Jan. 20, 2011 -- When Tanya Rider disappeared Sept. 19, 2007, her husband, Tom, fought to get police to start a search for her.
Eight days later her car was found in a ravine and she was trapped inside. The Washington state woman was injured and dehydrated, but was fighting for her life. "Missing Without a Trace: 8 Days of Horror" tells the story of her ordeal.
Read an excerpt of the book below and then check out the "GMA" Library for more great reads.
Tiny puffs of air squeeze up through my left nostril. My chest… My chest is constricted. What's wrong with me? I fight to expand my lungs, to suck in a breath. Something is pressing into my chest, holding me down. My lungs! I can't breathe! It feels like small, sandwich-bag sacks of air are hanging in my lungs. I cling to them but my body collapses forward, against my captor.
Bound on one side, I beg for release. "Let me go, you monster!" I gasp. "Where are you? I can feel you but I don't hear you! Still, I know you are there!"
I can't talk anymore. My chest is gagging, half-silencing my breathing. Everything hurts. I slow myself to suck in precious air—air for battle.
"Help me!" I scream. "Someone? Can't you hear me? Help me!"
My eyes flutter open and it seems as if all of my long dark hair is in my face. My eyelashes flutter against the tangled mess. My head is killing me and I can't hold my eyes open. They slam shut, but the images linger.
Where am I? Why is my head is hanging at this weird angle? I am sideways, I can tell. And I feel an awful, constant pressure digging into my body. God, it hurts. I struggle again to take a breath. I can only take in a tiny wisp of air but it is filled with pain that shoots through every fiber of my body. Still, I need more air. With a weak exhale, I feel a little cloud of steam drift onto my cheek as I hang there, strangled by my captor. Sweet drool runs out of the corner of my mouth.
With my right arm, I reach out blindly. I want to feel my surroundings. I feel hard curves, twisted forms, raw edges, and a strange, soft pillow—all of it dotted with bits of broken glass. I cannot tell what these shapes represent, but it is a mess.
Where am I? Right against my chest, my hand runs into something, an object, an arc, like a hard, circle-shaped hose. I run my fingers slowly across it. Can it be? A steering wheel? Each breath cuts through my breastbone and I strain to pull in air. I run my hand along the thing, try to assure myself that it really is a car's steering wheel.
Tom Rider was tired, always tired. He and Tanya worked hard, and that's about all they did. Like ships in the night, they didn't even see each other much. He barely had time to nap, let alone spend much time with Tanya, because she worked two jobs herself and her shifts were opposite his. Pretty much, they only got to see each other when their days off coincided. Their lifestyle was kind of lonely, but they were determined. They had set their sights on their goal—their dream home—and they were working hard to get it.
They'd had a quick conversation the night before. Tanya had called after ten on Wednesday night, before she started her nightshift. Tom had to work late so he was spending the night at work, and he'd already crashed. When Tanya called, she woke him up.
"What're you doing?" she asked.
"Sleeping," he grumbled.
Tanya knew his sleep was precious so she immediately hung up, and then she worked the night shift at Fred Meyer, up in Bellevue. She would have gotten home after Tom was a few hours into his day.
Open your eyes, Tanya! I squint. Everything is blurry. Where are my glasses? My head hurts so much and I am so tired. All I want to do is to close my eyes, go back to sleep. But I don't know where I am. Where am I? What is that flashing light in front of me? I open my eyes to let in a bit more light, and I see the dashboard with its yellow and orange car controls. I reach my hand to the fluorescent image, but it is beyond my reach. I turn my head to the left and I can see the black molding inside my side window. I see glimpses of the color of my car, the beautiful blue of my wonderful new car.
My eyes snap shut again as I erupt with a cough, dislodging saliva and blood from a corner of my mouth. Oh, it hurts so much! I spit out the oily blood, not knowing how precious those drops of moisture would become.
I try to breathe, but my chest feels stuck. It won't expand and I can't get air. I don't understand. I exercise all the time and I'm in such great shape, why can't I breathe? I pull my eyes open again. I reach up to my face to brush the messy mop of hair aside, and then I see that my fingertips are bloody. I touch my forehead again and it stings. It is raw. I check my fingers. More blood.
It starts to make sense. It is the steering wheel of my car, my beautiful Honda, the first car I ever bought new! But everything is broken and twisted and I am trapped inside it. I am pinned against the steering wheel and I can't see much but the deflated air bag, which blocks my view. I press at it, try to move it aside.
Oh, my body hurts! My left shoulder, my God, the pain is horrible! My arm is hanging from my side at an odd angle against the door. I can't move my arm. I don't even want to wiggle my fingers. The pain is unbelievable. Oh, my God, the pain! It's searing! My left side feels broken, disconnected. My left clavicle and my left shoulder are burning with pain that is deep, intense, in the bone and in the joint.
I can see out, through the broken window, but I can't make sense of it. Where am I? I see branches and leaves. Everywhere, all around me, blackberry bushes push in through the broken windows and up against the glass. I catch the aroma of the cedar trees, so nice, fresh.
Something is applying pressure, holding me against my will. So tight! I am trapped, pinned. It's my seat belt. I'm cramped and I can't get a decent breath of oxygen into my lungs. I try to suck in a breath but the air seems to go right through me. My chest hurts so much as the air stings my insides.
I try to free myself but I can't reach the seatbelt release. Clawing with my right hand, I feel metal. Then, my fingertips make it to the edge. With all of my mental and physical energy—everything I have—I command my fingers to take back my freedom, to pull upward on the metal. But I lose. The strap is so tight. It cuts into my body, pressing like a piece of metal. I wish I'd bought seat-belt covers to soften them. My body hurts, everywhere that my seat belt holds me—my left shoulder to my right hip and across my pelvis—it all feels bruised. I wish I could get my seat belt off!
How did I get here? What happened?
The driver's door presses into my side and it hurts so much right there, at my ribs and hip. My abdomen is bruised and swollen and I can tell that several of my ribs are fractured or cracked. My leg is trapped, pressed between the door, the seat, and the underside of the dashboard. I can tell I have little if any circulation in my leg and it worries me. Will I lose my leg? What if I can't walk again?
My head hurts and throbs. I feel as if I've been shot in the head! I just want to close my eyes and rest. Maybe, if I go to sleep, I will find out that this isn't real. It's just a bad dream. Yes, it must be a nightmare. I know! I will wake up soon and be thankful that it was all a dream.
On Thursday, as usual, Tom put in a full day at SoundBuilt, which was more than one-hundred miles from home. After he got off work, he put in a couple of hours on a side job, earning a few extra bucks by clearing blackberry bushes from a piece of property for a real-estate agent. After that, Tom ran home to shower and then went to work at a pizza parlor until midnight. By the time he got home, Tom was dead tired. Tanya already would have left for her night job. At least, that was the routine. That's what Tom assumed.
I open my eyes. Have I been asleep again? I hear the trees, flowing in the wind somewhere out there, but I can't see them. It is like a meadow outside, so cool and fresh. I'm down, in a bramble of bushes and I can just make out scraps of blue sky through the shrubbery. It's windy. The wind is blowing the bushes and sometimes, with a gust out there, I feel a slip of wind on my face as a wayward strand of hair wisps past my cheek. With the breeze, I can smell the cedar, fresh, clean and nice. I decide to think about the cedar, but…
Something smells bad. My goodness, it's blood! There's blood everywhere—my blood. I smell pee, too. Oh, my gosh, I think I peed my pants. How awful! I peed in my pants? I suddenly notice that my bladder is full and I feel like I have to pee more. What will I do? I can't go anywhere to pee. I can't get out to go to the bathroom. Oh, God, I have to just lie here and pee myself? How horrible! Someone help me! Help me get out of here! I just want to get up! I pull on my seat belt, claw at the clasp. I can't unfasten it. It won't come off. Oh, my gosh. What will I do?
