River was an early riser; he’d always been that way. In the mornings, he’d get up and mope around the tiny hotel room where he had been banished. It was too quiet. Occasionally he heard a door open and close and voices, but none of them belonged to him. He was alone and desperately wanted to be back home where he was loved and noticed. In those moments, he sat and thought about why he was there in the first place. He wondered how she was holding up and if telling her the truth would really make her take him back. But, there had to be another reason. Why was it so easy for her to disregard his pleas to come home and proposals of doing whatever she wanted? And why did she ask him about when he went fishing last? He was missing something, but he was too despondent to realize what it was.
Whenever his spirits got too low, he threw himself back into work. If they didn’t catch a criminal soon, he would lose his mind. He dialed Guy’s number.
“It’s a great day for fishing…”
“Yessiree! My…you sound like you could use a fishing day,” Guy said. “You’ve been going pretty hard there, Riv. Maybe you should—
“I’m coming over.”
He hung up the phone and showered. A half an hour later, he was walking into Guy’s home.
“Heeeey, look who’s got a new attitude,” Guy said.
River peeked into the bedroom and then in the kitchen. “Bea left you on babysitting duty?”
“Never. She’s in the shower.”
River sat next to Guy. “How’s fatherhood treating ya? Are twins as terrible as they say?”
“Well now that depends on what they say, now doesn’t it?”
He laughed and patted Guy on the back. “Good answer.”
“I assume this is not a social visit.”
“Tell me about these disappearing children.”
“Cut the chase, huh? Ay ay, cap’n. So, basically kids go to the hospital because they don’t feel well…and they never come out.”
River still hadn’t gotten used to Guy’s need for theatrics. After the morning he had, all he wanted to do was work, and Guy was slowing down that process. “Who is doing this? How many kids?”
“Whoooooa there, cowboy…”
He sighed as he waited for Guy to get to the point.
“Remember those pictures I showed you a month ago?”
“We got ourselves a new target.”
River’s eyes lit up as Guy took out his phone.
“We got some new pictures.” He scrolled through his gallery to find the pictures. “So, here is our little lady a month ago…”
The last time River saw those pictures he had no context to go with them. He was just excited that a new suspect had entered into the pool. However, it took the surveillance team this long to find something hard and compelling that connected her to this case.
“…and here she is a little while later.”
“She’s a nurse,” River said as he studied the pictures a few more times. “So… She gives the kids the wrong medicine so they pass out, and then someone abducts them? Why didn’t surveillance capture the kidnapper?”
“Well…they were following her.”
“What about street cameras? Or the hospital’s own cameras?”
Guy pat River on the back. “Now now, Riv…if these crooks weren’t professionals, our jobs would be much easier now wouldn’t it?”
“Fine. So how do we talk to her?”
“You outrank me now, sir. You should be telling me.” He smiled proudly.
Riv was glad that his friend and colleague still made himself available as he needed. He still needed guidance, and Guy didn’t make him feel weird about asking. “Shall we pay her a visit?”
“Whoa now, hot shot. We’re S.I.A. We’re a sneaky lot. We have secrets to keep including your identity! We don’t just go to someone’s house and say, ‘Hi! I’m Guy from the S.I.A.’ Sneaky. Remember? We have cover stories for everything. Cover stories and ID. Here.” He took a card out of his wallet and gave it to River. “I had this made for you.”
He took the card and inspected it. “Detective Phil Thurman? From San Myshuno? You named me Phil?? I don’t think I give off a San Myshuno vibe, Guy. I’m a country boy!”
“Seeee, it’s working already. You got to blend in, Riv.”
River raised one eyebrow. “Like you blend?”
“Heeeey, no shade throwing. It’s not my fault you can’t pull off the cool look.”
The two men shared a laugh.
“Here’s a badge. Now you’re Det. Thurman.”
River hesitated for a moment. “You’re coming with me, right?”
“I wouldn’t miss this show if I were dead.”
The agents made their way to the Courtyard Lane neighborhood in Willow Creek and stopped at Pique Hearth. River took a deep breath and knocked on the door. “Just a minute!” A female in the distance warned them. She looked surprised to see them when she arrived at the door, but not terribly alarmed. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. How may I help you?”
“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m Det. Phil Thurman.” He flashed his badge. “And this is my partner…” Oh shoot…I didn’t get his name! ”…Dan…Dan Buckley. Would you mind if we came in and talked?”
“Of course! Of course. It’s so terrible what happened to those poor little children. I’ll be as helpful as I can.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Pancakes. We would really appreciate that.”
Eliza led them through the front door and into the living room. “Have a seat, please.” She motioned to the couch in front of the television. She sat in a chair next to them.
“What is your position at the hospital, Mrs.—
“Please, call me Eliza.”
River smiled. “Ok, Eliza. What do you do at the hospital?”
“I am a registered nurse. I usually work in pediatrics, but sometimes I do after surgery care and follow-ups for Dr. Smiley’s patients. Pretty much whatever she needs me to do.”
It felt weird for River to hear her drop a name he recognized. “Dr. Hailee Smiley?”
She nodded. “I’ve been on her service for years!”
“Is that normal? I mean, for a nurse to be on one doctor’s service?”
Eliza’s smile faded away. She looked uncomfortable.
“I’m not sure I like where you’re going with these questions,” she said.
“I’m sorry. The medical field is foreign to me,” River said. “I’m just trying to learn how it works.”
Guy chimed in to save face with River. “We just want to find those poor innocent children, Miss Eliza. Any information we learn, even if it appears to be irrelevant, can help us.”
She seemed slightly more at ease. “Well…I do want those children to be found. I’m sorry. It’s very unnerving when things like this happen on your watch. I understand why you would question me. I supposed I’d start with me too.”
“I’m glad you understand,” River said. “I think we’ve taken up enough of your time today. Would it be ok if we contacted you again if we have anymore questions?”
“Yes, of course. And thank you. I hope you can find who did this.”
“We will. I assure you.”