The Abduction, Page 2John Grisham
An hour later, Theo parked his bike outside the middle school and reluctantly went inside as the 8:15 bell was ringing. In the main lobby, he was immediately met by three crying eighth-grade girls who wanted to know if he knew anything about April. He said he knew nothing more than what was being reported on the morning news.
Evidently, everybody in town had watched the morning news. The reports showed a school photo of April, and a mug shot of Jack Leeper. There was a strong suggestion that a kidnapping had taken place. Theo didn’t understand this. A kidnapping (and he’d checked the dictionary) usually involved a demand for ransom—cash to be paid for the release of the person seized. The Finnemores couldn’t pay their monthly bills—how were they supposed to find serious cash to free April? And there was no word yet from the kidnapper. Usually, as Theo remembered from television, the family gets word pretty soon that the bad guys have the child and would like a million bucks or so for a safe return.
Another report from the morning news showed Mrs. Finnemore crying in front of their home. The police were tight-lipped, saying only that they were pursuing all leads. A neighbor said his dog started barking around midnight, always a bad sign. As frantic as the reporters seemed to be that morning, the truth was that they were finding very little to add to the story of a missing girl.
Theo’s homeroom teacher was Mr. Mount, who also taught Government. After Mr. Mount got the boys settled, he called the roll. All sixteen were present. The conversation quickly got around to the disappearance of April, and Mr. Mount asked Theo if he’d heard anything.
“Nothing,” Theo said, and his classmates seemed disappointed. Theo was one of the few boys who talked to April. Most of the eighth graders, boys and girls, liked April but found her difficult to hang out with. She was quiet, dressed more like a boy than a girl, had no interest in the latest fashions or the weekly teen-gossip magazines, and as everyone knew, came from a weird family.
The bell rang for first period, and Theo, already exhausted, dragged himself off to Spanish.
Final bell rang at 3:30, and by 3:31 Theo was on his bike, speeding away from school, darting through alleys and back streets and dodging downtown traffic. He zipped across Main Street, waved at a policeman standing near an intersection and pretended not to hear when the policeman yelled, “Slow it down, Theo.” He cut through a small cemetery and turned onto Park Street.
His parents had been married for twenty-five years, and for the past twenty they had worked together as partners in the small firm of Boone & Boone, located at 415 Park Street, in the heart of old Strattenburg. There had once been another partner, Ike Boone, Theo’s uncle, but Ike had been forced to leave the firm when he got himself into some trouble. Now the firm had just two equal partners—Marcella Boone on the first floor, in a neat modern office where she handled mainly divorces, and Woods Boone upstairs all alone in a large cluttered room with sagging bookshelves and stacks of files littering the floor and an ever-present cloud of fragrant pipe smoke rolling gently across the ceiling. Rounding out the firm, there was Elsa, who answered the phone, greeted the clients, managed the office, did some typing, and kept an eye on Judge, the dog; there was Dorothy, a real estate secretary, who worked for Mr. Boone and did work that Theo considered horribly boring; and there was Vince, the paralegal, who worked on Mrs. Boone’s cases.
Judge, a mutt who was Theo’s dog, the family’s dog, and the firm’s dog, spent his days at the office, sometimes creeping quietly from room to room keeping an eye on things, oftentimes following a human to the kitchen where he expected food, but mostly snoozing on a small square bed in the reception area where Elsa talked to him whenever she typed.
The last member of the firm was Theo, who happily suspected that he was the only thirteen-year-old in Strattenburg with his own law office. Of course, he was too young to be a real member of the firm, but there were times when Theo was valuable. He fetched files for Dorothy and Vince. He scanned lengthy documents looking for key words or phrases. His computer skills were extraordinary and allowed him to research legal issues and dig up facts. But his favorite chore, by far, was dashing off to the courthouse to file papers for the firm. Theo loved the courthouse and dreamed of the day when he would stand in the large, stately courtroom on the second floor and defend his clients.
