“That’s why I need you to talk to your uncle. See if he has any leads that could help us,” said Lee.
Virgil thought for a second. “I don’t know, man. That sounds like a stretch. Besides, I don’t need the money.”
“Then give your cut to me!” said Lee. “I’ve already got some other people on board, but I would really like it if you would be a part of this with me. I’m trying to go legit here, man, but living ain’t cheap. But don’t do it for me. Do it to help the missing girl. You never know where this kidnapper creep is going to strike next. What if he comes after that chubby girl that you like, or your sister, or you? Then you’ll feel kind of stupid for not doing anything to stop him. We’ll be heroes! And if we happen to make a little bit of money for ourselves in the process, that’s cool too.”
Virgil thought about how horrible he would feel if something were to happen to Celeste. He thought about how big of a hero he would be if he solved this case. His parents would be proud. Vanessa would be proud too. She would have to take him back. She would have to talk to him again at least. He imagined the photographers snapping pictures, the reporters asking him questions, and the hero’s welcome he would get when he returned to school. That would be awesome. What could go wrong?
“Okay, I’m in,” said Virgil.
The next day Jay showed up in his police cruiser to pick Virgil up from community service.
“Thank you so much,” said Virgil as he buckled his seatbelt. “Let’s get the hell outta’ here.”
Jay laughed as they pulled off. Jay was Virgil’s mother’s younger brother. And he was Virgil’s favorite adult in the whole world. He was barely in adult for that matter. He wasn’t even twice Virgil’s age. He’d been more like a big brother to Virgil than an uncle. In fact, Virgil didn’t even call him “Uncle James” when his parents weren’t around. To Virgil, he was just “Jay”; he hated being called “Jimmie,” which is something Virgil’s mom apparently still hadn’t figured out.
Jay was a handsome man, clean-cut and fit. He stood a bit over six feet and the uniform made him look even bigger. He had short, dark hair that he didn’t bother with, aside from the haircut. He had hazel eyes like Virgil’s mother, but that was all they had in common.
“My nephew—the perp! I see they’ve got you on the chain gang out there,” said Jay with a laugh.
“I know. Bring a few throwing stars to school and you wind up doing hard time,” said Virgil.
“You brought throwing stars to school? You gotta’ be smarter than that, dude,” said Jay. “All this over a chick? You see, let me explain something to you: women come and go. You can’t trust what they say, even if they say they love you. You see, women are taught to be selfish, and they’ll pick their feelings over yours—every time.”
Jay was recently divorced, with a young son that he barely got to see.
“Besides, I told you, all of that Ninjitsu stuff is garbage. Krav Magra is where it’s at. That’s the stuff they teach Israeli special forces,” said Jay, taking a sip of coffee. Virgil didn’t know anyone who drank as much coffee as Jay.
“That’s what you keep saying. So I heard there’s a girl who went missing a few days ago,” said Virgil, deciding to dive right into it.
“Yup. There’s a few people that have gone missing,” said Jay.
“Is there a connection?”
Jay shrugged. “Hard to tell.”
“You guys don’t have any leads?”
Jay shot him a sideways look. “Why are you so curious, Bud?”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“Fine. I heard there’s a $10,000 reward for any information leading to their discovery, so me and some friends were wondering if we could help out with the case.”
“Really…” said Jay. “How much do you and your friends know already?”
“Nothing really. Just that there are six kids missing. That’s why I’m asking you if you could give me any information.”
“And what exactly are you going to do with any information I give you? You and your friends are not thinking of putting yourselves in harm’s way, are you? Or doing something stupid and getting yourselves in trouble and expecting me to bail you out again?”
“Of course not.”
“Because you realize that this is a police matter, right?”
“And if you did find out any information, you would call the police, right? And I don’t mean texting me, I mean calling the police, as in actually dialing 911, capiche?”
“You’re not doing this to impress that girl, are you?” asked Jay, once again giving Virgil the sideways glance.
“No! I mean, not really. This is strictly business. And I want to keep the streets safe for others. If I can help in any way, I would like to do so. So are you going to give me some info, or what?”
“I can’t,” said Jay. Virgil threw up his arms in surprise. “What kind of adult would I be if I allowed you to do this? You kids don’t know what you’re getting into and you can’t be trusted with information like this. That’s why I keep it in this classified, police folder.” Jay pointed to a stack of folders between him and Virgil. “You see that? It says ‘classified.’ It’s evidence, for police eyes only. There’s lots of valuable information in here, but I can’t allow you to see it.”
They pulled into the parking lot of a fast food restaurant.
