Drew had hoped to get close-ups of the two men’s faces, but never in his life had he ever wanted to be this close to another man’s face. Especially when the dude’s breath smelled like he’d just eaten a tuna sandwich with onions, garlic and a side of old, musty sweat socks. Drew was so close to the stranger that he could see that the man had been neglecting a small area of his beard where the whiskers were longer and more wild than the rest. He could tell that Tuna-sock man had once groomed that area along with the rest of his face, but over time, it had become hidden in plain sight. A blind spot that should have been cared for along with the rest, but was somehow ignored. Drew didn’t need to know so much about this stranger. He wished he didn’t. But he had put himself in a situation where he had obtained that information unwittingly, and now, as he fixated on the longest, wildest whisker in the man’s beard, he deeply regretted it.
Drew thought about what he would say, how he could get himself out of this mess and if he should own up to what he’d done. No, he decided, admitting guilt would be suicide. There was no need to abort his covert mission and get labeled a failure. He was smart. C’mon Drew, he thought, think of something clever.
“Huh? What are you talking about? No I wasn’t,” Drew said, playing stupid. He squirmed his way past the man and sat back down at his table.
Tuna-sock man followed. He planted both hands on the table, leaned forward and said in a hoarse whisper, “Buddy. I saw you.”
“Nooooo. Naw uh. Nope. Not me. Didn’t.” Calm down, keep it together, Drew thought, feeling his chest thumping.
“Prove it. Give me your phone.”
Think of something quick, Drew said to himself, but all he could think about was that he needed to think faster. “What?”
“Let me see your phone, bud.”
Drew’s mind went quiet. He could hear the cash drawer ringing from across the cafe, the low muffle of soft conversations around him, the slight whistle and heavy huff of air rushing in and out of the stranger’s nose as he waited, demanding an answer. Without any idea on how to get himself out of the situation, Drew reluctantly pulled his phone out of his pocket. “Well, I—”
“Drew? Please don’t get mad. I’m really, really sorry. I’m thinking we might want to make this wall here a chalkboard wall too. Could you take some pictures of this side too?” Cara had come to his side out of nowhere and was pointing to the wall behind him. Drew was pretty sure his jaw was on the floor. “I know, I’m so sorry to ask you to do so much for me. Just one more set of photos of this wall. Please? Now sit over there on that chair and get the angles from that viewpoint. Thank you so much, I owe you big time.”
Drew sat frozen for a beat until he saw Cara’s eyes dart over to the chair she was pointing to and back at him, urging him to follow her lead. He snapped out of his daze and scampered past the man over to the chair, taking photos of the wall as Cara had instructed.
While he clicked on his phone, Drew stole tiny glances at the two men. Tuna-sock man had glared at him suspiciously as he walked back to the door to wait for his friend. Drew then watched the man who was at the counter finish dressing his drink and jam generous fistfuls of napkins and sugar packets into his pockets before leaving Glacier Surge with Tuna-sock.
Drew waited until the door clacked shut behind them before he closed his eyes, buried his head in his hands and let out a heavy sigh of relief. He took a minute to collect himself and allow his nerves to calm. Slowly, he rose to his feet, intending to approach Cara to give her a big hug. Instead, he felt a tug on his arm.
“What’s wrong Drew? What happened?”
“Sam! You just missed them. Let’s go. They can’t be far.” Drew looked over his shoulder and gave Cara a crooked smile, his most heartfelt sign of appreciation under the circumstances. “I’ve been made, though,” he told Sam as they rushed out to the Ice Bridge.
“I’ll have to do this myself then. Can you point them out?”
Drew craned his neck back and forth, looking both ways down the Ice Bridge. “I don’t see them, but I don’t think that’s a good idea anyway. They look super sketch. I don’t think it’s safe.”
“Did you see either of them wearing a jacket that looked like it had the badge from the picture?” Sam asked as she randomly picked a direction to continue searching.
“No. It’s like they slithered back underneath the rocks that they came from.”
“This could be our only chance. Should we walk down that way a bit? Maybe they just ducked into a store. Maybe they’re out on a spending spree now?”
“Yeah, maybe,” Drew considered. “They need new clothes for sure. Or at least some soap. Let’s go back the other way.” Drew abruptly turned to walk in the opposite direction in the middle of the crowded walkway.
