Cory Wade is Missing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 10

Bus to Nowhere

Angus made the drive to Oceanside in less than an hour. The traffic was heavy, but it moved right along. There were parking places behind the bus station. He reached for his hat, after checking his wallet to be sure his badge was clearly visible, across from his investigator's license.

People's eyes were drawn to the badge first, and in some instances, there was better cooperation if they assumed he was on the job as a cop. Angus told cooperating people he interviewed, that he was private. He used the badge to encourage better cooperation. He was a retired cop, who had every right to carry his badge.

Angus had no desire to be abusive. As a retired cop, he kept his badge handy, and at times, handy meant visible. No one questioned his right to keep his badge in his wallet, but he never identified himself as a cop. He could do nothing about assumptions people made, even when he contributed to them. When he was asked, he was, Angus McCoy, private detective.

He got out of the car, heading for the bus station's main entrance.

With this kind of grind it out investigation, Angus needed all the help he could get. In a bus station, with hundreds of people passing through each day, you needed to cut to the chase, locate the cameras, and the man who took care of keeping the records.

He'd start at the ticket counter and see what he could see.

Angus stood behind an elderly man with a cane who was moving up to the ticket window, when he got in line behind him.

A couple of minutes later, he moved up to the counter.

"Yes, sir, where would you like to go today?"

Angus flashed his I.D. and he began talking.

"I'm looking for this boy. He bought a bus ticket here last Thursday. Padre's ball cap, dress shirt, a light jacket, and jeans."

"What time Thursday?"

"Near rush hour. Probably four to five in the afternoon."

"I wasn't on in the afternoon on Thursday. Would you like to talk to the supervisor. He'll know who was on the counter at any given time. He makes up the schedule."

The counterman pressed a convenient buzzer. A tall thin fellow in his thirties emerged from a doorway behind the counter.

"Yeah, Benny, this man is a cop. He's looking for a kid that came through here last Thursday. See if you can help him."

"Benny Moss," he said with a smile.

Benny reached out his hand. Angus took it and shook, looking at gray eyes through a pair of wire rimmed glasses.

"Angus McCoy," Angus said, flipping open his wallet.

Benny glanced at the wallet as a courtesy.

"Come with me. We can talk in my office," he said, leading Angus away from the busy ticket window.

The office wasn't very big, and Angus found what he was hoping to find mounted on the wall above and to one side of Benny's desk. The camera was aimed down at the customer standing at the window. Angus got right down to business.

"You record what that camera sees?" Angus asked.

Benny smiled an affirmative little smile.

"Every customer that comes to the counter. What day are you looking for?"

"Last Thursday. The boy was dropped off at four. This is him," Angus said, pushing the picture across the desk. "I have a hunch he didn't come right in and buy a ticket. He would have checked the schedule for where he wanted to go. A little before that bus left, he'd buy a ticket and get straight on the bus."

"How old?"

"Eighteen," Angus said.

"That might be where we run into trouble. The quality of the camera is OK, but we get a hundred marines through here everyday. Most are going to L.A. on a pass of one kind or another. They all look like junior high school kids to me," Benny said. "You know, I think they get younger every year. That's how it seems to me."

Benny stood, going to a box under the monitor. He brought out a disc and put it in the player. You're in luck. We don't record over these for at least a week. I can forward it to any time of day you like, This is from last Thursday," Benny said, ready to program in a time.

"Let's go from four p.m. last Thursday," Angus said. "Let me see the picture again, and I'll help. The camera is aimed to see the customer's upper torso. Few look up at the camera, but we could get lucky. The second or third person in line is easier to see."

Angus put Cory's picture on the desk between them and they began to watch the monitor.

"He is young," Benny said, after picking up the photo to look at it. "But they all look young to me. Kids that should be playing baseball on a high school team or looking for a date for Friday's dance."

Angus was glad he didn't need to sit there with some old scowling man who wanted to be anywhere but there. Benny seemed fresh. He was a man who enjoyed his work. Watching the monitor with Angus became part of his job.

People came and went from the counter out front. Sometimes there was a single person who walked up and bought a ticket. At other times people stood in line, and you could see the faces of the people third or fourth in line clearly.

Then, fifteen minutes into the vigil, Cory Wade, appeared in the frame. He was third in line and he faced the camera the entire time he waited. Angus couldn't believe his luck.

