One of the Good Guys
Ever since I can remember, my Dad’s been my hero. I think that’s probably true for most little girls, right? I mean, maybe even more so, since I’m an only child.
When I was little, I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a police officer when I grew up. It never bothered me that Dad would miss stuff like my field hockey games or the spelling bee I won. He was out catching bad guys. Saving people.
My dad made detective shortly before my twelfth birthday. On my birthday, he took us to this fancy Chinese restaurant and invited all of my friends. It was the best birthday party I’d ever had. Life was good for us back then. We were able to move into a better neighborhood, and the new house was a huge upgrade. It even had one of those old root cellars my dad always wanted. It was the house my parents had dreamt of. But, of course, nothing good can last.
Everything changed when I reached middle school. I was a bit of a late bloomer. While my classmates were developing breasts and body hair, I languished in the body of a young girl. My mom reassured me that it was just her genetics at play. She told me that she was also a late bloomer, and said that if I could just learn a little patience, it would all sort itself out in time.
To her credit, I believed her, but that didn’t stop the girls at school from tormenting me relentlessly. They called me all sorts of nasty names like “landing strip” or “mosquito bites”. By my thirteenth birthday, the name-calling and mocking started morphing into physical violence.
One day, the queen of their little clique tripped me in the hallway, shoving me into a bank of lockers as I fell. One of the lockers’ little handles dug into my shoulder and another smacked me in the eye on my way to the floor. It left a bit of a shiner, too.
My dad came unglued when he saw it. “What kind of world do we live in?” he shouted, his fists shaking at his sides. “I’m required, by law, to send my daughter to that wretched place, and they can’t even keep her safe?” His face had turned beet red by that point. “We’re going to see the principal of that godforsaken school first thing in the morning and we’re going to set this right! No child should ever be treated like this, and I won’t stand for it!”
The next morning, my dad woke me up for school. He made me breakfast; two dippy eggs and two pieces of toast with a glass of orange juice. It was my favorite breakfast. He smiled as he handed me a fork. “Eat up, kiddo,” he said. “Today, your life changes for the better. Again.”
I smiled and said, “Thanks, Dad,” before digging into the plate. I was genuinely happy that morning. My dad, my hero, was coming to my rescue. It was like Superman himself had stepped out of the TV to come and save me.
After breakfast, we got into Dad’s car and headed for the school. “Are you nervous?” Dad asked, glancing over at me.
“A little, I guess,” I said, staring out the window. “But, you’ll be there, so it’s okay.”
“Smart kid, I’m raising,” Dad said, smiling.
“Smarter than her old man, even,” I said, laughing.
“Hey, now! You be easy with that tongue of yours, young lady. Mind you, I could always take you in for verbally assaulting an officer of the law.”
The small titter of laughter from before burst into an uncontrollable gale. My dad grimaced and I laughed harder.
“Well, I’m glad you’re having fun,” he said.
Truth is, I was having fun. My life was good and about to get even better. At least, that’s what I believed at that moment. When we got to the school, everything changed.
“Listen, Mr. Thompson-“
The principal sighed in a way that conveyed the eye roll she had otherwise managed to control. “Very well, Detective Thompson. The bottom line is, I simply cannot bring myself to believe that Trixie had anything to do with that,” she said, pointing to my black eye. “As a matter of fact, I’m inclined to believe that your daughter’s mishap had other origins.”
My dad’s brows arched. “Excuse me?”
The principal tented her fingers and smiled. “Why, with your erratic behavior and brutish tone, I could easily construe that-“
“Are you saying that you think I did this?”
“I never said such a thing, whatsoever, Detective.”
“You listen to me, and you listen good, Ms. Haversham,” my dad said, shoving his finger in the principals face. “The actions which led to my daughter’s injury are a criminal offense. Assault, to be precise. And I have every intention of holding Trixie Monroe accountable for her atrocious misconduct.”
Ms. Haversham scoffed. “A word of caution, then, Detective. Keep in mind that the Monroe family has been a pillar of this community for as long as our little town has existed. There are few in this community who would dare to question their integrity.”
“Is that a threat, Ms. Haversham?”
She smiled. “No, sir. Just a friendly word of advice. Now, if you’re quite done, I have much more pressing matters to which I must attend.”
“This isn’t over,” my dad said, turning to leave. “Let’s go, kiddo. Apparently, we have another stop to make. I’m sure my colleagues at the police department will have the wherewithal to see this for what it is.”
Things did not go any better at the police station. Dad took me straight into the Chief’s office and closed the door. “Chief, we need to talk.”
“Good morning, to you, too, Detective,” the Chief grumbled. That is before he swiveled his chair towards us and saw my black eye. “Oh, dear Lord!” He all but shouted. “What happened, Drew?” he asked, looking up at my dad.
“Go ahead, honey,” my dad said, placing his hand on my shoulder. “Tell Chief Brunner what you told me.”