“Watch it!” A surly-looking man said, grabbing Drew’s arm after they had bumped into each other.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Drew said, without looking at the man’s face. He stared instead at the man’s gloved hand gripping his arm.
“If you don’t know which way you’re going, at least stay to the side of the walk,” the man grumbled before continuing on his way.
“C’mon Drew, let’s hurry,” Sam urged, taking a few steps forward. Realizing that Drew wasn’t beside her, she turned to see Drew’s back. As she approached him, she could see that his eyes were wide and his mouth was open. “Drew? What’s wrong?”
“Sam,” he gasped. “How is that guy wearing Ben’s new gloves?”
“Drew, can you try Ben again?” Sam asked. Drew had already called Ben three times since they had spotted the gloved man on the Ice Bridge.
“Voicemail.” Drew hung up. “He’s probably sleeping or he just doesn’t want to talk to anyone. Said he was feeling pretty crappy after everything that’s happened. Told me to give him a few weeks.”
“He’s not going to talk to anyone for a few weeks? That’s crazy! I could not do that.” Penelope’s eyes were large and round, her face scrunched in disbelief. “I can’t even imagine not speaking to anyone for a day!”
“I hope he’s okay. I wish there was something we could do,” Cara said quietly as hot chocolate splashed onto the table. She set down four mugs containing droopy white mounds of whipped cream with streaks of chocolate syrup spilling over the sides. It was her attempt at making whipped cream bears with long claws, she explained.
“Physically, I think he’ll be okay,” Drew said. “He said his doctor told him he was on the borderline of suffering damage from hypothermia, but luckily his body temperature didn’t get low enough. Apparently, the doc said he’s seen people lose toes pretty easily from the cold, but Ben’s got all top quality gear, and his insulated boots made a huge difference, at least with his feet. But, his head’s pretty messed up. I’ve never seen him like this, and we’ve been best friends since we were four. He’s super depressed. Won’t come out and doesn’t want me to come around. Figure he just needs a bit of space. Hopefully he’ll bounce back.”
“So, I don’t totally get it. That guy who was being aggressive with Drew today, you guys think he kidnapped Ben?”
“Well, the thing is Cara, whoever kidnapped Ben knew two things at the very least. One, that his family is wealthy and he is worth kidnapping for a ransom. And two, that he was participating in the Alpine Survival Challenge this year,” Sam explained. “So, when I remembered the incident with the Creeper, I also remembered watching Drew record a video at camp that night. I was watching that video on YouTube and then the ones Drew made before it played automatically. Those guys Drew was on the stakeout to find were the same guys in Drew’s video outside the BEE, where he mentions Ben’s name, that he’s the heir to the Black family fortune and that they’re going on the Challenge. So it just makes sense to check them out, doesn’t it?”
Drew played the video for everyone, pausing it near the end so he could play back one part. “Listen to this — did you hear that? They’re demanding money from me and then they got, like, totally crazy and hostile. That’s when I split and ran into the BEE.”
“Ooh, but, how many views did this video get?” Penelope asked.
“Hey, don’t knock my view count, P-lo. It’s not like I pre-announced it or have a weekly scheduled episode, like some people.”
“No, I don’t think she meant it that way, Drew. She means that maybe other people who watched the video should be suspects too. When I first saw it, there were one hundred and thirty-seven views and three comments,” Sam said, scrolling down to view the comments. “This one is pretty bad.”
“Oh my gosh,” Cara whispered, her eyes widening as she covered her mouth with one hand. “Somebody wrote, ‘fkn rich Black family @$$holes should shrivel up and die. Glacier village is better off without arrogant motherfkrs.’ Who would say something like that?”
“It’s just YouTube,” Penelope said.
“What does that mean?” asked Cara.
“There are always crazy comments. It’s actually pretty normal,” Penelope explained.
“But, could we find out who user ‘xxx8808’ is?” Sam asked.
“Of course it’s from him,” Drew said, rolling his eyes. “He always leaves nasty comments on my vids. To be totally honest, I don’t care. I stopped reading comments a long time ago.”
“We could definitely dig into his profile a bit.” Penelope took the phone and clicked around. “Oooh. He’s pretty active. It might take a bit of time.”
“It’s probably worth it, to be thorough,” Sam said.
“I could maybe help with that,” Cara offered. “Wade wouldn’t even notice if I was lit on fire when he’s playing his video games. As long as I’m in the room while I’m burning, he doesn’t care.”
