Hear ye! This story is under construction, beginning in May 2005! It is late 2007, and I've almost finished
it. I intend to have about five sketches to this story.
Dawn broke on the Friday before Christmas over the warehouse of Derrick and Crete in northeastern Philadelphia.
The late sunrise revealed little movement in the warehouse, yet occasional noise wafted into the offices upstairs. The
light from the brickwall reflected through the windows and slipped through cracks in the double doors into the room farthest
back of the second floor.
Originally the warehouse had no other floor, but the modification allowed an independent stage to run partly along the
building. Although the second floor was secure, it support came from the beams below and not along any wall. At
the end of the second floor lay a ladning dock, misnamed the mezzanine. From this platform, the warehouse and the office
exchanged material and noise. On this morning noise filtered through the double doors as well as the light.
It was still black in the unused office. Boxes and pallets lay scattered on the floor, as if they were the frontier
of uselessness. Behind one stack of boxes lay a pair of feet. The exhausted little boy slept soundly, totally
oblivious of the bustle below him.
Pete Royer was still asleep when eight o'clock struck. The increasing noise from the warehouse, coupled with movement
in adjacent offices, finally overcame his rest.
Pete had been using his jacket as a blanket throughout the night. Since he began his escape the day before, he
had been constantly cold. As he sat up, the jacket fell forward from his shoulders, and he quickly grabbed it to put
Pete had never felt this alone in his brief life. He had taken a tremendous risk to get this far to save his best
friend, himself, and perhaps others. Uncerrtainty surrounded him, like the darkness in the room. Only a red "exit"
sign left some color to the room. Visions of what could have happened to Mary after Pete had escaped tortured him.
If only had they escaped together...
Such thoughts were futile. Marty and he had agreed to attempt escape whenever the opportunity presented tiself.
Maybe Marty had made a successful break himself.
Pete could hear voices' filtering through the other rooms.
He just stood there for five minutes, trying to discern the voices. Then he sat on the floor and decided to wait a little
longer. Soon he lay down and fell asleep again.
Once again a noise from just outside the room awakened him: the
clang of metal wheels on concrete floor. He saw up with pricked ears. He heard another clang, then a squeak, perhaps
that of a door. The rolling moved toward the doors of the room he was in. Pete continued to sit on the floor.
Then he heard footfalls, and the rolling faded down an aisle parallet to the room.
Soon the rolling stopped. Pete was scared as his heart thumped
in his ears. He didn't know how he was going to accomplish the reason he was in this dark room of a warehouse.
He didn't know where on the second floor to go, but he knew it was somewhere on that floor. It was already Friday, so he knew
his time was short..
Pete slowly stood again and navigated around the boxes and the
obstacles in the room. Behind him another set of double doors let in a sliver of artificial light, but they also let
in conversation. Pete was not sure that he should betray his presence just yet.
The other doors beckened him. Slowly Pete ventured to the
doors. He pressed his ear, heard nothing, and pushed the one on the right. It flew open easily, allowing
blinding light to fall upon him. Pete shut his eyes, stepped back, then opened his eyes.
The room that he'd been in looked strange. Then some lights
went on in an adjacent room, shining over the wall between the rooms. Pete almost panicked. He scurried to the
nearest door, opened the door, then closed it behind him.
Pete found himself amid paint cans, cleaners, and mops. There
was an oblong opening in the far wall,. which let in light from the aisle outside in the warehouse. As soon as Peter
became aware of his surroundings, he heard the wheels of a handtruck again.
He stood on the cans to look over the opening, obviously to fit
an air conditioner, just in time to see a man pass. Then he made the decision.
Ann Derrick was not pleased that morning when I met with the owners in the corner office. This
time I faces them alone.
It seemed long ago when Brian first introduced me to my clients. Even them, the disaster that
had just occurred affected and afflicted me. All seemed supportive, save the assistant controller. I did emphasize
my expertise in accounting, although Brian upplayed my detective skills. Perhaps he should not have mentioned detection,
for the group became defensive, save the president. The last few weeks revealed a fruitless search, and I could feel
the patience become tenuous.
"Mr. Król," the heiress of Derrick and Crete spoke at the reason of the meeting. "You've been
investigating our firm for three weeks without progress."
"It takes two weeks to figure out the operation, especially when I work undercover," I protested.
