The sight of two young guys running on the beach caused a few smiles for those out on an early morning walk. All the other boys their age were probably still in bed after a late Saturday night on a holiday weekend.
Alan had been on the boardwalk doing his stretching exercises when Eric came down the back stairs. The air was still cool enough to require a sweatshirt, but the sun was above the horizon and would soon heat up the day. Eric smiled at Alan's Brunswick hoodie, his own said Bethesda.
"Good Morning," Eric said, beginning his own set of stretches. "Been here long?"
"Nope, just got here. I was the only one up at the house. So, how far do you run?"
"We'll keep it short, only an hour today. I don't know how far that is, but someday I'm going to run all the way to Rehoboth."
Alan smiled. "I'm sure they have some nice things running on their beach this morning."
"Let's do it," Eric said.
They ran south for a long time until Eric's watch said they had been jogging for thirty minutes, and he turned around.
"Beetle would have come along if I told him we were going to run," Alan said.
"Sure does, tireless little kid and he even manages to keep up with me. But I let him time the runs since I rarely wear a watch."
"Yeah, he showed me his watch," Eric said.
"The new one? Granny is gonna spoil that kid. I think that watch is too expensive for a young boy, but it has all these features he loves. I guess the stopwatch feature will be the most useful, unless he wanders around, and then we can track him with the GPS."
"It has GPS? That's awesome," Eric said.
"See what I mean, too expensive. Granny never knows how to spend her money or what to buy us kids. Last Christmas she got me a sweater. Nice mind you, but it was way too small so I gave it to my sister. Granny seems to be living in the past and I'm still a little kid in her mind."
"Just be thankful she cares," Eric said, and then they were back at Playland.
Alan had a small gym bag set under the back stairs and Eric ran back up to get a change of clothing and his car keys. Alan eyed the Volvo as they approached.
"This is your car?"
"Yep, and I chose it," Eric said. "Safest car on the road according to Road and Driver magazine. I know it isn't fancy…"
"I can't criticize; I don't even have a car."
"Maybe Granny will get you one," Eric said, opening the doors to let the car air out.
"I don't need one until graduation. The curse of being a boarding student, we aren't allowed to have one on campus. I guess that makes it easier for the school to keep track of us."
"Or keep you guys from giving rides to poor unsuspecting girls."
"Oh yeah, there are a few guys like that at my school. The only requirement for those would be rapists is a large ego and a small penis."
"I'm sure we have a few of those at my school, but I don't know any of them," Eric said.
He drove out of town to the coastal highway and down that road to the Safeway grocery store. He let Alan push the cart as they selected the food and made their way around the store. They passed the pharmacy section and there by the counter was a wall display of condoms. Eric tried not to look but Alan elbowed him and raised his eyebrows.
"Do you think we need any of those? I've never even tried one on."
"It might be a little embarrassing to buy them here…but I have a few in the car," Eric said.
"What a Boy Scout, are we done yet?"
"I think so, let's go check out."
Ten minutes later they were back in the car and on the way to the condo.
"Do you guys normally spend a lot of time down here in summer?" Alan asked.
"I sure do, I've even been down here over Christmas break. The town is a whole different place during the winter months. It's peaceful even when it snows."
His father's condo was a ten story affair, The Sea Breeze by name, and the tallest building in Farnham. From the top floors there was a distant view of the ocean and that's why his family had their condo here.
Farnham was set into a curve of the land where it turned into Delaware Bay and most of the development along the Coastal Highway was several miles from the beach, but not Sea Breeze. Eric had measured the distance to the beach as just over two miles, if you didn't mind walking through sand and pine tree covered dunes.
They carried the bags of groceries into the lobby and took the elevator to the tenth floor. Eric hadn't thought about it, but Alan was about to get a closer look at the Tolliver family. The elevator doors opened and Eric fished the keys out of his pocket.
"Your dad owns the building?" Alan asked.
"Yeah, this and about eight others down here along the highway. They all have obnoxious beach type names. He and some of the investors pulled the names out of a hat, can you believe that? I guess that passes for planning these days."
Alan laughed as Eric opened the door, and they walked into plush.
"Whoa, nice décor…you get to stay here all alone when they're not down here?"
"Yeah, I don't have many wild parties to trash the place. In fact, there have been none."
"Nice view," Alan said, carrying his bags across the foyer and into the spacious kitchen. "It must be cool at night."