I hear cars driving nearby. I suck all the air I can into my lungs and yell, "Help me! I'm trapped, here. Please, help me!" I don't hear anyone stop. They must not hear me. I knock on the window. Can't they hear that?
I see a bee buzzing around the blackberry shrub near my fractured windshield. It starts to wander inside my car and I wave my hand to shoo it away. I turn my head, look to the side. I see bugs flying around me, inside my car. Oh, God! What about critters? What if any critters find me? I am afraid of snakes! What if snakes come in here? Calm down, calm down. I don't hear any animals. It is quiet outside, except for that breeze. I am okay. I will be okay. If any animals come near me, I can use my hand to scare them away.
My stomach growls. I'm hungry. I wish I had something to eat. I don't know when I last had something to eat, I don't even know how long I've been stuck here, but I am so hungry! Have I been here for a few hours? Why doesn't someone come? It's getting cold. I am cold. I notice that there are shadows in the bushes, and inside my car. The sun must be behind clouds because it's not as bright as it had been. I search for the bits of blue sky but they are no longer blue. Oh, God! The sky is yellowish orange and the air is wet and heavy. God, help me! The sun is setting. Oh, God, what will I do when it gets dark?
God, you are my rock and my shield. I'm so frightened but, with you by my side, I know I am safe. I trust you, God. Please help me to trust your will completely. You know all things before they happen. Please protect me, God. Be near me and guide others to me. No amount of suffering will ever take away my love for you, God. Be near me, God. Be near me… My stomach growls, yet again. I am so hungry. Why isn't anyone helping me? I do not understand. I'm right here! I am so mad! I start to cry and, as the tears well up, I feel the urge to give in to them, to let go, to pour out my frustration and rage. But my abdomen and chest hurt. I whimper. I need to rest. I close my eyes.
I wake up and see an eerie blue light, glowing in the darkness. It's my cell phone. Where is it? My phone! Desperate, I reach out for it, but I can't reach anything beyond my own body. I try to shift myself up to my right, but I am pinned in and the left side of my body is in agony. I am broken. I know I am broken. Oh, my God, the pain! I cannot move. I settle back down, resting my head down against the seat belt as my ripped body presses against the door below me. It hurts. It hurts so much. I close my eyes and try to breathe. Just think about breathing. In and out. Slowly now. Breathe slowly, smoothly. In and out…
It is dark but I am still thirsty. Can't I just have some food, something to drink? Please, someone, help me! Tom, bring me some water! My head is hurting in a different way and I know that it is from dehydration. The pain is blinding and I can't think. I just want to get out of here, to find some food and water. I am so tired. I want to go to sleep, but it is so cold.
I wake up and it is light out, thank God. My throat is so dry, scratchy. I want to clear my throat, but I can't muster any air or saliva. My tongue is stuck to the roof of my mouth and it feels like a brick. I want a drink of water! I want food! My stomach hurts, I'm so hungry, and I feel weak. My gut cramps up in a weird way. At least, I'm too dehydrated to pee anymore. Oh, that's what stinks in here! The air is thick and stale and the smell so foul, as the stink of my own wastes and blood fills my little space. It's like an outhouse, like I'm living in my own outhouse, surrounded by my waste.
I try again, banging on the window, yelling at the cars that whir by so fast. I try to shift, reposition my body to reach the latch yet another time, another way. I claw at the seatbelt clasp and my fingertips burn from trying to get that clasp free, but I will do anything to escape this prison. I have a new pain when I move my right arm. It's bad. It aches with deep, intense pain in my armpit. I have to think again about trying to fight that damned clasp. It hurts so much.
How long have I been here? I feel like I am encased in a metal tomb but, still, it won't give up its twisted-metal grip on me. I try again to contort my broken body against the steady weight of twisted and jagged metal and the restraint of the seatbelt, but it hurts so much more when I move and my right arm is less help than before. I feel blurry. I don't know what to do. Should I give up? The world goes black again.
On Friday morning, just like every day, Tom woke up at five o'clock in their makeshift bed on the floor. They'd lived in an RV during construction and had only recently moved into the house, which was still bare bones, so Tom and Tanya didn't even have a bed. Tom got up, showered, and headed off to work. As the morning went on, he didn't hear from Tanya. He figured she didn't call because she needed to sleep. They always needed sleep.
Sleep only lasts so long. I wake up and try again and again—knocking on the window, clawing at the clasp, pulling at the seatbelt. Is it futile? I press against the pain and try and try and try until I am exhausted. I let my eyes close so I can rest my body, my aching head.
I jump. The phone is ringing! My cell phone is ringing! I look for the blue light. Where is the phone? I twist and pull my broken chest and press my body against the confinement of the seatbelt, trying to reach it., desperate to reach it Panic overtakes reason. I can't reach it! I have to reach it! God, please let me reach it! "Tom!" I scream. "Tom, I'm here!" The phone stops. I cuss and yell and tap my foot on the floorboard. Oh, my God! Tom, I'm here! I want to hear his voice of reassurance! I want to call 911! I want help!
I think about my dog, Lady, who has comforted me countless times in the past. Lady is such a good friend and she means so much to me. Where is Lady? Lady, are you with me? I love you, Lady.
I am hungry and thirsty. What's the last thing I ate or drank? I know! I got off work in the morning and stopped at Whole Foods. I felt so gross, after working all night at my dirty job. What did I buy? I usually trust whatever my body's craving and buy something to have later because I'd usually need to go to sleep when I got home. I'm sure I got a bottle of water, which is always my first priority. Since we're building our house, we don't have a fridge so, whenever I stop at Whole Foods, I'd usually get pancakes, make a salad in the deli, or sprinkle cheese on scrambled eggs…
I am so hungry, I feel weak. I don't understand why I can't have some eggs and a bottle of water. My lips are cracking and I am tired. I feel blurry.
I need help! I realize that I need to call for help. I reach through the steering wheel and pick up my phone from the dashboard. I call 911.
"911," she says. "What is your emergency?"
"I went off the road and I need help!"
"That's stupid!" says the dispatcher, laughing at me before she hangs up.
I am so mad! I can't believe it. I want to tell Tom, so I call him.
"Hey," he answers. He sounds happy and casual.
"What the hell, Tom?" I yell at him, furious.
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"Why are you taking so long to come and get me?"
He doesn't answer. The line goes dead. In an instant, the phone rings.
The phone! Where is my phone? I see the blue light, over there. I try, but I cannot reach it. I am pinned in my seat and I cannot reach my cell phone. I claw at the seatbelt until my fingertips are raw and burning, then I pound on the window and yell. Finally, I am tired. I let my eyes close.
"Hi, Lady!" I say. She looks startled but then she smiles at me. She has a cute smile and her teeth are white. Her tongue is hanging out and it glistens with wet saliva. I look out my window, where there's just a bramble of bushes, but I see a reflection of Lady on the window. I realize that she's sitting in the other seat, looking out the front window at the scenery, and then she turns her head in front of me and smiles again. "Aw, Lady," I say, reaching for her. "You're always right here!"
I am cold. The night is cold and I shiver. It is harder to rest at night because the animal sounds scare me. My adrenaline flows and, besides, it is cold. I am wide-eyed, staring into darkness. I hear the brush rustle, as a critter moves through the darkness. Maybe it's a squirrel. Or a rat. What if it's a raccoon? They are mean, so I hope it is not a raccoon. A car passes on the road and the red of their tail lights flashes in the night above me as the animal scurries away. I reach for the clasp and try again.
