Detective Matthew Somerville ran his hands through his hair. All evening he’d been interviewing the rescued victims, listening to their bewilderment and confusion. They were all fine, if a little malnourished and dehydrated. And definitely lost. They didn’t quite know where they’d been. All they remembered were snippets, pieces of their time away. All had been snatched in the park at some point or another, but that was generally all they could tell him.
It sucked. It sucked so bad he considered, yet again, retiring to
“Last one on your list, Matty, then it’s your turn at the park,” Detective Benson said with a grin. “At least this one’s cute.”
“Thanks,” Matthew said dryly; Detective Benson’s wife kept trying to set him up with her friends, and he was really tired of those big-haired, well-lipsticked dental assistants. Nice gals, no question, but not quite earthy enough for him. “Send her in.”
He got up and went into the other room for a fresh cup of coffee and one for his next interview. Even the kid drank coffee, he thought. Wasn’t she too young for java? Guess not. She was the one who remembered Nick, but she didn’t know his name. Said he’d watched over her the whole time. She was half in love with him already. Well, better Nick than her going all Stockholm Syndrome on their captors.
Matthew knew Nick peripherally; they’d played pickup basketball together with Christian once or twice, talked shop another time or two, sometimes over beers. Matthew had never met Alex. But he had a pretty good idea of how torn up she must be. He’d met all the other families.
He went back into the interviewing room to meet his last interview of the day.
She was around his age, with sharp blue eyes and chic shoulder-length blonde hair, still damp. The local hospital had examined all of the victims, let them bathe, and given them scrubs while police processed their clothes. Yet even after all of that, she still looked composed.
She had a lean build, not very tall, but he could already see she was physically fit, even though she instinctively favored a knee – an old injury maybe? Her gaze followed him as he sat down in his chair.
“Hi,” he said to break the ice.
“Hi,” she said back.
He pulled out her file.
“Well, we’ll start with the easy stuff,” he said. “Your name is Sunshine Van Etten, correct?”
“Yes,” she said.
“How are you feeling, Ms. Van Etten?” he asked.
“Fine, thank you,” she said. “Please, call me Sunshine.”
“I’m Detective Somerville – I’m sure they told you you’d be talking to me - but you can call me Matthew,” he responded with a nod. She seemed so – together. Not like some of the other folks who had come through his office and Detective Benson’s. He understood their confusion and fear, of course, but it made them hard to interview. “So, Sunshine, what can you tell me about what happened to you?”
“From the beginning?” Sunshine said, and he nodded. “Well, I decided to go the park to practice my tae kwon do outdoors – I wanted some fresh air. I went out about an hour before the park closed at dusk, figured that would give me enough time to warm up, get in a few good kicks, cool down and come home. I was only out there maybe 15 minutes before everything gets hazy. I think that’s when they drugged me, because I woke up in a metal cell underground.”
Already her recollections were sharper than the others’. Matthew’s cop instincts looked her over and found nothing suspicious.
“Were you alone?” he asked. “In the cell?”
“No,” Sunshine said. “There were three other people with me. Two men and a woman. They were unconscious so I didn’t get their names. Over the course of the next week, there ended up being a dozen of us in two cells next to each other.”
“But you never got the others’ names?” Matthew said skeptically.
“It was difficult for us to talk to each other much,” Sunshine said. “They didn’t bring us food or water very often, and when we did, it must have been laced with a sedative because we slept a lot. Nobody ever bothered us, and we were too drugged to get upset or try to escape. All I wanted to do was lie around or sleep, so I stopped eating and drinking as much as the others, to try to stay lucid. We didn’t even have the energy to ask any questions, not until the one man came. He was bigger than most of the other men; I think they might have tagged him by accident. He gave them a lot of grief, fought them, and they had to sedate him by hand.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Matthew asked, taken in by her smooth even voice, her ability to stay calm. She wanted to help, that was obvious, but instead of messing it all up with her eagerness, as others did, she was methodical and precise. It wasn’t until she moved her hands that he realized they were shaking, she was just hiding it.
“I’m not sure, I’m sorry,” Sunshine explained. “There was one with a younger man’s voice, and he asked a lot of questions. There were two older men, one with a Welsh or Irish accent who answered those questions, and another man, a deep smooth voice, who only came by once in a while.” She shuddered without meaning to. “I didn’t like him at all. He seemed to be in charge, only nobody else seemed to realize it.”
