M&M Mystery #3. When Mason's friend who has cerebral palsy disappears, Mason thinks he may have an idea as to what happened to her.
It was the first day of school. Mason was excited about being in a new classroom, having a new teacher, and meeting his classmates, but he was also a little anxious. What if nobody liked him? He couldn’t hit a baseball as far as his older brother, Matthew. Some people were better than he was at doing other things, too.
The classroom was bright and cheery. So was his teacher, Miss Bartel. She introduced herself to the class and talked about what they were going to do this year. Then she said, “I want each of you to stand up and introduce yourself. Tell us your name and what you like to do when you’re not in school. And tell us what you enjoyed most about your summer vacation.”
The boys and girls stood up in order, by rows. Mason was in the second row. When it was his turn, he stood up and said, “My name is Mason. I like to build things with Legos.”
Some of the kids tittered.
Unfazed, Mason continued. “I went to California during the summer. We visited Legoland, which is near San Diego. They’ve built whole cities out of Legos. Animals, too. There’s even a dinosaur. You can build anything out of Legos.”
Now the other students were impressed. Mason felt good as he sat down. Others stood up and talked. When it was the turn of the girl sitting next to Mason in the next row, he noticed that she seemed to have trouble standing. And one of her hands was shaking. Mason wondered whether she was nervous.
“My name is June,” she said. “I have cerebral palsy. I like to run and play outdoors, but I have trouble keeping up with the other kids. I have been taking therapy to improve my motor control.”
As she talked, Mason realized that in some ways she was different than the other students. Just as he was. And just as Matthew was. Each person was unique. Each one was an individual. He wanted to be June’s friend. He talked to her at recess. He found out that she lived close to him. And she was a very interesting person.
* * * *
About two weeks later, Mason was excited about going to school. He had learned a new game that he could play with June, and he wanted to tell her about it. But when the bell rang for school to start, June’s chair was empty. He wondered if she was sick.
When Mason arrived home from school, Matthew saw his sad expression and asked him if something was wrong.
“My friend, June, wasn’t in school today,” Mason said, “and I had some things I wanted to tell her.”
“June?” Matthew asked. “Isn’t she the girl with the funny last name?”
“It’s Hickok. Like in Wild Bill Hickok.”
The news was being broadcast on television. Mason usually didn’t pay much attention to the news, but suddenly he heard the announcer mention the name June Hickok. He poked Matthew in the ribs and said, “They’re talking about her.”
The picture on the TV changed to a scene that Mason recognized. It was the front of June’s house. A woman holding a microphone was speaking. She said that sometime during the night June had disappeared. She had been in bed, but when her mother came to wake her up in the morning she wasn’t there.
“Maybe a bad guy got her,” Mason said. “We’ve got to rescue her.”
“You’ve got to rescue who?” their mother asked. She had been on the phone.
“My friend, June,” Mason said, getting more and more excited. “She’s disappeared.”
Mason and Matthew filled her in on what the television announcer had said.
Mother said, “Hopefully, she’s all right. But that sounds like a job for the police.”
“But maybe we can help,” Mason said. “I need to go over to her house and talk to Mrs. Hickok.”
Mother looked dubious. “I don’t think there are any bad guys running around the neighborhood, but still…”
“I’ll go with him,” Matthew said. “I’ll protect him.”
“I have to make some phone calls,” Mother said. “Be sure you stay together. And be careful crossing streets.”
The boys ran out of the house. It was only a couple of blocks to June’s house.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Mason said to Matthew.
“That’s what brothers are for,” Matthew said. “And who knows, we may be able to help. You may know some things about June her mother doesn’t know.”
As they approached June’s house, they could see several vehicles parked in front, including a police car and a television van. Several people were milling around in front of the house. The boys walked up the driveway. A man who looked very official was standing at the front door. He was wearing pressed pants and a jacket.
“What do you boys want?” he asked, not unkindly.
“I’m a friend of June,” Mason said. “We need to talk to her mom.”
“Do you know what happened to June?” the man asked.
“That’s why we need to talk to her mom,” Mason said. “To gather clues. We may know something about June that her mom doesn’t know.”
A slight smile creased the man’s face. “You might, at that. All right, come on in.”
He led them into the living room. Mrs. Hickok was sitting on a sofa, looking very pale. A man sat beside her, holding her hand. He must be Mr. Hickok.
