The call came half an hour before the end of his shift. Thirty minutes. Time enough to update the case file of a high-school kid whose experiment with drugs had almost proved fatal and then go home. It had been a grueling and emotionally exhausting evening. Cases like this always were, especially when it involved a youngster—the possibility of a life ended far too early. And parents in total shock that it was their child the lure of drugs had brought close to the edge of life.
Home. That’s where he wanted to be. Home with his girlfriend Becca. To hold her close, caress her belly swollen with their child, and pray they’d never find themselves in the situation of those parents who, until that evening, had thought they were doing everything right.
Detective Paul Rigby stared at the phone. An assault, a mugging, a robbery, another drug overdose, or God forbid, a murder? Something that wouldn’t hold over until morning? Something that needed immediate attention? Thirty minutes and it would be another detective’s problem—whoever was on night call. But the night duty sergeant knew Rigby was at his desk. Would wonder why he had to rouse one of his colleagues from the comfort of his home to respond. It was tempting, but a non-starter.
He snatched up the receiver. “Yes?”
“Is that Paul Rigby?” a strained male voice asked.
His heart thumped. The caller knew his first name. A personal call. Here, at work, late in the evening. Becca?
“Detective Paul Rigby. Yes.”
“Look, I’m sorry to bother you. I didn’t know who else to call. I… I… I…”
“Who is this?” he snapped, anxiety getting the better of him.
“Sorry.” Rigby could almost hear the caller gulp. “It’s Steve Morgan. We met two weeks ago. At the childbirth class. My wife, Julia, she’s friends with your wife. Our babies are due about the same time.”
The childbirth class. Julia and Steve. Which couple were they? The blond-haired pair whose physiques suggested they were into keeping fit or the tall slender woman with the short squat partner? He’d arrived at the class with only seconds to spare, his mind elsewhere though he tried to hide it. He’d promised Becca he’d be there and he wasn’t going to let her down. He’d slid into the one empty seat next to her, embarrassed by the look of disapproval from the nurse leading the group, not sure whether it was because he was late or because it was the first time he’d managed to show up. All the other guys looked at ease. Probably all had regular jobs and lives where commitments made were commitments kept. Unlike his.
“So what’s up?” The tone of Steve’s voice told him this wasn’t a social call. Besides, it was too late.
“I don’t know where Julia is.”
“Julia. My wife. She’s not home.”
Rigby was tempted to tell Steve to call patrol if he was really concerned, go through the proper channels, but the guy sounded worried and what would Becca say if she found out he’d been offhand about one of her friends?
“Could she have gone out with friends?” Sometimes in a moment of panic the most obvious answer was easy to overlook.
“No! She should be home. She was going to class tonight on her own. I couldn’t make it this evening, but she should have been back by nine.”
“Maybe some of them decided to go out afterward.” Rigby glanced at his cell phone. There were no messages. Becca would have let him know if she wasn’t going straight home. She knew how much he worried about her. But maybe Becca had decided to opt out of any after-class socializing.
“She wouldn’t stay out this late. She barely makes it to nine o’clock most days before falling asleep. She should be here. Or at least left a message saying where she’s gone. It’s not like her.”
Steve sounded close to tears. Rigby hesitated before telling him he was going to transfer the call to the desk sergeant to deal with it. He imagined how he would feel if he arrived home and Becca wasn’t there. With no explanation. Over eight months pregnant. Almost eleven o’clock at night. It was cause for concern.
“Is there any sign of a disturbance in your home?”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Did everything look normal when you got home?”
“Ye… Yes. Except Julia wasn’t here. Or her car.” Steve paused. “I couldn’t understand why she’d go out and not tell me. And I didn’t know what to do. I don’t have any contact details for any of the others at the class but then I remembered you said you were a detective and I thought I could maybe get some way of contacting you and Becca. But the guy who took the call, he said you were still in the office. I couldn’t believe my luck. I guess you weren’t at class tonight either.”
“No,” Rigby said to shut Steve up and give himself time to think. “Are there any signs your wife might have been home after the class?”
“I told you. She’s not here. She wouldn’t come home and go out again. The baby’s due soon. Why would she go out again?”
“A family or friend emergency? Maybe in her hurry to respond she forgot to leave a message. You’ve tried calling her?”
“Of course I’ve tried calling her. She didn’t pick up. Several times too. I tell you, this isn’t like Julia.” Steve’s voice cracked.
Rigby sighed. “I’ll send someone over to take a report. There’s not a lot we can do at this time of night, but they can check the hospitals, make sure she hasn’t been admitted, and put out an alert for her and her car.”
“Can’t you do it?”
“I’m just about—”
“Please. You know us. Or at least your wife does. She and Julia have become good friends.” Steve paused. “And she hasn’t got many. Julia, I mean. We only moved here a few months ago. She hasn’t found it easy meeting people, especially being pregnant and not working.”
A lonely pregnant woman who was new to the area. She could be a good candidate for a runaway. Especially if the marriage wasn’t going too well and she didn’t feel she was getting the support she needed. He couldn’t remember Becca talking particularly about a new friend although he knew she was pleased to have met others who were going through the same stages as she was.
Could Julia have gone into early labor? But then Steve would be the first to know. Unless something untoward had happened. But even then the woman must have been carrying some identification, a driver’s license or something to provide a connection.
He shuddered. Hopefully, there’d be a happy ending. Julia would turn up alive and well. But he knew there were so many less favorable outcomes. How many of them were swirling in Steve’s mind at that moment?
How would he feel if it were Becca who was missing? Becca and their baby.
He checked the time. Twenty minutes of his shift left. “Give me your address and I’ll come over.”
Steve’s voluble relief gave Rigby a sense of satisfaction. He was doing the right thing. But first to let Becca know he was going to be late. He sent her a text in case she’d already gone to sleep. She called him back immediately. He explained the situation and asked her how Julia had seemed at class that evening.