The Blackwells had changed their name and moved to Phillipsburg, New Jersey. That was why Josie had been unable to locate them. Luckily for her, when Trinity covered Ginger’s case she had promised Mr. Blackwell to continue trying to uncover evidence that Ginger’s case was not a hoax, in exchange for knowing where they were going and what their new names would be. It was always a quid pro quo with Trinity.
Josie left early in the morning and drove straight eastward, fifteen miles over the speed limit, turning a four-hour trip into a three-hour trip. Trinity had given her a cell phone number for Ginger’s husband, but Josie was afraid if she called ahead, the man would shut her down before she even had a chance to go to New Jersey. The element of surprise was best. She just hoped that the Blackwells—or the Gilmores as they were now known—were in.
Phillipsburg was just about the quaintest town Josie had ever seen. It reminded her a lot of Denton. Most of its buildings were grouped densely along the Delaware River directly across from Easton, Pennsylvania, but as Josie drove deeper into New Jersey, Phillipsburg’s clean, quaint streets gave way to long, rural roads and farmland. It had a distinct country feel to it. The Blackwells had moved to the outskirts. Their large, two-story Cape Cod with its gray siding and black shutters lay along a rural road between two farms. Josie estimated a good quarter-mile between the road and the house, all grass cut to golf green standards. A long gravel driveway led to the side of the house where the attached garage sat, its doors like two eyes tightly shut. The area around the house had been meticulously landscaped and lovingly decorated. It looked like the perfect suburban family paradise.
She parked outside of
the garage and walked to the front door, ears tuned to the low, gravelly bark
of what sounded like a large dog coming
from inside the house. The storm door was accented with decorative steel bars. Josie tugged on its handle but it was locked. The low bark continued from inside, the sound so powerful she could almost feel its vibration from where she stood. She rang the doorbell and waited. After a few minutes, the heavier black door creaked open just wide enough to reveal the white of an eyeball. “Can I help you?”
Josie pressed her face between the bars of the storm door and spoke into the pane of glass. “Mrs.… uh, Gilmore?”
“She’s not here.”
“Well, actually I’m looking for Ginger Blackwell.”
The eye blinked. The barking, closer now, rose in intensity. “Who are you?” the woman asked, her tone strident now.
Josie had to shout over the barking. “My name is Josie Quinn. I’m from Denton.”
“I’m a detective with their police department—I mean, I’m off duty now, but I’m a police officer. I just need to ask you some questions.”
The eye was so wide it looked cartoonish. “I’m calling 911. I suggest you leave immediately. Do not come back.”
The eyeball disappeared, and the inner door slammed shut with the finality of a coffin closing.
“Wait!” Josie cried. She cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted into the glass. “Mrs. Blackwell, please! Just hear me out. Please. Another girl has gone missing. I need your help.”
But she was certain she couldn’t be heard over the barking. She waited a few minutes for the noise to die down and tried again, shouting once more into the heavy glass pane of the storm door in the gap between two of the steel bars. The barking began anew. She repeated the process several more times, waiting for a police cruiser to roll into the driveway at any moment. But it didn’t.
After the fifth or sixth attempt to get Ginger’s attention the door cracked open again. Josie’s throat burned from trying to be heard through the doors; her voice was hoarse, her words tumbling out too fast. “Mrs. Blackwe— Please, another girl is missing, need your help, I—” The woman’s tone was icy. “If you think I’m going to help the Denton police department, you’re out of your mind. Go away before I call the
police, for real this time.”
“I’m on suspension!” Josie blurted in a last-ditch effort to keep the woman at the cracked door.
The eye stared at her warily,
waiting as Josie plunged ahead. “Please.
Just hear me out. I’m not here in my capacity as a police officer. I’m a private citizen. Some things have come to my attention lately, and I am just trying to figure them out. I—I read about you on the internet. You were abducted before I was a police officer. Trinity Payne—the reporter
—she gave me your address. She told me you had changed your name, and she was very clear about the need to protect your privacy. She is the only one who knows I am here. I will never give anyone your address. I promise you, I will not disclose your new name or this place.”
The door cracked open another inch and Josie could see the pale, lightly freckled skin of Ginger’s cheek. Tiny lines extended from the corner of her eye. “Why were you suspended?” she asked.
Josie swallowed. She felt nervous, the way she had when she had to testify in court the first time. The assistant district attorney had fired off questions at her while the jury stared. She had felt like a bug trapped inside a glass. “It was a noise disturbance. Out by the old textile mill in Denton. You know, by the river, those houses that get flooded every year?”
“I remember,” said Ginger.
“I’d been called to investigate a robbery nearby, so I was the closest. Otherwise patrol would have responded. So, I show up there—it’s like one in the morning. One of the neighbors says he keeps hearing a kid crying, people fighting, that sort of thing. He knows none of his neighbors has kids. Tells me he has a bad feeling. So, I find the house that’s the source of all the noise. It’s a bunch of guys, maybe mid- twenties, mid-thirties—partying. They were pretty accommodating when I asked them to keep it down. I said I wanted to have a look around. I get out to the back, you know, near where the river bank is—a few people from the party were out there—and there’s this woman. Obviously a habitual drug user. She’s got—she’s got her daughter—”
Josie broke off. She still had trouble talking about it. The only way to even get the words out was to remember what the woman’s face felt like against her elbow, the loud, satisfying crack of her teeth breaking. “The little girl was four. She was sick. Very sick. Burning up. Screaming and holding her left ear—an infection, they told me later—and her mother was offering her to every man at the party. Offering a ‘good time’ with her if she could get some drugs, or money for drugs.”
“I don’t know what happened, but I lost it. I snapped. I—I hit her.
Elbowed her, actually. She went right down.”
A moment of silence stretched out
between them. Josie noticed the
door had opened further. Now she could see Ginger’s face and her auburn hair. It was cut short and brushed forward in a chic, sophisticated look. Her face had thinned from the photos of six years earlier. She looked her age now. Her gaze was penetrating. “The girl?” she asked.
Josie closed her eyes, feeling the same flood of relief she felt that morning when she went to see the little girl in the hospital, and the pediatrician on call told her she was fine. She said, “Nothing more than an ear infection. She’s placed with her aunt now, forever hopefully.”
The door creaked as Ginger opened it wide enough for Josie to see inside. Beside the woman, its head well above waist level, stood the biggest dog Josie had ever seen. It took several seconds for her brain to process what her eyes were seeing. It stared at her silently with large, mournful brown eyes. Ginger’s hand rested on the back of its neck. Even with the door between them, Josie felt a sense of primal fear so intense that her bowels loosened.
“He’s a mastiff,” Ginger said.
Josie couldn’t take her eyes off the beast, and tried to make a joke: “What do you feed him? People?”
Ginger laughed, the sound genuine, and unlocked the door and pushed it open. “He won’t hurt you. Come in.”
Josie hesitated. The dog didn’t move. Ginger’s hand left his neck so she could hold the door open with one hand and beckon Josie in with the other. Instinctively, Josie’s body backed away. She liked dogs, but the size of this one was intimidating to say the least. Her body screamed for her to get away even as her mind told her there was no threat at all.
Ginger’s hand patted her shoulder. “Oh, honey, everyone reacts this way to Marlowe, but I’m telling you, he won’t hurt a hair on your head. Unless I tell him to.”