Right from the start, it had all the markings of a holiday that was patently foredoomed. Perhaps it was because we’d tempted fate by setting out on Friday the 13th, as any ideas of superstition paled into insignificance when Dad found that the cheapest flight happened to be on that day.
And then, Dad forgot to set the alarm, and we'd all slept beyond 7am, when we'd planned to get up at 6 and be out of the house by 7:30. In the end, we didn’t leave until 8:30, but only to be hit by another stroke of rotten luck, less than a mile from our house: The beleaguered mule, an old Renault 11, which was our transport to Gatwick Airport, suddenly broke down in a strange rattling fit.
‘Damn!’ Dad swore for the hundredth time that morning, he was going to swear a lot more in the following hours and days. ‘I bet that’s the gasket gone.’
‘Feels more like a flat, to me’, Mom said quietly, but then she said louder, ‘I’m sure you’re right, Fred. It must be the gasket.’
Out of the four of us, Mom was the only one who was not stressed out. Mom was always a pillar of strength and calm. She was always in control of the situation.
Cherry, my big, teenage sister, already as taunt as a guitar string, was sitting behind Dad, strangely quiet and sullenly resigned to the conviction that we weren’t going to make it to Gatwick in time for the flight. She’d looked forward to this holiday in Spain more than the rest of us. Our much dreamed about, and long awaited, destination was a self contained cabin lodge on the outskirts of Xativa, with every promise of sunshine and fun, which Mom and Dad had been saving for over the past two years.
I, too, had earlier caved in under pressure, when I was shouted at by Dad for taking too long in the bathroom. We hadn’t even left Tunbridge Wells, and I already felt feverish and hot with apprehension and nervous tension.
The rattling increased, and the car shuddered to a halt as mom parked it by the curb, in front of Mr Choudary’s Newsagent’s shop. She got out and walked round to the back. Dad wound down his side window and peered out.
'It’s one of the back tyres.’ shouted Mom, 'It’s flat as a pancake.'
Cherry got out of the car before me, and then Dad slowly got out, his face red, his lips forming a thin line from being firmly pressed together.
Mom went into the Newsagent and came out followed by Mr Choudary, who immediately sized up the situation and quickly set about changing the wheel. With profuse thanks from Mom and a brief grunt of acknowledgement from Dad, we all piled back into the car and were on our way once more.
As we passed Seven Oaks and blended with the flow of traffic on the M25, Dad switched on the radio for the 3rd time, only to be reminded that the knob was jammed, and it could not be tuned to any station. Cherry turned her head and stared at the other passing cars, her neck muscle twitching, as if in irritation, to the unwelcome radio static. Dad gave up and switched the radio off, and then he started tapping the dashboard with his fingers, to the rhythm of music in his head. The cool breeze of spring flowed through the half open car windows as we sped steadily towards Gatwick.
Since we set off from Tunbridge, there had been a whiff of stale exhaust and electric, which we‘d not paid any attention to. But this smell gradually increased and was starting to be rather bothersome. Cherry was the first to break the silence.
‘Smells like the engine is burning.’
‘It’s OK’, Dad said, ‘It’s just ‘priming’ up, it should get us to Gathwick alright’, he assured.
Thick black, smoke billowed out of the exhaust and clouded the rear view. It felt as if we were in a rocket about to take off at any moment.
‘For goodness sakes, Mary, what are you stopping for?’ Dad exclaimed as mom pulled up on the hard shoulder.
But Mom did not have to reply because, just as she was about to stop the engine, there was a loud explosion from somewhere in the bonnet. Cherry made a small, shrill noise; Dad looked dazed and scared, but Mom only registered an initial expression of surprise and then resumed her usual calmness. She got out of the car, ‘Get out, guys. Don't just sit there and choke to death!’
We hurdled together 20 meters away from the pillar of cloud that, only moments before, had been our transport. We’d borrowed the Renault from Kelly, our elderly neighbour three doors away. Although he had not used it for a long time, Dad was pleased when he discovered that it started on the first attempt. He’d listened to the engine and declared that it roadworthy; we’d at least save on transport to and from the Airport. Dad couldn’t drive, though, because he was on disability. To be seen driving around could cost him his disability allowance and other benefits which was our sole household income.
Dad, drew the mobile from his pocket, took one look at it and swore, ‘Damn! This thing is not charged, how are we going to call for help?’
