Authors: B. V. Larson

Tags: #Technological Fiction


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He didn’t do anything else, however. He just put the phone down. He didn’t want to talk to anyone and he knew that just calling was enough to get the police to come there. He just suddenly knew he had to get out of there. If he talked, maybe the robber would hear him. Dialing 9-1-1 had brought it all home to Justin somehow. It changed things, it had made it all real. He shook with fright.

Even as he turned he realized that the sounds coming from his parents’ room had ceased. An odd quiet hung in the house. Only the humming of appliances and the tiny ticking of clocks could be heard.

There was a man standing in the doorway. For a few moments neither of them spoke. Justin froze, some primitive part of him telling him to hide, to pretend he was part of the air, part of the dim shadows of the study. Perhaps the predator would lose interest and go away.

“You did it, didn’t you? You little frigger,” whispered the robber.

Justin ran for it, right at the man’s legs. With a surprised grunt and a chuckle, the man stepped to one side, letting him pass. “Where are you going?” he asked in an amused tone.

Justin slipped passed him, smelling his dirty jeans as he brushed up against them. He headed not for the front door, nor the back door. He went into the guest bedroom and climbed up onto the bed. The window was still there, open, inviting.

There was a sound behind him as he reached the sill. Before he could get out, a long hairy arm circled his neck. Justin saw and felt the rows of scratchy scabs on the inside of the man’s arm as it curled around his throat. He saw the hand at the end of the arm, too. It had a doctor’s glove on it, one of those yellowy plastic ones that you could see through. Justin could see the man’s thumb inside the glove. A big silver ring encircled the thumb.

Justin knew the van man had him. He opened his mouth, sucking in air to scream. The other hand clamped itself over his mouth. It was also wearing a doctor’s glove. Justin tasted the dry rubber.

“Can’t have you falling and hurting yourself again, klutz,” whispered the van man. “You really should’ve gone to your friend’s house like you were supposed to.”

Justin tried to bite, but the Van Man just chuckled and slipped his fingers away. He ruffled Justin’s hair momentarily. “Look at all that blond fluff!” he said, his breath stinking of stale cigarettes. “You’re sure a cute kid, you know that? A damn, fine, good-looking kid.”

. . . 77 Hours and Counting . . .

Ray had spent the longest hours of his life in a small conference room next door to his own office. He wondered why they hadn’t taken him into custody yet. Perhaps it was because they didn’t want to leave the university until their back-up team got there from L.A. Agent Vasquez, whom he now had decided was a thorough bitch at heart, was seated across from him. Johansen manned the closed door, his recorder running on the tabletop in front of Ray. He had changed the batteries once. Ray hoped he would run out of batteries or memory space soon, just so he could see an expression of frustration on the man’s face. That would be gratifying. Unfortunately, the man’s supply of both seemed to be inexhaustible.

“Let’s go over it again, Dr. Vance—” she began.

“Yes, let’s,” answered Ray immediately. He was so tired and angry now that he didn’t care what happened. He was in survival mode, just plodding ahead, wanting to beat them at their own game of wearing him down through sheer determination. He actually looked forward to repeating his statement the thousandth time. He thought they must be getting as sick of it as he was, and the idea that he was causing them discomfort, in any small measure, made him feel good.

Vasquez didn’t bat an eye at his enthusiasm, but he thought it was getting to her a bit anyway. But she was a cool one, and she didn’t let it show. “First let’s discuss last night. You worked late. There was a lot of activity on the net, so you couldn’t bring down the system for maintenance.”

“Right, right,” nodded Ray, doing his best to seem eager, alive and interested. Vasquez glanced up from her notes at him without moving her head. She flicked her eyes back down. She looked slightly annoyed. Ray felt a rush of victory.

“Next, you—” she broke off as there came a persistent knocking at the door. Johansen looked at her. She nodded.

He opened the door and there stood Brenda, looking worried and a bit pissed. Ray found it reassuring that she wasn’t afraid of these agents any longer. It never took her long to lose her fear and respect for anyone.

