I tried to keep my composure as Walter, in a breathy, barely audible voice, told me that his daughter Kira did not come home from her classes in Statesboro. She had been gone for eighteen hours. I went through the usual round of questions. When did you last see her? Where was she supposed to be? Any new friends? Could she be at a friend’s house? Deep down, though, I felt my heart sank. Kira Holmes was the most responsible, trustworthy person in Minterville, and she would have called home if she were going to be late. Kira could not stand the thought of her father suffering. She was completely devoted to her family and to her boyfriend, DeWayne Burgess, and often talked about how much she missed her older brother.
“Did you see Shay this morning?” I asked, thinking of how Mary O’Brien did not take her usual route that morning. Shay is the opposite of her sister. Kira is tenderhearted, timid, and a tad naïve. Shay, though kind and thoughtful, is feisty and has the ruthless bloodlust of a politician. She can shoot down anyone in a debate over any topic. We witnessed this firsthand when she was class president at Minterville High four years in a row. Shay has political ambitions that made us wonder if Tom may have had an opponent in the next election.
“Yes, she’s at the house in case Kira calls or shows up,” Francine answered. I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief.
“Did you check Dewayne’s house?” I asked.
“Dewayne was the one who called us. He thought she was at our house,” the way Walter answered left no doubt to his complete trust in DeWayne. He knew Dewayne would never hurt Kira. In fact, when we still had The Minter, he would post i love kira holmes at least twice a week, not in a clingy, possessive way, but out of genuine emotion that he wanted to share. We groaned, but it was sweet. DeWayne treats everyone he encounters with charming courtesy. Georgie Burgess always boasts about how she has the best son in town.
“Is there anyone who would have wanted to harm Kira that you can think of?” I asked.
Walter and Francine both shook their hands. I began to write up a missing person’s report-something I have not had to do in years, when little Elenita Velasquez vanished- and it crossed my mind to call Mary O’Brien to check on her. I excused myself to make the call. A sleepy Curtis O’Brien answered the phone. When I asked if his wife was home, he sounded confused but then said, surprised, no she was not, but all the dogs were still there.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know, but can you please come to the station?”
When I finish processing the Holmes report, I decided to start calling around. The first person I called was DeWayne Burgess.
“When did you last see Kira?” I asked Dewayne over the phone.
“Yesterday, before she went to her night class.”
“And did you talk to her after her class? On the phone?”
“Yes, sir. She called last night about 9 or so. When her class got out.”
“What did you talk about?”
“Just the usual stuff. I asked her how her class was. She was complaining about having a lot of homework.”
“Did she seem distressed? Did anything strike you as unusual?”
“No, sir,” he paused briefly as if deciding something. “She told me she was going to Shay’s house. Early this morning I went there and found her car in Shay’s yard. Do you want me to come to the station?”
“No, that’s not necessary. Her parents are here. But please let me know if you hear from her or if you think of anything.”
“Oh, and one more thing before you go. Did you see your mother this morning?”
“No, do you need me to check on her?”
I hung up with no doubt in my mind I was handling the situation poorly. I called for backup, five retired Mint officers who stayed on as reserves, though until today they were not needed.
Because Minterville is so quiet and crime-free, my partner, Jack LaFevre, and I are usually able to hold down the fort. For the most part, our job consisted of locating Natalie Pacelli and her gang of friends when they went off in the woods for another wild party. Occasionally, we had to put some people in a holding cell when a fight broke out. Real crime, though, we were not accustomed to in Minterville. The Velasquez case went cold a long time ago, and Juan and Gloria Velasquez long resigned themselves to the fact that their daughter was gone. Jack was not due in until noon, but I called him in early. Grumbling, he agreed to be there as soon as he could. I told him to hurry. Without going into details, I told him we had a missing person case, possibly two. I am certain he heard the alarm in my voice.
From my office, I heard the front door open. Expecting to see Curtis O’Brien, I went to the front to greet him. Instead of Curtis, I saw Mihn Lam, looking like he just saw a ghost. Expecting nothing but the worst, I listened as he reported that Tuyen Lam, his wife, was scheduled to open the pet store this morning, When Mihn got an irate call from someone from Minterville Estate complaining that he was low on horse feed, he knew something was wrong. He drove to the store to find that his wife was nowhere to be found and the store was still locked.
“I told her to stay home today. She had a fever of 103. But she wanted to go to work anyway, and there was no talking her out of it,” Mihn told me with an edge of guilt in his voice.
We knew that Tuyen Lam, a wispy 22-year-old with the ethereal air of an angel, would not skip work even when ill. She loves to play with and take care of the animals and besides, her exceptional work ethic would not permit it. Tuyen had taken a liking to Stephanie and would often give her discounts on cat food.
The thought of Stephanie provoked a sense of anxiety that I could not pinpoint. I briefly thought about calling the school to find out who was not there, so I could make sure all students and teachers were accounted for. The concern about inciting a panic made me rule out the idea. Instead, I tried to make a mental list of who besides Mary O’Brien would normally be out at this hour of the morning.
I started to call Stephanie’s cell phone when I remember, guiltily, that I confiscated the phone this morning. I had Mihn fill out some paperwork while I called my house. Thankfully, Lily, Jill, and Madison were all still there. I changed my mind and decided to make that call to the school.
Only when I did call, the phone rang and rang but no one answered. A few minutes later, Elliot called me at the station.