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The Dog Who Ate the Airplane
, written by Edward J. Coburn, is a story of murder and mayhem.

   Adam Martin Swope was driven out of his beloved Chicago by his self-created but ill-advised celebrity status as a "finder." To avoid the emotional turmoil taking a toll on his psyche, he fled to Cancun, Mexico. Forced back to the United States by the resurgence of his mother's cancer, he decided to take a job as columnist for the Tweet; the newspaper purchased by his long-time friend Larry Archibald in the small West Virginia town of Canary Corners. He moved into the Canary House, an apartment house reputed to have resident ghosts. His next door neighbor Livinia Blossom told him the story of Canary House and introduced him to her grandniece, Marti, who quickly became his semi-constant companion. What Adam didn't realize was how soon his investigative and finder skills would be called into play to solve a murder. He was also unaware of how much assistance his dog Bagel, and the clues he provided, would be during the investigation.

Here, read the first five chapters of The Dog Who Ate the Airplane. Then, if you like the book, you can order the ebook in Kindle format at Amazon.com .




Chapter 1

     Wave after wave of darkly emotional turmoil crashed in on the psyche of the man, flooding his soul to the brink of its capacity. With a grueling effort learned through years of practiced control, he restrained himself until the very moment it threatened to overwhelm him. Without warning, he sprang forward in his seat, almost shouting, “Stop.”
     “You got something?” the driver said, slowing the car to a crawl.
     “I absolutely do. I feel fear, loneliness, and an acute longing to go home. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but it’s intense, so stop.” Adam Martin Swope had to scratch the tip of his nose because it itched, for just a second, in a way he’d learned meant something could be amiss somewhere beyond his vision or time frame.
     “Yes, sir.”
     After the car stopped, Adam immediately got out. Stretching to his full six foot two inch height, he scratched his head through his dark, thick hair. He maintained a healthy weight at thirty-eight thanks to genetics, rather than any effort on his part, and the many women he’d taken out over the years considered him handsome. He looked around at the shoulder-high growth of corn on one side of the road, and the field of waist-high weeds on the other. He turned his attention back to the nondescript car containing two plainclothes detectives as well as the uniformed driver.
     The detectives sitting in the backseat also got out to stretch. Glancing around and seeing nothing but corn and weeds, Detective Sam Waters said, “This is the fifth time we’ve stopped and the third time on this particular road, Adam. There’s nothing here.”
     “Nothing you can see, but I know something’s here because I can feel it. It was more intense before we stopped, but it’s still there. It’s almost as if someone was under duress and now they’re not, but they’re still afraid. I think it’s coming from somewhere in roughly that direction.” Adam pointed off to the right, where a small stand of trees could be seen above the top of the weeds. “You know as well as I do that what I do is an inexact science—not that it’s even a science—and I don’t always know how to interpret what I see or feel. My vision wasn’t all that clear but the feeling was extremely strong and—wait…” He interrupted himself. He closed his eyes for what was little more than an exaggerated wink. His shoulders twitched and his cheeks reddened. “This is it.” He opened the car door.
     Sam pivoted his head to the left and right again. “Are you sure? I still don’t see anything.”
     Adam nodded. “But I did. I saw a road, just ahead. Somewhere down that road…” He shook his head.
     “Then let’s get this over with.” Detective Harriet Masters, known as Harry, opened her door. She had a smooth, flawless, chocolate-brown complexion with an easy smile, which belied her caustic wit. Though considered pretty by everyone, virtually everyone at the precinct had seen her stare wither the hardest criminal.
     As she slid into the car, Sam opened his door. “How far?”
     “As I said, it’s just ahead.” Adam climbed in and turned to the driver. “Let’s go.”
     “Yes, sir.” Tom Givers started the car again. Before driving away, he turned to the backseat. “Should we call for backup?” They were in a rural area southwest of Chicago and their backups waited on the main highway in case they were needed.
     Though Sam had only worked with Adam a few times, he’d known him ever since Adam had first slogged through the human scum invariably found on the homicide beat for the Chicago Sun-Times. They’d been fast friends all that time. They occasionally grabbed a quick one at one of the local cop hangouts or the press club, though Adam never drank anything stronger than club soda. Sam had come to trust Adam’s abilities over time. They’d never proved to be completely inaccurate and most of the time they’d led directly to the criminal or his playground. Even knowing this, Sam still felt reluctant to commit all his resources quite yet. “We’ll hold off until we see what’s down this road.” He had a big, husky, powerful six-foot-four frame, with a ruddy complexion, a quick smile and quick wit to match.
     “Okay.” Tom put the car in gear and drove slowly forward, looking for the turn he didn’t yet see.
     “There’s the road.” Adam pointed at an opening almost completely hidden by tall field grass.
     “Right or left?” Tom said.
     “Right. Drive slowly. There should be a house just ahead.”
     They all stared down the road after Tom turned, straining to see what each fervently hoped they might find.
     “I don’t see…” Tom started, but finished with, “Oh, there’s the house, almost hidden in those trees.” Stopping the car, he turned to the backseat again. “Shall I call them now?” He put a bit more sarcasm in the word “now” than might be prudent, considering the promotion board would meet soon, with Sam as his supervising sergeant.
     “Maybe.” Sam ignored Tom’s delivery. “They wouldn’t want to miss out on this bust. What you got, Adam? Anything?”
     “I’m not sure. I’m getting mixed signals. One moment I feel fear, then nothing, then darkness, and then loneliness. I’m pretty sure the girl’s ahead of us, but I can’t tell if she’s in danger. There seems to be an odd mix of…Just a…”
     Sam again saw the telltale signs his friend saw something not necessarily in the present. He’d learned that when Adam’s shoulders twitched, he hung his head, and his cheeks reddened, his mind expanded beyond anyone’s normal vision. “I’ve received a flash of a little girl being carried into a house.” Adam pointed. “That house.”
     “Was she struggling? Who was it? Do you think we can afford to wait for backup?” Sam asked rapidly without waiting for answers.
     “I can’t really say for sure. I don’t know who I saw, but she wasn’t struggling. I got the sense of a resigned reluctance and an overwhelming wish to be somewhere else. As I said, I feel fear, and then…” Adam hung his head again for a few seconds but then shrugged, only once, as any normal person would do. “I’m not getting anything else. Perhaps you’d better call them, but we’d better not wait. It’ll probably take them several minutes to get here and considering I’m really not sure what to make of what I’m getting and not getting…”
     “All right—call them, Tom.”
     Tom picked up the mike and told the backups to move. He gave them directions as precise as he could.
     “Now, go, Tom, but slowly—no lights or siren. We don’t want to give whoever’s in there advance notice.”
     “Right.” Tom let the car drift slowly forward, stopping directly in front of the small house. A minivan had been parked on the left side of the house, hidden between two rows of bushes.
     They all immediately piled out of the car and walked up to the front door. “Tom, you go around back.” Sam allowed a few seconds for him to get there. He pulled his weapon, beating on the door with it. “Chicago PD,” he shouted.
     Adam jumped as if startled. “What?” Sam said.
     “When you hit the door, it startled whoever’s inside and I felt it.”
     “Amy?”
     “I couldn’t tell. Someone’s in there, however.”
     Tom came back. “There’s no way out the back. There’s a window, but it’s covered with bars.”
     After a few moments, a tall, thin man, with a long, narrow face, came to the door. “What’s this all about?” He opened the door wide but raised his hands in a defensive posture when he saw the gun. He took a few steps back.
     The man obviously liked strong aftershave. Sam knew he’d smelled it before. As he didn’t wear aftershave, he didn’t think much of the scent. “I know you.” Sam recognized him and the aftershave left no doubt. “Aren’t you a teacher at Amy’s school?”
     The tall man didn’t even pretend he didn’t know what they were talking about. “I am. My name is Harold Minden and you’ve already talked to me. Is there something else I can do for you and can you please put the gun away? It makes me nervous.”
     “No, I won’t put the gun away because we have reason to believe she’s here.”
     “What could possibly make you think that?” He raised his eyebrows as if confused.
     “It doesn’t matter. Just get out of the way,” Harry said as she shoved past Minden.
     “Now just a minute. Don’t you need a search warrant?”
     “Not if there are exigent circumstances,” Sam said.
     “What the heck does that mean?”
     “Never mind. You just stay here with this officer while we look around.”
     Tom grabbed Minden’s arm, pulling him roughly aside.
     “Ow.” He looked at Tom with venom in his eyes. “Go right ahead. You won’t find anything. I had nothing to do with Amy’s disappearance.”
     Sam glanced at Adam, who felt the slight tickle on the back of his neck that told him Minden was lying. Adam looked at Minden and then back at Sam. “He’s lying. He knows something. And there’s somebody else here. Where, I don’t know, but someone else is here.”
