Following the sounds of children laughing, Gemma walks down to the arcade where she finds only two teenagers making out on the air hockey table. Ignoring the oblivious couple, she walks among the games and searches for any sign that the kids have been in the room. The detective stops near the prize counter when she finds a collection of wet footprints. All of them are lined up with an alternating pattern of one pair facing the back and the next pointing at the left hand wall. Kneeling closer, Gemma sees that the two sets are connected, as if the children were looking forward and turned on their heels. Bigger prints are found every five feet, the shape oval and larger than any shoe the detective has ever seen. Judging by the positioning, she assumes that these are of the kidnappers, so she counts to find out how many criminals she is dealing with.
Taking a picture of the marks with her phone, Gemma follows them through the arcade and comes to a door of frosted glass. Glancing back, she sees that the teenagers have moved their session to the pinball machines. Uncomfortable with the lack of backup and nobody knowing where she is, the detective calls Max while opening the door. She stops when she comes to a large indoor pool, the stench of chlorine making her eyes water. There are discarded towels and empty beer cans along the benches, one of which has been tipped over. Locker room doors are on either side, each entrance adorned with used bathing suits that are held up by tacks. Most of the light comes from the glass ceiling, which shows the moon looming over the building. Three flickering lamps are in the floor of the pool, but they do nothing more than make a trio of illuminated circles in the dark water. Cold puddles on the blue tiled floor make it impossible to continue tracking the children and their kidnappers, so Gemma is forced to carefully search the area.
“Good to hear from you, Cook,” Max says with a wide yawn. The bump of his car hitting a pothole jolts him to full awareness, but he still takes a long sip of coffee. “This really isn’t a good time. Got a call from the chief that Kate Addison is in the hospital for a breakdown. Said I had to visit her now or never. Doesn’t sound right to me, but I can’t take the risk after being diverted so much. What’s going on over there?”
“I’m fine. Thanks for asking,” Gemma whispers, drawing her gun at the sight of a moving shadow. She relaxes when nothing appears, but her weapon remains out and ready to be fired at a moment’s notice. “Kids are being taken from a party. I’m not sure how or if Dawn is definitely behind it, but she certainly knows something. Tracked them to the indoor pool, but I can’t figure out where they could have gone. Probably have to check the locker rooms since the only door here is back to the arcade.”
“Well, I won’t be any help since I’m not there,” her partner points out, his voice nearly drowned out by a truck. The gentle click of his turn signal can be heard over the phone and continues for several seconds before he talks again. “The roads aren’t very pretty out here, so I need to concentrate. All I can tell you is to search everywhere. If your gut says the kids are down there then go hunting. We both know the statistics around kidnappings and time. You have an advantage since you’re there and the criminals are staying onsite. Now, I have to focus on what I’m doing or I’ll be kissing a truck grill.”
“Thanks and sorry to bother you, old man.”
“Not a problem, slightly younger woman.”
Turning around, Gemma screams and raises her weapon at the sight of a brown-haired girl in a swimsuit. The child is wearing deflated floaties, one of them yellow and the other pink with cartoon rabbits. A flood of tears pours down her face until the gun is lowered, her bawling turning into choking sobs. Shivering from cold and fear, the girl rushes forward to hug the detective and bury her face in the woman’s shirt. With a quivering arm, she points at the pool and tries to mouth words that come out as faint mutters. Unable to calm down, the child begins crying again and stomps her feet in frustration.
“I’m here to help,” Gemma whispers, crouching to come face to face with the girl. She sees a hand-shaped bruise on her arm, the size telling her that at least one kidnapper is a man. “My name is Gemma Cook and I’m a police officer. You’re safe now. Can you please tell me what happened and where the others are?”
“The bad clowns came from under the water,” the girl answers, regaining her voice and tugging Gemma toward the men’s locker room. She gives one of the towels a wide berth, her eyes widening as blood seeps through the cloth. “They swam through a tunnel from here to the big pool. When we jumped off the diving board they dragged us back here where more took us downstairs. I got away when they were beating up a little boy who wouldn’t stop crying. They were using bats. You have to hurry or the others will be killed.”
“Why would they kill their hostages?”
“They said they wanted to make Dawn look bad.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“Nobody cares about missing adults, but a missing kid upsets everyone.”
“You’re suddenly very calm and smart.”
“My parents make me read the paper.”
Gemma frees her hand from the child’s surprisingly strong grip as they entire the clean locker room. Every towel is neatly folded and the nearby showers are sparkling as if they have never been used. A single locker is closed while the rest are open to reveal an aquarium portrait in the back of each one. The benches are arranged in two neat rows and are bolted to the dry, shimmering floor. Far in the corner, Gemma can see the side of a vending machine that casts a rectangle of light onto the opposite wall. She steps further into the room and hears the distant screams of children, the noise possibly coming through the pipes that run along the ceiling. A dull groan plunges the locker room into near silence, the only sound a gentle hissing coming from a shower that has been left on.
“Where do I go?” Gemma asks as she turns to the girl. She jumps back at the sight of a scarecrow, which is wearing the same clothes as the girl. “I shouldn’t be surprised about any of this. Still not sure how you’re doing this, Dawn, but I’m not going to be scared off by your tricks, magic, or whatever it is. I’m finding those kids.”
“Excuse me, Ms. Cook, but you have a message,” a male voice says over the intercom. The sound of cawing ravens erupts from the speaker above the door, the birds stopping at the sound of a clicking tongue. “If you are looking for the children then there is a right path and a wrong path. This message has been brought to you by a fan. Good luck and remember that only one of her eyes can see the truth.”
“Well, that was a little more helpful than the disappearing girl,” the detective mutters as she checks her gun. Examining the room for clues, she walks to the middle of the room and turns in a circle. “Looking for a secret entrance that anybody could find, which doesn’t really make it a secret. Right and wrong way? Well the closed locker is on my right and the riddle could be playing off the other definition of the word. Seems like something Dawn would do to mess with me.”
Stepping over the bench, Gemma opens the locker and finds that the back has been kicked in. A shadowy stairwell can be seen going to down to the beginning of a brightly lit hallway, which is adorned by a basement sign. Not wanting to be trapped, the detective gets a towel and wets it in the running shower. She threads the damp cloth between the locker door and the unit’s main body until she can hold both sides. The red-haired woman pulls with all of her strength until the polished hinges break and clatter to the ground. Leaving the door on the floor, Gemma carefully enters the stairwell and makes her way down the barely visible stairs.
“I meant my right, Ms. Cook,” the man mentions over the intercom. “Oh well. I guess the show will come to an end sooner rather than later.”