“You’re not going to go through the drive-thru?” asked Virgil.
“Nah, I’m just gonna’ run in and get a cup of coffee,” said Jay. He stared at Virgil intently. “I’ll be back in ten minutes. I’ll be gone exactly ten minutes. I do not give you permission to look through these folders. And I do not want to catch you going through my personal stuff. Do I make myself clear?”
Virgil nodded and held back a smile.
Jay got out of the car. “Ten minutes,” he said before slamming the door shut.
Virgil waited until he was inside the building before he rifled through the folders. The top folder contained a profile of one of the missing people that Virgil didn’t know anything about. It contained a picture as well as a few tidbits of info. A pretty, black girl with braided hair, named Diane. She had last been seen leaving school a couple of weeks ago. Another profile was of a thin white boy with red hair. There wasn’t much information about him, besides his name and address. The next boy had last been seen after soccer practice. There were the profiles of two more girls in the folder that Virgil skimmed before coming to the profile of the girl he’d seen on the news the other day. She wasn’t a particularly good looking girl. In fact, she was quite unattractive to put it mildly. Her eyes were too far apart. Her lips were nonexistent. Attached to her picture was another photograph. This one of a black man with a salt-and-pepper beard. Virgil recognized him instantly. His name was Ben. He was an old, homeless guy with whom Virgil had played chess on occasion down at Sixteenth Street Mall—and had gotten thrashed. In fact, one of his life’s goals was to beat Ben one day. This picture was mug shot, apparently, taken a long time ago. Ben had a record. Who would’ve thought. He seemed like such a nice man. The picture had a sticky note on it that said: “person of interest.” The next folder held a couple of pictures of the construction site. He didn’t have time to do any more snooping. Jay was walking up to the car as Virgil returned to sitting still with his hands in his lap.
Jay opened the door and hopped in. He handed Virgil a burger and fries before starting the engine. “So you want to help people, huh?” he said shaking his head, as he pulled out of the parking lot, while taking a sip of coffee.
That night Virgil met with Lee and his friends, this time at the edge of the city, a few blocks from Sloan Lake where the girl, Nicole’s cell phone had been discovered. It was a chilly autumn night. The clouds had blocked out the moon, making it even darker around this part of town. Lee made introductions once Virgil arrived. There was an older kid named Charlie, a small girl named Jen, and her brother Van. They got right down to business soon after.
“I can’t find any connection between them. They all went to different schools, and in a couple of cases, lived in different cities. I don’t even think any of them know each other. All they have in common is their age,” explained Virgil as he passed around some notes he had taken from Jay’s folders.
“They think this guy, Ben, did it?” asked Lee.
“I don’t think so. It just said he was a person of interest. I kind if know him. He seems like a pretty nice guy. I couldn’t see him hurting anyone, let alone abducting them,” said Virgil.
“He sounds like a freaking pervert to me,” said Lee.
“I told you, I don’t think he’s involved. He just happened to be around here when they found the girl’s cell phone. They don’t think he did it, just that he might have seen more than he’s letting on.”
“Well if he knows something, then why didn’t he tell the police? What’s he trying to hide?” asked Lee.
Virgil had no answer.
“Let’s find him.”
Lee moved with a purpose. So much so, that Virgil didn’t even try to keep up. He and Charlie hung back, and walked at a more reasonable pace.
“So, what are you going to do with your share of the money,” asked Virgil.
Charlie grinned. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a business card, and handed it to Virgil. It was a VIP invitation to the club, Intrigue, that Virgil had heard about the other day.
“That club rocks!” said Charlie.
“You’re going to spend two grand at a club?”
“It’s so worth it. It’s also a massage parlor! The best massage you’ll ever get, my friend. It’s got, like, a hotel too. It’s basically the coolest place imaginable. You should check it out.”
“I’m not old enough,” said Virgil attempting to hand the card back to Charlie.
“Hold on to it. I know the owner,” said Charlie, pointing to the name on the bottom of the VIP card.
“Carmine Adder” it read.
Virgil shrugged, and placed the card in his pants pocket.
They spotted Ben down one of the alleys, rummaging through a trash bin. Lee began speed walking towards him, but Virgil grabbed him by the shirt sleeve and motioned for him to stay back. “I’ll talk to him,” Virgil whispered before walking towards Ben. “Ben, sir, excuse me.”
Ben didn’t appear to hear him as he kept rummaging through the dumpster. He pulled out a bunch of plastic bottles and threw them in a shopping cart already filled with bottles and cans.