Matthew gave her a perplexed expression, urging her to go on.
“The man with the accent talked like he was in charge, but I don’t think he was,” she said. “I’m sorry, I don’t know anything else about them, it’s just an impression. And I thought I once heard children, but I’m not sure.”
“Again, I might have been mistaken,” Sunshine said, dropping her eyes. “As I lost weight and got dehydrated, it was harder to fight the sedative, and I may have been hallucinating.”
“But they didn’t hurt you?” Matthew asked.
“No,” Sunshine said. “Neglected us, mostly.”
She seemed to be considering him and he wondered if she was hiding anything.
“What did they want with you?” Matthew asked, almost forgetting to take notes.
“I don’t know,” Sunshine said. “I got the feeling they wanted seven men and seven women because they said they had to look for another female and then ‘things would be set’. Those were their words. But I never did learn what they wanted with us. They didn’t touch us, that was a blessing.”
“So tell me about the man, the one they got by accident,” Matthew said. “What did he look like?”
Sunshine described Nick to a ‘t.’ She hadn’t known his name either, but said,
“He was a big comfort to all of us, especially the girl. He kept an arm around her most of the time, she was so scared. Kept reassuring her. Very paternal or big brother; he was like that to me and the others as well. I think we all felt safer after he came. He seemed – more together, less scared. Almost like this kind of thing didn’t shock him.”
“So how did you manage to escape?” Matthew asked.
“He did it,” Sunshine said, as though this happened every day. “He stopped eating and drinking, and it didn’t take long before he was aware enough that when they brought us food and water one day, he charged the door and we got out. He beat the hell out of the guy who came with the food, knocked him out, I think. Then he opened the other cell – it was just a slide latch, not a lock – and helped us find a way out. He carried one of the women who couldn’t stand. Some of them had listened when he urged them to cut back on what they were eating and drinking, so we were able to break out.”
“How are you able to remember all of this?” Matthew asked, mystified. That sweet exterior held a steel core, that was for certain. And both his cop instincts and his hunter instincts told him she was on the level. She was fascinating; he’d never met anyone like her.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “The others would wake up sometimes and not remember where they were, and we’d have to calm them down again. We, meaning me and the man in my cell. The girl seemed to remember sometimes. He and I though seemed to be less affected than the others by the sedatives – we are both in pretty good physical shape and I have a high metabolism, so I may have processed it differently than the others. I think it was something like GHB or another date rape drug that they gave us. A blood test by now probably wouldn’t find it.”
“No, that’s true,” Matthew said. “But we’re hoping the blood tests tell us something, anything.”
She was still looking at him, studying him, and then she said,
“I do have some – odd - impressions from that time, if you’re interested in them.”
“Definitely,” Matthew said. Here was what she’d been withholding.
“You may think I’m crazy, but for some reason I think you’ll believe me,” she said. “You’ve seen things other people haven’t. I – I walked by your office on the way here, and I saw the pictures on your desk.”
“Oh yeah, some of my buddies thought it was funny to paste a bunch of X-Files stuff in my office,” Matthew said, flushing. “I – I, uh, told them I thought I saw a ghost. Big mistake.” That wasn’t even close to the whole truth, but it would do for now.
“But you did. See it, I mean,” Sunshine said with certainty. “I can see it on your face. That’s why I think you’ll understand and not label me crazy. I thought I saw something like that, and I don’t think I was dreaming. Something – otherworldly.”
She was dead serious, and she was extremely credible. What was her background? He checked her file. A lauded theology professor, new to the local college. No, this woman was not crazy.
Matthew held up a hand for her to stop. He got out a pen and paper, and wrote,
“Don’t say anything else about that now. This is being recorded. We’ll discuss it later.”
She read it and nodded. This break from protocol didn’t seem to bother her in the least.
“Can I – can I get in touch with you to ask more questions in the future?” Matthew went on.
“Of course,” Sunshine said.
“In the meantime, I’m sure your family is waiting for you,” he said, rising.
“Oh, I’ve just moved here,” she said. “To start school in the fall. I’m just going straight home, when they clear me. But I’m sure you have that in your notes.” She smiled, amused even, at him missing it.
“Sorry,” Matthew said. “Do you want an officer to go with you, if you’re alone?”
“No,” she said, but her smile was kind. “No, I’ll be okay.”
When she’d left, Matthew looked over his notes, racked his brain, and began to truly wonder about what had happened in the park and what she’d seen.