     “Is it Amy?” Harry looked hopeful.
     “I can’t tell. But I sense somebody.”
     “How dare you say I’m lying!” A look equal parts of shock, fear, and defiance settled on Minden’s face. “You don’t know me and I don’t know you.”
     “But I know him,” Sam said, pointing at Adam. “And I’d believe him long before I’d ever accept your word.” He turned to Tom and said, “You hang back with him while we look around.”
     Tom’s grip tightened on Minden’s arm. He tried to shrug off Tom’s hold, which only prompted Tom to move behind him and grab his other arm.
     Sam looked at Harry and pointed off to the right with his weapon. Harry drew her gun and went into the kitchen. She held the gun in front of her with both hands and slightly bent elbows, to absorb the recoil if she had occasion to shoot. Like most police officers, she hoped that wouldn’t be necessary.
     Adam followed Sam down a short hallway into a small bedroom on the right. The room held a single bed, with undisturbed covers, a small dresser with a mirror above it, and a small closet. Sam ran a finger across the top of the dresser, leaving a trail in the thin layer of dust. He pulled out each drawer, but they were all empty except the very bottom one. He picked up a children’s clothing catalog from a store he’d never heard of. He flipped through the many pages of young girls and boys. He could only shake his head at the multitude of salacious thoughts he knew must have run through Minden’s mind when he scanned the catalog. Meanwhile, Adam opened the completely empty closet.
     Sam waved his gun, ushering Adam into the bedroom across the hall. This bedroom, a bit larger, had a full-sized bed rumpled on one side, a fairly large dresser with an attached mirror, and a double closet full of casual clothes. The wall of the room also housed the window Tom had seen at the back of the house, the one with bars on it. As he walked by the closet, Sam again caught that horrific odor of aftershave lotion. He almost felt like holding his nose. He looked through the drawers but he found nothing but adult, male clothing.
     “Nothing,” Sam said.
     “Nothing obvious, at least.” Adam finished leafing through the closet by waving his hand in front of his nose. “That guy must really like aftershave lotion.”
     “Don’t I know it. He must bathe in the stuff. The least he could do is pick one with a decent scent. Let’s go.”
     They walked out into the hall and met Harry. “Anything?” Sam said.
     Harry shook her head.
     They both looked expectantly at Adam. “I still sense something that’s just not right here.” He again felt the telltale tingle on the tip of his nose. “I sense darkness.”
     Sam shuddered a bit. He knew that generally when Adam sensed darkness, it meant they were about to discover the worst. “You don’t mean…”
     “No. Not that kind of darkness and I don’t feel cold. I think whoever I’m sensing is alive. But she seems to be in a dark place and she’s scared. Where, I’m not sure, but I’m pretty sure she’s alive.”
     “What now?” Harry asked.
     “I’m just not sure.” Adam wandered back down the hallway and into the living room, followed by Harry and Sam. He stopped, held out his right hand, palm downward, closed his eyes, and hung his head. The living room had wood floors, a large couch with a throw rug in front, and a coffee table resting on the throw rug. That indicative shoulder wiggle appeared again and his cheeks reddened. “I still can’t see anything but darkness. There’s no pain or any other feelings except fear.” Suddenly, Adam knew what needed to be done. He looked at Harry. “Help me move this.” He grabbed one end of the coffee table.
     Sam glanced at Minden, who suddenly looked stricken. “Anything the matter?”
     Minden cleared his throat, but just shook his head.
     Harry grabbed the other end of the table and they moved it off the rug. Adam tossed the rug aside, revealing a trap door hidden beneath the rug. Harry pulled on the ring of the trap door but it wouldn’t budge. The door had a keyhole. “Give me the key,” she demanded, looking directly at Minden.
     “Isn’t one. I’ve never had a key. I don’t even know what’s down there.”
     “Of course you don’t,” Harry said. She didn’t need Adam’s help to detect that lie. “Empty your pockets on the table.”
     Minden’s mouth had a defiant smirk, but his eyes betrayed the fear overcoming him. After he’d emptied his pockets, Harry saw a set of keys on the table but knew none of them was the right size to fit the lock on the trap door. “Search him,” she said to Tom.
     As Tom patted him down, he stopped at Minden’s front pocket. “Give me what’s in that pocket.”
     “There’s nothing in my pocket.”
     “Cut the crap.” Tom spun him around until they were face-to-face, keeping a tight grip on his left arm but releasing his right so Minden could do as directed. “Empty that pocket on the table.”
     Suddenly, Minden tried to break free, but Tom had too good a grip. Tom reached into Minden’s pocket to extract the key he’d felt as Minden struggled to keep him from it.
     “That looks like the key for the trap door,” Harry said as Tom handed her the key. It easily fit into the lock. She turned it, pulling the door open. The odor of Minden’s aftershave rose from the depths, along with a weak whimper.
     “Amy,” Harry called in the gentle, singsong tone that generally calmed her children.
     “Yes,” came the tremulous reply.
     Harry looked at Adam and smiled grimly. Sam let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. Adam felt a great sense of relief wash over him. “Thank God I’m right and she’s alive,” he said.
     Ladder rungs led down to some type of basement. No light shone from the pit of blackness. Harry pulled her flashlight from her duty belt and flashed it into the darkness. As expected, a little girl’s eyes sparkled in the light. She put one hand over her eyes and pulled up a dirty sheet to cover her face. Harry couldn’t tell whether she was Amy, but Harry assumed she was. “She’s down there all right.”
     Tom pulled his cuffs from his belt with one hand while keeping a firm grip with the other. He swung Minden around and roughly slapped the cuffs around both wrists behind his back, making sure they were tighter than they had to be. He turned Minden face forward, keeping a firm grip on the cuffs. He leaned over and recited his Miranda rights to him, even though he didn’t think people like Minden should have any rights. He felt they should all be immediately put to death to save the children of the world from the trauma such perverts inflicted and the courts the time and effort to give those guilty the slap on the wrist that, unfortunately, so often happened.
     Sam and Adam joined Harry at the opening. Harry kept her light on the little girl. She didn’t move now as she cowered against the wall on the mattress and under the flimsy cover. Sam turned to Minden. “She’d better not be hurt, you scumbag.”
     “I haven’t hurt her,” Minden said. “I love her.”
     “Right.” Sam started down the ladder. “Keep your light on her, Harry.”
     When he reached the bottom, Sam took the few steps to where Amy lay on the dirty and soiled mattress. He gently touched her exposed arm.
     “I wet my pants,” she whispered shakily and pulled her knees into her chest.
     Sam smelled it and thought even urine smelled better than Minden’s aftershave. “That’s all right, sweetheart. We’re here now.”
     “Can I go home now?”
     “Yes. You can definitely go home now. You’re okay, Amy. I’m a policeman.”
     She started to pull the sheet down, but covered her eyes and raised it anew.
     “Harry, get the light out of her face.”
     “Sorry.” Harry aimed the light against the far wall.
     Sam gently tugged on the sheet and she let it be lowered to just below her eyes.
     “You don’t look like a policeman,” her voice quavered. She sniffed and wiped her nose on the sheet.
     “Not all policeman wear uniforms, but I am a policeman. Would you like to get out of this basement?”
     “Yes, please.” She unclasped her legs and shakily stood, bracing herself with her small hand on the wall.
     “Do you think you can climb the ladder?”
     She nodded and sniffed again. “I can try.” She moved to the ladder, keeping her hand on the wall for support. At the ladder, she grasped the highest rung she could reach. Slowly and carefully, she climbed to the top. She stopped when she saw Harry and Adam by the opening.
     “It’s all right, sweetheart. I’m a police officer and this nice man helped us find you.” Reaching down, Harry gently grabbed her wrist and added, “Let me help you out.”
     “Okay.” She didn’t resist as Harry helped her the rest of the way. Freed from her prison, she fell into Harry’s waiting embrace.
     “You’re safe now, Amy. We won’t let the bad man hurt you.”
     Just then, Harry heard something outside. Looking out the window, she saw three police cars driving up. “I think there’s someone outside eager to see you. Shall we go outside?”
     “I guess.”
     Tom pulled on the cuffs to get Minden as far from the door as possible, to give Harry and Amy an unobstructed lane. As Amy walked by, Minden leaned forward and said, “Amy, please.”
     She turned to him with a hateful look worthy of an adult and it saddened Tom to see a girl of eight with such a malevolent visage.
     Tom grabbed Minden’s thumbs and bent them until they were ready to snap. Minden groaned, but Tom didn’t ease his hold. Instead, he jerked Minden back. Putting his mouth right next to Minden’s ear, he whispered, “Another word out of you and I’ll break your thumbs.”
     As Amy walked through the doorway, she caught sight of her mother running toward her. She shook free of Harry’s light grip and walked down the two stairs with tiny, careful steps. She ran unsteadily into her mother’s arms.