“Excuse me,” said Virgil again. This time Ben turned to him. A look of recognition showed on his face. He smiled at Virgil and waved politely. When he caught sight of Lee and the gang moving towards him, his look changed from friendly to alert. “Don’t worry, I just was to ask you something.” Ben’s eyes were full of caution. “There was a girl that disappeared from around here a few days ago. She was a friend of ours and we just want to know if you’d seen anything. Anything at all. That’s it.”
Ben didn’t say anything.
Lee had an impatient look on his face.
“Please help us if you can. You don’t have anything to worry about. We’re not going to tell the police anything that you tell us,” said Virgil.
Ben didn’t take his eyes off of Lee. The look on Lee’s face was slowly changing from annoyed to dangerous. Virgil got a bad feeling. Ben was slowly turning away from them as if he was preparing to make a break for it.
“Ben…” said Virgil.
“Get on the ground, you sick bastard!” yelled Lee, pulling a revolver from underneath his shirt. It all happened too fast for Virgil to react. Shock, fear and confusion rushed over him. He reached for Lee’s gun hand, but Lee pulled it away and gave him a dangerous look. Virgil threw his hands up in surrender. Ben obeyed Lee’s order by getting down on both knees. He shut his eyes tight and shook his head, begging for his life.
“Shut up!” yelled Lee. “What did you do with them? Answer me! Where are the kids you kidnapped?”
“I didn’t…I swear,” said Ben, shaking his head.
“He didn’t do it,” said Virgil, trying to stay calm.
“Then who did? What did you see?” said Lee.
Ben opened his eyes wide. “They weren’t human. They wore hoods. But their eyes…their eyes…”
“What about their eyes?” asked Virgil.
“They glowed,” said Ben. Fear shot through Virgil. Those were the eyes that Miss Tilley had in his dream; the inhuman eyes that the rest of the classroom had taken on. Ben had seen them too, only he’d seen them in person. Ben’s tone seemed calmer as he described the eyes. “They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. But behind those eyes there is no soul. Nothing alive. Nothing…of this world.” Ben looked up at Lee as if examining him. “Your soul is dark, tainted.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Are you on crack?” said Lee, anger in his voice.
“Yes,” said Virgil, placing his hand on top of Lee’s gun and lowering it to the ground. He moved so that he was between Lee and Ben. “He’s clearly high. He doesn’t know anything, he didn’t do anything. He’s just a crazy old man. You can go, Ben.”
Ben stood up. He recovered his shopping cart full of bottles and ran down the alley.
“You’re gonna’ let that creep get away?” said Lee.
“What are you doing with a gun? You’re going to get us in trouble,” said Virgil.
“This is to get us out of trouble. We need to be prepared. Just in case,” said Lee.
“The construction site downtown. The new building,” called Ben from down the alley. “The construction site,” he repeated and then disappeared around the corner.
“Okay, let’s go,” said Lee.
“Go where?” said Virgil.
“You heard him. The construction site,” said Lee.
“I’m not going anywhere tonight. I have a curfew,” said Virgil.
“Whatever, Whiteboy, we’ll go without you. Come on guys,” said Lee, turning to walk away. Virgil grabbed his arm.
“Wait until tomorrow night and I’ll go with you. You’ve got to clear your head, man, before you get us in serious trouble. Let’s all just go home and cool off tonight,” said Virgil.
Lee reluctantly agreed. “Tomorrow night. Midnight.”
Lee was apologetic the whole next day. Virgil spent his last day of community service mulling over the night before. Lee was a loose cannon, but he was Virgil’s friend. And Virgil was one of the few people that Lee could count on. Virgil couldn’t abandon him. However, it wasn’t Lee and his gun that bothered him the most, it was what Ben had said. Glowing eyes, just like the ones from his dream. Was it possible that both he and Ben were going crazy? Or was something really going on?
That night, after dinner Virgil snuck out through his bedroom window. He rode his bike to meet Lee and the rest in Lower Downtown, dubbed LoDo by most. It was a Friday night and the streets were filled with partiers. Mostly college kids. Police were out too, making sure nothing got out of hand. No one paid any attention to Virgil or the others as they found their way to the construction site. They circled the block a few times, hoping to gauge the atmosphere but from the sidewalk everything seemed serene. They got as close as they could to the site without going onto the property.
“I think I hear something,” said Jen. She leaned her ear as close to the fence as she could. “Sounds like singing.”
The others followed suit. Virgil could make out the vague impression of voices coming from inside of the unfinished building. The singing had a rhythm to it, but no notes, no melody.
