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DescriptionA young girl, a neighbor of Chicago tribune police reporter Snap Malek, has gone missing. Frantic, her parents enlist Snap's aid. Hoping to help locate the girl and bring attention to the plight of other missing children, Malek writes a feature story for the Trib about the girl's disappearance. Aid comes in an unusual way. A phone call from Rockford with an apparent tip takes Snap on a trip to the Northeast Illinois city and a surprising discovery. What is the truth?
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It had been a frantic day in the Police Headquarters press room, one of my busiest stints there in years.
I ended up phoning in four major stories to the Tribune city desk. One about a sergeant killed in a gun battle with a bank robber in Rogers Park; another centering on a fugitive cop killer who got flushed out of a field down in the south suburbs and surrendered; a third, a phone interview with the detective who tracked down and captured the so-called 'Smiling Rapist,' an attacker of more than forty women; and last, a surprise press conference on the second floor, in which the police commissioner announced that four members of the Vice Squad were being charged, incredibly, with running their own prostitution ring.
So on my ride home to Oak Park on the swaying Lake Street Elevated train that rainy early spring evening, I put work out of my mind and focused on one thing: The rib roast–my favorite dish–Catherine had promised for dinner. But when I opened our front door and walked into the spacious stucco house on Scoville Avenue, I knew immediately, from my wife's expression, that she had something on her mind other than dinner.
"You look troubled, my love," I said as we embraced in the front hall.
She nodded somberly, breaking the clinch. "You've met Susan Wallace, from the library."
"Yeah, the tall brunette with the pearly whites that probably glow in the dark, right? You introduced us once a few months back, when I picked you up at work." Catherine puts in three days a week at the Oak Park Public Library.
"That's her, a wonderful person, warm, caring. She's been an assistant librarian for only a few months, but she has fit in so well, almost as if she's been there forever. Everybody likes Susan."
"Ah, but I sense a shoe about to drop," I said.
"Oh, yes. Susan and I were shelving books together today, and she broke down, started sobbing right there in the stacks. She and her husband have only one child, a thirteen-year-old daughter, Patty. And she's been gone–missing, that is–for four days."
"Sounds to me like a runaway. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all too often."
Catherine shook her head. "I don't think so, Steve. I've met Patty three or four times, when she's stopped by the library after school. She's quiet but friendly, very polite. She seems like the last kid who'd want to run away."
"Was she acting normal recently?"
"So Susan told me, although she said Patty seemed a little quieter than usual in recent weeks."
"Well, kids that age do tend to go through all sorts of mood cycles, for all sorts of reasons, most of which seem insignificant to us uncomprehending adults. I assume her parents have checked with all her friends to see if, for some reason, she's staying with one of them."
"Yes, and of course they've called the Oak Park Police and filed a missing persons report."
"Hmm. I have to say the situation doesn't sound good. As you're aware, at least two teenage girls have been attacked in the village the last few weeks. One scared the bastard away by screaming, the other got knocked down, but the would-be rapist ran off when a motorist pulled over to see what was going on."
"I take it you're suggesting Patty Wallace wasn't so fortunate?" Catherine asked.
"Not necessarily, but it certainly is possible. As far as we know, the guy who attacked those two girls in this peaceful community is still at large. There's been nothing in our weekly paper about him being nailed. The one piece I read a few weeks back suggested the local cops didn't even get a good description of him from the two girls or the motorist who became a Good Samaritan."
Catherine dropped onto the living room sofa and kneaded her hands. "Susan asked me if you might be willing to write an article for the Trib about what's happened. She thought if Patty was…maybe being held somewhere, and if her picture ran with the article, a reader would remember having seen her with…with whoever took her."
"Darling, I can't blame your co-worker for suggesting such a piece, but that's really outside my normal area."
"That's what I told Susan. But she said neither she nor her husband have a connection with anyone else on a newspaper, and they thought of you. They're desperate."
"Let me think about it. Now, is that the delicious aroma of a rib roast that's tickling my nostrils?" I asked, helping Catherine to her feet and guiding her in the direction of the kitchen.
A Call from RockfordBy: Robert Goldsborough