[Sometimes I write a story in one hour based on an intriguing image. I call them Postcard Stories.]
Mr. Newell followed Officer Shattuck into a large stale room with rows of desks stretching across the scuffed white tiles. Late as it was, only a handful of other policemen sat typing two-fingered on their Underwoods, sometimes with a handcuffed man squirming on a chair across from them.
“Did Bridget say that you’re here to report a missing person, Mr. Newell?” said Shattuck, leading him to a desk in the far corner.
Newell smiled, hoping to look totally sane, and raked his fingers through his hair. “Well, yes, I think. Or really a found person, when I think about it.”
Shattuck motioned grandly toward a metal chair. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Newell sat down and leaned forward. He felt like a kid, and that wasn’t helping. “My daughter has her own radio, see–”
“That must be nice,” said Shattuck.
“Well, she built it herself. For a school project. Saved up all on her own to buy the vacuum tubes, the case, the big silver microphone, everything. She built it with plans out of some magazine.”
“Industrious for a girl,” said Shattuck.
“She’s only eleven, too,” said Newell. “That seems to be going around these days. In fact, it’s related to what I’m here to talk to you about.”
“Right, right,” said Shattuck. “I don’t mean to interrupt.”
“Well, my daughter–”
“What’s her name?”
Newell smiled. “Tammy. When we moved down from New Jersey, my wife was pregnant and we wanted to give her a name that fit with our new home, and that seemed–”
“You named her after Tampa? That’s cute.”
“Well, her name isn’t literally ‘Tampa,’ but yeah,” said Newell. “Anyway–”
“They ought to put her into a parade or something, ‘Tampa’s Sweetheart’ or something.”
KHAQQ, please respond. Do you read? KHAQQ, this is Tampa, Florida, receiving you. What is your position?
“Oh, yeah. I’m sorry. Go ahead.”
Newell hurried now, afraid Shattuck wouldn’t let him finish if it didn’t just club him over the head. “My daughter talks with people all over the world with that radio, and if she can’t do that, she listens to them. Last night, later than she should really be up, she came running in and told me she heard a lady calling for help.”
“On the radio?”
“On the radio.” Jesus, thought Newell. Should I ask for another cop? “So I sit down with her while she turns all her dials and adjusts some wires or whatever — I really don’t understand any of that stuff, I run a newsstand — and she holds down the switch on her microphone and says, ‘Unidentified woman, please say again. Unidentified woman, come back?’ She says that a few times and nothing comes through the speaker but static.”
Shattuck nodded, mercifully mute of comment.
“But after about five minutes, sure enough, I hear this thin voice come through, almost like it’s crawled a long way across a desert or something. It says, ‘KHAQQ calling Itasca…281…north…Howland Island…Not much…above water…long…power.”
Shattuck rubbed his chin. “Not sure I’ve heard of Howland Island. That out in the bay you figure?”
“Well, Tammy’s a clever girl, more like her mother than her old man, thank God. She explained that sometimes at night, radio signals can bounce a long way around the world. She tried her best to calculate a bearing, but the best she could do was west.”
“West.” Shattuck leaned back. “Well, that narrows it down by, what, fifty percent?”
Newell nodded. “I know, I know. And I wouldn’t have come in if that’s all I had. The thing is, Tammy says that it’s Amelia Earhart.”
KHAQQ, are you there? My name is Tammy. Are you okay? We’re going for help.
Shattuck leaned forward. “Earhart.”
“Right.” Newell unfolded a piece of paper. “Tammy told me to say that the voice is transmitting on 3105 kilocycles, an aviation frequency according to one of her books.”
“That’s got to be exciting for a headstrong little girl, talking to Amelia Earhart like that.”
Newell didn’t follow what Shattuck was saying, so he shook his head. “I guess, sure. But Tammy thinks she’s in trouble.”
“Haven’t heard anything about that,” said Shattuck.
“Neither have I. Nobody has. But if there’s a chance, maybe we should tell someone officially. That’s what I told Tammy, anyway. We tried calling the Navy and the Coast Guard, even by radio, but nobody would respond. I thought maybe if a police officer were behind it, maybe…”
“Well, I can’t make a report I’m not sure is true,” said Shattuck. “I haven’t personally heard these signals.”
“I have. And so has my daughter.”
“Right,” said Shattuck. “Right. It could be a hoax, of course. Or a publicity stunt, like that whole idiot flight to begin with.”
Newell turned his hat in his hands. “But if there’s even a chance–”
“Not sure why women have to do things men have already done. They do their things, we do ours. That’s what I say.”
Newell wasn’t caring much what Shattuck had to say. He knew this wasn’t going well, that he was blowing it. Maybe if he’d brought Tammy…but she wouldn’t come. She had to stay at her post, she’d said.
KHAQQ, last message garbled. Say again. Say again. Say again. Please say again.
“If that woman’s lost, I say there’s not much we can do about it.” Shattuck lit a cigarette. “She’s already got all them Navy ships tied up helping her across the world. They’re on the scene. If it is her, and I’m not saying it is, but if it is her, she’s got a lot more help than most men flying get, don’t you think?”
Newell narrowed his eyes. How did that matter? “You’re not going to do anything,” he said.
“Not sure it’s my place.”
“Who cares whose place it is?” Newell stood up, leaned over the desk. “Are you going to let my daughter listen to a woman die?”
Shattuck thought on that a moment. “Maybe she should,” he said, finally.
Newell could barely stop himself from reaching for the man’s uniform shirt, but spending a night in jail wouldn’t do any good. Not for Earhart, not for Tammy. He settled back on his heels. “Which do you mean, that a woman should die or my daughter should listen?”
Shattuck didn’t answer.
KHAQQ, KHAQQ. I’m coming. As soon as I can, I’m coming.