When Mrs. Hickok saw Mason, she said, “Why, hello, Mason.”
“We are very sorry that June has disappeared,” Mason said. “This is my brother, Matthew.”
“Thank you. It’s nice to meet you, Matthew. This is Mr. Hickok.” She indicated the man sitting beside her on the couch.
Mason and Matthew gravely shook hands with Mr. Hickok.
The man who had escorted them in said, “I’m Sergeant Jackson. What do you know that will help us find June?”
Mason and Matthew each shook Sergeant Jackson’s hand.
Mason said, “May we ask a few questions?”
Sergeant Jackson nodded.
“What time did you last see June?”
Mason was looking at her parents when he spoke, but Sergeant Jackson answered. “Let me answer the questions. It’s hard for them to talk about her.” He referred to a spiral notebook in his hand. “Mrs. Hickok looked in on June at about ten o’clock last night. She was asleep.”
“Did you hear any noises during the night?”
June’s parents shook their heads.
Matthew asked, “Was there any sign of forced entry?” He knew the jargon from watching TV shows.
“June’s bedroom is on the second floor,” Sergeant Jackson said. “There was no sign of forced entry at any doors or windows. That’s why this case is so strange.”
Mason walked to the front door and opened it. He noted that it was one of those doors where a single handle opened both the latch and the deadbolt. He turned and said to Sergeant Jackson, “If June opened this door during the night and went out and closed it behind her, Mr. and Mrs. Hickok wouldn’t necessarily notice in the morning, even though the deadbolt wouldn’t be reset.”
Sergeant Jackson nodded, slowly.
Mr. Hickok said, “I went out and got the newspaper early this morning. I didn’t notice whether the deadbolt was set or not.”
Sergeant Jackson said, “When we got here, we tested the outside door lock. It was locked. Which makes us believe that if somebody entered the house, he didn’t come in through the front door.”
“But June could have gone out through the front door,” Matthew said, “and shut the door behind her. And not come back.”
“But why would she do that?” Mrs. Hickok asked. “She’s never gone out at night alone before.” She was crying.
“We have officers searching the area,” Sergeant Jackson said.
“Are any of June’s clothes missing?” Mason asked. “Could she have gotten dressed during the night?”
“It’s hard to tell,” Mrs. Hickok said, “because she has a lot of clothes. But a pair of sneakers is missing. We thought…”
“What about a sweater?” Matthew asked.
“I don’t know.” Mrs. Hickok got up from the couch and walked over to a closet beside the stairs. She opened the door and searched through the coats there. Then she turned around and said to them, “The jacket she’s been wearing to school. I can’t find it.”
“What about a flashlight?” Mason asked.
“She has a flashlight in her room. She keeps it beside the bed.”
Sergeant Jackson went up the stairs, taking them two at a time. The others waited for him, not speaking. Mason was putting some things together in his head. The sergeant came down in a few minutes and said, “I couldn’t find a flashlight.”
Mason and Matthew looked at each other. Mason said, “I need to confer with Matthew. We’ll go outside and talk. If we come up with anything, we’ll let you know.”
They went through the front door and walked down the driveway. Mason said, “We have to go to the dam.”
“You mean the dam near the school?”
“But that’s a mile from here.”
“If we’re fast, we can easily get there and back home before dinner.”
“Mason, if you know something, we have to tell Sergeant Jackson.”
“Just a hunch. The police might say I’m crazy. I’ll tell you about it while we walk.”
They set off toward the dam. Mason started talking. “Remember the day that June came to our house?”
“I had play practice that day.”
“Well, we were playing with the Legos. June was telling me all the places she’d like to go. Because of her palsy, she doesn’t walk very far. When I talked about the dam, she said she’d never seen it, even though it’s close to the school. So I built a dam for her out of Legos, to show her what it looked like. I even used blue Legos to represent the lake and put ducks in it.
“She got very excited and said she wanted to go there. When Mrs. Hickok came to pick her up, June told her about it. Mrs. Hickok said they would see it sometime, but she was vague about when.”
“Why do you think June might go there in the middle of the night?” Matthew asked.
“Because she thought her mom and dad overprotected her. She kept saying, ‘I can do more than they think I can.’”
“So she was frustrated.”
“Do you think she could walk that far?”
“Yes, if she took her time. She is very determined.”
“But, assuming you’re right, why hasn’t she returned?”
