James Duncan was by all accounts a success. 51, handsome, wealthy, and well-liked by all who knew him. Married 25 years to the same woman, the mother of his three children, all of whom were grown and successful in their own right. He lived in a fine house, drove a nice car, dressed well and was in excellent health. He held no uncomfortable opinions and was thought by most people to be an ideal husband, father, businessman, and citizen. One day, to the horror of his family, and a shock to his community, James Duncan disappeared. He drove to work, had an uneventful morning, seemed perfectly normal and pleasant to everyone he encountered. Then he left the office around 12:15 in the afternoon to grab a quick lunch and vanished without a trace.
They found his Lexus locked and parked in the lot outside the Buffalo Wild Wings. There had been no sign of foul play and the people in the restaurant confirmed that he had in fact eaten his lunch, a dozen teriaki wings with bleu cheese dressing and ice water, and then…nothing. He had simply dropped off the face of the earth. Surveillance cameras had shown him walking into the restaurant but not walking back out. The story had been a sensation and for months the local paper had been full of the latest details of the case. There were rumors of marital problems, business reversals, and personal failings of every carnal description. But, all of the rumors had been put to rest one by one as the investigation consistently turned up exculpatory evidence confirming his sterling reputation. The longer the case wore on, the more grave the outcome seemed destined to be. After 6 months the authorities had exhausted every lead and the trail had grown cold. Hope that James Duncan would ever be found alive diminished with every passing day. In the last press conference on the subject the lead detective made the cryptic observation that Duncan was either dead or brilliantly determined never to be found.
What no one knew about James Duncan was that he had slowly and quietly lost his mind, but being a master compartmentalizer, had chosen to keep his madness to himself. To friends and family he was the indispensable man, a bedrock unchangeable guarantee in a world of disappointments. But in the private world of his thoughts he had simply given up on his life as it was and determined to make a change. For over 5 years he had planned and plotted his disappearance day. He had made sure that his wife would be set financially. His personal and family finances were clean and unburdened with debt. There was no reason to make anyone else suffer. It certainly wasn’t their fault. He saw to it that she would be a rich widow. There would be no tearful goodbye, no explanatory letter, just a clean break, swift and decisive.
He chose the winter to make his break. With the cold weather, his big leather jacket would arouse no suspicion. No one would be able to tell that the shiny gold silk lining had been gently unstitched and that $100,000 worth of 100 dollar bills in zip-lock plastic bags had been stuffed inside. He would have to survive whatever trip was to come and then establish his new life before the money ran out. Little thought had been given to what that life would look like or where it would lead. All of the meticulous planning and dreaming had been about disappearing. His new life would be left to fate.
He had slipped out of the back door of the Buffalo Wild Wings, out of view of the parking lot cameras. He had hidden patiently behind two dumpsters until he was sure that no one was in the alley, then he had slipped into the woods and walked the 680 feet north to where the power lines dissect a grove of tall pines. He walked along calmly, listening to the hum and pop of the high voltage current overhead. Another 400 feet and he located the motorcycle under the camouflage tarp. He walked the bike down a steep hill to the place that he had cut a hole in the barbed wire fence two days before. He maneuvered the bike up a short incline, took a deep breath, hopped on, cranked the starter, and made his way on to interstate 40 heading west, and he was gone. Just like that. Give James Duncan 5 years to ponder something and he could have split the atom.
He had felt nothing upon the execution of his plan, no fear and no regret. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his family. It was just that, upon deeper reflection, it had occurred to him that he would not miss them if he never saw them again. He had always provided for their every need and most of their wants and in his mind, that had been enough. Although he might end up preferring his old life to the one that awaited him, James Duncan was willing to take that chance. Above all else, he longed for freedom and the promise of newness.
To be continued