Monday Afternoon – Ryan and Taysia’s house ……..
Reagan and Cassie left leaving Ryan and Taysia alone with Sam. They were sitting on the couch talking. Sam was entertaining Paige when Ryan’s phone rang.
“It’s Crowley,” said Ryan and quickly answered. “This is Ryan – have you found him?”
“We think we are close. We were able to confirm he got off the bus in San Mushyno and took a cab, but we haven’t been able to locate the driver. Also, after our tech guy sat with his friend, Samson, he was able to trace an online player to an address in San Mushyno. Samson was positive that a new player that showed up online was actually your son. He was playing a tournament with the player we traced to San Myshuno. Samson tried to interact with the new player, but he refused to acknowledge him.”
Ryan’s heart was racing as he looked up at Sam and Taysia. “What the address? We can be there within an hour.”
“Slow down Mr. Murdock. You can’t just go barging in. We’ve done some research and the man’s name in Blake Whitfield. He works from home for a tech company as a programmer. Apparently he goes by the user name DarkShadow online. Does either name ring a bell?”
“No. I don’t understand why you can’t just give me the address. Tyler might be there. Or this DarkShadow guy might know where he is. What are you waiting for?”
“We have no real idea if your son is with him ,or if he knows where he is or who he is. We don’t want to alert him if he does know something. The element of surprise is always better. That’s why I’m heading out there in a few minutes to interview Mr. Whitfield personally. He has no record or anything to point him being a suspect at this point, so I wanted to see if you knew him first.”
“Why can’t you just go search his place? How else are you going to know if he’s there? If he is there, I need to be there.“
“As soon as we have confirmation that your son is indeed in San Myshuno, and get eyes on him, I’ll send a car for you and Mrs. Murdock. You cannot go on your own. If there’s anything sinister going on, you could compromise the situation and cause further harm to the boy. You’ll receive instructions once we pick up him and talk to him, should he be there.”
“I want my son back. He doesn’t need to talk to anyone but his family!”
“Mr. Murdock, there are procedures for a ……”
“We need to be sure he hasn’t been abused. By anyone. We also need determine his emotional state of mind.”
“You son of a ….”
“It’s procedure. If you want to be there, you’ll do as you are instructed. And frankly, right now, you’re wasting my time. I’ll call you as soon as we know something concrete.”
“Fuck,” said Ryan as the detective disconnected the call. He looked at Taysia and she was glaring at him, probably because he said ‘fuck’ in front of Paige. “I’m sorry,” he said, and exhaled in frustration. “They’re close, so you and I need to be ready to go at the drop of a hat.” He looked at his daughter. “Sam, do you want to go too, or maybe you could stay here with Paige? I’m not sure they’ll allow you to go, but if they do, it might be good for Tyler to see you.”
“Do you think he’ll want to see me?” asked Sam.
“I guess it depends on what … he’s been through.” Ryan barely got the words out before his throat closed up and his eyes began to water. He had tried hard not to think about the worst things that could happen to him. But Crowley scared him, making him imagine the worst.
Taysia put her hand on Ryan’s arm. “Maybe Sam can stay here with Paige. That way we can leave right away no matter what time it is.”
“I don’t mind. She’s easy to entertain, and we’ve sorta bonded already.” She looked over at Paige, “Right Paige?” she asked.
“You sure Sam?” asked Ryan now that he was a bit more composed. “It would be a huge help.”
“Of course. That’s why I came. To help however I can.”
Monday afternoon, Willow Creek Police Department ……
No sooner had Crowley hung up with that pompous ass of a father, Officer Palumbo ran over to his desk. “We got him Crowley, or at least his phone,” she said excitedly, “Someone turned it on and we got a ping. It’s coming from Whitfield’s address.”
He didn’t have time to react before his phone rang. If it was Ryan asshole Murdock, he wasn’t answering. It wasn’t, it was that Knox kid, Tyler’s friend. He held up his hand, “Hold on, I gotta grab this.”
