Here is part one of The Sixth Daughter, a novel I published a while back. If you would like to read more please let me know in the comments. Copying to here from a copy of the novel, has introduced odd artifacts. Please overlook them. If you would like to read as clean a copy as there is, it is available for purchase at Amazon.Sam Pirtle
Hector’s head was pounding. He struggled to understand the questions being yelled at him. It sounded as if he had water in his ears. The lights in the room seemed to be dimming then brightening. The man asking questions went away and another man came. This one spoke Spanish … a little, but his questions made no more sense than the first man’s. Hector tried to answer as best he could, but the man seemed to become angrier at each answer.
Finally, the man threw a lit cigarette at Hector and stormed out of the room, leaving Hector afraid that he would come back, and afraid that he would not. Hector was afraid that he would forever be chained to that table confused, and not understanding what had happened to his beloved little girl.
He must have blacked out. He came to with a jerk to find that he sat all alone in the interrogation room handcuffed to the table. The people who had been yelling at him were standing outside the open door discussing ways to get him to talk. They seemed to be sure that he spoke English and could be pressured to speak.
What the angry people in the hall did not understand, was that even after over twenty years of living in the United States, Hector’s command of English was poor at best. He could understand most of what was said to him in English, but had a very hard time articulating his thoughts, especially when he was afraid. Today he was very afraid.
Trying not to hear and trying not to understand the angry words from the hallway, Hector refused to think about what would happen next. He cast his mind back to the events, which had brought him to that room. Had it only been that morning?
The day had started perfectly normal in the Hernandez’s household. Suzan, his wife, left early to go out of town on a business trip. She had not planed to return for several days, leaving their second daughter, Maria, to look after the house. His eldest daughter, Erin had come over to her parents’ home early in the morning to help Maria make breakfast, in spite of her young husband’s disapproval.
A frown crossed Hector’s bruised face, causing him to wince, as he thought of his lovely first born being married to a man, who did not treat her well. He hoped Maria would find a better man, if she ever married. He was glad that she had recently started working full-time and did not seem to have any place in her life for men.
Poor little Sally Anne, the third of his six girls, tried to help Maria with the house as much as she could in spite of her withered leg.
Hector recalled that Sally Anne was soon to be married. When? He couldn’t remember. Trying to remember made his head hurt. The pain seemed to ebb when he thought about the morning, before everything went so wrong.
After breakfast, Maria and Sally Anne had rushed off to shop for the wedding dress, before Maria was due at her job, leaving the three youngest girls in the care of their father.
When his wife left that morning, she was not aware that Maria and Sally Anne had planned to go shopping that day. Since Suzan had not arranged for a sitter, Hector called their next-door neighbor, Mrs. Finesteen, to look after the girls, but the phone went unanswered. Hector had asked Erin to take care of the children for him.
“I will take Dorothy and Anita with me, but I am sorry Papa, I can’t take Issy home with me. Last time she was there, she broke my mother-in-law’s statue of the Holy Mother. It’s bad enough that I have to live with that woman carping at me all the time about not having children. I don’t want to have to listen to her say that I shouldn’t have any if I can’t keep Issy under control,” Erin had said to her father as she dried and put away the last of the breakfast dishes, her two littlest sisters watching her quietly, as they clutched their overnight bags in their laps. “I will keep the babies at my house until mother gets back. You and Sally Anne should be able to take care of Issy while she is gone. Anyway, it will give you time to make arrangements with Mrs. Finesteen if you need to.”
Erin had gathered up Dorothy and Anita, checking to make sure that they had all they needed for a sleepover.
He had watched as Erin fussed over her littlest sisters. She was so good with them. “Niña it is so good of you to look after the little ones. Are you sure I am not asking too much of you?”
“Oh Papa, it isn’t a burden at all. I love having the little ones visit. It is good training for when I have babies of my own,” Erin had assured him. “It might not be that way if they become as rambunctious as our little redheaded terror.”
“Yes, she is a handful,” he had said, with more than a little pride.
“Papa, are you sure that you don’t want me to track down a babysitter for Issy?” Erin asked, knowing that the unavailable Mrs. Finesteen was the only person who would consent take the unruly child.
“No, don’t do that dear, we will manage,” her father said, and hid behind his newspaper, secretly glad that he would have the day alone with his Issy.
“I love you Papa,” Erin had called out as she led her sisters out the front door.
Left alone with his favorite daughter in the small brick house, which never seemed large enough for his family, he had been so happy that he would have the day alone with one of his children. Usually there were too many of them around to enjoy each as individuals. He tried to have special times with each of the children, so that they would remember when they were grown up, just as his father had.