Both men sat forward in their chairs to watch.

"There's your boy. Padre's baseball hat and all. He's most likely buying a ticket to Lancaster. It originates in San Diego and makes two stops on the way to Lancaster. The bus leaves ten minutes after he bought his ticket. Next bus after that is at 5:15. It's a straight shot to L.A. It also originates in San Diego."

Benny backed the tape up. Cory moved up to the counter when it was his turn. He said what he had to say, handing over some bills. Cory picked up his change and a ticket off the counter, and he looked directly into the camera. After looking at the camera for several seconds, he turned and walked away."

"The camera isn't hidden, but most people never look up. They do their business and move away. It's like he knew the camera was there. He wanted to make sure his face was seen," Benny said. "Is your kid a bit of a ham? He dresses nice."

"I haven't got a read on him yet. A man I spoke to told me that he was leaving an easy trail to follow. I think he might be right."

"He could have just looked up at the camera. It's not hidden, but the way he kept looking at the camera is unusual."

"Exactly!" Angus said. "I don't think it matters what bus he got on. I suspect he checked the bus schedule from Oceanside before they started up here. I can't say for sure. From what I know so far, I think his final destination is San Francisco."

"Lancaster is so far out of the way, it's hard to see someone going there on his way to San Francisco. For what it's worth, the bus to Lancaster gets to Lancaster after the station closes. It's a big commuter stop during the day. Folks coming and going from L.A. I don't guess that's any help," Benny said.

"Cory is a clever boy. If someone meets him there, or close by, they'll drive away without leaving a trail. That was probably his plan."

"What did he do?" Benny asked. "I know, it's none of my business. Just curious. He is clean cut. He didn't buy that shirt or jacket at WalMart. The ball cap looks out of place."

"He didn't do anything. He's a missing person. His mother hired me to find him. He's still alive and that will be some comfort," Angus said. "Thank you for your time. You've been a big help."

Benny seemed pleased to be of help.

"Remember those pictures are a week old. He was still alive a week ago at about this time," Benny said.

Some days the people Angus interviewed were sharper than he was. Cory was alive a week ago. Angus went on the last leads he got. Cory left San Diego under his own power, and there was no reason to believe he wasn't still alive and in control of his actions.

Johnny Lee turned out to be a good judge of character. So if Lancaster was a ploy, what was the plan, after he was there? What was Cory's final destination. Terry said, 'The Bay area and Johnny said he heard San Francisco mentioned.

Angus knew Lancaster was a red herring but what other tricks might Cory have up his sleeve. Did he really think his father was capable of doing him harm?

What made Cory run?

A little over an hour from L.A., Lancaster was out of the way. It was the kind of place where people commuted into and out of L.A. There would be plenty of surface transportation to L.A. It didn't require a bus station with cameras to check, and if someone was meeting Cory in Lancaster, he would meet him away from cameras.

Cory was concerned about someone following him. Angus was following him, but Cory's mother hired him. She obviously didn't hire private investigators everyday.

Cory was worried he'd be followed. Why? Who wanted to follow him. His father told him to get out and not come back. Who else would Cory be worried about finding him?

What was it that Angus didn't know? He didn't know a damn thing, and an hour ago he had a lead. Now, he had none. He needed to talk to Terry. She was gathering information off Cory's computer. That was his next move. See what Terry knew.

Why would Tony look for a son he told not to come back? Anyone who disappeared from Anthony Wade's world, he'd be Angus's prime suspect. Tony lived in a violent world. What did that world have to do with his son?

Angus didn't know Cory, but he had begun to feel him. He'd seen the boy in motion. Even in a silly haircut and wearing a ball cap, Cory had a certain amount of confidence about himself. He had good posture and he looked like he was athletic and in control. His clothes fit him well. The colors he picked looked good together.

Under the circumstances, Angus was impressed by Cory Wade's demeanor. The one question he still had about the boy he was looking for, what made Cory run?

Angus saw through Cory's deception with Johnny Lee's help. Cory wanted his trail to go cold. He would get to L.A., and once there, he'd set off for his real destination.

It was a simple plan. It might even throw someone who was following him off for a time. Criminals left a place, once it got too hot for them. The plan was to put distance between them and the hot spot. Cory's plan had more sophistication to it.

