Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Puzzle of Escher Bradley: Chapter One


The first thing I notice when I step into the the police station is that there is nothing different about it. The vending machine is still eating people’s money, with Sergeant Mackle as angry about it as ever. The chairs are still squeaking, and the air still sweet. It’s me. Only I’ve changed. I’ve just become detective. This wasn’t exactly my dream growing up. I always looked up to the “boys in blue”. I thought of them as the ones on the front lines, the ones putting themselves in danger. It was only in the later years as a teenager that I realized I was one hundred percent correct about this. Even then, though, I never thought I would end up in law enforcement. As I’m striding through the “pit” I imagine my old mentor, Detective Pender, watching me from the coffee maker. But he’s still working in Kansas City, and I know that this is where I’m meant to be.
“Congratulations,” my captain says to me. “You’re the first person to make detective in Springfield the 1990s.” He drops a load of files in my arms, and sports a half-smile. “Here’s a bunch of paperwork.”
“Thank you, sir. And there were actually a lot of us—”
“Don’t call me sir,” he interrupts me to insist. It’s not that he’s a man of the people, he’s just so apathetic that formality makes him feel inadequate.
After the captain walks away to grab a nap, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. I can tell that Hummel is on his way to me. I turn around, and immediately say, “Officer Hummel, I’m detective now. I don’t have time to help you anymore. You should have this figured out by now.”
“I know,” Hummel says, “but I have this call. They didn’t call 911, they called the station. It’s a man. His son is missing.”
“How long?”
He’s not sure if he wants to answer, but does, “an hour. But there’s something weird about it.”
“Weird how?”
“I can hear a woman in the background, saying something about the caller being crazy. I dunno...”
I sigh and hand him my paperwork. “Do as much as you can with this, and get me that address. I’m goin’ out.” I pick up my coat, and leave. First day on the job, and I’m already responsible for a possible new case. It feels good, but I’m worried. The case could get real bad real quick, and I can’t mess it up. The media would eat me alive.
Once at the address, I park on the street and get out for an initial impression. There are boxes and other crap in the driveway, and on the lawn. A moving vehicle is parked up a little too close to the garage overhang. Either these people just moved here, or they’re trashy as all hell.
A woman comes out of the house, wrapping a shawl across her stomach. “I’m sorry my husband called you,” she says to me. “We are perfectly all right.”
A man comes bursting out of the house. “We are absolutely not all right, Cheryl, our son is missing!”
Cheryl keeps looking at me and shakes her head, “no, he’s not.”
“Yes!” the man screams. “He is!”
I keep my left arm back at my hip, ready to loose my gun, in the event it’s necessary. This case is already weird. I present to them the international gesture for calm down with my right hand. “My name is Detective Kallias Bran. I’m here to help. First thing I need to know...is where is your son?”
“He’s missing,” the man claims.
Simultaneously, the woman says, “he doesn’t exist.”
“I’m sorry?” I ask.
“We don’t have a goddamn son,” Cheryl insists.
“The hell we don’t!” The father is only growing angrier.
“Sir,” I say in an authoritative, but soft voice, “I’m gonna need you to keep it together. Now, Mister...”
“Bradley,” he says, still angry, but holding back. “Tyler Bradley.”
“And what’s your son’s name?”
“He doesn’t have a name,” Cheryl interrupts as Tyler is trying to answer.
“Ma’am,” I warn her.
“Escher,” Tyler is finally able to say.
“That is...a great name,” I say to him. “How old is Escher?”
“He’s eight,” Mr. Bradley says, feeling a little better just from having someone believe him. “He’ll turn nine this year.”
“Okay,” I tell him. “He probably just wandered off. I assume you just moved here?”
“That’s right.”
“This is bullshit,” Cheryl says, shaking her head once more. Her default setting.
“Ma’am, I’m going to need you to hold off on the swear words.”
She pointed to herself as she drew closer to argue with me. “I’m not crazy. I would remember if I had a son. But we’ve never had a son. We’ve never had kids at all!”
“Then why did we get rid of the two-seater?” Tyler jumped in.
“It got old,” she reasoned.
“It was running great,” he countered. “We got rid of it, and bought this van, because it’s more practical when you have a family. But make no mistake, Detective Bran, we are not van people. We just need one to get Escher to soccer practice...should he ever finally agree to try soccer for me.”
