“That’s a laconic man, if ever I met one,” Mr. Hill commented as he started up the engine.
“What does that mean, Dad?” Lilly asked.
“Laconic? Not very fond of using words.”
“Hmmm. He’s that or just plain mean-spirited,” Lilly said.
Mr. Hill chuckled. “Whatever the case, something isn’t setting right with me about that crash.”
“Yeah, me either,” Lilly mused. “Did you notice anything in particular?”
“Well, I’m still working on the particulars. But something about the crash scene seemed staged and there was no identification for the other driver…” His voice trailed off.
“Yeah, but maybe it was like a hit and run,” Lilly said. “Or the other passenger may have helped Manchu get to a hospital, or vice-versa. Perhaps we should check hospitals around here.”
“Maybe, but if that’s the case, the police should have already checked, and the hospital would have notified Sarah by now. At least they should have. Another thing: I refuse to believe Manchu was driving the wrong way or whatever. Looks to me like his car sustained the most damage. Anyway, I’m going to continue on to Mitsubishi’s place.”
“O.K.” Lilly examined the accident photos on her phone. “There isn’t any blood on the dashboard or anywhere in either car. I mean, nothing of the interiors is out of place… This was a careful crash. I bet nobody got hurt.”
Mr. Hill nodded.
At Grandfather Mitsubishi’s house, they learned that Manchu had never arrived. Even more surprising, Grandfather Mitsubishi claimed that neither he nor his great-granddaughter, Ivy, called the Carrigs with news that he was sick.
“And certainly not near death,” Grandfather Mitsubishi said looking surprised. “See! I was lifting these weights out on the patio right before you all came in!”
“I saw you,” Mr. Hill said. “But someone is lying here. Are you positive that you weren’t sick last night?”
“Of course! The only sickness I have ever had is a spiritual one and asthma. But I’ve been living with asthma since the age of nineteen. Listen, someone might be mentally ill here, but it’s not me. I plan on sticking around for several more years.”
Mr. Hill patted him on the shoulder. “Alright, sir. I believe you. Is Ivy around?”
“No, no. She’s at college in the city. But you can call her. Here’s her number.” Grandfather Mitsubishi handed Mr. Hill a sheet of notebook paper.
Mr. Hill punched in the numbers. When Ivy answered, she also denied having called the Carrigs the previous night. “Neither was my great-grandfather sick in the slightest,” she said. “In fact, we had ice cream and turned in for the night after returning home. We were not disturbed. Has something happened to him that I need to know about?”
Mr. Hill sensed panic rising in her voice. “Calm down,” he urged. “Grandfather is perfectly fine, but Manchu is missing. He supposedly left for your place after receiving this call in the night.”
“Oh, my!” Ivy exclaimed. “Um, I really hope that no one has discovered our little church. I’ve been so blessed there in just the short time I have attended. I’m sorry. I’ll be praying.”
Mr. Hill thanked her before hanging up. “She’s legit,” he said.
“Grandfather Mitsubishi, did you get Sarah’s calls this morning?” Lilly asked.
“No. I mean, the phone, our house phone did ring several times.” He motioned to the white phone hanging on the wall before continuing in his raspy voice, striving to pronounce the words in English properly and deliberately. “That phone doesn’t get answered unless Ivy is home. She knows to call me on my cellular if it’s an emergency. She is the only person in possession of that number. Even then, I’m slow to pick that one up. The phone’s ringing irritates—many times over.”
“The phone will stop ringing when you pick it up,” Mr. Hill suggested.
Grandfather Mitsubishi smiled craftily. “You…you both be too young to remember the days with no phones or other technology. They were peaceful.”
The thought of life devoid of technology was an especially unpleasant one to Lilly.
“Well,” Mr. Hill began, “does anyone else share this house with you besides Ivy? It is lovely and quite sprawling.” He gently fingered the bamboo tapestry serving as a divider between rooms in the house.
Good question, Lilly thought. Someone else might have been prank calling.
Grandfather Mitsubishi swiveled himself in his wheelchair in a circle round the carpeted floor. “Sometimes our extended family comes and stays for new years and weekends to do what is called a reunion, and, on occasion, I’ll rent out half the house to some tourists or other. But that was not the case last night. There’s only myself and Ivy inhabiting this place. Her, because she had a bad family situation. I helped rescue her and now she’s my caretaker, even though I don’t take much care.”
He paused. Lilly let out a little laugh. Then he continued. “Me, because this place was built by my father who owned a pretty large fishing business in this village.”
“Is he still alive as well?” Lilly asked.
“No, dearie,” replied Grandfather Mitsubishi. “But wouldn’t that be something if he still was?”
Mr. Hill nodded that it would be.
“You see, I was my parents’ only child who never married. That is not the only reason my father left this house to me, but that is a long story—one which I doubt you have time to hear the half of.”
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Mr. Hill said reluctantly. “Until Manchu is found, I won’t be able to rest—at least not properly.”
“Yes,” Grandfather Mitsubishi said. Wrinkles now highlighted his still youthful looking face. “Pastor Manchu’s disappearance troubles me so. Even though he is my pastor and introduced me to Jesus, I see him as my own son. Once you find out who placed this false voice message, or who hijacked him on the road, or anything about Pastor Manchu’s whereabouts, call me and do say.”
“Yes, sir,” Mr. Hill assured him.
Lilly patted his hand. “Take care,” she said.
“To unravel this confounded morass,” Mr. Hill sighed, gripping the steering wheel of their rental car.
