Vanished in the Night(12)

By: Eileen Carr

“All right already. You don’t have to make a federal case out of it.” Osborne stepped back from the door and walked inside. Zach and Frank followed.

It wasn’t a bad place. A little on the small side, but what wasn’t in California? It wasn’t much different from the house Zach had grown up in. Osborne walked directly into the living room. Zach could see the dining room and kitchen beyond it. He assumed that was where the faint sickly smell of garbage was coming from.

The place wasn’t immaculate, but it wasn’t trashed, either. There were some newspapers on the floor by a well-worn recliner, a plate on the end table next to it. But the dishes weren’t piled up.

“So the little shit’s been dead all this time?” Osborne eased into the recliner, which sat directly in front of the television. He didn’t bother turning it off. The Kings were up for once.

“Where’d you think he was?” Frank asked.

Osborne shrugged. “The kid turned eighteen a month after he ran off. He wasn’t my responsibility anymore. The wife cried about him every now and then, mainly on his birthday, but that was about it. Truth was, it was more peaceful around here with him gone.” He turned away to look at the game.

Zach ground his teeth. “So when was the last time you saw Max?”

Osborne turned back toward him and blinked a few slow blinks, almost as if he’d forgotten they were there. Maybe the man was drunker than he looked. “You seriously expect me to remember something that happened twenty years ago?” He turned back to the TV as if the question wasn’t worth thinking about.

“Yeah, I do. It was the last time you saw your son. I expect it to stick in your head.” Zach kept his voice pleasant. It was an effort.

“Stepson,” Osborne corrected. “Not my kid.”

“You married his mother. He was your responsibility,” Zach shot back.

Osborne came up out of his chair. It was meant to be an aggressive move, but the waver in his balance made it more pathetic than threatening. “And I met my responsibilities. I put a roof over the brat’s head. I put food on the table. What do I get in return? A juvenile delinquent bringing drugs into my house where my little girl could find them.

“You want to know the last time I saw him? It was when they came and took him up to that school. I never laid eyes on him again after that, and that’s just fine with me.”

Frank glanced over at Zach, eyes narrowed. “What kind of drugs?”

Osborne sat back down and waved the question away as if it was inconsequential. “Marijuana. In a Baggie with a pipe and some matches.”

“So you never went to visit him up at the Sierra School for Boys?”

“Nope. The wife did once. Came back weeping and wailing. I wouldn’t let her go again after that.” Osborne’s attention was back on the game. The Kings had let their lead dwindle to six points. Typical.

“How long was he there?” Frank asked.

Osborne shrugged. “A year. Maybe a little more. Why’s it matter?”

“We’re trying to nail down a time frame here,” Zach said. “Your daughter indicated that Max had run away from the Sierra School.”

Osborne looked at him sharply. “My daughter? You’ve talked to Ronnie?”

“If you mean Veronica Osborne, yeah. She was listed as next of kin after your wife.”

“What’d she say?” Osborne sat very still.

“Not much. She seemed pretty shocked.” And sad, and a little frightened. Beyond that moment of hesitation at the front door, Max’s death didn’t seem to shock Osborne in the slightest.

Osborne shook his head. “She worshipped that kid. It was part of why I had to get him out of the house. He was a bad influence. She was a little girl. She doesn’t know anything about this. I don’t want you talking to her again.”

“So when exactly did Max run away from Sierra?”

“I told you, it was around twenty years ago. What do you think, I made a notation in my diary? ‘Dear Diary,’” Osborne said in a singsong voice. “‘Today I heard that my piece-of-shit stepson took a powder from the place that was supposed to be kicking some sense into his good-for-nothing head.’”