At 3:40 p.m., on the dot, Theo parked his bike on the narrow front porch of Boone & Boone, and braced himself. Elsa greeted him every day with a fierce hug, a painful pinch on the check, then a quick inspection of whatever he was wearing. He opened the door, stepped inside, and got himself properly greeted. As always, Judge was waiting, too. He bounced from his bed and ran to see Theo.
“I’m so sorry about April,” Elsa gushed. She sounded as if she knew the girl personally, which she did not. But by now, as with any tragedy, everyone in Strattenburg knew or claimed to know April and could say only great things about her.
“Any news?” Theo asked, rubbing Judge’s head.
“Nothing. I’ve listened to the radio all day, no word, no sign of anything. How was school?”
“Terrible. All we did was talk about April.”
“That poor girl.” Elsa was inspecting his shirt, then her eyes moved down to his pants and for a split second Theo froze. Every day she looked him over quickly and never hesitated to say something like “Does that shirt really match those pants?” or “Didn’t you wear that shirt two days ago?” This irritated Theo tremendously and he had complained to both parents, but nothing came of his protests. Elsa was like a member of the family, a second mother to Theo, and if she wanted to quiz him about anything, she did so out of affection.
The rumor was that Elsa spent all her money on clothes, and she certainly gave that appearance. Apparently, she approved of his attire today. Before she had the chance to comment, Theo kept the conversation going with, “Is my mother in?”
“Yes, but she has a client. Mr. Boone is working.”
This was usually the case. Theo’s mother, when she wasn’t in court, spent most of her time with clients, almost all of whom were women who (1) wanted a divorce, or (2) needed a divorce, or (3) were in the process of getting a divorce, or (4) were suffering through the aftermath of a divorce. It was difficult work, but his mother was known as one of the top divorce lawyers in town. Theo was quite proud of this. He was also proud of the fact that his mother encouraged every new client to seek professional counseling in an effort to save the marriage. Sadly, though, as he’d already learned, some marriages cannot be saved.
He bounced up the stairs with Judge at his heels and barged into the spacious and wonderful office of Woods Boone, Attorney and Counselor-at-Law. His dad was behind his desk, at work, pipe in one hand, pen in the other, with papers scattered everywhere.
“Well, hello, Theo,” Mr. Boone said with a warm smile. “A good day at school?” The same question five days a week.
“Terrible,” Theo said. “I knew I shouldn’t have gone. A total waste.”
“And why is that?”
“Come on, Dad. My friend, our classmate, has been snatched by an escaped criminal who was sent to prison because he’s a kidnapper. It’s not like this happens every day around here. We should’ve been out there on the streets helping with the manhunt, but no, we were stuck in school where all we did was talk about searching for April.”
“Nonsense. Leave the manhunt to the professionals, Theo. We have a fine police force in this city.”
“Well, they haven’t found her yet. Maybe they need some help.”
“Help from whom?”
Theo cleared his throat and clenched his jaw. He stared straight at his father, and got ready to tell the truth. He’d been taught to confront the truth head-on, hold nothing back, just blurt it all out, and whatever followed would be far better than lying or concealing the truth. He was about to say—“Help from us, Dad, April’s friends. I’ve organized a search party, and we’re about to hit the streets”—when the phone rang. His father grabbed it, of
fered his usual gruff “Woods Boone,” then began listening.
Theo held his tongue. After a few seconds, his father covered the receiver and whispered, “This might take a while.”
“See you later,” Theo said as he jumped to his feet and left. He walked downstairs, Judge following close behind, and made his way to the rear of Boone & Boone, to the small room he called his office. He unloaded his backpack, arranged his books and notebooks, and gave every indication that he was about to plunge into his homework. He was not.
The search party he’d organized consisted of about twenty of his friends. The plan was to hit the streets in five units of four bikes each. They had cell phones and two-way radios. Woody had an iPad with Google Earth and GPS apps. Everything would be coordinated, with Theo, of course, in charge. They would comb certain areas of town searching for April, and they would distribute flyers with her face in the center and the promise of one thousand dollars in reward money for information leading to her rescue. They had passed the hat at school and collected almost two hundred dollars from students and teachers. Theo and his friends figured they could get the rest of the money from their parents in the event someone came forward with crucial information. Surely, Theo had argued, the parents would cough up the money, if necessary. It was risky, but there was so much at stake and so little time.
