Chapter 5

"Are you our guy?"


Police Search for Missing Atlanta Mother
Byline: Alex Crusoe
Section: State News; Section C, Page 04

 
Blairsville, Ga. – Union County police officers are searching for a missing Atlanta woman on Brasstown Bald.
 
Susannah Wiley, 34, has been missing since Tuesday morning, when she was last seen dropping off her 9-year-old daughter at E. Rivers Elementary, police say. She never returned to collect her daughter after school.
 
Her friends were not that worried at first. “Susie is one of the most dedicated moms I know,” said Mary June Pittson, whose son is in the same grade at E. Rivers. “But she can be forgetful.”
 
Husband Frank Wiley did not notify the police of his wife’s absence until Wednesday morning, only an hour before a Brasstown Bald park ranger found Mrs. Wiley’s Volvo station wagon in a lot near the Arkaquah Trail. Police performed a thorough search of the car and removed some items for further analysis.
 
A stay-at-home mom, Mrs. Wiley is best known around her Buckhead neighborhood for her elaborately patterned dresses and a collection of turbans. “She used to be a painter or something,” Arlene Kodiak says of her next-door neighbor, “before she became a mom.”
 
Local police searched the Track Rock Road area Wednesday but did not have the equipment to lead a full-scale search up the trail, which leads to the highest point in Georgia. “We’re enlisting the help of mountain rescue and experienced hikers,” Lt. Doug Ahearn said Wednesday evening. “Our hope is to find her in time.”
 
Sources close to the Wiley family are less optimistic. “There’s only one reason she’d leave that girl of hers,” Mrs. Kodiak says. “And that’s if she had no other choice.”
 
**
 
Grant sat back and kneaded his palms over his eyes.
 
“What the—” Jules started.
 
Before she could finish, he stood to walk the open carpet behind them. Over the two decades he’d known El, he’d only gathered snippets about her mother, details dropped into unrelated stories, her name lettered on the inside covers of a few books. She’d committed suicide, he knew, but not how or where, or that Eliot had been one of the last people to see her alive and among the first to know something had happened. He knew El’s mother loved Carole King and Joan Didion. He knew she used to drink white wine with ice cubes and let Eliot finger paint their living room walls. He’d seen that Polaroid. Still, Susannah Wiley had been as real to Grant as Paul Bunyan or the Tooth Fairy, all legend and tall tale, easily forgotten. But now, to think of that March morning, that afternoon. Eliot waiting in that carpool line. Frank on the phone to the police. It all felt real in a way it hadn’t before. It felt like growing up.
 
His leg stopped aching after a few minutes, so he went back to his chair, where Jules waited with her mouth open.
 
“Do you think—” she said. “This last line. ‘No other choice.’ Are they implying someone killed her?” She turned a dial to zoom in. “And this bit about the analysis? That sounds suspicious.”
 
Grant tried to focus on what her questions might mean, the letters of Frank’s name pulsing behind his eyes, but the thought just made him dizzy. Even seated, he worried he might tumble to the floor.
 
 “The 15th,” he said finally. “Didn’t she have the 15th on the list?”
 
Jules advanced through the rest of March 14th more quickly, pausing only long enough to scan the headlines. “I don’t get it,” she kept saying. “Why would he wait until the next day to call the police?”
 
When they landed on the front page of March 15th, Grant mashed the print button until he heard pages spill from the machine by his feet.
 
“Any reason we needed 900 copies?” Jules asked bending to gather the loose pages. “You know it’s 10 cents a page, right?”
 
“Sorry,” Grant said, standing. “I need some air. I’ll be back in a minute.”
 
“And these?” Jules asked, holding up the extra sheets.
 
He swiped one and pointed to a box near the desk. “See that? They recycle.”
 
Outside, the air nipped at his arms and ears. He walked to the far side of the steps, past where men in oily shirts and ball caps tossed chunks of bread to the pigeons. Just over the wall, Forsyth Street whistled with sudden brakes and car horns.
 
His phone chimed with new emails, so he took a second to delete the reminders to pay his cable bill and set his line-up for his Fantasy team, the coupons for the Gap and limited-time-only deals on Goodyear tires. He skimmed an email from Allen Roberts with attachments and a request for Grant to stop by his office, the sooner the better.
 
In his camera app, he found the number to Frank’s room and dialed it. The phone rang and rang, but no one picked up. He called the number listed on the website and got shuttled between nurses and operators until he reached an administrator who said there’d been no change in Frank’s condition.
 
“We’re missing some necessary forms,” said the woman. “Do you know if he has a D.N.R.?”
 