"I have found no paper trail to lead me to the embezzler."
"So, you do think there is an embezzler," Joel Schumacher, the contoller, added.
"By all means," I agreed. "Thousands of dollars have disappeared from the books. I just
need proof of where they were going."
"You have until the end of the month. We'll be slow during the holidays," Ms. Derrick concluded.
As I left the office, I knew she was right. I had taken two weeks to learn the operations of
Derrick and Crete with difficulties; I had too much on my mind, and I had expected the work to take me away from the difficulties.
Occasionally, the disappearance would get to me. After all, I was responsible for both
boys, and I had brought them to Philadelphia to see the parade on Thanksgiving. A shiver ran through my spine as I left
the office. If I left the case, would I rejoin the search, or would I be better back in State College with my routine?
"Did Ms. Derrick give you an ultimatum? a voice asked behind me.
I pivoted to see Brian smile at me.
"What brings you here?" I asked the man who was responsible for my being there.
"I figured I'd check on you earlier this week."
I rolled my eyes at the Celtic man. "Bri, I don't think it's working out. I cannot seem
to find proof of peculation."
Brian frowned. "What about the boys?"
"Nothing. Keith keeps asking me to go back and clean up my affairs at home."
"Maybe you can go back for Christmas."
"Brian, I want to close this issue first. Someone is funneling thousands of dollars a month
from this company. I'd like to know whether the competition is trying to force an initial public offering, so they can
take over the place."
"George, you're too involved in details. Perhaps you should leave the city for awhile.
It could help to look at the whole picture."
I placed my hand on his shoulder. "Perhaps you're right. I should place enough confidence
on the police to find Pete and Marty."
"So, where are you searching this time?"
"I cannot find anything in the computer, so I'm going through the papers out back. It's really
an act of desperation."
"It certainly is. You'll never find anything back there," we heard behind us.
Jack Mooney, the assistant controller, approached us.
"I don't think there's any embezzlement. I agreed to an investigation to quiet the owners."
"That's what we've heard already," Brian retorted. "There's still money missing!"
"Merely inefficency," Mooney dismissed. "This company has growing pains."
"I still don't think so," I added.
Mooney gave me a wicked smile. "Soon what you think won't matter."
Mooney's words caused another shiver as he left us in the other direction.
"How long has Mooney been here again?"
Brian looked pensive. "I'm not sure -- a year?"
"Regardless, I just don't trust him," I said as I left Brian at the double doors in the Credit and
The overcast outside kept the area dull, despite the daylight. I was still on the second floor,
only outside the offices and open to the warehouse.
I passed étagčres of supplies, while looking for evidence of checks and debts. Whoever stole
did it esoterically. Would they be stupid enough leave it out here?
I was tartled. Then I recognized the freckled blond face that stared back from an open section
"Pete!" I gasped. "Where are you, son?"
"I'm in a closet off the room in here."
I swirled around the end of the aisle, pulled open one of a double door, and grabbed at the first
door I saw on the right side.
The little boy embraced me so sweetly. A flood of relief passed through me as I held him.
Then it hit me.
"I left him at Forester Schools. He might've escaped as well."
Then we heard the whirl of a handtruck.
"Pete, stay here. I'll get you some food. I want you to explain where you and Marty were
when I return."
I crept out of the room where Pete had been hiding. I went through the double doors and out
to the mezzanine.
Jack Vernon, a blondish man, about 1.73m, was rolling a handtruck to the dumpster chute.
"Whose office is cleaning out this time?"
Jack frowned. "It gets me out of the Call Center."
"Jack," someone callled from down the aidle. "We need you on the floor."
"Sometimes", Jack added.
After Jack left, I opened the boxes just to be sure. It appeared the usual useless papers.
There was nothing about accounts. I noticed notebooks with entries from the early 1990's, and
I saw notpads with former addresses of the company.
"George, what about me?"
I looked up to see Pete's once again peering out of the opening in the wall for an air conditioner.
"Pete, stay down."
I walked past the opening and down the aisle toward the lunchroom. I understood the sooner
I brought food to Pete, the faster I'd find out what had occurred the past three weeks since the boys disappeared.