     Tom shoved Minden through the door and waved at two uniformed officers to come take him. Tom twisted one of Minden’s thumbs and Minden screamed and swore. The two uniforms each grabbed an arm and jerked him down the two stairs, none too gently. Tom accompanied them to the patrol car, where one of the back doors stood open. Minden started to lean down, to get in the backseat, and Tom reached over and shoved his head so it crunched against the door frame. “Sorry,” Tom said. “But you should watch your head when getting in the car.”
     Minden glared at Tom, but didn’t say anything.
     Back inside the house, Adam said, “We’re not done here.”
     “Of course not. We have a lot of evidence to gather.” Sam knew there had to be more to it than that.
     “That’s not it. I’m still sensing darkness.” Adam scratched his itching nose as he looked toward the back of the house. “We need to go outside, in back of the house.”
     “What’s there?”
     “I don’t know yet. I just know something’s not right.” Adam closed his eyes briefly. “I see…just darkness…nothing else.”
     “I hope you’re not saying what I think you are…”
     Adam nodded grimly. “I’m afraid I am. I’m not sure I really want to go back there.”
     “You don’t have to. Harry and I can check it out if you want to wait here.”
     Adam really didn’t want to go in back of the house. He had a strong feeling he knew what they were about to find. “No,” he said with sudden conviction, “let’s finish this. I don’t want to, but I need to see what’s out there.”
     “Well, let’s go then.” Sam knew better than to question anything Adam said. He freely admitted he didn’t know how his friend did what he did, but he knew better than to argue. Adam’s feelings and visions invariably led to some type of discovery, often just at the last moment of safety for the victim. Of course, at other times they were hours, days, or even months past any possibility of saving the victim. Sam had a strong feeling of his own that whatever lay behind the house would prove one of those times.
     They walked out the front door and Sam waved to Harry to join them as they walked around the side of the house. Adam stopped, closed his eyes for just a second, and again felt the itch. Sam saw Adam’s cheek redden as if he were blushing. He knew it meant Adam was seeing whatever there was to see in his mind’s eye. “I can’t see anything except darkness, but I can sure feel that something’s not right.” Adam shivered and scratched the end of his nose. “Suddenly I’m cold...so cold.”
     Sam knew it didn’t bode well when Adam felt as he seemed to at this moment. They didn’t walk far before they found a small mound of dirt. “Oh, God.” Sam looked at Adam. “Is this…”
     “I’m afraid so,” Adam said.
     “Harry, go back to the car, and get a shovel,” Sam said.
     “Yes, sir. I’ll be right back.”
     “I presume this is what you were sensing.”
     “I guess so. This one almost certainly, but it’s not the only one, I’m afraid.” Adam looked across the expanse of ground at the back of the house but no other signs were obvious.
     “There are others?”
     Adam nodded. “There are. I don’t know how many, but there are definitely others.” Adam clutched his arms as if he were freezing. Sam could see him shivering and hear the raggedness in his voice.
     “While we wait for Harry, can I ask you something?” Sam thought a question might ease the tension in his friend’s realm.
     “Sure. What?”
     “I’ve seen you put your arm out a couple of times when you’re searching for someone and I always wondered why you do that.”
     “It sometimes helps bring my vision into focus a little bit better. It’s almost like my arm’s acting like an antenna. I suppose it’s similar to when we used to put up TV antennas to get better reception from the local stations in the days before cable.”
     Sam just shook his head. They were silent for the rest of the time they waited for Harry. When she got back with the shovel, she handed it to Sam and he began digging slowly and carefully. It didn’t take long before he uncovered an arm. It showed few signs of decomposition, so Sam knew it had been buried no more than a few months, if that long. “It’s time to call in the forensic detail.”
     Adam opened his eyes as wide as he could and shook his head as if trying to rid himself of an unpleasant image, and that’s precisely what he was doing. “I’ve got to get out of here. This is just too hard.”
     “No problem,” Sam said. “You want to ride back with the patrolman when they take Minden in?”
     “That would be terrific. I can’t be here anymore. It’s just too….” Adam shivered anew. He had a sudden thought. “I won’t have to ride in the same car as Minden, will I?”
     “Of course not. I wouldn’t put you through that. There are three cars, not counting the one we came in. One can take Minden, Amy and her mother can ride in another, and you and Tom can go back in the third.”
     Sam had no objection to Adam’s leaving. He’d done what had been asked of him. He’d found Amy and led them to at least one grave. He didn’t need to be there any longer. Sam gently grabbed Adam’s arm, pulling him toward the front of the house. “Let’s go, Adam. You stay here, Harry, but don’t dig anymore. Just wait. We’ll leave the rest to the forensic guys.”
     Adam nodded and followed as Sam let go of his arm. When they rounded the corner of the house, Adam bumped into Amy’s mother, Amanda. He suddenly found himself the recipient of an extremely ardent embrace.
     “Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you,” she said through her tears. “I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
     “That’s all right.” Adam gently extricated himself. “It’s just what I do. I’m glad it turned out the way it did. Is Amy okay?”
     “She’s upset because she wet her pants. Other than that, she’s okay. She’s naturally still upset and keeps saying she wants to go home.”
     “That’s okay,” Sam said. “But we may need to talk to her later.”
     “Okay, but can you give her a little time?”
     “We can, but we’ll want to talk to her while the events are fresh in her mind.”
     She nodded and then turned to Adam. “I’m so glad we called you. I don’t even want to think about what might’ve happened.” She wiped a tear from beneath her left eye but missed the one under the right that rolled down her cheek.
     Adam nodded. “It’s no use dwelling on what might’ve been now that she’s safe.”
     They walked to the cars and Adam turned to Sam as mother and daughter were helped into a car. “Can you give me a call when you’re finished here?”
     “Of course, but you know as well as I do this may be, and probably will be, a long process.”
     “I know. Just call me before you leave, even if you leave before they’re finished.”
     “Will do,” Sam said as he turned to head back to where they found the grave.
     
      Chapter 2

     When Adam arrived back in town, he immediately picked up his car at the police station and drove to the Chicago Sun-Times offices. “Hi, Charlie,” Adam said to the security guard, who merely nodded. He walked past the elevators to the stairs, taking them two at a time. He always took the stairs. Sometimes it seemed to be the only exercise he got during the day. Shortly, he found himself on the third floor. “Is he in?” he greeted Shannon Roe, Larry Archibald’s secretary. Larry, who held the title of police beat editor, had known Adam since grade school. They went to journalism school together but then went their separate ways. By a strange twist of fate, Adam now worked part-time for the Chicago Sun-Times offices with his old friend as his editor.
     Shannon merely nodded while he marched into Larry’s office. “Hi, Larry. Got any breaking news for the front page?”
     Larry pulled his feet off the desk. As he did so, he knocked his coffee cup to the floor. He swore loudly. “It’s a good thing that cup was empty. How many times have I told you to announce yourself some way or other? You’re always doing this to me.” Adam had to admit he got a mildly perverse pleasure in startling his friend.
     “If you’d stop sleeping at your desk, you wouldn’t be surprised when I come in.”
     “Very funny. What you got? I’m assuming you do have something.”
     “Indeed I do. We found Amy Brisbane.” Adam sat in the well-worn chair in front of Larry’s desk. Uncomfortable with its cracked vinyl and stuffing peeking out in several places, it happened to be the only chair in his small office. Adam had often remarked that the chair must be the same one that had been used ever since the paper began.
     “I’m sure you mean you found her.” Adam knew his propensity for helping the police to be well-known around the newsroom and especially to his longtime friend.
     “Look, do you want the story or not?”
     “Of course we do.”
     “Then I want to be left out of it.”
     “I’ll do what I can, but you know I can’t promise that. I don’t have the last say. Now let’s have it.” Larry reached for a pad of paper and shuffled through the pages, trying to find a blank one to take notes. He finally threw the pad down and retrieved a fresh one from one of his desk drawers.
     Adam waited until Larry got poised with his pencil ready. “She had been taken by one of her teachers. A guy named Minden. He had her at his house out in the country, southwest of Chi-Town.”
     “I assume Sam was either with you or you were with him, whichever way.”
     “He was, and I want him to receive all the credit.”
     “As I said…”
     Adam interrupted with, “Finding Amy was not the end of the story.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “I mean we found the graves of more victims.” Although Adam had only seen one grave, he knew, without a doubt, there were additional ones.
     “How many more?”
     “No idea. I left before the forensic people got there. To get the rest of the story, you’ll have to send someone to interview Sam. I’d do it, but I know the policy is to send a disinterested third-party.” Larry nodded and Adam continued, “I want to tag along anyway. I want to find out how many bodies there were, too.”
     “No problem. Let’s see...I think I’ll send Alex.”
     “Good. I like Alex. He’s a good reporter.”
