Tyler had been able to get a job bussing tables at Chez Zee thanks to Barb’s recommendation. It was minimum wage and hard work. He was given the lunch prep, lunch shift and evening prep, Monday through Thursday. It wasn’t enough hours to pay rent yet but he did get a small share of the tips from the waiter he was assigned to.
Lunch had been crazy. Chez Zee catered to the business crowd for lunch. They were always in a hurry and didn’t have a lot of patience for a newbie, demanding their glasses get refilled immediately, stressing him out. He was glad when the day was over.
Tyler couldn’t wait to get back to Blake’s apartment and get his PC setup. He and Barb left together. They walked back to her apartment so she could change before going to Blake’s. “Why don’t you just move in with Blake?” he asked her.
“Well, I guess, because we aren’t ready for a commitment. Plus, he doesn’t want me there during the day while he’s working. He likes it to be quiet. Why? You afraid he’ll kick your cute little ass out if I move in?”
“No. Maybe. Three’s a crowd, I guess. But I am curious how you can afford to live on your own. You didn’t work any longer than I did.”
“Ah. I have some money. Plus I work the weekend shift and it pays better. Having a couple of roommates helps too. But sometimes it’s a pain. I want to get online after work and it bugs them, so I keep my rig at Dark’s and go there … and spend the night from time to time,” she added with a smirk. “Actually, that’s how we hooked up. I was bitchin’ about not having time to play. Then we realized we literally lived within walking distance of each other. And the rest, as they say, is history.”
They walked into Barb’s apartment. “Make yourself comfortable,” said Barb, “I’ll only be a minute.” Thankfully, no one else was there. They must’ve still been at work. He looked around. Her apartment was three times as big as Blake’s. No wonder she didn’t want to move in with him.
After she was changed, they left for Blake’s apartment. She was carrying a bag this time. Maybe she planned to spend the night again. Ugh. “I saw two rigs setup,” said Tyler as they took off again. “You think I can set mine up today?”
“Sure. We can probably drag the dining table over next to us. Dark can just use the breakfast bar to eat. You have a laptop?”
“No. A tower. I’ll need to get a screen. Blake said he had an extra one.”
“Yeah – he probably does.”
“I noticed you call him Dark. Why?”
Barb laughed. “Suits him better than Blake, don’t you think?”
Tyler didn’t think so. Well, except maybe while he was playing. He was ruthless. “What about you. Would you rather be called Barb or Diamond?”
Barb hooked her arm in his and grinned. “Slayer, you can call me whatever you want.” Tyler tried to suppress the cold shiver that rolled down his spine.
“Honey, we’re home!” called out Barb as she and Tyler walked into Blake’s apartment. He noticed Barb let herself in. She had a key. And they were sleeping together. Surely they were way more serious than she let on.
Blake had his headset on and held up his hand indicating not to talk. Evidently he was on a call.
After a minute he pulled off his headset and got up. He gave Barb a kiss on the cheek before turning to Tyler. “All done. So kid, how was your first day on the job?”
“I smell like garlic,” complained Tyler, “and my fingers are wrinkled.”
“Not too wrinkled to get in a couple of tournaments I hope.”
“Bathroom’s all yours kid. Go wash off the stench while we order a pizza.”
Tyler gladly did as he said. He was ready to get out of the uniform they gave him. At least they had given him a uniform so he wouldn’t ruin his own clothes. But he’d have to wash it himself. He noticed Blake had a washer and dryer in the bathroom. He’d have to ask him how to use it. He only had two uniforms, so he would have to wash every other day. Unless he wanted to buy another uniform. Which he had no money for.
Once he was cleaned up he walked out of the bathroom. Blake and Barb were huddled together talking. They broke apart when they saw him. “So, wanna get your rig setup?” asked Blake. “I dug out a monitor for you. I’m ready for a little ass kicking. How about you kid?”
“Hell yeah!” said Tyler grinning. This is what he had been looking forward to ever since he left. Hanging out with DarkShadow and BlackDiamond. Life was good. Even if he had to temporarily sleep on a lumpy couch, clean tables and wash dishes all day.
It took about 30 minutes to get everything set up. Before they could get online, the buzzer sounded. “Pizza’s here,” called out Barb, “I got it.”
Blake went to the fridge and grabbed three beers. He handed one to Barb and the other to him. Cool, thought Tyler as he sat down at the bar and grabbed a piece of pizza.
