I read all the news stories about Ayla Reynolds, the 20-month-old girl reported missing from her bed in Waterville, Maine, last Friday. I watch the TV news. I even watched CNN’s Nancy Grace: (“Tot snatched from bed—Exclusive”) as Nancy interviewed Trista Reynolds, the child’s mother. “All I want to know is where she is,” said Trista, who lost custody of the little girl a couple of months ago and has reportedly struggled with drug addiction.
It’s all pretty horrible. And familiar.
I say this, not because I’ve seen other kids snatched from their beds, but because I’ve written about one. A lot. His name was Lincoln and he was almost a year old. He disappeared from the bedroom of his mother’s apartment in Portland. Mom was a drug addict and for several hours didn’t notice he was gone. When it sank in, she freaked.
This was in my last crime novel, PORT CITY BLACK AND WHITE. My fictional cops converge on the neighborhood. They bring in tracking dogs. They interrogate the mom, her boyfriend, the child’s father, all of the neighbors, a homeless woman who roams the neighborhood.
Days go by. The mom and her family accuse the police of dragging their feet. The dad beats the boyfriend to a pulp. The neighbors say they’ve seen nothing, heard nothing, know nothing. The child has simply vanished.
Of course, he hadn’t. And some of the people in the book know where he was. Even as the cops speculate that little Lincoln has been snatched to leverage a drug debt, or maybe has been sold on the street. I knew what had really happened. I’d made up the story.
I had someone tell me just last week that they couldn’t read my book because it involved a crime against a child and they didn’t have the stomach for it. I was surprised because as the author, I hadn’t found the story terribly disturbing. But then again, I knew how it would end.
That’s not the case with Ayla Reynolds. I walk out to the mailbox to get the paper every morning and, with trepidation, open the front page. (Today was a $30,000 reward). I don’t want to see bad news. Like everyone else, I want to see the story that says the blonde, smiling innocent toddler has been located and she’s live and well.
As I write this, I’m still hopeful. As a crime writer, I can come up with any number of scenarios that involve all sorts of deception—and no violence. I can envision any number of ways this all could play out, and end with the child safe and sound. I know the tangled webs that people weave, how one lie leads to another and before you know it, every investigator in the state is at your house. I know that because I’ve invented those stories. I can invent one with a happy ending for Ayla Reynolds—but I can’t write it.
It’s an odd feeling, seeing things happen that are right out of my book, but knowing that this case has a life of its own. Something happened to this little girl last week and the dominoes continue to fall, day after day, cold night after cold night.
It’s made me wonder why I invented such a story—a child snatched from his crib, his mother distraught, racked with guilt—but in the end, it’s just that—a story. And just as I have the power to imagine such a mess, I have the power to clean it up. I can put little Lincoln in harm’s way, but I can also save him.
Not with Ayla. I just follow this story like everyone else, with the hope that she is fine and the guilty parties in the case will be brought to justice. It happens in books. Let it happen one more time.