So, I did. I left him have it with both barrels. When I finished, the Chief dabbed at his brow with a handkerchief. “And you’re sure that’s who pushed you?”
“So, what do you say, Chief? Can we at least bring Trixie in, read her rights, and give her a taste of the criminal life? Just enough to scare her, you know? Keep her from doing this kind of thing again.”
“I think your daughter’s confused, Drew. It couldn’t have been Trixie Monroe. Her father would never condone such behavior. Surely, she’s mistaken.”
“You too, huh, Chief?”
“Even if she’s right,” the Chief continued, “it’s just kids being kids. We were all bullied once upon a time, Drew. It’s just the way of things.”
“‘It’s just the way of things?'” My dad snapped back. “Fine attitude for the Chief of Police. Can you just imagine if people throughout history had let other atrocities stand because, ‘it’s just the way of things’?”
“Drew,” the Chief said, standing up, “Just let it go.” He reached out and put a hand on Dad’s shoulder, but Dad pulled away, his disgust clear on his face.
“Let’s go,” he said, holding his hand out to me. I stood and took his hand and he led me out of the Chief’s office. His grip on my hand was uncomfortably tight, but I said nothing.
Dad was silent during the drive home. He never took me to school that day. Instead, we went home and picked up my mom. She was shocked to see us both coming home in the mid-morning, but my dad told her that we needed a family skip day. Instead of living our humdrum daily routines, we went to the park, had ice cream, and enjoyed the time together as a family. At the end of the day, Dad took us home and we ended the festivities with a family movie night.
At one point during the movie, my mom asked my dad what had spurred the whole thing. He kissed her and said, “I just want my girls to know they’re loved. You know?”
“We love you, too,” she told him, snuggling closer to him.
It was about two weeks after that when the first girl disappeared from our school. Sarah Foster was her name. She was like me. A nobody. Someone all the other, more popular girls liked to pick on. I didn’t really know her, but the announcement that she’d gone missing still caused my heart to sink to my feet.
I cried that night, alone in my room. Early on, everyone managed to hold out some hope that Sarah would come home unscathed, but my gut told me that wasn’t the case. She was gone, never to return, and I could feel it.
The next day, my Dad announced that he’d been assigned to the case. It was his first real investigation since his promotion. He was solemn, but I could see the excitement thinly veiled behind that solemnity.
A week or so later, another girl went missing. Penelope Trager. She became part of Dad’s investigation immediately. Everyone immediately suspected that the two girls’ disappearances were connected. That they’d both been taken by the same perpetrator.
Just a few short days after Penelope disappeared, another girl went missing, too. Jackie Hartzell. I knew her name all too well. She was one of Trixie’s faithful cronies. Jackie had been there, laughing in my face, as Trixie tripped me and shoved me into those lockers. I’d be lying if I said I felt only remorse at her disappearance. But, I was a child then. I was too immature, emotionally speaking, to see the tragedy without an overlay of my own suffering.
I remember, after Jackie disappeared, Dad started working crazy hours. His regular nine to five schedule disappeared and he worked all hours of the day and night. He slept in short spurts, supplementing his exhaustion with copious amounts of coffee. With each passing day, he looked more and more disheveled.
I was still a child, but I could see that my dad was wearing down. It didn’t help matters that my mother reached the end of her rope about that same time.
She came unglued one morning as I left for school and screamed at my dad, “How can you just let your daughter walk to school, alone, when there’s some kind of sicko out there hunting down little girls?”
My dad scoffed. “No way this guy will come after her. Simple as that.” He turned the page of his newspaper and went back to reading.
Mom snatched the paper from his fingers and slammed it to the table. “And just what makes you so cocksure, huh?”
He smiled at her. “Because she’s the daughter of the lead detective on his case. He’d have to be a damn fool to lay a finger on her.”
My mom’s entire demeanor changed. She visibly wilted at my father’s words. I could tell she felt stupid for not thinking of that answer on her own. My heart broke for her, just then.
“Run along, kiddo,” my dad said, picking up his paper. “You’re gonna be late for school.”
In the following weeks, more girls went missing, culminating in the disappearance of Trixie Monroe herself. It were as though some dark, avenging angel had swooped down from the heavens and set my life right. The bullying at school ended pretty abruptly. Other kids came to me in droves, asking me what my dad knew about the serial killer stalking our streets.
It was like some strange form of rebirth. Everything changed in an instant after Trixie disappeared. I never could have harmed her myself, but after she was gone, I was grateful for the changes happening around me. I still don’t know what that says about me as a person. Not sure I really care, I suppose. This was all so many years ago.
My dad is gone now, rest his soul, but I’ll never forget what he did for me. The sacrifices he made. The careful planning and execution of one of the greatest unsolved murder sprees in all of human history.
No one will ever know who the Granger Mills Stalker was. Save one dead old man, and the little girl that found his secret burial mound in the root cellar. But, dead men tell no tales, and that little girl will never speak. Because her dad, was one of the good guys.