Ch. 79: Hidden
I'm sorry for the long wait, but here's finally a new chapter. For those who know me it's a clear sign that things aren't going very well if I stop updating. And the past couple of months have been a nightmare.
My mom has had heart problems for a few years, which have increased to the point that she barely functions. She's been waiting for a surgery that was supposed to save her, but due to the pandemic, it was postponed time and time again. And when she finally had it done, it's been too long and she didn't get better at all! She had a cardiac arrest and was saved by the sole reason that she was already lying on the surgery table when it happened. Then she had heart failure when she got home. And since her heart still isn't beating the way it should, she's waiting for shock therapy, which has failed every time she's tried before and that also gets continuously postponed because the pandemic is exploding around us right now. Knowing that she's a ticking bomb and that we can lose her in the blink of an eye, has been so stressful that I simply couldn't focus on writing. It didn't help that my closest aunt and my dad both were diagnosed with cancer in the beginning of December. My dad had half of his lung removed last week, but we're still not completely sure if he's out of danger. And my poor aunt... She's pretty much been told to spend the rest of her time together with her closest family.
As if this wasn't enough, almost all of my stories were plagiarized, not only by teenfic.net which is a mirror site, but also by Novel HD. I had to take down everything from Wattpad to erase them from teenfic, but the problem is still there if I publish something there again. Novel HD is even worse. They've saved a lot of chapters both from this story and from 'The Firefighter', so it doesn't help to take them down. The latter is now a paid story on Galatea, so my publisher isn't very happy. I'm still trying to fix these problems.
I've had a few comments about my second account, which is where I publish fanfics I've written about Michael Jackson. Some of my stories are written both as fanfiction and original stories, some are not. But to call those stories a waste of time is equal to be blocked from both of my accounts. Michael Jackson is the reason why I started writing and gained confidence enough to take the step further and publish a story. 'The Firefighter' was a story written about him, yet it turned out to be of good enough quality to be offered a contract. And I owe it to my 2k+ followers from Wattpad to give them the possibility to continue reading my work. Please respect this. If you don't like fanfiction, then scroll the hell away from it! No need for rude remarks. Just leave. As simple as that.
I didn't write this to get sympathy or attention. I just felt like I owed you an explanation for why I suddenly stopped updating as regularly as I normally do. Thanks to those who have supported me and who have checked in on me. I love you all and hugs to those who want. 💖
“I’m sorry, sir. We don’t have the resources for that.”
The middle-aged policewoman looked everything else but interested in what we told her about Rocco, and only replied flatly. By now, Aaron was getting pretty angry, and I pulled his arm to calm him down. Hunter was more apathetic and looked so devastated that I wanted to hug him. I didn’t know him well enough to do that, though.
“You won’t search for him because he’s an adult?” Aaron snapped, but the woman cut him off.
“Listen, Mr. Cooper. Didn’t you say that your son left your house three hours ago?”
“We’re hardly searching for small kids until it’s been twenty-four hours, because in most cases they come back by themselves. And this young man obviously doesn’t want to be found.”
“Twenty-four hours?” Aaron spat in disbelief, and his eyes were wide open.
“So if a three-year-old child disappears, you won’t do shit until the day after?”
“Depending on the situation, of course,” the lady informed with a shrug, still completely unaffected.
“If someone has witnessed an abduction or suspects a crime, it’s clearly an indication to act. But usually, kids are found at friend’s houses, neighbors or family.”
“That’s fucking crazy! What if something happened to the child in the meantime? Because I know one hell of a lot of things that can happen in twenty-four hours.”
“Then you call an ambulance when you find out if it’s needed. In this case it’s neither an abduction or a crime, so I suggest that you gather your friends and family and try to think of possible places he could be. Put up posters. Contact organizations that have volunteers...”
“Family? He’s pretty much the only family we’ve got!” he yelled and pointed at himself and me. Then he turned away and mumbled something he should be glad the police officer didn’t hear.
“This is completely useless,” he said eventually, and rubbed his neck.
“...and you should consider contacting the psychiatric health care system to get help for his depression,” the lady continued, sounding like a robot. But when Aaron slammed his palm on the desk, he actually managed to get a tiny reaction from her.
“Because that helps when we find him dead after three months? Don’t you fucking get it? We need to find him before he does something stupid! Not after!”
“Aaron, please,” I begged, and finally managed to pull him away. The tears stung in my eyes, and I could hear Hunter sniffle behind me.
“She can’t be serious,” Aaron mumbled.
“They’re not doing anything to search for a kid? They do on Criminal Minds! It’s the first couple of days that are most important to find them alive, so that’s just bullshit.”
I sighed and started walking towards the exit with the two men following close behind.
