Beating the Drum by Maggie Nerz Iribarne

The note on the table said Much pain! and had a bloody rag beside it. Greta immediately sent a group text to her two sisters.

Something up with Mom and Dad.  

Delivered. Read. 

Within seconds, her Manhattan editor sister, Rose, called in. Greta walked through the house, confirming her parents’ absence, answering a tumult of questions.

“Yeah, The car is. Yup.  In the garage. Right. I don’t know, that’s why I. Right.”  

Rose was a cutter-offer and a multitasker. Greta could visualize her sister speed walking through Central Park, sipping a power smoothie on her lunch break. 

 “Hold on, Gracie is calling,” Greta said. 

“What’s up?” Gracie sounded breathless, baby screaming in background. 

“I don’t know. I was just dropping by to check on Mom and Dad. I found this bloody rag next to a note with Dad’s writing that says, Much pain! on it.

 “Oh, God. I bet they called an ambulance,” Gracie trailed off. “We’ll need to call the ER, to confirm that they’re there. Oh boy.” 

The other line clicked over. Rose.

“I just talked to the St. Elizabeth’s ER. They’re not there.”

 “I’ll go and take a deeper look around the house,” Greta said, knowing her parents did not leave the house separately or without their car. A series of morbid visions of them fallen (basement?), twisted (back hallway?), broken (shower?) gathered in her mind. 

The den. Normal.  The living room. Normal. Their bedroom. Bed unmade. Not normal. The bathroom. More bloody rags. Greta had spoken to them just yesterday. They were watching Wheel of Fortune. Mom was heating up a frozen chicken pot pie. 

Ok. Something is definitely wrong here.

 Calling 911. Rose responded. There. Done.  

Greta knew Rose prided herself on her efficiency. 

Greta imagined her sister thinking, Even 500 miles away, I got this.

The police are coming. Stay put. I’m coming! Rose again. 


The kitchen door. Greta went to open it, letting in a young police officer. 

“Good afternoon, Mam,” he said. She looked over his shoulder out the door and saw red police car lights spinning and shimmering. 

“Jeez,” Greta said, watching two of their old neighbors hobbling up the drive. 

Oh, God.

“Um, Officer? Can you turn off your car lights? I feel like they’re stirring up the neighbors.” He turned as a third neighbor, a young one, approached, pushing a stroller into the drive. 

“Oh! Yeah, I see!” He moved through the door to go switch his swirling red lights off, returning with his pen and pad in hand. 

 “Ok, Mam, can you tell me what transpired?”

Greta began the note and bloody rag story as incoming texts buzzed in over and over again. She pictured Rose driving furiously or stuck in traffic shouting out text messages. Greta showed the policeman the note.

“Well, clearly your dad couldn’t speak because he was writing a note communicating his feelings.

“Right, well what could that mean?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t want to jump to any extreme conclusions, but this could be an abducti-“

“What’s going on here?” Greta and the policeman jumped and turned to face Jane and Frank, Greta’s parents. Jane stood with her floral quad cane planted firmly on her hall floor. 

 “Where were you guys?” Greta asked. 

“Dad had a tooth pulled this morning and he was in pain and uncomfortable. Mr. and Mrs. Hughes came to take us for ice cream.”

“Ice cream?”  Greta’s face dropped.

“How nice,” the police man said. “Well, I think that wraps things up here,” he said, closing his pad and sticking his pen behind his ear. He made his way swiftly out the door, walking through the small crowd of neighbors conversing in the driveway.

 “Oh for God’s sake,” Greta’s mother said, pulling off her coat. 

“I-I,” Greta stammered.

“I suppose you’ve beaten the drum to your sisters?”

“I’ll go get the neighbors out of here. Bye.” Greta ran out the door into the small throng. 

Oops. False alarm. Sorry! She texted her sisters from her car.

Delivered. Not read. 

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