Forest animals make a lot of noise at dawn. A large bird lands on the hood of my bright blue SUV. Sideways, I see his head, his beak. His head is white with a little black streak. I don't see the rest of him but I know that he is a bald eagle. He looks at me with yellow-green eyes and is very interested in me. I've never been so close to a bald eagle. He stays with me. His skinny legs try to keep their grip on the hood of my car. Now, he seems more interested in getting off the hood, and he is not looking at me. He's looking down, in front of the car. He is focusing on what's below and thinking about going. Why does he get to hop off the hood? I'm glad that he doesn't. He stays with me. I look into his eyes and thank him in my thoughts.
SoundBuilt was Tom's Monday-through-Friday job so, on Saturday, he had the luxury of sleeping until eight o'clock. He planned to spend the day tackling those blackberry bushes. The agent who was handling the property needed the wetlands cleared fast and Tom was squeezing in the project between his regular job and his pizza job. At nine that morning, Tom was working on the blackberries when his phone rang. It was Tanya's boss at Fred Meyer.
"Is everything alright?" she asked.
"'Course," Tom said. "Why?"
"Well, Tom, Tanya hasn't been at work for the last two shifts and—"
"What?" Tom said, shocked. "What are you talking about? That's not like Tanya!"
"I know Tom," she said. "She hasn't been at work and she hasn't called and it's not like her, so I just wanted to make sure everything's alright."
"What?" Tom repeated, his mind reeling as he jumped gears from the physical work to contemplating what he was hearing. "When is the last time you saw her?"
"She left Thursday morning, around nine," the woman said, concern growing in her voice. "And, Tom, she's not answering her phone."
Tom's mind went into overdrive. When's the last time I called her? When's the last time I talked to her?
"I'll try to get hold of her as soon as I hang up, and I'll have her call you," Tom promised. "Is there a number you can give me?" Standing out in the bushes, Tom wrote the number on his hand and then ran to his truck.
He called Tanya's cell phone. No answer. He called again and, again, she didn't answer. After a few tries, he left a message. He climbed in his truck and started to drive, without really thinking about where he was going. Tom thought to call Tanya's boss at her second job, at the Nordstrom Rack. He found out that Tanya hadn't been scheduled to work the day before, Friday, but that, at the moment, she was late for her shift—and she hadn't called. Tanya's boss, like everyone, knew that Tanya would never miss work and not call in. That's just not her.
Worry flooded his senses. No way would Tanya miss work. If she had, he would have seen her at home! Where could she be?
Finally, Tom realized that Tanya was missing—and that she had already been missing for thirty-six hours. Thirty-six hours! Starting to search for her, Tom knew that this gap in time would be a great disadvantage. Far too much time had passed. Their crazy life had gotten in the way. While they were both working two jobs, she had disappeared from the radar and he had kept on working, assuming that everything was going according to plan.
I am hungry—hungrier than I have ever been. I didn't know a person could be this hungry. I know that it is making me weak. I look at my wrist and see that I am even thinner than I was. I don't understand. I am so healthy, how can I feel so sick? I don't deserve to be this sick, since I am so careful about eating well, choosing organic foods, exercising every day. But I am so tired. I cannot exercise today. I am going to rest. Right after I get a drink of water. That's all I want, a drink of water. My tongue sticks to my cheeks and the roof of my mouth. My lips are cracked and when I try to move them, I feel them rip and bleed.
Tom ended up at home. He ran into the house and darted through every room, searching for her.
"Tanya!" he called. "Tanya? Are you home?" His panic grew. Time started to lose meaning. He jumped back in his truck to drive the routes to her jobs. While driving, he called 911 and asked for the Highway Patrol. They told him that they'd had no reports of Tanya and no accidents that matched her car or name. Tom called all the local hospitals, but no one had seen her. What else could he do? Again, he called 911.
"Bellevue Police Department."
"My wife is missing," Tom choked out.
"Sir," the dispatcher asked, "when was the last time she was seen?"
"Thursday," he swallowed. "She left work at nine in the morning, after her shift."
"Did anyone see her leave?"
"I don't know yet," Tom said. "I'm on my way to her second job, at the Factoria Nordstrom Rack. She's missed her last two shifts there. She hasn't accessed our accounts and all she has is her Nordstrom Visa card. I can't check that one because I'm not on it."
"When you get there, we'll send over an officer to take your statement."
"No problem," Tom said, grateful. "I'll be there in five minutes." After Tom arrived, he only waited about five minutes before a Bellevue police officer found him. Nordstrom personnel escorted them into a room in the security department.
"So," the police officer asked Tom, "when was the last time you heard from your wife?"
"Around ten PM on Wednesday," Tom said. "She called me when she was leaving for work. I was staying at work that night because I had an early morning homeowner walk scheduled and I had to work late to get it ready."
"What did she say?" the officer asked. "Was there any kind of fight? Did she say anything that might make you think she was leaving you?"
"No," Tom said, his heart sinking. "All she asked was, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'sleeping' and she hung up. It was quite normal for her to just check in to hear my voice."
"So she just hung up?" the officer asked.
"We've been married for a long time," Tom said, "and she's been mad at me at least half of it. We fight. We're married." "So, you're sure she didn't just leave you? Like she'd had enough, kind of thing?"
Tom knew that Tanya wouldn't leave him—at least not before giving him a reason. But where was she? He couldn't imagine where she was or what she was doing, and all these questions about her leaving got to him. "But, if she'd left," he reasoned, "she would have taken some—if not all—of the money! She didn't take anything except her Nordstrom Visa." "So when was the last time you know where she was?"
Tom told him that the last he could track was that she'd left her job at Fred Meyer in Bellevue at nine in the morning. "If she was using her card since then," he added, "I can't check that and that's why I need to get a case started so you can check."
"Which card? Her Nordstrom card?" the officer asked.
"Yes," Tom said. "That's the only card she has with her and, like I said, I'm not on it so they won't tell me anything." "Wait here," the office said. "I'll check a few things out and be right back."
Tom waited, talking with Tanya's boss, who thought it was not in Tanya's nature to do this. "I've only known her a short time," he said. "But she seems to be very dependable."
Tom asked the manager if they'd noticed anyone who stood out, who seemed strange, but the manager said that they keep a close eye out for that kind of thing and saw no signs of it.
"Thanks," Tom said. "Please, if you hear from her, please call me."
The officer came back into the room, looking at his notes. "We've found video footage of Tanya getting into her car at the end of her shift and driving out toward the highway," he said. "My sergeant has informed me that our involvement has to end. You have to contact King County Police to follow up since our jurisdiction ended when she left work. Since we have evidence that she left our jurisdiction of her own volition, we have to hand you off to King County."
"So, you're telling me I have to call 911 again once I get back into Maple Valley?" Tom asked, incredulous. He felt helpless and frustrated. "Can I ask why I have to wait?"
"Because with cell phones, 911 calls connect you to the office based on the tower your call goes through, and not based on your phone number," the officer explained. "This way, you get the right department to assist you." Tom headed for the door—and for Maple Valley.
Finally, again, my eyes close and I drift off into peaceful unconsciousness. But, soon, my phone rings. It snaps me back to my agony of excruciating pain. Where is my phone? Tom! Are you calling me, Tom? I want to answer but I can't reach the phone. I feel a wave of dizziness and I panic. I flail with my hand to grab the steering wheel. Finally, the dizziness calms.
When he got home, he called 911 again, connecting this time with the King County Police Dispatch and Communications Center.
"My wife is missing," he said. "And the Bellevue police said I need to file a missing person report with you."