“I’m sure she only said it to calm the situation and give you some perspective. An adult can have several reasons to disappear on purpose. A child doesn’t. And I know for sure that they do their best to find them, and...”
“But it’s still fucked up!” Aaron exclaimed, and I nodded in agreement.
“I know! But he’s still an adult and knows how to take care of himself,” I reasoned, but the looks we exchanged told a completely different story.
“He’s got to be in the city somewhere,” Aaron said, sounding awfully tired. He rubbed his face and thought hard while the cool San Francisco night tried to soothe our worries. The asphalt on the parking lot was rough and cracked, and even had holes here and there, and it matched our theory about Rocco’s whereabouts pretty accurately. There was none. Just a bunch of black holes and unanswered questions.
“Why can’t we at least file a missing person report and check the train stations and bus companies?”
“Because there’s no use, Aaron! You heard her. They won’t even look at it until tomorrow.”
Aaron and I glared at each other without actually being mad. We were just frustrated and didn’t know how to handle the situation.
“The car,” Hunter suddenly said and wiped his cheeks with his sleeve, and our attention was drawn to him. His eyes were swollen and red, and he quickly wrapped his arms around his skinny torso. I didn’t know if it was because he was cold or trying to comfort himself, but the urge to hug him was still there. There was no doubt. He really loved Rocco. Probably more than Rocco was aware of.
“What kind of car was it?”
Aaron and I exchanged glances again and I shrugged.
“It was too dark and too far away,” I replied and hated the uselessness that overwhelmed my thinking.
“An old Lincoln, perhaps,” Aaron suggested. He snapped his fingers a couple of times as if that would help him think.
“About the same size as a Ford Focus or something like that. And with one broken taillight. The left one.”
Hunter shook his head slowly and I could almost hear how his brain tried to wringe information out of every cell there was.
“Maybe Wez. Or Paula,” he mumbled and picked up his phone. And it didn’t take long until someone answered.
“Hi, Pau... Yes. Yes, I know it’s late. Night, yes. No, don’t hang up! It’s about Rocco. Rocco! He’s... Never mind. I’m calling to ask if your car has a broken taillight. Yes. No. Can you please check, then? Yes, now! It’s really important. Okay. Thank you. Text me when you know. Yes, I owe you one. I promise. No, not that! Okay, fine. That too. Alright. Bye.”
If the situation wasn’t so desperate, I would have laughed, and I was pretty sure Aaron would have made a sassy comment of some kind. But he was already busy making a phone call to Bree. And while he was talking to her, and Hunter to his friend Wez, I found Rocco’s number and called for what probably was the hundredth time in the past few hours.
“I hate voicemail,” I muttered and stared at the screen. It didn’t help that my stupid phone was about to die, and I had no charger.
“It’s not Paula’s car and Wez got a new one a couple of weeks ago. A small truck. So it's not his' either,” Hunter informed with a deep frown carved into his forehead, and the disappointment was evident both in his eyes and the way he angrily shoved his phone back into his pocket. Aaron didn’t have any luck either, but I was relieved that he and Bree kept their conversation somewhat civilized. Arguing now wouldn’t help.
“Anything?” he said after he’d hung up, but we just looked at each other and shook our heads. Needless to say, the car ride home was the silent kind where all three of us sat in deep thoughts, trying to picture where Rocco could be and what he was doing. I could hear Hunter sniffle from the back seat, and I wiped away silent tears myself, while I mentally begged Rocco not to do anything stupid. I simply hated the gnawing feeling I had that it was already too late.
Aaron sighed in exasperation and kept tapping his fingers on the steering wheel after we’d parked the car outside the apartment complex. There was a tiny chance that Rocco was waiting for us inside, but neither of us dared to say it out loud and get our hopes up in case we were wrong. Stroking Sailor’s soft fur didn’t help calm my worries, and he probably knew because he kept licking my hand to comfort me.
“I’ll be damned,” Aaron mumbled and had clearly spotted something at the other end of the parking lot. He nudged me as if I wasn’t already trying to find out what he was looking at.
“There it is. The black car. Isn’t that the one we saw?” he said to me, and my eyes went wide.
“Which one?” Hunter asked, and Aaron pointed at the black car next to the one I’d learned belonged to Jessie and her husband. And suddenly something seemed to click in Aaron’s head.
“The new neighbors on the first floor.”
I was about to ask what he meant, but he was already on his way to the main entrance. Hunter and I, with Sailor on my arm, hurried after him.
“Aaron! You forgot to lock your car!” I yelled, slightly shocked that he would forget something like that. But before I reached him, he was already pounding on a door, trying to wake up...
