Saturday, March 26, 2011

FICTION: Déjà Viewed By Emma Eden Ramos

Sierra Kneiling has been seven for three months now. She is the youngest of Will and Sandra’s three children, but no one would dare call her the “baby” of the family. She is tall for her age, has freckles, straight dirty blond hair, big blue (almost grey) eyes and a wonderfully mischievous laugh. Sierra is a sharp young girl who, unlike most children her age, has no tolerance for being coddled or infantilized. “Sierra is the boss,” Will sometimes said of his youngest daughter, “she could crush an army.”

This afternoon, Sandra watches from the top step of the Kneiling family’s front porch as her daughter plays. The small house stands respectably on Winthrop Street in Brooklyn, New York, directly across from Kings County Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Center.

On this day in July, Sierra has decided to create a barricade out of graham crackers with an equal number of toy soldiers on each side. “If the cracker-wall breaks,” she explained, “the soldiers will shoot each other.” It was like Hansel and Gretel meets World War II, Sandra mused, watching her daughter play. Even funnier than the game itself was watching Sierra lose her patience with Bandit, the family Jack Russell Terrier, each time he ate her fortification. Sierra would erect a new edible blockade and Bandit would devour it. The two make an incredibly unproductive team, Sandra thought.

It was 3:08 PM and Sandra’s two older children, Asher, 12 and Stephanie, 9 were inside watching tv. Will, as usual, wouldn’t be home from work until after 5:30.

Then, out of left field; “Bandit,” Sierra shouts, surprising her mother, “you are a menace! Go inside! Mom, can you put Bandit inside? He’s ruining the game.”

“Alright missy,” the entertainment was over, Sandra thought. Sierra was becoming quite peeved.

“Bandit, Come! Come on boy.”

Sandra ushers the reluctant terrier into the house. Then, to quicken the process, she picks him up and walks through the front room, towards the kitchen. Bandit, a typically naughty terrier, spent most of his time in the kitchen; a child proof gate separating him from the rest of the house. He was, Sandra thought, like one the soldiers in Sierra’s game. Without the gate, there would be a constant battle between Bandit and his five masters.

The gate is easy to assemble and, though unhappy about being exiled from the front porch, Bandit doesn’t protest.

Sandra walks briskly into the living room. She needs to check on her two older children, but can’t leave Sierra unaccompanied outside for very long.

“Mom?” Stephanie is sprawled out on one end of the living room sofa, Asher on the other. The two watched What About Bob?, a movie their father always enjoyed.

“Mom, Im hungry.”

“Steph, you’re sisters alone outside. You can get your own snack.”

“No. Bandit will run out of the kitchen and I won’t be able to get him back in. He never listens to me.”

“Okay, what do you want Steph? Come on, something quick.”

“Can I have one of those Honey Nut Cheerios cereal bars?”

Sandra walks back into the kitchen, over to the cereal cabinet. Of course, the box is empty.

“Steph, Stephanie! The cereal bars are all gone. What else do you want?” No answer. With the television on, the children can’t hear me, Sandra realizes, annoyed.

Repositioning the kitchen gate, Sandra walks back to the living room.

“Asher, turn the volume down. I was shouting in the kitchen and neither of you heard me. Stephanie, the cereal bars are all gone. What else do you want?”

“Can I have… umm… a banana with peanut butter then?”

“Fine, Ill bring you the jar and the knife. You and cut it up your self.”

“Can you just do it?”

Arguing will only take up more time. Sandra hurries back into the kitchen, this time using her foot to keep the dog from running out.

Grabbing a plate, a knife, a banana and the jar of Jiff peanut butter, Sandra makes her daughter’s snack as quickly as she can.

Back in the living room, Stephanie and Asher are glued to the tv. Neither one has bothered to turn down the volume. Sandra places the plate of food on the living room table and rushes outside to check on her youngest child. She can’t have been gone for more that seven minutes.

Opening the front door, Sandra first notices the pile of toy soldiers. They are scattered on the steps, the graham cracker box nowhere in sight. Sierra?

“Sierra?” Sandra calls, she must be on the other side of the house.

“Sierra, sweety? Where are you?”

No answer.

Sandra checks both sides of the house. The sun hit the front porch at full blast. Maybe Sierra moved to keep cool.

The little girl wasn’t on either side. She wasn’t at the back of the house either. Could she have gone inside while I was in the kitchen? Sandra wondered, her heart beating wildly.

“Sierra!” Sandra screams, reentering the house.

