Chapter 1

There were only two people in the world they could’ve taken that would have any effect on me, my cousin Jennifer and my best friend Scipio. They took Jennifer. It was around seven in the evening, just after summer baseball practice, and I was hammering like a madman on my best friend’s door. “Scipio! Scipio!” The door swung open, “Dude, it was an accident. Your glove was on my pile of stuff and I just…Troy?” I pushed myself past him and into the kitchen. “Whoa Troy, where’s the fire?” “Jennifer!” “Jennifer’s on fire?” “No, you idiot! She’s missing! And I think someone took her! I think she might hurt!” I was pacing and wringing my hands, trying to make sense of what was happening. “So this doesn’t have to do with me taking your glove?” “What?” “Nevermind.” “Gah! Scipio, focus for once! This is Jennifer we’re talking about!” “Hey man, how ‘bout you focus huh? You lost me back at Jennifer being on fire, so take a breath and then calmly, tell me what’s going on.” I took a shuddering breath, trying to calm down but my heart was in my throat and I felt like crying. “She’s all I have.” I finally said quietly, sinking into a chair. Scipio sat down across from me, eyes locked on my face. “Dude, I know. What happened?” I told him how after practice I’d ridden my bike home just like always, but I knew as soon as I got there something was off. The door was unlocked and Jennifer never, ever, even if she was home, left the door unlocked. I told myself it was nothing, but I found out that wasn’t true as soon as I got in the kitchen. It was totally trashed. Pots and pans were strewn across every surface, as though someone had gone crazy and threw them around. The faucet was broken off the sink and shattered glass littered the floor. And blood. There was blood everywhere. I ran to call the police but the line was cut and neither Jennifer or I had cell phones. We couldn’t afford those. “So I ran here.” I finished. Scipio’s eyes were wide. “Dude, first the police, then my Aunt and Uncle. This is way bigger than us.” I nodded and he picked up his phone.


When we got to my house the police were already there, one car sat in the drive way and the officer got out when he saw me. “Troy McCabe?”
“Come with me son, my partner would like to speak with you.”
Scipio tensed beside me and that set me on alert. Scipio was blessed with an impressive perception and intuition. If he didn’t like a situation, there was probably a good reason not to. The officer pointed at him. “Your friend stays here.”
Scipio grinned and threw an arm around my shoulders, “No can do sir. See, we’re kind of a package deal.”
I nodded, “Anything you say to me can be said to him.”
The officer shrugged and mumbled something under his breath about probably being involved anyway, then led us up to the house.
Another officer, who I assumed was this one’s partner, was waiting at the door and he did not look happy. He glared at us. “Which one of you is Troy?”
I tentatively raised my hand. His frown deepened and he turned to Scipio. “And you are?”
“Best friend, brother, partner in crime. Take your pick.”
I winced at Scipio’s lack of respect for authority but he had always been that way.
“Right.” The officer said, “Let’s go with partner in crime. Come with me.”
He lead us down the hall and just outside the kitchen he stopped. “Now before we go any further, I just have to know, is this funny to you?”
“What? That his cousin’s missing? Yeah dude, frickin’ hilarious.”
“Stow the act.” The officer snapped.
“Act?” I spoke up then, “What are you talking about?”
He rolled his eyes and gestured behind him into the kitchen. Scipio and I walked in. It was spotless. My jaw literally dropped and I didn’t respond to the raised eyebrow Scipio sent my way.
“Not quite the mess you described it as is it?” the officer said grumpily.
I shook my head dazed, “I don’t understand…I don’t…”
The officer sighed impatiently. “Look kid, I don’t know what your deal is but do you realize how much trouble you could get in from pranking cops? I’m tired and quite frankly, at this point, I don’t care so I’m just going to leave and pretend this whole thing never happened. Okay?”
“But Jennifer…”
“If this Jennifer, if she even exists is still missing in 24 hours, you can file a missing persons report but from where I’m standing there’s no crime here ‘cept for some punkass kid pulling a prank.” He got close and shook a finger in my face, “Don’t do it again. Either of you.” He looked pointedly at Scipio.
I stood there dumbly to stunned to respond, but Scipio gave a careless shrug, “Eh, I make no promises.”
The officer shook his head and walked out. When he was gone Scipio turned to me. “Dude…”
“I don’t know!” I cried. And I didn’t. How could I. The last time I was here the kitchen was destroyed, as sure as the sun was in the sky, and now inexplicably it was cleaned up almost more perfect than Jennifer kept it. “I don’t know! I don’t get it! I swear it wasn’t like this! I’m not making this up!”
“I believe you.” Scipio said simply. “Because as awesome as that prank was there was no way you could have pulled it off without yours truly.”
I scoffed at Scipio’s logic but was grateful for his support. What ever his flaws, Scipio was unfailingly loyal.
“What am I supposed to do now? Jennifer is still missing and then there was all that blood…” I shuddered. “What are we going to do?” I sounded pitiful and helpless but I didn’t care because that’s exactly what I was.
“We’ll find her ourselves.”
I laughed mirthlessly, “Oh yeah? And how do you propose we do that oh great master sleuth?” I was snapping at Scipio. It wasn’t his fault but hey, I was having a rough day and he was the only one around to take it out on. Scipio must have realized that because where normally he’d never take a comment laying down, he simply looked up at me, his black eyes sad.
“We’ll think of something but right now, it’s late and there is really nothing more we can do. Come with me, back to my house and we’ll see what we can do in the morning.”
It was the most un-Scipio like thing he’d ever said., and perhaps it was that more than anything that got through to me. Scipio was concerned enough about me to assume the role of the responsible one.
“Go then.” I said defeated but calm. “I’m staying here in case she comes back?”
“No way buddy, if who ever did this is after your family you could be next. Remember the blood? Yeah. I ‘m sure yours is lovely bu I’d prefer not to see it decorating your walls ok?”
“And if she comes back?” I challenged.
Scipio’s reply was gentle, “Do you really think that’s likely?” He extended a hand, “Come on Troy, grab some things and let’s go.”
I didn’t want to but I knew Scipio could make mules look cooperative. He patted my shoulder as I walked past him upstairs to get my things.
We explained everything to Scipio’s Aunt and Uncle who were understandably horrified, both at Jennifer’s disappearance and at the police reaction. Scipio’s aunt was particuraliy fried by the cops, “Would they really think a boy would prank the disappearnce of his guardian? I mean really. Calling you a liar and a punk, why I oughta…” and continued on saying things in rapid Italian that made both Scipio and her husband flinch. In the end it was agreed that I would stay with them until further notice and tomorrow afternoon Scipio’s uncle would go with me to the station to file an official report. Aunt Anita offered to go but neither Scipio nor Gian thought it wise to unleash her on unsuspecting officials especially when it involved me whom to liked to refer to as nipote adopttivo, her adopted nephew.
We didn’t tell Anita nor Gian of our own investigative plans.
It was around two in the morning when everyone was calmed down enough to go to bed. I shared a room with Scipio where he was asleep in seconds, but I lay on his bedroom floor kept awake by alternating waves of fear and sadness. Who would have done this? Why and how for that matter did the kitchen get cleaned up? And the worst question, where was Jennifer and was she even still alive?