Grant called Sunset Villas next to ask about the paperwork. The gum-chewing woman who answered said the residents were responsible for their own valuables. “Maybe it’s in his apartment?” she smacked.
          
“Thanks anyway,” he said.
 
Jules’s questions kept cycling through his head like propeller blades. The article’s language had been vague, their implications apparent only if you wanted to find them, but he couldn’t ignore the prickles they brought to the back of his neck. Why didn’t he know more about Susannah’s death? All those nights splitting bottles of bourbon with Eliot, all their late night phone calls across time zones, why did the topic never come up? Even in her syrupy seasons of depression, when the most communication she could muster took the form of one-line emails sent at 3 am, why did her burden never seem to include losing her mother? And why had he never thought to ask?
 
If only Frank were awake, he could ask him. He could look him right in the eye. Not that the hospital gave him any reason to hope the man would emerge from his coma soon, if ever. Asking for his D.N.R. wasn’t a good sign.
 
He leaned against the low stone wall, tapping his phone against his chin. He could call his parents, ask one of them to go to the hospital. Maybe having someone there, talking to the doctors, would help. His parents had always liked Frank, even if his dad called him “the accountant,” despite Frank’s forty-year career in computer programming. Retired, his parents now puttered around the house all day, reorganizing the attic or reading thick hardcover biographies. They would go to the hospital if he asked them to, but then he’d have to tell them that El was missing, which would send his mom into heart palpitations and his dad into his Buick, driving around Eliot’s neighborhood, hollering her name from his window as if she were a pet. With only sons, his parents thought of Eliot as a surrogate daughter. He’d never be able to shake them, or the sound of fear in their voices, once they knew.
 
That was when his phone rang and, distracted, he answered without checking the screen.
 
“You’re a hard man to get a hold of,” Allen Roberts said, a smile as slick as his hair in those words. “You aren’t avoiding me, are you?”
 
“No, sir,” Grant said. He cringed, remembering that Roberts hated to be called “sir,” especially by someone “with whom he did business.” Roberts had told him this often enough, but the word was reflex to Grant, like walking between a woman and the road. When speaking to a man who spent weekends in Asia and leased his own jet, Grant was going to say ‘sir.’
 
Thankfully, Roberts ignored the gaff this time. “I sent you some documents. The updated logo, the linen estimates. I need your feedback A.S.A.P.”
 
“Yes, sorry,” Grant stammered. “I’ve had something come up today. Something personal. Can it wait?”
 
Roberts stayed silent for a moment. The thump of a car door closed in the background. “We need you to be our guy, Grant,” he said finally. “Are you our guy?”
 
Roberts had asked him the same question six months back, when he offered the deal. Grant’s own restaurant, his own menu. Everything he’d ever wanted like a glittering ball of light he could reach out and touch. Are you our guy? But this time, Roberts sounded skeptical.
 
“I would hate to have to go in another direction this late in the game.”
 
Grant felt his stomach churning. “I’m your guy. No doubt. Just give me until tomorrow morning.”
 
“10 am. I’m meeting with Curtis and Doyle then. Don’t let me down.”
 
“I won’t,” he said about four times before he realized Roberts had hung up.
 
Looking at his phone, he noticed an alert from Twitter. YAWPmusic had accepted his follow request. Grant shielded the screen from the sun so he could read the guy’s feed.
 
Whoever he was, YAWPmusic liked to tweet. Post after post about some DJ or soundboard, wobbly videos of strobe lights, lengthy threads about the lineup at Imagine Music Fest. Grant clicked on a few links to YouTube videos for DJ YAWP, spiraled tracks of rapid-fire beats and echoes. Distorted notes like the Doppler Effect. Back on Twitter, he started clicking on every link and image until he stumbled on a flyer from a week before. A showcase at the Music Room, twenty or so different names on the bill, including DJ Yawp. The same night Jules last saw El at Noni’s. It must have been the show they had intended to see. The one Jules went to alone. Why hadn’t she told him this when he’d asked about YAWPmusic? Did she know this guy? Was she covering for him?
 
He felt a tremor up his legs as he walked back into the library. He could hear the inside of his chest. His only dream on the line, he couldn’t waste any more time.
 
Upstairs, Jules’s chair was empty. The glass plate on the micro-film machine yawned open, the bulb blaring a white light. No librarians at their desk either. He needed Jules to explain herself, but at the same time, he didn’t want to tip her off, not if there was more to her story than she was telling. So he wrote a quick note on a sheet of paper from the recycling bin and left it by their machine.
 
He was halfway to his truck when Nick answered. “I need a favor,” he said, instead of hello.