I ran back to my office, noting Mooney was in Schuhmachers's office. Then I grabbed some
snacks after taking some from my office as well. Pete was probably going to spend the day hidden, so I needed something
to keep him occupied. Brian was going to meet me in late afternoon to plan our next move. Pete just became a cirtical
Once again, I embraced the blond boy. I had been his guardian only a few months, and he'd become
like an adopted son.
"What happened, Pete?"
"Some kidnapped us."
"I don't know."
"We saw them steal."
"A theft ring?"
"They chased us into an abandoned store."
"What happened next?"
"They grabbed us and forced us out of the mall. They lied to the guards that we were ill
and from the Forest Schools. They threw us into the back of a truck, and we couldn't see where we were going."
"You and Marty were at the Forest Schools the past three weeks?"
"Yes, but I don't know if Marty escaped."
"When we see Brian this afternoon, we'll check it out. Meanwhile, stay in this room until we
"When will that be?"
"About five o'clock. It'll be getting dark outside. I'll come back periodically to check
on you. Do not let anyone see you. Would Marty come here as well?"
"We weren't sure which direction you were in. I took a bus after getting direction. I
suppose Marty would have done the same."
"Is there any reason why you didin't meet somewhere to look for me together?"
"I was at our meeting point at the busstop for about an hour. Then I remembered we'd agreed
to try to find you first."
"When was that?"
"Yesterday morning. I didn't get here until after dark. I found the doors locked, except
in the warehouse. I found a set of stairs and came up and hid before the warehouse closed."
"That'd have been around nine o'clock."
I paused, then hugged Pete again. "It was brave to spend the night here. The alarm system
kept you safe."
"When are we going to look for Marty?"
"Frist, we're going to figure where he's at. If he's still at Forest Schools, then we may have
to sneak in and grab him. I'd rather you wait until Brian meets us to tell me the rest. We must know what happened
and which resources we can use."
I looked at my watch. "It's just past ten o'clock. I'm going to call Brian so he knows
to pick us up. I can always learn the details later. We don't know how much time we have to find Marty.
Surely they know you've escaped by now."
I'd decided that it was dangerous to leave Marty wherever he was, and Brian could investigate while
I continued my pursuit of the case with Pete there. I left Pete in the empty room, went to my office, and called Brian.
Brian understood my logic, and he told me he'd be there at five.
I returned to the back room, seeking Pete. I'd gone only ten minutes, but I couldn't find Pete
anywhere. I panicked because I couldn't imagine his leaving the immediate area. I ran out to the storage platform
to see if he had fallen to the floor of the warehouse. I was looking over the edge when I heard a faint rapping at the
door to the garbage chute. I ran over to it, unlatched the bolt, and pulled open the door. There scrawled was
Pete, trying to keep himself from sliding down the chute!
I pulled Pete out as soon as I had him secure. Visibly shaken, he sat down on the floor. I waited for
him to calm down before I asked anything. He didn't wait for my questons:
"I saw someone from the hole in the wall take boxes to the chute. I'd thought no one was still around when I came
out to look into them. Then I felt a push into the open chute."
"Did you see who grabbed and pushed you?"
"No. I couldn't tell even if it were a man or a woman. It happened so fast that I found myself trying to
hang on from sliding down the chute."
I stood in thought for a minute.
"Let's just see what's in these boxes."
I opened several, but they were full of discarded materials, and nothing was there to hint of embezzlement.
It was approaching noon. The warehouse downstairs became quiet during the halfhour for lunch. I just finished
the search though the boxes when Jack Vergis -- the one who had brought the boxes back -- appeared down the far end of the
hall. I led Pete back into the closet where he'd been hiding with me. From the opening for an air conditioner,
we watched Vergis dump the boxes down the chute. He showed no sign of looking for anyone in the chute, although Pete
confirmed Vergis was whom he'd seen earlier.
This time I left Pete in the room with strict orders not to leave, save for an emergency. I did not want anyone
to see him, lest we show whoever had pushed him into the chute that Pete was still around. I spent the afternoon suspicious
of everyone, especially Mooney.
When five o'clock arrived, Brian, who was diverted from the case that afternoon, drove into the lot as Pete and I exited
"Do you think Marty would still try to find me here?" I asked Pete once we were in the vehicle.
"No. Marty was supposed to get back home if he couldn't get here."
"I take it Marty didn't show at the apartment."
"No," Brian confirmed.
"I think it's time we paid the Forest Schools a visit, preferably early tomorrow morning."
