“Allegheny County 9-1-1, what city?”
“What is your emergency?”
I paused. How do I explain this?
“My—my husband is missing.”
“Pacy. Pacy Smith.”
“For how long has your husband been missing?”
“I don’t know for sure. He was in bed when I left him just before two, and then when I came up to wake him— “
“Since 2 p.m.?”
“Ma’am, that’s only an hour ago.”
“Yes, but you don’t understand. It’s like he … disappeared.”
“He stayed in bed to take a nap, and he told me to wake him in 45 minutes, but then our dog started acting weird. He was barking outside the bedroom door and he never does that. I went into the bedroom, and my husband was just … gone. But he couldn’t have gone anywhere.”
“It’s not possible that he left?”
“It’s not possible?”
“I would have heard. We have an alarm system. Anytime a door opens, it beeps. But there was no beep. I would have heard it.”
The dispatcher paused. I could hear her typing.
“Ma’am? Is it possible he’s still in the house?”
“I looked. I looked everywhere, and I’m starting to freak out, because he’s not here. Do you understand? He couldn’t have left but he’s not here. It’s like he just … vanished.”
“Could he be hiding? Could he be playing a joke?”
“No. No. Believe me, he wouldn’t do this to me. And I’ve looked everywhere. He’s not here. And …”
“And there’s the dog. He keeps staring at the bed. He’s never acted like this before. He usually follows us everywhere, but no matter where I go to look for him, he stays right next to the bed. And every time I come back into the room, he’s there, staring at the spot where my husband was sleeping.”
Another long pause.
“OK, ma’am, I have to ask you some questions. Are you ready?”
“Your husband’s name?”
“OK. Your address?”
“1812 Rialto Street.”
“How old is Samuel?”
“How old are you?”
“He’s your husband?”
“Has he ever gone missing before?”
“Look, you have to believe me. This is very strange. You probably think I’m crazy or overreacting, and I’m guessing you don’t consider a person to be ‘missing’ until they’ve been gone for a certain amount of time, but I’m not crazy and I’m not overreacting. He is missing. Something is wrong.”
“I understand, ma’am. Now, Pacy, I have to ask you this: Have you been drinking today?”
“No. And I’m not on drugs and I don’t take meds and I’m not seeing a psychiatrist or hearing voices in my head. I have no history of mental illness. I’m telling you the truth.”
“I believe you, Pacy, but I need to ask these questions.”
“We got in a fight, and then we made up and had sex. When we finished, he wanted to take a nap. I went downstairs, and then the dog started acting funny. I came up, opened the door, and he was gone. Now the dog is staring at the spot where I last saw him. That’s what happened. I am completely sober. I’m not crazy. I am scared.”
“I understand, ma’am. Hold the line for one second.”
I walked over to the bed as the dispatcher put me on hold. “What are you staring at, boy?” I whispered to Cooper. His eyes shot up to me, then back to the side of the bed where Sam sleeps, the spot where I last saw him.
“I’ve put in a report to the detectives’ desk. Now listen: I do not think you’re crazy. But when they read this report, they might think you are. You understand that, right? This is not a typical call. These are different circumstances. But there’s a rational explanation.”
“You have no idea how much I wish that were true.”
“I know, Pacy. I put in the report. And I added a note that you sound normal but scared. I urged them to check on you as soon as possible. But this is important for you to understand, Pacy: I don’t know when someone will come. This is not an emergency situation— “
“Yes it is!”
“No, it isn’t. At least, it won’t be according to the detectives. They will read the report and see no sign of foul play, nobody injured, and that he’s only been missing an hour. That’s why I added the note. Hopefully someone will check on you as soon as possible, it’s just that I can’t say when that might be.”
I didn’t respond. I knew they wouldn’t come. And my biggest fear was spending a night in this house alone with no idea where Sam had gone.
“You still there, Pacy?”
“I’m going to hang up the line now. A detective will be over to see you at some point. And Pacy?”
“I hope it’s soon.”
