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Into thin air


Sequel to Vanished


Part One


Charles Baxter

The district attorney was one tough lady. She had been hard on every witness in the cross examination and well, let’s face it, it didn’t look good for me.

Her closing was quite smashing as well and one look at my sorry excuse for an attorney confirmed that I was indeed gutted.

Well, that was one reason to simply lean back and enjoy her last big appearance, wasn’t it? And I am talking appearance. It wasn’t that I was keen on listening to her recounting once again why I was guilty as the devil and belonged behind bars for a very long time.

Although she was talking in a very elaborated way and did one hell of a good job – I know what I am talking about, I’ve been on trial dozens of times – it were those longs legs she was pacing on in front of the jury that caught my interest.

Long, slim and perfect- just the way I like it. You know, I didn’t blame her for trying to put me behind bars. Been there quite a few times already. It usually doesn’t take long for my pals to get me out one way or another. If I had actually done all of the time I have been sentenced to, I would be in prison until judgment day.

Anyway, I stared at her slender legs and the high pointed black heels she was wearing with her tight outfit. Although the skirt was modest and ended just above her knee, it looked racy on her.

She had probably picked her hottest outfit for the last day of trial to confuse male jury members. Pointless, though, since her closing alone was good enough to make them lynch anyone who dared to speak out in my favor back in the jury room. That decision would probably be made within ten minutes.

I was silently wondering whether I should offer my dumb lawyer a bet, but then – at last – something interesting happened.

The district attorney paused and at first – given the fact that I hadn’t been listening to anything she’d said during the last five minutes – I believed that she was pausing for effect, but then she touched her forehead and started swaying.

Another little show for effect? Hardly.

Then she grabbed the sidebar. Ha- great. A nice change from the usual “Can I have a sidebar, please?”.

She lost her footing, high heeled shoes and all sliding away to one side while the delicious rest of her made uncomfortable contact with the floor.

The bailiff was on his feet before anyone else was and kneeled down next to her, feeling for her pulse.

And that was that. The court was adjourned and I sincerely hoped to see her back the next time. When I would come in with a lawyer more capable than the one I had now- hopefully.

Jean Baker

I had seen my share of worried husbands and this one would have been as good as any, hadn’t he been that good-looking. Too bad he was already married to his impossible wife.

“I need to see my wife please,” he said, still polite enough to not attract my anger, but when he said his name and that of his wife, I couldn’t help but purse my lips.

“Oh yes, I know who you are talking about, Sir,” I told him without consulting the register and could just bite back a jolt of laughter at the look in his eyes. He was obviously used to apologizing for her.

“Is she okay?” he asked and nervously glanced towards the ER doors.

“She’s fine. We have transferred her to a room. She needs a little rest right now.”

And we couldn’t stand her around other patients who actually needed rest. What this woman needed was a muzzle.

“Can I see her now?”


You’re the only one who actually wants to be anywhere within a five mile radius of her...

I pointed towards the next corridor.

“Room 1235. Beware.”

He didn’t even flinch at my comment, which confirmed my first assumption that he was not at all surprised by people’s reactions to her.


I stepped into the hospital room and found Miss Parker on the bed, her eyes closed and her feet bare. She was wearing that same outfit that she had been wearing when she had kissed me goodbye this morning on her way to court, but instead of powerful and tough she now looked rather drained and vulnerable.

“Hey…” I called softly and she opened her eyes, turning her head towards me.

“Just about time you came,” she said and reached her hand out for me. I grabbed it and kissed her knuckles, then pulled her close.

“What have you been doing again?” I asked, wondering how she had managed to end up in hospital this time. One time her closing argument had been so Miss Parker style – meaning cynic and mean – that the defendant had grabbed her and tried to strangle her. I’d been sick with worry when I’d heard but when I’d arrived in hospital, I had found him far worse off than her. What was it this time?

“I fainted,” she said and shook her head in embarrassment.

“Fainted?” I asked, alarmed.

Her shoulders sank. “In the middle of a closing, can you imagine? How horribly, horribly embarrassing.”

I found it more worrying than anything.

“Have you eaten?”

She nodded. “You forced me, remember?”

I sat down on her bed and pulled her towards me, glad that she hadn’t hurt herself worse while falling. She rested her head against my shoulder and sighed.

