First it was an invisible woman, then there was the mini-tornado, and now he had a talking dog to deal with. If this kept up, Wesley felt like he was going to wind up in the loony bin. Anne had broken her favorite cup when Sophie – that was what the dog called herself – had come into the kitchen to tell her that her son’s imaginary playmate was real. She had screamed and he had come running only to find the dog staring up at both of them. At first he had thought that Sophie had bitten her. Now he wished it was something as simple as that.
Needless to say, the news that a strange woman had actually been talking to their son was disturbing. He probably would have just passed it off as a bad joke if the story hadn’t been coming from the mouth if a talking dog. It had taken some convincing, but the purse full women’s clothes and the diary had been enough to sway him. It had taken somewhat more time to persuade Anne, and he was sure she was still in denial at some level.
After the initial shock had worn off, they had decided that they should try to find Penelope. Perhaps together they could solve the mystery of why her son was able to see her when no one else could. He had heard the tales of people with strange gifts, but he had always passed them off as supermarket tabloid fodder. To find out that there were two of them living in his own house in one week was overwhelming.
Bobby had told them that Penelope had landed in the back of the truck before it had driven away, so a search of the scrapyard seemed the best place to start. Wesley had remembered the logo from the truck, so after a brief online search of all the scrapyards in the city, they were able to narrow it down to one. Anne strapped Bobby into his booster seat and Sophie climbed into the back seat next to him. Wesley drove them across town to the scrapyard, still shaking his head in disbelief. Anne suppressed her own dismay by trying to keep Bobby calm. This being her first car ride, Sophie seemed fascinated with sticking her head out the window and said nothing.
They pulled up to the trailer that served as an office, and a man greasy coveralls and greaser hair appeared in the doorway. Wesley got out to talk to him, while Anne stayed in the car with Bobby. If she was still invisible but dead, which seemed likely considering she was hit by a truck, he didn’t want his son to see the body. It was better to think she just disappeared than to see a mangled corpse. Sophie climbed out and began sniffing the ground around the car.
“Can I help you folks? We don’t get too many family outings around here.”
“Actually we were looking for a woman who might have passed through here in the past couple of days. Thin with long red hair. You’d know her if you saw her.”
“It’s not exactly a woman-friendly business,” said the man. “The only woman who comes around here is some artist looking for scrap for her sculptures, but she’s no redhead.”
“Dad,” Bobby called to him from the car. “Dad!”
Wesley motioned for the man to wait and walked back the few steps to the car. He leaned over the open window and asked, “What is it, Bobby?”
“Of course he didn’t see her,” whispered Bobby. “She’s invisible, remember?”
“Yes, Bobby,” he said. “I know, but I had to ask anyway.”
Another dog, a Doberman by the look of it, must have caught sight of Sophie. It started barking wildly and pulling at its chain. Sophie momentarily regarded the other dog before returning to sniffing a pair of dirty socks.
“Sophie!” called Wesley, “get back in the car. We’re leaving.” He held open the door for her as she trotted back to the car and hopped in. Once inside he leaned in to pet her on the head.
“She was here,” said Sophie. “She got in a car with another woman.”
“I knew you could find her,” said Bobby. “I just knew it.”
“You’re sure?” asked Wesley, but the dog just cocked her head and stared back at him. He stood up and waved at the man who was still standing there watching. “Thanks anyway,” said Wesley. “Say, you don’t know where we could find that artist do you?
“It’s not like she ever gave me her number,” said the man and flashed a grin at Wesley. “Not that I didn’t ask. Her name’s Sarah something. Starts with a ‘P’, I think.”
“Great,” said Wesley. “Thanks again.”
He got back in the car, started it up, and drove out of the scrapyard. When they were down the street he asked Sophie, “Are you sure that she got in a car with another woman?”
“Fairly sure,” she said. “There are two sets of tracks, both women, that end right beside a fresh pair of tire treads. There was a pair of socks that could only be Penelope’s.”
“We need to find this Sarah then,” said Wesley. “Anne see what you can find on your phone.”
Anne searched for metal sculptors with a first name of Sarah. “Here’s one,” she said. “An exhibition of local artists at the Havers Gallery. No, wait. That’s from last year. There’s a link to her site though. It’s pretty basic. Just some pictures of her work, a P.O. Box and a contact phone number. No other information. Not even an email address.”
“We can’t just call her up and ask if she’s picked up any invisible hitchhikers lately. She’ll think we’re nuts.”
“It’s getting late anyway,” said Anne. “Everything will be closing down for the weekend. We can go to where the P.O. Box is tomorrow and see if Sophie can pick up a trail there. If that doesn’t work then maybe we can call her. We can tell her we’re shopping for a new statue or something. For now, I just want to pick up some dinner and go to bed early.”
“What about the gallery?” asked Sophie.
“What about it?” asked Anne.
“No, she’s right,” said Wesley. “If she had a piece on display, even last year, someone there might know more about her. It’s not to far from the house. We can stop by and take a look on our way home.”
The traffic was heavy as people were already starting to leave town for the weekend. It took them almost half-an-hour to drive back across town. Fortunately, there were plenty of parking spaces in the lot behind the gallery, so it was only a quarter past five when the piled out of the car.
“What about Sophie? asked Anne. “We can’t take her inside, and we can’t leave her in the car.”
“I can take care of myself. I’ll just sniff around while you go inside. If I’m not at the car when you get back, just wait for me.”
“Okay, I’m never going to get used to you talking back,” said Anne. “It’s just weird.”
“Imagine how I feel.” Sophie hopped out of the car and began searching the ground ahead of the family as they walked up the sidewalk. Suddenly, she stopped, looked back at them and barked once.
“What is it?” asked Wesley.
“They’ve both been here,” said Sophie. “In the past few hours.”
“We’ll check it out,” said Wesley. “You stay out of sight. Anne, why don’t you bring Penelope’s purse just in case she’s in there.”
They made their way to the entrance and bought a family pass. This close to closing time on a Friday meant the place was practically deserted. Wesley had never been inside this gallery, but he was impressed by what he saw. He’d have to bring them back again when there was more time and they weren’t chasing after his son’s imaginary friend.
As they passed the entrance to the main hall, Bobby squealed and went running in past the rope line barricade. Wesley called after him, but the boy didn’t slow down. He went running up to one of the docents who bent down to hug him.
“Princess Penelope! You’re okay!”
To be continued…