‘Never mind’ said Mom, ‘There are rescue patrols on the motorway around this time...’
As if on cue, a recovery truck appeared in the distance. It was likely that he’d driven past us earlier and, sensing that we would soon be in trouble, he’d stayed close at hand. He was a burly Irish man an he had on blue, oily overalls. He climed out of his truck and strode towards us. He nodded curtly at us and then turned to Dad.
‘What have we here, then?’
He and Dad conferred for a brief moment, and the man agreed to tow the car to the nearest service station, which was only about five miles away.
Once all the smoke cleared, the tow line was secured, and we stuffed ourselves back into the Renault. I heard Dad saying to Mom over the noise of the truck engine: ‘We’ll be cutting this pile of junk loose at the service station. As soon as we get there, call for a taxi to take us to the Airport. With a bit of luck, if we check in without delay, we can still catch the flight.’
Dad obviously regained some of his usual dry wit; he joked as the taxi approached, ‘Trust your Mom to go for the bloke with the biggest beard.’
‘Come on, Dad’ Cherry chided, ‘It’s not like he’s going to be driving with his beard.’
‘All I’m saying is, as long as his beard does not get in the way I’m okay with it. We’ve had enough trouble already.’
It was one of those bus taxis, with plenty of room for our luggage. Dad stood by while we put all the bags in the boot. The bearded Asian Taxi driver helped to put the heavy ones away.
We proceeded to Gatwick, but not without further incident: The diver missed the junction 7 on the M25, and had to turn back unto the motorway. When Dad realized, he blew his top and started swearing. Mom rested her hand gently on his clenched fists as he shouted abuses at the driver. The tension and resentment prevailed till we finally reached the airport, with only 10 minutes to check in. Dad was a nervous wreck, his face was drawn, and his shoulders were hunched. Cherry was a ghost of her, normally, not so cheerful, but confident, self. Her freckled face was the picture of despondence; all her dreams of the sunny beach were hanging by a slender fuse wire only 10 minutes short.
‘Quick, guys, let’s go. There is still some time!’ Mom urged in her calm reassuring voice. But even Mom was slightly miffed when she saw the queue at the check in area. My backpack suddenly felt a lot heavier, and I shed it in dismay. Cherry also dropped her bag, and Dad groaned in despair.
‘Hey, look’ shouted Mom pointing at the information screen ahead. ‘Our flight does not leave until 12:30.’
‘Ha, AZ00133’, said Dad, squinting at the tickets in his hands, and scowling at the screen, ‘Of course, our outward flight is 1230. I must have misread the time of booking’ His voice was deep with relief.
‘Dad!’, Cherry reprimanded, colour coming back to her face.
Dad smiled sheepishly. Not that sheep ever smile, but if ever a sheep did smile, it would look the way Dad looked at the time.
‘Okay, guys, let’s get ourselves checked in and then treat ourselves to a decent brunch.’
Cherry giggled uncontrollably. But as I turned in the direction of her gaze I soon realized that it was not the sheer relief that had caused her to giggle. A man in his late forties had stepped out of the lift. He had a mop of mottled grey hair and a chubby face that glistened with sweat as he struggled with a massive leather box. Combined with his short, fat legs and arms, his undersized summer shirt and ridiculous baggy shorts, was the pure picture of hilarity.
‘Don’t stare, children’ Mom commanded, but even in her voice there was a certain quality of amusement.
‘Look,’ Cherry whispered with one side of her mouth, still looking with the corner of her eye, ‘He’s coming towards us.’
I could hear his laboured breath as he approached, his luggage making a scraping noise as he dragged it on the floor. He finally came to a halt right next to Dad. Still out of breath, he placed a fat, moist hand on Dad’s shoulder.
‘Phew! Tim, there you are, at last! I knew I’d find you here!’
Dad stared at him blankly and then brushed the man’s hand away. ‘You’re mistaken, matey. I don’t know you.’
Cherry stepped behind Dad; Mom just starred in amusement.
‘Tim, I’m your brother, Frank. I may have changed a bit, but I’m Frank...Big brother, Frank...eh.’ he chuckled loudly, as if to demonstrate that he understood the funny side of how it was possible for his brother not to recognize him.
But by this time, Dad was more than irritated. All the stress of the past hours had worn him out, and he’d completely run out of patience.
