Cory Wade is Missing

by Rick Beck

Chapter 11

Neat Streets

The day started early, and as it neared an end, Angus had a lot to do before he got onto a plane to San Francisco Friday. His acceptance that he'd be going to San Francisco had been immediate. It was the gay Mecca. It was the gayest city in America. He accepted Cory might want to go there, because he'd feel safer being himself. For a boy who had lived a sheltered life, it was a ballsy move, but one Angus could see the boy making.

San Francisco was a long way from La Jolla and Tony Wade.

Angus parked near the Safeway and walked to Terry's shop. Hopefully, Terry would have the addresses for the men of interest. Without those San Francisco would be big place to look for one boy..

Terry was busy among a cluster of computers. She turned about the time Angus draped his jacket over a chair. He kept moving until they stood beside each other.

"If it isn't my favorite private eye. You look beat, Angus?"

"Long day, very long. I often look this way when I start off the day by being arrested," Angus said.

"Houston, we've got a problem," Terry said.

"You telling me. The only restful time I've had all day was at the cop shop. I've been on the move since Wes sprung me. Go ahead, hit me with it. Can't get much worse," Angus said.

"Someone is in Cory's computer," Terry said.

Terry pointed at a monitor. There was a formatted page with what looked like email flashing on and off the screen."

"They're copying his email at the moment. I imagine they want the email addresses," Terry said.

"We're looking at what's going on with Cory's computer?"

"We are. They've been in his email. They just clicked on his address book. The email give no way of identifying who it is from. The address book combines the email address with a name, not always an email users real name. Many people use pseudonyms on-line."

"They really aren't finding out who anyone is if Cory hasn't written their names and address in his address book," Angus said.

"Even that's questionable. To be sure of someone's true identity, you need to get into the internet provider," Terry said.

"Could you stop them from doing what they're doing?" he asked.

"I could, but I don't think they know we're watching. If I did something to shut them down, they'd know. Whoever is on the computer knows what he's doing. They're going the long way around to get the information I already have for you. I've got the real names and addresses of Cory's most frequent contacts. The most promising of these are in the San Francisco region," Terry said.

"If they know what they're doing, and it looks like they do, they're a day behind you. It will take them until tomorrow to get the same names and addresses I have."

"I have two I'd classify as most likely places he'll go. Those two names top the list. He made contact with them while he was at Mr. Lee's. He told both of them he'd call them when he got into town. They're in San Francisco. There is a third in San Jose, but he didn't get the promise of a phone call. There are eight other contacts in the region, but not in San Francisco. None were contacted from Lee's."

"I finished the list just before three. That's when I noticed the monitor I've tied into Cory's computer had switched on."

Angus spent a minute reading the names on the list.

"Tony's boys," Angus said. "Has to be. We were in the house twenty-four hours ago. What made them get on his computer now?"

"The question is, once they get the information, what do they plan to do with it? They'll have it tomorrow, Saturday at the latest," Terry said. "Are they going to follow you to San Francisco? That would be a good thing to know, Angus."

"Why the sudden interest in tracking Cory?" Angus asked. "He's been gone for over a week. Because mama bear hired me to find Cory? Because I was in his house? What's in the house he thinks I might have found? I didn't find anything. The only thing we took out of the house was a copy of what was on Cory's computer hard drive. Do they know you copied Cory's hard drive."

"They'd need to be pretty sharp to find evidence of that. I see no signs that they've done anything but open email and address book. No, they absolutely don't know we were in Cory's computer," she said.

"But they know I'm searching for Cory. Cory knew someone was going to com after him. Who did he think was coming after him? It has to be his father. But why? He just threw him out of the house."

"Only two people can answer that question, Cory and his father," Terry said. "Maybe Daddy wants to apologize to sonny boy."

"Tony doesn't apologize," Angus said. "It's something else. I rarely answer all the questions, when I investigate a case. I discard the unanswered questions, once a case is solved. This could be a question that remains unanswered."

"How unsatisfying. I answer all the questions I have," she said.

"When you're dealing with people, there are questions you can't answer, because there are people who keep things to themselves. These are unknowns you'll never figure out. Why even bother?"

"I work on computers because every question can be answered."

"Why is Cory leading me on a wild goose chase?" Angus said. "That's the question I need to answer at the moment."

"How do you mean?" Terry asked.

