“My memory of that time is so… disjointed,” Ginger said. “It’s hard to tell what was real and what was just a nightmare. Sometimes I can see why it was so easy for the police to say it was all a hoax.”
They sat in Ginger’s well-lit living room. The furniture was rustic: stained cedar chairs and a couch with upholstered cushions the color of a blood orange. The floors were all hard wood, polished to a gleeful shine and covered with area rugs. There were potted plants and flowers everywhere. Josie felt like she was in a garden. Ginger’s husband was at work, her daughters at school. She listened as Josie recounted what she knew about the Isabelle Coleman case. She didn’t go into detail about June murdering Sherri Gosnell. Instead she only said that June had been recently recovered and that Josie believed she may have come into contact with Coleman at some point. She didn’t mention the tongue piercing. Ginger listened intently and then promised Josie one hour, but no more than that.
Ginger sat straight-backed in one of the chairs. Marlowe sat beside her, and she absently stroked the back of his head as she spoke. He kept his eyes on Josie, an almost bored expression on his face. Occasionally, Ginger’s fingers would knead the area just behind his ears, and he would close his eyes in pure ecstasy.
“I hate to ask you to relive it,” Josie said. “Believe me. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on and if there are any connections between your case and the Coleman and Spencer cases.”
“Where should I start?” Ginger asked.
“Let’s start with what you do remember. Like that morning. Take me through your day.”
Ginger’s eyes drifted
to a point over Josie’s shoulder, like she was watching the memory play out on
a screen behind Josie. “I got up. Had
coffee with Ed before he left for work. He always left early, usually before the girls were even up. Our middle daughter had been invited to a sleepover. She hadn’t slept out of the house before, and we were trying to decide whether to let her or not. I said yes because I knew the family pretty well, but Ed said no because he never trusts anyone.”
At this, Ginger gave a pained smile. The mastiff turned and looked at her, perhaps sensing the change in mood. She gave the dog a sweet smile, and he huffed and turned his gaze back to Josie. Ginger went on, “My husband has good instincts—never trusting anyone with his girls. Anyway, we said we’d talk about it again later. I got the girls up and ready for school. I remember my youngest had buttoned her sweater herself that morning, and we were all exclaiming over what a great job she did. Then my oldest had to point out that she’d started on the wrong button so the whole thing was crooked.”
She sighed and let out a small laugh. “Kids. Anyway, I took them to school, came home, straightened up a bit. Then I headed off to the grocery store. I took the long drive to Denton; the store there just has a bigger selection. I was going to make fried cauliflower that night for dinner. The kids love that.”
Josie smiled. “It sounds delicious. While you were at the grocery store, did anything unusual happen? Did you notice anyone perhaps following you or lingering too close? Did anyone start a conversation with you—like, a stranger?”
This time, Ginger’s eyes floated toward the ceiling. Josie could tell she was cycling through her memory of the trip to the grocery store, examining it anew for anything out of the ordinary. “No, no. Nothing. It was all very… normal.”
“In the parking lot?”
“No. I didn’t see anyone unusual. No one approached me. I loaded up my bags into the back of the car and drove off.”
“And then you got a flat tire on the way home?”
Ginger’s eyes sharpened and she peered intently at Josie. “No. I didn’t have a flat tire. I know that’s what was reported, but that’s not what happened. There was a woman stranded on the side of the road.”
Forgetting Marlowe for a moment, Josie scooted to the edge of her seat and leaned toward the other woman. “What?”
“Yes, in a black car, and before you ask, I don’t know what kind. Honestly, I can’t remember. It had four doors. It was black. That’s all I remember.”
“Okay,” Josie said. “You said she
was stranded. Her car broke
Marlowe’s long, sloppy tongue slid out of his mouth and swiped around his jowls. With a snuffling sound, he inched his front paws forward until he was lying down. He rested his face between them, eyes still on Josie. Ginger folded her hands in her lap. “Yeah. She was by the side of the road. She just had this look about her, you know? Like something was wrong and she couldn’t figure out what to do?”