     “That he is.” Larry leaned over, flipped an intercom switch, saying, “Shannon, send Alex in here.”
     It took only a minute before a short, thin, boyish-looking man came into the office. “Got a story for you, Alex,” Larry said.
     Alex looked at Adam. “Your case, Adam?” He’d worked with Adam before and knew about his abilities.
     “Sort of. We found Amy Brisbane.”
     “Oh, good. Is she okay?” Everyone knew Amy had been missing for four days. The story had been front page news and the top story on TV and radio.
     Adam nodded. “Unfortunately, there are others who weren’t so lucky.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “I mean we found graves in the backyard of the house where Amy was held.”
     Alex’s eyes drooped and he hung his head, shaking it sadly. “Oh God. How many…?”
     “Stop with the twenty questions,” Larry said. “I want you to go to the eleventh District to interview Detective Sam Waters. Adam will go with you.”
     “He won’t be there yet.” Adam shook his head. “He’s going to call me when he’s through at the house.”
     “Okay.” Larry looked at Alex. “Take Adam to interview room four and get as much of the story as you can. Hopefully, he’ll hear from Sam before long.”
     “Right.” Alex led Adam out of the room, down a long hallway, and into an interview room.
     “All right,” Alex sat lightly in a chair opposite where Adam stood, “let’s have the story.” He waited with pen poised above his pad of paper.
     Adam sat, relating the story. He began with hearing about the abduction on the radio, his phone call from Amanda Brisbane a day later, and his call to Sam, volunteering to help with the search. Then he told Alex how they’d found the house, sensed Amy’s presence there, found her in the cellar, and arrested Minden.
     “Okay, I guess that about covers it for now. We’ll have to wait for the detective to call you. While we’re waiting, may I ask some questions not directly related to this case?”
     “Of course you may. Let me guess. You want to know my history.”
     “Well, I know the story about how you won back-to-back lotteries and are now well off. I know about how people began contacting you to find missing loved ones and how you’ve been willing and able to help. What I’d really like to know is how your abilities came about, if that’s the proper way to say it.”
     “You can say it anyway you want. I know what you mean. I don’t mind telling you, if it’ll be just between us. I don’t want to see an unauthorized biography on the bookshelf at my local bookstore.”
     Alex set his pen down and pushed it and the pad of paper aside. “No chance of that. I don’t have the patience to write a book. I can barely sit still long enough to put an article together. I’m just curious for my own sake. It may better help me understand what you do and may help me write a better article.”
     “Okay then, it’s like this. Many of my family have had some type of what you might call psychic ability as far back as our family history goes. As a matter of fact, I’ve been told that one of my long-ago grandmothers was actually burned as a witch during the Salem witch trials.”
     “You’re kidding.”
     “No, I’m not. Of course, she wasn’t really a witch in the true sense of the word. A witch presumably has magical powers and there’s no such thing as real magic. She probably just had some small abilities, much like the ones I possess.”
     “I know you’re called a finder and I’ve heard you see visions. Can you tell me about the visions? I don’t really understand what they are. Do you see things that are yet to happen? If so, can you cause them to change? Or do you see mainly past events?”
     “Yes, I do see visions. It’s almost like a daydream. I go into, I suppose you might call it, a bit of a trance and then, if I close my eyes, I can see things in my mind. I don’t know how else to explain it. And yes, sometimes I see things that haven’t happened yet, while other times I see things that happened in the past. A few times I’ve even witnessed things as they’re happening. To answer your other question, I suppose I can cause a change in something that’s yet to happen. For example, let’s suppose I see a vision where someone’s killed in a car wreck but I persuade that person not to drive and they’re not in the wreck. I’d call that a change in cause and effect.”
     “I’d agree. It’s interesting you can see things in the past, present, and future. What other kinds of abilities do have?”
     “I can also generally tell when there’s danger ahead, when someone’s under duress, or there’s something monstrous about to happen.”
     “Didn’t I also hear that you can tell whether someone is lying to you?”
     “That’s true. I can.”
     “How?”
     “I get a tingling sensation on the back of my neck. When I was young, I had no idea what the tingling meant. I thought a spider or something was crawling on me. It was kind of eerie and a bit scary.”
     “I’ll bet. So your abilities have been with you ever since you were a kid?”
     “Ever since I was born, actually. Naturally, when I was real young, I had no idea what the visions were and no idea that all kids didn’t have them. I thought it was normal for kids to see things that weren’t really there, almost like everyone has dreams. My mother had to sit me down and explain it all to me. It still took some getting used to, as you might well imagine.”
     Alex nodded. “How old were you before you were able to really take advantage of your abilities?”
     Adam smiled in remembrance. “It’s funny you should ask that. I can still remember that particular incident as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was in the fifth grade, I believe, and there was this real cute girl in my class that I wanted to get to know. Like most young boys, I was too shy to even talk to her. One day, I heard her tell her friends that they should walk home on a particular street and I immediately got a vision of what would happen if they did that.”
     “And what was that?”
     “I got a distinct image of a drive-by shooting. One gang would be shooting at another. Remember, I grew up in Chicago.”
     “I remember. So what’d you do?”
     “I choked back my fears, walked to her and her friends, and persuaded them not to go the way they’d intended. It took some doing, but I finally persuaded them by offering to buy them all a cold drink at a store on a different street. It cost me a buck and a half, but I got paid back the next day with a reward better than money. When she heard about the drive-by shooting, she asked me how I’d known that something was going to happen. I said I didn’t. I’d just used it as an excuse because I wanted to get to know her. My mother had been very clear that I should never tell people about my abilities. At least, not until I understood them better myself.” Adam smiled again. “She said she still didn’t understand why I’d picked that particular day to approach her, but was glad that I had. She was so grateful, in fact, that she gave me a kiss on the cheek. I was in seventh heaven. That was the first time I was glad I had the abilities. Until then, they’d just been a nuisance.”
     “So how did winning the lotteries work? Did you have a vision of the winning numbers?”
     “No. That’s not the way it works. When I turned twenty-one, a few of my college buddies took me out to an underground casino. There was blackjack, poker, roulette, craps, and even some slot machines. As I walked by the slot machines, I got some strange sensations that I’d never felt before. As people dropped their money and either lost or won, I figured out that one sensation indicated that they’d win while another sensation indicated that the machine wasn’t going to pay off. That’s about the only way I can describe it.”
     “What about the lotteries?”
     “After the slot machine incident, I ventured into a store near the campus and stood around until I got the winning sensation. I know ‘winning sensation’ sounds pretty weird, but I don’t know what else to call it. When I finally felt it, I bought the next ticket and won five thousand with it. Fortunately, only the super large jackpots are publicized, so over the next few months I won one thousand dollars nine times, six times I won three thousand to five thousand dollars, and two tickets netted me ten thousand and fifteen thousand dollars respectively. Then I thought I’d better lie low for a while before the lottery commission became suspicious—not that I was doing anything illegal or anything. The summer between my junior and senior years in college, I drove to Minnesota and stayed a few weeks until I’d won over fifty thousand dollars After that, I settled down to finish my senior year. I really wanted to graduate. I’d worked hard for my degree and besides, I really didn’t think I wanted to spend my whole life just winning lotteries. That seemed like it would be a rather empty life. I, like probably everyone in the world, felt that I was meant for bigger things. Based on the time I’d spent in journalism school, I really thought I had a talent for it. Did you know that Larry and I were classmates?” Alex nodded, so Adam continued. “When we graduated, he stayed in Chicago, but I wanted the adventure of New York because I’d lived all my life in Chicago. Because of my special abilities, it turned out I was good at ferreting out stories. I even helped the cops solve some crimes—murders and whatnot. However, it didn’t take me too many years to figure out that the police beat in New York is a very scary thing. Because I’d kept in touch with Larry the whole time I was in New York, when I decided to leave, I asked Larry whether I could work with him. As it turned out, he was looking for an additional crime reporter, so he gave me a job. And, as they say, ‘the rest is history.’ I worked for a couple of years, getting more and more broke. I was tired of noodles, soup, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so I decided to try my hand at the lotteries again. That’s when I won the biggies.”
     “As I recall, the first one was eighty million and the second was fifty million dollars.”
     “You remember correctly. Because I’d won two big jackpots almost back-to-back, the state lottery couldn’t pass on the opportunity for advertisement. To be honest, I thought it’d be fun to be famous. I have to admit, for the first couple of years, it was. It was kind of nice being able to help people find their lost loved ones, even if sometimes all that was found were the remnants of what used to be a person. That was and still is the hard part. Finding them after it’s too late—especially finding children, like I did today. That’s why I had to get away from that scene. It’s emotionally devastating to see what the darker side of humanity can do.”
     “But doesn’t it give you a good feeling to know some parents will finally be able to learn the fate of their missing children?”
