Morning found Philpot and Jenkin’s ensconced in the rental shop. McDermott had marched through the gate with the straggling line of fellow workers at 0630. He carried tools, a lunch box and a second jacket slung over his shoulder. By 0700 he was six floors up on a spider web like skeleton of aluminum scaffolding. Jenkins clicked off shot after shot of photos, showing the man setting toffee colored bricks one by one and carefully tamping them down with his trowel. Meanwhile, Philpot observed through high powered binoculars.
“Fuck, I’d go absolutely bat shit crazy, totally bat shit maybe beyond bat shit crazy if I had to do that. Are you uploading those to Melville? He’s probably got a fucking hard on after seeing his prodigal missing brat for the first time. How many bricks do you think are on the building?”
“Yes, I am uploading. No, about the hard on. After speaking to him, I think he is a consummate professional. Number of bricks, no idea. And, he is stranded in Tulsa. Emergency landing for an unruly passenger.”
“Fuck! So we get to watch mister brick man lay brick for how long?”
“Till lunch. New orders are to search the camper, and shadow him.”
“Lunch, hunh? Well, it is lunch enough for me. He’s not going anywhere. Let’s roll outta here.”
Agent Hanley Melville followed the snaking line of irate passengers disembarking Delta flight 457 through the boarding tunnel and into the arrivals terminal. As soon as the pilot had allowed phone use, he’d begun trying to get another flight to Maine. Delta’s turn around time was going to be seven hours, which was unacceptable. He was so close. He allowed the crowd to jostle him along while waiting on hold with Spirit Airlines. Once out of the tunnel, he skirted left, clear of the group and picked up his pace. He needed a stiff drink and a quiet place to study the data that his cross country team was sending to him.
Hanley found it in the shape of Milfor’s. A small pub tucked away in an out of the way corner of the airport. He took a table near the back and sat down facing the door looking out onto the bustling terminal. He was two Scotches in and working on a beer. The pub crowd was light and the Wi-Fi good, and for the first time in several hours, he was relaxed. After fifteen calls, he’d found no faster flights to Maine, so he took Delta’s offer and settled for the wait. If nothing else, he could use the time to study the information that his Montana team and Philpot were sending him.
First, he pulled up the digital photos coming from Maine. Rascal McDermott had grown into a seemingly fine young man. He wasn’t big but appeared, in the still shots, to be strong and healthy. A shiver skittered down Hanley’s spine. This was a missing person case, a missing child and the irony of seeing that child, long thought to dead, now grown and thriving unnerved him slightly. He closed that screen and opened the facial recognition study sent from Montana. The left side of the screen showed a photo of nine-year-old Rascal McDermott and the right a photo gleaned from Sarah Jenkins’ photographs. The resemblance was there but to make sure they’d run it through the facial recognition software. The result was a one-hundred percent match. The man laying brick was the lost Rascal McDermott.
Melville sipped his beer and opened another screen. How simple it should have been to find the boy. He’d never changed his name. The boy’s trail, from the time that he’d turned seventeen, was as clear as foot prints in freshly fallen snow. Rascal McDermott, the boy, had somehow survived from age nine to seventeen living beneath the radar. Then, all at once, on his seventeenth birthday, he opened a bank account, received his driver’s license, became a member of the Masons union and basically, Hanley thought, re-entered the world as a man. It defied reason. His passport, Canadian working certifications, truck and bank accounts were all in his name and Melville had inexplicably missed it. Missed it, anyway, for the last nine years. He couldn’t really blame himself. It wasn’t as if he ran a check on the missing boy weekly or even yearly. He’d never forgotten the case, but, conversely, his active case load precluded his spending too much time on personal quests.
He cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. It had felt good to choke the unruly passenger into unconsciousness. Good for all the wrong reasons, that is. Namely, that he’d come between him and McDermott. Being a federal agent, came with its benefits, he supposed. Then, thought grimly, apparently not enough to get him to Maine any faster.
As he stared at the laptop screen, he tapped his left ring finger on his cell phone. The screen was open and the glowing light showed a contact number for the McDermott family. He itched to call them with the news but held back. The boy had run for a reason. He’d run and survived and thrived; built a life out of a depth of brutality that still gave Hanley nightmares. What right did he have to possibly destroy that peace? As an Agent of the law, he had a duty to report his discovery, but, right now, his duty to the law and his desire to protect the boy from the crime scene photographs battled one another.
