Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Disappearance of Rothko Ladhiffe: Chapter Two

“Rothko,” I repeat. “That’s a cool name. Now tell me, when was the last time you saw your son?”
“It was last night,” she answered. “He always comes downstairs to say goodnight before he goes to bed while we’re watching then news.”
“Was there anything strange about last night? Was he acting different, or did he act like this time he said goodnight was more important?”
She studied my face, trying to get me to reveal my secrets. “Are you saying that he ran away? My son did not—”
I decide to interrupt her, “I have to rule out the most unlikely explanations first. That helps narrow it down to what’s really going on. Now, it hasn’t been twenty-four hours, so the police won’t investigate. But I’m off-duty, and I can look into this for you.”
“What is this lock-in thing you were talking about?”
“Every year, the new senior class sneaks into the high school and goofs off. They open all the lockers, ride bikes in the gym, have rolling chair races in the hallways. It’s against the rules, of course, but most of the teachers and administrators went there when they were kids, so they allow the tradition to continue.”
“So Rothko is seventeen? Eighteen?”
She shook her head. “Sixteen. He skipped fifth grade.”
I nod, hoping to exude as much sensitivity as possible before continuing. “Lots of smart kids are picked on by their peers, especially if they—”
Now she interrupts me. “The kids don’t pick on him. He’s friends with all the seniors. I didn’t think he was the type to go to the lock-in, but they could have convinced him. And I know where you’re going with this, they wouldn’t have hurt him, or anything. Like I said, the other parents don’t even remember their senior children.”
“None of them?” I question.
“Well...I dunno, I only called this core group. A clique of friends called The Alphas. I know it makes them sound like they’re bullies, or something, but it’s not like that. Every clique at that school has a self-aggrandizing nickname.”
“Okay, I’m gonna need their names, but first, how many students would you say are in next year’s graduating class?”
“Maybe a hundred-fifty.”
“And were they all at the lock-in, or just these Alphas?”
“Most of them would be there. Only a handful of kids wouldn’t have been able to sneak out, or convince their parents.”
I take out my business card and write on the back of it. “Okay, my niece persuaded me to get a cellular phone. This is my number. Go home in case RL comes back on his own. Will you be alone there?”
“No, my husband is there doing just that already.”
“Okay, good. I’m going to do everything I can. Try not to think of the worst. Anything could be keeping him from coming home. He could be drunk and embarrassed...or they locked him in a janitor closet as a prank.”
“I sure hope so.”
She gives me her number and address as well, and then we go on our separate missions, with plans to meet up and regroup. My first stop is the school. For most missing persons investigations, you would go to the place where they were last seen, and try to retrace their steps, but when time manipulation is involved, that’s not always the best. You start with the weirdest, and work your way forward from there. All nine parents that Mrs. Ladhiffe called were unaware of their supposed senior children. Some of them did have kids, but they were safe and sound at home, and wouldn’t have been at the senior lock-in. I would be interested in knowing exactly who those people are. RL might not have actually disappeared from the school, but his is the one parent that has intact memory, so I know it has something to do with that place.
I follow the directions to Springfield Central High School only to find that it isn’t there. The block of houses is meant to lead right up to it, but it’s not there. All I see is an empty field. In fact, it looks like the edge of town, but that doesn’t make any sense. I know for a fact that the city boundaries extend far beyond this. I mean, it’s called Springfield Central, which means there should be plenty of development in all directions. I need information, and now the only place to get it is the district building. I just hope it hasn’t been swallowed up by another dimension, or whatever, as well.
“I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the secretary says. “What school are you looking for?” She and I are looking over a map of the city.
“Central. It’s in...the center?”
“We do not have any school by that name. We have Northwest, North, Northeast, East, and Southeast.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would you build a Southeast, and not a South?”
“We followed the trend of the development over the years. We only build where we’re needed.”
“Look at this. Southeast High is on the edge of the city limits. Why would you do it like that. Why isn’t this here the center?” I point to what’s roughly the middle of the map.”
“I don’t understand.”
I try to explain a different way. “If this is Northwest High, then this would be about the center, right? Because then here’s Southeast, and East. But all this over here on the western edge is just nothing. I was just there, it’s perfectly suitable land, why wasn’t that developed?”
“Well, I don’t know.”
“Cities don’t start on one side, and then move out in half of the directions. They move out in circles, barring any geographical features, like a mountain or river.”
“I believe you,” she said, not believing me.
“Half the city is gone. I know it’s bigger than this. I’ve lived here for a decade.” She says nothing further, and I just continue looking at the map, darting my eyes between the various landmarks.
“It’s shrinking. Maybe it started with that first house, but it’s bigger than that now. Rather, it’s smaller.”
“Sir, what are you talking about?”
“It’s spreading, like a virus. Eventually, all of Springfield will be gone. You could be next!”
“Sir?” she calls to me as I’m leaving with the map I stole from her. “Sir!”

