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Rick Mofina

They Disappeared

1

New York City

This trip is going to change us forever, Jeff Griffin thought as the jet descended into LaGuardia.

He looked at his son, Cole, age nine, excited to be on his first plane and marveling at Manhattan’s skyline poking through the clouds. Then Jeff glanced at his wife, Sarah, at her hand, her wedding ring.

Until a year and a half ago, they had been living a perfect life in Montana, where Jeff was a mechanic and a volunteer firefighter and Sarah was a schoolteacher. They’d come to New York for Cole because he’d always dreamed of seeing Manhattan. It seemed like the best thing to do, given all that they’d been through.

“It’s always going to be hard for us, Jeff,” Sarah had told him. “But we just can’t give up.”

While Sarah lived in hope, Jeff couldn’t help but think that this vacation to New York was a requiem for the life they once lived.

The landing gear locked into position with a hydraulic thud.

Jeff exhaled slowly and turned to Cole.

“Wow, Dad, this is so great! I can’t believe we’re really doing this!”

Jeff looked at Sarah. She gave him the promise of a smile and he held on to it, thinking that maybe, just maybe, he should reconsider.

After their plane landed, the Griffins moved through the arrival gate and joined the rush of passengers heading to the baggage claim area.

The air smelled like industrial carpet cleaner and pretzels.

Cole was energized by the bustling terminal as they made their way to the crowds at the carousels. Sarah went to the restroom while Jeff and Cole got their bags.

Jeff shouldered his way to the conveyor, plucked Sarah’s red bag from it, then his own. Cole had followed him and hefted his backpack from the carousel. Sarah had bought a new one for him, for the trip.

“Looks like the one.” Jeff gave it a quick inspection, black with white trim and mesh side pockets. He glanced quickly at the blue name tag without really reading it; blue was the right color for the tag. Then he helped Cole get his arms through the straps.

As they waited for Sarah, Cole tried counting all the carousels in their area but there were too many. He loved the blurring pace as people jostled to heave their luggage onto trolleys before wheeling them out through the main doors.

“I wish Mom would hurry up, Dad. Can we see the Empire State Building from here?”

“Maybe on the cab ride to the hotel-there’s Mom.”

“All set.” Sarah smiled, joining them.

They left the terminal through the automatic doors.

Jeff spotted a row of news boxes. They reminded him that the travel agent had mentioned that a major event would be taking place when they were to arrive. The headlines shouted about it. UN: Whole World in the City Again! said the Daily News. Tighter Security for World Leaders Means Gridlock for All! blared the New York Post.

As they queued up for a taxi in the ground transportation pickup zone, they didn’t notice that among the throng of arriving passengers, one man had taken an interest in Cole.

He was in his late twenties, a slender build with wild blond hair. His face was void of emotion. He looked European, a youngish student bohemian traveler. As he walked by them, slowly and unseen, his attention locked onto Cole’s bag.

The man hesitated.

The Griffins got into their cab. He stopped and watched, his face suddenly darkening with concern as they drove off.

His backpack was black with white trim and mesh side pockets.

It was identical to Cole’s backpack.

2

New York City

Their taxi merged onto the Grand Central Parkway and the driver lifted his head to his rearview mirror, which had a rosary hanging from it.

“Welcome to the capital of the world. Where are you coming in from?”

“Montana,” Jeff said.

“Cowboys and land spreading out to the mountains,” the driver said.

“That’s right.”

“Is this your first time to the Big Apple?”

“No, I’ve been here for a few conventions over the years, and-” Jeff glanced at Sarah. “We were here together, a long, long time ago.”

“Well, you picked a good time to return.”

“Why’s that?” Jeff asked.

“We got the president and about one hundred world leaders coming into town over the next few days for the UN meeting. Lots of security, sirens and helicopters. Messes up traffic.”

“Yeah, we saw that in the newspapers.”

“The president and helicopters, wow,” Cole said.

“It’s a huge show and a glorious pain.”

The road clicked under the taxi’s wheels as they moved onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Sarah looked out her window at the endless flow of apartment buildings, warehouses, factories and billboards. One showed a laughing baby’s face next to a smiling young woman in a graduation cap and she thought of their daughter, Lee Ann.

They were moving west toward the Midtown Tunnel when they came to a gently sloping segment. The tip of the Empire State Building emerged in the haze ahead as Manhattan’s skyline rose before them.

“Look at that! I gotta take a picture!” Cole said. “Oh, no, Mom, I put my camera in my backpack and it’s in the trunk. That was dumb, oh, no!”

“Here, use mine.”

Sarah fished her small digital camera from her bag. Cole, a technical master, clenched an eye, took a photo and showed his parents.

“Oh, this is awesome!” Cole said.

Moments later the taxi slowed. An overhead freeway sign guided three lanes to the great stone mouth of the Midtown Tunnel. Lines of traffic moved through the tollgates. The tunnel gleamed in brilliant orange and yellow as it curved under the East River to Manhattan.

Cole took more pictures until they surfaced somewhere near Fortieth Street and Third Avenue. As they looked at the skyscraper-lined canyons and the shining high-rise condos, Jeff’s cell phone rang. The call was a 646 area code with a number he didn’t recognize.

“Hello?”

He heard nothing and after several seconds of static he hung up.

“Who was that?” Sarah asked.

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