Lying Next to Me by Gregg Olsen
The female giant Pacific octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, is a cunning creature. Larger than her male counterpart, she hunts only in the blackness of night. With more than two hundred suckers on each of eight undulating arms, she moves through the water with slow, graceful movements to stalk her prey. She is cunning too. She has the ability to change her appearance, color, and texture to suit her environment as she lies in wait. If brought aboard a boat alive, even full-grown, she can free herself through a space the size of a half dollar. One of the largest ever found, an incredible monster more than twenty feet across, was caught by divers on the western shore of Hood Canal near Lilliwaup, Washington, in a deep-water site of the Salish Sea locals call Octopus Hole.
I hold my daughter tightly to keep her from the jagged shards of my wife’s broken wineglass. It’s the only tangible indication that something terrible has happened. I gulp for air. The salmonberry thorns that clawed me as I ran up from the beach to the highway have shredded my bare arms. The striations of oozing blood leak slowly and don’t require a bandage, though one’s offered to me. Someone puts a blanket over my shoulders as I sit on the five-foot-high bulkhead that separates the crescent beach from the three cabins behind me. It’s a kind gesture, and I don’t resist it—even though I know it won’t help calm my trembling. I don’t look up. Instead, I sit there, wondering if I’ve done everything I can.
Everything I should have done.
Aubrey shifts in my arms, her brown eyes taking it all in.
The woman in the cabin next to ours came out for Memorial Day weekend with her grandchildren. She’s doing her best to remain calm. She’s told me her name, but my brain is so addled, I can barely grasp anything new.
She taps my shoulder.
“Adam, how about I take Aubrey to my cabin?” She glances upward to the sloping driveway that leads to the cabins. A black SUV with gold accents inches its way to the parking area. The Mason County sheriff has arrived.
My eyes, vision blurry without my glasses, somehow meet hers, and I give her a slow nod. “I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten your name.”
“Teresa,” she says.
“Right.” I put my hands on Aubrey’s shoulders. “Honey, I want you to go with Teresa. You can play with her grandchildren.”
Aubrey’s confused, scared. She’s been part of the trauma. “I want Mommy.”
“I know,” I tell her. “We’re going to find her. I’ll be right here. Okay? Just for a minute.”
“We made popsicles this morning,” Teresa says.
Aubrey swings her attention to the nice older woman but stays mute.
“Cherry punch,” Teresa adds, selling a distraction to a three-year-old with grandparental skill.
“Go on, now,” I tell her. “Daddy will be right here.”
My little girl turns to go with Teresa, and I head in the direction of the SUV, my pace quickening to a run over the broad lawn along the bulkhead.
“Thank God you’re here!” I call out to the officers. My voice cracks a little, and I reel in some emotion. Need to be clear. Need to tell them what happened.
It’s a man and a woman. He’s the older of the pair, with silver hair, wire-framed glasses.
The woman is familiar to me. Her hair is long and pulled back. Her face is a smear of freckles.
“Lee?” I ask.
“Adam. It’s been a while.”
Her partner, who identifies himself as Zach Montrose, gives her an interested look. “You know each other?”
She keeps her eyes on me. I see a faint smile of reminiscence, but this is not a happy reunion. How could it be?
“We grew up together,” she says. “He was Kip’s best friend.”
Kip was her older brother. We went all the way from kindergarten through high school together. He enlisted in the army and never came back from Afghanistan. The last time I saw Lee was at the memorial service the Husemanns held to remember their son. I remember standing in front of the congregation at the Shelton Bible Church and recalling the kind of person Kip was (“shirt off his back . . . never knew a stranger . . . always ready to help someone”), my eyes refusing to look in the direction of his parents and sister because I didn’t want to break down. I like to be in control. I like to make sure that everything I do is done with purpose.
“Small world.” Montrose surveys the scene.
“I heard you were a police officer,” I say. Lee has green eyes. That’s what was familiar about her.
“I’m a detective,” she says, the flash of any warmth in our quasi reunion suddenly gone. “Let’s go over everything that happened.”
“We’ve got to find her,” I plead.
“That’s what we do,” Montrose says. “Let’s talk over there.” He indicates the sun-bleached cedar deck of the Wisteria, the cabin Sophie and I had rented for the long weekend.
