I try not to attract attention. I breathe better incognito. On a particular hot Sunday in July I parked about four blocks from Dollarton Beach. I slung my two pairs of binoculars across my neck, and carefully wandered down a wide asphalt path. My mission: to lay low behind some logs and scan across the shoreline, make a few notes. I’d be perceived as a bird watcher. I sat on the sand observing through each one of the binoculars and sucking on a pure cane sugar Kombucha drink. I was rudely interrupted when a lanky, curly haired lifeguard with “Ben Acker” marked on a large name tag on his pants asked me “Where did you get that T shirt?”
I’d noticed him out of the edges of my eyes, walking by a few times.
“You like it?” I said. I looked pointedly at his name tag. “Is your last name really Acker?”
He didn’t answer. “I want to know where you found the shirt.” he demanded.
“Picked it up at Bargain Charity.” I checked out his name tag again. Yes, Ben Acker. I looked down, my fingers trembling. I breathed in a few deep yoga breaths and the fingers relaxed a bit.
“So you didn’t steal the shirt.?” Acker asked. His voice sounded edgier. He questioned again.. “Have you ever worked for the North Dollarton recreation department?”
“No and no. Why do you ask?”
“Your T shirt is a North Dollarton Recreation Department Staff T shirt.”
I looked down. “Hmmm. It certainly is!?”
“You shouldn’t be wearing it the shirt if you’re not a staff member. Someone obviously stole it.”
“Oh.” I took another swig of my Kombucha, lifted my face to meet his gaze. A pain started behind my eyes. I breathed in deeply. “Lots of people in the water today. Hope the children are all safe.”
Ben stared quietly for a moment, then motioned to another lifeguard who’d walked up in front of us, a long-haired guy with very skinny legs, with “North Dollarton Recreation Department” imprinted on the sides of his red shorts.
“Luke, this guy’s wearing one of our staff shirts.” Ben moved his head in my direction. “No one’s supposed to wear them except staff, right?”
Luke put his hand to his chin. “Um, yeah.” He looked at the shirt. “It seems brand new.”
“Well, I bought it at a goodwill store,” I said. I paused. “Maybe some crystal meth addict broke into the recreation centre recently and stole all your shirts.” I carefully lifted my first set of binoculars, and trained them on Ben’s face.
He jumped back. “Quit looking at me with those things.”
I lowered the field glasses. “I only want to check out your name tag a little better.”
“Why would anyone steal cheap clothes” said Luke. He plunked his skinny ass down on the log beside me. “You’ve got some powerful scopes there.”
I sat forward, put the Kombucha between my knees, stared out towards the inlet. “Lots of kids out there today,” I said. “It only takes a few seconds for one to be kidnapped, don’t you think?”
Ben ignored me, sat on the log on my other side. “That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about your shirt.”
Luke rubbed his cheek. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s kinda like a uniform. People might think you’re a lifeguard.”
Ben stood with his hands on his hips. “A guy who’s not a policeman can’t wear a cop’s uniform.”
“Well” I leaned forward, my fingers vibrating. I crossed my arms and held my fingers under them. “There could be someone drowning right now and you’d miss it. Haven’t you guys got anything more important to do?”
“It’s not about us. It’s about you.” said Ben.
“O. K.” I tried to do more yoga breathing. “Let’s say I believe you about the shirt. But it’s the only one I have right now.” I opened my arms, took a swig of the Kombucha. It burned a bit going down. “So what if I wear it today on the beach, and then mail it into your office immediately after by express courier?”
Luke nodded. “What do you think, Ben?”
Ben stood up, walked round in front of me. He almost yelled. “You’re wearing stolen property!”
“Listen,” said Luke. “You can just give us this shirt, then go buy a new one at Wal Mart.”
“I’m not walking around bare chested at my age,” I said. “I’ll get sunburned.” I twirled myself in the sand, positioned my back to the lifeguards.
I bought the T shirt three weeks ago for five bucks, from a sketchy vendor at an open street market. I didn’t have enough money to buy another one. I lived out of my small van, parked just up the street. My long term disability cheque wouldn’t be deposited until tomorrow. My last five bucks went for the Kombucha. I had a growing feeling though that Ben and Luke knew all this. Especially Ben. The pressure in my head expanded and a pain prickled again, right across the tops of my eyes. I stood up, stared across at the two young lifeguard faces. After a moment I began. “Ben Acker, are you related to Johnson Acker, the lawyer who lives in that condominium down the shoreline?” I pointed.
Ben looked at where I motioned. Then he said “That’s none of your business.”
“Of course not,” I stood up. “You guys are in fact interrupting a major surveillance operation.”
“You don’t have to shout,” said Luke. He looked at Ben. “Let’s just leave him alone,”
Ben’s eyes bore into mine. Neither of us looked away. Then he talked very slowly, like I was a child. “We’re going to go away for ten minutes. When we come back, I want you out of this park. We don’t allow perverts here.” He paused. “Or we’ll call the police.”
“Do your worst,” I said. ’“Two bullies bothering a harmless old man.”
Ben lifted his chin. “Ten minutes,” he said, and walked away through the sand. Luke shrugged at me, then followed his co-worker along the beach. I readjusted my binoculars, examined the building across the shoreline. That building included a specific condominium, where lawyer Johnson Acker (J. A.) lived. According to my research, Acker was the last person to see Kyle Amito, the two-year-old child who disappeared from a neighborhood in North Dollarton, on this day sixteen years ago. At the time, J. A. was interviewed all over the news. He organized a massive public search for Kyle. On T. V. I saw his fake concern, the phony mustering of the neighbors, the crocodile tears when nothing showed up. A man like that was capable of anything.
