They are spending the day at Aunt Camille’s house and hanging out with David, Katie, Adam, and Ben. David is the oldest in the group followed by the young man, then Katie and Stephen. Dad is upstairs with Aunt Camille. Jonathan is at work. Jared has gone on a roadtrip with a friend to California.
They have already played a couple of rounds of Murder in the Dark. “Y’all wanna play outside? Ride bikes or whatever?” the young man says.
“We have the two dogs out back. They’re old now. Are you all good with them?” David says.
They are sitting on the floor. The young man uncrosses his legs. “Y’all still have the mean dog? The one that used to bite everyone?”
David laughs. “That was years ago. Jared cured that dog.”
“How’d he do that?” says Stephen.
David is dark-haired, roughly the young man’s height but about two years older at age fourteen now. “That dog used to chase all of us around the yard, bite us, and stuff. But Jared was the only one not scared of the dog. The dog charged him once, and Jared grabbed him by the ears and bit the top of the dog’s head. The dog yelped and jumped away. Jared thought it was so funny that he chased the dog around the yard, caught him, and did it again. Pretty soon, every time the dog saw Jared, he ran away. Then he stopped biting all of us. Then, he was cool with everyone.”
“Jared actually bit the dog?” Stephen says.
“Yep,” says David.
“Gross. A mouthful of fur,” says Ruthanne.
“Well, it worked,” says Katie. She has curly blonde hair and is almost exactly Stephen’s age at ten. “But now the dogs are old. They don’t have much energy anymore. There’s not a lot of playing they’d want to do. But if y’all wanna ride bikes around the neighborhood, we could.”
They agree on that and head upstairs. They stop for a snack in the kitchen, breaking out white bread and peanut butter. As they do, they hear Camille and Dad in the front room. Camille is saying, “We were supposed to hear from Jared a day and a half ago, and we haven’t. And I have no way of getting a hold of him.”
“He gave you no phone numbers of where he was going?” Dad says.
“The guy he’s going with, a guy named Tim, gave us a number of his friends’ place where they are supposed to be staying, but it doesn’t work. Tim said he works at the Utah Boys Ranch.”
“I guess you could try the ranch and make sure the guy checks out,” Dad says.
“Yeah,” says Camille. “A lot of the kids at school and Church have been hanging out with Tim. This was supposed to be for Jared’s graduation. I was working when they cooked all this up, but Jared got all the information of where they were going and what was happening.”
The young man and the others mostly ignore this. They are soon outside on bikes. They are in West Jordan, Utah, and the whole neighborhood is only a couple of years old. It is still being developed, and they find an area where bulldozers and backhoes have been moving dirt and preparing to lay new foundations. Dirt mounds are everywhere; Katie and Ruthanne take it easy, riding around on a few of the mounds, but the boys take turns doing jumps off the biggest mounds, timing each other how long they stay in the air, and rating whether they popped any good tricks.
When they are hot and sweaty and covered in dirt from wipeouts, they take a break and sip from thermoses they brought along.
“So what’s up with Jared?” the young man says to David.
“I don’t know,” David says. “He’s always hanging with friends and girls and stuff. He’s not around much.”
“He went on a roadtrip?”
“I guess,” says David. “I don’t know a lot about it.” David uses his black T-shirt to wipe sweat from his face. “What do y’all want to do now?”
They are all quiet for several moments in the July heat. The air is clear and dry; it’s also thinner, so the young man breathes heavier than he would in Texas under this level of exertion.
“Wanna build haunted houses?” the young man says.
“What do you mean?” says David.
“Last October, we had a ward Halloween party, and the young men and young women made haunted houses in our Scout room. They were mazes with refrigerator boxes and stuff. They were pretty awesome.”
David nods. Stephen says, “I like it. Do y’all have any boxes?”
“We can find stuff,” says David.
So they head back to the house, and they hit up the refrigerator for cold water, Sunny Delight, and milk. Then, they start toward the basement. As they do, they pass the front room where Camille sits on the couch and Dad is in an easy chair. She hangs up their phone.
“So Jared called yesterday when I was at work. He talked to Katie and said they had made it and were staying in a Holiday Inn in Anaheim. He gave her a number that was different from what Tim had given. I tried that, and it was a storage place.”
“What did the boys ranch say?” Dad says.
“They’ve never heard of Tim,” says Camille. “So now what? The police, right?”
Dad rocks in his chair. “I guess so.”
The young man’s crowd heads downstairs. For the next several hours, they take turns rearranging beds, blankets, and pillows, creating tunnels with dead ends, using cardboard boxes from their last move to enhance the tunnels. It becomes a game–two people have to sit outside while the crew arranges the last haunted room. Then the two people go through it, and they all evaluate how truly scared they were able to make the two. Ruthanne and Ben scare easily. David, not so much. Katie and Stephen come out somewhere in between.
As the afternoon gives way to evening, they head upstairs to see if dinner is in progress. Camille’s husband Erik is in the front room now. He is dark haired, wears glasses, and tends to stay quiet during discussions.
“Is there something else we should be doing?” Camille asks him.
“If we’ve called the police, called the number in California, and called the ranch, I think that’s about it,” he says quietly. “What did the police say, again?”