“I can’t really remember that last moment before I fell, you know. I recall that there was something weird but I can’t say what.”

“Maybe you’re just stressed. You’ve been working on too many cases at a time.”

“Oh shut up,” she said, but I could see that she had already spent all the energy her flaring temper gave her on the hospital staff. It had been pretty clear from the way the nurse who’d admitted her had looked at me when I’d said her name. I usually choose to ignore people’s animosities towards my wife because there isn’t much I can do against them.

“Where’s Sammy?” she asked.

“I asked Sydney to pick her up after preschool.”

Parker sank back into the pillows and looked at our now entwined hands.

“It sucks to faint in court,” she said, gloomily. “I only regained consciousness when I came back here. Damn. I was so proud of all of the lawyers being afraid of me.”

I chuckled. “They’ll still be.”

She shook her head. “Not if word goes round that I tried to grab the sidebar and then hit the floor. This will be the subject of millions of terrible jokes, believe me.”

“Nah, take a few days off and you’ll be back with a vengeance.”

“Take a few days off? Are you mad? Not with the mountain of paperwork on my…”

She was interrupted by a doctor young enough to still be an intern who stepped in and smiled. Parker was known to pick up on other people’s insecurities immediately, but she was usually softer in my presence. So she didn’t snap at him, but simply raised an eyebrow.

“Now, can I take her home?” I opted for a forced cheerful tone to make up for her moody reaction although I knew that she hated it when I did that.

“You can. I just need to deliver the test results.”

“Am I going to die?” she asked in an annoyed tone, dripping with sarcasm. The intern took it well although there definitely was a moment of confusion.

“Not that I knew of,” he responded. “You’re pregnant, Mrs. Parker.”

Miss Parker,” she corrected and he began to flip through his chart. “I thought you were…”

But I had long stopped listening when he found out that she was married, ignorant of the fact that she still preferred to be called “Miss Parker”.

I wrapped my arms around her and, with all the confusion in my mind, thought back to the last time I had been told that she was pregnant. It hadn’t been a happy moment at all, because I had been shaken and feeling betrayed by her.

Now it was entirely different. I had a family with Miss Parker and our daughter Samantha and an addition to that family was very welcome. It also explained her fainting and relieved me of my worry for my wife’s health.

The intern stood next to the door, looking down at his shoes and I contemplated waving him away for a moment, but then just closed my eyes and enjoyed Parker’s closeness. We were very busy with our jobs lately and with spending quality time with our daughter we didn’t have as much of each other as we wanted to.

When I finally let her go, the intern cleared his throat.

“Well, Miss Parker, you are already eleven weeks along.”

“And we didn’t notice. I told you you were working too much.”


Parker and I looked at each other when I stopped our car in the driveway and I leaned over to give her a kiss before we got out. She returned it weakly, which I appointed to her exhaustion.

“I can’t believe it,” I finally choked out and pulled her close as far as it is possible in a car.

“Oh, I can. I told you we weren’t careful enough.” Her voice sounded a bit strained and I only now realized that she had been uncharacteristically quiet on the way home. With that my whole excitement was vaporized at once.

I reached for her hand and gently squeezed it.

“You’re not as happy as I am, are you?”

Over the last years we had gradually learned to avoid conflicts by means of simply addressing issues instead of tiptoeing around our problems. She took a deep breath.

“I just got my career underway again. It will be a bit of a stretch to manage another child. I already feel like I should spend more time with Sammy.”

I immediately knew that, although she might be worrying about that fact, too, she was keeping something from me.

“What is it, really?” I asked her, desperately wishing that very moment that we had pet names for each other just so I would have another means to express to her how tenderly I felt about her and that she didn’t have any reason to keep secrets from me.

“The Centre,” she replied after a long silence.

“They’re gone, Parker.”

“What if they’re not?”

She still regularly woke up screaming from nightmares about that place. It had shown me how much more tormented she was by it than me although she had worked for them and I was the one who had been their prisoner.

“Project Cassandra died with Raines and Lyle. You don’t need to be afraid.”

“I am not afraid.” Her eyes were blazing with determination again and I couldn’t help but wonder why it had taken me that long to fall in love with her back then.

“There’s something else.”

