THE LOST ONES: CHAPTER ONE

1

 

The call comes in just after five in the morning.

I am immediately on guard because everyone knows that nothing good ever happens before seven. Not with a phone call, anyway, and especially not with good news . You never get word that a wealthy relative has just passed and is leaving you his inheritance until maybe nine A.M. It’s fortunate, then, that I’m already awake and on my second cup of coffee, so I’m at least moderately prepared.

I’ve just come back from my walk, where I leaned over the edge of the seawall and contemplated water that is calm and grey, just like the city itself at this time of year. As usual, I had tried to see the warm dark current that flows from Japan and turns into the North Pacific, tempering the cold and spreading its tepid fingers to the coastline. And, as usual, it refused me the pleasure.

Vancouver. Some people say it’s beautiful here, but they’ve never idled in the spaces that I call home. They’ve never been down to Hastings Street, filled with its needles and junkies. They’ve never considered the grey sky and the grey water for months on end as rain pours down in an unsuccessful attempt at cleansing. Then comes summer and it is so hot that you can roast marshmallows on the fires that burn through the forests in the province. Summer right on the coast is nice enough, but still several months away when my phone rings.

I stare at the unfamiliar number on my call display and, after a moment of hesitation, decline to take it. Several seconds later, it rings again. I’m intrigued. I answer, if only because I’ve always admired persistence in a caller.

“Hello?”

There’s a long pause after the person on the other end explains in a hoarse voice why he is calling. The pause becomes awkward. I can tell the caller is fighting himself, wanting to say more but knowing this is a bad idea. No one wants to talk to a rambler over the phone. Especially one you’ve never met before. I imagine the caller sweating on the other end. Maybe his hands have gone clammy. The phone slips from his grasp and I hear it clatter on the ground. He swears for a full thirty seconds as he struggles to pick it back up and regain his composure.

“You still there? Did you hear what I said?” he asks.

“Yeah, I heard,” I say, when the silence has become excruciating. “I’ll be there.” Then I hang up.

I’ve never heard the name Everett Walsh before, but according to him I may know something about a missing girl. He does not tell me what, though. I consider not meeting him but he sounds desperate and if there’s one thing that draws me more than persistence, it’s desperation.

Even though finding people is part of what I do for a living, what would I possibly know about a missing girl to warrant a call at this hour?

His desperation is so fresh and raw I can almost taste it.