I rush back to the police station with an immense feeling of relief that it even still exists. It does seem a bit short staffed, though. There is more space between the desks, and even a few officles that weren’t there before. Reality is changing before my eyes, and I may be the only one who knows it.
“Bran, you’re not supposed to be here today,” Hummel asks. He’s a Sergeant in this version of the timeline, and he’s been this way for a while.
I ignore him and walk straight into the conference room where they’ve hung a giant map that spreads across the entire back wall.
“Bran, what the hell are you doing?”
Still without acknowledging him, I start frantically opening the cabinets, finally finding what I’m looking for. I hold the yardstick against the wall, and shift it down little by little to confirm my suspicions.
“Detective, I’m going to need an explanation. You’re acting even stranger than you normally do.”
“Look,” I say, pointing to the map. “Look at these rough edges. Look at how this block goes a little farther than the next one over.”
“Seems normal,” he says impatiently.
“Then look at this side. A straight line. It cuts right through the city. Each block is exactly long enough to fit perfect inside this diagonal line. Why aren’t there houses over here?”
“Should there be?”
“Look at it! I just said that it’s a straight line! Since when do cities grow like that. Is there wall blocking us off from the world over here? It’s looks ridiculous, like someone sat down and planned each house they would build for the next century.”
He takes a drink from his coffee and looks at me like I’m crazy. “Mackle puts his binder clips over the right corner of his paperwork. Some things are just weird.”
Now I look at him like he’s crazy. “What!”
“This is how the city has always been.” He shrugs. “It kinda looks like Nevada, and I don’t know why you’re questioning it now. I need to get back to work, and you need to go back to doing whatever it is you do when you’re not giving me shit.”
“Hold on, hold on, hold on. Two years ago, we went bowling, remember?”
He sighs and throws up his free arm. “Yeah, why?”
“Where was that?”
“I...I don’t remember. A bowling alley, I would suspect.”
“It was called Pin Drops, and it was right there.” I point to an area of the map that’s now on the outside of the city, but wasn’t always.”
He takes another sip. “I think that’s Farmer Aristein’s property. He got a bowling alley?”
“Jesus Christ.”
“Get the hell out of my station, Bran,” Hummel says as he’s leaving the room, “before I suspend you.”
I know I’m never going to be able to get him to understand, so I just start staring at the map, hoping to find some answers there.
A few minutes later, someone says, “I overheard your conversation.” It’s Officer Shaw. Her father is on the force as well, and her grandfather retired from it a couple years back. They’re all good people; reliable, sincere, and compassionate towards the minor offenders.
“Oh, yeah? I know I’m weird.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but my dad met someone a while back who might be able to help you out.”
“This guy; a cartographer, I think. He’s...unstable, but he knows maps, and he’s good at finding things. And...”
“And what?” I press.
“He’s also apparently a conspiracy theorist.” She smiles. “So if anyone’s gonna get you, it’ll be him.”
Not my only lead, but maybe my best one. “Do you have his contact information?”
“You’ll have to ask my dad for it. I never met him myself, it was before my time.”
“Thank you, Melantha.”
I start to leave so I can find Shaw Senior.
“Hey, Kal?”
“What is this about?”
“Missing kid.”
“Have you not escalated that? It’s not on the board.”
“It may not be real,” I say cryptically, knowing that it most certainly is.

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