Vanished in the Night(8)

By: Eileen Carr


McKnight nodded. “So he was a runaway? From some kind of school?”

“Sierra School for Boys. It was up near Blairsden. It was, well, like a reform school, I guess.” Veronica rubbed her eyes. “I don’t think it was a real juvenile detention facility. It was more like one of those places you send a bad kid before he ends up in juvie, a reform school.”

McKnight scribbled some notes down on a pad he’d taken out of his pocket. “So Max was a bad kid? He’d been in trouble?”

“That came out wrong. Max wasn’t an angel, but he wasn’t exactly a problem, either. He was just a kid, doing the stuff that kids do. He and my dad, they didn’t . . . they didn’t get along too well. It made little problems seem bigger.”

“So he wouldn’t have a record, or anything?” Rodriguez asked.

Veronica shook her head.

“So he was sent up to this Sierra School in 1990 and ran away in 1991. Is there anybody who might be able to nail the dates down a little more for us?” he continued.

Hoo, boy, here we go. “Possibly my dad, but Max isn’t exactly a topic he likes to discuss.”

Zach looked up from the notepad and nailed her with those big brown eyes. “Your dad’s the one you thought we were here about when you answered the door.”

“Yeah.”

“He got a record?” Rodriguez asked, still from the doorway.

The guy liked his records, didn’t he? Veronica shrugged. “Yeah, he does. Nothing major. He’s had to pay some fines and spend a night or two in the drunk tank.”

Keep it even. Stay focused. You can get through this if you stay in the moment. Don’t relive the hearings in your head. Don’t replay the mental pictures of your father stumbling out of a jail cell, reeking of vomit and urine. Stay here in the clean kitchen with the nice police officers.

“And he didn’t get along with Max,” McKnight said.

“No. He didn’t. Max was my mother’s son from a . . . a previous marriage.” That made it sound so civilized, so modern. So entirely different from how it had really been.

“So he was your half brother.” McKnight’s gaze on her was unwavering.

She’d always hated that. Half of Max wasn’t her brother. All of him was. She was certainly all his sister, with her whole heart. That wasn’t what the cop was asking, though. There wasn’t a check box on a form for how much a little girl loved her big brother. She nodded.

“What was the beef between him and your dad?” Rodriguez came fully into the kitchen.

She blew out a sigh. “I wish I knew. From the time I can remember, they were always fighting. I don’t think Dad was all that crazy about raising someone else’s son, especially one who was part African American. Max’s biological father was black. He died in Vietnam before Max was even born.”

The cops exchanged glances. She knew that look; they already knew all about Max’s dad. They’d made her hop through those hoops just to confirm the information for them.

“So after Max ran away, what did your parents do to try to find him?” Rodriguez pulled out a chair and sat down at the kitchen table.

“I wish I could tell you. I was only eight. I remember my mother crying and my father yelling.” Of course, that could be pretty much any day from her childhood. But it didn’t matter now. Max was dead. Her mother was dead. She’d learned to deal with her father, and was trying to learn not to let him get too close. She wasn’t always so successful.

“Any chance we could have your father’s contact information? It would help us narrow down the time frame we’re looking at.”

Veronica rattled off her father’s address and phone number.

McKnight snapped his notepad shut. “Thanks for your help. If you think of anything else that might help us figure out when Max ran away from school, or where he might have gone, would you contact me?” He pulled a card out of a case and handed it to her.

“Of course.”

Did she have anything that might help? “Do you want a picture of Max?” she asked. “Would that help at all?”

“We were gonna ask your father for one,” Rodriguez said.