I am standing in our bedroom.
Cooper is next to me, staring at the spot on the bed where I left Sam an hour ago.
Am I going crazy? Do I actually believe that he’s disappeared? Vanished into thin air?
It’s not possible. But it’s the only possibility.
It will be dark in a few hours. What do I do?
TJ was a crime reporter at the Observer. She was Pittsburgh-born and bred, a single mother from a rough neighborhood whose friends were all cops and firefighters. She was the toughest person I knew. But she was also a girl. She would understand when I called. She would understand, even though we were only casual friends through Sam.
I didn’t have her phone number. But Sam did. I walked around to his side of the bed and grabbed his cell phone from the night stand. When it suddenly rang in my hands I nearly collapsed from fright.
“Hello?” I said.
“Um, yeah,” a woman’s voice said on the other line. “Is this Sam’s phone?”
“Yes, this is his wife Pacy.”
“Well, this is one of Sam’s editors, Lorraine. Sam is late for his shift. Do you know when he’s going to be in?”
I resisted the urge to shout at her. She didn’t know what was going on. This wasn’t her fault.
“Lorraine, I really wish I could help you, but I have no idea where he is,” I said. “I’m trying to figure it out myself. I’ve called the police. A detective is coming over soon. I hope.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” she said. “Is he coming in?”
Again, I resisted the urge to yell.
“I’d make other plans,” I said. “But don’t call TJ because she’s coming here.”
I hung up the phone and found the number. I did not provide details. Mostly, I just apologized. I told her that I understood this was too much to ask, but I needed her to say yes. I cannot be alone, I said, and my husband is nowhere to be found. I know we’re not this close, but I need you to do this for me.
Ten minutes later, she knocked on the front door. She brought her daughter, Cora.
“I don’t know where he is,” I said. “The last time I saw him he was in bed. Now Cooper is up there staring at the spot where he was sleeping.”
TJ hesitated as she decided what questions she could ask in front of her 7-year-old. I waited for direction.
“I need coffee,” she said. “Do you have any?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll get it ready.”
“No. You sit down. Show me where it is and I’ll make it. While I’m doing that, tell me what’s going on.” She turned to Cora. “Go get Cooper. He’s upstairs by Pacy’s bed. He doesn’t want to leave, so you might have to bring some treats.”
“OK, mama,” Cora said. “Can I have some treats, Pacy?”
“They’re upstairs. On the mantle in our bedroom.”
Cora bounded up the stairs. TJ watched her go, then walked over and hugged me. I tried not to cry.
“Come on,” she said, leading me into the kitchen.
Five minutes later, I’d told TJ everything I could tell her, which wasn’t much. Cora came down the stairs with Cooper, whose ears flattened at the site of TJ.
“I don’t get this,” TJ said.
“My head hurts trying to understand it,” I said. “I know Sam better than I know anyone, and I know that he’d never do something like this to me. Not if he could help it. But where did he go?”
TJ poured sugar into her coffee. She turned back to the room and looked at us—me, sitting in a chair at the table with Cooper leaning into my legs, and Cora, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room.
“Well, clearly I’m not going to leave you alone tonight,” she said.
“Thank you, TJ. That means a lot.”
“The question is, do you want to stay here or come back to our place?”
I’d been avoiding this question. I wanted to run screaming from the house. But I couldn’t leave. This was where I last saw Sam. When he returned, I wanted to be here.
“I don’t want to stay,” I said. “But I think I have to.”
“OK, then. Cora, take you coat off. We’re having a sleepover.”
“Yay! Can I sleep with Cooper?”
“We’re all sleeping together,” TJ said. “In the living room.”
She took another sip of her coffee.
Midnight. Sam had been gone for nine hours.
I sat on the couch in the living room. Cora slept on a heap of pillows and blankets on the floor, her arms around Cooper’s neck. Cooper, who was awake, was curled up with his body angled towards the couch so he could look at me. His eyes never closed. TJ sat at the other end of the couch. She too was awake. She kept looking at me sideways, checking on me.