“I think you people have gotten your statement from Dr. Vance. His wife is on the phone and she is very upset—”

“I’m sorry,” interrupted Agent Vasquez. “But we are conducting a very serious criminal investigation and we —”

“Look,” said Brenda, taking a half-step into the room. “I know what you’re doing is important, even though I think you’re barking up the wrong tree entirely. In fact, I think you’re in the wrong forest. But this is an emergency. Sarah says there was an emergency 9-1-1 call from their house about an hour ago, and that Justin is nowhere to be found.”

Ray stood up. “What?”

Brenda nodded to him. “She hasn’t found him yet.”

“Where’s your phone, Brenda? Mine’s locked in the car. Have you got your cell in the building?”

Brenda stepped forward, holding up the phone. “It’s right here, and Sarah’s on it.”

Johansen moved to block her, but Agent Vasquez spoke up. “It’s all right. The testimony hasn’t changed remotely in the last ten passes.”

Ray couldn’t help but feel a flash of pleasure at the tone in her voice, but it was immediately washed away again as he took up the phone. “Sarah?”

“Ray? Ray, do you know where Justin is?”

“No, Sarah I —”

“Why didn’t you pick him up? Why didn’t you call if you couldn’t make it?” demanded Sarah, her voice cracking. It was the tone more than her words that scared Ray. Sarah was always level-headed, she almost never became unglued over anything. Anything except for Justin, that was.

“Sarah, I’m sorry, never mind about that now. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Justin is gone, Ray. I think he’s really gone,” she paused here to sob. Remotely, distantly, Ray felt a piece of his world crumble and fall away. He felt one step closer to the abyss.

“What happened?” he asked, his voice flat.

“He left school at two-thirty, no one was home so he should have gone to the Trumble’s house, but he didn’t.”

Ray felt a glimmer of relief. “Well, Babe, what if he just went off home with some other friend?”

“But that’s not all, Ray. There was an emergency call from our house. A 9-1-1 call, right about when he would have made it home. The police responded but found no one there, nothing wrong, except that a back window was open and the screen was off.”

“The one he likes to climb into?”


“Who made the call?”

“They don’t know, the caller said nothing. They got the address from the computer and checked it out and called me.”

Ray looked up from the phone to the others in the room, who were all watching him.

“I’ve got to go home,” he said.

. . . 76 Hours and Counting . . .

“What did she say, Ray?” asked Brenda. “Is there any word about Justin?”

Ray shook his head. He sank down into his chair. An overwhelming rush of emotions flooded over him. Moments ago, he had just been tired and beleaguered, faced with at worst a threat to his career. Now his son was gone. Perhaps forever. He thought of his boy’s mischievous smile. Was he dead right now? Was he somewhere screaming for his daddy?

“...Dr. Vance. Dr. Vance?” repeated Vasquez.

Ray looked up vaguely. He shook his head and blinked rapidly. He had to think, to act. If his son was in trouble, he had to move fast if he was to help. He had to search while the trail was hot. Somehow he never really tried to deny that his son was gone. He simply skipped over denial entirely and went right on into shock, fear and anger. Today had been so bad already that he was more than ready to believe anything.

“You must allow me to leave. Am I under arrest? Are you charging me with anything?”

“No,” said Vasquez. “Not yet. But we have the right to conduct an investigation—”

“Fuck your investigation,” said Ray calmly. “If you want me to confess right now to anything, I will, if you will let me go after my son.”

This was the first statement that seemed to surprise them. Vasquez’s eyebrows shot up, and even Johansen looked quizzical. She motioned Johansen into the hall. The door swung shut behind them. “Give us one minute, Dr. Vance.”

Ray stood up and paced. He could see them through the glass and the mini-blinds. The conversation seemed intense. They were arguing quietly.

“They have to let you go, don’t they?” asked Brenda. “The bastards.”