Saturday the Twentyfirst dawned with the smell of snow in the air. Brian was driving us farther into suburban Philadelphia
along the Roosevelt Boulevard. The traffic was light as expected.
Pete was excited to return to the Forest Schools. We needed him to point out where he and Marty had spent the past
three weeks. I had to admire the courage and loyalty of the boy.
"Remember that as soon as we have Marty, we get out of there as fast as possible."
We casually moved into the parking lot closest to the division where we thought Marty was. Because of the time
of the year, the sun had not yet arisen, so we had some cover of darkness.
Pete led Brian and me into a side entrance. The night watch was still on, but Pete quickly showed us which room,
and we were in.
Pete appeared confused when he saw both beds occupied. Marty was in neither, but Pete went up to one of them and
shook the occupant.
A boy with auburn hair awoke, saw Pete, and said, "Pete, you've come back to get me!"
"No, Buddy, we're here for Marty."
"But I want to leave, too!"
"Pete, they took him away. I'll show you."
Buddy practically leapt out of bed and dressed. He seemed ready to do more than show us around.
Brian peered outside into the hall. "The coast is clear. Let's go!"
The four of us crept down the hall. We were almost out the door when one of the inmates yelled, "Pete and Buddy
are trying to escape!"
"Billy, shut up!" Pete and Buddy retorted in unison.
Before I had time to consider a diversion, more of the inmates joined Billy. They began to taunt us, but Brian
pushed open the door.
"No!" someone yelled, and soon the entire mob was pelting us with anything available. A chair just missed my head,
but a toy dinosaur hit me flat in the face.
The blow disoriented me momentarily. The chair hit the door and set off the alarm. So much for a diversion!
I staggered out the door, yet I had time to close it. I grabbed a stick and jammed the lock in the handle.
Then I ran to catch up with the others.
Buddy led us to the basement under the administration building, which sat on a hill. The alarms went off again
as we entered the buidling. The first door on the right led us to Marty, who was gagged and bound to a chair.
He must have cried himself to sleep, for there were streaks down his freckled cheeks.
Our entrance woke Marty, as he looked as us rather groggily. I ungagged him as Brian cut the ropes around his ankles.
I stood the red-haired boy up once Brian had freed his wrists from the chair.
"Can you run, Marty?"
Marty nodded wearily, so I wrapped an arm under his shoulders, and we fled for the vehicle.
By that time, chaos reigned in the area. The group I had blocked off the way we left then streamed at us from another
exit. Something had agitated them, for most were clad only in pajamas or underwear. The counselors were no help,
for some appeared to egg them on.
Brian reached the vehicle and jumped in. The tires screeched as he pulled up next to us. We three jumped
into the van as missles hit the side. The van jerked forward, circled the lot, then flew along the escape route.
I glanced out the back window to see the mob's still chasing us.
Brian pulled out of the entrance and stopped at the red light. I kept a watch, and some of the mob appeared about
a hundred meters away.
"Brian, there're still coming!"
Brian glanced into the rearview mirror. "This light won't last. We'll soon be on Roosevelt Boulevard."
I shuddered as the crowd advanced. They almost hit the van from fifty meters when the light mercifully changed.
We left them in the dust as I piitied anyone nearby.
I turned to Pete and Marty.
"Good," came the reply behind me. I almost jumped when the cover on the trunk moved. Out peered Buddy as
he beamed at us.
"Buddy," I exclaimed. "They're going to claim we've kidnapped you!"
"I don't think so," Brian shot back. "How are they going to explain where we grabbed him? At this point,
one more kid's not going to change our basic plan. As soon as Franklin Mills opens, we're going to pay the thieves a
visit with the authorities."
It was still too early to do anything else. Taking all three boys with us, we arrived just before nine at the mall.
They led us to the orange neighborhood where we sneaked around to where Pete and Marty had stumbled upon the ring.
There seemed to be no one there.
"Perhaps they left the mall," Brian posited.
"Perhaps someone had warned them," I added.
We worked our way into a backroom, where some stolen merchandise still lay.
"Look at this stuff, Brian," I pointed. "And the tags are still on them!'
Then I heard a noise in the next room. Brian must have heard it as well, for he sprang for the door. I quickly
followed, but Brian was already across the room when I arrived. Wordlessly I followed the direction he'd left the room.
