The library was about to close. On Saturdays there were two library assistants on duty, Melissa, who would shut down all computer stations, and Joe, who was responsible for checking the entire library, the stacks, the study carrels, the reading areas, and the study rooms, to make absolutely sure there was nobody there. Sometimes, he would find a student who had fallen asleep, or a couple of students still in a study room, who had lost track of time. Not today; the library was empty.
Once the library door was closed, there was no way for a student to exit the library. A cell phone call to the campus police would be necessary to be rescued. The Library Supervisor was not fond of receiving a notification of a situation like that.
The library was part of the Downtown Campus, while the Main Campus was in a another part of the city. The downtown facility was very modern; with several interconnected two-story buildings. The library was located in the second floor of the Administration building, which also had a large conference room, and some classrooms. Once the library door was closed, the employees would leave through a side door leading to a hallway, or through a service elevator. The students had no access to neither the side door nor the elevator.
The main door was one of those overhead metallic jobs, with a key switch to open or close it. Melissa had the key for it, as it was her responsibility to close the library.
At exactly 5 PM, she closed the door. As Melissa and Joe were leaving, they heard someone banging on the door. Melissa said, "We are closed. We cannot open the door for you." A man said, "I'm looking for my wife. She is supposed to be in there." Melissa said, "There is nobody here, sir. You need to go to the campus police for help."
Melissa and Joe were on the way out of the building, headed for the parking garage, when they saw a man with two small children, talking to the police officer on duty. The man blocked Joe's way, and asked, "You work at the library?" Joe said, "Yes, there is nobody there, sir," and he kept walking. He called the Library Supervisor at home, and he let her know about everything that had happened.
On Monday, Melissa and Joe worked the evening shift, starting at 4 PM. The same police officer who was on duty on Saturday dropped by the Library. He told them that after they left on Saturday, he had to bring the man along with the two children up to the library, and they had searched the library twice, until the husband was completely satisfied that Helen, that was her name, was not there. They went to the parking lot, and Helen's car was still there.
Officer Mike, as Melissa called him, had an enlarged photo printed from her student ID or her drivers license. He asked them, "Did you guys see this woman on Saturday?" Melissa said no. I said I remembered her because she had come to use the courtesy phone, which was by the end of the circulation counter, near the wall." "When did you see her?," the officer asked. "About 4 o'clock. That's all I can tell you," was Joe's response.
The officer came back twenty minutes later, and said, "Joe, you were the last person to see this woman. My supervisor wants me to ask you more questions." Joe really had nothing to add; but this time Officer Mike took notes in one of those small notebooks police officers use. Afterwards, he went to the Library Supervisor's office to give her an update on the investigation.
A female college student disappears, something that. had happened before in colleges across the country, and based on the outcome of all those cases, it was easy to assume this involved an abduction, sexual assault, and murder. Some women were found alive, others dead; and many others were never found.
This was a very big State university. It had 39 armed police officers, and 18 support staff. It was their jurisdiction, so the Campus Police was responsible for the investigation of Helen's disappearance. The department had a Criminal Investigation Unit, with one sergeant, and two officers. Joe met the two officers, each on separate occasions. He began to wonder, "Is this like in the movies? 'All right let's start from the top'? Was this a new version? He had been interviewed three times already. It looked like they were trying to find inconsistencies, contradictions, or lies.
The investigation went on for a couple of weeks. The police spoke with Helen's classmates; checked personnel records, ran a new background investigation on Joe; interviewed Helen's husband, relatives and friends. Nothing panned out.
Time for another visit to Joe, who thought "Well, a female college student is missing, they have no leads. I'm the only man working here, I was the last one to see her, so what else are they going to do?." This time was Sergeant Miller, who was very pleasant and polite. He asked for Joe's university ID and his drivers license, He put them side by side on the counter, and read carefully the information on both. Then he compared the information on them. Sgt. Miller hear the same account from Joe, as he had stated it before. But Sgt. Miller had additional questions.
"Where were you when Helen was on the phone?"
"Sitting at my work station, right here, where I am now."
"There is not much distance from you work station to the phone. How many phone calls did she make?" Joe said she made two calls.
"And you didn't hear the conversations?"
"No, I was working, and she turned around while she was talking; she was facing the door, not the counter. And she spoke in a very low voice."
"Well, if you were looking at her back, how is it that you recognized her from the photo?"
"Because she came and asked me if she could use the phone, and later she had to turn around to dial the second number."
"Why did she asked if he could use the phone? It's a courtesy phone for students to use."
"I don't know, sergeant."
Joe had learned not to offer theories, conjectures, or guesses. What he didn't know, he didn't know. Otherwise, the questions would never end. He was getting a little weary about it. He believed Helen wanted him to remember her, but didn't know why; and he suspected one of the phone calls had been to her husband, telling him she was coming home soon. About the second call, he had no ideas.
Sgt. Miller thanked Joe for his time, said good-bye, and left the library. Break time came up, and Joe told Melissa he was going to the cafeteria. Did she want anything? Apple juice, she said. In the hallway, he saw Officer Mike and Sgt. Miller having a conversation. Miller was about lo leave, he shook hands with Mike, and waved good-bye to Joe.
Another week went by. As soon as Melissa and Joe arrived to work one day, their supervisor came to tell them that Helen was alive and well. A social worker from an out-of-state shelter for abused women had called the police, to inform them about Helen's whereabouts. That information would be kept confidential, to prevent her husband to attempt to find her. Both Melissa and Joe were very happy to hear the news.
Joe thought, "well, I think I know who received the second call. The person that helped her escape her abusive husband. The magnitude of the abuse made her desire to disappear stronger than her maternal instincts. Probably the husband was taking care of the kids, while she was at the library. She had to leave the children behind. Maybe her husband suspected something. Wasn't taking college courses an indication of her desire for independence? He was probably using the kids as pawns to control her."
That was Joe's theory; it was all conjectures, he knew that, but he felt.he was close to the truth. He became more aware of the plight of abused women, and he became more aware of this kind of crime. It was a crime, less obvious, less visible than other crimes, but still a serious crime. He wished he could shake the hand of whoever helped Helen.