Vanished in the Night(9)

By: Eileen Carr


She shook her head. “He won’t have one. I have the only photos of Max that are left. I’ll get you one.”

“A little jumpy, isn’t she?” Rodriguez leaned against the kitchen counter while they waited for Veronica to bring back the picture of Max.

“She just got some heavy bad news. What do you want her to do? Go all Zen?” Even though she hadn’t seen her brother since she was little, she had obviously loved him. It sounded like she might have been the only one who had.

“I’m not talking about that. I meant about here in the kitchen. You see the way she backed up against the cabinets when we followed her in here?” Rodriguez asked.

“A woman alone with two men. She might have felt threatened.”

“Two cops—we’re the good guys. Chicks aren’t supposed to be afraid of us. They’re supposed to dig us.”

Not everyone would appreciate that. “You think she’s got a problem with cops? Maybe she thinks we’re picking on the father?”

Rodriguez shook his head. “Nah. I don’t think it’s cops. I think she’s got a problem with men.”

Zach allowed himself to remember Veronica’s backside as she’d walked away. It had been hard not to notice it, encased in well-fitting jeans, and he was not made of stone. “That would be a damn shame.”

Frank nodded his agreement. “I bet the father’s going to be a piece of work.”

“That would be a sucker bet.” Her defiant stand at the front door had told him plenty about her father, and her description of his record filled him in on the rest. He’d met dozens of men like George Osborne.

“Yeah, I think she was sugarcoating it. I bet he’s even worse than she made him sound. So, you ever heard of this Sierra School for Boys?”

Zach shook his head. “Can’t say as I have. You?”

“Nope, and I’ve heard of most of those kinds of schools. We bust enough of their graduates. I’m betting it’s not around anymore.”

Zach’s view of those schools wasn’t as jaded as Frank’s. Some of them really worked. He was living proof of that.





3



Veronica pulled the box out from underneath her bed, removed the lid, and unwrapped the album from the sweater she had wrapped around it. She didn’t need to hide it anymore, since she’d moved into the condo, but it was habit. She’d kept her treasures hidden for most of her life. It had been the only way to keep them safe. She doubted she’d ever stop hiding them now.

The cover was bubble-gum pink and was emblazoned with the words YOU AND ME in acid green. She ran her hand over the scratched cover and drew in a shaky breath. There was no time for this kind of stupid sentimentality now. There were cops in her kitchen. They were waiting. Still, she hesitated. What good would an old picture do them anyway?

She flipped the book open and found the picture she was looking for. Sixteen-year-old Max, all gangly arms and giant Adam’s apple, building a sand castle with her at Capitola. She would never forget that day. They’d played in the waves, built sand castles, and drunk chocolate milk shakes. It had been just her and Max and Mama. She couldn’t remember now where her father had been that day. If he’d been drunk and angry, it was with someone else. The photo had been taken three weeks before the men from the Sierra School came for Max in the middle of the night.

She peeled back the clear protective sheet and pulled the photo off the page. Then she rewrapped the album, tucked it back inside the box, and slid the box under the bed. It was too precious to leave out, especially now. It was all she had left of her brother. And whose fault was that anyway?

She bowed her head, laid it against the bed for a moment, and closed her eyes against the rush of tears. Max wasn’t coming home. Ever.

There would be no homecoming. No joyous reunion  . No forgiveness. She was stuck with that rock in her chest forever.

When Veronica walked back into the kitchen, she was even paler than when she’d left. Wordlessly, she handed Zach a photo. It showed a light-skinned African-American boy with a little blond girl on a beach.

“Is that you with him?” he asked.

She nodded. “It’s the last photo I have of him.”