The TV was on. The 11 o’clock news. I did not watch, but I heard. Mudslide on Banksville. House fire in Shadyside. The bathtub section of the Parkway to flood overnight. The Pirates lose a close one. More rain tomorrow. Someone in Whitehall won the lottery. And you won’t believe what this celebrity tweeted.
For an hour they went on and on about nothing, never mentioning that Sam was gone or that my brain and chest hurt so much that it felt like I was going to die, and that that was the only thought that gave me any comfort at all.
TJ walked into the kitchen with her cell phone and dialed the number from memory. Detective Frank Santoni answered on the first ring.
“You must be kidding,” Santoni said. “One a.m. on a Sunday? I don’t know what story you’re working on, TJ, but I don’t know anything about it, and you really need a life.”
TJ smiled. “Cry me a river, Frankie.”
TJ and Santoni grew up on the same South Oakland street. They went to school together until high school, when Santoni enrolled at the all-boy Central Catholic, the quarterback factory made famous by alums Dan Marino and Mark Bulger. Frank was going to be the next big star. He won more than Bulger and threw for more yards than Marino. He had the body—six foot three, 180 pounds—and the brains—3.9 GPA. Local and national media put him in the Hall of Fame even before he signed with a college. So when Santoni enlisted with the Marines, everyone was stunned, even TJ, who had dated him briefly but broke it off after realizing that he was more a brother than a boyfriend.
“Now listen up, Frank,” TJ said. “You’re right about one thing: I do need a life. But I’m not calling for a story. This is personal.”
In his Bloomfield apartment, Santoni grabbed the remote and turned down the volume on his TV.
“What’s going on?”
“When are you back on?”
“I need you to take a case. It’s a friend of mine. Her husband is missing. Something is wrong.”
Santoni shifted on the couch. “If this is so urgent, why don’t you call the desk?”
“He’s only been gone ten hours.”
Santoni sighed. He’d dealt with this a million times and the guy always showed up. Always.
“This is different,” TJ said. “They were alone in the house this afternoon, he went to take a nap before he had to go to work, she goes to wake him up 45 minutes later, and he’s gone. No sign of him anywhere. And they have an alarm system. If he’d opened any door in the house to leave, it would have beeped. She showed me. It’s loud. She would have heard it. I’m telling you, something is wrong. He didn’t show up for work either. This is weird.”
“OK, I hear you. So who is this guy?”
“I work with him. Sam Smith.”
Santoni had read the byline, but could not match the name with a face.
“Are you with the wife?”
“All right, answer some Yes or No questions for me. Is he a good guy?”
“Would he cheat?”
“No. The Observer checks before hiring.”
“Where’s he from?”
“California? What the hell’s he doing out here?”
“He likes it here.”
“So he’s crazy. TJ, this isn’t going to work if you keep withholding info.”
TJ smiled. “You’re a real smart ass, you know that?”
Ten seconds passed. Santoni was thinking.
“Frank, I wouldn’t lie to you, and I’m not crazy. You know that.”
“Oh, Christ, TJ … Can’t this wait till morning?”
“If it has to. But I’d feel a lot better if you came by tonight. As in, now.”
Santoni paused, searching for a way out. But he knew that if TJ wanted him to come now, he would go. TJ was persistent and stubborn and she always got her way. Santoni sighed.
“Do you have any idea how much you’re going to owe me for this?”
“Yeah, I do. I know exactly what calling you in the middle of the night and asking you to drive to the North Side to check on a friend who I think needs help means. But that’s how sure I am that something is off here. That’s how important this is to me. So … you coming?”
Again, Santoni sighed.
Santoni knocked on the door just before 2 a.m. TJ answered and led him into the living room. He was strikingly good-looking. Thick black hair, cut short. A chiseled, clean-shaven jaw. Tall and fit. He walked into the living room and looked down at me. I did not get up to greet him.