Both Oceanside and Lancaster were relatively small places. L.A. wasn't. Once Cory reached L.A., he could blend in and disappear.

Angus decided to return to San Diego to see what Terry came up with. Cory's most recent contacts were candidates for where Angus would find Cory.

Angus thought of another stop he had to make on the way to seeing Terry. He'd put it off long enough. He'd made a promise and he wanted to keep it, before flying off to parts unknown.

There was little he could do to soften the blow of Cory's absence, but at least knowing Cory was alive and well might help, and Angus thought it was the least he could do.

Parking across the street from the Parkson house, Angus reached for his hat before getting out of the car. He saw Jessie in the backyard. He walked up the driveway where a silver BMW and a silver Mercedes were parked. He unlatched the gate, walking into a well kept backyard. He smelled the freshly mowed lawn.

Jessie was thirty feet away. He had a tennis racket in his hand. An eight foot concrete wall stood in front of a half basketball court size slab of concrete. Jessie kept hitting the tennis ball against the wall in a mechanical reflex that went on and on.

It wasn't a mad bashing of the ball you could expect in a tennis match. It was more an exercise in timing and reflexes. The ball came at him with a predictable speed, and Jessie hit it back at the wall.

He called Jessie's name twice, before the boy turned, allowing the ball to bounce harmlessly onto the lawn behind where he stood.

He had the look of a boy carrying the weight of the world upon his shoulders. The tension in his face relaxed, when he saw who it was.

"Hi, Jessie," Angus said, as he stood behind the boy.

"Mr. McCoy," Jessie said. "What brings you to the Parkson estate today? Good news, I hope."

"School's out, isn't it. You still practicing for tennis?"

"Always practicing, Mr. McCoy. I need to keep in shape and not lose my edge. It's about all I have these days," Jessie said with a forlorn expression on his face.

"Just plain Angus or McCoy will do, Jessie. I told you, I'd let you know if I found anything out about Cory."

"You found him?" Jessie blurted anxiously.

"Calm down, Jessie. It's going to be a long investigation. Cory is smart. If he doesn't want to be found, and if he doesn't come back on his own, I can't promise you I will find him."

"But you said," Jessie said.

He picked up a ball from a basket near his feet, slamming it against the wall. He watched the ball bound over the fence and into the street. He reached for another ball, repeating the action.

"I'll throw them back when I leave," Angus said.

"Why are you here, McCoy?" he asked, without wanting to know.

"I have information I'm sure you'd like to have, but not if you're going to act like a child. This is serious business, Jessie. I'm not in the habit of wasting my time. It will take time to find Cory. If you don't want to know about what I find, it'll save me time driving out here to tell you. I don't discuss my cases with outsiders. You helped me, and this is how I repay you," Angus explained.

"Tell me, please," Jessie said. "I'm sorry. I feel so helpless."

"I've talked to a friend of Cory's in Hillcrest. He says he met you. Johnny Lee is his name. Cory was at his apartment from late Monday on the day you last saw Cory, until Thursday afternoon, a week ago today. I've seen photographic evidence he was alive in Oceanside a week ago. He looks fine, a bit tired, and sporting a military haircut."

"Military?" Jessie asked. "Don't tell me he's joined up. He had such beautiful hair. Why did he cut it?"

"Jessie, get a grip," Angus said. "No, he didn't join. You need a high school diploma to join these days. He got on a bus in a military area. Near the marine base in Oceanside. I'm thinking it was his disguise. He looks just like Cory, only he looks fourteen now."

"Why?" Jessie asked.

"When I catch up with Cory, I'll ask him. Jessie, you need to make plans for your future. If you're going to wait for Cory to come home, before you decide what to do with the rest of your life, you might have a long wait. You need to go ahead and do what's right for you. You have a future and you only have a narrow window before colleges write you off as unreliable. My advice is to enroll in the college of your choice, and when Cory decides to reappear, you can match up a plan with him, or he can enroll where you're going to school. I don't think Cory plans to come home any time soon. That's just what it feels like to an old cop."

"Advice I've been giving him," Mr. Parkson said, walking toward Angus and Jessie. "I hope he'll listen to you."

Jessie wiped tears from his eyes. He looked away from his father.