“What was she doing?”
“She was pacing and she kept putting her hand to her forehead. You know, like something was wrong.”
Ginger nodded. Her eyes took on a rueful, faraway look. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I? A woman stuck on a rural road? In Bowersville? Did you know Bowersville hasn’t had a homicide in fifty-three years? At least, they hadn’t when we left.”
“Yeah, it’s safe.” A lot like Denton, though Denton was a lot bigger than Bowersville.
“Anyway, I pulled over. She said her car just died.” “Died?”
“Yeah, I can’t remember what else she said but that was it. Her car was dead. She needed a ride.”
“Did you offer her one?”
Ginger grimaced. “I don’t remember. I don’t know. That’s where things get… foggy, messed up. I’m sure I did. That’s what I would do— what I would have done back then.”
“It wasn’t the woman from the hair salon? The one who came forward later to say she found your car unoccupied?”
Ginger shook her head. “No. I mean, I don’t think so.” “Did she tell you her name?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Was it Ramona, by any chance?”
“I—I’m not sure. I don’t think so. I don’t remember her telling me her name. It’s possible she did, but I really don’t remember.”
“What did she look like?” “Like a cancer patient.”
Josie couldn’t keep the surprise from her face. She had to make a conscious effort to close her mouth. It wasn’t the story she had expected.
“She was pale and she
had on one of those, you know, turban-like things. Like a headwrap. A scarf.
There was no hair sticking out, so I assumed she was sick. One of the girls’
teachers at school had cancer;
when she was going through chemo, her hair fell out and that’s what she wore. This woman, she had sunglasses on. That’s what I remember. She was average size, about my height. Maybe a little on the chunky side but some people gain weight during chemo, you know, because sometimes they give chemo patients steroids for nausea, or whatever. Anyway, who knows? Maybe that was just her natural weight. She wasn’t huge. Just a little overweight.”
“What was she wearing?” Josie asked.
Ginger’s hands made a motion like she was pulling a coat on. “She had on a gray sweater. I can’t remember what was under it.” She laid her hands on her thighs. “And slacks—like polyester slacks, I think. I’m pretty sure. She was older.”
“As in elderly. It was hard to tell but I would put her in her mid- seventies to eighty.”
“Are you sure?”
Ginger nodded. “Yes. I remember her for sure. It’s after that that it gets weird.”
Marlowe whined softly. Ginger made a soft whispery sound in her throat and he stopped.
“Weird, in what way?” Josie asked.
Ginger’s left hand searched out the fingers of her right hand. One by one, she squeezed the fingertips on her right hand. “Like… all I have after that are these… I can’t—it’s so hard to describe. It sounds ridiculous.”
Ginger’s hands fanned out, palms up, like she was making an offering. “It’s like clips of a video. Like, if you took a movie and you cut out small sections of it and then pieced it back together. Each clip is only a few seconds, sometimes just a flash or an image. Nothing sustained. The problem is that when I put them together, they don’t make any sense. There’s not enough there.”
“Flash cutting,” Josie said. “What’s that?”
“It’s called flash
cutting. In movies. I dated a pretty serious film student in college. What
you’re describing, it’s a form of film editing.” Josie could remember the boy
vividly. She’d been enamored by his creativity but tired after she’d had to sit
through film after boring film, pausing to discuss what clever thing the
filmmaker, director or editing team had done and the overall quality of the
Ginger smiled at her. A genuine smile. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Josie said. “It’s a real thing. So, tell me about your flashes.
What did you see?”
“It’s so hard to piece them together, you know, in order.”
“Then don’t,” Josie told her. “Don’t try to put them in order, just talk about them as they come to mind.”