     “It used to. But that’s small compensation for what I have to go through. That’s why I don’t want any credit for this find. I’m hoping eventually people will forget me, and I won’t have to do this anymore.”
     “Well,” Alex said, “I’ll certainly do what I can to keep your name out of it. But as Larry has said many times, we don’t have the final say-so.”
     “I know—editor-in-chief Petersen has the final say. I think Larry may have a bit of influence on him. At least, I’m hoping he does.”
     They lapsed into silence for a few minutes. Finally, Alex looked at his watch. “I’d better go write this up. It’s getting close to deadline.”
     Adam glanced at his watch as well. “Yeah, I suppose you’d better. It might be a long time until we hear from Sam. It might not even be today at all. He said he’d call me before he left the scene, but I don’t necessarily expect him to. Sometimes he gets busy and forgets. I can certainly understand how that can happen. He had to wait for the forensic people to get there and they might be busy at the scene for quite a while. I don’t know how many graves there were, but I know there was more than the one we ran across.”
     Alex stood and reached across the table. Adam stood as well and shook the proffered hand. “Thanks so much for the interview,” Alex said. “And thanks for telling me the whole story. I’ve been curious about your past for quite a while.”
     “No problem. Just remember your promise.”
     “You won’t see any of your personal story in print with my by-line. You have my word on that.”
     “That’s good enough for me.”

Chapter 3

     When Adam got up the next morning, he first opened the front door to pick up the two newspapers lying there. He walked into the kitchen, tossed the Tribune on the table and opened to the front page of the Sun-Times. He quickly scanned the front page article about the police locating Amy Brisbane, breathing a sigh of relief when he found no mention of his name. The article didn’t even hint that a finder had anything to do with it. All the credit went to the police for finding Amy. As it should have.
     He put down the Sun-Times and was shaken by the Tribune headline. This article announced, in bold, fifty point font, “Psychic Finds Amy.” Even worse than that, his name had been prominently mentioned several times, while the article made the work by the police sound as if they were just his assistants. {{{“How ridiculous,” he thought.
     He picked up the phone and dialed Sam’s number. “I hope you don’t think I had anything to do with that Tribune article.”
     “You give an interview to the Tribune? I hardly think so.”
     “At least that’s some small comfort. I wonder who they did interview. The article didn’t give any source, which, of course, isn’t any big surprise.”
     “I really don’t know. Perhaps Amy’s mother.”
     “Might’ve been. She seemed like the type that would want to give me all the credit and would want her day in the sun. I suppose I should’ve told her not to do that. I might have, had I ridden back with her and Amy.”
     “It’s too late to do anything about it now.”
     “Did the forensic people finish at the site?”
     “Not while I was there, but I’ve heard from Jerry this morning. They found six bodies in various stages of decomp.”
     “So Minden’s been at his perversions for a while.”
     “Apparently so. Before you ask, they don’t yet know about sexual abuse.”
     “How soon will they know?”
     “Jerry told me they should have some results by this afternoon on the most current victim.”
     “Any idea who they were?”
     “Not yet. Harry and a couple other detectives are combing through missing persons. About the only thing they’ll be able to do now is make a list, as the bodies are in various stages of decomp and a facial match would be pretty much impossible on any of the bodies. The coroner might be able to match fingerprints or dental records, but that’ll take a while. However, there is something. When the forensics team went through the cellar, if that’s what it is, they found a small recessed panel in the wall with a stash of souvenirs.”
     “Like what?”
     “They found several necklaces, a couple of mismatched shoes, a very small friendship ring, and even a set of braces.”
     “Sorry I asked.”
     “I’m sorry, too. I wasn’t trying to make it worse for you, but I thought you might like to know.”
     “I did and I didn’t.” Adam paused for a few moments. “Okay, I’ll let you get back to work, but let me know the moment anything else turns up.”
     “You know I will. I know it goes without saying, but we really appreciated your help.”
     “I know. But I don’t know whether I’m going to be willing to do this anymore. It’s just too hard.”
     “You’re going to tell me you’ll be able to ignore a plea by a mother or father?”
     “No, I’m not going to attempt to because you wouldn’t believe me anyway. What I am going to tell you is I’ve decided, for lack of a better term, to run away for a while.”
     “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
     “I’ve decided I’m going to go to Mexico or someplace like that to give this a chance to blow over. It seemed like a good idea to help people, but it’s just too overwhelming and I don’t want to do it anymore.”
     “Well, I can’t say as I blame you. I’ve noticed how each subsequent case seems to be taking more and more of a toll on you. We’ll certainly miss you and your abilities, but perhaps it might be best to take some time away.”
     “Whether it’s for the best or not, I’ve decided I’ve got to do it. I’ve thought long and hard on this and I’ve made my decision.”
     “When are you going?”
     “As soon as I talk to my mother and sister and make appropriate arrangements.”
     “Yeah. You sure wouldn’t want to leave without telling them. They’ll understand why you’re doing it, won’t they?”
     “Of course they will. Even though their abilities aren’t as pronounced as mine, they’ve still experienced the same sort of thing I do. I’m sure the experience isn’t any more pleasant for them than it is for me. Fortunately for them, they’ve been able to hide their abilities from the public and I’ve kept them out of my cases, denying their existence when anyone asked about relatives. I wouldn’t want them to be trapped as I am.”
     Adam heard Sam start to shuffle papers on his desk. “As I said, I’ll be sorry to see you leave, but I’m going to have to sign off right now because I’ve just got to get some of this paperwork taken care of. I’ll be sure to call you as soon as I find out anything about who was in those graves.”
     “Please do. Now get back to work.”
     “Okay. Again, as always, thanks for your help.”
     “No sweat, I’m sure.”
     The moment he got off the line, Adam called Larry. “I’ve got some more of the story and some news I didn’t get the chance to tell you when I was there yesterday. Have you got a few moments for me?”
     “For you, always. How soon can you be here?”
     “Well, I’m at home right now. Let’s see…twenty or thirty minutes.”
     “Okay. I’ll be waiting. I’ll bring Alex in on this, too, considering he wrote the original story.”
     “Fine by me. See you soon.”
     
     It actually took Adam about forty minutes until he walked into Larry’s office. Alex sat in the office with notepad at the ready. “What you got for us?” Larry said.
     “Not a whole lot, unfortunately. They did find six bodies in back of Minden’s house, but they were in various stages of decomposition, so they don’t know who the kids were yet. They’re checking fingerprints and dental records.”
     “Okay. Alex, I want you to go get the whole story from Sam. Stay there the whole day if he thinks he’ll get some results before it’s over. If not, get as much of the story as you can and come on back.”
     “Right, boss. I’ll leave right away.” Alex jumped up, hurrying from the room.
     “Now, you said you had some news for me you didn’t get a chance to tell me yesterday.”
     “That’s right. I do.” Adam sat in the chair Alex had vacated. He told Larry about moving to Mexico or someplace else and his reasons for the decision.
     “That’s almost funny. I say that, because I’ve got news for you, too.”
     “Oh?”
     “I’m moving, too—except I’m moving to West Virginia, not Mexico.”
     “West Virginia?”
     “Yeah, West Virginia. I found a small newspaper that’s up for sale and have decided to buy it with the inheritance I got when my father died.”
     Adam couldn’t have been more shocked if Larry had pulled out a gun and shot him. “Are you out of your mind? You can’t be serious about leaving Chicago. You’ll go absolutely nuts in a rural area.”
     “I admit it’ll take some getting used to, but, honestly, I’ve had it with the city. Besides, my last health checkup didn’t go very well. The doctor told me I needed to change my lifestyle.”
     “I don’t imagine he meant such a drastic lifestyle change.”
     “A change is a change. Besides, you know I’ve been thinking about getting out of the city for a while. We’ve talked about it.”
     “We talked about you getting out of Chicago, but not about moving to West Virginia. The only thing we talked about was a change of scenery to someplace like Minneapolis or Denver, or some other city. But West Virginia?”
     “Can you imagine a more dramatic change of scenery?”
     “I absolutely cannot.” Adam just shook his head. “You’re sure about this?”
     “No, not really. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off to fly out to examine the newspaper and the city—if you could call it a city. The population is only three thousand.” Larry grinned like a madman.
     “You mean to tell me you’re going to leave Chicago to move to a West Virginia town with a population of three thousand?”
     “That’s what I’m telling you. At least I’m going to, if it all works out. It’s not cut and dried yet.”
     “Where is this paper and what’s it called?”
     “The town’s called Canary Corners and the paper’s called the Tweet.”
     “Oh, how precious.” Adam used his best, sarcastic lilt.
     “Now, now, none of that. It’s not as if I gave the paper that name.”
     “Are you going to stick with it?”
