106 Miles to Chicago
"Soul Man" was playing on the oldies station. Up until then, Frank had been lost in his thoughts, half-reading the newspaper. Now, he thought of that old movie The Blues Brothers. The opening scene, where Elwood Blues picks up his brother Jake from prison in an old cop car, was his favorite part.
Thinking about the police made Frank check his rear view mirror. Even in a pathetic neighborhood like this one, cops sometimes noticed a man sitting alone his car on a residential street. Going to prison didn't scare him, however. Having nothing left to lose came with a sort of euphoric high. It set you free.
In the mirror, he saw the little girl.
She was very pretty. Her blond hair was in pig-tails, ribbons bouncing as she skipped along the sidewalk in her blue dress. She seemed to be alone.
As Frank watched her get closer and closer to his car, he knew he was kidding himself. He was not free.
There was a revolver on the passenger seat beside him. Without taking his eyes off of the girl, who was still approaching, he covered it with the newspaper. The girl reminded him of his daughter, Jenny, and the gun made him feel guilty. Free people did not feel guilt.
It was his fault that Jenny had died.
Carol, his wife, had been telling him that Jenny was dead for a long time before Frank would believe it. Women seem to have a sixth sense about the death of their children. Ask any war mother. Frank never believed it... Even as the police divers were pulling her grey little body out of the river, part of him wouldn't accept it. It must be another girl, he had thought, someone else's daughter. They had tried to block him and not let him see as they laid her on the shore, but Frank saw anyway. Before the coroner covered her with a sheet and put her into a tiny black bag, he saw her.
It was Jenny.
She was naked and her eyes were open.
It was his fault.
Frank had wanted to tell Carol the truth on her deathbed. The doctors had found the cancer a couple of years after Jenny had been snatched from their front yard. Carol told him once that it sprang up in the void where Jenny had grown inside of her. She had seen her only child laying on a metal table in the morgue. Carol said a mother didn't see something like that and live.
He had wanted to tell her that he had not actually been watching Jenny the day that she disappeared. Frank told the police (and Carol) that he had just taken his eyes off of her for a few minutes, when he had actually fell asleep on the couch. He didn't even know that Jenny had slipped outside. When he woke up, her little red wagon was in front of the house, two wheels on the curb, two wheels in the street.
Carol died never knowing who to blame. She was in the ground next to Jenny a full year before Frank knew who killed their daughter. She spent her last moments writhing and spitting, fighting the morphine and the cancer. She was trying to hold on for a little longer, trying not to die before she knew who killed her baby.
He should have told her that he had lied, at least then she would have had someone to hate.
Frank hated someone.
His name was Robert Macey, a low-life redneck. The type with a rebel flag hanging in his front window and garbage in his yard. Frank saw him on the news when they picked him up for "Attempted Abduction of a Minor". It was a girl about Jenny's age from a nearby city. Macey had been spotted by a neighbor, who got his license plate. The girl had screamed and fought, finally getting away from him as he tried to pull her into his car.
Frank wondered if Jenny had screamed. Would he have heard her?
Macey was a known sex offender and he had tried to abduct that girl fifty miles from his home. All of this happened only a hundred miles away from where Jenny disappeared.
The girl in the little blue dress passed by Frank's car, still skipping. She was singing.
If a man would do something like that fifty miles from home, why not a hundred?
He had spent Carol's life insurance money trying to make the connection. The police were useless. They were lucky to convict Macey on the abduction that they knew about. Frank hired private investigators and worked his way up the chain of command in the various police departments and courthouses. He wrote letters and made angry phone calls, only to be told how sorry they all were. There was nothing they could do, there was just not enough evidence to connect Macey to Jenny's murder.
They gave Robert Macey twelve years for the attempted abduction.
He was out in six.
In that time, Frank lost his house, his job, his friends, everything. He was bitter, detached, and sometimes homeless.
Frank was parked across the street from Macey's rat-infested house. It was just the kind of hole that a lot of ex-cons wound up in. He had been watching him from the day he got out of prison. Frank had carefully staked out his halfway house, wary of the police patrolling the area. He watched Macey unload trucks at his job. He watched his windows while he slept. It seemed to him, at times, that Carol was there with him, in the passenger seat, waiting for Frank to do something.
"Soul Man" ended and the oldies station went to commercials. Frank switched it off.
It was nine in the morning on a Saturday. Macey was sleeping it off, even though he wasn't supposed to drink while on parole. Frank had found the bottles in his trash. He had searched Macey's trash nearly every day since he moved from the halfway house, each time not knowing what he was looking for... but needing to look anyway. Perhaps he thought he would find a clue as to why someone would abduct, rape, and kill children.
He never found an answer.
After the girl in the blue dress turned the corner and was out of sight, Frank put the gun into his waistband and opened the car door. He got out and shut the door quietly behind him. The whole block seemed deserted. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked over and over.
For the first time, he noticed that there was a sticker on Macey's mailbox: A penguin.
Frank smiled, but only for a second. The hair on the nape of his neck stood up, electricity seemed to be running all through his body. It's a sign, he thought.
The entrance to Macey's house was on the side. Once Frank was on the porch, and out of most of the neighbors view, he pulled out the gun. He held it casually in front of him like you would hold a hat.
Frank wanted to take the shot as soon as Macey opened the door. Previously, he had imagined getting inside the house, talking to (and torturing) him, before killing him... forcing him to confess before he met his fate. But, in the end, he decided that a bullet in the brain was enough for Macey.
Frank did not care about his tearful confessions or false apologies. He didn't even care if there were other victims. He was doing this for Jenny.
And for Carol.
He slid the cylinder out and checked the bullets in the revolver. There were six of them. There was no safety.
Frank tried the door.
It was not locked.
Frank held up the gun, cocking the hammer.
He whispered to it: "We're on a mission from God..."