Camille rubs her temples. “The West Jordan police said that he was definitely not on any flights to Anaheim today. The Anaheim police said that it’s not uncommon for young men and women to disappear into the sex trafficking world.”
The phone is ringing a lot now. Nothing gets Mormons going more than a possible tragedy in progress. So calls are pouring in from the ward–the local congregation. The Relief Society president wonders if she should arrange some meals (“Why?” Dad asks Camille). One guy is a retired Sandy police officer, and he has connections in law enforcement across the state–he’s going to call other people. The bishop wants to know if someone there has given them a blessing (“No, no, Erik and my brother are both here; we’re okay”). Parents of other kids who know Tim call to talk about details they have gotten from their kids on what Tim does, where they hang out, and the like.
Camille directs the kids to some ground beef that they can heat up to make tacos. There are large flour tortillas and a batch of corn tortillas they can heat up, as well. David takes charge of heating the meat; Katie and Stephen work on chopping tomatoes and lettuce; the young man and Ruthanne grate cheese and put out sour cream. When it’s all put out, they setup an additional kids’ table in the front room, grab paper plates, and get in line to assemble their tacos.
The kids’ discussions are all light-hearted as they debate the best haunted room, discuss their various bike tricks, and talk about their favorite movies. They agree that they will watch The Princess Bride later, which the Cannons have on VHS.
But at the adult table, there are low murmurs about what is now Jared’s disappearance. The other families with kids in the group have been checking with each other every couple of hours, and now everyone is trying to put together the itinerary based on what each kid had told his parents about Tim and Jared. As they are putting the plates in the trash and cleaning up crumbs, the doorbell rings.
Camille goes to the door and pulls it open to reveal a tall blonde woman with short hair. The lady has a tissue, is dabbing her nose, and her eyes are red from crying. Camille lets her in, and they all migrate to the front room.
“I’m so sorry, Camille,” she says. “I just heard about and I just felt I had to come talk to you.”
Camille joins Eric on the couch. Dad is back in the easy chair. The young man sits on the piano bench with the piano at his back.
“It’s okay, Sherry. A lot of people are working on it.”
Sherry doesn’t sit, just stands in the hallway wiping her eyes and nose. “That’s the thing. I’ve been reading up on this stuff. There are these gangs of people. Asian slave traders.”
“Uh, ok,” Camille says.
The woman nods. “It’s true. It’s a thriving black market in California. They kidnap white teenage kids, hustle them on to boats, and ship them to China, Thailand, Vietnam, whatever . . . where no one can touch them. They turn them into farm slaves, sex slaves, anything.”
The young man looks at his father, who winks at him.
“Uh, wow,” says Camille. “The police in Anaheim say that kids sometimes wind up in sex trafficking. But Jared called to say he had made it to Anaheim.”
“I’m sure they made him call,” says Sherry. “I’m so sorry. I’m so scared for you. I just felt you had to know.”
Camille stares at her then says, “So what do you think we should do?”
Sherry sobs and wipes her eyes. “I don’t know. He could be on a boat already. Separated from all his friends. Without any trace. Best you could hope would be the FBI, I think.”
Camille nods. “Okay, well, I guess we’ll have to look into that.”
“Jared is just such a beautiful kid. So handsome. So athletic. He’s just the perfect target. I’m so sorry.”
Camille stands and moves to Sherry. She hugs Sherry and says, “Thanks for stopping by.” She shows Sherry to the door and closes it after her.
Then she turns to Eric and Dad. “So now Jared could be on a slow boat to China,” she says. “What do I do with that?”
Dad shrugs. “I’d venture to say it’s probably a fast boat to China.”
Camille laughs. “True. If he’s the handsomest and most athletic, I guess they’d want to get him there faster.” She puts her hands on her hips. “So do we call the FBI?”
“And tell them what?” says Erik. “The West Jordan police are working on it. We’ve talked to the Anaheim police. Are we gonna go to Interpol?”
Camille sighs and goes to sit down next to him. “Well, if she’s right, time is of the essence, right?”
Erik takes a deep breath. “You have a friend down there in Anaheim, right?”
“Maybe there’s a new Holiday Inn? Maybe Jared didn’t get the number right.”
Late that evening, the young man, Stephen, and Ruthanne pile into Granny’s 1972 Buick to drive back to Granny’s home in Orem. The young man gets the front seat, and once they are up on I-15, he says, “What do you think of that lady and Jared being in slavery in Asia?”
Dad smiles at him, reaches around, pats the back of his head. “Well, what do you think?”
“I mean, what was the point of all that?” the young man says. “How did that help anything?”
“Exactly,” says Dad. “When people are going through a possibly scary time, it doesn’t help a whole lot to dream up the worst possible scenario that literally no one could do anything about, then come over and dump that on the family. That’s not helping. That’s all about making yourself the center of attention.”
Jared was indeed at a brand-new Holiday Inn. When he called Katie with the number, he got a single digit wrong. Erik had an uncle nearby who contacted Jared and took Tim and Jared to lunch to verify they were okay. Jared knew nothing of his international kidnapping until he returned home and was surprised to learn of all of Tim’s lies about the trip. He served a mission for his Church in Ohio. He has been a fitness trainer and held a variety of jobs; he presently owns and lives in his grandmother’s house in Orem. He has never been to China, Thailand, Vietnam, or whatever.