This is chapter 4 of “Waltzing in the the Snow.” To read chapters 1 through 3, scroll down and catch up! The chapters in this serialized mystery are short and new ones will be posted every Friday until the end of the story.
Chapter 4: When You Dance, I Wish You a Wave on the River
Daniel didn’t sleep at all that night. Although there was nothing expressly exploitive in his novel, he still felt guilty. Maybe he could have waited another twenty years before trying to tell the story? At six he pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt, slipped his phone, house keys, metal water bottle and twenty dollars into an ugly, old mini backpack. He paused in the doorway of his apartment and slipped his business card into the inside pocket with his money. Thoughts of Ace’s disappearance always made him worry about being found dead or injured on the street. Identification was important.
He headed west to the river and jogged out onto the Christopher Street Pier. It was too hot and muggy to push hard, but the wind off the river lowered the temperature to tolerable. He stared out into the water, watching a huge cruise ship float by in the distance and kayaks hugging the shore. He sat down on a bench and downed all the water in the bottle, finding a tube of sunscreen in the backpack. Josh must have left it there the last time they went running together. He missed Josh, but not enough to try again. Love always ended in tears and anger. Josh was not the first to tell him he was selfish — maybe they were right?
Amanda felt helpless. She knew that millions of people disappear each year and that the evidence in Candace’s case was icy cold. The best-case scenario would be identification of the body. But what would that bring her — nothing but an end to hope? What was she hoping for after all these years? Back in 1981, she thought Candace had just gone on an adventure. She used to talk about taking off and going to Europe or Latin America, but she wouldn’t have left without saying good-bye.
Candace had no family ties, no ties at all except to Amanda, Daniel and their other friends. She was an orphan with mad language skills — Russian, French, Spanish and some German, too. She enjoyed photography, played the piano badly, sang soprano and had been waiting tables at a Russian restaurant while trying to become a journalist.
She could knock back vodka, tequila or whiskey but never got sick or hung-over. She smoked cigarettes, but didn’t smoke pot.
Anyone stupid enough to hand her a joint received a lecture on the criminal enterprise behind the distribution of marijuana in the U.S. She stopped speaking to Daniel for a week when he told her he’d tried mushrooms over the Spring break. He had to promise he’d never do it again, before she’d talk to him.
Amanda chuckled at that memory. Daniel described vomiting for hours and said that, “Shrooms weren’t worth the barf fest. Discovering my spirit guide was a house cat was the last straw.” From that day on, he was done with everything stronger than booze.
It was so like Daniel! That’s why she liked him in the first place. That’s why the play was so funny — and so cruel. Everyone knew that the statue of Garibaldi in Washington Square Park would draw his sword if a virgin graduated from NYU. Amanda was shy around boys and a full year younger than most freshmen. She was lucky. The roommate lottery paired her with Candace. Candace was poised, well traveled and almost 20 that September. She’d taken time off after graduating from a private school in Switzerland. She was so sophisticated and cool. Amanda was invited along and became, by association, someone worth knowing in the dorm.
Candace and Daniel met in their freshmen journalism class. Amanda took one look at him and was smitten. He was smart, funny and flirtatious. He was also struggling with his sexual orientation. Naïve Amanda read the confusion as an opportunity and, at least in the theatrical version, hilarity ensued. The joke was on Amanda. Daniel slept with one girl that semester and it was Candace, his “Ace Reporter” buddy. In the play the Daniel character tells the Candace character, “If I were ever going to love a woman, it would be you. I just got all the confirmation I’ll ever need.”
Of course the comedy is all about the Amanda-inspired character’s frantic attempts to seduce her reluctant friend. The college paper reviewed it as a “slice of life.”
They just never knew who’s life was being dissected. Daniel wrote it as a senior, by then the real life incidents were vague memories to everyone except Amanda. Candace worked very hard to get her to forgive him and then a little more than a year after the play, Candace was gone.
They all missed her, Daniel, Sara, Allan, Nancy — all of them, but no one more than Amanda. They were Mandy and Candy, and then it was over. Amanda started to use her full name and, with the official police reports referring to the missing woman as Candace, they all stopped speaking of her as “Candy.” Without the glue that held them together, they naturally grew apart. By the time Amanda moved down to DC to live closer to her father, she’d lost contact with all of them.
She always read about Daniel and saw a few of his plays. Occasionally she’d spot something that reminded her of the others. Sara was named to head a special program at the Centers for Disease Control, and Nancy argued a civil liberties case before the Supreme Court. Amanda felt proud at having “grown up” with them. Allan wandered into her gallery one day. He was bald and fat, but happy, arm-in-arm with wife number three.