“I don’t know,” Mason said. “Maybe she got lost.”
They rounded a corner and were on the street where the path to the dam started. They walked down the path. After a minute the woods opened up and they could see the earthen dam and the pretty blue lake beside it. A flock of ducks floated in the lake.
“The police probably already searched here,” Matthew said, as they walked out onto the dam.
“We can’t give up,” Mason said. “We must never give up until we find her.”
They walked the length of the dam. There was nobody in sight.
“Now what?” Matthew asked.
“The woods,” Mason said, pointing to the woods on the opposite side of the dam from the lake. I told June there was a trail through them. She said she’d never walked in the woods before.”
“Wouldn’t she be scared to do that at night—all alone?”
“She’s a brave girl. You have to be brave when you have cerebral palsy.”
They walked down the sloping side of the dam and into the woods. They followed the trail. The trunks and leaves of the trees limited what they could see. They called June’s name as they walked. First Mason and then Matthew called her name. Some birds answered with chirps, but they didn’t hear any human voices.
After a while, they could hear cars. They were getting close to a road.
Matthew said, “We have to go home. Mom is going to worry about us.”
“You told me there was a trail that ran parallel to this one,” Mason said. “Let’s take that trail back to the dam. If we don’t find her, then we’ll go home.”
They cut through the woods, looking for the other trail. Mason was glad that Matthew was with him. He would have been scared doing this alone. They found the trail and headed back toward the dam. At least, they thought they were heading toward the dam. Mason wasn’t so sure.
They continued to call June’s name. Mason was becoming a bit apprehensive. It wouldn’t do any good for them to get lost. Especially since nobody knew where they were. But Matthew seemed confident and kept going. Occasionally, he glanced up at the position of the sun.
Mason called June’s name. Then he grabbed Matthew by the arm and stopped. “I thought I heard someone.”
He called again. This time there was no doubt about it. A human voice called, “Help!”
“Where are you?” Matthew shouted.
The voice was clearer. And not very far away.
Matthew said, “Go slowly. And we’ll keep her talking.”
They walked carefully through the woods, making their way among the bushes. Then they stopped and called again. The answering voice was closer.
After five minutes of this, Mason pointed and said, “There she is.”
June was sitting under a tree. She was wearing jeans and a light jacket. Her red hair, which was usually nicely combed, was a mess. Her face was streaked with dirt. A flashlight sat on the ground beside her.
“Are you okay?” Mason asked, rushing up to her.
“I am now,” June said. “I tripped and hurt my leg. I can’t walk. I yelled and yelled, but nobody is in the woods at night. Except animals I heard but couldn’t see. And my flashlight stopped working. I was cold and scared, alone in the dark. Then I fell asleep, I guess. I woke up a while ago and called some more. And I tried to crawl toward the dam. But I didn’t make much progress. I can’t crawl very well. And my leg hurt too much. Then I heard you. Thank you for coming.”
“We still have to get you out of here,” Matthew said.
“Mason, you stay here with June. I’m going to go for help.”
“Will you be able to find us again?” Mason asked.
“Yes,” Matthew said. “Look.” He pointed. Through a gap in the trees, they saw the back side of the dam, about 100 yards away. “I’ll blaze a trail from here to the dam.”
“But you don’t have a knife.”
Matthew gathered up some sticks that had fallen to the ground. They were two or three feet long. “I’ll place one in the ground every few yards. And I know what direction you are from the part of the dam I’m heading for by the position of the sun.”
“Don’t be long,” Mason said.
Matthew set off toward the dam. Soon he was out of sight behind some bushes.
June said, “How did you know I’d be here?”
“Just a hunch,” Mason said. “I knew you wanted adventure.”
June laughed. “I got more than I bargained for. But my parents are going to boil me in oil.”
“They’re worried about you. They’ll just be happy to see you.”
“And I’ll be happy to see them. But right now, I’m happy to see you.”
She gave Mason a hug. “Boy, am I hungry.”
Mason pulled a fruit bar out of his pocket and handed it to her.
“You’re a miracle worker. What can I do to repay you?”
“Next time you want an adventure, tell me about it and I’ll go with you.”
“And keep me out of trouble?”
“Right.” Mason figured he was getting old enough so that he could keep others out of trouble, instead of the reverse.
Site: Alan Cook, Mystery and walking author