“Mrs. Smith?” he said. His voice was low, but carried well in the stillness of the house. “I’m Detective Santoni. I’m a friend of TJ’s. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
I again explained what I knew and how it didn’t make sense. All day, I’d repeated the same words, and still, they made no sense. Santoni listened and wrote words in a notebook. When I finished, he stared at the pages but said nothing.
Finally, he looked up. “Can I see the room?”
He looked everywhere I’d looked: Under the bed, in the closet, under the desk in the study. He went into the attic and noted, as I had, that the windows were locked from the inside, and that the door to the stairway leading up from the second floor had a latch on the outside, so even if he had gone up there, he could not have closed the latch behind him. He asked about trapped doors and empty walls. He stared at cracks in the ceiling, gaps around the edges of doors, the tiniest tear in the carpet. Finally, he asked about the alarm system: Was there any chance a door could be opened without it beeping? Could I possibly have coughed or sneezed or been doing something to make me not hear the sound? No, I explained. Nothing like that could have happened.
Back in the living room, he sat in the old rocking chair Sam had bought at an estate sale in the Mexican War Streets, near TJ’s house. Sam loved rocking chairs, and he loved buying old things, including our house.
“First of all, let me say that I believe you,” Santoni said. “I don’t think you’re crazy. I think your husband is, in fact, missing. I don’t think this a joke or a hoax or a hallucination.”
I stared at him blankly, waiting.
“Here’s the problem,” he continued. “We have no reference point. Even if we were to search for him … where would we start?”
It was exactly what I’d expected him to say, but hoped he wouldn’t.
“I was hoping you would have the answer to that question, Detective.”
I did not sleep that night, but somehow I dreamed.
It’s hard to explain. I sat on the couch all night next to TJ. I closed my eyes, then opened them, then closed them, as if blinking in slow-motion. I closed them because I did not want to look at the world as it now was. I opened them because I kept hoping that when I did, everything would be back to normal.
I eventually fell into a trance of sorts, which is when I had the dream. I saw Sam talking to a man in a room that looked like our bedroom but was somehow different in that way that dreamscapes often are. The man was short, older, bald on top with reddish hair sticking off the sides and back of his head. His mouth was moving, but I couldn’t hear what, if anything, he said. Sam was sitting on our bed. He looked confused. He seemed to be asking questions. The man leaned against the wall on the other side of the room, his arm resting on the mantle above the fire place in our bedroom. He nodded from time to time. Cooper appeared. He came in through the hallway door and jumped up on the bed. He looked at Sam, but Sam did not turn his head. After several seconds, Cooper turned to the man. He tilted his head. Then he went into a sit position and held it, staring at the man.
I opened my eyes. The clock on the cable box read 4:56 a.m. Detective Santoni was gone. He’d promised to call in the morning and stop by at lunch. He left me his cell phone number in case I needed anything.
TJ was still on the couch. Her eyes were closed and she hugged a pillow to her chest as she slept. Cora was lying on her stomach, her wild blonde hair covering her face, her gangly limbs entangled in blankets and pillows. In her arms was a teddy bear she had brought from home. Cooper was no longer with her.
I sat up. The house was silent. I scanned the room, but did not see Cooper.
I stood and walked into the hallway. I paused and listened. Nothing.
I looked up the stairway. Shadows darkened the upper stairs. Again, I stopped to listen. This time, the silence was replaced by the sound of my heart beating, seemingly in my throat. I started up the stairs. At the top, outside our bedroom, I paused, again listening. Cautiously, fearfully, I pushed open the bedroom door. The fireplace came into view first, then the windows, and finally the bed.
Cooper turned his head and looked at me. He was sitting, rigid, in the middle of the bed, right where he had been in my dream. He stared at me for a few seconds, and I wondered how it is that dogs can make their eyes look so sad sometimes.
“Cooper,” I whispered. “What are you doing up here?”
