'Wings of Flies'
“This is eye witness news at ten” A voice over said as graphics for the news station rolled over the screen.
An anchor with short slick hair and a pressed blue suit faded in with his name under him “Bob Hurley”. He said straightfaced “He disappeared without a trace three years ago. Tonight a san Antonio boy is back home. Johnny Bartlett” A video was played over him, an upward shot of Johnny. He looked paler than ever with the washed out stage lighting. The dark glasses on, that wide brimmed cowboy hat on his head. “Now sixteen years old, he vanished when he was thirteen. Johnny says he was kidnapped and taken to spain. He says for three years he was repeatedly drugged, beaten and raped. All part of a sex slave operation involving dozens of missing children”.
A young female anchor with her hair in a short bob and too much blush continued. Her name super imposed under her reading ‘Sandra Hawkins’. “Well Bob, the FBI is not taking this case lightly. Somehow a thirteen year old boy from San Antonio ended up in spain, without a passport.”
It cut to a street shot of the same anchor woman on the streets of san Antonio. The sky was slate grey and she stood under a metal sign outside fort sam Houston.
“On the night of his disappearance. Johnny had a fight with his family so came out here to Fort Sam Houston to play basketball. Two young boys approached him. He started talking, the next thing he knew, there was a clothe over his mouth and Johnny passed out.
It cut to an old photo of Johnny before he was taken wearing a blue baseball cap and hoodie.
“He claimed his captors changed his appearance to make him unrecognisable.” It cut to the interview of Johnny. Sandra was wearing a dark suit jacket over a turtle neck sweater and dark trousers. “He was no longer allowed to speak English”
The interview took place in a lounge in the studio, mocked up to look like an old lady’s living room. There was a long cream couch along the wall with a wheat pattern on it. The walls had pictures of old ships on them. Johnny sat in a cream armchair with a leaf pattern embroidered onto it. Sandra sat across from him in a white leather chair.
Johnny leaned forward, his feet off the teal carpet, Susan had her legs crossed. It was filmed from the side, to get them both in shot.
“Did they rape you every night?” She asked with a slight inflection as it cut to a close up of his face, pale and angular.
“Me? No, uh uh, because they- They didn’t rape me every night. Some of them they like more” Johnny smiled and released a sort of pained laugh. “Some of the kids they like more, they rape them usually, two or three times a week.”
“Was there a religious component to it, were they worshipping the devil?”
Porter was set up in a booth behind the cameras, standing watching from the dark studio. Peggy was sitting down on a couch somewhere in back watching on the monitors.
The booth he was standing in had been where they’d briefed the news crew on the basics of the story. They had Johnny’s missing photo and a few others they pulled from the news archives. They’d stuck them on the wall of the booth.
The angle he was standing he could see the monitors of the interview and the pictures of Johnny as a kid at the same time. Just instinctively he started comparing them. In the old pictures the boy in them had blonde hair and blue almost steel grey eyes. Johnny on the camera now had deep brown eyes, but that wasn’t what he was looking at.
Porter started to feel warm, the hairs on the back of his neck started to stand up and his breathing quickened. A light rushing feeling in his chest was building. There was something wrong. A fly landed on a picture of Johhny on Christmas morning opening presents. It was taken from his side with his head down as he tore into the wrapping paper.
He pulled it off the wall, letting the tack hit the carpet. It was the best picture he could get of him in profile.
He’d read about a man who was caught by Scotland yard in heathrow airport by identifiying his ears. Ears were just as unique as fingerprints. He held the pictures up to the monitor and compared their ears.
They weren’t a match.
He looked back at Peggy. She was still watching the monitors and hadn’t seen him pluck the picture off the wall so he slid it into his pocket.
The phone rang in Nancy’s office in the San Antonio field office. She was on her way out and Con was half out the door but she leaned over the desk and picked up the receiver.
“Special Agent Nancy Jaguer.”
“Hi, I was told to you talk to you if I had any information on the Johnny Bartlett case. You know the kid that went missing and came back”. The man’s was slow and quiet and they could hear talking in the background.