Hanley closed the phone’s tabs and flipped it over. He’d wait and talk to the boy first. If nothing else he could split hairs and tell the family that he’d found him but the boy, now an adult, refused to have any contact. The boy had that right he reasoned, especially after the violence that had transpired all those years ago. Before he could give it much more thought, the laptop chimed and Sarah’s face popped up in the top right-hand corner.
“Go ahead, Jenkins. What have you got?”
“We are in his camper.” She said her voice a low whisper, “Tidy. He doesn’t seem to want for much.”
As she spoke, the scene on Hanley’s lap top panned around the interior of Rascal’s home. It was tidy. The cab over was made into a neat bunk with dark blue blankets and several small oval plaid pillows. The small kitchenette was neat. A dish rack sat beside the small sink holding a large gray coffee mug, three blue bowls, and three spoons. A coffee maker sat pressed into the right-hand corner of the counter along with a toaster. A small flat screen television hung across from the settee, which held a neatly folded, also blue, blanket. He obviously liked blue, Hanley thought.
“He has a lap top here. I did a quick check but he seems to only use it for banking and researching something called Mason’s Marks. Has some magazines and a few books, few sets of clothes, work stuff and maybe one set for days off. He really is pretty minimalist. And here get a load of this. He has a brick collection. Who the hell collects bricks?”
The image swung up, and there on a specially crafted shelf was a collection of bricks. Melville’s heart started to pound. He couldn’t believe the intell that he was seeing, and the memory of searching Rascal’s bedroom seventeen years ago raced across his mind. Sarah’s voice dragged him back.
“I cloned his hard drive too, and he…”
“Where the hell is Philpot, Jenkins?” Hanley snapped suddenly realizing the other agent was not in the camper.
“Oh, he’s outside setting up camp next door. It was the only way to get close enough to sneak in here without drawing attention. I’ve recorded all of this, Agent Melville and snapped photos of his papers and well there is not very much more here. I would say that we are finished here.”
“Agreed. Pack it in and pick up surveillance at the job site. Send those files to Patsy, in my Montana office, and keep Philpot on a tight leash.”
Hanley closed the screen and waved for another beer. Then he opened the old blue folder. He skipped past the crime scene photos and removed a small stack of evidence pictures. He flipped through those until he found the ones of Rascal’s bedroom. It was surprisingly similar to the camper, Melville noted. A small room, boy sized the agent thought smiling a bit. The McDermott home was a modern 3500 square foot ranch house and Rascal could have chosen from several larger rooms. Yet, the boy had picked a small second floor room with a dormer window that overlooked the original stone house built by the original owners back in the mid-eighteen hundreds. A small alcove jutted out from the right-hand wall and tucked into it was a twin size bed, made up in a dark blue comforter. The comparison to the camper was unmistakable. Shelves, mounted below a dark blue, plaid patterned ceiling trim, lined the robin’s egg blue walls and held dozens of bull riding awards; belt buckles, trophies, plaques, the whole gamut. Who, Hanley thought, puts their kid on a bull to ride for fun? The boy had been good too; following right along in the family footsteps of championship bull riders.
He flipped that shot over and looked at the next one. It showed the opposite wall. There, stood a low six draw dresser. Hanley hissed between his teeth at the sight. Bricks. On the top of the oak dresser were neatly stacked, chipped and age ravaged bricks. Thirty-six of them and each brick had scratched into it, a Mason’s Mark. When Hanley questioned Rascal’s parents about the odd collection, they told him that the boy scrounged them from old structures on their property and surrounding properties. They said that he had a fascination with the mysterious markings and the old buildings that he took them from. Completing the scene, resting on the shelf above the dresser, was a collection of books concerning the marks.
Bricks. Hanley chugged back the remainder of his beer. Bricks. It had been right in front of him the entire time. Well, maybe in a manner of speaking. How could he have known that the boy would travel so far and yet change so little? Bricks, blue blankets, and tiny beds. Rascal McDermott may have managed to escape his situation, but he had failed at escaping himself.