The next exit opened into the mall. It wasn't time for the stores to open, but some walkers were out there.
Brian was running full speed, and I just glanced him before he was out of sight.
I didn't have sneakers on, but I accelerated to a sprint in the same direction. I tried to fly along the ramps,
for they were centered better than the steps on either side.
By this time, we had attracted the attention of the mall police. I ignored them in hope they'd chase down our objective.
I saw Brian cross the aisle to the left and plow through a door. I zigzagged and followed into a long corridor
towards outside. By the time I reached the door to outsdie, I was lost. I ddin't see Brian anywhere.
I guessed that he'd run behind some of the coniferous trees surrounding the walls of the mall. Once I duucked out
of sight, I realized that Brian was nowhere in there. Coming out into the open, I saw a double door still open.
I accelerated to the door and ran inside, closing the doors behind me. I heard a moan in the corridor.
Brian was just getting up while his left hand rubbed the back of his head. Wordlessly I saw him as he raised he
"Did he get past you?"
"No, Brian, but the doors were wide open."
"He doubled back after I'd chased him in here. He was waiting around a bend and whacked me before I could react."
"Come on, buddy," I grabbed Brian's shoulder and guided him out. "It's time we strike before they can react."
The Mall police weren't so happy we'd recovered the loot. I think they were embarassed that
we'd uncovered a theft ring right under their noses. The rest of the day we went over the events of the day, unsure
whether we could solve the problems. I really wanted to take Marty and Pete back to State College and leave Brian to
"So," Brian summarized. "This theft ring decided to operate at the peak season at Franklin Mills.
They had accomplices at the Forrest Schools to fence the loot. When Marty and Pete stumbled upon what they were
doing, the thieves kidnapped them."
"Apparently the thieves had done it before, and they had evaded the police until now. They
were going to pack up for the holidays."
"What were they going to do with us?"
"Well, Pete, they hadn't decided on that. When you escaped, the entire ring panicked.
That is why they put Marty under wraps. In fact, we interrupted their operation just as they were packing up."
"So when are we going home?"
"Christmas is Wednesday, so I'd love to send you home today for Keith to take care of you.
I still haven't uncovered the embezzler at Derrick and Crete. I'm running out of time. Brian and I would like
to finish the case as well."
"Are we taking Buddy with us?"
"Yeah, take me."
"Buddy, we have to place you with juvenile authorities."
"Don't worry, Bud," Brian soothed. "I've already arranged for you to stay with me."
"But I want to go with Pete and Marty!"
I turned to Brian. "Could we call it a visit for the holidays? It'll be next year by
the time we straighten everything out."
Brian smiled. "Okay, but I want you three boys to stay together on the bus to State College.
Even direct, it takes four hours to get there."
"I suspect Keith is going to have his hands full."
I spent Sunday sending the three boys off, and concentrating on the original case. Perhaps
I could figure it out if I arrived before no one else.
The warehouse opened at 6 AM that Monday, which gave me enough time to get inside and sneak upstairs.
The incident of someone's shoving Pete into the chute bothered me. Why would someone do such a thing? Then it
hit me. The perpetrator couldn't have worried about what Pete had seen. Pete would have had no idea about what
I was investigating. Whoever shoved Pete into the chute must have recognized him! Suddenly I had an urge to check
out the secretary to the assistant controller.
"My hunch was right," I reported to my client, the president of Derrick and Crete.
"What's you next move?"
"We must lull them into complacency. I want you to announce that I quit the investigation and
went home for the holidays. Meanwhile I will go through the motions of leaving; only Brian and I will sneak back here
this afternoon. It might be curious between five and six tonight.
Art Crete smiled. "I have a feeling you'll wrap it all tonight as a present."
Dusk was falling as Brian and I hid in my former office. We were close to both the office of
the controller and of the assistant controller. It was past five o'clock, so half of the staff had left. Our bodies
were growing weary of the waiting. Soon the controller, Joel Schumacher, locked his office and walked past our office
towards the front.
"Things should start getting interesting," Brian remarked.
As six o'clock approached, the secretary to the assistant controller, Joan Winter, came out of the
office and walked down the hall.
"Let's see what she's up to," Brian suggested.
"No. It isn't six yet. Let's wait."
Soon Winter returned with boxes of documents. She sat down and began to shred them.
