The air was still and damp as the dew settled with the rising moon. Stiles’ father had received an urgent radio transmission—code 10-54 in the Beacon Hills Preserve—and he left the house with barely a word.
Stiles knew he really shouldn’t, but he often used an old, hand-built radio to listen to Sheriff’s Department frequencies—it was the only way to monitor his father during working hours—so he knew the police code meant a possible dead body. Stiles listened long enough to find out that some hikers had found half of a dead girl along a trail just on the edge of town, so he knew his father would be out for most of the night, if not the whole night.
Since he would only worry himself into a frazzle if he stayed home alone, Stiles packed some game cartridges into his backpack and headed off to his best friend’s house. If Stiles was going to worry about his father searching for a possible killer, or at least the rest of the victim, in the woods, he could do it while playing video games with Scott. Scott would understand how much Stiles would need to keep his mind occupied. They had been best friend for a lot of years, since meeting in the hospital cafeteria while Stiles’ mom was undergoing treatment and Scott’s mother was working an afternoon shift. They were a year apart in age—Stiles was 7 and Scott was 6—and they desperately needed friends. Scott’s father worked too much and Stiles’ mother was dying, and they quickly became inseparable.
Stiles tossed the backpack into his beloved ancient Jeep and drove through the increasing darkness to Scott’s house. Scott’s mother would not be home, as she was on late shifts at the hospital this week, so they would be alone in the house, but alone with his best friend was better than alone alone. The house was mostly dark when Stiles pulled into the driveway, so he lightly skipped up the front steps and knocked on the door.
And knocked again.
And then he pounded on the door.
Finally, Stiles produced a copy of Scott’s house key and opened the front door. Stiles walked into the house shouting, “Scott! Scotty-boy! It’s me and my new favorite games!” There was no answer, but there was music playing upstairs, so Stiles followed the noise to his friend’s bedroom. Scott was dancing around his room while folding laundry. Stiles leaned against the door jamb for a moment, watching his friend and silently laughing. His patience was totally worth it when Scott turned toward him and screamed in alarm.
“Dammit, Stiles! What are you doing here?”
Stiles snorted and entered the room. “Dad got called to a crime scene, and I was home alone. I figured we could pass the time playing games until he gets home—or morning, whichever comes first.” Stiles brandished his backpack and tossed it on the bed.
Scott sat on the bed and opened the pack, looking through the games. “What kind of crime scene?”
“Some hikers found a body in the woods.”
Scott scrunched up his face. “That doesn’t sound good.”
Stiles shook his head. “Oh, it’s actually much more interesting than that. The hikers only found half of the body.” Stiles reached for Mario Kart, but Scott had gone suddenly still.
“Stiles!” Scott’s voice was excited. “You’ve got your Jeep, and you know where your dad will be.”
“So? So, let’s go out there! We can avoid your dad if we’re sneaky! I bet we can find the other half of that body!” Scott finished his statement with a sharp intake of his inhaler.
Stiles gave a considering look at his friend. “You want to go running around the woods at night, looking for a body?”
“No! Half a body! That’s much cooler!” Scott stood to find his shoes. “Hey! Which half of the body did they find?”
Stiles sighed. “I have no idea. There is no police code for specific body parts.” Stiles fished his keys out of his pocket. “Are you sure you want to do this? We could get caught, and then we’d both be grounded until school starts again.”
Scott finished tying his shoes. “Come on Stiles! We haven’t done anything cool all break! School starts in two weeks, and we’ve spent the whole time playing video games!”
“We tried to go sledding last week. Doesn’t that count?” They were currently enjoying the holiday break between semesters, and the weather was extremely capricious.
“Not if the pitiful snowfall has already melted and the rocks on the hill tear through the plastic sleds.” Scott bounded out the door and down the stairs. “Come on, Stiles! We’ll just be out for a little while, and then we’ll come straight back. And if your dad finds us, you can say it was all my idea. Okay?”
Stiles sighed. “Okay. But this is all on you.”
In retrospect, stomping through the dark woods with an asthmatic and one flashlight was not the best idea anyone ever had.
It had rained recently, so the ground was damp and slippery. Scott was panting along beside him, but Stiles saw no sign of a body, whole, half, or otherwise. And since they spent the entire time debating classes during the upcoming school year (“Of course Harris is still going to be an ass!” “How is he still teaching, anyway?”), then they were almost assuredly going to be found out by the police. Still, the sound of approaching search dogs—and handlers—did kind of catch them off guard.
“Crap! I bet my dad is with them!” Stiles dove for the ground and pulled Scott with him. “We’ll have to split up. If he only catches one of us, we should be fine.”
“Okay! Okay, I’ll head back to the Jeep this way,” said Scott, turning toward the hiking trails.
Stiles nodded. “Yeah, okay. I’ll head this way, and I’ll pray we both make it to the Jeep with no problems.”
After a feeble fist-bump, they parted ways.
And the search dogs found Stiles first.
Stiles was almost relieved to hear his father’s voice.