They lay the bags on the counter and put the milk in the refrigerator. Eric walked over to the windows and toggled the control which caused a small electric motor to open the drapes all the way.
The view was due east and the glare of the sun was muted by the polarized glass, but the white strip of beach and the blue ocean were clearly defined. Eric put his arm across Alan's shoulders and pointed off into the distance.
"You can see the colors of the Playland sign at night, and all the lights up and down the boardwalk. But I have a telescope in my room to watch the ships as they leave the Bay. That is so cool."
Alan turned and slid his arms around Eric's waist, and then there was a kiss. Their bodies were close, touching, and hands grasped and rubbed. Eric pushed back and smiled. "I think we need a shower, after we put the groceries away."
It was barely nine o'clock when they stepped beneath the spray in the shower. This was Eric's bathroom and yet the appointments were just as luxurious throughout the condo. The enclosure was six feet square, large enough for two boys at one time.
Eric was happy that he and Alan shared the chores of washing because it gave him a chance to examine the boy's body. Nothing was lacking in the equipment department between Alan's legs. They were both erect at first, long enough to compare the length and breadth of the tools and discover they were pretty much the same.
But the warm water and the bathing allowed them both to relax. There was no hurry, the excitement would return later. Drying off they left the bathroom and went to peer through Eric's telescope. Alan put an eye to the lens while Eric focused on the strong young body he had yet to touch in a sexual manner.
They had just over two hours to explore, what would they discover? Alan felt the eyes appraising him and looked up with a smile.
"I bet you could spend hours looking into the backyards of Farnham with this thing…see lots of flesh?"
"I've seen couples screwing, a few masturbating, but nothing gay," Eric said.
"How disappointing for you," Alan said. He stood up and his erection was back, it was time.
Kissing they understood, only now there seemed to be a greater urgency in the touch of their lips. Hands caressed bare flesh as they sprawled on the bed, pulling their bodies together. Alan broke the kiss first.
"I'm not sure what kind of sex we should try," He said. "I'm not ready for…"
"Neither am I," Eric said. "We could jerk off."
"Masturbation almost seems silly with all the private time we devote to the activity, but I'm game."
"Let's try something else," Eric said, and he slid on top, trailing a tongue down across Alan's neck.
Bodies pressed together, especially that very important stiffness they shared between them. Eric lifted his head and their eyes locked as their bodies began to move. The sensation was electric in the thrill of nerves being stimulated with cocks rubbed against stomachs.
The results were mutually exciting as the pressure built up to the release point and first one then the other let go. The flood spread out between them with Alan receiving the larger basting, but it was all good.
"Were you holding your breath?" Alan asked.
"Probably, but I wanted to scream with joy…so why didn't I?"
"I always cum quietly when I masturbate. There are just too many ears in my house and it's even worse in the dorm."
Eric grinned and rolled off, looking down at the mess they had created. "I get that…my sisters would love to hear me scream when I get off. I think they masturbate together…girls do that you know."
"I have no idea what they do and I'm not sure I want to." Alan looked down at his stomach. "I think we need another shower. Sex is a messy business."
"Was that what we just had?"
Alan smiled. "I have a lot of patience when it comes to learning new things. This was a good place to start considering neither of us has any experience. I plan to enjoy every moment we create and I think we're going to have a lot of those. Shower?"
A day off on Wednesday meant they could certainly return here for another session of lovemaking. Eric knew it didn't seem practical for them to do it anywhere else. But the days were counting down and Alan would leave. Neither of them wanted to speak about what lay ahead.
They kissed again and again until Eric looked at the clock. Ten-thirty, had they only been here ninety minutes?
"You have to go work, don't you?" Alan asked.
"We have all day Wednesday to look forward to."
"Yes, and …well, thank you sounds so lame. I don't know what to say. I think…do you think we're falling in love? Is it too soon to say that?"
"No, I've been wondering how to ask you that very same thing. This is way too complicated for an easy answer...we need more time."
They were both lost in a cloud of thought and emotion on the way back into town. Eric drove through the back streets and pulled up before the gates of Granny's house.
"What's Sunday like for your family?" Eric asked.
"Church for some, but I don't go. Then I guess we have dinner around four and…"
Alan stopped as his mother came out the front door and saw the car. There was a strange look on her face, something was wrong.
"Wait here," Alan said, and he got out of the car.