Theo eased out the back door, leaving Judge alone and confused, then sneaked around to the front and hopped on his bike.
The search party came together a few minutes before 4:00 p.m., in Truman Park, the largest park of any kind in the city of Strattenburg. The gang met near the main gazebo, a popular place in the heart of the park, a place where politicians made speeches and bands played on long summer evenings and, occasionally, young couples got married. There were eighteen in all; fifteen boys and three girls, all properly helmeted and eager to find and rescue April Finnemore.
Throughout the day at school, the boys had argued and bickered about how a proper manhunt should be conducted. None had ever taken part in such a search, but this lack of experience was not mentioned or acknowledged. Instead, several of them, including Theo, spoke as if they knew precisely what to do. Another strong voice belonged to Woody, who, because he owned the iPad, felt as though more weight should be given to his ideas. Another leader was Justin, the best athlete in their class and, therefore, the one with the most self-confidence.
There were skeptics in the eighth grade who believed that Jack Leeper had already fled the area with April. Why would he stay in a place where everyone was looking at his face on television? The skeptics argued that any effort to find her was futile. She was gone, hidden in another state, perhaps another country, hopefully still alive.
But Theo and the others were determined to do something, anything. Maybe she was gone, but maybe she wasn’t. No one knew, but at least they were trying. Who knows—they might get lucky.
Late in the day, the searchers finally reached an agreement among themselves. They would concentrate their efforts in an old section known as Delmont, near Stratten College, in the northwest part of the town. Delmont was lower income, with more renters than owners, and popular with students and starving artists. The search party figured any kidnapper worth his salt would stay away from the nicer neighborhoods. He would avoid central Strattenburg with its busy streets and sidewalks. He would almost certainly choose an area where strangers came and went with greater frequency. Thus, they had narrowed their search, and from the moment the decision was made, they were convinced that April was stashed away in a back room of some cheap rental duplex, or perhaps gagged and bound and hidden above an old garage in Delmont.
They split into three teams of six, with a girl included a bit reluctantly to each unit. Ten minutes after they gathered in the park, they wheeled into Gibson’s Grocery on the edge of Delmont. Woody’s team took Allen Street, Justin’s, Edgecomb Street. And Theo, who had assumed the role of supreme commander, though he didn’t refer to himself in such a manner, led his team two blocks over to Trover Avenue, where they began tacking MISSING flyers on every utility pole they saw. They stopped at a Laundromat and handed flyers to the people washing their clothes. They chatted with pedestrians on the sidewalks and told them to keep a sharp lookout. They talked to old men rocking on porches and nice ladies pulling weeds from flower beds. They pedaled slowly along Trover, taking in each house, each duplex, each apartment building, and as this went on and on, they began to realize that they were not accomplishing much. If April were locked away inside one of the buildings, how were they supposed to find her? They could not peek in. They could not knock on the door and expect Leeper to answer it. They could not yell at the windows and hope she answered. Theo began to realize that their time was better spent handing out flyers and talking about the reward money.
They finished Trover Avenue and moved a block north to Whitworth Street, where they went door-to-door in a shopping center, passing out flyers in a barbershop, a cleaners, a pizza carryout, and a liquor store. The warning on the door of the liquor store plainly forbade the entry of anyone under the age of twenty-one, but Theo didn’t hesitate. He was there to help a friend, not buy booze. He marched inside, alone, handed flyers to the two idle clerks at the cash registers, and walked out before they could protest.
They were leaving the shopping center when an urgent call came from Woody. The police had stopped them on Allen Street, and the police were not happy. Theo and his team took off, and a few minutes later arrived at the scene. There were two city police cars and three uniformed officers.
Theo realized immediately that he did not recognize any of the policemen.
