21st Birthday Page 2

More accurately, she was screaming it.


Cindy lifted her eyes from her laptop, looked through her glass office wall that faced the newsroom, and saw a tall, nimble woman zigzagging through the maze of cubicles. She was taking the corners with the deftness of a polo pony as a security guard with a truck-sized spare tire chased her — and he was falling behind.

As a reporter, Cindy had a sharp eye for details. The woman shrieking her name wore yoga pants and a Bruins sweatshirt, a knit cap over chin-length brown hair, and mascara was bleeding down her cheeks. She looked determined — and deranged. The woman, who appeared to be in her mid-forties, didn’t slow as she raced toward Cindy’s open door, but a moment later, the lanky woman was inside Cindy’s office, both hands planted on her desk, black-rimmed red eyes fastened on hers.

She shouted at Cindy, “I’m Kathleen Wyatt. K.Y. You remember?”

“Your screen name.”

Wyatt said, “I posted on your crime blog this morning. My daughter and her little baby girl are missing and her husband killed them.”

Security guard Sean Arsenault pulled up to the doorway, panting. “I’m sorry, Ms. Thomas. You,” he said to the woman who was leaning over the desk. “You come with me. Now.”

Cindy said, “Kathleen, are you armed?”

“Be serious.”

“Stand by, Sean,” Cindy said. “Kathleen. Sit down.”

The guard said that he would be right outside the door and took a position a few feet away. Cindy turned her attention back to the woman now sitting in the chair across from her desk and ignored the inquisitive eyes of the writers in the newsroom peering through her glass office wall.

Cindy said, “I remember you now. Kathleen, I had to take down your post from my blog.”

“He beats her. They’re gone.”

Cindy’s publisher and editor in chief, Henry Tyler, leaned into her office. “Everything okay, Cindy?”

“Thanks, Henry. We’re fine.”

He nodded, then tapped the face of his watch.

Cindy nodded acknowledgment of the six o’clock closing. Her story about a shooting in the Tenderloin was in the polish phase. Henry had a word with Sean and then closed the door.

Cindy turned back to Kathleen Wyatt, saying, “You accused a man of murder and used his name. The rules are right there on the site. No vulgarity, name-calling, or personal attacks. He could sue you for defamation. He could keep the Chronicle in court until the next ice age.”

Wyatt said, “You come across as such a nice person, Cindy. But like everyone else, you’re all about the money.”

“You’re doing it again, Kathleen. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

The woman folded her arms over Cindy’s desk, dropped her head, and sobbed. Cindy thought Kathleen Wyatt seemed out of her mind with fear.

Cindy said, “Kathleen. Kathleen, do you know for a fact that this man murdered your daughter and granddaughter?”

Kathleen lifted her head and shook it. “No.”

Cindy said, “Another question. Have you called the police?”

This time when Kathleen Wyatt raised her head, she said, “Yes. Yes, yes, yes, but have they found the baby? No.”


WHILE KATHLEEN WYATT dried her eyes with her sweatshirt, Cindy retrieved the post she’d deleted this morning and read it again.

Kathleen had written about her son-in-law, Lucas Burke, using ALL CAPS to shout that Burke had abused her daughter, Tara, and that he’d even been violent with their baby, Lorrie. Kathleen had written that she was terrified for them both and trusted her gut.

Cindy had seen the post a few minutes after Kathleen had submitted it. The screaming capital letters, many misspellings, and the nature of the post unloaded on a newspaper blog made the poster sound crazy. Or like a troll.

Now that Kathleen had told Cindy the story to her face, her credibility had risen. But, damn it, Cindy couldn’t know if Kathleen was paranoid or in an understandable panic that her loved ones could be in danger — or worse. Her fear was relatable and the idea of a murderous husband plausible. It happened too often. And that it may have happened since Kathleen posted her cri de coeur this morning made Cindy feel awful and guilty. And still, there was nothing she could do to help.

Kathleen slapped the desk to draw Cindy’s attention.

Her voice was rough from yelling but she said, “I called the police as soon as I couldn’t locate Tara. And after you call the police once or three times, you have to beg them to pay attention. But I did it. My daughter’s twenty now. An adult. The cops called in the K-9 unit, put out an Amber Alert on my granddaughter. Or so they say. It hasn’t come through on my phone.”

Cindy said, “The missing baby — what’d you say, she’s a year old?”

“Closer to a year and a half.”

“They’re looking for her.”

Kathleen reached into her fanny pack and pulled out a picture of mother and child. Tara was a brunette like Kathleen, and Lorrie was a redhead. They both looked very young.

“Lorrie is sixteen months old to be exact. My daughter is always home all day with the baby. I went over there. The house is empty. Her car is gone. I’ve called her and called her and we always, always speak in the morning after Lucas has gone to work. That baby could be dead already. If you’d run this picture in the paper six hours ago —”

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