I looked at her in silence, aware of the fact that she would come around herself without me asking rhetorically. I could see the pain in her eyes and wondered whether she didn’t actually want another baby. She had said more than once that she wasn’t meant to be a mother when she had first been pregnant. But she had always been perfect with our daughter Samantha, who was a bright and happy child. There was no reason for her to still question her abilities as a parent.

“It’s the anniversary of my miscarriage today. It is a curious feeling. It feels almost like a warning.”

She gently rested her hand on her stomach and allowed me to fully look into her eyes. “I just feel that something is wrong, Jarod.”

In retrospect I now understood the anxious look in her eyes while the doctor had examined her. She had probably expected him to tell her something was wrong all along.

“Don’t worry, Parker. We will take care of the baby and we won’t allow anything to happen.”

“What if it is out of our hands?”

I looked down at said hands, hers covering her lower abdomen, mine covering hers.

“I didn’t even notice I was pregnant. What kind of mother does that make me?”

She wasn’t one to whine and her voice sounded firm and steady, which only gave the self-accusation more weight.

“Stop beating yourself up. You are a good mother to Sammy and you know that. Given your background, you should be doing all kinds of things wrong, but you never have.”

Miss Parker closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again and looked at me with a bit of relief.

“Maybe we can make this work.”

Miss Parker

Jarod had put his arm around my shoulder and we walked up the driveway, close to each other. I breathed in his scent and was about to steal a kiss when we were interrupted by the voice of our neighbor. She was a pretty woman in her thirties- the hip type that was not exactly classy but always dressed perkily in bright colors. She was the type of woman who owned a strange fluffy breed of dog and greeted her equally stylish husband with an ipod in her ears, bouncing up and down by the mailbox. In other words: She was exactly the sort of person I detested.

Her shrieks that had deprived me of a tender kiss from my husband ringing in my ears, I turned to face her garden over the fence.

She was standing right in the middle of it, lamenting to a police officer and I wondered whether that was some trashy stunt for attention, but then found real tears on her cheeks.

“He was playing in the garden! I only went inside to answer the phone…” she sobbed and with a pang of guilt I realized that something horrible must have happened.

When Jarod’s grip around my waist tightened, I realized that he, too, was selfishly thinking about our own child right now.

“Sir, Ma’am, can you join us for a moment?” the officer called and we obediently walked over to them.

“Mrs Hanson’s son, Donald, has been missing for seven hours.”

My heart seemed to contract at the thought of the missing child. Donald was a five year old, strawberry blond little boy whose delighted grin made him the sunshine of the neighborhood while Samantha was more like me, a bit reserved and shy while she seemed to have inherited her father’s sense of humor.

Linda Hanson was crying for real now and the devastated look of the officer told me that he expected me, as the only woman present, to comfort her. Unfortunately my people skills hadn’t exactly improved with my job as a prosecutor. So I touched her shoulder and started to mumble platitudes, all the time wishing that I could be of real help.

“Do you think she was kidnapped?” Jarod asked and I knew that he was pretty close to switching to pretender mode. His job as a doctor in a nearby hospital and his giving up his nomad lifestyle didn’t allow for pretends anymore, although I was strongly suspecting him of using his two weeks vacation a year that he allegedly spent fishing with Sydney to help some poor soul instead. He thought that I didn’t suspect a thing, but even I could see that he didn’t even know how to hold a fishing-pole.

“We don’t know yet, Sir. Have you been away all day?”

I saw Jarod’s eyes light up briefly and immediately knew that he was about to tell the officer what he had learned today, so I stopped him. It didn’t matter now and would certainly not benefit Linda to find out that we were expecting another child.

Linda’s husband Jeff joined us, pale as a sheet and nodded at me absently.

“I’ve called all his friends in the area. They haven’t seen him.”

“We will probably come by for further investigation,” the officer told us, obviously meaning for us to go away.

“Call us anytime you need anything, okay?” I told Linda and she nodded tearfully, squeezing my hand back.

When we were back in our house, Jarod closed the door behind us and placed a kiss on my forehead.

“How horrible,” I said. “I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to…” I was interrupted by sounds coming from the kitchen. Sydney and Samantha seemed to be banging cupboard doors and I could hear the distinctive sound of something sizzling in a pan. Our house was warm and inviting and I even felt moved by some of Sammy’s toys that she had left in the hallway although I always told her not to.

I picked up the little pink toy pig and followed Jarod into the kitchen. We paused at the door before we opened it and I touched Jarod’s hip gently. “Please don’t tell her yet, okay?”