After they finished, they went to their respective PCs and got online. “Hey, I wanna change my user name. I don’t want anyone to know who I am.”
“Oh?” said Barb as her eyebrow shot up.
“Can I do it without losing my stats?” he asked, intentionally ignoring Barb’s implied question. If he explained then she’d know he wasn’t 18.
Barb gave Blake a look and he ignored her too. Tyler relaxed. “Yes, go into your account settings,” instructed Blake. Then he walked him through changing it. “You’ll have to keep your email the same though so you can validate it. How about ‘EvilSlayer’ for a user name? That way you’re still Slayer.”
“Okay. That works.” Tyler finally got everything validated, but not before he noticed he had a couple of emails from Samson. He didn’t dare open it. Maybe he would later. He put it out of his mind for now. “Okay, let’s do this,” he said, excited to be online with two of the best players.
“Hello girls and boys,” typed Dark in the chat room. “Get ready for an ass whoopin’. It’s DarkShadow, EvilSlayer and BlackDiamond. Who wants to take us on?”
There were several that jumped on it and within a few minutes, they were going after the other team. “Watch out Diamond, behind you!” yelled Tyler.
“Gotcha! Thanks Slayer,” she said and high fived him.
They eventually won the tournament. “Damn. That was fun kid!” said Blake leaning back in his chair. “We are unstoppable!“
“Fuck yeah!” said Barb as she got up to get another beer. “You know, we should plan a coming out party for Slayer here. He needs a gamer girl to keep him warm on the couch. Right Slayer?”
Tyler swallowed hard. “Don’t go to any trouble.”
“Why Slayer? You said you liked girls. Maybe we should just go out to a club and you can find someone there. Dark, you need to get out of here anyway.”
“Barb …. why do we need to leave when everything I want is right here?”
“Because, you’re a fucking hermit!” she said and punched him playfully.
Tyler was nervous, he didn’t know if his fake ID would pass at a club. He and Samson hadn’t had a chance to try it. The guy at the restaurant barely looked at it. “Staying here is fine,” he said quickly.
“Fine, two against one,” conceded Barb. “I’ll call some of my friends and we’ll have a party here this weekend. For now, let’s get our game on.”
“I’m ready,” said Tyler.
They’d been playing for a few minutes when Tyler heard a ding indicating he had a Private Message. He froze. It was Samson who’d PM’d him. Crap. He didn’t realize he was even signed in to Simscord. He quickly showed himself offline.
“Slayer, you missed the kill!” yelled Blake. “I had it all set up for you! Dammit kid.”
“Sorry. My bad.”
“You okay Slayer?” asked Barb. “You look like you saw a ghost.”
He was afraid she was on to him. He spent more time alone with her than he did Blake. He needed to be more careful. “No, I’m good.” Truly though, he was having a hard time focusing. Seeing the emails from Samson and then then the PM had unnerved him. And now his mind kept wandering. Did his parents call Samson? Or was Samson just being Samson? He needed to wash his clothes. No, he could do that tomorrow after his shift. Oh crap, he just took a shit ton of damage and Barb glared at him again. Then he wondered what Samson was doing. He wondered if his parents were happy he was gone.
Oh damn. He just got blown up!
“Slayer!” yelled Barb, “Focus! What’s wrong with you?”
Tyler nearly jumped out of his chair. “Sorry guys, guess I’m just tired and a little distracted.”
It was already after dinner and the detective still hadn’t shown up. Ryan was furious and called the police station. He was yelling at the officer on the other end of the line. “It’s been almost three days and NOBODY has done a goddamn thing! We had to call his friends. We had to call hospitals. You’ve done nothing. My son is fucking missing. He needs his meds. He didn’t take them with him and you don’t give a shit.”
“Calm down sir. We’re sending someone over this evening.”
“Not good enough. You send someone NOW!”
“Sir, we won’t be able to work with you if you don’t calm down.”
“If your kid was missing, would you be calm?!”
“Sir, Detective Crowley will be there as soon as he finishes with his current call. You’re his next stop.”
“Fine!” said Ryan and disconnected the call.
“Ryan, he’s right babe,” said Taysia softly as she shushed their daughter. “You need to calm down. You’re upsetting Paige. And me too, if we’re being honest.”