The operator didn't sound very concerned. "Have you checked the hospitals and jails?" he asked. To Tom, the operator seemed cold, as if he was reading a script. Tom didn't want to answer as his anger was rising.
"Yes, of course, I checked the hospitals," he finally spat out. "And the State Patrol. Those were the first calls I made! I haven't checked the jails but, if my wife was in jail, she would've called me for bail money. My wife's not in jail. She's never been in trouble. The only contact she's had with the police is being stopped for speeding!"
Tom's helplessness was making his hostility rise. He had to work to hold it back as he spoke with the operator and it took more patience than he knew he had.
"You can't file a report until you have checked all the jails," the operator insisted. "So, I need you to do that and then call back." With that, the operator hung up.
Tom was furious, but he used the energy to do what he needed to do. He ran upstairs and got on the Internet, to search for phone numbers for the jails. On the websites, he found out that he could conduct a prisoner search online. He checked all the jails' records for any record of "Tanya Rider." Over and over, from every jail, the result was the same: "NO RECORD FOUND."
Trying for the second time to report Tanya's disappearance to the King County Police, Tom punched the numbers 911 in his phone again. As it rang on the other end, he yelled at his handset, "Why won't you just do your job and file a report so we can start searching for my wife?" All he wanted was for them to start looking for Tanya! As the stress tore at his sanity, he felt himself losing control. He felt his old self coming back—the angry man he used to be, before Tanya. He didn't want to be that guy again but why, he wondered, were they were making such a simple task so damned difficult? The operator answered. "911 what are you reporting?"
"I called earlier," Tom said, sucking in a measure of calmness and patience. "My wife is missing. I called all the hospitals, the jails, the morgue, the State Patrol. No one has any information on her. She is missing.
"Okay, have you called her friends and family?"
What the hell? Tom thought. Every damned time I call, they come up with something else for me to do! Would it kill them to tell me all of this the first time I call? But he didn't say it. He kept it in, sucked in yet another breath and gathered his patience. "She doesn't really have any friends," he said. "And she doesn't talk to her family."
"I can't file a report until you check with her family," said the operator. "She's an adult, and she can go where she wants." "So you're telling because she's an adult she has the right to die?"
"Call back after you check with her family," the operator instructed. "Goodbye," he added, before the line went dead.
My phone rings again. It stops. It rings. It stops. I want to answer. Oh, God, I want to answer! Come and help me! Come and find me and free me from this hell! I cry, but no tears come.
I want this nightmare to end, just end—quickly end. I think about my mortality. How long will I have to wait until death claims me? When will I finally die and be spared from this hell?
Tom called Tanya's family and found out that, just as he had suspected, they hadn't spoken in a long time. Again, he punched the numbers into the phone.
"911, what are you reporting?"
"My wife is missing and I've called all the jails, hospitals, friends and family," Tom said. "And no one has seen her. She hasn't touched our accounts."
"Okay, let me ask you a few questions. Does she suffer from any mental disorders?"
"No," Tom answered. "She was diagnosed with depression but she's treating it."
"What type of medication does she take?"
"She treats it with her diet and staying away from non-organic foods."
"Then she doesn't meet our criteria for a search."
What? Tom was shocked. Tanya was missing, had been for two days, and she didn't meet their criteria? He felt panicky as his adrenaline rose. "So, what you are telling me is, unless she's dead you don't care?"
"She's an adult and she can go when and where she wants," the operator said bluntly and without emotion. "And she doesn't have to tell you or anyone."
What? Tom screamed inside. He felt the darker side of his own nature launch a full-scale assault. His insides seethed. Trying to control his temper, he clenched his teeth with unhealthy force. Think before speaking, he told himself, mustering all of his willpower. Do not lose it now, he thought, or you could lose her for good.
"So," Tom said, "what you're saying is that, unless she's dead, you don't care?"
"With no evidence of foul play, I can't start an investigation," said the operator, coolly.
"What criteria?" Tom demanded. "She's missing! This isn't like her! She never misses work and if she was going to leave, she would've taken some money—if not all of it!" As he finished speaking, his internal voice screamed, What in the hell do they pay you for, you moron? But reason prevailed and he swallowed hard, leaving his feelings unsaid.
"She doesn't meet the criteria for a search." The operator told him simply.
The operator's rigidity and lack of concern at once emotionally drained and enraged Tom. He couldn't take it. "How are you going to feel if she dies tomorrow and you could have helped?" Tom blurted out, struggling to push some calm into his voice. "How is that going to fit your criteria?"
"Unless there's evidence of foul play or she's a minor or on medication for a mental disorder, she doesn't meet the criteria for a missing person," the operator said, sounding a little irritated. "She's an adult. She can go where she pleases and we do not have to look for her."
"Arghhh, this can't be happening!" Tom said, as his rage boiled up and over. "What the hell do we have the police for—if not for this? Aren't you supposed to 'protect and serve'? Why the hell is that written on all your f****** cars?" The longer the conversation continued, the more he struggled with himself. This isn't right, He thought. This just isn't right!
Tom needed someone to listen so he looked online for news contacts and called the news tip line at channel 13. The Q13 tip line reporter told Tom that, without a case number, they couldn't run the story. Tom explained that Tanya did not meet the police department's criteria, so the police refused to open a case. The reporter offered to check about the criteria with the Sheriff's office and see what he could do. He said he'd call back.
Maybe I have missed a solution. Can I figure out a way to escape this captivity? If there is a way, I will find it! I will not be a victim!
Is this even real? Is my mind failing me?
God, I do not think I can do this. Please save me, God. Please protect me. I am not strong enough without you. I want so desperately to get out. Please, Lord, guard my mind, heart and body from the evil snares of the devil. God, I give you all that I am for you to fulfill your will. You always said ask and you shall receive. Lord, I'm asking—no, I'm begging—please help me. I need you. I cannot do this. I believe you can, God. Please do so, according to your will.
Tom called 911 again.
"911 what are you reporting?" said an operator who didn't sound familiar.
"My wife has been missing for three days now," Tom said. "I've called the jails, hospitals, family, State Patrol and the morgues. I've checked all of our accounts. She hasn't accessed any money. The only thing I can't check is her Nordstrom Visa because I'm not on that account, so they won't tell me anything. All her bankcards are at home. She has two checks that aren't cashed on the railing upstairs and..."
"Can I have her name and date of birth?"
"Tanya, that's T-A-N-Y-A, Rider, that's R-I-D-E-R. Her date of birth is 6/25/1974."
"And what was she wearing the last time you saw her?"
"Black slacks and a white blouse," Tom said. "I found a tape of her leaving work the day she disappeared. She was leaving from her overnight shift at Fred Meyers."
"Can you tell me what she was driving?"
"A blue Honda Element. Brand new, 2007, with a paper plate in the window."
"Can you tell me anything that can distinguish it from any other car of its kind?"
"Silver running boards and all the upgrades available."
During the interview, the operator gave Tom a case number, 07-284-580, and explained that they would list her and that the listing would go out countywide, statewide and countrywide, so that, if Tanya was found and an agency ran her name—anywhere in the country—they would learn that she was missing.
After they concluded the call, the operator called back, asking for the vehicle identification number (VIN) from Tanya's car. Tom found the number and gave it to the operator, but they had a little mix-up understanding the letters among the digits over the telephone. Finally, the operator found the car's record.
"I got it," the operator said. "2007 Honda. Anyway, I found it. That's great. Okay."
"It'd be better if you found her," Tom said.