‘Look here, matey. I’m not your Tim, and I have never seen you before. If you don't leave me and my family alone I will...’ his raised voice had an edge in it that could slice through concrete. Mom put her hand on his shoulder.
The man seemed to sober up, and looked as if he was going to break down in tears. Mom stared at Dad, brows raised, confused. True, she had never met any of Dad’s direct relatives before, because Dad had been through foster homes, adopted and re-adopted several times. I didn’t know whether or not we had any uncles or aunts out there. I didn’t know what it was, but something was communicated through the look between Mom and Dad that caused Dad to calm down.
The man looked at Mom, silently pleading with her to intercede on his behalf. ‘I’m his brother, I’m Frank’. He even turned to me, but he could not reach Cherry who was peering from behind Dad in sheer horror. ‘Dude, I’m your Uncle. I’m Uncle Frank’ his voice was close to breaking point.
'I don't know this guy, and I'm not called Tim.'
'OK, it’s been a long time, maybe you changed your name, who knows...?'
'Right', said Mom, 'I'm sure we can sort this out...'
'Dad told me that you now live in the Reginald Estate, in Tunbridge Wells.'
'Dad? What dad? I never knew my dad!'
'You were just a toddler when...'
'If he knew about me... If he knew where I was all these years, why the hell did he not make contact?'
'He's seriously ill, Tim. He's got Alzheimer’s...'
'I'm not Tim! For Chrisakes!'
All the while, Mom stood between them, her face a curious mixture of worry and confusion. She looked from one to the other as they batted their words back and forth. Other people around were beginning to take interest, casting uncertain glances in our direction, pulling faces and quickly looking away.
'Okay', Mom tried again to contain the situation, 'we can work this out, right?' she stared steadily at Dad, as if pleading with him to calm down, even if only to avert the prospect of causing a scene at the Airport. The sooner Dad acknowledged the guy, the sooner the whole thing would blow over, and he would be out of our hair. Dad began to say something, then he just let it trail off when he finally caught Mom's eye.
The man seemed to cheer up a little bit, but Dad’s face remained as hard as granite.
'Look, I don't blame you for not wanting to have anything to do with me after what I'd done. But that was more than 40 years ago... I'm a changed man...all I ask is a chance to get to know you, and your family, and to bond with my lovely niece and nephew.'
Which cause Cherry to shriek and cling on more tightly to dad. I, likewise, kept a safe distance from the weird stranger.
Now looking thoroughly beaten and subdued, Dad shrugged. 'OK, so, what next?'
None of us was prepared for his next words, which he said rubbing his pudgy hands together and switching on a savage smile that was probably meant to be charming.
'I'm comming with you guys.'
Mom was first to recover, 'Don't be silly' she said
'Of course, I got my return ticket to Valencia from the same on-line agent you got yours from. '
'But how did you ...'
He tapped the side of his nose in a telling gesture, 'Got it all off the database. You'd be surprised what you can find out with a little bit of hacking and poking around on the Internet.
Mom's face was pale, and she looked out of her depth. She had seen something on the man's face that had unnerved her. I'd seen it too, a psychotic grin that came and went in a flash. But Mom was quick to regain most of her normal composure just in time to handle Dad's next wave of temper.
'You are not coming near me, or any of my family.' Dad growled pointing a menacing finger into Frank’s face.
'Come on, guys' The man sobered up again, his small, deep-set eyes glistening, his voice hoarse with pleading and his face crumpled like the face of a hurt grizzly bear in severe anguish.
Cherry, still hiding behind Dad, was going into a fit of spasmodic sniffing. This holiday was just one nightmare after another, and we hadn’t even left Gatwick yet. It was clear even to me that we were stuck with the fat smelly monster who called himself our uncle. After all, we had no right to insist on who got on board the plane.
Dad eased off a bit, and we proceeded to the check-in desk. His eyes darted from side to side like a couple of gerbils in an electrified wire cage. It was obvious that he was contemplating some exit strategy for our unwanted new relative. Perhaps we could steal his passport and lock him up in one of the toilets; or buy him lots of beers until he's drunk as a skunk, and declared unfit to get on the plane. Or we could put some of Cherry’s hair shampoo in his drink to make him sick, and then call an ambulance to cart him off the scene.