"His trail leads to Lancaster," Angus said. "That's a long way from anywhere but that's where his trail leads."

"Oops!" Terry said. "One of Cory's contacts lives in Lancaster."

"If that's true than your favorite private detective has screwed the pooch. I wrote off Lancaster, because we were thinking San Francisco was his most likely destination. Instead of going to Lancaster, I came here to regroup. Now I've got to turn around and go to Lancaster to check that contact out," Angus said.

"Tell me how you came up with Lancaster?" Terry asked. "I wrote it off as too far out of the way from the majority of his contacts in the Bay Area. It makes sense. The contact in Lancaster was made from Mr. Lee's. It was the first email he sent, after logging on. It said something about meeting for dinner Thursday. Nothing else."

"I'll be damned. I did screw up. Do you have the guy's address? I've got to go up there and find out what went on Thursday."

"You haven't told me how you know about Lancaster," Terry said.

"Johnny Lee took Cory to the Oceanside bus station. I went there. They have pictures of Cory buying a bus ticket. It was about the time a bus for Lancaster was leaving the depot," Angus said. "Johnny and I both thought Cory wanted to be followed."

"He fooled both of us," Angus said.

"I wrote off Lancaster too. There was only one contact. I copied the guy's phone and address. I've got it here somewhere," she said. "What makes you think he wanted to be followed?"

"Like I said, Cory had Johnny Lee take him to the bus station in Oceanside. He bought a ticket to Lancaster. While he collected his change, he looked directly into the camera. I was sure it was a staged move. I was certain that Lancaster would be a dead end. The trail would go cold there. I was satisfied that San Francisco was his destination. You mentioned it and Johnny Lee was sure Cory talked to two guys in San Francisco. I've been at this for thirty years, and an eighteen-year-old is running me in circles."

"Makes perfect sense to me," Terry said. "Let's back up a minute. Cory was leading anyone who followed him to Lancaster. How far is Lancaster from L.A.?"

"And from L.A. he gets to San Francisco," Angus said.

"Makes more sense than Lancaster," Terry said.

Terry picked up her phone and dialed a number, handing it to Angus.

"Mr. Bruce Mercer in Lancaster," Terry said.

"You're a doll," Angus said, as someone answered the phone.

"I'd like to speak to Mr. Mercer, please."

"Mr. Mercer, I'm Angus McCoy. I'm a private detective in San Diego," Angus said.

"Yes it's close to La Jolla. Ah hah! Do you read minds? Angus asked. "I'm looking for Cory. Actually, Cory's mom is very worried about him. She wants to make sure he knows that Cory can come home any time he likes. Is he still there by any chance?"

Angus waited while Bruce Mercer told him about picking Cory up at the bus station. They had a pleasant dinner and Cory asked Bruce to take him to Los Angeles, which he did.

"Did he tell you where he was going? He didn't. If he calls tell him his mother is worried about him. She wants him home," Angus said. "Thank you, Mr. Mercer. You've been a big help."

Angus ended the call, handing the phone back to Terry. "You're right again. They met for dinner. Bruce drove him into Los Angeles, doorway to the world. Didn't say where he was going."

"San Francisco," Terry said. "I'd start with the top two names on the list. He had the most contacts with those two. His most recent contacts were with the same two. Both invited him to visit, after he graduated, in earlier email."

"I should just let you solve this case. I'd never have figured this out without you. You've probably saved me a week of chasing my tail," Angus said.

"I aim to please," Terry said.

"And I've got to get home and prepare to fly to San Francisco. Nothing like a few days away from home," Angus said, grabbing his coat as he left Terry's shop with the list of players in his hand.

It had indeed been a long day. Angus had covered a lot of ground and he'd done a lot of interviews. As he drove toward home, he knew he was heading in the right direction. Even though he was still in the dark about what made Cory run, a second question had been raised. What was Tony up to?

Angus also knew when he'd done all he could for one day. It was time to go home, have a hot meal, and get some sleep. He'd be away over the weekend, and there wouldn't be much sleep.

When he walked in the door, he was greeted with a big hug and kiss from Mildred. She was delighted he was home. She didn't know that he'd be traveling over the weekend.

"Wes called, dear. Be in his office first thing," she said.

"Doesn't he know I work for a living?" Angus asked.