“Hang on there! I know this delinquent!” Sheriff John Stilinski heaved a rather bemused sigh when he got a look at his son. “So, where’s your partner in crime? I doubt you’re out here on your own.”
“Oh, no, Daddy-oh! I’m totally out here alone. I might have heard the radio call….”
“Jesus, kid! I told you not to listen in on official radio frequencies!”
Stiles sighed in relief. “I just…worry about you, you know? And finding a body is a big deal. I’m a teenager! That is, like, the coolest thing ever around here!”
“Okay, Stiles. Is your Jeep parked near here, or do I have to give you a ride home?”
“Really, Dad? You think I would attract attention to my presence by driving my rather distinctive vehicle near a crime scene area?”
“Okay, then,” said the Sheriff, grabbing Stiles’ arm, “Let’s get home then. I’ve got the rest of a long night ahead of me.”
Stiles shoved his hands into his jeans pockets. “Um, how about I walk to Scott’s house? I mean, if you’re going to still have to come out here again, I may as well stay with him tonight.” Stiles huffed a low laugh. “I can even regale him with stories of my exploits tonight.”
And while Stiles managed to circle around and find his Jeep, he did not find Scott again. And Scott wasn’t home when Stiles drove to his house half an hour later. He didn’t even answer his phone when Stiles called. There was the possibility that Scott had forgotten his phone when they left the house earlier, since the only one who ever called him beside his mother was Stiles, so there was no real need for it.
Stiles drove home alone, and spent the rest of the night listening for his father and wondering where his friend was.
It was a very long night.
Sheriff John Stilinski watched his son run off towards town with a bemused smile. This holiday break wasn’t exactly what either of them had planned, but John had figured that Stiles would at least spend quality time with his best friend. Instead, it seemed that Stiles was still focusing on John’s personal safety.
A deputy approached, telling him that the handlers wanted to take the dogs back to the kennels, so John turned back to his crew. He dismissed the dog handlers and the other deputies, promising them an early start with more volunteers the next day. Then John turned his attention to the young man standing stiffly next to the Sheriff’s cruiser.
The possible reason for the late-night body search in the woods.
He stood near John’s personal cruiser in a defensive pose, hands thrust deeply into the pockets of his leather jacket and feet planted wide apart as if daring anyone to try and move him. Derek was obviously suffering deeply personal pain, but he seemed determined not to let it show outwardly.
John thought back to his earlier meeting with Hale; when he was approached in his office by a face from the past.
(Earlier that day: Deputy Reid knocked firmly on the Sheriff’s office door, opening it a crack when summoned to do so.
“Sheriff? You’ve got a visitor out here.”
John looked up from his unending paperwork. “A visitor? Send him in, Deputy.”
With a nod, Deputy Reid backed away and opened the door farther, ushering in a young man in jeans and a leather jacket.
It had been six long years, but John recognized the young man in front of him. He was older, of course, and he had grown from a lanky, awkward boy into a strong man. His eyes were the same, however; the weight of loss filled them as much now as it did then.
John stood and offered a hand in greeting. “Derek Hale. It’s been a long time.”
Derek shook the offered hand firmly and sat in the offered chair in front of the desk. “I wasn’t sure if you would remember me.”
John sat again behind his desk and regarded Derek closely. “Of course I remember. I will likely never forget that day.”
Derek seemed to shrink into himself. “You said something, back then—you might not remember….”
“I said, if there was anything at all that I could do for you or your sister, I would move heaven and earth to do it,” said John, leaning forward over his desk. “I remember that as well. I was surprised that the two of you left town, what with your uncle still being in the hospital and all.”
Derek shrugged. “Laura thought it would be for the best if we got as far from here as we could. She thought…it was better if we went away, after. Peter was just…gone, to us. We couldn’t help him.”
John nodded in understanding. “Where did you end up?”
“Laura wanted to go to New York. She said it would be a fresh start for the both of us. She called every week to get updates on Peter. Not that there were any.”
“I know,” said John, surprising Derek. “I check in on him, too. His scars seem to be healing, but he’s still catatonic.”
Derek nodded. “We started making our way west last year. My family had friends in Oregon that Laura got in touch with, and we’ve been there with them for a few months now. Laura got a call last week. Someone from the hospital, telling her to come. Laura didn’t tell me what it was about; she just said she’d rent a car and be back soon.”
John frowned at Derek, because the young man was clearly becoming upset. “Okay.”
“No, it’s not okay,” said Derek. “She called before she reached the state line. Then I never heard from her again. After a day, I got in the car and drove all night to get here. I went to the hospital, but nobody there had seen Laura. I need to report her missing.”
John sat back in his chair. “Okay. I have the form for that somewhere on this desk. When did you last hear from Laura?”
They finished the report and parted ways. But when the call from the hikers came in and John called his deputies to the woods to search for that body, Derek Hale had been waiting for them at the entrance to the Beacon Hills Preserve.
John crossed the small clearing until he reached his cruiser—and Derek. As the other officers drove out of the parking area, John placed a gentle hand on Derek’s shoulder. “Let me give you a ride back to the station, Derek. There’s something I would like to talk to you about before we resume the search in the morning.”