He swiped across the screen to answer the call. “Crowley here,” he barked into the phone.
“Detective Crowley, this is Samson Knox, Tyler’s friend. You said to call if I heard anything.”
“You got something? Make it quick, I’m in a hurry.”
“Yes sir. I think anyway. Ty texted me. Just a minute ago. I waited to see if he would text back but he didn’t.”
“What did he say? Exactly.”
“Just a second, let me pull it up ….. okay. Here it is …. ‘I’m okay. Going to a place where I can start over. Don’t worry about me.’
“Thanks.” Crowley disconnected the call. “Johnson,” he said and turned to the detective next to him. “The kid texted his friend. We may have him.” He turned back to the female officer. “Palumbo, get a unit to Whitfield’s address ASAP! And get me his phone number, I’m calling him now, no time to do an in-person.” He was going with his gut.
“Got it,” replied Officer Palumbo and got busy. “Here’s the number,” she said less than 30 seconds later.
Crowley picked up his phone again and punched in the number for Blake Whitfield. After he hung up the phone with Whitfield, he began to fill everyone in. “Okay everyone, listen up.”
His team gathered around and he continued. “The kid is at Whitfield’s apartment right now. Safe, for the moment, provided Whitfield can be believed, and my gut says he’s telling the truth. I told him to keep him there, we were sending the SMPD to pick him up.
“Here’s the kicker…. he said the kid’s ready to leave with some ‘friends’ that are making him ridiculous promises. Which is in line with what the Knox boy said.
“SMPD also has someone picking up the manager of Chez Zee for questioning. She might be able to lead us to these ‘friends.’ Regardless, the ‘friends’ are on the way right now to pick up our kid. If they get there before SMPD, Whitfield won’t be able to stop them from taking him. I told him to do what he can, but to be safe. If this is who I think it is, it won’t end well for him if he resists. This shit just got fucking real. Johnson, you’re with me. Let’s go!”
They started towards the door and Crowley remembered he needed to call the parents. “Wait! Damn! I need to call the kid’s parents. Officer Palumbo, pick up the Murdocks. Take another officer with you. Meet us at the address. I don’t have time to stop for them. I’ll call them from the car and brief them. We need to get to San Myshuno in record time. Officer Kelly, reach out to SMPD and get them to patch you through to the black and white that’s in route. The kid might be falling into the hands of traffickers and they should proceed with extreme caution. Fuck, fuck, fuck.”
Monday Afternoon – San Myshuno – Blake’s apartment …..
Tyler made his way back to Blake’s apartment. When he knocked, he had to wait a minute for him to answer. Finally, Blake opened the door. “Kid, come in. Damn, I heard you got fired.”
“How’d you know? Did Barb call?”
“No, your boss called me. Nadine.”
Shit … he was outta here and calling that number as soon as possible. “Why?”
“Calm down, she’s just worried about you. She figured I would kick your ass out now that you were unemployed. She said you didn’t want to go home and was afraid you’d be too nervous to call some friend she told you about. That you’d wind up in the streets. She said she went on and called them for you and they’ll be here to pick you up within the hour. But, kid, you sure that’s really what you wanna do? You don’t even know them.”
“Yeah, I want to.” Tyler felt like crap for lying to the one person who had helped him, no questions asked. It sounded like Nadine hadn’t told him he was only 16, so that was good. “I need a job and she said they had one for me. I need to get outta your hair anyway. And I trust Nadine.”
“It’s okay, I get it, believe me. But, don’t go anywhere just yet. I gotta finish this last thing for work, and then I wanna talk before you leave.”
He wasn’t looking forward to having a ‘talk’ with Blake. Maybe she did tell him. Crap. “Okay, I guess. I need to pack anyway.”
Tyler changed clothes, and left his uniform in the bathroom. Barb could take it back. Then he went into the living room, where his bag was, and started packing.
