Thanksgiving Day, 1989
Catherine Lyons glanced around the faces at the dining room table. Her father and Melvin Fitzpatrick were arguing about who would win the Thanksgiving Day football game, the Cowboys or the Broncos. Of course, Papa thought it would be the Broncos by two touchdowns.
“Go ahead and tell them,” Sarah Fitzpatrick whispered, elbowing Cat.
For the last eight years, her family had celebrated Thanksgiving with the Fitzpatricks. Both of Catherine’s parents were only children and their parents dead. That first Thanksgiving, when the Fitzpatricks discovered the situation, they had adopted Lyons into their big Irish family. Since that time, holidays were celebrated with the Fitzpatricks, all seven of them. When they invited their family—-all aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, it was a houseful filled with noise, laughter, and joy.
Catherine glanced at her friend. “I’m waiting for the right moment.”
“You better tell them before the FBI shows up.”
Sarah had a point. She didn’t want to freak out her parents. They might think the FBI was here for a different reason.
“What mischief are you two thinking up?” Melvin asked putting down his glass.
Diane looked at her daughter. “I was wondering that myself with all that whispering over there.” The baby grabbed a handful of peas off his plate and threw them at Eva Fitzpatrick. He giggled in delight.
Diane smacked her son’s hand. “No, Peter.”
Eva laughed. “Don’t worry, Diane. I won’t tell you what Tom threw at Sarah and John when he was two and a half.”
John blushed. There was nothing like being embarrassed by your mother especially when you’ve just turned fifteen and have a face full of pimples.
Diane turned back to her daughter. “What do you have to tell us?”
Glancing around at the table, seeing all seven questioning faces, Cat’s stomach lurched. “Do you remember that big demonstration they had at the University?”
All four adults nodded.
“The students were protesting the CIA being on campus,” her dad said. “Of course, what did the CIA think when they went to Boulder. CU isn’t exactly conservative these days.”
Sarah rested her forearms on the table and leaned in. “We were walking through the patio when we saw this crowd.” Excitement rang in her voice. “There was shouting and, uh, words we don’t use, being shouted out. Curious to see what the problem was, we stopped.”
“Is there more to this story?” Diane asked.
From her mother’s tone, Catherine knew Diane was upset.
Sarah leaned back and motioned for Cat to speak.
“I interviewed with them.”
The room fell silent.
“You interviewed with the CIA?” Eva asked.
“She did,” Sarah added. “Oh, it was so exciting.”
Swallowing hard, Cat continued, “The FBI should show up to interview you about me, and do background checks on us and our neighbors.”
“Cool,” John, the oldest Fitzpatrick son, said. “Wait ‘til everyone at school hears this.”
“Is this want you want to do?” her father asked.
“I think so. You know I took to French in high school. I’m also thinking of taking another language at school. Either German or Russian.”
Her father seemed to go pale.
Seeing his reaction, she quickly added, “The CIA needs people who know different languages. I can’t think of anything more exciting. Or more patriotic.”
Peter let loose a loud cry. Her mother picked him up. “I think it’s past his nap time.”
“Don’t worry, Diane.” Eva Fitzpatrick waved her friend away. “Go put the baby down. The rest of us will clean up the kitchen.”
Grabbing Peter, Diane disappeared.
As they were collecting the dishes after the meal, her father stepped to her side. “Have you really thought about this? You want this, Cat? It’s just not the glamorous idea of working for the CIA.”
“I think so.”
He kissed her cheek, but there was a sadness in his eyes that she didn’t understand.
Christmas Vacation, 1989
Catherine unlocked the front door. “Mom, Dad, I’m home.”
Her voice echoed through the empty house. She closed the door and stopped. There was an unnatural stillness to the house--a mustiness of a closed-up house.
That didn’t make sense.
“Mom? Peter?” she called, walking through the living room. No one was there. “Mom.” She ran into the kitchen to where Peter and her mother were usually found. Cat stopped short. The kitchen was perfect. None of Peter’s toys littered the floor or table. No dishes were in the sink or dishwasher.
“Mom?” she yelled up the backstairs. Her family labeled these stairs as the ”sneak-up” set. If you didn’t want to be seen, these were the steps you took. “Mom,” she called again racing up the steps.
She came to her parents’ room. It was immaculate. The bed made. She ran into the bathroom. Her dad’s shaver was in the medicine cabinet. Her mother’s make-up on the shelf above.
Walking back into her parent’s bedroom, she slid open the closet door. All their clothes were there, along with shoes and suitcases.
She went into the baby’s room. His toys were there, along with diapers, and his clothes. Racing down the back stairs, she opened the door to the garage. The car was missing.
They were out shopping, she told herself. A wave of relief washed over her. Wanting a Coke, she walked to the refrigerator and opened it. The smell of old turkey and soured milk smacked her in the face. After she waved away the odor, she looked inside. Nothing had changed or been moved since she left for school the Sunday after Thanksgiving. She looked at the date on the milk...11/30.
Panic seized her. She ran through the house, out the front door, and ran to the Fitzpatrick’s house. She didn’t bother knocking, but flung open the front door and raced inside.
Sarah and her mother were in the kitchen sharing a pot of tea.
“Cat, what’s wrong?” Sarah asked.
She ignored her friend. “Mrs. Fitzpatrick, have you seen my parents lately?”
Eva’s brows wrinkled. “Come to think of it...no, I haven’t. My brother was in a car accident. We’ve been at the hospital. I don’t remember seeing them. Why?”
“Because no one is home and the refrigerator is full of rancid milk and turkey. Nothing has been touched since I left for school after the Thanksgiving break.”
“Surely you’re wrong,” Sarah said.
“The milk expiration date is 11/30.”
Both women frowned.
Eva set her tea down. “Surely there’s an explanation. Haven’t you talked to your mom since you went back to school?”
“I’ve called a couple of times, but haven’t gotten anyone. I thought—-” she shrugged “--classes were winding down--” Cat’s panic subsided. “You’re probably right.”
“Come have some tea with us. Just wait until tonight.”
Cat held the stuffed giraffe in her arms as she rocked in Pete’s favorite chair. His pooh bear was nowhere to be found. She’d searched the house but couldn’t find it. Pete never went anywhere without his pooh bear.
The streetlight pierced the darkness of the room. The clock read 3:24 AM.
Her parents had not come back tonight. They had not been seen since that Sunday she left for college. They simply disappeared.
No word. No message. No contact.
Her family was gone.
She’d notified the police. They would start looking tomorrow.
Had they been kidnapped? Murdered? What had happened to them?
She hugged the giraffe to her heart, tears streaming down her face.
She was alone.