Cooper blinked at me, then turned and stared at the spot where I’d left Sam the day before. He sighed, then lowered his body and positioned himself so that, had Sam been there, he would have been pressed up against his hip. It was Cooper’s favorite place to sleep.
TJ stayed until Detective Santoni returned. She had to miss work and keep Cora out of school, but she said there was no chance she would leave me alone. She called her parents in Polish Hill and they agreed to look after Cora for the rest of the day. She told me not to worry. She said she would drive Cora over and be right back. I thanked her.
“Frank, don’t leave until I get back,” TJ said as she ushered Cora to the door. She left and Santoni closed the door behind her. Then he sat down in the rocking chair. He again took out his notebook and thumbed through the pages. Cooper sat on the couch next to me. After several minutes of silence, Detective Santoni closed his notebook and sighed.
“Did you sleep?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“No,” he said. “I didn’t think you would. What about him?”
“Cooper? I don’t think he slept either,” I said. “He knows something is wrong.”
We did not speak again until the clock turned over to 2 p.m. Detective Santoni asked me if I knew the exact time Sam disappeared. Around 2:30 p.m., I told him. Good, he said, explaining that after 24 hours he could officially file the missing person report.
“We might as well get started,” Santoni said. “Are you OK to answer a few questions?”
Cooper rose suddenly. He turned to look at me, then jumped from the couch and ran up the stairs. I heard him sit in front of the bedroom door and sigh deeply.
Santoni started with the basics: Height, weight, hair and eye color, full name. He asked about Sam’s history, then mine, then ours. He wondered if he could see Sam’s wallet and I pointed it out to him on the coffee table.
“What brought you to Pittsburgh?” he asked.
“The Observer. Sam followed the job and I followed him.”
“Do you like it here?”
Detective Santoni rifled through the wallet. Driver’s license, credit cards, some small bills, business cards. He pulled out three folded pieces of yellow paper and held them up. “Do you know what these are?”
I did not.
“Mind if I take a look?” he said.
He unfolded one, looked at it, and smiled. He refolded it and slipped all three notes, including the two he had not read, back into the wallet.
“Do you write love notes for your husband often?”
I looked at him, not understanding the question. He handed Sam’s wallet to me and I fished out the papers. Then I remembered: During the G-20 conference in Pittsburgh, the Observer placed him each day at strategic spots around the city where they expected clashes between protesters and police. He had to carry a bandana soaked in lemon juice to put over his mouth and eyes in case he got tear-gassed. The assignment worried me. So I wrote little love notes on yellow lined paper and slipped them into Sam’s wallet every morning.
I unfolded one of the notes and read it: “Sugar: You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. I love love love you. Have a fantastic (and safe) day. Love, Pacy.”
I blushed. “I forgot about these,” I said. “I didn’t know he kept them.”
At the top of the stairs, Cooper began to scratch at the bedroom door. He whimpered, then barked three times.
I turned to the door. “Excuse me, Detective,” I said, then went to check on Cooper.
I found him in the hallway. He looked at me and scratched again at the door. I walked over, placed my hand on the knob and paused. Then I pushed it open.
Cooper ran in and jumped on the bed. I watched him paw at the blankets on the side where Sam sleeps.
The blankets below him moved.
An arm emerged from under the covers. Cooper barked, then licked the arm.
I reached out to brace myself against the wall. It was Sam. He was back. He pulled the blanket off and sat up on his elbows. He looked around the room.
“What time is it?” he asked, as if it mattered.
I couldn’t respond, other than to whisper: “Sam.” I just stood there, staring at him, not sure if I was going to cry, run to him or collapse.
“Pacy?” he said. “What’s wrong?”
Cooper continued to jump around the bed. He licked his face and whined. I stayed silent.
“Pacy!” Sam said. “What the hell is going on?”
The first tear fell, then the next, then several more. I reached out to him, but did not approach. I was too scared. Sam seemed only confused.
Finally, I spoke:
“Where were you?”
From the hallway below, Detective Santoni called to me.
“Mrs. Smith?” he said. “Is everything OK up there?”