Ryan looked at his wife. She looked sad and broken holding Paige like she was afraid to let her go. He’d done this to her. He wanted to break stuff he was so frustrated. He needed his son back. The detective was pretty sure he was a runaway. No shit. So he wasn’t concerned about foul play. That’s why they waited, because runaways usually return on their own. But he was only 16. He’d tried to be a good parent to Tyler. And he thought things had been going really well – until the accident. Then Tyler’s world got turned upside down. When Paige came along, he hoped that would help Tyler heal, but it seemed to make it worse. But what made him suddenly take off? He tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.
“Ryan, are you okay?” asked Taysia when he didn’t reply.
Ryan didn’t know he was crying until he felt the hot tear slide down his cheek. “This is my fault isn’t it? I don’t know how to connect with him. I should’ve forced him into more therapy. If anything happens to him, I have no one but myself to blame.”
Taysia put Paige on the couch and gave her the tablet. Then she pulled her husband into her arms. “Shhh. It’s gonna be okay. They’ll find him and bring him home. You just need to calm down. Yelling at people won’t help. I need you to be strong right now, not fall apart. For me and for Ty. Every time you get upset I keep remembering Alex’s broken body and picturing Ty laying there instead.”
Ryan released her and swiped at his face. “No! Don’t say that! He’s fine. He has to be. He’s just hiding. Staying with a friend somewhere for a little while. If that Samson has anything to do with this…..”
“Stop it Ryan! Please. I’m going to put Paige to bed before the detective gets here. Will you be okay alone for a minute?”
“Yes, but hurry up. I need you with me when they finally get here to keep me from doing something stupid.”
Taysia gave him a sad smile then turned to Paige. “Come on little bug. It’s time for bed. Give Daddy a kiss goodnight.”
Paige scouted off the couch and looked at Ryan with a bit of trepidation before finally holding her little arms out to him.
He knew Taysia was right, he’d been upsetting her with his outbursts. He needed to get his shit together. “Come here little angel,” he said softly, “Daddy loves you.” He pulled her into a hug, relishing how sweet and innocent she was. He kissed her cheek and let her go with her mother.
After Taysia picked her up and took her upstairs, Ryan considered having a strong drink. But he didn’t think it would look good if Detective Crowley smelled it on his breath. He wished Taysia would hurry up. He needed her calming influence.
Finally she came back downstairs and he felt some of his stress leave. She sat down next to him and he pulled her into his arms again. “I’m sorry for being an ass. This is just so damn hard. I don’t see how Rea got through it when they lost Alex.”
The doorbell rang and they pulled apart. “I’ll get it,” said Taysia, “be calm.”
The detective came inside and introduced himself. They spent about a half hour answering questions and filling out forms. Ryan gave Detective Crowley a picture of Tyler and the license plate for the truck he was driving. Then the detective asked to see Tyler’s room.
“Why? What does that have to do with it?” asked Ryan.
“Mr. Murdock, I need to check everything. There might be a clue as to where he’s gone. Has anything in there been disturbed since you discovered him gone?” asked the detective.
“No,” answered Taysia, “we just checked to see what might be missing. He took his backpack and one of our large suitcases. Some clothes are gone too, so we assume he packed them alone with some toiletries. He also took his phone, but it goes straight to voicemail. Although he did leave his meds. He has ADHD.”
They took Detective Crowley upstairs to Tyler’s room. Ryan cringed when he began to open drawers and go through his closet. “Looks like he had a whole area to himself,” muttered Detective Crowley to no one in particular, “The game room, plus his room. A couple of gaming systems. A PC. Cushy. So, why would he leave all this?”
Then he turned to Ryan. “Can you get into his PC? If not we can take it in and have our forensics experts hack into it. We can try to trace his web browsing. Check his chat history.”
“No. I didn’t think about it. It’s underneath the desk. He plays games on it most of the time.”
The detective moved the chair back from the desk. There were only wires where the computer had been unhooked from the monitor. “It’s gone,” he said flatly and looked at Ryan. “Any idea where it might be Mr. Murdock?”
“How would I know the fuck where it is? If I knew that, I wouldn’t have you here!” growled Ryan. “Obviously he took it with him.”
“No wonder he grabbed the biggest suitcase,” whispered Taysia.
“I have a few more questions, if you don’t mind. We can go back downstairs.”
Ryan and Taysia followed him back downstairs and joined him at the dining room table. He took out a notebook and started writing. Finally he looked up. “Sorry. I just needed to make some notes while it was fresh. So, Mr. Murdock, do you think your son would’ve gone to his mother or sister? He could’ve driven. Slept in his truck along the way.”