     “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have no idea whether I’m even going to buy the paper, much less rename it. I haven’t even mentioned it to Judy.” When Judy became Larry’s wife fifteen years earlier, Adam had been best man at their wedding. He still didn’t know any two people who seemed to be more in love.
     “And when are you going to take your trip out there?”
     “I’ve scheduled two weeks off starting next Monday. Want to come with me?”
     “You must be joking. Besides, I’ve got to get ready for my trip. Is Judy going with you?”
     “I have no idea—I haven’t even mentioned it to her. I don’t think she’ll object to the idea. She’s not a Chicago native and she knows what the doctor told me. How about you? Are you really sure someplace south is the best thing for you?”
     “As I said earlier, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I can’t come up with any other solution to my problem. If I don’t get away from this finder madness, it’s going to drive me absolutely crazy. I’m not going to move down there permanently, just for a while until, hopefully, my notoriety has faded from the public’s consciousness. I’ll come back in a year or two. I’ll let my mother and sister be my guidance as to the safety of my return. I would have checked with you, too, and still will if you’re going to be here.”
     Larry shook his head. “Hopefully not. It sounds like you’ve really been making plans.”
     “It’s as I said, I’ve thought on this for a while and can’t see any other way.”
     “Well, I’ve thought long and hard, too. Of course, when I get to West Virginia, I may take one look at the newspaper and the town and decide I am out of my mind.”
     “Honestly, I’ll be surprised if that isn’t the case.”
     “We’ll see.”

Chapter 4

     When Adam knocked on the door, his eleven-year-old nephew, Ryan, immediately answered it. “Thank you, sir.” Adam became immediately assailed by the smell of his mother’s pot roast, one of his favorites. “Where’s your mother?”
     “She’s in the kitchen with Grandma.”
     “And where’s Sheila?”
     “In the backyard. She’s playing with Bagel.” Adam knew Bagel. He was the beagle his mother had owned for a few years.
     Adam walked into the kitchen as Ryan headed toward the back door. “Adam,” Agnes said. His mother spread her arms for a hug. He obliged and when they parted he kissed his sister, Sarah, three years younger than his thirty-eight years, on the cheek.
     “How goes it, Sarah?”
     “Okay, I guess.”
     “Are the kids doing okay in school?”
     “Yes. Ryan’s got a part in the Christmas play the school’s putting on. It looks like he’s trying to follow in your footsteps. With any luck, someday he’ll be able to play Mortimer in ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ like you did. That’s a wonderful play. It’s too bad he won’t be able to be in the Christmas play. You know, he’s like you were, Adam. He loves being the center of attention and being on stage is his ultimate high, if that’s the proper thing to say about a fifth-grader.”
     “And why won’t he be able to be in the play? I’m sure I’d love to see it,” Adam said.
     “You’d better sit down,” his mother said.
     “This sounds rather ominous.” He sat. Sarah sat as well.
     “Not as dramatic as all that. It’s just that I’ve decided to move back to Maine.” She’d grown up in Maine. After she met Adam’s father in college and they got married, they moved to Chicago where he’d been a crime reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times. He died fifteen years earlier when a drug lab he’d been investigating blew up. Adam’s mother had previously announced leaving Chicago for Maine many times, except she never had. “I want to spend whatever time I have left in a more peaceful environment.”
     “What do you mean ‘whatever time you have left’? Have you heard something? Has the cancer come back?”
     “No. As far as I know, it’s still in remission. At least, that’s what my doctor told me at my last checkup."
     “So why the big decision and why now? You know we’ve heard all this before.”
     “I think she’s serious this time,” Sarah said. “And we’re going with her. We’re going to live together.”
     “By ‘we’, I assume you mean you and the kids.”
     “Indeed I do. Mom and I’ve talked about it at great length and I think it’s about time I get these kids out of this disgusting and dangerous city. You know Bob and I’d talked about it many times before...” She looked down at the floor and stared at her right foot, which she moved distractedly. Her husband had been an executive in the home office of a retail store chain when a drive-by shooting left him and two other people dead.
     “Well, I hope neither of you think you’re going to get an argument from me. I think it’s a great idea for both of you, and I’d like to help.”
     “How? Are you going to come with us?”
     “No. I have other plans. I mean I’d like to help pay for your move and buy you a house, or houses.” He looked pointedly at his sister. She shook her head. “Money, of course, is no object.”
     “That’s nice of you,” Agnes said, “but I think we’ll be okay. I’ve already located the house I want to buy, or at least look at, when we get out there. It should easily fit within what we’ll be able to afford when I sell this place.”
     “Of course, I’ll be helping because we’re going to live there, too,” Sarah said. “I shouldn’t have any trouble selling our house. As a matter of fact, I’ve had several real estate agents call over the past few months telling me they had someone interested, if I wanted to sell.”
     “That’s great, but the offer is still and always on the table. Any time either of you need anything, just let me know.” He hesitated just a moment before continuing with his news. “It’s interesting you’ve brought this up today, because I came over here to tell you I’ve decided to get out of the city, too.”
     “You?” Agnes said in surprise. “I thought you loved the city.”
     “I do, or at least I did, and I’m sure I’m going to miss it or at least parts of it. But I don’t love my new notoriety and I just can’t handle it anymore. It’s taking too much of an emotional toll on me.”
     “I understand,” Agnes said. “You sure you don’t want to come live in Maine with us?”
     “No. I’ve decided that I’m going to Mexico or some other place south. I need to go someplace where they won’t recognize me at all.”
     “What makes you think they’d recognize you in Maine? I know you’re famous countrywide for winning the lotteries, but that was a few years ago and I don’t think the people in Maine will have paid that much attention to a finder in Chicago.”
     “Perhaps not, but I don’t want to take any chances. If someone did happen to recognize me, I’m sure everyone would know about my being there before long—rural grapevines and all that. I certainly don’t want to attract attention to you and Sarah and the kids.”
     “We can take care of ourselves,” Sarah said. “We always have. Why Mexico?”
     “I don’t know. I’ve been looking at brochures from all over the Caribbean, and Cancun seems to be a nice place. I don’t know whether I’ll settle there or visit for a few weeks and then go somewhere else. Maybe I’ll end up in a different spot in Mexico or someplace else in the Caribbean, like St. Thomas or St. Croix or…I don’t know.”
     “I understand why you want to get away,” Agnes said, “but I really don’t like the idea of you being so far away.”
     He looked away to stare at a spot on the wall. “I’ll only be a phone call away, Mom.”
     “I know, but we’ve all been together pretty much ever since your father died, except for your time in New York. I’ll miss our Sunday lunches.”
     “And it was really nice having you here when Bob was killed,” Sarah added. “I don’t know if I could’ve handled it without both of you here, and the kids love having you around. You know, they really love their uncle.”
     He focused his attention on her. “That’s nice to hear because I love them, too. You’ve really raised a couple of great kids, Sarah. I’m sure Bob would’ve been proud of you.”
     “I still miss…” She choked back a sob, and looked at her shoe again.
     “I know you do, but Bob’s gone and you have to move on.”
     “I know. That’s one of the reasons I’ve agreed to move to Maine with Mom. Once I’m out of the city, maybe the pain will be less.”
     “For your sake, I certainly hope so.” He settled his hands on the table.
     “Now, tell us a little bit about your latest adventure,” Agnes said.
     “There’s not much to tell beyond the article in the newspaper. And didn’t you just love that headline in the Tribune?” Adam knew she read both papers every day as he did.
     “The way that one was written, it sounded like you did everything and simply handed the kidnapper to the police after you captured him. I presume it wasn’t that way at all.”
     “Of course it wasn’t. I merely rode along with Sam and directed him where to go. I did discover where Minden was hiding Amy and found the graves in back of the house.”
     “I read about that, too. Hard, was it?” Even though Agnes had never acted as a finder as he had, she’d occasionally experienced some of the emotional strain that he experienced on his quests. Sarah had as well and she shook her head as she looked at her brother.
     “Yes, it was and I really don’t want to go through that again. That’s why I’ve decided I have to leave.”
     “Can you wait until after supper at least?” Sarah said.
     “Very funny. You don’t really think I’d leave without some of Mom’s pot roast, do you?”
     “No, I’m sure you wouldn’t. There’s nothing quite like Mom’s pot roast.”
     “Not to mention her coconut cherry pie. That is what I smell in the oven, isn’t it, Mom?” He’d smelled the pie baking ever since he’d come into the kitchen
     “It is indeed,” Agnes said. “You have a good nose for pie.”
     “Just yours. Is everything just about ready?”
     “Yeah,” Sarah said. “Would you mind going out in the backyard to round up the kids?”
     “Of course not. Be right back.” He got up, heading for the door.
     They’d just gotten their plates filled with Adam raising his fork for his first bite when his cell phone rang. He saw the call came from Sam. “I’ve got to take this.” He got up, walking into the living room for a bit of privacy as he opened his phone. “What you got, Sam?”
