I’ve been in Raven Creek for five days now, and it’s starting to get to me. The constant blanket of fog has crept into my bones and settled there, filling me with a heavy sense of dread. Each morning, I drag myself out of bed and take a long, hot shower, trying to shake off the chill.
Find Philippa, becomes my daily mantra. It wakes me from my stupor, helps me to focus on the reason why I came here. Find Philippa, before it’s too late.
With no leads, and a dead-end police report, I have no option but to begin investigating random citizens. This is easier said than done. Half the citizens of Raven Creek are as cold and reclusive as my roommate, Lloyd. And the other half, while cooperative, are eccentric and boisterous.
“Sure, I saw a little girl who looked like that,” says a man whose braided hair is dyed the same garish shade of orange as his shirt. “Back in… oh, what year was that? I can’t remember, but I had to be around fourteen years old…”
“Never mind,” I tell him, then move on to speak to a few people who seem to have the same sunlight deficiency as Lloyd. I sit at a table with a quiet pair of guys for at least twenty minutes before one of them finally looks up from his book to suggest, “Why don’t you try searching some place where little kids tend to hang out?”
I hate that I didn’t think of that first.
Over the next couple of days, I take the guy’s advice. I question every staff member at Philippa’s school, including the janitor and cafeteria staff. I scope out the playground, the ice cream parlor, the library. No one is able to recall seeing Philippa. It’s as though the whole town has amnesia. And then, while wandering through the shopping district, I stumble across Scotty’s Toys and Novelties. A toy store – of course! What more likely place for a young child to have spent her time?
The décor of the toy store is as dark and old-fashioned as many other shops in town. However, the heavy furnishings and wallpaper are offset by brightly-hued throw rugs and wall-hangings, and shelves and shelves of colorful toys and games.
As I scan the rows of miniature cars and fashion dolls, my eyes fall across a shelf full of stuffed animals. Unicorns, to be exact. Like Goldie, I think, recalling the words of Philippa’s best friend.
“Excuse me,” I say, waving over the man behind the counter.
“Yes?” Everything about the man screams purple, from his purple bowler hat and suit to his purple-tinted hair and moustache. Yet my senses are no longer shocked by such an appearance, thanks to my exposure to the rest of the town’s citizens. “How can I help you?”
“Do you know if this store has ever sold a golden unicorn that looks like these?” I point at the stuffed toys.
“Of course,” says the man. “Let’s see…I have sold exactly one golden unicorn since I opened this shop twelve years ago.”
“You opened this shop?” I raise my eyebrows. “Then you must be—”
“Why yes, indeed. My name is Poindexter Scott, owner and proprietor of Scotty’s Toys and Novelties.” He sweeps into a full bow, and his hat falls to the floor.
I ask Mr. Scott a few questions, but he insists that he hasn’t seen a child who looks like Philippa around his shop. “At least, not lately,” he adds. “I am sure that I have seen this child before. She came into my shop two years ago. Just a tiny little thing carrying a small sack full of coins, which she’d collected all by herself. She was the child who bought my only golden unicorn.”
That was Philippa all right, I am sure of it. I thank Mr. Scott for his time and ask him to contact me at once if he thinks of any additional information. Then I return to my search, no closer to finding Philippa than I had been when I began. Who would have a motive to kidnap a young orphan girl? Some deranged local or passing traveler? A desperate couple with no children of their own? I am running out of ideas, and fearful that Philippa, wherever she is, is running out of time.
And then, I meet Chloe Vargas. And that’s when everything changes.