“What are you kids doing here?” the first one asked as Theo approached. His bronze nameplate identified him as Bard. “Lemme guess, you’re helping with the search?” Bard said with a sneer.
Theo shoved out his hand and said, “I’m Theo Boone.” He emphasized his last name in hopes that one of the officers might recognize it. He’d learned that most of the policemen knew most of the lawyers, and maybe, just maybe, one of these guys would realize that Theo’s parents were well-respected attorneys. But, it didn’t work. There were so many lawyers in Strattenburg.
“Yes, sir, we’re helping you guys search for April Finnemore,” Theo went on pleasantly, flashing his braces with a wide smile at Officer Bard.
“Are you the leader of this gang?” Bard snapped.
Theo glanced at Woody, who’d lost all confidence and appeared frightened, as if he were about to be dragged away to jail and perhaps beaten. “I guess,” Theo answered.
“So, who asked you boys and girls to join in the search?”
“Well, sir, no one really asked us. April is our friend and we’re worried.” Theo was trying to find the right tone. He wanted to be very respectful, but at the same time he was convinced they were doing nothing wrong.
“How sweet,” Bard said, grinning at the other two officers. He was holding a flyer and he showed it to Theo. “Who printed these?” he asked.
Theo wanted to say, “Sir, it’s really none of your business who printed the flyers.” But this would only make a tense situation much worse. So he said, “We printed them at school today.”
“And this is April?” Bard said, pointing to the smiling face square in the middle of the flyer.
Theo wanted to say, “No, sir, that’s another girl’s face we’re using to make the search even more difficult by confusing everybody.”
April’s face had been all over the local news. Surely, Bard recognized her.
Theo said, simply, “Yes, sir.”
“And who gave you kids permission to tack these flyers on public property?”
“You know it’s a violation of city code, against the law? You know this?” Bard had been watching too many bad-cop shows on television, and he was working much too hard to try to frighten the kids.
Justin and his team made a silent entry into the fray. They rolled to a s
top behind the other bikers. Eighteen kids, three policemen, and several neighbors drifting over to check on things.
At this point Theo should’ve played along and professed ignorance of the city’s laws, but he simply could not do so. He said, very respectfully, “No, sir, it’s not a violation of the city code to put flyers on poles used for telephones and electricity. I checked the law online during school today.”
It was immediately obvious that Officer Bard wasn’t sure what to say next. His bluff had been called. He glanced at his two pals, both of whom seemed to be amused and not the least bit supportive. The kids were smirking at him. It was Bard against everyone.
Theo pressed on, “The law clearly says that permits must be approved for posters and flyers dealing with politicians and people who are running for office, but not for anything else. These flyers are legal as long as they are taken down within ten days. That’s the law.”
“I don’t like your attitude, kid,” Bard shot back, puffing out his chest and actually putting a hand on his service revolver. Theo noticed the gun, but wasn’t worried about being shot. Bard was trying to play the role of a tough cop, and he was not doing a very good job.
Being the only child of two lawyers, Theo had already developed a healthy suspicion of those people who thought they had more power than others, including policemen. He had been taught to respect all adults, especially those with authority, but at the same time, his parents had instilled in him a desire to always look for the truth. When a person—adult, teenager, child—was not being honest, then it was wrong to go along with their fraud or lie.
As everyone looked at Theo and waited on his response, he swallowed hard and said, “Well, sir, there’s nothing wrong with my attitude. And, even if I had a bad attitude, it’s not against the law.”
Bard yanked a pen and a notepad from his pocket and said, “What’s your name?”
Theo thought, I gave you my name three minutes ago, but he said, “Theodore Boone.”
Bard scribbled this down in a flurry, as if whatever he was writing would one day carry great weight in a court of law. Everyone waited. Finally, one of the other officers took a few steps toward Bard and said, “Is your dad Woods Boone?” His nameplate identified him as Sneed.
Finally, Theo thought. “Yes, sir.”
“And your mother’s a lawyer, too, right?” Officer Sneed asked.