"Who's the gentleman who seems to have your attention in a way I rarely do anymore?" Mr. Parkson asked his son.

"I'm Angus McCoy," Angus said. "I'm a private investigator. I've been hired to locate one of Jessie's friends. I wanted to let him know some basic facts I'd found. He was more concerned about him than most of the boys. Cory was on the tennis team too."

"Is that what has been eating at you for the last couple of weeks?" Mr. Parkson asked. "Why didn't you say something?"

"I suppose," Jessie said. "It's a guy from school. It's private, dad. I asked McCoy to let me know if he found anything out. That's all."

"Quite unusual for a cop to be worried about the well-being of someone my son's age," Mr. Parkson said.

"He's not screwing me, dad. Your little boy is chaste. I am worried about Cory. I gave him information to help him. This is a payback for that," Jess said rudely. "Not everyone is mercenary."

"I'm private. Like he said, he gave me a lead that was a big help. I told him I'd let him know if I found evidence that Cory was alive," Angus said politely. "I wanted your son to know he's alive."

"I see," Mr. Parkson said. "He was on the tennis team, son? Why don't you tell me these things? How can we help you if you don't tell us what's wrong?" Mr. Parkson asked.

"I don't know, dad," Jessie said. "Maybe because it's private. I heard that somewhere recently. You don't listen to what I say."

"If you don't tell us these things, how do we help you?"

"You don't. Dad, there are things you can't help me with. I'm dealing with a lost friend, OK. The only help is if this man finds him. Don't you get it? This is personal. It's none of your business. It's about my friend."

"I don't understand why you didn't say something, Jess."

"It's just a kid at school. Nothing to get apoplectic about, dad."

"I just came out to see who my son was talking to. I'll leave you to finish your business," he said, backing away.

"Mr. McCoy," Mr. Parkson said. "What do you do with a son who won't tell his parents what's wrong?"

"I find listening to what he says works," Angus said.

Mr. Parkson nodded, before turning to return to the house.

"Thanks," Jessie said. "He means well. I know I'm too hard on him, but he treats me like I'm eleven. I'm grown. I'm nineteen. Daddy can't fix everything any longer, and I can't tell him about my lover."

"He's not as insufferable as some parents I've met," Angus said. "Not much else to say, Jessie. We've been in Cory's computer. We are checking for his contacts. I don't have a clue how long it will take me to check them out. Most aren't local and Cory is still in the wind."

"You aren't reading our email, are you?" Jessie asked.

"No, we aren't looking at the text. Right now we're trying to get addresses for his most frequent contacts. so I can maybe be waiting for him when he shows up at one of them. It'll take as much luck as skill. Whenever someone has more than one place he can go, I've got to pick one, and hope I get lucky. I know where you fit into the picture. We won't read your email. No need," Angus said.

"Thank God," Jessie said. "He's sure messing things up," Jessie said. "I wish he were here. I'd give him a piece of my mind. Why hasn't he at least called me?"

"It looks like he's trying to protect his friends. Maybe from his father. Cory wouldn't have run if he wasn't scared. Up until I saw pictures of him from last week, I couldn't be sure he was still alive. Anyone can follow the trail he left. Only someone with access to his computer can go beyond what Cory is leaving behind as clues. So far I'm the only one with the information off his computer."

"I know. I'm just so mad at him for leaving me. Tell him... If you see him, tell him to call Jessie. I'd like to hear his voice."

"I will, Jessie. If you need anything, let me know. I'll tell you what I can, but I'm not authorized to brief you. I'm asking you not to tell anyone what we talk about. It could cost me my license."

"I won't tell anyone. Find him, will you? I need to know he's OK."

"OK, Jessie. I think he has a plan. I just don't know what it is. Like I said, he's a smart kid. He left a trail to be followed. It's a dead end trail. It leads away from San Diego and away from the people he cares about. You'd be one of those, Jessie. I have Johnny Lee's phone number. He said for you to call, and he'll tell you about Cory being at his place, after the confrontation with his father."

Jessie nodded. He took the number.

"Don't forget. If Cory contacts you, let me know," Angus said.

Jessie didn't say anything. He wasn't going to lie.

Angus patted his back, before heading for his car.

He heard the tennis ball hitting against the concrete, as Jessie played his lonely game.

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