Memories of Mexico slipped into his mind pushing his present situation off to a distance. Memories flooded his mind so clearly that they seemed more real than the faded green walls around him.
Sometimes his father had taken him fishing alone, or into town, where on market days there was always a vendor, who sold American Hamburgers. He did not remember everything about the days they spent alone together, but he always remembered those burgers. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, but the memory of the smell was blocked by a stab of pain in his side and smell of cigarette smoke and fearful sweat that filled the interrogation room.
What would his father have thought to see him now, chained like an animal? For the first time in his life, Hector was glad that his father was gone, and would never know of his disgrace.
He had been only 13-years-old, when his father took him out for one last walk alone. They had walked in the beautiful hills around the small village and talked of dreams and ambitions. It was not the first time they had walked together, with the father imparting wisdom to the son, but on this day, they walked out in a different direction.
Hector carried a backpack. His father had carried a pocket full of hard earned cash, to pay the coyote to smuggle Hector into Texas. There had been tears in his father’s eyes the last time they saw each other.
His father had clasped him on both shoulders, looked him in the eye, and said, “Make me proud Hector!”
Putting his father’s sad face out of his mind, he replaced it with the happy faces of each of his little girls, as they had looked when he took them to work with him for the first time.
Hector was ripped from his memories by a soda can being slammed down on the table in front of him.
“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” the cop snapped, before retreating to the group in the hall.
Hector had watched enough TV shows to know that this was the man playing the good cop. He knew that he had better drink the soda before the bad cop returned from wherever he had gone.
Hector had heard stories about how your life could be ruined when you were arrested for something you did not do. His cousin, who was deported back to Mexico, liked to say that he had been arrested for being Mexican.
What would happen to him? What would happen to Suzan? What would happen to his little girls? He was glad that Sally Anne would be married soon. He tried to push back his fears by concentrating on Sally Anne’s upcoming marriage. Soon his best crew-chief would be his son-in-law, and the young man could be trusted to step in for him if things went badly. From the looks on the faces out in the hallway, things were going badly.
Hector took the last sip of soda, and wishing that he had a cigarette, he laid his head on his arms hoping that the pounding in his temples would go away. The thought of cigarettes drew his mind back to the breakfast table.
He had ground out his cigarette butt into a saucer, folded his newspaper, and took a final swig of cold coffee before going in search of Issy. Walking onto the back porch he had looked around the neglected lawn, seeing it in his mind’s eye the way it would be one day, when he retired from taking care of other people’s lawns. He imagined seeing his grandchildren running and playing.
Hector grasped the memory, trying not to fixate on the pressure that seemed to be building in his head.
He would fix that place were the previous owner’s dog had tunneled under the fence and he would get a dog for his grandchildren. He was sure his girls would give him many grandchildren. He would trim the branches of that big tree and put white picket lawn furniture under its shade. He would plant boarders of tulip beds around the edges of the yard, so that when spring came you would see the bright green cones of the first leaves poking up through the last snow.
He had stood there, lost in the future that no longer seemed so sure, when a voice from up in the tree had said, “Papa, are they gone?”
Hector remembered his own laughter as he stooped down under the low branches and plucked his little redheaded girl out of the tree. “Yes, my little one, they are gone. Are you ready to spend a day with papa?”
Seeing Issy nod her head so vigorously that her body shook, he had continued, “This is the first my clients ever see you, so I want you pretty. Go; get in your Sunday dress. Call me with the hooks, snaps, and shoes.”
Hector wished he could talk so clearly to those people out in the hall. He wished he could make them understand that they were mistaken, but he was only relaxed with his children. With them, he never stuttered nor stammered, and rarely forgot his English, even if his grammar was not the best.
Hector had left Issy to dress, and went to his bedroom to put on his company uniform. As always his uniform was crisply pressed, his shoes shined, and his shirt neatly tucked in. Looking in his wife’s long mirror, he rubbed a little wax, smelling of bayberry, into his mustaches and groomed them into sleek curls. To finish his toilet, he made a quick swipe with the mustache brush, in an attempt to control his bushy eyebrows, as Issy rushed into the room.
He felt sick at the memory of how proudly he had looked himself over in his wife’s long mirror. He could imagine how bad he looked now.
His dark blue pants were no longer held up over his skinny hips by the shiny brown belt with the silver Navaho buckle set with a squash blossom design. They had taken the belt away from him along with his shoelaces. The long-sleeved light blue shirt boasted a Hernandez Landscaping patch over one pocket, and Hector stitched in gold colored thread over the other, was crumpled and stained with grass and blood.
