Knock, knock, knock.
Agent Russell Hall turned away from the door and looked out to the street. Noisy
children rode their tricycles down the heavily cracked sidewalk just beyond a
twisted and rusty chain-link fence. He glanced at his government-issued Ford
sedan parked behind a faded-blue Camaro with four flat tires. That car
probably hasn’t moved for months, Hall thought.
had seen a lot in his twenty-seven-year FBI career and this light investigative
work was not too exciting, but it wasn’t all that
dangerous either. This easy, safe work was just what the doctor ordered, he
reasoned, for a few more years until he retired anyway. Why
not leave the danger of the more significant busts to the younger agents?
But deep down, he still enjoyed the intensity and
excitement of those busts.
his usual practice, he unsnapped his concealed holster and felt the hammer of
his handgun, cocked and ready to fire. He really didn’t
expect any trouble, but he never let his guard down completely. His business
suit may blend with the attire used in the financial district downtown, but in
this rundown residential neighborhood, he might as well have worn a jacket with
“FBI” clearly emblazoned on its back in eight-inch high yellow letters, perfect
for urban target practice.
A crescendo of sound alerted Hall. Someone inside approached the door, and he
turned to face it. The door opened only a crack, restrained by a security
who’s there?” the woman asked in a thick, uneducated, southern accent.
morning, ma’am. Agent Hall, FBI.” Hall pulled out his
leather badge holder, opened it, and showed his identification card and shiny
badge in one well-practiced move. “Is this the Freeman residence?”
The woman closed the door to remove the security chain, then opened it wide.
“Oh, yes. Come on in. I’m Mrs. Freeman, Delia Freeman. I was told someone’d visit.”
“Thank you; happy to meet you, Mrs. Freeman.”
Hall shook her hand and walked into the room as
she held the door.
After he entered, she closed the door and engaged the safety chain, then darted ahead
of him, clearing children’s toys from the floor and moving a stack of
newspapers and magazines from the couch. “Wontcha sit down, Mr. Hall? I won’t be
but a minute.” She turned to three children peering through an open door.
“Younguns, you get in that room, go on, get!” She hustled them in as if they were sheep,
deposited the toys and newspapers after them, and then closed the door. Her
hair was tightly braided and she touched it with her
hand as she walked back. “Wouldja like somethin’ to drink, Mr. Hall?”
“Oh, no. But thank you for offering.” Hall waited for her to take a seat. He pulled out
a small notebook and pen from his jacket pocket to take notes. “I’m new on this
case Mrs. Freeman, so if you don’t mind, please start from the beginning. My case
file didn’t tell me much.” Hall always started an interview this way, even if
he had been working on the case for years.
“It’s just terrible. I got no trace of my son William at all. He’s just up and gone.”
Mrs. Freeman’s dark brown eyes glistened with worry.
son William, how old is he?”
“Well, he’s seventeen. He’ll be eighteen in four more months, but it seems like only
yesterday he was just a baby.”
“Does he live here?”
“Well, no, not now. Ya see, William would get in and out of
trouble and was falling into them gangs that hangs around here.
Ya see, our family is God-fearing. There ain’t no way we’d let William go on
down that path of the devil.”
looked behind Mrs. Freeman to the large crucifix adorned with blood-red paint
hanging on the wall.
“So, we enrolls him in that program, the one at that Pacific Institute of Theology for
Youth—PITY, ya know. They call it PITY ’cause they takes pity on our kids and straightens ’em
up. Ya know, it’s one of them ‘youth rescue’ programs.”
“Oh, yes. I’ve heard of that type of a program. Is that a
“Oh, my yes, it’s a boarding school, ya know. He was doing real nice,
making good changes and all that. We were all
happy as the dickens. He wrote me letters every single week for ’bout three
months.” She looked at Hall and shook her head, tears welled up, her voice
rose in pitch. “Ya know, William’s really not that bad inside. He wrote his Momma
like I told him he had to. He said everything was just fine, he liked the
place and all. But a few weeks back, he stopped writin’.” She paused and looked at Hall.
“They say he just left—if you can believe that. I know my William would write
his Momma. I’m just sick!” Mrs. Freeman sniffed and cried, fanning herself with
a magazine as if she were in a heat-soaked church in Alabama.
Hall didn’t say anything immediately. He let Mrs. Freeman wipe the tears from the corners
of her eyes and relax her voice.
“They said he just left?”
“That’s the thing. You see, you don’t just leave that kind of
place. They keep track ’round the clock. You do exactly what they say or
you’re in a heap of trouble. And most kids, they don’t fight for long. William
fought for a while. He just wanted to leave, but they said no. The next week, he was a bit strange. Just
perfect, ya know, a perfect
angel. We were surprised they got him going right straight so fast. We thought
they’d give up on him. Nah, they broke ’im, and fast.”
“I see. Do you have any of those letters he sent?”
yes, I saved ’em all.” The tears started to flow
again. “William’s my first baby, ya know. I missed
him even if he was a royal pain in the bee-hind.” She got up and went to the
other room, disciplining the kids on the way. She returned, holding a stack of
“Thank you,” he said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep these for the case file.”
“I don’t know, Mr. Hall. Those’d be the last letters I’ve got from my first boy.
I don’t want to lose ’em.”
“Okay. I’ll tell you what. I’ll make photocopies, and I’ll send
them back tomorrow, okay?”
“Well, I guess that’ll be okay, Mr. Hall. As long as I get ‘em back. I
been reading ‘em every day.”
Hall paused, then said, “What else happened?”
Nothin’, really. I don’t know nothing more
than that, I guess.”
“How did you find out he was missing? Did the school contact you?”
“After I didn’t receive no letters from him, I called that
school. They said he was just missing, that he ran away, or something. I just
can’t believe it. I can’t believe they would just lose track
like that and say nothing, nothing at all!”
Hall noticed a picture on the bookcase behind Mrs. Freeman. “Is that a picture of
“He’s only fifteen in that one, but he’s still about the same, only a bit taller.”
“Is that a scar on his face?”
“From a real bad burn. He was nothin’ but a
“I see.” Hall didn’t push the questioning any further.
“Do ya think you’ll find what happened to my William?”
“That’s our job, ma’am. We’ll do everything we can to find him.” He reached into his
pocket. “Here’s my card. Please call me right away if you hear from William or
from anyone from PITY. I’ll be your primary law
enforcement contact from here on out. Okay?”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Hall. I most definitely will call if I hear anything, anything
at all. Please, please find my William—and God bless!”