Startled by the shrill sound of his mother’s voice, Asher switches the tv off.

“Hey! Turn it back on!” Stephanie yells at her older brother.

“Shut up.”

“Mom?” Asher hears the sound of racing footsteps.

“Asher, have you seen your sister? She’s not outside where I left her!”

Both Sandra and Asher know that there is no way Sierra would have come inside without at least checking to see what her older siblings were watching.

“No, mom.”

Sandra cups her hand over her mouth. Asher watches as his mother races back outside, through the front door. He can hear her running up the street, calling his youngest sister’s name, each call becoming more and more panicked.

Dr. William Kneiling, MD, works on the thirteenth floor of the new Brooklyn Supreme Court building. For seven years he has worked as a Forensic Psychiatrist in Brooklyn, conducting competency evaluations and testifying as an expert witness in Mental Health Court.

At 3:35 in the afternoon, Will dictates the findings of his latest psychiatric evaluation to the office secretary. He is getting ready to testify at his last trial for the day.

“I have found Mr. Hicks unfit to proceed to trial.” Will begins, “He lacks even the most fundamental understanding of the workings of the court system and believes that, though there is overwhelming evidence that he did, indeed try and sell crack cocaine to two undercover cops, he will be found not guilty and released. During the interview Mr. Hicks was unable to coherently explain the job of his lawyer, the prosecuting lawyer and jury. When asked what the judge would do, Mr. Hicks claimed, ‘Hear the voice of god and set me free.’ It is my opinion that…”

“Will,” one of Dr. Kneiling’s office mates and long time friend, Sharon Rothberg, interrupts, “your cell has been ringing nonstop.”

The police have been at the Kneiling house for only 20 minutes when Will’s grey Nissan Altima pulls up in the driveway. Sandra is inside going over the incident. The two officers seem genuinely concerned, but Sandra finds some of their questions insulting:

“Are you sure she isn’t playing a game? Could she have gone off for a walk and gotten lost?”

Sierra is seven, she doesn’t take walks by herself. And she is incredibly conscientious. She would never scare her parents on purpose. This wasn’t a case of an inconsiderate child taking a game of Hide and Seek too far. And lastly, Will, having worked with criminals in the justice system, hearing, first hand, the dangers of everyday life had instilled a healthy fear of strangers in his three children. If Sierra had gone off with someone, Sandra knew it wasn’t willingly.

Will dashes up the front steps his missing daughter played on that very afternoon. Asher and Stephanie are on the living room couch, both looking scared and confused, the television is off.

Will heads into the kitchen. Sandra’s voice is a couple octaves higher than usual, and Will can tell immediately that she is annoyed with the officers. He knows they have to rule out all options before sending out an Amber Alert, but shares his wife’s impatience.

“Hello, Dr. Kneiling?”


“I’m officer Melendez, this is officer Jameson.”

“Hello.” Will stands directly behind his wife, placing a hand on each shoulder.

“We’ve just been going over everything that happened this afternoon,” continues officer Melendez. “It seems that your wife took your daughter outside to play at around 3:00. She went into the house at about 3:15 to get your middle child a snack, came back outside seven minutes later. This would mean that Sierra went missing sometime between 3:15 and 3:22.”


“Although, considering we only have a window of seven minutes, it is safe to suspect that she went missing closer to the exact time your wife came into the house. If she walked off,”

Will can feel his wife’s shoulders tense at these words, he too knows Sierra wouldn’t just walk off.

“She would,” Officer Melendez continues, “need at least five minutes to get all the way down the street and completely out of sight. And,” the officer continues speaking slowly and with as much tact as he can muster, “if she’s been taken, the abductor would need at least five minutes to fully disappear, leaving no trace of him or herself by the time your wife came back outside.”

“She didn’t walk off,” Sandra responds.

“We need to take all the possibilities in to account, ma’am.”

Tom Rourke, 55, had gotten out of the force as fast as he could. With two sons in private universities and a wife who was constantly in and out of the hospital, a state police detective’s wage didn’t come close to satisfying his expenses. Still, Tom was a good, hard working American. He would have been happy to devote his life to public service had it not been for his personal situation. His days of chasing down criminals for petty cash were over. Now Tom fought crime privately and for a more sizeable salary. He took all kinds of cases, but specialized in kidnappings. The kidnapping cases Rourke typically handled involved domestic disputes. One parent ran away with their child and the other hired Tom to find them. Open and shut, and, more importantly, rarely any casualties. However, when he received a phone call from a Dr. William Kneiling who believed his seven year old had been snatched right in front of his family home, Tom felt obliged to take the case. Kneiling’s close friend, Dr. Elaine Schulman, was the doctor who diagnosed Tom’s wife’s brain tumor. Apparently Elaine’s son Max was good friends with the missing girl. Tom felt he couldn’t refuse a friend of the person who saved his wife’s life, but didn’t see much hope for the little girl. Sierra Kneiling had been gone a week now and it seemed the police had absolutely nothing. It was common knowledge that the longer a child went missing, the less likely he or she was to be found alive. So far, the prognosis looked tragically grim.