When Mom handed our passports to the smartly dressed attendant at the counter, Frank also handed in his passport, and said we were all together. Once we’d disposed of all the bags and boxes, Frank heartily declared, ‘Come now, new family of mine, let me treat you to a pre-flight meal.’ which seemed to thaw Dad’s icy disposition a little bit, and caused him to cheer up slightly.
We took one of the bigger tables at Amy’s Restaurant, with Frank at one end and Cherry sitting farthest away from him. We all had chicken nuggets, chips and coke, except Frank who, in addition to that, had two large beef burgers; three sausage rolls; a chunk of cheesecake; a couple of jam doughnuts and a milkshake. He looked more at home than Dad or Mom, who stared at him as he talked between mouthfuls about his time in the army. After he’d cleaned up the last piece from his plate, he smiled contentedly and let off a loud, long belch. Even Dad flinched.
In the plane, Frank jabbered on relentlessly to the back of Dad’s unyielding head throughout the 2-hour flight in the Boeing 737. Cherry and I sat with Mom on the other side of the aisle, and we could still smell Frank’s noisome whiff from there. When Mom went towards the toilet, Dad followed her, and I could see them discussing in a frenzied, conspiratorial manner. Dad looked more re-assured when he returned to his seat, but he carried on staring out of the window.
As soon as we reached Valencia, we wasted no time getting out of the plane. By some unspoken agreement, some tacit signal, we marched on resolutely, getting a head start on the queue to clear customs, retrieve our luggage and get away before Frank could drag himself out of the plane. Frank was still nowhere in sight when we retrieved our luggage from the conveyor belt. Dad put all the heavy boxes on a single trolley and pushed it through the exit; I’d never seen him work so fast.
The place was hot, and the air filled with the buzz of foreign language. The sunlight glanced off Cherry’s black curly hair, and her face glowed as she was preparing to appreciate the climes and chimes of a place she had heard so much about, but had never been before. Mom and Dad were smiling too.
We found the bus service for Goldcar, and were taken to the drop-off station where we were united with the dainty, blue Citroen Picasso that Mom had rented over the Internet for our transport during our three days in Spain.
I helped Mom with loading the luggage into the back. A gentleman in brown Khaki shorts and short sleeves helped Mom put the big leather suitcase in. Dad was working the Tom tom he’d borrowed from Bob, our next door neighbour. He entered in Llocnou d'en Fenollet, which was where we were heading for. We’d follow the Motorway to Xativa, and the whole trip would take 43 minutes on the recommended route.
A fresh busload of Goldcar customers arrived and, to our utter dismay, a sweaty, red-faced Frank rolled out of the bus, looking like an enormous hog on a spit. He was dragging his massive leather bag behind him and gasping for breath at every step.
Dad looked as if he’d been kicked in the stomach. He opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Cherry's face clouded over, her eyes widened in horror, and she began to sniff uncontrollably. But only Mom, as usual, took the approaching disaster in her stride. She even managed a smile.
Frank dragged his burden to the car and then, with one final, monumental, effort, he heaved it into the still open boot. Dad made a belated attempt to intercept him. He stopped short a few feet from Frank, having mentally sized up the bloke and realized that they were far from equally matched. Frank forced a smile. He went closer and slapped Dad on the shoulder in what was supposed to be an affable manner, but which obviously caused Dad some pain, and made him stagger.
'Why,' Frank said, 'I thought I'd lost you guys! For a moment, there, I thought I'd have to find my way to our cabin in Llocnou.'
'How on earth did you know about the cabin?' Dad finally found his voice, although it did not sound anything like his.
'I already told you', Frank's smile broadened, 'there's nothing on any database that I can’t get my hands on.'
'Look, I'm telling you again. Leave me alone, and leave my family alone. I don't know you, and I don't want anything to do with you.' Dad lamented with helpless fury.
Frank put on his hurt bear look, but it was clear it was merely in jest. He and Dad stared at each other for a while before Dad's shoulder suddenly sagged as he finally backed down. Dad went round to the front and cast himself heavily in the passenger seat.
'Come on, family of mine, let’s hit the road!' Frank said, getting into the back seat and immediately causing one side of the car to sink. I climbed through the other door, but Cherry refused to move. She just stood rooted to the spot, clenching and unclenching her fists listlessly. Her jaws were set in a fierce crocodile clamp, and her eyes glowed with defiance. Nothing happened until Dad finally said, ‘OK, you sit in front with your Mom, and I’ll sit at in the back.’