"Have you seen Beetle?" Mrs. Morgan asked.
"No, Mom…I went running with Eric and then we had breakfast. Beetle was asleep when I left. You mean he isn't home?"
"He didn't come down for breakfast," She said. "I went up to his room and his shoes are gone. He must have dressed and left right after you did."
"Oh…that's not right," Alan said. "He may have gone up the boardwalk but most of the businesses are still closed for Sunday morning."
Eric had heard all of this, and had an idea. "Do you think he went to find Freddy?"
Alan turned back to the car. "That's a good guess. Mom, we'll go find him."
"If you please, I'm worried. It's not like him to wander off like this."
"We'll find him, Mrs. Morgan," Eric said.
Alan got back in the car and Eric turned around in the driveway, heading back up the street towards Playland.
"Has he run off like this before?" Eric asked.
"No, never. But he's eight, almost nine, and that independent streak is asserting itself. He probably went to find Freddy."
Eric looked at his watch, noticing it was almost eleven. The guys at Playland would be up and around, probably just finishing breakfast.
"I don't know if Beetle could find his way up into the dorms, but that's where Freddy would be." Eric chuckled. "Let's just hope the Magic Man is dressed and not in the shower. Beetle might get a quick education on what big boys look like."
Alan laughed. "Yeah, and he's just at that inquisitive stage, I have to be careful myself."
Eric swung into the parking lot and came to a stop. There was a State Police car sitting by the back steps and two officers standing at the bottom of the stair case.
"Uh Oh, what's this all about?" Alan said.
They got out of the car and Eric immediately saw Freddy sitting on the steps holding a towel to the side of his head. The minute he saw Eric and Alan he got up, and then almost fell over. One of the troopers put a hand out and Freddy quickly sat back down.
"What's going on?" Eric asked.
"Beetle…" Freddy started to say.
"What happened to my brother?"
"Alan Morgan?" One of the troopers said.
"Yes, sir…we came looking for my brother," Alan said.
"They took him," Freddy said.
"Who took him…where is Beetle?" Alan asked.
"We believe he's been kidnapped," The trooper said. "The detectives are on their way here."
Alan looked panic stricken and Eric grabbed his arm. "You better call your mother right now," He said.
Alan was offered a phone by one of the troopers and he dialed. Eric sat on the steps beside Freddy and saw blood on the towel.
"You need an ambulance," Eric said. "You might have a concussion."
"I'm going to the hospital right after the detectives get here," Freddy said. "I just feel a little dizzy now. I'm sorry, I couldn't stop them."
"Yeah, it was two guys, they were wearing Hawaiian shirts. They came for Beetle just as we were coming down these steps. One of them grabbed him and the other came after me. I threw a punch at him and he hit me with some kind of stick, like a cop's baton, and that knocked me down. They carried Beetle into a green van and drove off. I could hear the kid yelling all the way down the street."
Freddy paused and Eric could see tears in his eyes. "I couldn't stop them."
"We'll find them…don't worry, we'll find them," Eric said. "Hawaiian shirts, I've seen them before and they aren't locals."
Alan handed the phone back to the trooper just as an unmarked police car pulled up followed by two of the Farnham police patrol cars and an ambulance.
The next hour was confusing at best. The detective questioned Freddy before sending him off to the hospital in the ambulance, and then he turned to question Alan and Eric. Mr. and Mrs. Morgan arrived just as the Connors returned from church to open the arcade.
The events were recounted several times for the police and the family. Mrs. Connors took off for the hospital to look after Freddy and a reluctant Mr. Connors went inside to open for business. Eric was excused from work for the day and spent his time consoling Alan.
The police put out a statewide alert for the green van and the men in the Hawaiian shirts. They had no license number but Freddy had remembered a wide black bar painted across the rear doors. Perhaps the kidnappers had covered over a name that was lettered on the truck. The detectives figured it was probably a stolen vehicle and would be abandoned somewhere while they switched cars.
The local police began walking the neighborhood asking the residents if they had witnessed anything unusual, but most folks had been away at church. Detective Parker was certain that Mr. Morgan would receive a phone call to arrange a ransom.
The police then called in the State Technical Squad to put a tap on the home phone. They would also arrange for a sketch artist to visit Freddie to see if he could give them enough of a description of the two men. All these activities were a long shot, but they had to try.