I provide the basics. The weekend at Hood Canal was a surprise. Sophie said I never plan anything special for the family, and I knew she was right. I saw an article in the Seattle Times that reminded me about a trio of 1920s cabins near Lilliwaup that had been lovingly restored. Each was named for a flower by the previous horticulturalist owners. Sophie loves old homes; that’s the reason we’ve been living in sawdust and commotion for the past five years as we restore an espresso-brown 1922 Seattle Craftsman.
I look at Lee across a weathered picnic table. She’s scribbling notes.
“I thought it would be fun. I thought we’d have a chance to relax, unplug. Focus on our family.”
“Have there been problems?” Montrose asks.
I shake my head. “Just too much work. Too little time to just enjoy life. Nothing more than that.”
There is more than that, of course. There is in every marriage. And yet, as I sit there with the detectives, I know that none of that needs to find its way into anyone’s notebook.
“Adam,” Lee says, “I’m sure this will be difficult. I need you to tell us everything that happened. Don’t skip the slightest detail. What might seem inconsequential to you might be the key to finding out who took your wife.”
“And where she is now,” I say.
“Right,” she says. “Where she is. That’s why we’re here.”
I couldn’t get off work from SkyAero early Friday because my director was up to her neck in some kind of leadership training that’s supposed to make her more effective with our team. She insisted that I stay to run some reports so she could focus on learning more ways to help her team members create work-life balance. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me.
Sophie and Aubrey took the Seattle–Bremerton ferry and arrived at the Wisteria cabin first, at about five thirty. I drove down from the Renton plant where I work and crossed over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, coming up through Belfair to Lilliwaup, getting to the cabin a little before eight.
I explain all of this to the detectives while Montrose writes and Lee listens.
“Did anyone see you arrive?” she asks.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I think so. Teresa—that’s the woman watching Aubrey now—had her windows open and lights on when I got here. She probably saw me arrive. Or her grandkids did.”
“What about the other cabin?” Lee asks.
I want to skip to what happened, but I’m following their directions to ensure that I provide every detail.
“A couple driving a blue Lexus arrived late last night,” I say. “But I didn’t talk to them.”
Montrose makes a note of that. “Was there anyone else?” he asks.
This isn’t Grand Central, I think. But I don’t say it.
“The old guy walking his dog,” I say. “Some kids from one of the houses up the beach were out this morning. No one else. Not that I could see. I mean, I wasn’t looking for people. I was here, you know, to be with Sophie and Aubrey.”
Sophie’s name causes another crack in my voice. I reel the emotion in.
I tell them that I made a fire when I got in. Sophie had stopped at a store and bought sandwiches and a couple of steaks. We had a glass of wine and watched one of the DVDs that the owners had provided, a collection that was mostly kid-friendly comedies. Aubrey fell asleep around nine, and Sophie put her down. Not long after that, an hour or so, we went to bed.
The next morning, I tell them, I made waffles.
“Aubrey’s favorite. Really about the only thing I’m good at making.”
I hear my daughter’s laugh, and I see Teresa’s oldest grandson doing his best imitation of Tarzan on a heavy rope swing that juts out over the beach from the limb of a massive western red cedar.
Montrose prods me. “Then what happened?”
“Aubrey and I took a skiff out to drop crab pots,” I say. Aubrey, ensconced in a bright orange life jacket, couldn’t wait to be out on the water, which was literally as smooth as glass. Not just like glass—like a flawless sheet of windowpane. We went back and forth all morning, I tell them. “There was nothing special or out of the ordinary about it.”
“Take your time,” Lee says. “We need to know everything.”
I tell them that while Aubrey and I rowed around and worked the pots, Sophie was reading a novel with a cup of coffee that later morphed into a glass or two of chardonnay.
I’d baited the pots with tins of cat food, and we checked them about every half hour. It wasn’t about catching crabs. It was about spending time with Aubrey and seeing it all through her eyes. Everything was a first for her. Her first time on the water. Her first encounter with a gull. A seal. I remembered times on the water with my own father. Not only connected with nature, but with each other. Shipwreck. Pirate. Captain Ahab.
Lee’s partner pushes. “And then it happened?”
He annoys me. I feel as if he’s trying to catch me in a lie or something. I know he’s doing his job, but my wife is missing. He could show some compassion.
“Yes,” Lee says. “What was the first thing you saw or heard that suggested something was wrong with Sophie?”
I’m surprised by the need to steady myself a little. I’m stronger than this. I pull myself together and tell them what happened.