Knowing what kind of question it was, Mildred went to the kitchen, bringing back a fresh cup of coffee for her husband. That was one way to get a smile out of him.

Angus slept well and awoke to the smell of fresh coffee and the sound of bacon sizzling. After breakfast he packed an overnight bag. Once he said goodbye to Mildred, he headed for town to meet with Wes.

He was waiting in Wes's office when he came to work at nine.

Wes came in, took off his jacket, and hung it up before he engaged with Angus.

"You look chipper," Wes said.

"We've run into a complication, Wes," Angus said.

"Don't I hire you to handle complications? We don't need any of those," Wes said.

Angus explained the sudden interest in Cory's computer by an unidentified third party. With time being of the essence if they wanted to reach Cory first, Angus would leave for San Francisco on the earliest flight possible.

"Peg," Wes said into the intercom.

"Yes," Peg answered.

"Angus can't wait until late afternoon to go to San Francisco. Something has come up. See if you can book him on the earliest possible flight there," Wes said. "Be sure he has a rental car waiting."

"Will do," Peg said.

Wes turned back to Angus.

"Tell me what you told me means," Wes said. "Tell me like I'm a tired old attorney who can't take much in the way of complications."

"We copied Cory's hard drive Wednesday night. I ran down the most immediate leads. By the time I returned from Oceanside yesterday, Terry told me someone else was on Cory's computer. She installed some gizmo that alerts her when Cory accesses his computer from off site. It told her someone is on the kid's computer. They are looking at his contacts, email and address books."

"Could it be Cory?" Wes asked.

"She is alerted when someone in on the computer. Assuming it's still in the Wade house, Tony Wade is suddenly interested in a son who has been missing for ten days."

"Why?" Wes asked.

"Cory expected his father would try to find him. He got out of town, after spending three days with a man in Hillcrest. That led me to a bus station in Oceanside. Cory took a bus from Oceanside to Lancaster. A man met him in Lancaster. They went to dinner. Cory asked to be driven to L.A. Cory didn't say where he intended to go, but from what Terry's found, we believe he has contacts in the San Francisco that look promising."

Wes sat looking out of his office window. Angus had said all there was to say.

The office went quiet for several minutes.

"I need you in court with me on Monday, I'm going to try to get the charges against you dropped. You were merely doing your job, and Mrs. Wade hired you for that purpose. We should be OK on that count, but the judge could want to ask you questions. Because we can get rid of this Monday, it's smart to have you there with me."

"I'll fly back on Sunday. From Friday to Sunday, I can cover enough ground to know if I'm wasting my time," Angus said. "I can always fly back there after Monday's hearing, if necessary."

"Let's do that. I want you in court with me. After that, we'll have a month before prelim if he doesn't dismiss."

Angus was strapped into his Southwest Airline's seat before he'd finished his third cup of coffee Friday morning. He'd be on the ground in San Francisco before noon and in his rental car.

Cory had a week to feel comfortable in the new setting. If Angus went rushing in, it might scare Cory off. If Tony's man or men picked up the trail first, Cory wouldn't know who to trust and he'd trust no one but his feet.

Once that happened, all bets were off, and Tony's men were as likely to stumble onto Cory's trail as he was. He would make the most of the head start he had.

Once in his rental car, Angus checked both nearby addresses first thing. Both houses were close to the city. They were four miles apart. Angus staked out the house where he had the best view. He could easily see who came and went. He'd sit on the house until he saw Cory, or until he concluded Cory wasn't there.

Friday until Sunday should be enough time to stake out the two most likely houses where Cory might go, if he was lucky.

It wouldn't take Cory long to figure out that he was being tracked by the trail he left on his computer. He had to have given that contingency some thought. Once he was certain that someone was tracking his movements by using his computer, he'd need to come up with a new plan.

If Angus could reach Cory before he realized he'd been tracked to the Bay area addresses, he might be able to convince him who's the good guy.

After an hour of watching the first house, Angus left his car to talk to a neighbor, who came out to sit on his front porch. From there he could easily see people coming and going from the house Angus was watching. He'd show the fellow the photo of Cory and watch for a reaction.

Angus removed his wallet and flipped it open.

The man looked at Angus before checking out his I.D.

"Long ways from home, huh?" The man said.

"I'm looking for this boy. Have you seen him? He might be with this man," Angus said, showing him a second picture Terry took off the man's Facebook page.

