School began on Wednesday. We were both in the ninth grade. Robbie was beginning first grade, so he rode another bus. Henry and I rode the high school bus together, still arguing quietly about whether or not to go to the police.
We went to our homerooms, where we got our schedules. During the day I found I had three classes with Henry and four without. We saw Brad a couple of times in the hallways and once at lunch, but he avoided us. Neither of us cared.
Henry was a jock, which was a sure key to gaining friends. I was not. Usually, when I didn’t have anything better to do, I hung out in the library or sometimes the art room. Henry was going to try out for soccer. He hoped to do basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring. The one sport we agreed on was football ‒we both hated it and thought it was only for Neanderthals.
Our bus departed earlier than Robbie’s in the morning and arrived home earlier in the afternoon. Since Henry already had practice by Thursday and his parents were both working, I was sort of in charge of Robbie until his mom got home. I met Robbie’s bus and listened to him chatter eagerly about school and his friends. I remembered when I was that enthusiastic about school. I don’t really hate it now, but I think a lot of the work is a waste of time, and I’d much rather be doing my own thing.
Robbie and I went into his kitchen, where I poured him a glass of milk and made him a sandwich. When he finished his snack we went out to his backyard and kicked a soccer ball around for a while. Eventually, his mom arrived, and I went home.
Even on the second day of school, I had a lot of homework—English, math, science, and French. I had no idea why I was taking French, because I didn’t think I’d ever have a use for it. I wanted to take Mandarin, but that was only open to sophomores and above. The French was a continuation of what I had had in middle school so I had to suffer through another year of it. But I wasn’t alone. All of us freshmen were in the same boat, and Henry was no happier about it than I was.
For English I had to read the first few pages of The Scarlet Letter and write about what I thought the letter stood for. I had no idea, so I had to make something up. I think I said it was probably a school letter.
On Friday I learned that the letter stood for “Adultery.” I had no idea what the word meant, but fortunately the teacher, one of the ones I liked, explained it clearly and in very carefully chosen words.
At the end of the day I again waited for Robbie’s bus, but when it passed the house, Robbie did not get off. I ran to its next stop, which was only a few doors down, and managed to catch it before it left. “Where’s Robbie?” I asked the driver.
“No idea. I guess he missed the bus.”
I called Robbie’s mom at work, but she had heard nothing, so then I called the school and finally got his teacher, who said she thought he had gotten onto the bus but hadn’t actually seen him.
“Could he have been picked up by somebody else?”
“I suppose so, but if I saw that, I would have checked with the person. What about his parents?”
“His parents are at work and they don’t know where he is.”
“Oh, dear. I’ll have the principal call the police right away.”
In a few minutes, a police cruiser pulled up to the house just as Robbie’s mom drove into the driveway. It was the second time in less than a month that the police had been here, and I wondered what the neighbors must think, but right then I didn’t really care.
The police officers asked Mrs. Henderson who Robbie’s friends were and if she had the phone numbers for any of them. When she said she had some, they went into the house with her, got the numbers, and drove off.
Robbie’s dad came home about five, and few minutes later Henry arrived. I went to my house to tell my parents what had happened.
We had a pretty silent meal with all of us worrying about Robbie. After supper I went to Henry’s again to see if there had been any news, but all there had been was a phone call from the police saying that none of his friends knew where he was. One classmate thought he had been picked up by a man, but the description he gave was too vague to be any use. Robbie’s mom was crying, and Henry and his dad weren’t far from it.
On Saturday morning, I looked out my bedroom window and saw Henry beckoning for me to go to his house, so I grabbed a sweet roll and ran over and up to his room. He was sitting in his chair, disconsolate.
As I went to him, he rose and we hugged hard, Henry burying his face in my shoulder. “Damn, Max!” he exclaimed. “I’ve lost my older brother and now I’ve lost my younger one, and I’m really scared. What if Robbie gets killed too?”
Still hugging him, I asked, “Do you think The Boss is behind this?”
“Most likely. I guess you were right all along. I should have taken the Sim card to the cops right away. I’m such an idiot!” He got the card out of his computer, picked up the camera, and we went downstairs. Telling his parents we were going out for a bit, we rode our bikes to the police station.
At the station, we asked to see Officer Bryant, who, we knew, was in charge of the hit and run investigation. We were told he was out on patrol, and the man behind the desk asked if what we wanted could wait. We both replied, “No!” in unison, so he called Officer Bryant, who returned to the station in less than five minutes.
“Come with me,” he said, and we followed him past the desk and into an office. He closed the door, pulled two chairs up to his desk for us, and then went around to the other side and took his own seat.
“Now,” he asked, “what’s this about?”
“It’s about Chad,” said Henry.
“Have you been withholding information?”
“Because I really wanted to catch the bastard myself. It’s probably lucky I didn’t, because I woulda killed him. But then when Robbie disappeared…You do know about that, don’t you?” Officer Bryant nodded. “Well, when Robbie disappeared, I realized that what I was doing wasn’t just about me. It was endangering my whole family.”
“Right. I’m certainly glad you finally figured that out.” He was a little sarcastic but I knew we both deserved it. “Unfortunately, the first twenty-four hours of an investigation are the most important, and of course, we’re way beyond that now. So, what do you know?”
Between us, we told the officer about The Cave and about Brad telling us what went on there. Then Henry produced the camera and the Sim card, telling about what Chad had done at The Cave.
The officer took the camera and remarked on how clever it was. He put the card into his computer and scrolled down to the pictures taken in The Cave.
“Do you know any of these people?” he asked.
“Just Brad, the one in the next to the last photo.”
“Where does he live?”
We gave him the address. Officer Bryant pulled out his radio, called somebody, and asked for them to pick up Brad Whitridge. Then he turned back to us.
“What can you tell me about the man in the photos?”
We told him what little we knew and said that Brad might have more information.
We sat in silence and waited. Fifteen minutes later, a very scared looking Brad was escorted into the office and given a chair.
He looked at the two of us and muttered, “You bastards,” under his breath.
“None of that!” Officer Bryant said sharply. “You are in a heap of trouble, son, and you’re not going to get out of it that way. You should have come to us as soon as you saw that Sim card, if not earlier. I need from you the names and addresses, if you know them, of everybody who was at The Cave. Do you understand?”
“Ya, but I’m not gonna give you any names. I’d get killed if I did.”
Officer Bryant went to the door and called another officer. “Put this kid in a cell and hold him as a material witness,” he said. “Then call his parents and tell them I want to see them right away.”
When Brad had been escorted from the office, Officer Bryant said, “I don’t know if anything can be done to enhance these pictures. I’m going to send them off right away to a lab which might be able to get some definition, but it’ll take a few days. I should hold you boys for withholding evidence, but I won’t.” Looking at Henry, he continued, “I do understand your desire for revenge, but that wasn’t the way to get it. I want you boys to be very careful. Don’t go anywhere alone. Don’t talk to anybody else about the card or Brad or anything to do with the case. Got it?”
“Now stay together and go home.”
We rose and left. When we were outside, I asked, “Do you think we’re in trouble?”
“Maybe with the other kids and with The Boss, but I don’t think with Officer Bryant. If we were, he would have done something right away.”
“We gotta stick together,” I said. “Can you come over for the night?”
Henry asked his mother, who was reluctant to let him go, but she finally agreed.
That night, for the second time, Henry joined me in bed. This time we prolonged the excitement as long as we could. Afterwards, as we cleaned up, Henry said, “Thank God I have you, Max. You’re my only comfort and friend right now. I think I would go crazy without you.” With that, he kissed me again on the lips and went to his bed.
I’m not sure either one of us slept much that night.