“He and his mother don’t get along, and his sister lives with her. So no, I doubt that’s where he is.”
“Doubt? Haven’t you checked with her?”
Ryan and Taysia exchanged a look. “Honestly, detective, it didn’t occur to me to even call her,” said Ryan.
“You mean she’s not aware her son is missing?” The detective’s eyebrow shot up. “You don’t think she’d care to know that he ran away?”
“There’s nothing she can do. I’ll call her if you think it matters.”
“Mr. Murdock, if your son was unhappy here, he might’ve wanted to go ‘where the action’ is. Del Sol Valley, and live with his famous sister.”
“I seriously doubt that’s where he is,” interjected Taysia, her tone testy. “Certainly she would’ve called!”
“Ohhh,” said the detective and gave her an inquisitive look. “Bad blood between you and the former Mrs. Murdock?”
“No,” ground out Ryan, protecting his wife. He didn’t like what the detective was implying.
“Good. Then you won’t mind if I call her,” stated the detective. “She is his mother and should be informed. And I can interview his sister too to see if she’s heard from him. Stranger things have happened.”
“You’re wasting your time and mine. You should be looking for him and his truck! He might be several states away by now. Sleeping in his truck. Or worse!” Ryan’s volume rose steadily as he spoke.
Taysia put her hand on Ryan’s arm. “It’s okay Ryan. Let them investigate. Maybe Sam has some insight she can share.”
“Is he always this explosive?” Detective Crowley asked Taysia.
“He’s understandably upset!” she said in his defense. “Our son is missing! And you act like we did something wrong!”
“Mrs. Murdock, Tyler ran away for a reason. When was the last time you saw your step son?”
“What?” asked Taysia,incredulous. “You ARE implying my husband or I did something to Tyler, or are somehow responsible for his disappearance. How dare you.”
Detective Crowley waved her off. “No, of course I’m not. Just covering the bases. So, could you please answer the question?”
“At dinner. We ate and he went to his room like he always does.”
“And you, Mr. Murdock, when did you last see him?”
“This is a fucking waste of of time!”
“You can answer here or we can go downtown,” said Detective Crowley through clenched teeth, obviously having lost his patience with Ryan.
“Same. At dinner.”
“You didn’t check on him before you went to bed?”
“No. He’s 16 not 3.”
“So he could’ve left anytime after dinner?”
“No. We would’ve seen him come downstairs and leave. He had to have waited until we were asleep.” Ryan looked at Taysia and she was silently crying. It gutted him. “You’re upsetting my wife. You’re supposed to be helping. I don’t like this line of questioning. Tell me, detective, what are you going to do now to find our son?”
Ryan could swear the detective rolled his eyes before answering. “We’ll enter Tyler’s information into the missing persons registry. We’ll report his truck as stolen so we can try and find it and track him that way. If he turns on his phone, we can also track that. We’ll interview the rest of the family. If we find his computer, we can check that too.”
He pinned Ryan with a hard stare before continuing. “Mr. Murdock, it’s fairly obvious he voluntarily left. I’m surprised after 3 days he’s still gone, so that means he had help somewhere or … Anyway, if there’s anything else you can tell me about why he’d suddenly run away, it would help.”
“Oh my god! What if someone took advantage of him?” said Taysia tearfully. “There are awful people out there.”
“Sometimes these kids confide in friends,” he said ignoring Taysia’s comment. “I need a list of his closet friends. I’m also going to interview the rest of the family.” He pulled his notebook back out.
“We already called his friend. He hasn’t heard from him.”
“Friend?” he asked. “He only has one friend? My kid hangs out with a pack of kids.”
“Tyler distanced himself the last couple of years. Ever since …”
“Ever since what?”
“Since his cousin died in a car accident. It’s been two years now and the anniversary is coming up. It hit him really hard. It hit us all hard. The death of a child is devastating.”
“So he was depressed? You said he wasn’t suicidal.”
“He’s not!” insisted Ryan, “He never said anything about not wanting to live. He just withdrew. Samson would still come over occasionally. He’s the first person we called.”
“I still need to interview him. Can you give me his information?” Detective Crowley wrote the information in his book after Taysia looked it up on her phone.
He closed the book with a flourish. “I have enough for now. Hopefully we’ll find his truck soon and that will lead us to him. I’ll be in touch. If you hear anything at all, call me.” He stood up and threw his card on the table before leaving.