May 28, 1961
“If you want her, come and get her.” The laugh following the simple challenge struck fear to Stefan’s bones.
He barely had time to recognize the voice before it continued its taunt.
“She’s at my place. Off River Road.” The receiver dropped back into its cradle with a loud click.
Stefan stepped into his shoes even as his mind shuffled the possibilities of a trap. It was midnight. Nearly six hours since Charlotte Anderson first called to ask if he’d seen Johanna.
He’d spent the evening driving up and down every country road within twenty miles before giving up the search and collapsing, exhausted but sleepless, on the couch. Stefan knew he had good reason to be afraid of what he might find.
Ron Oakley was a lecherous coward, the sort of man who used whatever leverage he could get to achieve his own ends. The question was how those ends involved Stefan. No one here knew his connection to Johanna. Apart from one clash, their acquaintance was strictly that of restaurant owner and very occasional customer.
Buttoning his shirt with his left hand as he went, Stefan grabbed his car keys. It crossed his mind to call the police, but he rejected the thought. It was less than two miles to Oakley’s farm west of Fergus. He could be there in five minutes. If he waited for an Ontario Provincial Police constable from Mount Forest to accompany him, he might still be waiting an hour from now. His daughter needed rescuing as quickly as possible.
Stefan backed his car out of the garage and turned south, then west along St. Andrews. The streets were deserted and Stefan floored the accelerator.
Moonlight shining between the evergreens dappled the gravel road as it followed the western bank of the Grand River. He found the tree-lined farm laneway dark and quiet. Not even a dog barked as he pulled to a stop by the fenced yard surrounding the clapboard house. No lights showed anywhere in the building. What was going on?
He saw Oakley’s sedan parked in front of a shed close to the empty barn at the end of the lane. That seemed to indicate someone was in the house despite its dark silence.
Stefan shut off his car and stepped out. A night bird cried eerily. His footsteps seemed loud on the gravel path across the unkempt lawn and even louder on the wooden floorboards of the back porch. The screen door barring his way to the kitchen bounced under his knock. The inner door stood open but he could see nothing of the room’s interior. Where was Johanna?
He knocked twice, then pulled the door open. It creaked loudly enough to alert anyone within earshot. In the unnerving silence Stefan felt sweat slicking his armpits and palm.
“Oakley?” he called. “Hello, Oakley. Are you here?”
Black as the yard seemed, Stefan knew he would stand out in silhouette to anyone inside. Half-expecting the crack of a shot, he stepped sideways to reduce his visibility. His own heartbeat thundered in his ears, drowning the stillness of the house.
He stood for several moments, bracing himself, then reached his left hand cautiously along the wall feeling for a light switch. The click was almost as shocking as the brilliance of the overhead light that accompanied it.
One look told Stefan the room was empty. The kitchen table was bare, but two chairs were pulled back from it. A couple of plates and two mugs fresh from the dishpan sat on the counter under a wall-mounted telephone.
Gott! Johanna, where are you?
Stefan disliked the idea of searching the house but he saw no alternative. He moved left into the living room. Again his heart rose in his throat as he stepped into the darkness. He bumped into a small table and caught the lamp on its surface before it fell over. He turned it on.
This room was not empty. Ron Oakley sprawled face-down across the rug beside the chesterfield.