The two detectives stared at a miniature ceramic cow that had been placed on a shelf with a collection of other miniature ceramic cows. Each one wore a different type of hat.
“I can’t do this,” said Jade. “Murders? Sure. Gore? No problem. But whimsy? No. No way in hell.”
Fat Solomon grunted and turned over one of the cows in his hand. On the bottom it read, “To Agatha Braunwald, the most a-moo-zing teacher ever.” He gently put the cow back down.
“You know what we need? A “no whimsy” policy. I don’t care if the fate of the world is at stake, anything that is remotely youth oriented should be out of our jurisdiction.” Jade scowled at a cow wearing a sombrero, resisting the urge to smack it against the room.
“Excuse me? Can I help you?” A woman stood in the hallway, looking at them with a hint of derision. She was tired, her body slumped forward, hiding slightly behind the door, perhaps unconsciously. Fat Solomon tended to have that effect on people, but Jade sensed that wasn’t the only reason. Which of the missing kids was hers?
“You must be Mrs. Braunwald. I’m Detective Jade, this oaf behind me is my partner, Fat Solomon.
“You’re the detectives who specialize in missing children.”
Jade grimaced. Is that the lie they were going with? It wasn’t a title Jade particularly wanted to catch on. “Yes Ma’am.”
Agatha sighed. “The cops here wouldn’t do anything. They said a day wasn’t long enough to report anything. It’s a secluded area, not much crime, so they claim the kids are just off in the woods exploring, got a bit lost…but that’s not like them. I know something happened. Diana would have told us…plus she hates the woods.” She was on the verge of tears and Jade sincerely hoped she wouldn’t start crying.
Jade looked over at Fat Solomon, who shrugged, relieving himself of any responsibility related to hysterical clients. Bastard. “How about we go sit down and you can tell us what happened?”
“Yes, yes. Of course,” said Agatha, leading them to the foyer. Inside, they were greeted by five more wet pairs of eyes.
“Who’re you?” said a man who could have been a distant relative to Fat Solomon. “I thought those asshole cops weren’t going to help us.” Even without the tone, Jade could tell he was drunk. Understandable, but that wouldn’t make their job any easier.
“Carl, these are the detectives we were told about,” said Agatha.
Carl snorted. “They’re the detectives? Not exactly what I was picturing.”
“Carl…” said the woman next to him, probably his spouse by the looks of it.
“No, it’s ok,” said Jade. “Sometimes I’m surprised Fat Solomon is a detective too.”
“I wasn’t talking about him, sweetie,” said Carl.
Jade shook her head. Of course. There was always one. “You have a problem, Fat Solomon and I can always leave. It’s not like it’s my kids that need to be saved.”
The rest of the couples shifted uncomfortably, but didn’t say anything against Carl. So…either they didn’t know each other well enough or Carl was a person of influence, perhaps a boss. Interesting.
“We don’t have any problem,” said Carl’s wife. “Do we, Carl?”
“Of course not,” Carl said, staring directly at Jade.
Jade made a mental note that if they couldn’t rescue all four kids, Carl’s would be the one she’d leave behind.
The next hour was spent going over the details of the disappearance. The evening before, as the three families were sitting down to dinner, they had heard a scream coming from upstairs. When the parents had gone to check, they found just a series of empty rooms, no trace of anything having happened, but also no trace of the kids themselves.
Jade studied the pictures of the kids they had been given. It wasn’t hard to tell which child belonged to which parents. “You checked all the rooms?” she asked.
Carl scoffed. “Oh yes, we just happened to miss them hiding in a room this whole time! We’re not idi-“
Another man cut him off. “We did. We checked around the area and in the woods too. Our daughter, Eden, occasionally goes for hikes. We thought maybe she took the others with her.”
Jade made some notes. “And then you called the cops?”
“Yes,” said Agatha. “But they said we would have to wait. It was soon after that we got a call saying we should stay put and that specialized detectives would be coming. You two.”
If only they knew…Jade stood up. “Well, then I guess it’s time we try to find em’. Fat Solomon, get off your ass, we got work to do.”
Eden’s father looked up. “Do you have an idea where they might be?”
“You said the screaming came from the attic, right?” said Jade. “Might as well check there first.”