Frank managed to shut the car door after five attempts. I was sandwiched between him and Dad, and it was not a nice place to be. I felt like a bagpipe in the grip of an overenthusiastic amateur piper, and I was half suffocated by Frank’s heady body odour and garlic breath.
Mom manoeuvred out unto the main road and fired the Citroen towards the Motorway. Dad had wedged the Tomtom GPS between the lips of the speedometer compartment on the dashboard. The gadget displayed a reassuring continuous blue line that was supposed to be our route to Xativa. As Mom had never driven outside UK, and was concerned that she might forget to drive on the right side of the road, she wore Dad’s old leather watch on her right hand, to serve as a constant reminder.
Twenty minutes later, the Tom tom went blank, and Dad swore again. The thing had run out of battery, and the cigarette lighter socket adapted charger was in one of the boxes in the boot.
‘Its okay’ said Mom, ‘We’ll just follow the signs. You guys, keep your eyes open for the exit to Xativa.’
‘I’ve got a map’ yawned Frank, suddenly waking up from his noisy nap, ‘but it’s in my suitcase in the back’. Then he chuckled and went back to sleep.
But it was all straightforward, and there was no incident all the way to Xativa.
We followed the signs further to Llocnou, which was only about 6 miles. Mom drifted to the wrong side after a bend on the narrow, gravelly road, and we barely avoided a head on with a yellow Volvo dump truck. As we passed, the driver waved wildly and let off a rapid burst of Spanish, his expression leaving us in no doubt that his words were far from complimentary.
We finally arrived at our holiday accommodation, just outside Llocnou – a pleasant compound consisting of three Cabin houses and an old bungalow, which belonged to the caretaker, Mick, who met us there and showed us round. The place was dotted with trees and full of strange insect noises.
Cherry escaped to the swimming pool shortly after we’d unpacked. Frank was lying on the sofa, still wearing his shoes. Dad was trying to work the TV and Mom was in the kitchen, looking out at the view, through the back widow. I was beginning to get bored, so I changed into my swimming shorts and went to the pool too. I knew that Cherry didn’t care much for my company. We were constantly getting into a quarrel, and she’d stated that she was going to ignore me throughout the holiday. So far she was doing a fantastic job of it, and I was not keen to rob her of the credit.
I took to the shallow end where I wallowed in the cool water and enjoyed the heat of the blazing sunlight. I amused myself with a red 5-foot pool noodle that I’d found in the utility room. I was unaware that Frank had arrived on the scene until he was in the mid flight of an awesome belly flop. He landed with a splash that took half of the water out of the pool, and he floundered about like a WWE wrestler in the agony of a reverse chinlock. Cherry screamed, leapt out of the pool, gathered her things and ran back to the cabin crying. I stepped out of the pool and followed her, looking back to see Frank floating on his back with a contented look on his pork-marked face.
‘Quick, put on your clothes’ Dad said, almost in a whisper, as I entered into the cabin, ‘We’re all going out and leaving Uncle Kong here on his own.’
Frank did not appear to notice as we drove out of the compound holding our breath. As we turned into the small road, towards Xativa, I glanced at Dad. His faced glowed with a triumphant glee. ‘We’ll look for a restaurant in town and have some Tapas.’
‘I’ll have paella Cherry chirped, smiling as she looked out of the window.
Mom was still brooding over Frank's situation. ‘Still, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to maroon him the way we did...’
‘We’ll go back and get him then, shall we?’ Dad joked, and Cherry screamed ‘No way!’
We did not return to the Cabin until two days later, which was the last day of our holiday. We’d had a splendid time at the beaches, been to spectacular village festivals and seen the magnificent Castles. But the most memorable time was when, on our way to Gandia, Mom discovered her fear of heights. Dad had suggested that we took an alternative, scenic route, and the ride was proceeding pleasantly until we found ourselves on a long, winding road, cut into the side of a huge mountain. ‘Look!’ I said, captivated by the breathtaking multi-shade vista of forests far below. Mom had been concentrating on her driving up till then, but when she realized that the road was all but a narrow shelf on the hill, without any guard to the right, and the shear drop was thousands of feet below, she stopped the car at once. She sat rigid and stared ahead with wide, frightened eyes. ‘No, No, No...’ she said in a shrill, trembling voice.