He saw his cell phone and picked it up. He hadn’t turned it on since he left, so the battery was dead. He peeked over his shoulder and Blake was still working. He wouldn’t need it to call the number Nadine had given him since she called for him. That should’ve made him feel better. But it didn’t.
The prospect of going with someone he didn’t know was scary as fuck and she was right, he probably would’ve chickened out. He badly wanted to call Samson. Looking at the phone in his hand made the need even worse. Maybe he could just text Samson that he was okay. Since he was going away, he reasoned, it should be okay to have his phone on just long enough to send a text. Only a minute, maybe two tops.
Tyler walked into the ‘bedroom’ and plugged his phone in to charge while he tried to think of a story to tell Blake. He, along with Nadine’s friends, would probably want to know why he was running. He’d just tell them his parents were dead and he didn’t want to go back into foster care. The last thing he wanted was for his parents to get in trouble for something he did.
He heard Blake‘s phone ring while he waited on his own phone to charge. It sounded like work crap.
“Yes, this is Blake ……. who? ………………………….. he is? Damn ……….. no ……….. yes sir ………….. friends …. …… …. they’ll be here soon …. I understand ……….. I don’t think I can stop …………… shit …………… okay, I’ll do my best.”
Tyler heard bits and pieces of conversation and figured he must’ve been given an assignment at the last minute. Good, then he wouldn’t have to try and explain himself. With his story in his head, he looked down at his phone. He noticed it had turned itself on when it got enough charge. Text messages and emails messages had filled up his screen. Crap. He grabbed it off the floor and looked at it. The last text was from Samson. ‘I hope you’re okay. Everyone’s worried. Me too.’
Tyler forced himself to not look at the others and quickly texted him back. ‘I’m okay. Going to a place where I can start over. Don’t worry about me.’ He pressed send and watched for it be delivered so he could turn off his phone. As soon as it sent, he saw that Samson was already responding … shit! He quickly powered it down without waiting to see what he wrote.
Once the phone was off, he squeezed his eyes closed tightly and took deep breaths so he wouldn’t cry. The ants were out in force and his knee was bouncing uncontrollably. He shouldn’t have texted Samson. That was so stupid. But he missed his friend more than he realized. Seeing the texts and emails made him began to have doubts. Maybe he should just go home. No. He dismissed the idea as soon as he thought of it. He would go with the people that helped kids like him get a job and have a place to live until he was 18 and could truly be on his own. Then he would go back. Maybe.
“Hey kid,” said Blake startling him. “You okay? You don’t look so good.”
“Um yeah, I’m just trying to get everything together. Thanks for letting me crash here.”
“About that … why don’t you stay a few more days? Don’t leave yet. Maybe we can find you another job.”
“No …. I’ll go with Nadine’s friends. You said they’d be here in a few minutes. I just need to get my rig unhooked.”
“Well, Barb texted. She wants you to wait until she gets off so she can say bye.”
Tyler shook his head. “I can’t. They’re already coming for me. You said so. I can’t make them wait.”
Blake looked uncomfortable. “Kid. You don’t have to go with them. You could go home.”
“Stop it! You don’t know what it’s like. My parents …. they’re dead …. and I’ll have to go back into foster care.” Crap. He shouldn’t have said that. Now Blake knows for sure he’s underage.
Blake sat down next to him. “Kid, I know what it’s like to be in foster care …. and you don’t get to have have cell phones, fancy ass rigs and nice clothes. Wanna try again?”
“They just died. I didn’t want to go.”
Blake exhaled like he knew he was lying. “Right. Okay, well, I really would appreciate it if you’d stay a little longer. So would Barb.”
Blake had actually been really nice to him. He lied so much to them. Just one more thing he couldn’t do right. “Maybe she can come home early or skip work for a few minutes?” he suggested.