It seemed as if many days had passed since Issy stood in front of him for inspection, wearing her Sunday dress as instructed. He had been so happy as he looked admiringly at his little girl. The dark green dress complemented her rich dark red hair, and the white lace collar and cuffs made a nice contrast to the green fabric. The dress fell from her shoulders to just above her knees, stiffened by two large pleats, making her look like a little green bell.
Where is Issy? If they had messed up her little dress the way they messed up his uniform … Hector dropped the thought as the chains on his wrist kept him from shaking his hands in the air. He laid his head back down and tried to assure himself that the woman who had taken Issy away was taking care of her.
He assured himself that wherever Issy was, his little girl was just as pretty as when she laid her white gloves, Mary Jane shoes, and lace topped socks on the bed, and turned around for him to hook up the neck of her dress. He had fixed the neck, and buttoned the small round pearl buttons on the cuffs of her sleeves, before helping her put on her socks.
“Niña, no gloves today,” he had said, as he lifted her up onto the edge of the bed. It had taken him a while to slip a sock on each wiggly foot, before capturing them in the shiny black shoes, and deftly fastened the tiny silver buckles.
“There, we are ready!” he had said, setting her down on the floor and taking her by the hand, knowing that at nearly six-years-old, she was quite able to put on her own shoes and socks; he liked the ritual.
Hector closed his eyes more tightly. It seemed as if the room was getting progressively brighter. He dismissed the effect as another trick of the cops to break him. He would be calm; he would not break. He was sure that Suzan would be there soon.
Hector had forgotten that Suzan was out of town. He did not know that when he managed to say Suzan’s work number repeatedly to them, that they had assumed it was his lawyer’s number, and did not bother to call.
Thinking that his wife was coming soon he decided to concentrate on trying to figure out why he was there, chained to a table.
He remembered looking at Issy as she sat in the cab of his pickup, the wind rushing through the open windows, tugging at her little lacy white cap. She had looked so happy.
She seemed to understand what an important milestone in growing up it was to be taken with her father to visit a client’s house. He had felt a little saddened; thinking about how fast time was passing. Before long, it would be Issy’s thirteenth birthday, and he would be taking her out to have a grown up dinner, at a real restaurant, alone with her Papa. Then of course there would be her quinceañeras.
Wishing that he could slowdown time, Hector had taken quick glances at his little girl, glad for the time together. Before long, they had arrived at his client’s neighborhood. He turned the pickup down a wide tree lined street. All the houses had deep lawns filled with more stately trees. Unlike the Hernandez’s street, there were no cars parked along the curbs.
“Papa, where are all the cars?” Issy had questioned.
“Cars here have houses,” he had laughed.
Arriving at their destination, he had parked the truck alongside the curb, and helped Issy out. Taking a moment to smooth out his pant legs and shirt, he led her around the house to the side entrance. He had pushed the bell and waited, puzzled that there was no answer. He had pushed the bell several times before remembering that Dr. and Mrs. Jones had gone to New York with their ward that week and even the servants were gone.
He had felt so silly about forgetting that, but had told himself, it was only normal for him to be forgetful, with all the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Sally Anne’s wedding.
He had realized that Issy was no longer waiting quietly beside him. She had wandered off toward the fence to the back yard. He had started out after her, but Issy ran away from him. Realizing that his little girl wanted to play, he had chased after her. He had as much fun chasing his daughter as she had eluding him. It was a game that they had played ever since she could toddle slowly away from him as he chased her with mincing steps.
He called out to his fleeing daughter, “
“Vuelve aquí, pequeño monstruo,” he called out not realizing that he had lapsed into Spanish.
“You’re the MONSTER, YOU’RE NOT MY PAPA! YOU’RE NOT MY PAPA!” Issy had screamed in feigned terror.
Around and around the yard they had run. He kept his speed just slow enough not to catch her, until finally, he ended the game with a burst of speed, swooped up the giggling child, and tucking her under his arm tossed her into the passenger seat of the truck.
Suddenly two police cars had flown down the street from each direction blocking his truck. Uniformed officers, with guns drawn, rushed at him and slammed him up against the truck, one man hitting him in the back of the head with some sort of cudgel.
“What are you doing to that little girl? What are you doing in this neighborhood? Who are you?” they had screamed, not letting up on their assault.
Hector answered all their questions as fast as he could, but he could not bring the English words to mind. Issy had begun screaming at the top of her lungs. A cop with a nightstick continued to beat him, even as he slumped nearly insensible to the ground. He could not see for a moment, but he had heard someone opening the truck door.