I’d never seen Mom that way – Mom, who used to be calm and composed all the time. There was a queue of impatient cars behind us, hooting away their horns like a gaggle of wild geese.
Dad had to step into the driving seat. I was not sure if we would ever get home again because I’d never seen Dad drive. But he took surprisingly to it, and drove us all the way to Gandia and back to the hotel in Xativa. From then on, he did most of the driving.
We didn’t know what to expect as we approached the Cabins in Llocnou, but we saw at once from the makeshift compound gate that all was not as it should be. Our clothes and other things were strewn all over the place, some of them floating in the swimming pool. The windows and doors had been yanked off their hinges. Not a single item of furniture in our cabin was left standing. The fridge was on its side and its contents all over the floor among the smashed plates and broken bottles. The bedrooms had been similarly vandalised, and all the curtains and bed sheets had been ripped. But most chilling of all, was what he’d left on the bathroom wall, written with Mom’s lipstick.
I’M GOING BACK TO TUNBRIDGE WELLS TO TRASH UP YOUR HOUSE, YOU UNGRATEFUL SWINE.
Mom stared at the scene, agape. Dad’s eyes darted from side to side like those of a hyena assailed by the scent of danger. ‘Come, guys. We must leave at once. The last thing we want is for Mick to call the Police and make us miss our flight; we’ll sort all this out when we get back home.’
‘That’s if there is a home to go back to’, I thought.
Cherry did not leave the car. See didn’t want to go into the Cabin, in case Frank was there. When we returned, she did not ask us what else we’d seen.
Dad drove all the way to the Airport in silence, each one of us in his or her own private thoughts of apprehension and concern. Mom still looked shell shocked. She was thinking of her ornate China set which had been given to her by her mother. It was the only thing of value in the house – Dad reckoned it would be worth over £6000. I squeezed my eyes tightly, to shut out the vision of Mom’s China set, smashed into smithereens and scattered all over the kitchen floor. Dad’s lips were pressed together, and his eyes gleamed ominously.
Right through the flight, till we landed in Gatwick and got the Taxi home, the sombre mood prevailed. It did not feel as if we’d been on a holiday. We were even more stressed than when we started out. As we turned into the estate, Mr Choudary was standing outside his Newsagent shop. He waved at us, but Mom and Dad did not appear to see him. They were holding hands; their fingers intertwined and locked together in a desperate clasp of solidarity. The tension in the car was suffocating, and we all breathed in short, sharp, shallow bursts, and fixed our eyes firmly ahead.
But we were surprised to find no evidence of damage to our house. My legs wobbled as I followed Dad to the front door. He hesitated slightly before unlocking the door. We went in on tiptoes and checked each room one by one. No damage. Mom went straight to the kitchen, she sighed with relief and colour came back to her face.
‘Look!’ shouted Cherry. She was gazing, through the drawn window curtain, at the house of the Andersons, opposite. Mom and Dad rushed to her side. I squeezed into the space between Cherry and Dad. The door of the house was smashed in, and the glass windows had been shattered. The whole place was covered with what looked like blue paint.
‘Damn!’ dad swore, and then went out to talk to one of the Estate Neighbourhoood cadets standing just outside the Anderson’s vandalized house. He grunted when Dad arrived beside him, ‘Yeah, you missed the show. Luckily, no one was hurt.’
‘What happened?’ Dad asked.
‘Domestics.’ He said briefly, and then continued when he saw dad’s inquisitive eyebrows, ‘Tim Anderson’s long lost brother turned up after forty years to take revenge. You should see what he did inside the house. He’s been picked up by the police, though. What a nutter!’
Due date: 20 Jun 2011
Working Title: He didn’t return home that night.
Mandy was expecting to see Daniel later that evening at the entrance of the bookshop as they’d arranged.
Daniel left work in a hurry at lunch time, promising to return later to complete a report on time for the deadline which was on Monday. His boss, Nelson had warned him that failure to hand in the report could cost him his job.
He’d bought a remote control car for his son’s birthday, and was expected to pick the little boy up the following day for a treat.
But three days later he’d still not turned up, and nobody had a clue where he might have gone. He’d just vanished into thin air.