There was a short awkward silence at the table before Sam gave Cara a gentle smile. “That would be amazing. Thanks, Cara.”
Cara smiled back shyly. “Okay, but wait, how do the guys in the video relate to the guy on the Bridge who—”
“Exactly! We need to focus on him.” Drew was so excited that he cut Cara off mid sentence. “See, Ben only got his shipment of the gear he designed on Friday, the day before the Challenge. So how does someone end up with his gloves today?”
“But how do you know for sure that they’re Ben’s?” Penelope asked.
“Didn’t you notice the logo on Ben’s jacket? His pants? His tent? His everything?”
“Oh, you mean that butterfly?” Cara asked.
“It’s not a butterfly, it’s two stylized B’s. One backward, one forward. He designed it himself. It’s totally original,” Drew said.
“So Drew and I followed the guy on the Bridge who was wearing Ben’s gloves,” Sam said. “He lives at 1878 Lucky Lane. He went in for a minute, but then came back out and drove away in a black Audi Q7 SUV, licence plate unknown because it was covered in snow.”
“Along with seventy-five percent of his windows and one hundred percent of his roof, the lazy bastard,” Drew added. “That’s so dangerous.”
“Can’t we just report him to the police?” Cara asked.
“Ben never reported any stolen goods, even though it’s so totally obvious that that dude must have lifted them off of Ben when he kidnapped him,” Drew surmised.
“Dad said there was nothing they could do and Ben didn’t answer when he called either, so he couldn’t confirm whether the gloves were even missing, never mind stolen,” Sam added. “So, it’s possible that Ben could have given him the gloves or he could have dropped them by accident and the man found them.”
“Like Ben’s going to give some nasty stranger his brand new signature gloves?” Drew said. “Or that he’d lose them like he’s a three-year-old? C’mon. No way!”
“Maybe the gloves dropped during all the craziness that happened after he was evacuated from the mountain,” Penelope suggested. “There are three transfer points: one, from the helicopter to the transport van at the community centre; two, from the transport van to the medical clinic and three, from the medical clinic to his ride home. His leg is broken, he’s all loopy from meds or being half-dead from hypothermia or whatever. Then, oops! ‘My gloves fell out of my pocket.’ I lost gloves all the time when I was a kid. My mom used to sew them together with a long string that she looped through the arms of my jacket.”
“Used to, P-lo?” Drew held up a red mitten dangling from Penelope’s coat sleeve, exposing the string that it was attached to.
“Yes Drew, used to. I sewed that myself,” Penelope replied with pride. “Anyway, it’s totally possible that the guy just found them on the ground somewhere,” she said before her face suddenly brightened with excitement. She slapped her hand down in the middle of the table. “Oh, but get this, people! I finished my timestamp analysis. The Creeper was watching us for at least two and a half hours, not including the time we stopped taking photos and Sam saw him behind the trees. I’m guessing that would make it at least three or four hours of creeping on us. Ugh. So cringy. I didn’t realize Glacier Village was home to so many shady people. They should be the ones on the front page of the Times’ website, not Sam.”
Cara shook her head and as she let out a deep breath, the word “wow” escaped as a whisper. She looked at Sam and asked, “So, what now?”
Sam looked around the table to see everyone staring at her in anticipation. She leaned forward and smiled, knowing exactly what she would tell them. “Here’s the plan for tomorrow.”
Sam had fallen into a deep, satisfying sleep after thinking through her plans for the next day carefully, but the shock that came in the morning gave her the closest thing she had ever had to a heart attack. Her eyes shot open and her heart jumped as she lay in bed. And now, she struggled to understand what was happening. Deafening bangs had startled her awake and, after she had failed to answer the first two sets, a third, louder set started. Someone was at the front door.
She sprung out of bed, opened the door and was shocked to see Dennis and another Animal Control officer, each holding catch poles.
“Samantha Shepherd? We’ve come for the rabid dog,” Dennis said. “I know the notice said twenty-four hours, but we’ve learned that sometimes owners do silly things, so we came a bit early. And, because the dog is a serious health threat, the order is to take care of him right away. Village safety is at risk.”
Her heart pounding, she blinked at the officers in disbelief. It was 5:30am. They had arrived over eight hours early and caught her completely by surprise.
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