Will sat on the living room couch, a bottle of Bushmill Original Irish Whiskey and a shot glass in front of him. Ill set ‘em up, he thought, and then Ill nock ‘em back. It was 11:45 PM. Sandra had taken a Valume and was trying to sleep. Asher and Stephanie had gone to bed at 10:00, and since then, Will had checked on them at least five times. Tomorrow afternoon Will was schedueled to meet with a private detective he’d been reffered to by a good friend. Hopefully Thomas Rourke could be of further assistance.

The man from the car with the puppy was not a nice man. He’d said, “Are you Will Kneiling’s daughter? Im a good friend of his. I hear you love dogs, look at this puppy Im giving my daughter for her birthday tomorrow. Do you think she’ll like him? What do you think his name should be?” Sierra knew she wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers, but the man said he knew her dad. He said he had a daughter and the puppy was so cute. She’d only wanted to take a quick look, maybe just pet the dog once. Now she was in a dark room somewhere. Sometimes she heard young voices, could they be the mans kids? Sierra wondered…

It was 5:15 AM when Will heard the house phone ring. He knew it must be important.

“Hello,” Will said in an excited tone, grabbing the phone directly after the second ring. Sandra watched her husband, reading each facial expression as he spoke. Was there any news? Was it bad? Exhaustion was the only feeling Will’s face seemed able to portray.

“Will? Its Sharon, from work.”

“Oh, yes, hi.”

“Do you remember Martin Wilson, we evaluated him in 2004.”

“I think so, why?”

“He jumped his parole?”

“Alright, what am I supposed to do about it?”

“He got out on parole three weeks ago and disappeared last week.”

“Uh huh,” Will rubbed his temples as Sharon spoke. He was too tired to make the connection, it had to be fed to him.

“Will, do you remember what he said at his trial?”

“He said he’d come after me, yes I remember. He was a terrible actor”

“He knew if his case went to trial he’d be convicted, the evidence against him was overwhelming. He was afraid of going to prison, thought a psych ward would be more fun. And, it looks like something might have happened to him at Rykers, if you know what I mean.”

“I remember, he blamed us, well me especially for the verdict. When they called me to testify at his trial I made it quite clear that I thought he was malingering. I believe I called him insolent and manipulative. After hearing his sentence he said he’d come after me once he got out.”

“You ought to tell the police. Let them know. Maybe he was serious in his threat.”

It was possible, Will thought. It would be beyond stupid for a man to hold such a grudge and then kidnap a child when he was about to be released, given the chance at a new life. It was far-fetched, but possible.

Will sits in his living room with Tom. This is the first time the two have met and Will likes the detective immediately.

“I doubt that’s the man we’re looking for,” Tom Rourke says, after hearing Will’s news about Martin Wilson.

“Well, so far, there are no leads. Nothing.”

“But,” Tom continues, “this could be good for the case. If Wilson is the only suspect, the police will go after him with all they’ve got. Either they will find him and he will turn out to be the person we’re looking for or news of his believed involvement will reach the actual perpetrator and make him relax and get sloppy. If I were you, and I know this may sound dishonest, I’d lead the police to believe that you seriously think Wilson might be the kidnapper. If he isn’t, then his only worry will be jumping parole, which he should be punished for anyways.”


“Now, I know an Amber Alert has been released. Give people some time to get used to looking at Sierra’s photo. If our guy is stupid enough to take her out in public, hopefully someone will notice. I’m going to do some research, see if there are any other missing children from the area.”

“Thank you for your help, Mr. Rourke.”

“Look, I understand. I, too am a father.”

Sierra huddles quietly in her dark prison, back against the wall, legs clutched tightly against her chest. The man from the car came in about twice a day with food and water. He also brought a clean bucket, meant to be used as a toilet. He moved quickly and never said anything. Within the last day, though, Sierra has become certain of one thing: the voices she kept hearing were not those of the man’s own kids. Sierra has heard screaming and crying and knows that she is not the only prisoner in the man from the car with the puppy’s house.

