On August 12, 1980, while swimming with her boyfriend, Joey, a stranger killed him and abducted Jeanne Smith. Thirty-four years later, authorities had no idea who kidnapped her or where she was. Amanda Smith, Jeanne's mother, dying of cancer, in a last chance attempt to find her daughter, hired John LeGrand, the Cajun PI. What John discovers is a string of missing girls spanning four decades. This is the premise of my new work in progress. The following scene will never make it into the book; however, it did give me an idea why Amanda is so determined to find her daughter. I don't always write scenes for my secondary characters, but occasionally, I find it important enough to do so. Enjoy.
Amanda Smith's life was not an easy one. The daughter of a sharecropper, a sweet potato farmer for Alcide Rozas, she suffered the taunts of the other kids who did not want for new clothes, food, and a house with electricity and running water. She swore that if she ever had children, they would not want for any of those things.
At sixteen, she did not go to the Junior/Senior Prom Night at Serpentville High School because she had nothing to wear, and even if she could have somehow afforded something decent, she had no date. No boy would ask her to a prom. She was not ugly. She was plain. Plain-colored hair. Plain face. Plain body. Plain intelligence. Plain clothes. Everything about her was plain. In fact, the photographer taking the Junior pictures for the yearbook grimaced when she sat for him.
At seventeen, when prom time at EHS rolled around, she figured there was no hope that anyone would ask her, but someone did. Shaking from nervousness, Johnny Smith snuck up on her in the library and asked if she would go with him. Johnny was nerdy, a math whiz. He had an oversized Adam's apple, wore thick black-rimmed glasses, khaki pants, and a checkered shirt over a soft, flabby body. Several zits stood out prominently on his face, and his oily black hair was combed back from his forehead. He was not handsome by any stretch of the imagination, and no girl would consider accompanying him to the prom, but Amanda was no stranger to logic. She figured out his reasoning immediately. Since no girl would go out with him, and no boy would go with her, they were a perfect match.
She was so startled by Johnny's invitation that she stuttered.
"Oh," Johnny said, lowering his head and shoulders and walking away.
"Wait," she called out after him. "I didn't mean I wouldn't go with you. I just meant I don't know if I can."
He turned and sat down at the library table, across from her.
"When will you know?"
"Tomorrow. I'll know tomorrow."
Amanda's father's shack was just off the Isaacton gravel road, about three miles north of Ellisonville. The school bus route ran four miles west, going over a network of graveled and paved country roads. The driver turned the bus around at an abandoned farm house, doubled back for about a half mile, then turned northeast again traveling through another maze of country roads. The scenery was always the same, changing only with the seasons. The farms were mostly cotton with soybean and sweet potato fields sandwiched between them. In the spring, the cotton plants were babies. In early summer, they flowered, and in late summer the cotton bolls popped open. In the fall, there were only dead stalks left in the fields. In the winter, there was nothing except empty rows, bare and brown.
When the bus finally arrived at the dirt lane leading to her father's shack, Amanda ran home, an armload of books in her arms. She wasn't sure what to think about Johnny asking her for a date to the prom. On the one hand, he wasn't exactly the dream date. On the other, at least, he was a date. She decided that if she could convince her parents to buy her a dress, she would go with him.
She asked her mother, but when she realized that the prom dream would cost over twenty dollars, she balked.
"Your daddy is not going to go for that, honey. We just can't afford it. Twenty dollars would buy a lot of food."
When Amanda approached her father, he said basically the same thing her mother said, but he did have an idea.
"Let me talk to Arlene." Miss Arlene was Mr. Alcide's wife. "Maybe there are some odd jobs you can do for her to earn the money. Mind you, you'll still have to do your chores here."
Miss Arlene and Mr. Alcide Rozas were a childless couple, and Amanda had sat at her feet many times, listening to her tell stories of the "old days," while she sewed or knitted. They were not rich, but they owned their own home and enough land to sharecrop out. They lived comfortably enough compared to her family.
Miss Arlene sent word through her father for her to come by. She had a few chores for her to do. As payment, she would buy her a dress and fix it up.
Amanda was going to the prom.
The decorations committee had built a large papier-mâché replica of two opened hands side by side. Seated on stools in the palms of the hands were the king and queen elected by the student body.
Amanda met Johnny at the entrance to the gymnasium. Her father drove her in his old Chevrolet pickup and dropped her off in the parking lot. Johnny, dressed in a powder blue tuxedo, waited for her at the entrance. When he saw her, his eyes widened, and he let out a small gasp of surprise.
"You look beautiful."
Amanda had never felt beautiful before, but on this night, she felt like a queen. She wore a white full-length dress. The bodice was powder blue, matching Johnny's tux, and dipped down emphasizing her shoulders and just enough of her breasts to be exciting. A powder blue band encircled her waist and tied into a bow whose ends dangled the length of the white skirt. Her long dark hair hung straight, just above her shoulders. Her mother had ironed the hair to insure straightness and cut her bangs evenly across so that they dangled just above her eyes—a very mod coiffure that Mrs. Manuel discovered in a copy of Vogue.
Johnny gave her his arm and escorted her into the gymnasium. They received several surprised stares, but neither had eyes for anyone except each other.
For Amanda, the prom had been a dream come true. It was everything she could have imagined—romantic, exciting, and entertaining. She and Johnny danced until her legs ached. When it was over, he offered to take her home. She agreed and toe to toe on her front porch, he kissed her—a wonderful kiss that lingered long after he'd left.
They became a couple after that. Dowdy Amanda had a boyfriend. Insipid Johnny had a girlfriend. They did things together. He loved jazz. He took her to the Jazz Festival in New Orleans. They walked from stage to stage. They danced, kicking up dust that covered their legs like a fine mist. Amanda loved hiking, so he took her to Kisatchie National forest where they hiked and explored for an entire day until they were too tired to go on.
After they graduated from school, Amanda secured a job at the local Walgreens pharmacy. Johnny attended Louisiana State University under a scholarship. He wanted a degree in accounting. During his junior year, when he came home for spring break, Amanda had some news for him. She was pregnant.
He did not hesitate. He married her, and she moved to Baton Rouge to be with her husband. He lived in a rundown apartment—really, a room in a house. He shared a kitchen and a bathroom with three other students. She found a job clerking at a nearby quick stop store while he attended school and worked at a student aid job.
They found a tiny garage apartment within walking distance of the college. Jeanne arrived on November 24, 1963, a beautiful perfectly healthy girl. Amanda quit her job to take care of the baby. She quickly became the focus of their lives.
Johnny graduated six months later and immediately enrolled in a master's program, which he finished in two years. He applied for a job with Magnolia Financial Group in Ellisonville and was hired. He loved his job and climbed the executive ladder so fast that by the time he died in a car crash in 1975, he was one of the top administrators at Magnolia. As one member of the financial group said at his funeral, "Johnny Smith's future with the company was nothing short of stellar. He will be missed."
Amanda was devastated, but she did not mourn for long. She had Jeanne to think of—all that was left of her life.