Another smile, this one both genuine and full of trepidation. Marlowe lumbered to a standing position, turned in a circle and placed his head in Ginger’s lap. She cradled his large, droopy face in her hands. Stroking the sides of his face with her thumbs, she spoke quietly. “I was walking through a wooded area—not walking, being marched. I could see my hands in front of me. They were tied together with plastic zip ties. There was nothing but trees. Not even a real path. Then this rock—it looked like the shadow of a man standing there. Well, not standing so much as leaning against the rock face. I thought it was a real man until we passed it and realized it was just the way the rocks looked from far away.”
Something about this sounded familiar to Josie, but there were strange rock formations all over the forests of Alcott County—and beyond. They were like clouds; the more you looked at rocks, the more shapes you could identify.
“Then it ends,” Ginger said. “Then I have flashes of men. Not faces, just men. Two- to three-second flashes of feeling hands on my body, seeing them on top of me, feeling them doing things to me. I think I was raped. Well, I know I was. They did a rape kit at the hospital after they found me. There was evidence there—evidence of… other men… more than one. Ed said they also found drugs in my system which would account for how disoriented I felt. That’s why Ed and I were so furious when they said the whole thing was a hoax. I guess they thought I just went out and found a bunch of men to sleep with.”
Marlowe whined again as Ginger’s fingers massaged the fur behind his ears. She looked like she might cry. “Those flashes are dark. All the rest is dark. I have this recurring feeling of waking up, feeling truly awake but being in total darkness, panicking, feeling my way around some kind of box. A black box. It’s so hazy though. Like I was drunk, or sick. Tired all the time and achy. Then the next thing I know, I’m lying on the side of the highway, and it was so bright I thought I had gone blind.”
“The news reports said you were tied up.”
Ginger nodded. “They
practically mummified me in duct tape.” She motioned toward her chest. “My whole upper body, but left my legs free.
That was the other reason we were so angry when they said it was all a
hoax. I mean, how could I have done that to myself?” “Who said it was a hoax?”
“It was that district attorney investigator they appointed. There were some jurisdictional issues because I was found in Denton, but on the interstate which was state police territory. Ed talked to everyone involved. They all said there wasn’t anything to go on.”
Josie’s brow furrowed. “But it’s a big leap from nothing to go on, to hoax.”
“Yes, it is. After several months, the district attorney’s investigator issued a report saying there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that anything criminal had happened at all. Immediately, the press started calling it a hoax. That was a much more interesting story than me being abducted and raped.”
She closed her eyes. Josie saw a slight tremble in her lips. “It ruined our lives,” she said finally, opening her eyes to let tears spill onto her cheeks. “People we had been friends with our whole entire lives turned on us. Neighbors, friends. We weren’t welcome in our church anymore. People called me a whore, a liar. Our girls were teased at school. Ed lost his job. It was just unbelievable. That Trinity—she was the only reporter who believed we were telling the truth. Ed talked to her a lot. She did a piece about why it couldn’t possibly be a hoax, but her producers wouldn’t air it. People aren’t interested in the truth, I guess.”
“I’m so sorry,” Josie said.
Ginger gave her a wan smile. “Ed talked to a lawyer. He wanted to sue the DA’s office for defamation of character or something like that. The attorney said it would be a tough case to prove. Everything that we thought made it obvious that it was not a scam could be explained away. The results of the rape kit? I went out on a three-week bender and slept with a bunch of men. The duct tape? They’d say that Ed helped me do it.”
“Yeah, we were helpless. Powerless. I think that was worse than anything that happened to me in those three weeks. I don’t really know what happened to me, I can’t remember. But what happened to us when I was released, it was hands down the worst experience of our lives. We knew we had to move. Then Ed suggested changing our names. A fresh start. That has its issues as well, but all in all I think it was a good decision.” She lifted a hand from Marlowe’s head and waved it, indicating the room around them. “We’re doing pretty well, I think.”
“I’m glad,” Josie said.
“I doubt any of this is helpful to you, but that’s what happened.”
“It was helpful,” Josie assured her. She looked at her cell phone. “My time is almost up. I’ll get out of your life. Let me give you my cell phone number though. If you remember anything else—anything at all—you can call me.”