Mrs. Morgan insisted that Alan come home, but allowed Eric to follow along. The detectives said it might take a few hours or a few days, but they were sure the kidnappers would call. In the mean time they would search for the van and wait.
Eric was just about to drive away when Mrs. Connors returned with Freddy, who had a bandage on the side of his head but tests showed there was no concussion. Connors had given him the day off as well so he insisted on accompanying Eric to the Morgan residence.
It was a glum group that gathered in the Morgan kitchen and supper was all but forgotten. Alan was pretty silent but Freddy was trying to figure out what he remembered of the two men.
"The way they dressed made them stand out, at least to me," Freddy said. "It was like city clothes in a beach environment. Maybe they had just arrived and didn't have time to change. Then maybe they didn't bring a change of clothing."
"The Hawaiian shirts, you think they bought them here?"
Alan perked up. "I've seen those at the T-shirt Mill down the street from that Daisy Chain restaurant."
"I know the place," Eric said. "Let's go down there and ask if anyone remembers them."
"Hold on, I can't go anywhere," Alan said. "My parents are already freaked out enough."
"We should just tell that detective," Freddy suggested. "Besides, the doctor told me not to walk around too much today."
"Then I'll go," Eric said. "If I get any clues then we'll have something worthwhile to tell that detective."
Alan grabbed his hand. "You be careful; those guys probably know you on sight."
"You know, there is more to this than meets the eye," Freddy said. "They had to plan this out well in advance. With all these thousands of people in town, they seemed to know just where to find Beetle when they wanted him. That doesn't make sense...does it?"
"You think there are more people involved?" Eric asked.
"I don't know," Freddy said, and then he turned to Alan. "Maybe we ought to talk to your father about his associates. Beetle wasn't just chosen at random."
"Granny's family is pretty well known down here," Alan said.
"But that's my point, these guys aren't from here and yet they know so much about your family and what everyone is doing."
"They seemed to key right in on Beetle, he was the target. It was like they knew his every move," Eric said, and then it hit him. "Oh God…the GPS in his watch. Where did your Granny get that watch?"
Alan looked stunned. "Yeah…that would make it easy for them. I have to go ask."
"Beetle has GPS in his watch?" Freddy asked. "Can we track him online?"
Alan was already out of his seat. "We could if we had the code to access his information. It came in a box…I have to find that box."
Alan was down the hall and running up the stairs when Freddy turned to Eric.
"You'd make a fine detective," He said.
"Oh yeah, my father would just love to see that…no way. You guys investigate the GPS and where the watch came from. I'm going down to the shirt store."
Freddy nodded. "Yeah, we need more information…but, Eric. I agree with Alan, you be careful. He may be in love with you, but I care a great deal as well."
"Love? You think…?"
"I don't think at all…I know," Freddy said. "Whatever you two have started is certainly going in the right direction. Now go, and hurry back. I may need to lie down for a while."
The T-shirt Mill was a frenzy of tourist activity late on a Sunday afternoon. There were racks of clothing spilling out onto the sidewalk along with boxes of hats, bathing suits and sandals. Eric didn't know the owner here and perhaps he should have asked Mr. Connors. But he had taken off his hoodie hours ago and the Playland shirt stood out in the crowd.
The walls were covered in iron-on images for the shirts which gave the place a colorful festive air. Every conceivable image from beach scenes to biker logos and beyond into the absurd was for sale. Eric gazed around, checking out the clothing until he spotted what he was after. The sign on the rack said 'Hawaiian Shirts- $25.00 each.'"
"Nice shirts…you interested?" The man asked.
Like most businessmen he was aware of the customers and what they were looking at. But he eyed Eric's Playland shirt and smiled.
"I doubt if the Connors would let you wear it at work, but they look great out on the boardwalk. I'm Hal Burton, the owner. "
"Eric Tolliver, new employee."
"I can tell," Burton said. "It's the shirt; we make them for all the employees."
"Oh, they're very nice," Eric said. "Do you sell a lot of these Hawaiian shirts?"
"No…very few I'm afraid."
"Any this past week?"
"Yes, actually I recall that sale. A couple of city guys came in here a few days ago. I remember that because they looked so Brooklyn…almost like they had never been to the beach before. I tried to sell them some shorts, but they didn't go for it. I would imagine they had fish legs. You know, white as a fish because they never get out in the sun which would be real obvious in shorts or a bathing suit. But I sold them some deck shoes."