“It is okay honey, the bad man won’t hurt you now,” the voice had said gently.
“PAPA, PAPA, PAPA,” Issy had screamed.
He had wanted to be the one to comfort his daughter. He tried to speak. He tried to get up off the ground, only to find himself pushed down by some unseen hand.
“Okay, sweetheart, we will find your daddy for you,” the voice said.
Blinking his eyes and clearing them a little, he was filled with rage to see his daughter in a uniformed stranger’s arms.
He saw people coming out of their houses, and gathering around to stare at him, as if he were some sort of freak at the circus.
He had yelled to them asking if anyone could speak Spanish as he was dragged up from the ground and thrown into the back of a squad car, groggy and confused.
“Does anyone know whose child this is?” an officer asked the gathered spectators.
Hector could see through the squad car windows that most of them were shaking their heads back and forth, but one woman had spoken up. “I have never seen her before, but she must be Kathryn, Dr. Jones’s ward. I heard that she would be staying here until she goes to boarding school next year,” she had said pointing up at the Jones’s house. “It must have been a kidnaping; after all Kathryn is a very rich little girl.”
Hector wanted to cry out that Issy was his, that little Kathryn was up in New York with her guardians, but the words would not come.
“You men go up there and check on the Joneses, there may be more to this than a simple kidnaping. They may need help,” he had heard the officer who carried Issy in the crook of his arm say. Jabbing a thumb toward the occupied squad car, he had said, “That lowlife, either doesn’t or won’t speak English, so we are not getting anything out of him.”
He had been so angry but had been held fast in the car with his arms secured behind his back. He had watched as another car pulled up and a woman got out and took Issy away from the officer holding her.
“There you go ma’am, we think her name is Kathryn. I tried to get her to tell us her name but she just keeps saying, IS HE? over and over. I keep trying to tell her that he can’t hurt her now, but nothing seems to calm her down.”
“That is okay officer, I will take her from here,” the woman had said officiously, as she took Issy, who was sobbing ever loudly for her Papa.
In the back seat of the car Hector had watched feeling useless as the other car drove off, taking his little girl off to … he didn’t know where.
Hector was about to start crying when a kindly voice said, “¿Estás Héctor? Soy John. Yo hablo español.”
The man called John, who was a social worker, spent some time listening to Hector, asking few questions. Outside the interrogation room, a group of officers conversed with the assistant district attorney and John’s partner, as they waited for John to finish with the suspect.
“Well,” John said, “I am afraid you boys, might have beat him a little too hard. He thinks that the little white girl is his daughter Isabella. His name is Hector, and he claims to be the owner of Hernandez Landscapers.”
“The truck is registered to Hernandez Landscapers, and we found a driver’s license. Its photo seems to match our suspect. We are running his prints now. We have tried to contact the company but no one is answering. We have tried to contact someone at the home address on the driver’s license, and there is no one there. A neighbor saw Hernandez leave this morning, but didn’t notice a child with him,” one of the uniformed officers interjected.
A plainclothes detective walked up and said, “I have located the Joneses, they are safe in New York … get this … with their ward! That little girl you have isn’t Kathryn.”
“Wait a second,” exclaimed the female social worker, “Did you say his daughter’s name is Isabella?”
“Yes, that’s what he told me.”
“OH, NO! The girl wasn’t yelling IS HE, she was telling us her name is Issy … Issy, for Isabella!”
“Are you saying the child is his? If that is true, it is going to be very very bad for the department,” the detective exclaimed, wondering if he dared destroy the audiotape of the interrogation.
A sergeant walking down the hall caught the exchange between the social worker and the detective and commented, “It is going to be even worse than you think. Mrs. Hernandez, a very angry redheaded Mrs. Hernandez, is at the reception desk with her boss. They came by private plane back to Washington, DC, from a business trip after Mrs. Hernandez received a call from a neighbor that her husband, Hector, was being held here.”
“Jesus, how could this get any worse?” asked the Assistant DA. Turning to look down the hall toward the glass wall that divided the detectives’ area from the reception area; he saw just how his career was going to end. He saw a statuesque redheaded woman in a chic business suit being comforted by the infamous TNT, T. Norman Towns, litigation attorney.
“Oh, my god, that’s her boss?” he gasped.
The sergeant sadly nodded his head, thankful that he was not involved in this case.
Hector was taken away in an ambulance with Suzan at his side, and Norman took Issy home, as she continued asking for her Papa.
