“How do you know this guy again?” Dylan says.
“I don’t. He’s a friend of Ingrid’s.”
“So you’ve never met him before?”
“We’ve only talked on the phone.”
Dylan frowns. Not entirely unexpected, seeing how he’s agreed to give a substantial chunk of cash to a complete stranger.
“But he knows someone who can hack into Erica’s phone, right?” he says.
“I hope so,” I say.
Otherwise we’re screwed. Me, in particular. Right now, I have nothing. No cash in my wallet. No usable credit cards. Until I get my first apartment-sitting payment in two days, I’m flat broke. Even thinking about it makes me feel faint.
To counter the panic, I look at the sky outside the pavilion. It’s an overcast afternoon, the clouds heavy and gray. Heather weather no more. Across from me, Dylan stares at a group of kids scampering up nearby Hernshead, a rocky outcropping that juts into the lake. Although his hoodie and angry-bull build should give him a vaguely thuggish look, his eyes betray him. There’s a sadness to them.
“Tell me something about Erica,” I say. “A favorite story or fond memory.”
“Because it reminds you of what you’ve lost and what you’re trying to get back.”
One of the detectives on Jane’s case told me that. She had been gone two weeks by that point, and hope was fading.
I told him about the time in seventh grade when a bully named Davey Tucker decided to make my bus ride to school a living hell. Each day as I boarded the bus, he’d thrust his leg into the aisle and trip me as others laughed. This went on for weeks until, one day, I tripped, fell face-first in the aisle, and got a bloody nose. Seeing the blood pouring down my face sent Jane into a rage. She leapt over two bus seats, grabbed Davey Tucker by the hair, and slammed his face into the aisle until he, too, was bleeding. From then on, she was my hero.
“Erica told me a story once,” Dylan says, smiling slightly. “About when she was a little girl. There was a mouse in the kitchen, and her aunt set traps everywhere. In the corners. Under the sink. I guess she was hell-bent on killing that mouse. But Erica didn’t want it to die. She thought it was cute. So every night, when her aunt was asleep, she’d sneak into the kitchen and use a stick to set off all the traps. That doesn’t surprise me. I know she was an animal lover.”
“Is an animal lover,” I say. “Don’t use the past tense. Not just yet.”
Dylan’s smile fades. “Jules, what if we never find out what happened to them?”
“We will,” I say, not having the heart to mention the alternative. How you learn to live with a lack of knowledge. How you eventually train yourself not to think about the missing every minute of every day. How the not knowing still gets under your skin and in your blood like an incurable disease.
A lanky man with an unkempt beard appears on the path leading to the pavilion.
Zeke. I recognize him from his Instagram photos.
With him is a short girl with pink hair. She looks young. Barely-in-her-teens young. Her frilly white dress and Hello Kitty purse don’t help matters. Nor does the fact that she never looks up from her phone, even as Zeke leads her into the pavilion.
“Hey,” Zeke says. “I guess you’re Jules.”
I nod. “And this is Dylan.”
Zeke gives Dylan a wary glance. “Hey, man.”
Dylan responds with a brief nod and says, “So can you help us or not?”
“I can’t,” Zeke says. “But that’s why I brought Yumi along.”
The girl steps forward and holds out an open palm. “Cash first.”
Dylan and I give the money to Zeke, my stomach roiling as the cash leaves my hand. Zeke passes it to Yumi, who quickly counts it before giving him his cut. The rest is shoved into the Hello Kitty purse.
“Now the phone,” she says.
I give her Erica’s phone. Yumi studies it the way a jeweler does a diamond and says, “Give me five minutes. Alone, please.”
The rest of us leave the pavilion, making our way to Hernshead. The children who were there earlier are now gone, leaving the whole craggy area to just Zeke, Dylan, and me.
“Hey, is that Ingrid’s phone?” Zeke says.
“The less you know, the better,” I say.
I look over his shoulder to the pavilion, where Yumi sits on the bench I just vacated. Her fingers fly across the phone’s screen. I hope that means progress is being made.
“I’m guessing you haven’t heard from her?”
“What do you think happened to her?” Zeke says.
I look to Dylan. Although the headshake he gives is tiny, his message is loud and clear. We need to keep this to ourselves.
“Again, you’re better off not knowing,” I say. “But if you hear from her, please tell her to contact me. She has my number. She knows where I live. I just want to know she’s okay.”
Behind Zeke, Yumi emerges from the pavilion. She thrusts Erica’s phone back at me and says, “All done.”
I swipe the screen and see all of Erica’s apps, not to mention her camera, photo gallery, and call log.