Bard’s shoulders slumped a few inches as he stopped scribbling on his pad. He looked puzzled, as if he was thinking, Great. This kid knows the law and I don’t, plus he’s got two parents who’ll probably sue me if I do something wrong.
Sneed tried to help him by asking a pointless question. “You kids live around here?”
Darren slowly raised his hand and said, “I live a few blocks away, over on Emmitt Street.”
The situation was sort of a standoff, with neither side sure what to do next. Sibley Taylor got off her bike and walked to a spot next to Theo. She smiled at Bard and Sneed, and said, “I don’t understand. Why can’t we work together here? April is our friend and we’re very worried. The police are looking for her. We’re looking for her. We’re not doing anything wrong. What’s the big deal?”
Bard and Sneed could think of no quick response to these simple questions with obvious answers.
In every class, there’s always the kid who speaks before he thinks, or says what the others are thinking but are afraid to say. In this search party, that kid was Aaron Helleberg, who spoke English, German, and Spanish and got himself in trouble in all three. Aaron blurted, “Shouldn’t you guys be looking for April instead of harassing us?”
Officer Bard sucked in his gut as if he’d been kicked there, and appeared ready to start shooting when Sneed jumped in. “Okay, here’s the deal. You can hand out the flyers but you can’t tack them onto city property—utility poles, bus-stop benches, things like that. It’s almost five o’clock. I want you off the streets at six. Fair enough?” He was glaring at Theo when he finished.
Theo shrugged and said, “Fair enough.” But it wasn’t fair at all. They could tack the posters onto utility poles all day long. (But not city benches.) The police did not have the authority to change the city’s laws, nor did they have the right to order the kids off the streets by 6:00 p.m.
However, at that moment a compromise was needed, and Sneed’s deal was not that bad. The search would continue, and the police could say that they kept the kids in line. Solving a dispute often requires each side to back down a little, something else Theo had learned from his parents.
The search party biked back to Truman Park where it regrouped. Four of the kids had other things to do and left. Twenty minutes after they last saw Bard and Sneed, Theo and his gang moved into a neighborhood known as Maury Hill, in the southeast part of the city, as far away from Delmont as possible. They passed out dozens of flyers, inspected a few empty buildings, chatted with curious neighbors, and quit promptly at 6:00 p.m.
The Boone family dinner schedule was as predictable as a clock on the wall. On Mondays, they ate at Robilio’s, an old Italian restaurant downtown, not far from the office. On Tuesdays, they ate soup and sandwiches at a homeless shelter where they volunteered. On Wednesdays, Mr. Boone picked up carryout Chinese from Dragon Lady, and they ate on folding trays as they watched television. On Thursdays, Mrs. Boone picked up a roasted chicken at a Turkish deli, and they ate it with hummus and pita bread. On Fridays, they ate fish at Malouf’s, a popular restaurant owned by an old Lebanese couple who yelled at each other constantly. On Saturdays, each of the three Boones took turns choosing what and where to eat. Theo usually preferred pizza and a movie. On Sundays, Mrs. Boone finally did her own cooking, which was Theo’s least favorite meal of the week, though he was too smart to say so. Marcella didn’t like to cook. She worked hard and spent long hours at the office, and simply did not enjoy rushing home and facing more work in the kitchen. Besides, there were plenty of good ethnic restaurants and delicatessens in Strattenburg, and it made much more sense to let real chefs do the cooking, at least in the opinion of Mrs. Marcella Boone. Theo didn’t mind, nor did his father. When she did cook, she expected her husband and her son to clean up afterward, and both men preferred to avoid the dishwashing.
Dinner was always at 7:00 p.m. on the dot, another clear sign of organized people who hurried through each day with one eye on the clock. Theo placed his paper plate of chicken chow mein and sweet-and-sour shrimp on his TV tray and settled on the sofa. He then lowered a smaller plate onto the floor, where Judge was waiting with great anticipation. Judge loved Chinese food and expected to eat in the den with the humans. Dog food insulted him.
After a couple of bites, Mr. Boone asked, “So, Theo, any news on April?”
“No, sir. Just a lot of gossip at school.”