"Yeah, I imagine they were going boating. One of them asked me what he should wear on the deck of a yacht. They were both wearing dress shoes, very out of place around here."
"Boating…yes," Eric said. "I should try that myself this summer."
"Captain Roger, he runs the best charter boat business in town," Burton said. "He's my brother so tell him I sent you and he'll give you a good rate."
"Thank you, Mr. Burton…you've been very helpful."
"Hal…just call me Hal. I give all of Robert's employees a twenty percent discount, so come see us if you need some beachwear."
"I will," Eric said, and he walked back to the parking lot.
"Two city hoodlums on a yacht, that doesn't make much sense," Freddy said when Eric explained what he had learned.
"Sure it does," Eric said. "Boats are very private. All the rentals in town are packed with people which makes it too risky for them. But if they were planning to leave in that boat they would need help, so that gives credibility to the idea that there are more than two guys involved."
"So you think they're still here?"
"Why not? Moving Beetle is their biggest risk, and if they ask for the money in cash they'll be close enough to pick it up before they sail away."
"I got it," Alan said. He had been sitting at the desk with his laptop and the box Beetle's watch had come in. Fortunately, his little brother saved everything.
"You have the site?" Eric asked.
"Yeah, now all I have to do is enter the serial number of the watch and the access code. They display the information on a street map just like Google."
Alan typed in the information on the registration card he'd found in Beetle's watch box. The site asked for several pieces of information to see if the search could be narrowed down, but all Alan did was type in Delaware. Seconds later the program gave them an image.
"Damn, that's Farnham all right," Eric said. "That's the Back Bay off the inlet and…Jeez, Alan, that icon is only two miles from here."
"Farnham Golf Club and Marina, it's on the other side of the inlet," Alan said. He zoomed in on the graphic, switched to Earth view and got an image of the yacht club. There was no boat sitting at the dock where the icon appeared to be located, but then this image was several months old.
"We have to go look," Alan said. "I need the name off that boat."
"What for?" Eric asked.
"If we discover who owns that boat we can leave Beetle and those two men alone and bring pressure to bear on whoever is behind this thing. Give me the name of the boat and where it's registered and we can come up with the owner's name."
"They have a website for that?" Freddy asked.
"Come on, Freddy…they have a website for everything," Alan said.
Eric was studying the layout of the marina at the club. The grounds were pretty open, not too many ways to approach without being seen. Did most of the yachts along the pier face in or out? The name on most boats was painted on the transom across the back.
"How wide do you think the inlet is?" Eric asked.
"Not sure I trust the scale on this map, but it looks to be about half a mile," Alan said.
"If the boat is nose in to the pier then the rear will be facing the wrong way for us to read the name. We have to get out on that pier to read the name."
"Oh no…they might see us," Freddy said. "Now I think it's time to tell the cops what we know."
"We don't know anything yet," Alan said. "All this information will only lead them into storming that boat and Beetle might get hurt. My way is safer. I'm sure whoever set this up is in communication with the thugs on that boat. If the cops pay their boss a visit then he'll have to call the whole thing off.
"I can't let anything happen to Beetle. This is bad enough for my parents to send me back to Connecticut tomorrow. If we solve this problem and it turns out to be some guy who hates my father then I'm off the hook, it won't happen twice."
"When I turn eighteen I'm going to buy a gun," Eric said.
"Oh hell no, that just creates other problems," Alan said. "These thugs might have guns, but we've seen no evidence of that yet. They were probably told this was going to be easy because they could track Beetle with that watch…which by the way was supposedly sent to Granny from the account executive at her bank in New York."
"So he's the one?" Freddy said.
"Not necessarily, but this is Sunday night and we won't be able to talk to her banker until tomorrow. Getting that name off the boat and checking it out online is something we can do right away. I don't know how they're treating Beetle, I don't want to think about that, but I also don't want to wait if we can do something now."
"All right…we get the information and call the cops. So how do we get the name?" Freddy asked.
"It's getting dark so I'm going over there first thing in the morning," Eric said. "They don't really know me. I'll just casually walk down the pier and check out the boat."
"And if you can't see the name and where it's from?" Alan said.
"At least I can get the slip number, then the cops can figure out who it belongs to."
"Here we go again…you be very careful," Alan said.
"I'm thinking about Beetle…I'll be fine. This is the easy part."