Mooney came out of his office. "Which ones are you shredding?"
"Oh, these are the regular ones. You'll have to get me the important ones."
"Never mind. I'll do them myself."
We watched as Mooney walked down the hall. I decided to follow him. Because Winter was
facing us, I figured I could get around her by going through the lunchroom. When she arose to put the confetti in the
garbage, I scooted back one office and left the corridor. There was nol one left to answer inbound calls, and the center
was closed for the night. I raced down the parallel aisle into the lunchroom, meeting no one. Winter had her back
to me as I reached the other end of the corridor. I then continued pursuing Mooney.
I was in the credit and collections department. Again the place was closed for the night, and
I didn't see Mooney. He wasn't in the room where Pete had spent the night. I then looked in the olf office still
unconverted from the previous owner.
The lights were on, but I didn't see Mooney.I slipped into the aisle at the same time Mooney turned
around. Speechlessly he turned and ran. He was almost out of the room by the time I began to pursue him.
I imprecated my luck as I tripped and just missed flying into a divider of former desks.
Which way would Mooney have run? The loading platform seemed unlikely, but Brian would block
his escape the other way.
I scurried to the edge to a gap about four meters down. As I looked down, I heard boxes fall
Mooney was charging me! Instinctively I dropped to the floor of the dock. Mooney tired
to stop and avoid tripping over my prone body. I felt his being whoosh over me, and when I looked up, he was gone!
I picked myself up to see where he'd landed. To my surprise, I didn't see him on the floor
below. Then I heard a thud. Somehow Mooney had managed to grab a pole which ran under the dock between girders.
He swung under the dock and dropped the two meters left to the floor.
I raced to the banisters around the platform. On one side forklifts stood recharging.
The top of one of the forklifts was a short step down. I pulled myself down and stepped down to the floor of the warehouse.
By this time, Mooney was running toward the loading doors.
I had only begun to sprint when I hard a threatening voice behind me.
"Król! Stop right there!"
I turned around slowly to see Winter up on the dock. In the light I could clearly see her standing
with a pistol. Even at that distance of ten metes across and four meters down, I could estimate that she was pointing
the gun at my head!
Mooney had reached the receiving doors. He turned into my direction and seemed pleased with my predicament.
I glanced back to the upper loading dock as Winter cocked the pistol.
"This will give me the most pleasure."
"Even more than pushing Pete down the garbage chute?" I retorted.
"How did you know that, Król?"
"Why would anyuone push a boy into a garbage chute unless she'd recognized him?"
Winter was temproarily taken aback.
"Shoot him!" Mooney shouted.
Winter once again aimed, then fired.
I had already ducked behind a girder, but also I had seen Brian grab Winter's arm. The bullet ricocheted off the
ceiling, hit the receiving door, and finally stopped in a box.
Mooney had dived for the floor after not having the time to warn Winter. Winter attempted a kick at Brian's left
vamp, but he eluded the blow. The pistol flew into the warehouse.
Even though I was closer, the pistol sailed over my heard. Mooney jumped up and sprinted toward the pistol before
I had realized it. I raced after him.
I jumped over an asile of boxes just in time to see Mooney aim the pistol at me. i ducked as a bullet smashed into
a box behind me.
When Mooney leaned over to aim at me again, I surprised him with an uppercut to the chin. Once again, the pistol
fired and flew across the warehouse. This time I had no resistance in retrieving it. By then, Brian had Winter
"I'll call the police," he reported from the platform.
"You have no evidence," Winter spat.
"I think so", Brian pointed to a pallet of boxes ready to go back to the shredder
"I'm sure we'll find your connection to the Forrest Schools as well," I yelled up.
"Winter was a secretary at the Forrest Schools, where she met Mooney. She helped Mooney embezzle
from that institutution. She also had connections to the thieves at Franklin Mills. Apparently she's been a very
busy woman," I explained.
Keith's hazel eyes lit up.
"Why does every case bring in another little boy?"
"You can handle them, little buddy."
Keith looked down while popping his gelasins.
"I never expected to play father to three boys,"
Brian had made arrangements for us to take in Buddy along with Pete and Marty. The three boys
acted like brothers during their captivity at the Forrest Schools. Already I was able to enroll Buddy in the State College
School District for the new year.
CONCLUSION TO FOLLOW SOON