Five years ago, my wife hired J. A. to win our messy child custody dispute. He tried to frame me for abducting my own kids, in a horrible court fight that dragged on for years and spiralled me into a complete breakdown. I spent two months in a psychiatric facility because of that psychopath lawyer and my ex-wife and their merciless pursuit that cost me visits from my kids forever. This from a lawyer who’d abducted a kid himself, the innocent Kyle Amito.
My purpose in coming to the beach on the anniversary of Kyle’s kidnapping was to surveil, try to capture an actual sighting of the boy on Acker’s patio. It seemed more likely that today Acker would give the kid some space, a special anniversary occasion to look out from the balcony. Then, I could see him and plan steps to free him. I wasn’t being paid for this. It was my give back contribution to society for all the doctors and counsellors and nurses who helped me out of my depression and all the taxpayers who paid for it. Thank goodness I was awarded disability benefits. I could spend most of my time on the lookout for Kyle. These two lifeguards may have interrupted key moments in the search. I was inclined to believe they did it on purpose.
Part of me wanted to sit out the ten minutes, to call Ben and Luke’s bluff. But people called the police on me before. Two weeks ago, when I surveilled the Acker residence on a preliminary investigation, a resident kept eyeing me from the condominium complex. I made myself too visible, with my old van and the binocular observations. The cops rolled up and gave me a talking to. I didn’t want another visit.
I stood up and readjusted my field glasses, then stepped over the logs behind me. I looked back as I headed up the gravel path, and again as I moved out of the park and along the sidewalk. No sign of Ben Acker.
That night in my car I shoved the staff shirt into a big bag and hand wrote a very long letter to the North Dollarton recreation department. It told them of my purpose being on the beach, followed with a moment by moment description of my encounter with the lifeguards. I told them that I was paying to return this T shirt as a matter of principle, and that the lifeguards may have lengthened the kidnapping of Kyle Amito by interrupting my surveillance. In fact, I said I suspected Ben Acker might be involved, due to the suspicious way he singled me out for questioning, and the strange coincidence of his last name being aligned with Jonathan the lawyer. In the letter, I included a link to my internet blog page. My intention was to snail mail the package the next day, but during my typing a revelation came to me.
I laid all the newspaper photos of two-year-old Kyle Amito on my van dashboard and compared them to Ben Acker’s face and build. From two til eighteen is a long time. I then laid down pictures of myself, when I was a young boy going through a few of many foster homes. I compared instant photos from my phone to my old snaps. I could really tell that the boy in the photos would become me, how I crossed my arms and touched my shoulders with my fingers, the looking away from the camera lens, the inability to smile for a photo, all mannerisms I still carry. Then I studied my own kids’ pictures, like I did every night. Their big eyes, and their innocent looks. I didn’t know how they’d appear now and could only imagine. They’d be the same age or just a bit older than Kyle.
In his long-ago news photos, Kyle’s smile appeared slack and distracted, as if he was thinking of something else, not something amusing. Ben had that same look, like there was a lot going on inside, the smile being all he revealed. Kyle and Ben’s hair stuck up, their eyebrows light and barely visible. Eye colour the bluest same, the sharp features with eyes that looked away when you focused on them, like Ben’s did when I studied him through the binoculars.
The next morning, I prepared myself with twenty minutes of yoga breathing. Then I carried the package down to the deserted beach around 9 a. m. I sat exactly where I did the day before, and waited for Ben Acker. It took some time, but after awhile I saw him wandering out on the pier in his lifeguard uniform, watching ducks bob in the water. I walked quickly over, holding up the package. Ben jumped as I announced “I have wrapped the T shirt for you. It’s in here.”
He kept looking down at the ducks, pretending not to notice. “You need to give it to the staff office,” he said.
“I think I know who you are,” I explained. “Though you may not know it yourself. It’s been years since the abduction.” I set the package down a few feet away from him.
“I don’t want this,” Ben said, loudly this time. “Take it to the office, like I told you.”
“The biggest secret of your life is in here,” I said.
“Get away from me, you fucking loser.” Kyle stepped back off the pier. “I’ve seen you around our building with your binoculars, and then I saw you on the beach wearing that T shirt. Out of my neighborhood, you old pervert.”
I stepped back “I’m only trying to help you,” I said. “There’s something you need to know and it’s in there.”
Ben looked away from me. “Get the hell out of here.”
I turned, stepped back over the beach. I looked back. Ben stood watching the water, the package on the pier beside him. I saw him move towards it, and bend to examine the label I’d attached. I waited for a moment more, then headed for my car. I drove up Lions Mountain Road, parked in my favourite cul de sac, and lay under a big cedar tree, covered up with my favourite cotton and polyester blanket. I tried to rest, but my head kept rushing.
I’m a man of gentle persuasion. That’s all I could do for Ben. I could try to tell him who he really was, who he really belonged to. It’s a thing I would do for any abducted child. Would he appreciate my efforts, or would he be so immersed in his new life he’d not remember who he was, or care? What matters is that someone cares enough to aspire and want to tell him the truth. He may remember that.
Tomorrow, I will begin my new search. For my own kids, at last. They could be anyone now, could even be lifeguards at a beach. Who knows where J. A. and my wife are hiding them? Like Ben, they may be totally convinced about the reality of their own disguise. Tonight, I will take a smooth cloth and remove all the dust and grime from my powerful binoculars. I have to make the effort to find those kids, for all life must have purpose, and I must give my own children at least a chance at liberation.