Sierra Kneiling was missing for two weeks when Martin Wilson finally popped up on the Cops’ radar. He had been living in a vacant car-lot close to Newark Airport. He planned to take a plane to Miami and was helping a friend with drug deals in order to get enough money to pay half the air-fare, his brother in Miami had promised to take care of the rest.

“You’re going to need that money for a good lawyer once we find out what you’ve done with that little girl.” Detective James Morris knew that Sierra Kneiling’s parents had hired a private detective after only one week into the investigation. He was insulted by their lack of faith in the NYPD and felt determined to find the child before Tom Rourke did. He knew Rourke, by reputation, and knew how beneficial it would be for the State to find the child (dead or alive) before a private investigator. And, Detective Morris felt confident that Wilson was the man they were looking for.

The spirit in the Kneiling house had lifted since the news of Martin Wilson’s capture. Sandra was hopeful. Detective Morris told her he was about 75% sure he’d caught Sierra’s abductor. “Interrogations are not taped in New York State”, Morris explained, “We will bleed this bastard, if we have to, to get him to talk. This man has no record of violence, which means, Mrs. Kneiling, that there is a good chance Sierra is okay.”

“I don’t like it,” Tom Rourke responded, after hearing the news from Will. “It still doesn’t make sense to me. Have they found any evidence?”

“No, but obviously they can hold him for jumping parole. They are searching the car-lot he was found in.”

The police probably believe Wilson sold the child for money, Rourke thinks to himself. But Wilson was a drug pusher. He’d never, so far as anyone could tell, been involved in human trafficking. It didn’t make sense. Also, Wilson clearly was not especially bright. He’d jumped parole (something he’d be severely punished for) to sell drugs in order to buy a ticket to Florida. Anyone with even half a brain would have just waited it out, moved to the sunny coast after finishing their parole. Whoever had taken Sierra was slick. He’d figured out a way to trick a clever and weary seven year old into trusting him and then disappeared, after seven minutes at most, with the child in tow. This abduction was not the work of a drug dealer with a second-class mind.

It was 11:00 PM and while his wife was resting (she’d had another one of her terrible headaches), Tom Rourke sat on his living room couch. A bottle of Coors and a Newport Cigarette kept Tom’s right hand busy (he took turns smoking and sipping), while the other controlled of the tv clicker. Rourke settled on a news station. Sitting on the sofa, his nine-year-old Rotweiler Dirk by his side, Tom thought over the Kneiling case. In the past eleven years, in New York State alone, the number of child abductions had dropped from 28,000 to 20,400. These statistics were substantial and Tom knew they were highly valued by the NYPD. Still, Rourke felt the police weren’t using all their resources in the Kneiling case. Will and Sandra both sounded so relieved on the phone, it just didn’t seem right. Tom had gone through the other missing children files within the Brooklyn area and was stumped. It seemed as though…

“Felecia Daniels, 8, went missing in front of her family’s home in Flushing Queens last month. The young girl was taken when her older brother left her alone on the front porch of their home for what he claimed could have been no longer than five minutes. If anyone has any information, please call…”

The sound of the broadcasting together with the photo of young Felecia Knowlton Daniels sent off sirens in Rourke’s mind. The circumstances were virtually identical, the only difference was that Sierra lived in Brooklyn and the Daniels’ resided in Queens. Tom wrote down the number from the Amber Alert. Tomorrow, he decided, he would pay the Daniels’ a visit.

9:00 AM, and Detective Rourke makes his way up the steps of the Daniels family’s house. A woman, somewhere in her mid-40’s, opens the door and introduces herself as Monica Daniels.

“Hello, my name is Detective Thomas Rourke. I am from Brooklyn. May I speak with you for a moment.”

Mrs. Daniels invites Tom in, offering him a cup of coffee.

“Have you heard about the young girl who went missing in Brooklyn two weeks ago, Sierra Kneiling?”

“Yes, I believe I have.”

“Well, the circumstances of Sierra’s kidnapping are very similar to those of your daughters disapearence. Sierra was taken from her family’s home on Winthrop Street between Brooklyn Avenue and New York Avenue when…”

“Winthrop between… That’s right by Kings County Hospital.”

“You are familiar with the area?”

“Yes, I worked there from 1998 to 2003 in the Psychiatric Emergency Center. I was a Psychiatric Nurse.”