“Yes, who can I say is calling?”
“My name is Porter, I’m a PI the network hired to track him down”
She took the receiver away from her ear and mouthed ‘shit’.
“What’s your last name please?”
She went around her desk and sat down, grabbing paper and pen, quickly getting down his name.
Con continued out the door carrying a box of his things.
“What is it you have to tell me Mr Caraway?”
“The kid, it’s not him”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The kid, Johnny, it’s not him, can’t be, his ears don’t match.”
“His ears?” She said in a mocking tone.
Con came in just as she said it and mouthed with a confused expression ‘Ears?’ to which Nancy just shrugged.
“They’re like fingerprints, I got a picture of the real Johnny and I compared them. They’re not a match and his eyes are the wrong colour, hair too, could have been dyed.”
“Uh huh.” Nancy said as she watched Con swirl his finger around his ear implying it was a crank. He mouthed ‘hang up’ and tapped his wrist as if it were a watch. They were catching the next plane back to virginia for the time being as the case was going cold. They had nothing at all to go on, the information they’d receieved so far was all too vague. There was no reason for them to stay in town and langely was pulling them away.
“Are you hearing me? He’s a fake, no doubt in my mind”. Porter was serious.
“I’m sorry, I find that hard to believe. His family would know better than anyone, why would they take in a stranger?”
“I don’t know, that’s not why I was hired, I was just meant to find him. Look this kid could be a Russian spy for all we know and his family could be in on it.” Porter was swimming now, a giddiness he wasn’t used to. Like he was kid in a spy novel.
“You’re getting yourself mixed up in something here Mr. Caraway. You can’t interfere with a federal investigation. I advise you stay away from this and trust in the judgement of the boy’s family”.
“You’re telling me to back off?”
“I’m telling you to back off?”
“Ok” He said as he hung up the phone.
Porter returned home to Austin the next day, the boy, Johnny was going back to school.
He waited outside on a dirt road bus stop for a big yellow school bus wearing a grey hoodie and backpack. It was a hot day but the wind was blowing, sun was shining on the cracked black road. He felt like he was last person on earth it was so desolate at the side of the road. Like he was in the middle of a desert waiting for a mirage.
The bus came over the horizon and he got on.
Porter was sitting at the bar in the gingerman. His eyes locked forward breathing steadily with an untouched pint of Guinness in front of him.
When Patrick had moved out the way. Porter found himself staring into the mirror at nothing in particular.
“You haven’t touched your pint and ya look gorgeous.” Patrick said in his annoying fake irish accent.
“Not now Pat”.
“What’s up, luck of the irish not favourin’ ya today?”
“I said drop it” His tone cold as the side of a butchers knife.
A local drunk by the name of Lafferty threw his arm around Porter and said “It’s not the end of the world pal. I’m sure she’ll call.” Laffery laughed, his breath smelled like boiled eggs and soap powder.
“You lay off him too alright, he’s had a hard day” Patrick said as he carried on with mindless task behind the bar.
Lafferty was old and grey and looked like a worn out boot that someone threw through the window.
Porter got up off his stool and walked around the bar “I need to make a phone call”.
“It won’t do any good, your job was just to find the kid. You found him, you got paid, leave it that, it’s got nothing to do with you anymore.”
Lafferty watched them both and his eyes wavered to the unguarded pint of Guinness.
“If I do that, if I just ignore this and I turn on the news to see the airforce base up in flames, or the army base, or whatever. I don’t know what he is but he aint right and I don’t like it and if I don’t see this through it’ll be on me.”
“You’re talking crazy now. He’s just a little boy that got lost and now he came back with a fish story. Happens all the time, or maybe it’s true who knows. Either way it’s got nothing to do with you, it’s not your case anymore”.
By now Lafferty had stopped caring whether they saw and was taking sneaky gulps of Porter’s pint.
“I’m making it my case, I’ve got a bad feeling about it. He’s lying, I know it, I saw the picture his ears don’t match.”