     “Only that they’ve ID’d five out of the six victims. The sixth was too far gone for fingerprints or dental records. They’re trying to do a DNA match now.”
     “Was there enough left to get DNA?”
     “Fortunately, yes. There were still some scraps of skin, as well as some remnants of internal organs and her teeth, if nothing else worked.”
     “I assume the parents of the ones you’ve identified have been notified.”
     “Yes. Only two of them were local. The other three kids had apparently been living on the street. We’re only guessing at that, because we matched them with the nationwide missing person’s database and each was from a different state.”
     “They were a bit older than Amy, I presume. If they were on the street, that is.”
     “They were, but not as old as you might think. Two were ten when they went missing and the other was just eleven.”
     “God. One has to wonder what would cause kids only ten or eleven to run away from home.”
     “I doubt we’ll ever know the answer to that one. We’ll ask the parents when we see them, but I don’t expect them to say anything that’ll allow us to make any sense out of this tragedy.”
     “No, I suppose not. It’s not as if the parents are going to say ‘My daughter ran away because I used to beat her,’ even though that might very well have been the case.”
     “No, we certainly won’t get that kind of confession.”
     “Well, it’s nice of you to call, but I’m having dinner with my sister and mother, so I’d better ring off now and go finish the dinner you interrupted.”
     “Sorry about that. But you did tell me to call.”
     “Nothing to be sorry for, Sam. I didn’t mean it like that. It pleases me to know you found the parents of most of the children, even if some of those parents probably deserved to suffer longer.”
     “You shouldn’t look at it that way. Such thoughts lessen the importance of what you’ve accomplished.”
     “I’m sure you’re right. Got to go. Supper’s getting cold.”
     “Don’t let me keep you any longer. I’ll let you know if we find out about the sixth victim.”
     “Please do. See you.” Adam closed his flip-phone and walked back into the dining room.
     “Sam?” Agnes asked.
     “Yeah. They have identities for all but the very first victim. They’re trying to do a DNA match for that one. It’ll probably be a few days before they know anything. They’ve contacted the parents of all of the other victims.”
     “All local?” Sarah asked.
     “Not all,” Adam said, as he glanced at his niece and nephew’s faces. “But perhaps this isn’t the discussion we should be having at the dinner table.”
     “You’re right, of course,” Sarah said.
     Ryan opened his mouth to ask a question, but a stern look from his mother silenced him. No one said another word until they had finished with their meal and then Agnes said, “Who’s for some coconut cherry pie?”
     Immediately, Ryan and Sheila said they wanted some and Sarah and Adam agreed. Agnes disappeared into the kitchen, coming out with pie for all of them, two plates at a time. Though they could hardly stand it, Ryan and Sheila waited until their grandmother seated herself before digging in.

Chapter 5

     Adam stepped out of the front door of his rented villa on the east side of the island of Isla Mujeres several miles off the east coast of Cancun. He stretched, taking in a deep breath of the salty, sea air. He could hear as well as see the waves crashing below the cliffs on the other side of the highway. He’d been contemplating what would be on tap for the day, but could decide on nothing better than another drive around the island. He’d done this many times, but it never seemed to get old.
     Adam unplugged his golf cart from the electrical outlet and it started with no difficulty. He’d bought the cart new when he’d first rented his villa on the island. He’d looked around at used ones, to save money, but they all seemed to be in terrible shape. Because he didn’t have to worry about money, he talked himself into buying a new one. He had yet to regret that choice and knew he never would. From time to time, he’d seen his neighbor fussing with getting his older golf cart started. The boat to the mainland left from the other side of the island, so the golf cart proved to be a necessity. Though not large, his location on the island required a ride of a couple of miles from his villa to get to the boat. Once, when he felt adventurous, he walked to the boat, but he regretted doing that. The few taxis on the island had stopped service by the time he got back in the evening. Though safe enough walking on the island, even at night, that night had only a sliver of a moon and he stubbed his toes and almost fell several times on obstacles he couldn’t see.
     He’d begun his trip around the island when his phone rang. He pulled to the side of the road to answer and noticed that it was his sister’s phone number. He’d been talking to her about once a month, but this time, based on her tone, he didn’t think he would enjoy the call.
     “What’s wrong?”
     “Mom’s been sick off and on and she’s been losing a lot of weight. She went in for a checkup and they found out her cancer’s back.”
     “Oh, God,” was all he could manage. “How serious?” He rubbed his head furiously as if it itched, which it didn’t.
     “Serious. It’s spread into her lungs. The doctors give her only a few months or maybe only a few weeks.”
     “Is she getting chemo or something?”
     “No. She’s refusing treatment because the doctors have said they’re not sure it’ll actually do any good—she’s got a rather advanced case. Because she got so sick from the treatment before, she decided not to go through it again.”
     He remembered how sick she’d been during the prior chemo and radiation treatments. He said, “I understand that. She did get awfully sick. And if the doctors can’t be sure it’ll help anyway…”
     “I’ve told her I support her decision. I don’t necessarily like it, but it’s what she wishes so I’m not going to argue. You know as well as I do that wouldn’t do any good anyway.”
     “You’re right, of course. I’m glad you haven’t tried to push her into anything. You shouldn’t. Naturally, I’d like to see her around for a long time to come, but I don’t want her to suffer just to satisfy my wants.”
     “You are going to come back aren’t you?”
     “Of course I am. I’ll just have to make arrangements here.”
     “Okay, give me a call when you know what you’re going to do.”
     “Will do, sis. Give my love to Mom and the kids.”
     “You know I will. Talk to you soon.”
     
     As soon as he got up in the morning, Adam called a local travel agent to see what he could arrange. There were a number of flights to the United States landing in the southwest, where he could connect to Bangor, Maine—the closest airport to his mother’s home near Guilford . He booked the flight to Houston that made the best connection to Bangor to give him the shortest layover possible, even though the tickets were a bit more expensive.
     When he’d come to Mexico, he’d brought very little with him and whatever he possessed now, other than a few clothes, had been purchased in Cancun. He decided to leave behind everything except his clothes and a few small souvenirs. He packed his two suitcases and called the rental agency. He explained the situation and they were accommodating up to the point that he had to pay the next two months’ rent. That didn’t bother him one iota. He needed to be with his mother as soon as possible. If it cost him a few extra bucks, so be it. His innate frugality had to be set aside when it came to family.
     He put his suitcases on the back of his golf cart and drove to the bank to draw out his money. In the small branch bank, he spoke to the branch manager. The manager said they’d be sorry to see Adam go, but he gave Adam the large amount of cash he requested and a cashier’s check for the rest of the money still in his account. Adam knew he’d need the cash to settle his account with the rental agency and to pay for his tickets to the States. His next stop was the travel agency to pick up the tickets they had ready for him. He drove to the rental agency and gave them the keys and the cash for the remaining rent. Finally, he drove directly to the beach, where he had to pick up the boat to the mainland. He bought his ticket for the next ride. He still had about an hour to wait before the boat would arrive. To kill time, he drove his cart to the local cart rental store two blocks from the dock. He’d rented a cart there when he’d first visited the island to see whether he might want to locate there and then had returned, buying his cart there. Because the young lady in the store had been very friendly and helpful, he decided he’d return the favor. She came out as soon as he parked in front of the store.
     “Do you remember me, Maria?” He remembered her.
     “I do, señor. How may I be of help?”
     “I’m leaving Mexico and I don’t have anything to do with my cart. Would you like to have it?”
     She looked at him suspiciously. “How much?”
     “Not a single peso. It’s my parting gift to you.”
     She looked the cart over. “It is a fine cart. You don’t want to sell?”
     “I don’t need the money,” he said simply as he handed her the keys. “The papers are in the glove box. It’s all yours.”
     She muttered a few words in Spanish and then reached out, grasping his hand in both of hers. “Muchas gracias, señor. I know not what else to say.”
     “Your thank you is sufficient.” He turned to walk to the dock.
     Because he still had time before the boat would be there, he decided to call his sister. She answered on the first ring, whispering, “When are you coming, Adam?”
     He glanced at his watch. “My plane leaves in about four hours. I get into Houston at seven in the evening and into Bangor about midnight. I’ve arranged for a rental car and have set myself up in a hotel near the Bangor airport so I don’t have to wander around town in the middle of the night.”
     “I assume you’re not expecting me to meet your plane at midnight?”
     “Of course not. I’ll be all right. How’s Mom doing?”
     “No better, but, fortunately, not any worse. I’m with her now and she’s sleeping. That’s why I’m talking quietly.”
     “I figured as much. I guess I’ll see you sometime tomorrow. What hospital’s she in?”
     “It’s called Eastern Maine Medical Center. We were told they have a good cancer center and I’m okay with the care she’s received so far. Of course, there’s not a whole lot they can do since she’s refused treatment.”