“That’s Jessie’s apartment!” I exclaimed when I discovered that he'd clearly had chosen the wrong door. The huge sign with all their names on it, should have given him a clue. Nevertheless, seconds after, we stood face to face with a squinting, tired woman with hair sticking out from her usual braided bun, and a nightgown that clearly had seen better days.
“I’m so sorry, Jessica,” I apologized, and tried to tell her in short terms why Aaron was trying to knock people’s doors down. He was already pounding on the next, and a young man opened. He had obviously not been sleeping, because he was standing with a paint brush in his hand and had clothes that were covered by light blue stains.
“Sup?” he asked, clearly confused.
“Are you the owner of the black Lexus?”
“Uhm... Yeah?” the guy replied, but Aaron barely took the time to listen before he bombarded him with questions.
“Where did you take him?”
“I’m sorry, who?” the man asked, wide-eyed.
“My son! It’s your car that has a broken taillight, right?”
“Yes, but I was meaning to fix...”
But Aaron kept on interrogating him.
“Were you out driving about three and a half hours ago?”
“Yeah. I had to get more paint.”
“In the middle of the night?” Aaron growled, clearly not believing what obviously seemed to be the truth.
“Where did you take Rocco?” he yelled, and the poor guy took a step back and held up his hands in defense.
“I don’t know who that is! I swear! I just moved here, and I was the only one in the car.”
“Fuck,” Aaron exclaimed and turned his anger to an old shoe rack that probably belonged to Jessie. Thankfully it was already ruined.
“Just go back inside Devon. I’ve got this,” Jessie said to the startled man, who didn’t even think twice about doing what she said. And just to make sure he was safe, he locked the door and added the chain lock, while Jessica continued with her slightly authoritarian demeanor.
“So your son is missing?” she asked Aaron, who groaned an answer.
“When did you see him last?”
“Almost four fucking hours ago!” Aaron yelled, and both Jessie and I shushed him. We’d woken up enough people as it was.
“And you’re absolutely positive that he won’t just show...”
“Yes! And the fucking police won’t do shit to help!” he cut her off, and the sad glance I gave Jessie told her what she needed to know.
“We just know,” I said quietly, and her sympathetic sigh was enough. She had kids. She knew.
“Okay... How far can he get in four hours in the middle of the night?” she thought out loud, but either Hunter, Aaron or I had a good answer. Where did we even begin to narrow it down?
“Is there a place that meant something special to him? Like a hideout where he could be alone?” she asked, and Hunter was the one to speak up.
“I know one. No, two actually.”
“Good. Is it far from here?” Jessie followed up.
“Too far to walk,” he said, and Aaron pulled up his car keys.
“Let’s go!” he commanded, but Jessica stopped him.
“If all of you go there, you’re wasting valuable time. We need to split up.”
“We?” I asked, and she winked at me.
“We. Count me in.”
Aaron was about to head for the door when Jessie stopped him once more, and asked a question that obviously made sense to him.
“If you were in his shoes, where would you go?”
The emotional change I saw in his eyes was one I hoped to never see again. And when he handed the car keys to Hunter and told him to go search for Rocco, I already knew what he was thinking.
“Fuck...” was the only thing he said before he ran off, and he didn’t even turn when I called after him and told him to wait. But instead of following, I was rooted to the floor while I felt my heart break in thousands of pieces. I hardly noticed Jessie walking up to me before she pulled both me and Sailor into a hug.
“Let’s hope they’re wrong,” she said into my hair. Then she placed her hands on my shoulders and gave me a determined stare.
“In the meantime, we’ll be searching both inside and outside this building, before we start expand the circle. Okay?”
I nodded, but my eyes were so filled with tears that everything was blurry. And the time it took for Jessie to get dressed felt like forever and a half, even though it probably didn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Still, I wasn’t ready to even move when she grabbed my hand and encouraged me to follow. I barely remembered her pulling me up to the third floor to check our apartment, only to find it empty. And after talking with the infamous Mr. Richmond, it became pretty clear that Rocco wasn’t in the building. As always, he was angry at Aaron, and I was still embarrassed by our last encounter. Nevertheless, he promised to call me if Rocco suddenly showed up. I appreciated that.
“Okay. Let’s walk around and see if we can find a lead,” Jessie suggested, and I was absolutely sure she was an FBI agent in disguise. What this woman knew wasn’t worth knowing. And even though it scared me a bit, I had never been more grateful to have a friend like her. Especially now. Especially while searching for a man I’d loved for the past four years and who still meant more to me than I could fathom. And... Especially when we found two familiar bags hidden behind some bushes not far from the main entrance.
That’s when I sank down on my knees and broke down because I knew. I just knew.
“He’s gone, Jessica. It’s too late.”