Authors: Grant McKenzie
This is a work of fiction.
All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
No Cry For Help
© 2009 by Grant McKenzie
All rights reserved.
A Famous Book
First Printing 2012
OTHER WORKS BY THIS AUTHOR
Writing as Grant McKenzie
(Bantam UK; Heyne Germany; Penguin Canada)
No Cry For Help
(Bantam UK; Heyne Germany; Famous Books)
Writing as m.c. grant
an ebook short story (Midnight Ink)
Angel With A Bullet
(Midnight Ink – Sept. 2012)
Devil With A Gun
(Midnight Ink – Sept. 2013)
For Karen and Kailey,
And for Mum and Dad,
who allowed their odd little boy
to be an odd little boy
That wasn’t like her.
Wallace Carver glanced at his watch for the tenth time in the last half hour. He tapped its crystal face to make sure it wasn’t broken.
The tiny second hand ticked mercilessly, keeping perfect time.
A gift from the bus company, it was a proper watch. Heavy. Expensive. A four-letter inscription on the back. Apart from his gold wedding band, it was the only jewelry he ever wore.
His wife, Alicia, teased him that she was jealous. She wanted to be the only valuable thing hanging on his arm.
As if she ever had to worry.
No precious metal or jewel could shine as bright as his Alicia, at least none he had ever seen.
Why else would he be sitting at an uncomfortable table in the noisy Food Court of a busy shopping mall, bored out of his mind, with sticky fingers and a well-traveled book of crosswords?
Wallace lifted his paper cup of coffee to his lips and grimaced when the cold dregs crossed his tongue.
He had forgotten it wasn’t fresh.
He looked at his watch again. It was after six. His family — Alicia and his two young boys, Fred and Alex — was supposed to meet him at five.
They hadn’t even checked into their hotel yet. Alicia and the boys were so excited about driving across the border from Canada and going shopping in Bellingham’s Bellis Fair Mall that they
— by a vote of 3 to 1 — decided to shop first and check-in at the Holiday Inn just before supper.
The hotel was only a short drive from the mall and there was an Olive Garden restaurant next to it that promised a menu stuffed with the boys’ favorite pastas, all-you-can-eat breadsticks, fountain drinks and, mercifully, a decent house red for mom and dad.
Thinking about the restaurant made Wallace’s stomach grumble. All he had to eat in the last few hours were two large cups of coffee and a giant cinnamon bun smothered in cream-cheese icing. Granted, the promise of a sticky, gooey cinnamon bun was his main lure for agreeing to visit the region’s largest indoor shopping mall. His bad leg made walking for hours a chore and he had all the fashion sense of . . . well, of what he was.
He often wondered if the reason he chose to drive a bus was because the job came with a uniform. He didn’t have to think before he got dressed each day, just slip on the company’s baggy TransLink blues.
He glanced at his watch. Six thirty.
The uncomfortable knot of worry in his stomach began to churn and turn sour.
Come on, Alicia. Where are you?
Originally, Wallace had wanted to take a different type of trip. Leave the boys with family friends, Crow and Delilah. Have Alicia all to himself. Reconnect. It had been awhile.
But Alicia knew how much the boys would love an adventure, even such a short one. Money had been tight of late and, despite all his promises, family vacations were one of the first luxuries to go. Fortunately, things were finally looking up. He was back to work full-time, Alicia had picked up some steady part-time hours at a local florist, and the damn insurance company was off their backs.
Guess he couldn’t blame Alicia for wanting to blow off a little retail steam, but still . . .
Wallace unfolded his long legs from beneath the table, stood up, stretched his arms above his head to unkink his back and loosen his shoulders, and looked around.
Alicia would be easy to spot if she was nearby. A natural redhead with uncontrollably curly hair that swept past her shoulders in adorable ringlets, she stood out like a beacon in an unending ocean of bland blondes and dull brunettes. She also walked with a bounce in her step
— like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh; her favorite book — as though she was twenty years younger than her recent milestone birthday would imply.