     “I know, but I think we both understand why she’s doing it. Listen, sis, my boat to the mainland just arrived, so I’ll have to hang up. The boat’s rather noisy. We won’t be able to talk while it’s underway.”
     “Okay,” she said. “Why don’t you call me when you get to Houston? It’ll still be early.”
     “It’ll be early in Houston, but not that early in Maine. There’s two hours difference, isn’t there?”
     “You’re right, but that’ll only make it around nine o’clock my time. I’m sure I’ll be up.”
     “Okay then, I’ll call you from Houston. Bye.”
     He walked to where the boat had docked, handed his ticket to the deckhand, and settled himself in a seat in the interior of the boat. The boat had seats fore and aft on the deck, but having ridden on the boat many times, he preferred to be inside the glassed-in canopy, especially when the water got rough, as it seemed to be doing today. As it turned out, he made the right choice. As the boat traversed the passage between the island and the mainland, it sustained continual buffeting. Occasionally water splashed on the outside of the windows, which made him glad to be on the inside.
     When the boat docked, he walked to where a number of taxis waited. He picked one of the newer-looking ones and made sure the driver spoke English. He told him to drive him to the airport.
     He immediately got his boarding pass for his flight, checking his baggage. As he didn’t even have a carry-on bag, things went smoothly at the security check. In the large waiting room, there were several small restaurants and duty-free shops. As he didn’t trust the food at the airport, he just bought some bottled water, a couple of candy bars, and a magazine to help him pass the time. Any cash he had left he exchanged for American currency at one of the exchange booths in the waiting room. He read a couple of articles and then decided that it had been too long since he’d checked in with Larry. His editor friend actually ended up buying the newspaper in the small West Virginia town of Canary Corners and Adam was curious about his friend’s new life.
     “Larry, how’s the newspaper tycoon?”
     “Okay, I guess. Owning a newspaper’s a lot more work than I’d envisioned. It’s fun, but there are an awful lot of headaches.”
     “I’ll just bet there are.”
     “What’s up with you?”
     “Well, I’m coming back to the States. I don’t remember if I told you my mother and sister and her kids moved to Maine to get out of the city.”
     “Not that I recall. When did they do that?”
     “Shortly after I moved to Mexico. She’d told me they were going to before I left and she’d already located a house she thought she might be interested in. When they went out for a visit, she decided she liked it and put a down payment on it. About a month later, she and my sister moved everything.”
     “Why are you coming back? Tired of Mexico?”
     “No. Unfortunately, my mother’s cancer is back.”
     “Oh God, I’m sorry. What’s the prognosis?”
     “Not good, I’m afraid. The doctors don’t give her more than a few months at best.”
     “I can’t tell you how sorry I am to hear that. I know you and your mother are very close.”
     “And my sister. She’s with my mother now.”
     “When are you coming back?”
     “I’m sitting at the airport right now. I arrive in Bangor about midnight tonight.”
     “Any possibility you might be willing to break away after you’ve been with your mother for a while and come down and see me? I’ve missed your sterling personality.”
     “Cut the crap. What do you have in mind?”
     “What makes you think I have anything in mind? Can’t a friend just want to see a friend he hasn’t seen for a while because said friend moved out of the country?”
     “A friend could, yes. But you and I both know, you seldom do anything without a reason and I know friendship wouldn’t be enough of a reason, so let’s have it.”
     “Well…there is something I thought you might be interested in. I’m sure you’re aware the Internet is taking over a lot of the daily reader’s time and there aren’t as many people buying newspapers as there used to be.”
     “I imagine that’s the case. I have to admit I haven’t read many newspapers since I’ve been down in Mexico. Most are in Spanish and you know darn good and well I don’t know any Spanish.”
     “Or any other foreign language,” Larry said.
     “And your point is?”
     “Do you know what a blog is?”
     “Isn’t it an Internet site people use as a sort of personal journal to say anything they want?”
     “I’d guess that about covers it. Have you ever read any?”
     “Not any I’d actually recognized as a blog. I’ve been kind of out of touch with the Internet since I came to Mexico. I could’ve gotten a satellite feed to give me Internet access, but I didn’t really want to.”
     “And why not?”
     “I came to Mexico to get away and I thought the more connections I broke with my past life, the better off I’d be. Why did you ask about blogs, anyway?”
     “Because I see the coming conflict between newspapers and the Internet, and I’m afraid the Internet might just win the battle. I thought maybe I’d get ahead of the curve by having you, or someone like you, write a blog affiliated with the newspaper. A lot of the big city newspapers are doing something similar.”
     “What makes you think I’d possibly want to do something like that? I retired from reporting, in case you don’t remember.”
     “I know you did and I’m sure by now you’re missing it.”
     “I hate to admit it but you’re right. Not having to scrounge for every meal is nice but I do sort of miss the everyday grind of being a reporter. I’ve tried to start the novel that’s supposedly in every journalist without much success. I think I really need some type of deadline.”
     “So you’re saying you might consider doing it for me?”
     “How much are you going to pay me?”
     “You must be kidding, Mr. Money Bags. The newspaper needs the money much more than you do.”
     “All right, all right, I kid. But I do think I’ll have to ponder over this one.”
     “That’s all I ask.”
     “What would you want me to write? I don’t suppose there’s a whole lot a crime way out in the boonies of West Virginia.”
     “There’s not. I thought you might enjoy writing personal interest pieces such as different perspectives on the sports teams here, restaurant reviews, and anything else that meets your fancy. If there happens to be a crime spree, you can handle it. Anything you write that seems worthy of the newspaper, we’ll put it in. Naturally, I’d not presume to tell you what to write about, although I do want to reserve the right of refusal.”
     “Well, on that basis I’ll strongly consider it. It might be kind of interesting to be able to write a column, or blog, if you will, on anything I want.”
     “I thought you might think that. So can I expect to see you sometime in the next few weeks?”
     “I’ll have to see how my mother’s doing. I haven’t seen her for almost a year and my sister says she’s really not doing very well.”
     “I’m not saying I expect to see you if she needs you. Only if she seems to be a bit better and you feel that it’s okay to break away.”
     “Okay, as long as we understand each other.”
     “We do. But why don’t you call me from time to time and let me know how things are going with your mother?”
     “Okay. I’ll do that.”
     “One more thing before I sign off,” Larry said. “You’ll never guess who I have on the crime beat, such as it is.”
     “Now, how could I guess that? I don’t know anybody out there.”
     “It’s not somebody already here when I came. It’s somebody at the paper when you left Chicago.”
     “Don’t tell me you suckered some poor city boy into writing for you in the wide-open spaces.”
     “I didn’t sucker him. He came to me.”
     “Who?”
     “You’re not going to believe it—it’s Alex.”
     “Alex? Surely not Alex Rivers from the Sun-Times?”
     “The very same.”
     “And you’re going to sit there and tell me he came to you and told you he wanted to leave Chicago to work for you in West Virginia?”
     “He did. When he found out I had decided to buy the newspaper in West Virginia, he asked me for a job.”
     “I have to say that surprises me almost as much as you buying that newspaper and moving to West Virginia. What could’ve prompted him to make that decision?”
     “His wife. He married a nice girl from a small town in the Midwest and she hated the big city. She had apparently been after him for a while to get her out. When he mentioned this possibility to her, she jumped at it. Then, after she found out about her pregnancy, she couldn’t be assuaged. She told him either they got out of the city for the sake of their child, or she’d go home to her mother. Alex said she kept hounding him until he asked me. He waited until I came back from West Virginia, and had made up my mind to buy the newspaper, before he broached the subject. Considering the paper had no crime reporter at the time, I couldn’t say no. Even though I told him I couldn’t pay very much, he came anyway. I declare it to be one of the wisest decisions I made.”
     “Unbelievable,” Adam said. “So Alex is a dad now. Did they have a boy or a girl?”
     “It’s a boy and Alex is over the moon about being a dad.”
     “Good for him. That’s nice. But if he’s doing your crime reporting and there’s virtually no crime anyway, where would I fit into that genre?”
     “You know as well as I do no one else, probably in the whole country, has your special abilities to ferret out crime. I’d be more than happy to let you team up with him from time to time, or simply give you the assignment and find something else for him to work on. It turns out that he’s one heck of a writer, regardless of what the assignment is. Kind of reminds me of you, actually.”
     “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
     “You should because that’s the way I meant it. Before you, I’d never met anyone in the newspaper game as adept at any kind of assignment as you were. But now, I’d have to say, I’ve met two such people.”
     “Even with Alex on your staff, I still think what you’ve proposed sounds interesting.”
     “Good. I’ll expect to see you sometime in the next few weeks then.”
     “That’s a distinct possibility. I’ll keep you apprised as to my mother’s condition and whether I think I can break away.”
     “Please do. Talk to you later.”