“Oh, you love this van!” Cheryl yelled.
“No, I don’t. Neither of us do. Escher offered to sit on the roof of a cool car so we could get rid of our embarrassing van.”
“Who the shit is Escher?” she cried. “Stop saying that.”
“Ma’am, language.”
“Oh, fuck your language!”
“All right, that’s enough. You’re going to have a timeout in my car while I discuss the situation with Mr. Bradley. I reach out, but I do not touch her.
“Get your hands off me!” She overdramatically pulls her arm away. “I’m not getting in your car, like a criminal.”
“It’s either the cuffs or the cruiser. You are not being arrested,” I promise.
She purses her lips and inhales. “Fine.” She starts walking towards my car. “You go have your chat, and look around. You’ll see that this Escher Bradley kid is just in my husband’s imagination.”
After letting Mrs. Bradley into the back of my car, I pull Mr. Bradley to the side. We start walking through the lawn. “Look, she may be angry enough for me to put her in a car, but I’m having trouble with the both of you. You say there’s a kid, but she doesn’t. I don’t see a kid.”
“He’s missing.”
“I know you think that, but where’s your proof?” I start mumbling a bit, because it’s a bit of an overstep. “I mean, I don’t want to say that either one of you is crazy, but either there’s a kid, or there’s not. One of you is wrong.”
“Okay,” he says, speeding up to enter the house. “Let’s go find some proof.”
He leads me upstairs, and into the only room besides the kitchen that actually has things in it already. I take a look around. There are a few boxes here and there. Trinkets, clothes, music band posters. There isn’t any furniture yet.
“This was gonna be his room. That’s all his stuff.”
I take a sweater out of one of the boxes. It does look small enough to fit a child. I sift through the rest of the garments, and they’re all for children. That isn’t proof, though. Anyone can buy these things. “I dunno, Mr. Bradley.”
“Tyler.”
“Tyler. These could be yours from your own childhood, or a nephew’s...or you bought them in hopes of having a child one day. It’s a pretty thin argument.”
“They’re his; they’re Escher’s,” he emphasizes.
I just shake my head slowly. I don’t know what else to do. “I don’t know what to tell ya.”
He thinks for a moment. “Pictures! I have to find the pictures.” He runs and trips back downstairs, and I hear him moving things around as I’m following at a more reasonable pace. The house is pretty big for just two people. Again, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. They could be planning a family for the future, or some people just have more space than they really need.
When I reach the bottom, I see him having found what he was looking for. It’s a brownish leather-bound photo album. “This is mostly him.” He smiles and opens the book. There’s no child in the pictures; just the two of them, and a few relatives or friends. “He’s not in any of these.” He turns the page. “No, not these either.” He turns the next page. “I could have sworn he was in this one.” He turns another.
“Is that him?”
“That’s my boss’ son. We had them over for dinner.” He continues to turn page after page, desperate to find one that featured this Escher, but none of them did.
Finally he stops, and I notice something weird. “What’s up with this one?”
“You’re right,” he agrees. “Why are we so far apart?”
I stare at the photo. It looks like a family portrait, but there’s entirely too much space between the two of them. “There’s supposed to be a kid between you.”
“Yes, there was!” he says excitedly. “So you believe me now?”
Not necessarily. I take the album from him and start looking through it more discerningly. It’s not the only one like that. Many others show too much dead space, either between people, or on one side of them. Some of the photos are just of doorways, or picnic tables. It’s crazy to think that an entire individual was ripped from a boy’s mother’s mind, and also physical evidence. Either this is an extremely elaborate prank that could potentially go back years, or this is really happening.
“Where did you last see him?” I ask, knowing that I have to explore this, regardless of which one of them is telling the truth.
“He’s a little young to be all that helpful in the move, so we let him take a break. He went straight for that empty lot next door. I turned around and he was gone, though.” He takes the photo album back and starts concentrating on filling it with his missing child.
“What empty lot?” I ask.
He keeps his eyes on the pictures. “To the North.”
I walk across the dining room, and peer out the window. The house next door is about as far from this one as any two houses ever are in the suburbs. “I don’t see what you’re seeing. There’s a house there.”
He comes over, a little frustrated by the tangent, and looks out as well. “No. There’s not.”

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