Upon taking the Kneiling case, Tom did a background check on both Will and Sandra. Will’s job wasn’t directly in the “Line of fire”, but it could be potentially dangerous if one wasn’t careful. The Kneilings were not listed in the phone book, nor was their address public information. However, if someone had access to the internet and was willing to pay thirty dollars, they could acquire all the information they needed. Now Tom leaves the Daniels’ home in a hurry. There was, after all, a connection between the Kneilings and the Daniels families. Will worked as a psychiatrist at Kings County Hospital before moving to The Brooklyn Supreme Court. The Court was, in fact, affiliated with the hospital. Mrs. Daniels said she’d been a psychiatric nurse at the Psychiatric Emergency Center between 1998 and 2003. Will’s employment at the hospital coincided with Mrs. Daniels’. This was a connection that, in Tom’s mind, could not be ignored.

“Will?” Tom calls the Kneiling home from his car. “Will I have some new information. Its…”

“Jonah Wright. I know. I was his Psychiatrist at Kings County in 2001. His wife and daughter were brutally murdered while he was under my care at the hospital. Two of the nurses who were also on call the evening of the murder, Christian Baxter and Monica Daniels’ daughters are missing. I just got the call from Detective Morris. Im going with them to his place right now.”

Relieved, Tom drives back to his home. Sierra would be found after all. Christian Baxter, Rourke hadn’t even heard the name. He’d missed it.

Arriving home, Tom checks on his wife. The reoccurring headaches were bad news. They’d have to pay another visit to Dr. Schulman.

At his computer, Rourke runs a check over the Baxter family. Two sons and five year old girl, Hadley. The Daniels also had one son and a daughter. Sitting at his computer, Tom goes over the kidnapping scenario. Wright lost his wife and daughter while under the care of Dr. Kneiling on a night when the two nurses were on call. Something must have happened, Wright must have lost it when he received the news. Kneiling and the two nurses probably had to restrain him. Sierra, Hadley and Felecia were abducted out of revenge. However, Tom realized jumping up from his desk, there was one major difference between the three families. The Kneilings had one other daughter.

Wright’s house is in Bayside Queens. Will insisted on riding with the police to the home of his daughter’s abductor. He has been warned of all the grisly possibilities. But, if Sierra is alive and well, Will felt he needed to be there for her the moment she is found. Sandra stayed home with Asher and Stephanie. All was safe…

Tom Rourke jumps into his car and speeds out of the driveway. The cops would show up at Wright’s place just in time for Wright to enter the Kneiling house. Will had said he was accompanying the police to the home of his daughter’s abductor. That meant Sandra was alone with the other kids.

“Mom,” Asher interrupts Sandra while she sits in the kitchen by the phone waiting for the news from her husband.

“Mom, there is a strange man outside our house.”

Then, both mother and son are startled by the loud knocking at the front door. Bandit appears, growling from under the kitchen table.

“Bandit, shhh. Asher, sweety, we don’t have to worry anymore. The police have found the man.”

Sandra pushes the child proof gait aside and walks towards the front door.

Sandra Kneiling freezes. The man is about 6’4, with dark brown hair and a menacing look in his eyes. He wears a white shirt and black jeans. Stephanie stands directly in front of him, a hunting knife held three inches below her chin.

“Daddy!” It takes a moment for Sierra’s eyes to adjust to the daylight, but the image of her father standing in front of the police car makes everything else seem trivial. Will grabs his daughter. As he holds her, thinking that his arms may be incapable of loosening their grip, Will watches as the police bring the other two children from the house. Hadley and Felecia have been held captive longer than Sierra and seem more bewildered and traumatized, though Will knows Sierra will be working through the incident on a therapists couch for years to come.

“Oh my god. Please, I won’t move. Let her go.” Sandra’s knees are weak, but she uses all her will power to keep them from collapsing.

Focusing on Stephanie and the knife pressed against her neck, Sandra doesn’t notice the sound of racing foot steps followed by the opening of the front door.

The pop is so loud, Sandra, Stephanie and Asher all scream. Sandra, her legs unable to hold the weight of both her body and her terror, falls to the ground. She can’t open her eyes. Stephanie has been shot, she thinks, the man has shot my child.

“Sandra, Sandra!” Tom’s voice is soothing. Sandra looks up. The front of her home is splattered with blood, but right in front of her is detective Rourke.

“Sandra, she’s alright. Stephanie is alright, she’s just fainted from the shock. Wright is dead, I shot him. Everything is alright now, I…”

Before Detective Rourke can finish his sentence, the house phone rings. Will is on the line. Sierra is okay. The Kneiling family is now safe from harm.

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