Ten years after her father’s brutal beating, Issy again found herself nearly paralyzed by fear, in a strange place surrounded by strange people. After having ridden the Greyhound bus through the night, she was surprised that all the other passengers got off when the bus stopped that morning.
Issy sat looking out the window wondering what town she was in, when the driver looked up at her in the rearview mirror.
“Hey young lady, this is where you get off!” he called back.
“But this isn’t Florida. I paid for a trip to Florida,” she said, not wanting to leave the warm bus.
“That is a long way, you will probably have to change buses several times. I don’t know why they put you on this one. We came the wrong direction. Let me see your ticket.”
Issy went to the front of the bus and stood next to the driver as he examined her ticket.
“I am afraid that they put you on the wrong bus. You can get off here and try to get on a bus going the right way, or you can ride back with me and we can try to get you onto the next bus going south,” he said kindly.
“Where are you going to?” Issy asked, suddenly realizing that she must have transposed numbers again, when she was looking for her bus at the station.
“I am turning back to Takoma Park.”
“I guess I will get off here,” Issy said, trying not to let any emotion show on her face.
There was no way she was going back to Takoma Park, back to Suzan’s house, and the horrors she had left behind. She would never return to that woman, who she could not now bring herself to call Mother.
“I will get my stuff,” Issy said.
Stopping next to the driver again carrying her rucksack, Issy asked, “Do you know what bus I need to get to Fort Walton Beach?”
“I’m sorry kid, I only know my own run. It shouldn’t be too long until the ticket booth opens. I am sure they will be able to help you.”
As she stood on the steps of the bus, clutching her rucksack to her chest, she toyed with the idea of staying on the bus and going back. The thought of going back to that house, knowing what she now knew, caused the blood to rush to her face and her eyes welled up with tears. As she hopped down, she turned away so the driver could not see.
She walked over to the ticket office to find out when it would open. Depressed at the answer, she watched as the bus backed up and pulled out of the station. When she could no longer make out the bus’s taillights, she sat on one of the concrete benches and started to read a tattered paperback novel. Before long she found herself shivering, and shoving the book back into her rucksack she began walking to keep warm. From time to time she held her cheap wristwatch to her ear, sure that it must have stopped running.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Issy said, tentatively, to the kind looking woman, who had just lifted the shade, which covered the ticket window overnight.
“The driver told me that his bus didn’t go all the way. He told me to talk to you when you came to work.”
“Oh dear, are you all alone?” she asked, and seeing Issy nod she continued, “How long have you been wandering around here by yourself?”
“About four hours, I guess.”
“Tsk-tsk, let me see your ticket.”
Issy pushed her ticket through the small space at the bottom of the thick glass window and waited silently. She found she was holding her breath, expecting the worst, but not knowing what the worst could be.
“Goodness, you shouldn’t have been on a bus that stopped here.”
“I shouldn’t?” Issy asked, innocently, not wanting to admit she already knew she had gotten on the wrong bus.
“No, you must have gotten on the wrong bus in Maryland. You wait while I see what I can do for you.”
Issy stood trying not to fidget while the woman made a few phone calls, while consulting a large sheet of paper covered with numbers. She had about convinced herself that she was going to have to buy another ticket when the woman put down the phone and looked up at her.
“Okay, here is what I can do for you. Those folks should have never let you get on the wrong bus. There is a bus coming through tomorrow night. It will take you down to the town where you can get on the Jacksonville bus. From there you can catch the bus for Fort Walton Beach.”
“Thank you ma’am.”
The ticket agent wrote everything Issy needed to know out on the back of an envelope and gave it to her. “Now make sure you don’t lose this.”
“I won’t ma’am.”
“Good! Now you can’t be hanging around here. There is a little motel down a piece. You head on down there, and I will call and tell the lady that runs the place to look after you.”
“Thank you ma’am,” Issy said, and tucked the precious paper into her rucksack.
Issy parted with forty dollars of her scanty funds, and found herself ensconced in a somewhat musty room, so close to the road that the passing cars’ lights seemed to cut through the thin curtains. She was upset that she had to pay for two nights in the room, though she would be heading out the next evening.
There had been a man at the desk, rather than the nice woman, who the bus lady told her to expect. He had not been very nice when he told her that if she stayed one minute past noon she had to pay for the night. He told her that she should be happy that he was letting her check in so early, that he shouldn’t be letting her in until that afternoon. Sure that the bus lady would not let her hang around the bus station for hours, she grudgingly paid for the second night, worried that he would tell her to go away, and not let her have a room, if she argued.