We had laughed freely the night before, a much-needed respite from our recent, humorless routine. Josh had come home with a smile on his face for the first time in over a week. We celebrated with pizza and a beer, and almost giddy, we clinked “cheers” over the attention we were garnering. Briggs wasn’t home yet, but in less than nine days, we’d made a serious impact.
It felt good to know that we could make a difference, and every little success gave us a reprieve. We realized that others were helping, that others cared, and that we did not have to be so hard on ourselves.
With a new sense of purpose, we geared up for our search and rescue operation. It was time to delve deeper into the crime-ridden neighborhood that the psychic had told us about. This was a part of the search that I would not be discussing with my parents.
I thought about what I would wear that day. Josh thought I was nuts — but I knew I was right on. I put on skinny jeans, a tight black tank top, and simple sandals. I left my dark hair curly and put in some big hoop earrings. I knew I would draw some attention, but figured I would blend in for the most part.
We drove halfway to the neighborhood and walked the streets, posting flyers everywhere while we waited for our friend Paulie to pick us up. When I taped a poster up in front of a laundromat, I heard a whistle and looked over my shoulder.
A man slowed his Lincoln and gazed out the window.
“Damn, girl!” He said, looking me up and down. I gave him a nod and continued taping. Secretly, I was pleased. Things would run more smoothly if I blended in.
Josh was furious.
“You’re getting the wrong type of attention! What is wrong with you?”
Paulie pulled up right then, allowing me to ignore Josh’s question.
As soon as I was situated in the back seat, I informed my husband and Paulie of the plan.
“Here’s the deal. You two will stay in the car. I want you to tape posters ahead of time, pull up at the corners, and I will be the one to get out. I know you don’t like this Josh, but the attention I’m getting is flattering. Nobody is trying to start anything with me. You two, on the other hand, are going to attract the wrong type of attention. Only get out if you think I’m in real trouble. I can handle it otherwise.”
Unhappy with my plan, they had no choice but to agree. They knew I was right, and they couldn’t argue with the truth of it. Girls are simply less threatening than men; all things considered, a few shout-outs would be a whole lot better than negative attention ending up in an unnecessary confrontation.
As we began our cruise of the streets the psychic had marked on the map, my sadness increased. The area was so desolate and angry; I could almost taste the unhappiness around me. Bedraggled apartment buildings clustered around sunken houses, trash littering the yards.
We pulled up at each intersection that had a light pole. Inevitably, I would get shouts or questions from people as I taped up flyers. Stopping in front of a school, an attitude-laced shout startled me from my taping. I looked on as a hysterical, extremely large woman shouted at a group of men in a parking lot. I couldn’t help but smirk a bit — she was the epitome of a strong woman with an attitude who wouldn’t take shit from anyone.
When she saw me watching her, she turned her wrath on me.
“What you looking at, you dumb bitch?”
I ignored her and continued taping.
“Hey. You. Dumb bitch. You can’t fucking hear?”
I glanced over my shoulder and saw the group of men laughing as she raged at me from across the street. The car lingered silently behind me, waiting. I quickly hopped in and watched through the back window as the woman hurled a piece of trash at us. The men laughed as her arsenal fell short, and she directed her anger back at them.
Classy, I thought.
We decided to stop at a main intersection, one with bus stops on every corner. Paulie and Josh joined me. We split up with signs and hit the bus stops, speaking with everyone who was willing to talk to us.
After we got back in the car, I consulted the map.
“Time to move in deeper,” I said. I knew we’d be heading into the tough spot where roads narrowed, streets were quiet, and people turned a blind eye to trouble. Bad things happened quickly there.
As we drove deeper into the city, I spotted what looked like a major corner. Since there were several poles for flyers there, I asked Paulie to stop. I got out and looked around, my skin crawling. It was almost certain that I was being watched. I put up flyers on each corner and hurried back to the car.
As I made my way to the safety of Paulie’s vehicle, a Suburban peeled around the corner and blocked my path. I stopped and gasped as I realized another car was hovering on the other side — just like that: I was flanked.
Does this kind of stuff really happen? You have got to be kidding me, I thought. Did I trip some kind of wire that let them know strangers were onsite? Word traveled fast apparently.
The driver of the green Suburban was a young man with dreadlocks. He leaned out of the window and motioned me over. I kept an eye on the other car; ready to sprint around the back of the Suburban if I heard any car doors opening. I prayed that Josh and Paulie would stay right where they were, in case I had to make a run for it.