He turned around, looking puzzled. “Why not? She’ll be over the moon to have a sibling. You know how much she’s always wanted one.”

I nodded, trying not to look evasive. “Jarod, all sorts of things can happen. I wouldn’t want her upset if I… if I…” I cleared my throat. “If anything would happen to the baby.”

He nodded, accepting my request and led me into the kitchen.

Sammy was sitting at the counter, watching Sydney prepare what smelled like his famous chicken curry at the stove that was located in the middle of the spacious kitchen. Although I rarely cooked anything more fancy than peas and carrots, I loved the room that was separated from the large living room only by a long counter. The windows overlooked the nearby lake that now lay perfectly still in the last glow of the evening sun.

Sammy looked up at the sound of the door opening and especially with the impression of what I had just witnessed, my heart surged at the sight of her. She had blue eyes, a little darker than mine and very dark hair that reached down to her shoulders. Although she was still so young and a bit clumsy at times, she carried herself with a certain grace that Jarod appointed to her watching me move around. I saw Jarod’s radiant smile on her face as she approached and threw her arms around me.

“Mommy! How did your trial go?”

“Ummm… great.” I said, giving a thankful look to Sydney who had obviously deemed it better not to upset her by telling her that I had been rushed to hospital. Sydney came towards us, too, drying his hands on a towel.

Years ago we had all opted to move away from Blue Cove that had held too many bad memories for all of us. Still we felt like family and so he had followed us to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. like Broots, who now worked for the Ministry of Defense as a computer specialist.

He hugged first Jarod, then me, as he always did when he saw us. Given the fact that he was around for dinner at least once a week, I received many hugs from him lately. When we had still been a team chasing Jarod, this would have been unthinkable- him, hugging me and kissing my cheek. I might have broken his arm. Now it had become normal, just like many other things.

“Daddy, I can show you something I drew today! I drew you and Kenny today!” Sammy exclaimed and grabbed Jarod’s hand to pull him upstairs. He grinned and shrugged, then gave in and followed her upstairs so Sydney and I were left to our own devices.

“You look pale, Parker. What is wrong?” he addressed it immediately.

“I fainted in court,” I admitted and held up a hand. “Do not worry, okay? I know why. I’m pregnant.”

A huge grin formed on Sydney’s lips and he dropped the spoon that he had used to stir the chicken and approached me, hugging me once again. “That’s wonderful news! Congratulations!”

“Thank you,” I murmured, feeling ashamed of the feeling of foreboding that began to plague me once again. While he couldn’t see it because he was still holding me, I rubbed my stomach gently, imagining the tiny life inside. Something was wrong, I could feel it. I didn’t know why but I was convinced that I was in for pain and heartache. I thought about Linda who must be going insane at the notion that some criminal had taken hold of her son and I swallowed, knowing that I would, too, be devastated with the loss of a life I had only learned of today.

“How far along are you?” Sydney asked as enthusiastically as if the baby was his grandchild by blood.

“Eleven weeks,” I replied, suddenly more worried than before. I had been pregnant for almost three months without noticing, putting myself through periods of less than five hours of sleep a night, long days at the office and endless attempts to manage household chores while I should have been resting in the weekends. What if it was my fault that something was wrong? I could feel my throat contract already and Sydney’s concerned “Parker?” was nearly lost on me while I stumbled backwards against the counter, holding on to it for dear life.

Then the feeling of dread subsided and I found myself suddenly fighting a violent nausea. Another pregnancy symptom I had chosen to ignore. Breathing in deeply, I was glad for Sydney’s arm that steadied me. A moment later I found myself on the couch, looking into his kind eyes.

“What is wrong with you, Parker?” he asked, not inquisitively but calmly and somewhat radiating wisdom. I had often taunted him for that attitude when we had still been working for the Centre, but today I was grateful for it.

“Syd, I think I am having those…” I trailed off. How was I to call it? Visions? No, I didn’t have any of those, but I had foreboding feelings and I knew I could trust them.

“You mean you’re as perceptive as you were during your last pregnancy?”

I nodded, relieved that he had understood so quickly what I meant.

“Exactly. I cannot really tell Jarod, but I have a bad feeling about the baby. I… I am afraid something’s wrong with this pregnancy.”


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