tompkins has not coached at the high school in almost twenty years.”
“I know,” Officer Smith said, as he started the car.
“And you didn’t ask her how long her son has been missing,” Officer Wallace added.
“He’s not missing,” Officer Smith responded, putting the car in drive and pressing the accelerator.
Ms. Langham sat in her chair and watched the light dance around the outside of the cottage. She dried her tears, tucked her feet under her legs, and held onto the locket on her chest.