We’re at a diner in a small town I definitely won’t name. We’re not in California, and we’re not in the desert and that’s all you get.
It’s quiet here, and too secretive to be exactly sleepy. Honestly it sort of reminds me of home, which was my first indicator that this was going to be a case. See, sometimes when we follow a lead the Hawthornes do some sniffing around in a town, find nothing, and move on. But this place has that same misty, mossy quietness that home used to, so I just sort of knew this one was going to be the real deal.
It started with a google alert on Julian’s phone, passed between them in the front seat. They didn’t even discuss it they just switched highways and kept driving.
I’m not completely how their system works. I know they get calls from people sometimes, but often it’s just a ding on their phone. In this case it was a small town with a history of unexplained disappearances. That must have been how they found Black Lake too. Madelyn’s story got just a little national coverage.
We drove all night and got here early yesterday morning.
Neal, who’d been driving most of the night, was laid out on the booth bench across from us, but Julian was indulging me, explaining the case. I thought they might revert to keeping me totally in the dark after the vampire incident last week, but actually it seems to have had the opposite effect. So now I’m getting hunting for dummies. It’s awesome.
“Someone in town knows something that will help us find the kid,” Julian was saying. “Trick is to get them to tell us. Sometimes it’s best to impersonate some authority — FBI, for example. In this case, that sounds like more trouble than it’s worth. There’s already been other disappearances in the area. There was another just six months ago, but they never found a body,” Julian said.
“Which is why we should be good to go FBI,” Neal said from under his arm. “No bodies. Might not be murder. FBI might never show up.”
“Right on the border between states like this?” Julian replied. “Wealthy family? It’s already getting national coverage.”
Neal just grumbled.
As they were speaking the door bell rang and a sleepy, bundled group of people came into the diner. One of them called for coffees all the way around and the waitress replied that everything was on the house for the search party.
“Search party?” I suggested, glancing at Julian.
Julian shrugged a shoulder. “Yeah alright,” he said. “Maybe not the most efficient way to get close to people, but I can think of worse.”
Neal groaned and turned over. Lazy bastard. I of course loved the idea because there was no reason I couldn’t join a search party same as they could.
An hour later we were tramping through the woods off the road where this kid disappeared.
According the other searchers this is the story:
Braydon Summerson, a twelve year old last seen in a puffy red down jacket, was riding his bike up towards the water tower with some of his friends when a white car cut them off on the road and a man in a ski mask pulled a gun on them. He wanted to know where they were going, and when Braydon answered the man demanded Braydon get in the car with him. The kid did what he was told and his friends, terrified, rode their bikes back to the nearest of their houses and called the police.
“What was Braydon going to show his friends?” Neal asked. The woman telling the story wasn’t a police officer, she was a school bus driver volunteering.
She shrugged. “No idea,” she said. “You know how kids are.” She fixed them with a look. “Who did you say you boys were exactly?”
“Oh we’re the Johnson’s cousins,” Julian said easily and the woman nodded as if this made sense.
Only when she was out of earshot did Neal say, “We need to talk to those boys.”
Easier said than done. Turns out when there’s some guy out there kidnapping boys at gun point there isn’t a great opening to approach them. So that’s our current dead end. In the meantime we’ve done some background research on the town.
The first disappearance was thirty years ago or so. A little boy, Fred Ericson, vanished out in the woods in the late 80s and was never seen again. He was out playing with a friend and apparently just disappeared. There was no man in a mask in that story. There was no one else at all — one moment there were two boys in the woods the next there was one.
“Does it say who the friend was?” Neal asked, leaning over Julian’s shoulder to read the article on his ipad.
“No names,” Julian said. “We’ll have to ask around.”
Which meant going to the library, only it was too late at that point. We spent all damn day out in the woods trying to learn something about the disappearance. So instead we came here for dinner. We’ll pick up the case again tomorrow.