Excerpt from the novel Missing
On a Friday in the first week of April I sit on a hard, plastic chair in the school library in front of a computer. I tell myself I’m going to type my article for the Chronicle, the school newspaper. I have to meet Mr. Angelo’s deadline – a piece describing the venues where we should have our senior prom. But my fingers aren’t on the keyboard, and I’m not staring at a blank page.
Instead, I’m staring at links to stories about people who have gone missing, trying to decide which one to read first.
The school day has ended. As if a toxic spill covered the hallways, students scattered out of the building within minutes after the last bell. It’s Friday. The weekend has started. Who wants to stay inside Tremont High School?
Mrs. Bryant, the gray-haired librarian, does (She reminds us all the time she’s a Mrs. not a Ms.). Standing in the doorway of her office and dressed today in a black sweater and black slacks, she eyes me over the wire-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. She’s not suspicious; she just looks curious. Maybe she’s surprised a student has chosen Friday after school to work in the library. Or maybe, like me, she doesn’t have any plans for tonight.
The article I’m supposed to write focuses on fantasy places to hold our prom, like Waikiki Beach in Hawaii or even one of the Greek islands my dad had visited, not the old Tremont American Legion Hall. Streamers and balloons still couldn't prevent the place from looking or smelling like a cave. Instead of working on my article, however, I’m Googling. My dad is missing. I want to find out who else is.
On the screen are links to people who went missing and what happened to them. Some of them had a mental illness or dementia; some took off to escape an abusive spouse; some only disappeared for a few days and were found, in fact, nearby; and some were simply trying to escape the debts they owed. One article states that after the first 48 hours, the chances of finding someone are slim. My father has been gone for over a year.
But why did Dad leave? Why did he abandon us? What happened to make him cut out on Mom and me like that?
Petra Pazsitka went missing for thirty years in Germany. She had changed her name to Petra Schneider, and they only found her when she called the police about a theft in her apartment and gave them an old ID card by accident. After she went missing, she worked only part-time jobs, paid all expenses in cash, and never revealed to the police or her family why she disappeared.
In 1990, Winston Bright also went missing. Like my father, Winston went to work one day (for the New York Telephone Company) and never returned. His wife searched for him for a year while raising three children when suddenly a man named Kwame Seku called her and claimed to be Winston. He had experienced amnesia, he told her, and just then realized his true identity.
Lucy Johnson went missing in Canada and was found by her daughter fifty years later in Alaska. Fifty years! I certainly wasn’t going to keep looking for Dad that long. The daughter never knew her mother had lived in Carcross, Alaska as a young girl, but when she discovered this information, she put an advertisement in the Yukon News about her mother. A neighbor of Lucy contacted the daughter and told her where she was.
I almost jump when someone taps my shoulder. “Officially, thirty-eight more days. Then you’re done.” Mrs. Bryant stands over me, smiling. She’s referring, of course, to the senior countdown. Thirty-eight more school days until we graduate from Tremont High School.
“Yeah,” I say, smiling quickly. “Not counting today.”
Mrs. Bryant frowns. “You’re right, Brian. Not counting today.” She peers at the computer screen. “What are you working on?” Mrs. Bryant studies the screen for a moment, and her face tells me she understands. The whole school knows my father disappeared last year. Then she looks at me. “Any luck?”
“Not really. But check out this guy.”
We both read about this Australian named Gabriel Nagy, another guy who never came home from work. Authorities found his burned-out car on the side of the road later that day, and two weeks after that, someone withdrew money from his bank account. Nagy stayed missing for twenty-three years until he used his Medicare card, which helped the police locate him. Nagy claimed that he had amnesia, gave himself a new name, wandered around Australia for over two decades, and worked odd jobs until he suddenly remembered his real name and applied for the Medicare card for cataract surgery. After that, he was reunited with his family.
Does Dad have amnesia? Is he wandering around under a made-up name? But this is America – not Australia.
Mrs. Bryant sighs and points a bony finger at the computer, making a stale perfume smell wash over me. “This is quite a list. Is your dad on it?”
I check the screen to be sure. “No. These people were found; he’s still missing.” I shrug. “I’m going to look for him.” That bubbles out before I can stop it, and Mrs. Bryant’s mouth opens and stays open. Her gray-white hair almost glows beneath the library’s bright lights.
“Really, Brian? Are you? When?”
“This summer.” Then I add, “Ronnie Sax, a private investigator, is helping me find him.”
“Is the investigator going with you?”
I shake my head. “No. I’m doing this by myself.”
Mrs. Bryant’s eyes widened. “Is your mother okay with you searching for him alone?”
That makes me wince. “I haven’t told her yet.”
Mrs. Bryant’s frown changes to a quirky smile. “What a conversation that’s going to be.”
I click off the link about the missing people and swivel to look at her. “Yeah, I know, but please keep this a secret. Okay, Mrs. Bryant?”
Her posture straightens. She crosses her arms over her chest. “In my view, as a senior, you’re an adult. You can make adult decisions.” She gives me a Boy Scout salute. “I promise.” Then she walks back to her office near the library entrance.
Suddenly, my phone vibrates in my pocket and I take it out. The number is unfamiliar to me, but the text isn’t: Ronnie Sax has some important information, and he wants me to call him as soon as possible.