"Not much of a picture, but that's Phil Hartnet. He lives in the house you've been watching."

"Humor me and look at the picture of the boy again. You sure you haven't seen him with Mr. Hartnet?" Angus asked.

"No. I'd notice a clean-cut kid like that. He hasn't been around here," the man said. "This boy is too high rent for Hartnet. He likes them this age, but more street wise."

"Thanks," Angus said, returning to his car.

Angus watched Hartnet come home. Terry thought this man's house was one of the two most likely places for Cory to go. He would show Phil Hartnet the picture and see what his reaction was.

In most police cases Angus could barge in, get the roaches skittering, and arrest them one at a time, but Angus needed to tread lightly. The evidence he'd gathered said Cory wasn't here. If he was pleasant, he was less likely to mess up a chance to find Cory.

Angus would tell anyone he talked to that he was working for Cory's mother and that he was there to help Cory. That would sound strange, until he warned them that other men might be looking for Cory too, and they wouldn't be so polite.

It was the best Angus could do in a case where he might only get one chance to corral Cory and convince him that he was the genuine good guy, but was it possible that Cory knew why the bad guys were after him? He wouldn't be afraid of someone his mother sent.

"You're Phil Hartnet?" Angus asked.

Angus already had his wallet out with the badge in full display.

"I am. What's this about?" Mr. Hartnet asked with suspicion.

"Do you know this boy?" Angus asked.

It was obvious by the speed with which he looked away from the picture that he did.

"What's this about?" he said, curiosity in his voice.

"Do you know him?" Angus asked.

"He may be one of a hundred guys I know on the Internet. It's hard to tell from that picture," he said.

The man was clever enough not to say no, but he didn't say yes.

"Take a longer look and maybe it'll come to you," Angus said, holding the picture up closer to Mr. Hartnet's face.

"I've never known anyone that neat and clean," he said, a bit of anger showing in his answer.

"Cory left home. His mother is worried. You're one of his contacts we got from his computer. If you can be of any help, I'd appreciate it," Angus said.

"I'm sorry. If I know him, I've seen no picture that looks like that kid," he said. "Now, if you'll get out of my doorway, I was about to start fixing dinner. I'm meeting friends for drinks after I eat."

The man waited for Angus to back up a step before closing the door in his face.

Angus would hang around a little longer. He'd see if Phil left the house alone, and then he'd follow him to see if he went into town. Cory couldn't get into a bar in a city like San Francisco. Bar owners valued their licenses too much to serve booze to minors.

It was Friday evening; Angus had until Sunday afternoon to search for Cory. He was pretty sure Cory wasn't at Phil Hartnet's house. He'd double check Hartnet's story before going to stake out the second of the most likely places where Cory might be.

Once he crossed Hartnet off his list, there were two more names to check out this weekend. One address was only a few miles away, but the second was in San Jose, an hour south of San Francisco.

Mr. Hartnet did exactly what he said he was going to do. An hour after talking to Angus, Hartnet had showered and changed clothes. Angus follow him to the Castro, where he met friends. Since Cory wasn't among them, Angus headed for the Ford house.

Angus figured he was ahead of the game, being at the second house on the first night in town. The second house wasn't as easy as the first. Big trees line the street in front of the houses. The houses had driveways beside them. Cory could be living at the Ford house, and neighbors or private detectives might not see him.

The Ford house also had a big backyard. Angus looked for a way to get a view of the entire house, but he couldn't find one.

Stopping for Twinkies and a Thermos of coffee, Angus was in front of Gary Ford's house just after eight thirty. Ford parked his car in the driveway shortly after nine. He carried a bag into the well-lit house. Blinds and drapes kept prying eyes out.

Angus would wait for dinner to be on the table. While he had a few minutes, he looked at the list of names Terry made for him. The rest were spread throughout the region. Angus hoped he'd strike gold on this trip so he could stay home. Angus put the list away. If dinner was in the bag, it should be on the table by now.

The tree-lined street was quiet. Angus could see a car parked beside each house. He was the only one parked on the street, and he felt conspicuous. It wasn't a look he liked.

Angus thought, these people could live their entire lives here and never know who lived across the street.

This triggered another thought. W hat if Ford and Hartnet are friends, or at least, know each other. What if Hartnet called Ford to advise him that someone was looking for Cory Wade. They both knew Cory. Did they know each other?

