“Come on Maddy,” I tugged on her arm. “What are you doing?” She stood glued to the ground staring at the Orton’s back door.
“Did you not see the backpack right there?” Maddy nodded toward the porch as she reluctantly began following me up the driveway.
“Yes, I saw it.”
“I think she’s planning on leaving, that’s what I think. We need to call Kathy immediately.”
She shifted into her speed walk mode, unable to get a foot through her own front door fast enough. I let myself in behind Maddy, heading straight for her kitchen and a cup of coffee I knew was waiting in the thermos. Maddy came in with her cell phone and placed the call to Kathy Orton, a noticeable unsteadiness in her voice. I got the cream out of the refrigerator and put it on the table with a spoon.
“Sit down Maddy,” I said and nodded toward her chair. She took a seat with a heavy sigh as she waited for an answer while I poured her a cup and stirred in a little cream.
“Kathy? Hi! It’s Magdalene at the beach.”
Magdalene dove right in, telling Kathy all about the woman next door claiming to be Cammie, how long she’d been there, what she looked like, everything. She paced the kitchen for a while then opened the back door and paced around the deck as she spoke with Kathy. It was obvious there was something seriously wrong. By the time Maddy got off the phone, I could guess what was coming.
“This is too strange,” Magdalene rubbed her forehead. “Kathy is on her way; should be here in a couple of hours. Apparently,” she lowered her hand and took a deep breath, “they had a niece named Cammie, but no one has seen or heard from her in something like forty years. She ran away from home during the late sixties and just disappeared. Kathy said she was a wild one, enamored with the whole crazy hippie movement. Anyway, by my description of the woman I just met, Kathy thinks it actually could be her.”
“Oh-my-gosh, Maddie. After all this time? She’d show up here without anyone knowing, without contacting anyone in the family?”
Magdalene took a seat at the table, poured a little more cream into her cup and stirred. “I don’t know. Can you imagine,” she looked at me with troubled eyes, “Can you even imagine how totally strange this is going to be for their whole family if it’s actually her?”
“I think we should keep a look out Mary Ann. What if she leaves before Kathy get here? What if that backpack meant something, like she was on her way?
We picked up our coffee cups and moved out onto the back porch. From there we would see anyone leaving from the top of the trail.
“I don’t think we have anything to worry about,” I said as I adjusted the cushions on the old Adirondack. “I mean there wasn’t even a car around. I think if she’s heading out she’s probably got a ride coming.”
Maddy and I spent the next couple of hours concocting all kinds of scenarios that would have brought the Orton’s niece back to the island; all the probabilities and possibilities. Yet we knew the answers were with the woman next door, if indeed she was Cammie.
Although it was two hours later, it felt like no time at all before Maddy was welcoming Kathy, and Kathy’s sister-in-law Anne, into her home. Anne was Dale’s sister and the mother of Cammie. She was obviously shaken by the idea of finding her daughter after all this time. The elderly woman’s hands shook as she spoke softly about the disappearance of her fifteen year old daughter so long ago, and the relentless efforts on the part of the family to locate her for so many year. The last they’d heard about their daughter was sometime around 1968, about three months after she’d disappeared.
They had been contacted by an organization in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district who encouraged runaways to contact their parents, or allow them to, for the purpose of simply letting families know their runaway kids were alive and safe. The understanding was they could not say where the runaways were or where they were heading; just that they were all right. The organization also provided a place to sleep and food if they needed it. Most hung around only long enough to make the call home and then disappeared within a day or two. In time, most returned home and reconnected with their families. Yet about two percent never did, and Cammie was one of them. At least, up until now.
“Well,” Anne said as she stood. “I would like to go alone, if you all don’t mind. After all, she is my daughter and it has been a life time.” Tears welled in her eyes as she moved toward the door.
“Are you sure?” Kathy asked. “I’m a little worried about you right now.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” She looked back and smiled timidly. “I’ll holler if I need help.”
We all stepped out onto the back porch where we’d be able to hear Ann call and watched as she made her way across the trail and started down the Orton driveway. It was impossible to imagine what she must have been feeling as she disappeared through the woods, and it was all we could do not to follow.
Within ten minutes Anne reappeared with tears in her eyes. “There’s no one there that I can see. I peeked in all the windows I could. No one answered the door and I didn’t hear any movement inside.”
Maddy and I moved quickly. “I can’t believe it,” Maddy cried as we ran to the Orton’s cabin. “I was afraid something like this would happen. That backback…”
“I know, you were right,” I interrupted. “I should have kept watch while you went home and called Kathy. I just never thought…”
I made it to the cabin first and flew up the steps onto the back porch, pounding on the door. “Cammie,” I called. “Cammie, please open up.”
“It’s gone,” Maddy said behind me. “The backpack is gone. She left. I knew it…”
“Stay here while I check out front.” I circled around to the front of the house and checked down on the beach. There was no sign of anyone having been at the cabin at all. The furniture on the deck was still stacked and covered. The bar was secured in the sliding door.
“It’s unlocked,” I heard Maddy call. “The door’s open.” I hurried back around. Kathy and Anne were just about to the back door so we waited for Kathy to enter first. Taking her broken hearted sister-in-law by the arm, she led the way.
I had never been inside before and was impressed at the comfortable quaintness of the place. We wandered into the small living room, checked out the kitchen, the bathroom, and the two small bedrooms. “It looks exactly as I left it,” Kathy said. “Everything’s in place.”
She went out on to the porch then stepped back inside, meandering thoughtfully from room to room looking for any sign that would tell her the cabin had been occupied.
“How long did you say you’ve been seeing her, Mary Ann? Because, honestly, everything is the same as I left it.”
“It’s been about three weeks now,” I said. “Kathy, is there a basement or a cellar?”
“Well, there is cellar. You have to get to it by going outside here, and around the house.” She pointed around the corner. “It’s not any place anyone would want to stay, though.” We all followed Kathy outside and around to the north side of the house. There, we found a set crumbling steep concrete stairs that led nearly straight down to a beat up old door. Kathy went down, then turned to come back up. “I can’t get in without the key,” she sighed. “I’ll go get it, but I can’t imagine anyone would come down here intentionally.”
“Try it first,” Maddy suggested.
Kathy hesitated as though the idea was ridiculous yet at the slightest push of her hand, the door swung open. She stood stock still in the doorway then took a hesitant step forward, reached around the rotting door frame and flipped on the light switch. We heard a tiny gasp. “Oh-my-gosh!”
To Be Continued