A faint smile crossed Wallace’s lips as he thought of her. Even when they first met, when he had been younger and owned a gym membership that he actually used, Alicia had been out of his league. He knew he was nothing to brag about. What you saw was what you got. Just an everyday guy with a good paying, steady job on the buses that he happened to enjoy. Alicia, meanwhile, not only turned heads, she was smart as a whip, too.
In a box, somewhere in the garage or attic, there was even a nicely-printed, but never framed Bachelor’s degree of English from the University of British Columbia.
When Wallace questioned what first attracted her to him, she would smile coyly and say he knew just how to fill out a pair of blue jeans.
He still did, although his waistband had enlarged a notch or two.
At six-foot-two, two hundred and twenty pounds, Wallace was no pushover. But truth be told, before the accident with his leg he had balanced the scales at a solid two hundred even. That extra twenty pounds was hanging around his middle like an anchor, forcing him to wear his T-shirts untucked to hide the flab.
The weight never seemed to bother Alicia though. Then again, few things did. He was her Pooh bear. She was his eternal optimist; his needle pointing North.
Wallace’s smile faded. There was no sign of her.
Even if Alicia had found a to-die-for shoe sale, she would have checked in on him by now, if only to hurriedly drop off the boys so she could sprint back to the sale with unencumbered focus.
Wallace moved to the edge of the Food Court. One corridor connected the bulk of the mall with the atrium-style eating area. The spacious corridor was lined with shops and dotted with island kiosks offering everything from cellphones to real estate.
Everything was on sale. If you had the money, a lousy economy was a shopper’s wet dream.
The crowds had thinned marginally as weary shoppers headed home to feed their kids or soak their throbbing feet.
Wallace climbed onto a low wooden bench to peer over the tops of people’s heads. He hoped to see Alicia threading her way through the crowd, face flushed, apologetic expression, a boy clutched tightly in each hand, their faces full of delighted mischief.
But she wasn’t there.
Wallace looked at his watch.
Two hours late.
He wished he had brought his cellphone. Alicia had talked about bringing them. They both owned one, but he had been worried about roaming charges. He had heard horror stories about people who received outrageous bills when they travelled across the border without the proper international phone plan.
Wallace hadn’t wanted to take the risk, it was just for the weekend, but now . . .
He stepped down from the bench, ignoring the disapproving glare from a sour-faced shopper who was obviously wondering what the heck he was doing up there in the first place. He started down the corridor at a slow pace, allowing the stiff joints in his left leg to loosen.
Commission salesmen from the island kiosks tried to coax him over to sample their wares, but Wallace ignored them, too. As a public transit driver, he had quickly learned how to tune out annoying people. It was one of the necessities of the job.
The corridor led into a large, circular hub. From the hub, three more corridors stuffed with shops and kiosks stretched into the distance. Discount stickers for 30%, 40% and 50% off littered every window display. There were so many signs it was difficult to tell what each store actually sold, just that it was on sale.
His family could be anywhere.
Wallace glanced at his watch and cursed under his breath. Twenty minutes past seven. This was getting ridiculous.
Alicia had a tendency to be easily distracted by the silliest of things. It was one of the qualities Wallace found both adorable and annoying in almost equal measure. On the one hand, she had a unique perspective on the world and an ability to make him see wonder in the mundane. And on the other . . . well, sometimes a rock was just a rock.
But even when she became distracted
— grocery stores and craft fairs were the worst — she rarely kept him waiting longer than ten or fifteen minutes. To be over two hours late went against everything he knew about her. And after ten years of marriage, Wallace was pretty sure he knew it all.
What if one of the boys had taken ill or been injured?
He dismissed the thought.
If Alicia couldn’t reach him, she would have had him paged. Despite her sense of whimsy, Alicia had always been good in a crisis.