"It really would," said the operator. "I think we're gonna go ahead and send an officer out to talk to you about this." Thank God, Tom thought. He felt as if he'd finally reached an operator with a heart. I think God hears my prayers with tears of His own, as I hear a single sound in the brush. A plop. Then, a second later, I hear another. Then another and another and another. In a moment, I feel it—blessed water, sprinkling and then raining down on my tomb. But it doesn't reach me. I reach out my hand toward the broken windshield but can't get my hand out far enough. Some precious drops of moisture splash into the interior of the car and I wipe them with my fingers, raising a smear of moisture to my lips.
When the King County Police officer arrived, Tom met him in the driveway.
"Are you Mr. Rider?" the officer asked.
"Yes, I am," Tom said. "My wife's missing."
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"When she left for work, she called me to see what I was doing," Tom explained. "That's the last I heard from her."
"When was that?"
"The nineteenth, around ten pm," Tom said. "She was going to work. She asked what I was doing I said sleeping and she hung up."
"And you didn't do anything that made her angry and maybe cause her to want to leave you?"
"I don't know," Tom said. "We've been together for a long time and she gets mad at me, but she didn't say anything to make me think she was mad."
"How long have you been together?" the officer asked.
"Sixteen years this February," said Tom. "We've been married for about ten years this October third and we're building a house and buying this one. If she was going to leave, she would have taken the money. She hasn't touched it, so I know something's wrong."
"Do you know what she was wearing when she left?"
"Black slacks and a white blouse," Tom reported. "The Bellevue Police and I found video of her getting into her car, so they said I had to file in King County because that's where we live."
"You say she got in her car? What makes you think something happened?"
"Because she never got home and didn't go to work. That's not like her. Something happened between there and home."
"What kind of car was it?"
"Blue Honda Element, 2007. She was on tape at nine AM, getting in it and driving away from the Bellevue Fred Meyers."
"And that was on the twentieth?"
"Yes," Tom said. "That's why Bellevue said it was no longer in their jurisdiction and I would have to file a report here."
"I think we have what we need for now," the officer said. "I'll write this up and get you a card."
"Do you want to search the house?" Tom offered. "Anything you need, you don't need to waste time with a warrant. You have my permission. My life's an open book. I have nothing to hide. And I don't want you wasting resources looking at me when you could be looking for her."
"Okay, if you'll wait here I'll take a look around and come back out."
Tom waited in the driveway while the officer searched the house.
"Those are her checks on the railing?"
"Yes, and that's her bankcard on the counter," Tom said. "All she has with her is her Nordstrom Visa and I can't check it because I'm not on it. But, if you guys could check it, then we'll know if, well, if someone stole it or not."
"Well," the officer said, "I can't make those decisions I'll turn this over to the sergeant and he'll make the call on whether it goes to a detective."
"So you mean you might not investigate, after all this?" Tom asked. "What do I have to do?"
"It is out of my hands," the officer sighed. "I just take the report."
"Well, you do what you have to and I'll do what I need to," Tom said. At least he had a case number so he could get the story out there. He thought that, maybe, some attention would force the police to do their job.
Tom called Channel 13 News, which had called the Sheriff's office about the missing-persons case criteria. Can it be that that phone call tipped the scales and made them open the case?
Through the darkness again and again, my phone rings and stops, rings and stops. I want to answer it but it is somewhere over there. I can't reach it, can't even find it. My mind is foggy. If only I could reach the phone! If only I could reach the phone. If only! But I cannot. I am trapped here, stuck here, abandoned here. What if no one comes to save me? What if they never find me? How long can I survive, anyway? I have been without water for… I don't even know how long. I have been unconscious a lot. I think I have gone through two nights, but I am not sure.
Saturday night, Tom didn't know what to do with himself. He just sat at home, waiting. Tanya, he thought, where are you? When it got dark, he walked out of his house and down the driveway, to the street. he moseyed down their street and stood into the night, waiting, until morning came.
I am hungry. I had been so healthy that, maybe, my body doesn't have a lot of fat stores. I worry, but I hope that my healthy diet has given me the strength to endure this. Still, I think about food. I want food as much as I want water. My hunger and thirst add to the agony of the searing pain from my broken body. Then, my worry grows. Other things start to happen with my body, things I don't understand. My heart seems fluttery, with an irregular heartbeat. Why is my heart pounding like this? It's not like I'm exercising or anything. It's not like I had coffee with my breakfast. Oh, breakfast. I want food. But I feel dizzy and a little nauseous. Oh, my stomach feels so icky. How can I feel nausea when I haven't eaten anything? I am worried. I don't understand it.
I am floating in and out, conscious and then dreaming. Sometimes I do not know the difference. I think I am dying but God helps me to survive one more moment, one more hour. I decide that I am not trapped in a desperate situation, pinned behind the wheel of my car. Instead, I drift above my body. I float off, happily, above the beautiful mountains with snow-capped peaks, above the beautiful Northwest greenery with its azaleas and ferns and grasses. Lady takes me on a serene sightseeing tour of idyllic landscapes bathed in light, away from misery.
I am back in my body. I am tired and dizzy. I don't know what to think. Why don't they come? Why doesn't Tom come? The dizziness grows and then it sweeps over me. I close my eyes and wipe my face, avoiding my left eyebrow, which still has an open wound. Opening my eyes, I run my hand through my hair, brushing it away from my face. Several hairs cling to my hand and I have no way to wipe them off. I feel sick to my stomach. Oh, God, it's bad. I feel my stomach swell up in me as. No! No, no, no! I don't want to throw up! But I am not in control. I face the window below my left side and try to press my face forward a little as I throw up. The vomit lands near the front of the side window. The heaving contraction of my gut and my chest makes everything hurt so badly, I can't think. I throw up again and the vomit splats all over the window at my side. I am spinning. It stinks. I can't handle it.
A detective called. She was in charge of Tanya's case and this was her first call. "I need a print out of all your accounts," she said.
Tom told her, as he'd told everyone so far, that the only card Tanya had with her was her Nordstrom Visa, and that he hadn't set up his online password yet so he had no access to that account.
"Where's the account?" she asked. "And how do you access it?"
Tom gave her their account numbers and all the information he could. He also provided his social security number and his pin numbers, so she could check out everything for herself. He wanted her to. He insisted that the detective search the house and even take his computer, to prove that he wasn't involved with her disappearance in any way. He told them that they didn't need to get a warrant and that he wanted to be as open with them as he possibly could. He pleaded with the police to follow up on every lead, and he prayed that they would eliminate him as a suspect as quickly as possible, so that, then, they would move on to investigate more productive leads.
I wake up cold, so cold. My fingers and arms, legs and toes feel so cold and my heart gives a little flutter and then I feel some hard, pounding beats. I know a lot about health, but I do not understand what is happening inside my body. I just want to rest. I want to sleep and dream, but I'm angry and I want to cry. I don't have the strength, just a lame attempt, a whimper. I talk to Tom inside my head. I pray to God. I drift out above the blackberry bushes, away from the smells in my car, up to tops of the cedar trees.
"Come with me, Lady," I say inside my head. "Let's go for a ride."
But I can't find Lady. I don't know where she is.
"Tom?" I say in the silence of my mind. "Do you know where Lady is?"
Tom doesn't know where Lady is but, he says, "I love you." "Well, I love you too," I think I say. "So why don't you come and get me?"
But Tom doesn't answer. He will come, I think.
My gut twists and turns and I feel sick again, but it is not my stomach this time. I have to go to the bathroom! I start crying. I have always worked hard to keep my life clean and orderly and, here I am, sick in my pants. Locked in my seat, fully clothed, I have diarrhea. The fresh smell is horrible and I am in agony.
I drift away again. I see myself hovering over our property in Shelton, where we had built our house, a nice home on a double lot overlooking a beautiful bay. During construction, we had lived in an RV that had air conditioning. I liked that, though I am so cold right now, I do not understand why! The RV was small, but I was happy, being so close to Tom. We know that we can conquer any challenges. We can do anything!