“I’ll try to call her,” said Blake and pulled out his phone. Tyler watched, not moving, while he attempted to call Barb. Finally he hung up and shook his head and rubbed his hand over his face. “She’s not answering. I’m sure she’s really busy, it’s the lunch rush.”
“I’m sorry. But when they get here, I need to go. If I don’t go with them Nadine will probably turn me in.” He just made that up on the fly.
Just then the door buzzed. Blake looked relieved, which confused Tyler. It was probably Nadine’s friends coming to get him, and Blake was trying to get him to stay. Tyler followed him to the door.
“We’re looking for Tyler Murdock or maybe he goes by Johnson. Nadine sent us. Said you were expecting us.”
“He doesn’t want to go with you,” said Blake, and tried to push the door closed, but the man stuck his foot in the door so he couldn’t shut it, forcing his way inside. He was followed by another man that was checking things out.
What? Tyler was confused. “It’s okay Blake,” he said, “they’re Nadine’s friends. You knew they were coming.”
“Ahhh,” said the blonde man, and stepped around Blake. He smiled at Tyler. “You must be Tyler. Yes, Nadine sent us. She was right. Nice looking kid. Grab your bag and let’s get outta here.” He jerked his head towards the door.
“Tyler, you don’t have to go,” insisted Blake again, more urgency in his voice than before. “You can stay here.”
“I can’t,” said Tyler, “I need to go with them. They’re gonna give me a job. Help me out.”
The other man smiled weirdly at Blake and moved towards him Pushing him back up against the desk. “See. The kid wants to come with us. Now get the fuck back – freak … ”
Blake looked scared and held his hands out in front him “Shit … he’s just a kid.”
“Hey, he’s my friend,” objected Tyler, “leave him alone.” Tyler was confused as to why everyone was acting all weird.
“Take the kid and get him in the van,” said the dark haired guy, while still looking at Blake, “I’ll …. take care of the baggage … and be right there.”
“You heard him Tyler,” said the other man and grabbed his arm. “Let’s get out of here before your friend causes trouble.”
“Bye Blake,” called out Tyler. “Wait, I’m not finished packing. My phone is in the bedroom and I need to get my rig.”
“We have plenty of computers where we’re going, and we’ll get you a new phone. Take care of the baggage Raul,” he called over his shoulder, “and meet us in the van. We need to get the fuck outta here. Let’s go Tyler.” He gave his arm a jerk.
Tyler was led out of the apartment and across the street to a minivan. He was starting to feel like maybe he should’ve stayed with Blake. Then the man turned to him, looking like he felt bad. “Sorry for man handling you in there Tyler,” he said, even thought he still hadn’t let go of his arm. He was calmer and sounded much friendlier now. “And sorry about your computer. We do have plenty. I just needed to get you out before your freakazoid friend called the cops. By the way, my name is John. And you’re right. We’re going to help you.”
“But, why would he call the cops?” asked Tyler.
“We operate under the radar,” explained John, then smiled, “You don’t want them dragging your ass back home do you?”
“No.” Tyler’s heart was still racing, but he was beginning to feel a little better about it.
“Okay – I need you to hurry up and get in the back seat of the van and stay put while we wait for Raul. The less attention we attract, the better.”
Tyler did as he was instructed. Then John climbed into the drivers seat, just as a police cruiser rolled up, with its lights and sirens blazing. John checked the sideview mirror. A couple of cops got out and ran into Blake’s building. “Well, fuck,” he said, “They went into that freak’s building. We need to get outta here.” He put the van in gear and began to drive off.
“Wait!” said Tyler, suddenly very frightened. “What about your friend? And my stuff?”
“Calm down Tyler. We’ll just wait around the back of the building. It’s probably nothing. Your hippie friend didn’t have time to call the cops. But we still needed to get you out of sight. He’ll call when it’s safe to pick him up. We’ll give him 5 minutes and if he doesn’t call, then he’s on his own.”
Less than a minute later, Raul ran up to the van and climbed in without any of Tyler’s stuff. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “NOW!”