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“Thanks a lot, detective. I don’t know what we would have done without your help,” Mr Bates said, extending his palm.

I just smiled, shaking his hand. It was a boring case. Mr Bates was an entrepreneur, and some of his employees were selling his ideas to his rivals. 

I handed over the evidence I had collected to the cop at duty and made my way out of the police station. 

Being a private investigator is not a thrilling job as many would have you believe. On most occasions, it’s about patience – sitting in your car, doing nothing but wait for the suspect to make a false move. Sometimes that false move takes days, even weeks. On top of that, the pay is very less, especially if you’re not famous. And I wasn’t.

I made my way towards the basement where I had parked my car, looking at the cheque given by Mr Bates. This would do for a couple of weeks max, I thought, as I took my phone out to switch off the silent mode. I usually put my phone on silent during professional endeavours. Common courtesy; not very common nowadays though.

Four missed calls.

From Mom.



“Shane Malcolm Runnels, where the hell have you been?”

“Sorry Mom, I –”

“When I call you, you pick up the phone ON THE VERY FIRST RING. You have no idea how much those dead rings scare me.”

After a bit more explaining from my end – and a lot of yelling from hers – I finally managed to gather two things: One, she wanted me to immediately come back to our house, and two, she had a case for me.

The half-hour drive went by with me thinking about what kind of case she had. She didn’t sound all that worried on the phone, though, so it was probably just a lost cat or something.


“Hiya bro!” My brother Shawn opened the door for me, raising his right hand for a high five. I raised my hand up too but slapped him on the head instead. 

“Mom! Shane hit me!”

Absolutely worth it.

Mom came in from the kitchen carrying two cups of coffee. “Do you know Max, the younger son of the Robson family?” she asked me.

“I don’t even know the Robson family.” 

She facepalmed. “Alright. So, what’s happened is that we are convinced that Max has disappeared somewhere. But Maria, Mrs Robson that is, has been saying that she’d only had one son, and that’s Jeremy.”

“Wait, what?” I couldn’t help but exclaim. “And who are “we,” who are so convinced about someone else’s son?”

“Me and some other neighbours. We have seen Max numerous times in the locality.” After taking a sip from her cup, she added, “We’re afraid they might have done something to Max.”

“Why would they kill their own son, though?” I asked.

“I’m not saying they killed Max, Shane. But a boy can’t disappear into thin air.”

“Maybe you are mistaken.”

“Maybe I’m not.”

I inhaled deeply. “Okay. Do you have any photographs of Max?”

Shawn decided to answer that question. “We don’t click photos of random people we meet on the street, you dumbass.”

My eyebrow twitched. Shawn smirked. He knew I wasn’t gonna hit him in front of Mom. I guess every dog has its day.

“Well then, you tell me something about Max.”

“I have no clue, bro. Just like you, I didn’t even know that a family named Robson existed in our locality.”

The discussion continued a bit longer, but I’ll save you the details. The bottom line is: I decided to take the case, even though I seriously doubted the narration of my “clients”.


As the sun began setting, I went to a general store nearby, where I coincidentally ran into Mrs. Robson.

Nah! I followed her there. 

“Hello, Mrs. Robson.” It took her a second to place me, but eventually, she did. “Ah! Hello there Shane. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you.”

I was surprised that she remembered me, ‘cause I definitely didn’t remember seeing her ever. But then, I barely ever got out of my house.

After some more small talk, I decided to get to the point. “So how are Max and Jeremy?”

Her eyes rolled to the back of her head as if saying, “Oh no, not again.”

“I have only one son, Jeremy, and you’re not the first person to get confused.”

“Really?” I did my best impression of being confused. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Max around.”

“Well, you might have seen Jeremy’s cousins. They come down here a lot.”


“So, you see, the boy you are talking about is one of Jeremy’s cousins,” I explained to Mom while she served dinner.

“Don’t you give me that bullshit? She has given the same excuse to all of us. It’s obvious she is hiding something.”

Well, it wasn’t obvious really. But you can’t say that to your mom, can you? So, I did the next best thing. “I want to meet all the members of the “we” club.”

“You don’t trust me, then? You think I’m making this up? What for?”

“No, Mom. I just want to see if they can add anything of value.”

“I’ve already asked them all they know.”

“You are not a professional, Mom. I know what questions to ask.”

My mom thought for a while, then finally gave in. “Alright. You can meet them tomorrow. It’s too late to call them now.”


I spent the next morning asking questions to the people about Max. They all seemed to have seen him, but none had any concrete evidence. A few had even started to believe the “cousin” theory. When I had finally finished with the interrogation, I had barely made any progress in the case, if you can call this a case.


“What to do now?” I asked myself as I walked side-by-side with Shawn. I was accompanying him to a nearby stationery. “That’s the Robson’s house,” Shawn pointed to my left. “I think we should check inside for evidence.”

“Yep, nice idea. ‘Hello Robson’s, I’m Bond, James Bond. MI6. Show me your family photos bitch!’”

“Do you have any other idea?”

I did not. “We’re gonna need a distraction, though.”


“OW! MY LEG!” Mr. and Mrs. Robson came out thanks to the commotion made by my brother.