“We will, Dad,” Lilly said confidently. “In fact, that is the proof that he was not the one driving the wrong way. You were right. Manchu never arrived.”
“So what should we do next?”
“I’m probably going to ask Bo for his assistance on this case, primarily to uncover where this phone call originated. He’s a master at cracking code and pulling the fleece back from fakes. He’s more of a detective than I am. Unfortunately, I have a hunch government officials are involved in Manchu’s disappearance. Then we’ll have to find out who tipped them off.”
Suddenly a thought rattled Lilly’s brain. “Surely someone living along that road where the crash occurred would have heard something,” she surmised. “Why don’t we stop and see?”
“Great idea!” Mr. Hill said. “It wouldn’t hurt to see.”
Lilly’s expectations were met at the first house she knocked at—the first in a row of houses backed by a formidable forest. The door was flung open by a Chinese man wearing a seashell necklace for a shirt and black slacks. Frothy white cream covered half his chin and an expression of embarrassment came over his face at answering the door in such a manner.
“Can I help you?” he asked timidly.
“That depends,” Mr. Hill stated kindly before jumping into the reason for why he and Lilly had so unexpectedly interrupted the man’s seemingly pleasant afternoon.
After giving it some thought, the man responded to Mr. Hill’s prodding—more boldly this time. “Now that I recall, I did hear some noise last night—what sounded like a bang and then some scuffling. All rather soft, I thought, to be anything too serious. Maybe just some rowdy neighbors fooling around near the road. That’s why I stayed inside. Was anybody hurt in the accident?” he asked with genuine concern.
“Right now, we don’t know that,” Lilly replied. “Both of the drivers are missing.”
“One of them was a friend of ours,” Mr. Hill added.
“Have you made contact with the police? Filed a missing person’s report?” the man asked.
“Police are on the case,” Mr. Hill assured him. “I fear it’s slightly too early for them to classify our friend as a missing person.”
“I see,” the man said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a friend missing. Good luck on finding him!”
“Thank you,” Lilly said.
With a “God bless!” from Mr. Hill, they turned to leave.
“And if I can be of any more help to you all, just stop by again,” the man called after them before adding limply, “I’ll be fully dressed next time!”
Lilly and Mr. Hill waved before moving onto the next house.
There and at the next residencies, Lilly and Mr. Hill heard more of the same middling reports, except from a couple who slept through it all. However, at the fifth house, the residents there gave a more interesting and assured account of what they saw and heard the night before.
“After the crash occurred, I went out on the porch to see what happened,” a retired man of sixty-three years said to Mr. Hill and Lilly. “I got my flashlight out and shined its light down the hill onto the road. About three men were already down there helping out, I assumed. One of them looked like a police officer because of his uniform. He yelled a couple times that everything was being taken care of and that no more help was needed, so I came back indoors.
Lilly and Mr. Hill glanced at each other.
“Were you able to get a look at who was in either car?” Mr. Hill inquired. “Just close your eyes and let the scene flood your mind—from your memory.”
“Well, I’m already blind in my left eye if that helps any,” the old man chuckled. Still he obeyed.
“Now, tell us who was there and what they looked like,” Lilly said.
“Well, I can’t get a look at who was in the beige colored car,” the old man said slowly.
Lilly and Mr. Hill knew the “beige” car was Manchu’s.
“Out of the green car comes a man—Chinese like me, midsized with lengthy hair and wearing thick-lensed glasses, a jacket—burgundy colored, hooded, emblazoned with letters of a mustard yellow color…nothing remarkable.”
“Very good,” Mr. Hill said scribbling this information down on a sheet of paper. “Now, I really need for you to concentrate. Can you describe the other three men around the cars?”
“Hmm…there’s the police officer yelling at me. My flashlight is shining right in his face, hindering me from seeing his features, but I’m sure he’s normal looking as well. The other two fellows are bent over trying to open the beige car door to see if the driver is well. Wait! One of them turned around…He has some distinct facial hair…looks like a goatee.” Here the old man’s gray eyes popped open. “That’s it. I’m back inside now.”
“So nobody appeared to be injured?” Lilly questioned. “Lying on the grass, perhaps?”
The old man gave an honest answer. “No, ma’am. The man coming from the green car appeared A-O.K. As for the other driver, I don’t know. He was still in his vehicle. Now, a few minutes after coming back in I heard some screams, which–”
Tiny hairs on the back of Lilly’s neck stood up and she deftly moved up to the edge of the chair on which she was sitting.
The old man’s wife who had been silent up until this point, looked lovingly at Lilly. “Our chairs won’t swallow you up,” she said.
“Oh…right.” Lilly quickly regained her composure.
“These screams,” Mr. Hill began, “can you clarify what they sounded like?”
“Yes. A male voice was doing the screaming. It was kind of muffled though. I picked up that they were cries for help. Maybe the fellow stuck in the beige colored car was wounded after all,” the old man said. “At my wife’s behest, I didn’t go back outside, as I wanted to.”
“Perhaps you should have disobeyed me just that once,” she told her husband. “We might have been able to tell these two their friend’s whereabouts.”
The old man shrugged. “Can’t change ‘might have’ into ‘can’ now,” he commented. “Have you spoke to the police yet?”
Lilly nodded. “They weren’t able to shed much light on anything, at the time.”
“We’re headed to the station now this time around,” Mr. Hill said rising to leave. “Thank you for your assistance.”
“No thanks needed,” the old man said seeing them off. “I just put what my eye saw and my ears heard into words and spoke them out to you.”