“Sounds like chanting,” said Virgil. They exchanged glances. It was weird that anyone would be at the site at this time of night, let alone having some kind of meeting. Virgil had heard enough. “Okay, I’m creeped out now, I’m going home.”
“But we haven’t even discovered what’s going on yet. We have to go in,” said Lee.
“No,” said Virgil, pointing to the no trespassing sign. “I promised my uncle that I was not going to get in trouble. We could get arrested for trespassing if we go in there. I’m not going.”
“What are you kids doing?” shouted a voice.
They all jumped with surprise. A cop was walking up on them fast. Lee panicked and was about to run, but Virgil grabbed his arm. He wouldn’t have made it far before there were cops surrounding them. The best thing to do was make it look as innocent as possible.
“Hi officer, we were just on our way home from choir practice when we thought we heard voices inside of the construction site,” said Virgil.
“You heard voices, in there?” said the officer, taking out his flashlight and shining it into the structure. “I don’t hear anything. What did it sound like?”
Everyone looked at Virgil. “It sounded like…chanting, officer.”
“Chanting? You kids been drinking?” asked the officer turning his flashlight on them.
“No sir, my Grandma died of drinking, we would never,” said Virgil, shaking his head rapidly.
“Come on,” said the cop. He unlocked the gate and walked into the courtyard beckoning Virgil and the others to follow him. Virgil and Lee exchanged glances and then reluctantly followed. “Show me where you heard the voices.”
They walked through a metal door and into the building. Once they were inside of the building all noise from the outside seemed to fade. It was dark, but Virgil felt better knowing there was a cop with them. There was no more chanting as they made their way around construction material and through the unfinished ground floor of the building. It was eerie being inside of an uncompleted building; hard to see anything outside of where the police officer pointed his flashlight. They walked into a big, dark, open space when the officer turned to them and shined his flashlight in their direction. Virgil and the gang stopped in their tracks.
“I don’t hear anything,” said the officer.
“I swear we heard something,” said Virgil.
“Well, what did it sound like?”
“Like some kind of chanting, sir,” said Virgil.
The officer pondered for a second. It was tough to see him with the light shining in their eyes. He was just a dark silhouette in a dark room. Virgil shielded his eyes from the light.
“You kids better not be screwing with me,” said the cop.
“We’re not,” assured Virgil.
“Chanting, huh. Did it sound like this?” said the Officer.
He began chanting.
Terror pierced Virgil.
He was blinded by the cop’s flashlight as the sound of his chanting filled the area, more voices joining in as Virgil and the others stood in horrified silence. A half dozen hooded figures leaped from the shadows. Virgil and the others scattered. Virgil attempted to run back toward the exit, but without the cop’s flashlight leading the way, the path they had come from was completely dark. He tripped over something in the darkness and landed underneath a gaggle of construction material. He chanced a look back and saw that two of the hooded figures were chasing Jen, while Van struggled to get his shirt loose from the grip of one of the Hoods. Instead he let the shirt be torn from his body and ran in another direction. Lee was firing his pistol randomly, the sound accosting Virgil’s ears. Lee had his eyes clothes and his head turned away as the gun moved up and down with each flash and bang. Two of the bullets struck the cop. He fell backwards.
Then he got back up.
And he looked pissed.
His eyes began to glow, the pupils shrank. They could be seen clearly even in the limited light available. Lee’s gun clicked several times with no bang or flash. The cop ran at Lee with unbelievable speed. Lee let out a scream as the cop grabbed him and hoisted him into the air. The cop had dropped his flashlight and Virgil ran to recover it. Just before he reached it he felt someone pull at his ankle, sending him crashing to the floor. He looked behind him and saw more glowing eyes underneath a dark hood. Virgil stretched his arm out as far as it would go, his fingers able to maneuver the flashlight just enough for him to take hold of it. Once he had a good grip on it, he swung the flashlight as hard as he could, bashing it across his attackers face. The blow stunned the Hood momentarily, but again he reached for Virgil. Virgil swung the light again, this time it impacted on the Hood’s jaw and he stumbled backwards a couple of steps, releasing Virgil from his grip. Virgil got to his feet and made a break for the exit. The repeated blows he had dealt the Hood had damaged the light and it flickered on and off as he made his way through the area; leaping over what he could and tripping over the rest. But he stayed on his feet and kept running.
He emerged from the site, scrambled over the fence and found his bike where he’d left it. He didn’t look back as he rode away. He didn’t call for help, fearing that more police officers with glowing eyes who would answer. He didn’t even know what direction he was riding in, as he put as much distance between him and the construction site as he could. Pedaling with a strength and stamina he had never before possessed, he eventually found himself out of downtown and in the nearby Five Points neighborhood.
