Later Sunday Night, Dallas
Still smarting a bit from having the plug pulled on his couch potato routine, David only reluctantly cooperated when Will began questioning him.
“Look, David, I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier. I know you’re worried sick about Austin. We all are. We need to cut one another a little slack, okay? I don’t blame you for what happened. It happened. There’s no point wasting our energy assigning fault.”
“I’ll never forgive myself if something happens to my son. I’d rather something happened to me than for Austin to be harmed.” He looked up at his father-in-law, eyes swimming in torment.
Will sat next to him on the sofa and put his arm over his shoulder. “I do know what you mean. When our Bryan died I didn’t even want to live anymore. And Austin… Sometimes when I look at him I can see Laura when she was his age.”
“Yeah, he sure does look like his Mama. Especially when he cries. His eyes fill with tears and then go kinda red around the edges. I can’t say no to him when he does that, just like I give up with Laura. If she looks at me with those eyes, man, I’m finished.”
Will chuckled, remembering. “I hate to admit this, but there were times I thought Laura did the eyes thing because she knew how well it worked on me.” He stood up and moved to a chair directly across from him.
“Now David, I want you to relax. Let’s work together. How long was Laura gone before you went in to find her, can you remember?”
Laura, having assured herself that the little girls were fast asleep, came down the stairs and entered the room just in time to hear, and began to protest.
Will held his hand up to silence her, “We’ve talked it to death, Laura. Now let your husband and me work on trying to reconstruct the scene.” He turned back to David.
“Now think: Try again to remember, will you? Details, like how long had Laura been inside before you went to look for her?”
Laura stood behind the chair and massaged her husband’s neck. “Try to relax and let it all come back to you, honey. Shut out everything but the memory of Thursday night.”
Will groaned inwardly; he hadn’t intended to put the guy into a trance, but decided David’s wife knew him better than he did; maybe this relaxation exercise would help.
“I remember watching the clock and by 11:00 I’d already been waiting a while. I went to look for her at 11:20, so I’d say she was gone about half an hour.” David closed his eyes, yielding to Laura’s touch.
“What were you doing all that time? Were you listening to the radio?”
“No, it was quiet in the van. Austin had finally settled down about an hour before we stopped and I didn’t want to disturb him. The girls went to sleep as soon as it got dark outside.”
“So you’re sure Austin was sleeping?” Will asked.
“Yeah. You know when he’s sleeping. If he isn’t sleeping he’s talking. Nearly drove us crazy asking questions all day.”
“What were you doing while Laura was gone? Were you watching people? What were you thinking about?”
“It’s funny; I remember thinking about how much you and I are alike, Will. How we computers guys are mellow dudes and keep a cool head when the women go hormonal on us.”
At that, Laura snapped her finger on the back of her husband’s head. David smiled, keeping his eyes closed, concentrating.
“I guess I was pretty mad at Laura, thinking about how she’s always late, and how she loves to shop wherever she is, even if it’s a truck stop in the middle of the night.”
At Laura’s silence he looked up at her. “I’m sorry, honey, it is what I was thinking, but ever since your dad yelled at me to clean up the kitchen I realize I haven’t been too helpful with the kids. I haven’t paid much attention to all the things you do for them—and me.”
“All right, you kids probably want to discuss it when you’re alone together. If you are anything like Gloria and me, you can stand some heavy relationship work every once in a while. Communication can break down with the pressures of every day life closing in on us.” Will was glad to see them pulling together but he pressed in harder.
“But that’s for later, when you’re all safely back in your own home. Too much time has elapsed already, and I won’t try to hide how concerned I am. We have to figure out what happened and find our boy before it’s too late.”
David reached up to grab Laura’s hands, still on his shoulders. They nodded solemnly and gave Will their full attention.
“Let’s go back to Thursday night. You must have been watching for Laura all the while you sat there. What else did you notice? Anything unusual, anybody out of the ordinary in the area near your van?”
“No, just the usual cars and trucks, people going in and out. I remember feeling really tired and wishing we hadn’t had such a long drive ahead of us.” He paused. “I’m trying to go back in my mind and experience it again,” he told Will apologetically. “Let’s see, the smell of gas, the oily shine on the pavement, so many big trucks—dozens of them, the noise…wait! There was something! Why didn’t I think of it before?”
He jumped up, excited. “You know what? I’ll bet I know what happened!” He paced, slapping himself in the head as if to activate his brain cells.
“You know how Austin can drive you nuts with questions, right? Especially when he locks onto some new idea. Well, he’s wild about the big trucks, can’t talk about anything else. Made me read every name on every truck we saw, especially the big cabs with a camper-kinda deal on the back! Remember? He said we should buy one and we could all live in it.”
He grabbed Laura by the shoulders. “A truck, honey! It looked brand new—big, huge thing, with a sleeper cab.”
“Where was the truck, David?” Will broke in. “Was it near the van when you went in after Laura?”
“It must have been him! I saw this truck come and park right at the edge of the pavement, the parking area, between our van and the grass. Odd—he was the only truck to stop there while I was waiting. I didn’t think much of it at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention, but I don’t remember seeing him leave. It was new, I know it was—really shiny—and dark-colored. Could have been black or dark green or maybe even dark blue. I don’t think it was there when we left. I’m sure I would have noticed…Yes! It was still there when we left, remember honey? Right near our van!”
He hugged Laura. “That will help, won’t it?” he asked Will. “If it was a trucker, then all we have to do is find out which trucks were there between 10:30 and 11:30 Thursday night.”
“How can we find out?” Laura wanted to know.
“It should be a lot easier if we can eliminate passenger cars,” Will said, picking up some of David’s enthusiasm. “He probably re-fueled and he almost certainly used diesel. I’ll call and see if they’ll go through the diesel receipts for that night and work with the police to find out if they know anything about those guys.”
He clapped David on the shoulder. “I think we’re on to something, computer guy.”