Facing my situation in the car, I see and smell the same horror. I keep trying to pound on the window, claw at the clasp. I try them again and again. I do not care if I have tried them a thousand times. I do not care if they have failed a thousand times. I must keep trying, even if it is futile. What else am I going to do? All I can do is choose to erase everything that binds me. I can give in and let go, but I do not want to. I have dreams to live for, so failure is not an option. I must will myself to live.
After the detective left, Tom worked around the property. It was mindless labor that he needed to do, but he only did it to keep his tortured mind occupied for a little while. Tom also worked on flyers and tried to raise money for a reward. He knew that he needed to do all he could to add to the media stories every day, so that Tanya's disappearance would stay in front of the public—and so that the public would keep the pressure on the police.
I hear a sound. I can't make sense of it, though it seems familiar. I think I should know what it is. It comes from up above me, a vibrating hum that gets louder until there's a red glow, and then the red light fades away as the sound becomes fainter. But, soon, it happens again. And again. Then it happens again but this time, the noise gets louder as a white light gets brighter and brighter and, then, the light turns to red and the noise and red light both fade away. I don't understand it.
I don't know where I am. I am in a box full of broken stuff and the box is surrounded by bushes. I can't get out and I don't know why. Why can't I get out? Why can't I move and why does everything hurt me? My head hurts so badly and my left shoulder is burning with pain—for that matter, my whole left side hurts me. I can't seem to move my legs and my back hurts. I'm stuck. My stomach is cramps up. Maybe that is why I am not hungry or thirsty. Maybe I am sick. Yes, that's it! I must be sick. I think I might throw up. I reach my right arm to my belly but I feel tremendous pain in my armpit when I move my arm. Doesn't matter. I throw up anyway. I don't care. I don't think I can care.
I close my eyes and talk to God. Lord, why is this happening? Why are you doing this to me? Please, Jesus, help me to remember that, in all my sufferings, I am united with you on the cross. Help me trust that my suffering is not in vain. Help me to know that you are ever close by my side. God, I offer up my despair and weakness to you. Please, give me strength and hope. Please protect me.
I open my eyes and I think I've been asleep. I see flies swirling around me. I lose them, though, as I am dizzy, spinning. It is hard to keep my eyes open. But I feel something strange along the seatbelt line, spots that hurt, from my hurt shoulder down to my right hip and across my pelvis. It doesn't feel like bruises, but like I have new cuts there, raw open wounds. I don't understand it. I look down and see new, red blood on my white shirt near a spot that hurts on my chest. My knees hurt, too, where they're pressed up against the front of the car. The skin on my knees feels raw. I look at the grey mist through the blackberry bushes. I feel cold. I want to get warm. What can I do? Nothing, I guess. I close my eyes to shut out the spins but, in the darkness of my mind, the dizziness continues. I moan. At least, I think I moan. I am not sure.
From pitch black to pre-dawn, Tom stood at the end of the street, watching and waiting for Tanya. Where could she be? He knew that she was coming home but he didn't know when and he feared that, if he nodded off, he'd miss her arrival. He hadn't slept in three days.
As Monday morning came, he was listless. He staggered to his truck and drove to work on autopilot, and then he sat in his truck, listening to a sad song, over and over, waiting for seven o'clock.
He tried Tanya's number again. This time, it didn't ring. It went straight to messaging and, in that sickening moment, Tom realized that Tanya's phone had died. He began to sob and his whole body shook as if he was having a seizure. He couldn't move. He felt as if part of him died, as terror that ripped at him bubbled through his tears. He couldn't handle it. His thoughts descended to primal fear and dread and it was more than he could bear.
My eyes pop open. Here it comes again. I dread it. The nausea swells up like a wave but my body has nothing left. It doesn't matter. It comes anyway, in violent dry heaves that make my broken body cramp and lurch against the restraints. Shaking and locking down on my injuries and on all the other unknown processes that are taking place inside my body, my abdomen seizes and thrusts and spasms as I retch again and again, producing nothing. Please, God, make it stop, I say inside my head. Please, God, make it stop. Finally, it does, and I drift away.
"Lord," he prayed, "if you can't keep her safe, then keep her with you."
Finally, Tom gathered himself and sucked in a deep breath. He wiped his face and stared into space. Maybe the detective has news, he thought. He wanted to check in. He steeled himself and then dialed.
The detective asked if Tanya knew anyone in Yakima.
"No," Tom said, feeling a faint flash of hope. "Why?" In that instant, thought he heard Tanya's voice calling him. Was it wishful thinking? Maybe Tanya heard her phone ringing? He realized that his tired mind was playing tricks on him. Her phone was dead.
"We had a tip on a car like hers," the detective offered. "In the parking lot of the Yakima Fred Meyers."
Tom felt hopeful. It hurt a lot less to think that, maybe, she had just left. Then, she'd be happy, at least. That was all he'd ever wanted for her—just to be happy. The news sparked a bit of energy in Tom as he worked on his chores. Still, he couldn't shake that nagging feeling—the screaming dread. It wouldn't go away, no matter what logic came his way. The despair tugged at his reasoning and barraged his mind with images of horror and the possibility of Tanya's death.
Tom thought about the detective's information for a while, and then he called her back. He asked her why she thought it was Tanya's vehicle. The detective explained that, in the morning, one of the Riders' credit cards was used there to buy gas.
Tom's heart sank. He had purchased the gas that day.
Why was the detective monitoring the wrong account? Tom wondered, confused. Tanya didn't have that card so he asked the detective why they were bothering to monitor it. The detective claimed that Tom had said that he didn't have access to that joint checking account. Tom felt weak, sinking. Where did she ever get the idea that he didn't have access to their joint checking account? he thought. Sarcasm riddled his voice as he apologized for whatever he might have said that had confused the detective. Again, he said, the only card Tanya had with her was her Nordstrom Visa. All of the other cards were at home. Nonetheless, the detective blamed the confusion on Tom.
The last thing he wanted to do was to slow down the cops, so Tom pent up his feelings about the detective. He knew well that, if he behaved badly, it would have slowed the effort to locate Tanya.
The detective asked him to print out his bank statements and, again, he explained that he had not yet set up his password. He feared that the police weren't really listening to him—or paying attention to Tanya's case at all.
Someone is looking at me. Through the dark nothingness, the night is eerily quiet, but I feel someone out in the blackberry bushes. Something is there, I can tell. The distinct feeling will not let go. I hear it! An animal snorts and I hear a crunch of the shrubbery. I freeze. I see a dark image move slowly, tentatively just outside the windshield. Oh, God! What is it? The rotten-egg smell permeates the night air and I have no way to clean myself and get rid of it, as I have always done with anything and everything in my life that was not clean, and I realize that the creature is not just attracted to the bushes but to the rotting-carcass smells imprisoned within my vehicle. The dark shadow grows closer, larger. Suddenly I can see the glint of an eye as the furry body sniffs back and forth. "Help!" I scream. "Get away from me!" Everything in my body hurts as I flail my right arm and try to bang on the console, the dashboard, the windshield. The bulk of the creature fades away. What was it? Oh, God, I'm scared. Please, God, deliver me from this darkness…
Tom felt restless. Too many feelings of hate, dread and grief welled up inside him. It turned the flavor of every food to ash. Though it was late at night and he was exhausted, he couldn't sleep. Tom stepped outside and walked down the street. His head rang with thoughts of vengeance when he thought about whoever had harmed Tanya. His vision focused on a blank face, its features absent. Tom was consumed with the need to know: What had happened to his wife?