Five Points had a well-deserved reputation for not being the safest neighborhood, and normally Virgil wouldn’t have stopped there, but he felt a lot safer in there than he did downtown. He took a moment to catch his breath and looked around trying to gather where he was and in which direction was home. The streets were virtually empty as far as he could see. He could hear the sounds of cars driving and that gave him some comfort. Footsteps approached from around a building. Probably a drug addict or street walker, Virgil thought.
One of the Hoods rounded the corner in front of Virgil. His eyes met Virgil’s and Virgil cried out in terror.
With the strength of panic, Virgil took off riding in the opposite direction. He glanced behind him. Not only was the Hood keeping pace, but he was gaining! He ran with inhuman speed and no signs of struggle. It was like something out of a movie. Virgil pedaled as hard as he could; himself given enhanced strength from the power of adrenaline. He rode through stop signs and traffic lights, deciding it would be better to take his chances with oncoming traffic than to allow himself to be caught by the Hood. Five Points wasn’t an area Virgil knew well and he didn’t want to risk riding in circles. Or worse still, cornering himself. Virgil raced down the street, lurched as far forward on his handlebars as he could go. He searched the streets for a way out, and searched his brain for a plan. Finally, there seemed to be a stroke of luck. To his right was a steep, downhill street. He turned right and pedaled hard. The break in speed was enough for the Hood to close range and take a swing at him. Virgil felt the impact of the Hood’s fist slamming into his back wheel. Luckily, there wasn’t enough behind it to knock Virgil off balance. Virgil pedaled harder, willing himself to push forward. His legs were on fire and his adrenaline reserves were wearing thin. He made it to the hill just as the Hood attempted to deal another blow, one that would’ve been more damaging. Virgil’s sudden increased speed got him out of the way just in time. He held on tight as his speed rapidly increased on the downhill slope. The Hood kept pace with him, even at this speed. But eventually the downward momentum overtook the hooded figure and he tumbled forward and rolled down the hill in a way that would have made Virgil laugh if he wasn’t so terrified. Virgil faced front again, just as he was nearing an intersection at top speed. He didn’t try to stop. He held on tight, closed his eyes—and prayed.
To Steven Spielberg.
He sped through the intersection, as two cars slammed on their breaks just in time to allow him safe passage.
Every muscle and every bone in Virgil’s body told him to stop, but he didn’t. Not until he’d made it all the way home. He dumped his bike in the front lawn and ran up the porch steps. He came right through the front door. He slammed it shut and locked the door. He collapsed with his back against the door and passed out.
“Get up. Get up. Get up. Before they see you,” said Celeste as she tugged on Virgil’s shirt until he woke up. It was still dark outside and Celeste was in her pajamas. She helped Virgil to his feet and pushed him from behind as he hazily made his way up the stairs. She urged him to be quiet as he creaked up the stairs. Virgil heard stirring in his parents’ room. It sounded like their father was getting out of bed. Celeste ran around Virgil and continued down the hallway. She burst into her parent’s room just as he was about to open the door.
“Daddy, I can’t sleep! I can’t sleep!” she said as she ran into her father’s arms. Virgil could hear his father comforting Celeste and that gave him enough time to get to his room undetected.
He owed Celeste a lollipop.
He slept for a short eternity before waking up sometime in the midafternoon. It was Saturday so no one bothered him. That day he only left his room to go to the bathroom or to eat. He texted Lee all day but never got a reply. He tried to put the events of the previous night as far from his mind as he could. It couldn’t have happened, at least not the way he remembered it. He told himself that he must have imagined most of it. But he still couldn’t reach Lee. That gave him a sinking feeling. He couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. No one would believe him. He couldn’t call the cops. He was afraid of the cops right now. Lee would turn up eventually. He would say how his phone had died and he didn’t have his charger. Everything was going to be fine tomorrow. But today, Virgil wasn’t leaving the house.
That night Virgil had trouble sleeping. His entire body ached from the scuffle and ride home; both of which had perfectly rational explanations, of course. Maybe if he smoked a little bit of weed that would help. He locked his door and rummaged around until he found just enough weed to get his mind right. His parents were home so he would have to smoke on the rooftop. He went to his window and opened the curtain.
Two giant, glowing eyes floated in midair outside of his window. Their tiny pupils fixed on him. They glowed ominously at him from behind the tree outside. Virgil let out a yell and shut the curtains to shield himself from the giant, evil eyes. He jumped back in the bed and pulled the cover over his head. He was in trouble. Real trouble. There was no one in the world that could help him.