“What happened? Is the kid alright?” Mr. Robson asked.

“I think he has sprained his ankle. Can you please take him to the hospital? I’ll go and immediately inform my parents,” I said and scurried off, without waiting for a reply. The couple looked at each other, then started putting Shawn in their car. After they sped away, I made my way back to the Robson house, to find Jeremy watching TV.

“Hey Jeremy, can you go to my house. My mom wanted to give you something. Tell her Shane sent you.”

“Okay, but who are you?”

Ah! So, I’m not the only one who doesn’t keep track of his neighbours.

When Jeremy left, I began my search operation. I leafed through the family photos, gained access to their facebook accounts, looked at all the documents I could find, but there was absolutely no mention of Max Robson.

Soon, Jeremy returned with a box of cookies. Good job, Mom. We engaged in small talk for a while, waiting for Jeremy’s parents to return. Half an hour passed by. I started getting worried. What if they – 

The honk of a car broke my thoughts. I rushed out to see Mr. and Mrs. Robson help Shawn out of the car. He had a full blown plaster on his leg. 

“It’s a minor sprain, but the doctor advised to get a plaster,” Mr. Robson spoke, handling my brother back. Shawn winked.

Now, I’m not entirely sure about this one, but I might have mouthed out “What the fuck.”

“Hey,” Jeremy stopped us before we could leave. “Did you say you’re a detective?”

“Yep. You need any help?”

“Yeah. Can you tell me where my friend Adam Matthews lives?”

“Uhm… First you have to tell me where your brother Max is.”

“I really don’t have a brother. I don’t know why people keep asking me that.”

“Alright.” Well, it was at least worth a shot. “So, tell me about Adam.”

“He said he lived at 10, Prince Street. I’ve even played with him in that locality. But a few days ago, when I went to the house, they said that there was no one by the name of Adam who lived there.”

“Maybe he got the number on his house wrong,” I replied, although I wasn’t convinced with my argument.

“Maybe. But I’m sure the locality is correct.”

“Okay, I’ll check.”

And check, I did. I went to the address next morning. Sure enough, a “Matthews” nameplate was stuck beside the gates. I rang the doorbell. A short, stout lady answered. “Yes?”

“Does Adam Matthews live here?”

“We are the Matthews, but there’s no one by the name Adam.”

“Is there any other Matthews family nearby?”

“Not as far as I know.”

Well, that was strange. But I expected such a response. I came out of the house and went in the next one to continue my inspection.

“You know Adam, right?” the man who had answered the doorbell gleamed.

“Well, actually…”

“I could swear they had a child named Adam. But they deny it now. I thought I was wrong.”

“Listen, I gotta go,” I said and basically ran out of the house. I was hoping that I wouldn’t get these answers, that there was a different, saner explanation to all of this. But now, my hopes were shattered. I didn’t know what had happened to Max and Adam, but I knew that something did happen. 

Not only were two boys missing, but their family didn’t even acknowledge their existence. Why? Why were they missing? Why were their families behaving weirdly? How? How did they remove all evidence of their existence?

I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I knew one thing: Whenever something illegal happens, money is always somewhere around.


“This is weird,” Mom whispered after I finished my narration. “What is going on?”

“I don’t know. I’ll go and see the bank details of Mr. Robson and Mr. Matthews. Maybe that will shed some light.”

“Bank details? Then why don’t you see Mr. Black? He works in the Union Bank.”

“Alright. Where does he live?”

“Don’t you know any of our neighbours?”


“Thanks a lot, Mr. Black,” I said as the frail gentleman handed me the photocopied papers.

“It’s nothing, really,” he waved his arms. “So, you are a detective?”


“Like, you work in the police, or –”

“No, I’m a private investigator.”

“Can you help me out when you’re done with your case?”

“Sure, what’s the issue?” I asked, feeling a little sick in my stomach. “Please don’t be it,” I prayed mentally.

“It’s about my landlord.” 


“Like, if you met me two days ago, I could’ve sworn that he had a granddaughter.”

I swallowed, though I hadn’t been chewing anything.

“But he claims that he’d never had any grandchildren. I remember playing with her, taking her out to the circus. But he says that must have been someone else. Can you –”


I have no idea how that conversation ended. Perhaps, I zoned out. At the evening, I found myself back at my home with two sets of bank details. But now, I did not need to check them to know that they had no connection. There were more children who had gone missing out of the blue. And their family members were clueless.

I don’t remember when I went to sleep, pondering over those missing children, trying to apply all my knowledge and experience into finding a plausible solution. All in vain. Why? How? Where? When? Too many questions. Not enough clues. Too many variables. Not enough equations.

When I woke up, the world had turned all sorts of crazy. My head felt heavy, perhaps because of all the thinking. But that isn’t the craziest thing. 

Jeremy stopped me on my way to the general store to ask about Adam, but I couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer. Then, he proceeded to ask me a question that I couldn’t make head or tail of. It was really a dumb question. But even that isn’t the craziest thing.

In fact, quite a few people I met asked me the same dumb question, as if they had been dreaming for the past few days. But even that isn’t the craziest thing.

They were asking questions about Shawn, my “brother”.

The craziest thing is… I’ve never had a brother.


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