I open my eyes and see a butterfly dancing on a blackberry bush somewhere near me. It flits around and in and out, here and there. I try to watch it because I like it. I think it comes inside my room and I raise my fingers toward it, but it flutters away. I look at my hand, and see that my fingers are puffy and swollen. Have I gotten fat? I don't care. My cheek itches. I would like to scratch my cheek but I don't bother. Instead, I close my eyes again so I don't have to look at the world spinning by me.
With my eyes closed, I think about swallowing but something tells me I shouldn't even try. But I think about my mouth. I have a weird taste in my mouth that makes me think maybe I licked some foil or a metal pan. I think that's crazy. "Strange," I said, maybe aloud. I think maybe I did actually say it because I smell something new, something very foul. I feel embarrassed. I think maybe it's my breath that stinks so badly.
Sometimes, I still feel my heart flutter so I think I am still alive. But I am tired—so tired. It is easier to keep my eyes closed and just rest. I can't even move, but I am so afraid of the animals, the darkness, the noises. I have been here for a long time. So long. I don't have any idea. Maybe it has been a few hours. It may even have been a few days. I don't know anything.
I talk to God. I tell God that I am sorry for anything bad I might have done, but I can't really remember things like that right now. I tell God that I hope I see Tom again, so I can tell him I love him. "God," I say inside my head, "I do really love Tom, you know." God tells me He knows.
It had been another short, fitful sleep and, yet again, Tom woke with a start, his body drenched in sweat. Then, the sickening reality sunk in: Tanya was still missing. The cops were still pointing their fingers at him instead of aggressively searching for her. Why? He thought. Why didn't they understand that he had nothing to do with her disappearance? Worse, even, than that, the officials didn't seem to care, and the more noise Tom made about finding Tanya, the more the police insisted that she had the right to leave—to go wherever she wanted, whenever she wanted. He had no say in any of it.
Was she gone forever? Had she left of her own accord, as the cops insisted? The questions twisted in his mind as he tried to ready himself for yet another day of more and more unanswered questions. Forced by the situation, Tom had no choice but to let the days drag into one long, sleepless miserable void, where unwelcomed and unstoppable thoughts tormented him.
Hours and days overlapped, merging into each other. Tom's mind was a blur, his life a painful swirl of time that held no hope. Each moment of uncertainty was a waking nightmare, a slow-motion eternity. And Tom, without Tanya, felt he had no reason to get through another day.
The police needed to act. And Tom needed to make them. He distributed flyers and did everything he could, but he knew he needed to keep the case in the news. After dealing with the police, he knew that, as soon as they could, they would shelve the investigation. So, to keep the pressure on and to force the police to search for Tanya, Tom offered a $25,000 reward.
My breathing is rapid, each breath shallow. I am exercising. I am on my elliptical trainer, getting a workout. It feels good. Run, run, run. I like to feel my endorphins hit my bloodstream and then everything feels so good. I feel a drip of sweat on my face, just above my lip, and I open my eyes. I raise my hand to wipe it away. I look at my hand and see that it is fresh blood. I am not on my elliptical. I am in my grave. I raise my hand to my lip and feel for the wetness. I find it, below my nose. I look at my hand again and see that it is blood. I sniffle and taste it. I have a bloody nose? What the heck? I don't get bloody noses! I try to lean my head up and pinch my nose to make it stop, but I don't care. I'm tired. I want to rest. I need sleep.
I am at peace. I see the bramble of bushes surrounding me and I smell the ugly smell, but I hear birds and other sweet sounds. I am happy as I talk to God. He is with me, in my forest meadow. God knows who I am, and I tell Him whatever is on my mind. It is beautiful.
I think I was scared and hungry and thirsty but that was before. Now, I am not afraid, or hungry or thirsty. Now, everything is okay. I feel good. Life is good. Everything is so good!
Nothing hurts. I know I have had pain in my past, but not anymore. I have all I need in life. I have Tom. Where is Tom? Tom, where are you? Are you coming? Yes, I know you are coming! You'll be here. I know you will. I drift off to a beautiful meadow, where the sun is shining. It's warm. Yes, it's warm! I see Lady, running over the grass. She runs toward me. The grass is dotted with wildflowers of every color imaginable. But it smells bad here. Why does it smell bad here?
I want to open my eyes, but they flutter. Can I open them? I see the place. Things are broken and dirty, disgusting. I want to get out, but I don't want to move.
At eight 'o clock Thursday morning, Tom was on autopilot. He went through the motions of working. Every fiber of his body ached from lack of sleep as he drove to his first stop. He was in Tacoma when a King County Police detective called to request another "routine" interview. Tom had no problem answering more questions. "Where and when?" he asked. They wanted him to come to the Regional Justice Center in the town of Kent, just south of Seattle. Tom called his boss, to let him know what was happening, and then it seemed to take forever for him to drive through sluggish traffic to Kent.
He struggled with his gut feeling that Tanya was fighting to get back to him—and to life in general—but he could feel her slipping away. Maybe he was just suffering from the effects of excessive anxiety and sleep deprivation, but reality started to grab at his heart and mind. He questioned his own feelings. Was there any hope of finding her? Would she be a different person if and when she came back? Was Tanya indeed fighting to survive?
Nearing the Regional Justice Center, he let out an exhausted sigh.
He met the detectives in the Center and one of them asked if he was willing to undergo a polygraph exam. Tom readily agreed. First, they wanted to ask some "routine" questions of their own. They sat around a conference table with the tape recorder running while they went through their battery of questions. Then, they led Tom down a hallway to a small room. Finally, he thought. Finally, they'll see for themselves that I'm in no way responsible for Tanya's disappearance! Since Tanya went missing, Tom's perception had slipped into slow motion and each second became an unbearable lifetime of strained and stretched moments. His lack of sleep showed on his strained face. Each step was a concentrated effort and each breath a labor. In such moments, Tom would have sworn that he could hear Tanya's voice talking to him, calming him, telling him not to do something stupid. "I will be home soon," her sweet voice said, "and then we can talk."
Those passing thoughts sustained him. Sometimes, he felt as if they were all that kept him from slipping over the edge where he would be swallowed in a very dark place. Stay strong, he reminded himself. I'm the only one who can help Tanya, so I need to stay strong.
Walking down the hallway, Tom's legs felt rubbery. With each step, he grew wearier. Passing faces in the hall, he noticed their sympathetic smiles, betrayed by looks of persecution in their eyes. He could see that they already had their answers. They assumed that he was guilty.
The polygraph examiner introduced himself and explained the procedure. Though his eyes were open, Tom had mentally dozed off into a dreamlike state.
"Tom," said the examiner, "I'm going to ask you a series of questions to make sure that we get a clean test. To get a clean test, there can be no surprises to taint your responses. Do you understand?"
"Sure," Tom responded. He didn't really care how the contraption worked or why, just wanted it to prove his innocence. Tom looked into the man's eyes and saw his disgust, as plain as if he had a sign tattooed on his forehead that said, YOU'RE GUILTY AND I'M GOING TO PROVE IT TO THE WORLD. Given the entire feel of it, Tom felt as if he was being led to the gallows, as if the wires would be woven into a noose to fit Tom's neck.
Finally, the examiner spoke. "Okay," he muttered, like a robot. "We can get started."
Tom could hear and feel the rhythmic beating of his heart and the wild turbulence of his sleep-deprived mind, but the room was heavy with silence. He looked at the examiner.
"First question," he said. "When was the last time you saw your wife?"
Consumed with stress, Tom felt as if his body was pretty much shot. He wondered how his body would react to the strain of the questions, though Tom never hesitated with his answers. "It was Wednesday," he said. "In the morning before I took off for work. Tanya had the day off or, maybe, I should say the night off. She was still home when I left for work about five-thirty in the morning."
