Punctually at 9:30 he rang the corner box near his flat and Ellen answered after the first ring.
“Ellen, I’ve got wonderful—“
“Oh, Dad!” Ellen cried out. “Owain isn’t home yet! I don’t know where he is. He wasn’t in school again, and now he’s not come home.
I don’t know if he’s run away or if something terrible has happened to him. I don’t even know where to start looking!” She was clearly on the brink of tears.
Rhys tensed inwardly, but he kept his voice calm. “Now, don’t worry, El. It’s only just gone 9. No need to assume the worst. Have you been round to the Harrisons?” (Owain’s best friend was the Harrison boy.)
“Yes, of course, Dad. He wasn’t there. And I stopped in at the Bennet’s and Deane’s as well. No one has seen him anywhere.”
“All right.” Rhys was starting to get worried himself, but he told himself not to panic. Owain might be young, but he was resourceful and tough. And what could have happened to him? “Now, El, if he’d been in an accident or something, the police would have contacted you, so I don’t want you to imagine the worst.”
“But what if he’s run away?” Ellen asked in distress.
That was what Rhys feared too – after the way Owain had talked back to him yesterday. “He’ll need money for that. Have you checked the sugar bowl?” (They had a glued-together old sugar bowl where they collected petty cash.)
“It’s empty!” Ellen sobbed into the telephone.
Now Rhys was concerned. He took a deep breath and ran his finger around the inside of his collar. Where would Owain go? Back to his grandparents in Wales, perhaps? He didn’t get on with his maternal grandparents, they were too strict and cheerless, but he liked Rhys’ parents. “What are we going to do, Dad?” his daughter asked helplessly.
“First thing is for me to get in touch with your grandparents and see if he’s turned up there. I want you to phone me every hour with a report. If he isn’t home by midnight, I’ll call the police. Have you got the number of the mess reception?”
“Yes, of course, Dad.” She sniffled a bit, but that ‘of course’ suggested she was recovering a little of her self-confidence.
Getting through to his parents wasn’t easy as they had no phone and he didn’t know the number of the nearest public phone, but he was able to reach the village pub and they sent a boy round to his father. His parents, however, had neither seen nor heard from Owain. Rhys wandered into the mess wearing a heavy frown. He ordered a pint ad took it to a side table, still lost in thought about where Owain could be. A mess orderly appeared, “do you want me to bring you something to eat, sir?”
Rhys looked up gratefully. “Yes, if it’s not too late?”
“I’ll see what I can do, sir.” He disappeared and returned with a slab of cheddar, several slices of bread and cold gammon steak. Rhys thanked him heartily and set to work on the meal. At 10:30, the WAAF receptionist called him to the phone. Owain still wasn’t home. At 11:00, it was the same thing. The mess was gradually emptying. By 11:30, Rhys was almost alone. Fogerty and Newbury got up to leave, nodded ‘good night’ to him, and went out.
A second latter, Fogerty returned and stood before his table. “Is there something wrong, sir?”
Rhys started, frowned, hesitated. How could he tell his subordinates about his private troubles? But what if Owain really had run away? Or worse, what if something had happened to him? He’d have to return, and then the others would need to fill in for him. In that case, they’d find out anyway. Rhys was tired and worried. “It’s my boy. He isn’t home yet.”
Fogerty glanced at the clock. “How old is he?”
“He’s staying with his sister, didn’t you say?”
“Yes. It’s not a good arrangement, I know. She’s too young. He doesn’t mind her like he should. But I’ve only just found a cottage, and it’s going to take weeks to get it ready.”
“I’m sure we could help there, sir. You’ll get it ready faster if we all pitch in. Are the police looking for your boy, sir?”
“I haven’t called them yet. I want to give him till midnight to get in.”
Fogerty nodded. “Sounds sensible to me, sir.” He paused, but it seemed there was nothing more to say. “Well, let us know if there’s any way we can help, sir, but I’m sure he’ll turn up fine. I used to sneak down to the pub at that age. Played darts for money.”
Rhys nodded absently, and Fogerty started to leave. Rhys remembered to call “thanks” after him.
They were closing up the bar. The room was getting chilly. The central heating was off. It was 11:55. Should he ring Ellen? But she would have called him if Owain had arrived. Marie? No, why worry her? She’d be in bed too. But maybe she’d have a suggestion? If only he were at home. He would have gone out and searched the pubs himself – something he couldn’t ask Ellen to do.
The telephone at reception rang.
Rhys jumped to his feet. The WAAF answered, looked over at him, nodded, indicated one of the phone boxes.
“They just brought him home, Dad.” She didn’t sound terribly happy.
“Brought?! Who? Why? What’s wrong with him? Is he hurt? Where? How bad?”
“He’s drunk. He’s so drunk he’s spewed up all over the front hall. He reeks of gin and he can’t stand. It’s disgusting!”
Rhys was so relieved he almost laughed, but he caught himself in time. “I know it is, El, but it could have been worse – and maybe he’s learnt a valuable lesson.”
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