There had been gay men since the dawn of time. No one knew who they were. It was a splintered group that didn't know each other. Then the computer comes along, and they are able to communicate with each other. Men across the country, across the world, could identify each other. Men in and around the same city certainly could.

This was a relative new twist. What had the guy in Lancaster said, "San Diego, that's not far from La Jolla. I just had a friend here from La Jolla."

Angus noticed cars moving along the street and pulling into one of the nearby driveways. How long before someone reported a suspicious man sitting in his car near their house? How long before a cop car, lights flashing, pulled up? This wasn't a good layout at all.

Angus swung his body out of the car and moved toward the Ford house. He knocked.

"You are Gary Ford?" Angus asked, flipping his wallet open so the man could see the I.D. in the porch light.

"Yes, I am. What's a San Diego cop want with me," Ford asked, way too loud for the circumstances.

"Is Cory here?" Angus asked, sensing the answer was yes.

"I, ah,..."

A door closed behind Ford. Angus analyzed the sound. He jumped from the porch, ran around the side of the house, passing Ford's empty car. When he reached the fence, he did a scissor move over it. He,picked himself up and ran to where he could see the backyard and the back door of the Ford house.

He watched for movement and he listened to the silence. He could see the next house, behind Fords, It was well lit. There was no movement Angus could see.

Angus moved toward the back fence, watching for any sign of movement. Once he stood looking at the next house, crickets started up and a frog began to croaked. He was breathing heavy. He tore his pants going over the fence. He'd scrapped his right hand.

Angus stared at the easiest passage to the next street over, He saw no indication a boy was running toward the street. Cory was long gone, and Angus couldn't help but think that he'd been as close to Cory as he was going to get for some time to come.

Cory's next move would be spontaneous.

It would have taken an athlete like Cory a matter of seconds to get out the back door, over the fence, and out to the next street, while Angus stood at the front door.

Terry put him on the doorstep of the house where Cory was staying, and Angus couldn't close the deal, and now Cory knew someone was after him.

Maybe I'm getting too old, Angus thought. I would have made it around the side of the house fast enough to catch him ten years ago .

Getting old was preferrable to the alternative, but it definitely had its drawbacks. Those handicaps made being a private detective infinitely more difficult. He'd come close. He was on Cory's trail, and he'd allowed him to get away.

Cory didn't dare breathe.

The big man was standing right over him.

Instead of using the yard to escape, Cory ducked into the nearest cover, once he cleared the fence.

Cory didn't know how many men were on his trail. When such men came to the house, there were always two of them. Should he run for the street, one might be waiting there for him. The bushes seemed safer.

He sat as still as he could and, for the first time, Cory gazed into the face of the old geezer chasing him. The lights from the nearby house were bright enough for Cory to notice that the man was maybe 40. He looked tired. Cory could easily outrun this guy, but why run if you can hide. Not knowing what he would run into, hiding was good..

He held his hand over his nose and mouth. The man stood looking at the yard with careful eyes. He was no more than four feet away. He never looked down. His eyes were trained on the well-lit house, and then he turned to walk away. He wasn't going to climb the fence. Cory's fear passed. He felt safer.

The man walked back toward Gary's house ,and Cory let a long slow sigh escape from him. He could hear his heart beating.

He felt the front of his pants for the leather pouch he carried there. It was in place. This had become more important to Cory. It might be the difference between life and death. He'd need to cash in one of his coins. He'd brought them just in case. He had places he could go when he left La Jolla, but they were no longer safe havens.

He'd walked in the Castro with Gary and had seen a coin shop nearby. He didn't let on that the shop was of interest to him. He did notice the sign that said it was open Monday through Saturday.

First, he'd stay in his hiding place until the lights in the houses went out. Then he'd make his way to the Castro. He'd be at the coin shop when it opened in the morning. He'd make the necessary transaction. Then, he'd leave San Francisco behind. He didn't know where he'd go or how he'd get there, but he'd leave no trail this time.

This time Cory intended to vaporize into the enormous California countryside. He'd go where no one could possibly follow him. While it wasn't clear how he'd do this, he had all night to think about it.

By the time he went into the coin shop, he'd know what he was going to do. As much as Cory wished it weren't so, he was truly on his own now. His contacts were no longer any good to him.

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