Ray shushed her with a gesture and moved to the door. It wasn’t quite latched. He strained to hear them.

He heard Johansen’s rumbling voice. “...bullshit. It’s all part of the scheme...”

“No ...” responded Vasquez. “...doesn’t feel right...” she said. He couldn’t make out the rest.

Johansen had his back to him. He had a wild thought about slamming into the stocky agent and making a break for it. Vasquez gave him pause, though. He felt sure that she had a gun on her and that she would not hesitate to shoot him. In the leg, maybe. Then what good would he be to Justin?

Instead, he pulled the door open and leaned out. “Well?”

They looked at him. It was good to see them look a bit ruffled.

Vasquez pulled out her cell phone. Her finger moved on the keypad and the phone beeped in response. She turned away and seemed to speak to several people in rapid succession. Ray fidgeted with impatience. His fingers rubbed against each other nervously and his burning eyes blinked rapidly. He noticed that Johansen was watching him closely. The man looked pissed-off, but Ray was too distracted now to care.

Vasquez turned around. “I checked out your story. There was a 9-1-1 call and your son has been reported missing. Under the circumstances, I’ve decided not to formally charge you at this time. You are a suspect, however, in a federal felony—Dr. Vance?”

But she was talking to his back. Ray and Brenda were headed out into the main hall at a trot. When he got out into the open hall, Ray began to run for side doors that let out onto the parking lot.

Behind him Vasquez was shouting. “Don’t leave the area, Dr. Vance. We will be in touch with you soon.”

“What’s wrong Dr. Vance?” asked a thin female student as he rounded a corner, grabbing the walls for support as he went. He recalled vaguely that her name was Valerie-something. He ignored her and charged the doors. He straight-armed the panic bar and burst out into the sunlight.

Ray reached his car and for an awful moment he thought that he had left his keys behind, or worse, that he had lost them. Then the bulge in his back pocket that his fumbling hands had missed the first time was out and a bright key flashed in the sun. He shoved the key into the lock and all but twisted it off getting the door open.

“Good luck, Ray!” shouted Brenda from the steps. Ray realized that she must have run after him. She said something else, but the engine of his Ford Taurus was roaring now as he backed out and threw the transmission into drive. She waved and he raised a hand back to her.

As he headed out of the parking lot, skirting a slow car and jumping a curb in the process, he realized that Brenda had shining tears on her cheeks again. Crying and running again. Twice in one day, and he had never seen her do either before.

. . . 75 Hours and Counting . . .

The trip home was hellish. Traffic had never been more frustrating. He wanted to break all the rules and he did break most of them. He drove around cars that were stopped at lights in order to run a red. Twice he jumped the curb so that two wheels were on the sidewalk briefly. His tires squealed at every corner. Fortunately, he had never wanted a long commute and the way home was not heavily-traveled at this time of day. Still, even the slightest delay all but drove him mad. He sat hunched over the wheel, sweating, shouting and beating at the wheel. His thumb was sore from pressing relentlessly on the horn button, using far more pressure than was required.

He drove at the limits of safety and just beyond, moving fast and illegally, skirting every delay, but not quite recklessly enough to get himself hit. Fortunately, there were no cops on the route to stop him. If there had been, he wondered what he would have done.

When he came skidding around the corner, he was disturbed to see only one cop car out in front of the house. Didn’t they care more than that? Vaguely, it occurred to him that most of the police should be out cruising around looking for signs of Justin, but somehow he wanted more response than this.

He jumped the curb and stopped the car on the lawn, heedless of the black swathes he cut in his well--groomed grass. The door opened as he got to the steps.

“Ray!” said Sarah, reaching out for him. He hugged her and bent down over her small body, pressing it up against him. He didn’t ask if they had found Justin yet. It was obvious that they hadn’t. He knew she didn’t want to say anything. It was a connection the two of them had always had, knowing when the other wanted to talk and when all that was needed was a hug or a light, supportive touch.

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