In the middle of the hub was a circular backlit sign that displayed the floor plan of the mall. Wallace crossed to the sign and studied the map. Every store was catalogued both alphabetically and by the type of merchandise it sold. A letter and number ID tag beside each listing corresponded with a location on the map.
Wallace found the one he was looking for. The map showed it was located a short distance down the B corridor on his left.
Stuffed between a T-shirt shop that specialized in rock bands Wallace had never heard of and a women’s lingerie store, a narrow hallway led off the main thoroughfare. Halfway down, a plain white door was labeled
Wallace knocked and entered without waiting for an answer. He had grown too damn worried to be polite.
Two men in white shirts, black pants and skinny black ties sat in wheeled office chairs behind an old wooden desk. An adjoining door was open to a second, slightly larger office that glowed with both color and grayscale monitors displaying various parts of the mall.
Wallace had entered in the middle of a joke and the larger of the two security guards was near-choking on a mouthful of egg-salad sandwich.
“Wrong door, I think, sir,” said the smaller guard. He had sandy blond hair and a button nose that made him look awkwardly elfish.
“Isn’t this security?” said Wallace.
The larger guard swallowed and swiped a paper napkin across his mouth. He was mostly bald and his freckled forehead was large enough to rent out for advertising. He also wore three stripes on his sleeve, compared to his partner’s one.
“It is,” he said. “How can we help?”
“I need to page my family.” Wallace’s jaw locked tight.
“Is there an emergency?” asked the younger guard.
“I don’t know.” Wallace suddenly felt self-conscious and a little ridiculous as he added, “I can’t find them. They’re missing.”
“Missing?” The younger guard scoffed. “It’s a large mall, sir. You sure they’re not still shopping and lost track of time?”
“I’m sure. We were supposed to meet . . . ,” Wallace glanced at his watch, “two and a half hours ago. Can you page them?” He unclenched his jaw and squeezed out, “Please.”
The two guards exchanged a glance that spoke volumes. They could have just as subtly twirled a finger at the side of their heads.
“Did you try customer service?” said the older guard. He sounded weary, as though chewing his sandwich had been enough of a chore for the day.
“No. I came here.” Wallace locked eyes with the senior guard, getting a read. He felt his worry turning to anger, but kept it in check. He had learned on the job that if someone was nice to him, he could be their best friend, let them know when the right stop was coming up or what connecting bus to catch. But when someone pissed him off, it was easy to make a mistake and drop the jerk blocks from his intended destination. “You’re the professionals, right?”
The guard puffed up his chest. His nametag caught the light:
“That we are,” said Schulz. “But we don’t normally
“I’d really appreciate it,” interrupted Wallace. His voice held a note of desperation and he allowed it to show. “You must have kids? A wife? I’m really worried and you guys know this mall better than anyone.”
The guard sighed. “OK. What are the names?”
Wallace told him.
Schulz spun his chair to face a small black microphone. He flicked a series of switches until a row of red lights glowed across the front of an outdated electronic Public Address system.
The guard glanced over his shoulder. “When the mall first opened, we used carrier pigeons.”
Wallace didn’t smile.
Schulz rolled his eyes in sympathy for the wasted joke and returned to the microphone. He hit a button on the main panel, waited for a burst of static to clear, and then issued the page.
“Attention shoppers. Would Alicia, Fred and Alex Carver please report to the Security Office in Corridor B. That’s Alicia, Fred and Alex Carver. Your husband is worried. Thank you.”
The guard switched off the microphone.
“Can that be heard everywhere?” Wallace asked. “In every store?”
Both guards nodded.
“What about the large department stores?” said Wallace.
The guards exchanged another glance. Schulz stuck a finger in his mouth to dislodge a chunk of something green and crunchy from a gap in his back teeth.
“Target and Macy’s have their own systems and security detail,” explained Schulz. He sounded annoyed at this division of labor as though a piece of his kingdom had been usurped. “We’re patched into Sears and JC Penny though, so that’s most of the mall.”