Ten people had gone missing in Pike County, Missouri in the past two years. Four of them in the past two months. It started out unsurprisingly. Couple druggies, couple prostitutes. But now the owner of Southside Bar was gone. A bank teller. A teacher at Bowling Green High.
The tension cut through the banality. The Pike County Police Department doubled their street presence. What used to be annoying speed traps transformed into the comforting mini-fortresses of protective guardianship, trying to return a sense of normalcy to an area unaccustomed to this level of violence and anxiety.
Officer Ken Kirby rolled through the names of the missing in his head as he sat in his patrol car one late November evening. Sharon Johnson… Tim Monahan… Daisy Paolini… He had known a couple of them, hadn’t known a few. He’d brought flowers to six memorial sites, and hugged a few fathers. He knew it was his job to help bring peace to his community.
Bart Denison… Avery Ford… Lisa Wofford… Lisa’s loss was tough on Ken’s daughter, Victoria. Victoria and Lisa’s daughter Erica were good friends. They had gone to dinner before homecoming together a month before Lisa’s disappearance. Ken would never forget his daughter’s tears that night.
Violet and Steve Theodore… married six months, Violet had just moved from Iowa to support Steve as he joined his dad’s lumber business. Pauline Jaspers… Caroline Peverly… Ken hadn’t known them.
A mid-2000s red Buick leSabre broke Ken’s thoughts. His radar read “62” as it zipped past in the 45 mile-per-hour zone. He flashed his lights and siren on and pulled behind the car, as it quickly saw him and pulled to the side of the road.
Ken walked tensely up to the window as it rolled down revealing the nervous middle-aged woman inside. “Oh! Ken!” the woman said softly.
“Well, hello, Marla!” Ken replied, smiling gently. Ken knew Marla from Bowling Green Diner. She’d been a waitress for years. “Marla, you were going a little fast, did you know that?”
“Ken, I’m so sorry. I was just thinking about all those missing people. Pauline was just in the diner for breakfast the day she disappeared last week and I…”
“I know, that’s so sad about Pauline,” Ken replied. “That’s OK, Marla. I want you to be safe, so you gotta drive safe, alright?”
“OK, hang tight right here.”
Ken went back to the patrol car and turned off his dash cam, made sure to wipe it as well. He walked back to the Buick.
“Marla, come with me. We have some reports of suspicious activity in the area, so I’m going to give you a ride back to your house for ya. Another trooper will come get your car. Just leave the keys on the seat.”
“That’s awfully kind of you,” Marla said, stepping out of the car. They walked together back toward his car.
“Marla, wait a second, I think I hear something.” She paused. “Goodbye, Marla.”