Shit, shit, shit, was all I could think. I knew that even if I could make it to Paulie’s car, he would have a hard time getting his car between the Suburban and the other car.
The driver of the Suburban looked me up and down.
“What’s on the flyers, yo?”
“Our dog was stolen,” I said, staring him down.
“No shit? Let me see one of those,” he said, holding out his hand.
I reluctantly walked over and handed him a flyer through the open window. I tried to look past the Suburban to see what was happening with my guys. I knew they couldn’t see me.
Meanwhile, the driver started asking me questions about Briggs. As usual, he wanted to know the reward amount.
We had already decided not to post the amount on the flyer, but if anyone asked us in person, we would say the amount. In all honesty, we knew we couldn’t go into these neighborhoods and promise thousands of dollars for the return of a dog; if we weren’t outright ignored, we would be laughed at. People here had long ago stopped believing in promises. That thought had prompted us to settle on a moderate, believable amount.
“If you find our dog, it’s $500, no questions asked.”
“No shit? All right. I’m on it. Can I call you if I have questions?” the young man asked.
“Of course,” I replied. I thanked him and gingerly moved away from his car, praying that it wasn’t a stupid move to turn my back on him. I climbed into the back seat of Paulie’s car and exhaled with relief.
“What did he want?” Josh asked. Both he and Paulie were more than a little panicked. Both hated to be caught in I-don’t-know-what-to-do situations, and it had been hard for them to watch what was going on.
“He was actually really nice,” I said. “He just wanted to know what the flyers were about and what the situation is.”
As if on cue, my phone rang. Green Suburban guy asked a few more detailed questions and agreed to contact me later if he heard anything from “his peeps.”
“Let’s go to the spot with the most arrows on the map,” I said, directing Paulie to the heart of the neighborhood.
Paulie pulled his car to the side of the street by a parking lot that was adjacent to a school and a church. This was it. This was the prime location that the psychic had marked. Across from the parking lot was a row of houses with run-down porches. Almost all of the porches had at least one person sitting on them, watching our every move.
I got out and made my way over to the first pole at the entrance of the parking lot. Nervous, I hitched the flyers closer to my chest. My neck tingled from being watched. I wanted to position the poster to face the traffic, so that drivers would see it on their way into and out of the parking lot. With the hope that the church or school was attended by the Latino family mentioned by the psychic, I posted flyers everywhere. The thought of this all being a wild-goose chase spawned by a two-bit psychic trickled through my mind. I had no idea what to believe.
My back was turned to the parking lot. As I worked away at a particularly stubborn and annoying piece of tape, I was startled to see the car door slam, and Josh run across the parking lot. I whipped around just in time to see a tough-looking guy running in my direction. Josh bolted past me, intercepting and stopping the guy. Words were exchanged, thankfully, not fists or bullets.
Tense, I looked at the car. Paulie nodded at me, letting me know he was ready. Suddenly grateful for Wisconsin’s Conceal and Carry law, I waited.
Josh and his “friend” walked to a van parked close by, finished their discussion, and Josh turned and walked quickly back toward me.
“Okay?” I silently mouthed at him.
“What was that about?” I asked, not particularly fond of guys who hung out in their vans in parking lots.
“Well, I saw him running at you. He just came out of nowhere. I didn’t even think. I just jumped out and intercepted him. He claimed that he just wanted to see the poster, and he backpedaled a lot. I didn’t want to go to his van, but he said his brother raises dogs and might know something about Briggs. I gave them flyers, and the brother just went on and on about his dogs, then said he’d help us look. I really don’t like this, Tricia. It’s a dangerous area, and I don’t like leaving you vulnerable outside the car,” Josh said. “I stopped the guy this time, but who knows what else could happen?”
“I know. I know,” I said. And just in case he was having thoughts of ending the search for today, I insisted that we keep flyering.
As we finished putting up flyers on that block, I made myself look at every porch-sitter, right in the eye. One man glared at me long and hard; I pointed at him and then at the poster, and he spat on the ground. I knew then that all those flyers would be torn down by the next day. It didn’t matter. We’d made our presence known. Round one was over, and we’d be back for more.
Later that night, the calls began:
“I’m gonna kill you, you dumb bitch.”
“I’m gonna rape you.”
“I found your dog and killed it, bitch.”
“Fuck you and your dumbass dog.”
Sitting alone on the third floor of our house, I cradled my mace in my palm and hung up on every caller.