Lafferty chimed in with a moment of clarity, now holding the pint proudly as if it was his. “I watched the interview he said they changed his eyes and his hair and his accent. Why couldn’t they change his ears too?”
Porter and Pat looked over at him and he said “I’m just saying, it can be done. I seen people that getting fuckin’ horns put on their heads. Split their tongue make their eyes like snakes eyes. It’s freaky but it can be done, if they go through all the trouble to change his eyes why not his ears too?” Lafferty said as he finished the pint and set it on the bar.
“Yeah and maybe they swapped out his blood with maple syrup, it’s bullshit.” Porter said.
“It makes sense, why would his family take him in if he wasn’t their kid? You’d think they’d say ‘hey I have no idea who this guy is get him the fuck away from me’. But they didn’t they took him into their home and that’s where he is. They accepted him, why can’t you?” Pat said.
“I’ve just got a bad feeling, this kid is bad news”
“Who cares if he is? It has nothing to do with you. Let the FBI and his family sort it out, I think they know their son better than you. Can you tell me why this family would take in a stranger?”
Nancy and Con were safely back in virginia behind glass where they felt safe and strong. The office was modern and shiney. She could see all the drones buzzing around, sitting at their cubicles. She knew when they got up for coffee, she knew when they took a leak or were on facebook by their expressions. The office was all glass and stainless steel, it was clean and perfect. Her office was a complete mess. She and Con had poured over mountains of files. They were searching for any connection between the kids story and anything that existed in the real world. Pulled up dozens of cases of missing kids and found nothing. They’d spoken to Interpol and they had no idea, they had nothing. Everything the kid had said were the vague words of someone outside looking in. They had nothing to work with, either these guys were too good to be caught. Or too connected or they didn’t exist, they were ghosts. Either way the news story didn’t help, if they hadn’t gone underground by now they were gone for good or here to stay.
“We’re at a dead end” Con said deadpan. He looked tired, his eyes looked unfocused and painted on.
Nancy was trying to bury herself in papers and pictures, clutching at straws. “If they exist, we’ll find them.”
“And if they don’t exist?” Con said.
Nancy looked up from her desk.
“We’ve got nothing, no names, no places, no dates, we need more.” He continued.
“All we have is the kid” She said. Nancy was looking at Con, waiting for him to say something drastic.
Con smiled, his laughter line flared up. “Ok so we kidnap him and beat it out of him” He laughed.
“I hate you” Nancy chupsed and rolled her eyes “Can’t you take anything seriously?” Nancy cast her eyes down at the picture of a cute Mulatto girl in pigtails half buried in papers on her desk.
“It’s your kids birthday soon right?”
“How is it you know but her dad has forgotten three times in a row?”
“I’m a savant with dates, especially birthdays. I got her a little something.” He said as he got a little box with a ribbon on it out of his desk drawer and set it down on his desk. “It’s just a little thing, it’s nothing special” He said as he got up from his seat and put it on Nancy’s desk.
“That’s sweet” She said, a reluctant smile on her face.
“I know a lot of things are running through your head right now. But this kid is the key and we have to do everything we can to stop this happening to anyone else.” Con was sincere which was he was from time to time. It made a nice change,
“What do you suggest?”
“I think we have a doctor look at him, a forensic psychologist interview him and see if they can get more out of him”
“You think his family will agree to that?”
“They’ll agree if we tell them its trauma counseilling”
“So we lie to them?” Nancy said, sounding slightly indignant.
“It’s not illegal to lie, we need to know more and he’s all we’ve got. We have to press him further, we need to get inside his head”.
“You sound like you want to drug him or put him under hypnosis”
He laughed, “You know I would if I thought that would work. They tried that in the old days, maybe some places still do. But it’s bullshit, it’s all suggestion, implanting false memories. That’s why when you regress your past lives you never get any Prussian toilet cleaners. It’s based on people’s desires, they believe what they want to believe.”
“You think it’ll work?”
“I think we have nothing and its worth a shot.”
“Ok I’ll call his family and fly him out once you’ve arranged it on your end.”