It’s time for chapter 3 of my youth mystery novel, What Was Lost. If you are wondering why I am suddenly writing youth fiction, please read the explanation by clicking here. That post also includes chapter 1. You can read chapter 2 here. Enjoy! ~CP
Chapter 3 – Milton Meets a Stranger
It was Saturday morning. Milton jumped out of bed when he heard footsteps in the hallway. Popping his head out of the door, he called out, “Hey, mom!”
Mrs. Maxwell had already shuffled halfway down the stairs and was rounding the landing. She wore a puffy pink housecoat and slippers. The care and concern of several decades of mothering lined her face (Milton was the youngest of six, and the only child still at home). But her mind was still as sharp as ever. She seemed to work on less sleep than the Energizer bunny. Without skipping a beat, she peered up at her son and said, “Are you feeling well, Milton? You look tired.”
“I couldn’t sleep last night and saw something crazy on the news. You’ve got to see this,” he said as he bounded down the stairs past her to the computer.
“Ok, ok,” she said, waving him off with one hand as she walked past him into the kitchen. “Let me just get some hot water ready for my tea.”
Milton pulled up the news again on the computer. By this time every major news channel was reporting the incident—CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and the rest.
He fidgeted impatiently as his mom filled a pot with water and placed it on the stove. Finally she came over and sat down in front of the screen. Milton watched in silence as she started scrolling through the images and reports.
“Missing semi on I-25.” she muttered to herself. By this time the original news report Milton had seen the night before was buried in a sea of other media outlets trying to get their take. His mom browsed the pages in silence for a few minutes. Then, out of habit, she opened her Facebook account.
“What are you doing?” Milton asked.
“I have more important things to do than to worry about a missing truck,” she replied.
“Like scan Facebook?” Milton asked.
“At least I sleep well at night,” his mom shot back.
“You slept well when I didn’t get home until 11:30 the other night?” said Milton, smirking.
Without taking her eyes off the screen, she continued, “Why don’t you go play soccer at the park this morning? It might help you feel better.”
Years of experience had taught her to send boys outside if they seemed too stir crazy, and Milton was more than happy to oblige. He glanced at her well-worn Bible open on the table as he gulped down a bowl of cereal. Various verses were underlined, and his mom’s familiar handwriting marked many edges and corners of the pages.
He put his bowl and spoon down by the sink and filled a water bottle. In a minute he had tied his cleats, grabbed his soccer ball, and headed out down to the field.
The neighborhood had an opening down the street between two houses with a pathway that led down to the city park. Local residents frequently walked the trail; though it was surrounded by city suburbs, it’s high point on the hillside offered a stunning view of snow-capped Rocky Mountains to the west. The morning air was crisp, cool, and dry, and the early sunlight caused the mountains to radiate with brilliant golden hues. Milton had often walked this path. At the bottom of the hill an oval-shaped sidewalk encircled a large, grassy space where the city would host special events like festivals and youth sports tournaments.
After his brothers grew up and left home, Milton discovered other kids would play pick up soccer at the park most Saturdays during the warmer months.
Sure enough, as he came to the top of the hill looking down on the park, he could see them playing. Among them was the figure of Hudson, his best friend, running down the field. Hudson had an athletic build and a tussle of curly, red hair on his head, complete with freckles on his cheeks. He loved to get a good laugh at the expense of other people, and even from far away Milton could hear his jesting voice on the soccer field. Milton took a deep breath of the cool morning air and started on a jog down the hillside.
About two hours later Milton and Hudson were sitting down in the grass, taking long sips from their water bottles. Milton was glad he had come down today. Maybe he hadn’t slept so well because he needed some exercise. But that would be admitting mom was right, so he pushed that thought out of his mind.
Hudson gathered up his things and headed toward the parking lot overlooking the park. As Hudson walked away, Milton also happened to notice a young boy walking away from them up the steep hillside, a good hundred yards away. Milton had never seen him at the park before. Almost without warning the boy stumbled, caught himself, and kept going. Milton wouldn’t have cared much, except he noticed a small piece of paper fall from the boy’s pocket. The stranger hadn’t seen it.
Milton stood up and started to wave, yelling, “Hey man! I think you dropped something!”
The boy hesitated and slightly turned his head, as if he had heard Milton but wasn’t interested in talking. Milton started jogging towards the boy to retrieve the paper. The movement caught the boy’s attention and he swung around so, for just a second, Milton caught a full view of his face. He was a Hispanic boy, probably about five years younger than Milton. His brown hair was tangled, his forehead sweaty. He looked scared. In a split second the boy was off in the opposite direction in a dead sprint.
Milton yelled again, “Hey buddy! I’m not trying to hurt you!” his voice trailed off as a gust of wind picked up the paper and carried it away. “I just want to help you,” he finished, half-heartedly.
The boy had reached the parking lot by now. Seemingly out of nowhere a brown Ford LTD with dark tinted windows had pulled up. Without taking another look, the boy hopped in the passenger side of the car, slammed the door shut, and the car sped out of the parking lot.
Frustrated, Milton watched the car drive away, then turned around to get his stuff before heading home.
Hudson had noticed the commotion and came jogging up. “That went well,” said Hudson.
“Yeah, I know,” replied Milton. “Just trying to help.”
As they turned, Hudson noticed the paper had not flown away, but had got caught in the branches a newly planted tree at the top of the hill. “Ha!” he laughed, “What are the odds?”
Milton’s curiosity got the best of him. He knew he would always wonder what was on that paper if he didn’t go look now. Slowly, with stiff legs, he sighed and trudged up the hill. Hudson joined.
The paper had landed at just the right angle on the tree and nestled itself among some leaves. Another gust of wind surely would have blown it away. It crinkled like it had once been wet as Milton reached up and pulled it out. With some more crinkling he unfolded it. It was a full size 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper, and on it was printed a receipt from a construction company—Taylor Sons & Co. Commercial Construction.
“That’s odd,” Milton said, “Why would a kid have a receipt for a construction company? He can’t be more than eleven years old.”
They scanned the page for any other helpful info, then flipped it over to take a look at the back.
“Now this is interesting,” said Hudson.
The back of the receipt was covered with seemingly random notes— contact information, mysterious abbreviations, and lots of numbers. But Hudson’s eyes had fallen to the upper right-hand corner of the paper. He read the words aloud, “Amazon, PDL – 663.”