The examiner droned on about the upcoming question as Tom's mind continued to toss round his turbulent thoughts. Oh, God! his mind screamed in silence. Where is she? He prayed again, the same prayer he'd been praying for the past eight days: Lord if you can't keep her safe, then keep her with you. Let no harm take her from you. Let no wrong be done to her. Keep her in your grace. Again, the prayer sustained him, providing feelings of hope and peace.
"When you last saw your wife was she alright?" the examiner asked.
Tom felt a surge of anger, realizing that the police seemed far more interested in him than in his missing person—their victim. Tom looked at the examiner and sensed that the man expected the answer to be a lie. It must have been hard for him to understand that someone like Tanya could love someone like Tom. Of course, he couldn't comprehend it, Tom thought. I haven't even figured it out myself!
Tom never let his gaze leave the examiner's eyes and he never became nervous before answering. "Yes," he stated with confidence. He didn't even have to think.
At one-forty-five that afternoon, a search-and-rescue crew on case number 284580 drove to the Maple Valley area of Renton to look for a cell tower in the neighborhood of State Route 169 and Jones Road. This intersection just happened to be on Tanya's route home from work.
"Our latest information would be a three-to-five mile range southeast of the towers," the dispatcher told the rescue crew, Guardian One.
"Did you do anything to make her angry?" the examiner continued.
"No," Tom said. He tried to think of anything he might have done that rubbed her the wrong way but he came up empty. "I don't know," he said, expanding on his answer. "She's been angry at me about half the time we've been married and we've been together for a long time." He knew they wanted a yes or a no answer but the truth was that this was a grey area.
The examiner continued to ask the same question in several different ways, so Tom braced himself for the next variation on the theme.
"The last time you saw Tanya was she unharmed?"
"Yes," Tom answered.
"Have you ever hit your wife Tanya Rider?"
"What?" he seethed. "No!" He answered with a hint of attitude in his voice. Tom lost his patience and finally looked straight at the examiner. "Are these questions designed to make me angry while she's out there in God knows what condition?" he asked. "I think this is ridiculous."
"Easy, Tom" the examiner responded. "You have nothing to fear. Don't look at all the wires."
But Tom thought that it was next to impossible to ignore the mass of wires. He squirmed, although he'd done nothing wrong. The wires scared him.
"Ah, let's continue here, Tom," said the examiner. "We're almost done, I promise."
Tom doubted it.
"Did you do anything to hurt Tanya the last time you saw her?"
Before Tom could take a deep breath and answer the question, the examiner stood and stretched awkwardly.
"Let's take a break," he suggested. "I am going to let you unwind for a few minutes before we continue. Do you have any particular questions about the equipment?
The only question on Tom's mind was, "Where's my wife?" But Tom didn't ask. Instead, he summoned all of his strength and simply said, "No, I don't have any questions about the equipment or the test."
The search-and-rescue crew reported, "We have found the vehicle about a quarter mile south of the south end of Jones Road." In a moment, they added, "We have movement."
"Copy?" responded the dispatcher.
"We've got movement," they repeated.
The dispatcher then asked the County to send an aid car, saying, "It's that missing female, Tanya Rider, that was on the news. We found her vehicle and she's still moving inside of it! Whew! Wow! Goodness!" The dispatcher continued delivering instructions. "Just tell them to go really fast to the Jones Road off of State Route 169. Whew, got my blood pumping!" she added.
After giving directions for a moment, the dispatcher said, "Oh, my God. This is a car accident!" And, again, the dispatcher adds, "So this is basically, I think, a car accident and she's been trapped for this long! Wow! Where's the supervisor? Melinda? This is basically gonna be a car accident and she's been trapped in the vehicle ever since. Copy. Wow!"
The dispatcher turned to the rescue crew. "And this is just a blue Honda Element?" she asked.
"Yes, ma'am," came the reply. In a moment, the rescue crew added, "She's moving. That's all he told me."
The dispatcher canceled the car response as fire and medical personnel headed to the site and Guardian One, the helicopter, hovered above the scene.
The examiner left the room so Tom looked around to check out his surroundings. The small office was bare, with no windows and empty, white walls. Aside from the examiner's polygraph certification and a few other notices of achievements, the room had no decorations of any kind. The computer sat on an undersized desk and the various wires ran to a square case that opened like a suitcase. The box had several leads for various attachments—heart rate, pulse, blood pressure, and body temperature. Together, Tom thought that all the leads resembled spaghetti. He wondered how they could get an accurate test when the stress alone would make a person sweat? With nothing to do besides look around the boring room, Tom almost dozed off even though he was sitting erect in an uncomfortable chair.
Barely three minutes after the examiner had left, the door swung open. Tom recognized the detective, who had asked him for his computer several days earlier. Flanked by another detective and a uniformed officer, the detective came in, dangling a piece of paper from one hand.
What was going on? Tom wondered. Why is it three against one? Tom noticed that the paper held a map, but he could barely make it out through the fog that was overtaking his mind. Finally, he could see that the area on the map was a stretch of road he'd driven often—probably a hundred times in the past week. Tom was confused. He couldn't think of much that was there, along that stretch of highway, except the river and a stoplight.
Tom wondered what the map had to do with Tanya, and why wasn't the detective saying anything? He just stood there, looking at Tom. Games, Tom thought. That's all they're doing—playing mental-anguish games with me.
The detective looked intently at Tom. Finally, he abruptly asked, "Do you know what a cell-phone 'ping' is Tom?" The guy didn't wait for Tom to answer. He showed Tom the map, which had a circle drawn on it. He pointed at it and explained that the last calls on Tanya's cell phone had gone through the same tower. In fact, every call attempted in the last eight days had gone through one single tower. They concentrated on Tom's reaction.
Time slowed down. Seconds turned into hours. Tom felt pure dread.
The detective paused.
Tom was tired of waiting. "And?" he said, inching beyond irritated. What are you waiting for? Tom thought. Why are you stalling? They're afraid to tell me! His rage rose to the surface.
"We found her car," said the detective, pausing again.
Tom's heart rate surged into overdrive and his brain jumped into high gear. He had hundreds of questions. His head spun and a cold lump rose in his throat. It was hard to speak. He swallowed convulsively, trying to be calm, trying to finish his thoughts.
I open my eyes. What? What am I seeing?
I am scared. I look up at the passenger side of the car and I see a man's face. I don't know who he is. I am startled, scared. Why is he asking me so many questions? He is saying something but I cannot make sense of it. What is he talking about?
"It's a car accident," he says. "Oh, my God, it's her!"
Is he real? Or is my mind playing games with me again? Who is he? I do not think I know him. Where did he come from? Maybe he can help me.
I see that he's a police officer. He pulls open the passenger door.
Other people are with him. They are smiling and seem happy that they found me. I think I am happy, too.
"She's still alive," someone says.
"It's been—what? Eight days?" I hear another voice.
"She's still alive! We have to move fast and get her out of here. Oh, my God, I can't believe she's still alive!"
"Can you help me?" I asked.
I look at the man and his jaw drops. He seems stunned. He scrambles around.
"Do you have any water?" I ask. Then, they ask me questions and I answer them, and I try to be friendly. I make them laugh. They work to get me out of my car, but I'm stuck. My car is smashed around me and they can't get me out. The fire department uses the Jaws of Life to cut apart my SUV. My beautiful, wonderful car.
"I can't feel my legs," I tell the medics. I am so tired I don't even want to breathe anymore. I close my eyes.
"I can't get a pulse," I hear somebody say. "She coded!"