“No, mom, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Tina’s voice was soft and unsure.
“No one is going to find out, Tina. We are covering our asses and it’s working. I don’t know how, but it’s working. And I’m not about to let you jeopardize that.”
I stood in the hallway, unsure of what I had just overheard. Karen, Tina’s mother, had always seemed genuine to me. It was startling to hear her speak this way for two reasons: 1) it meant she had done something terrible and 2) it meant my ability to read people wasn’t functioning as acutely as I’d always thought. You see, I was an expert on lying. I had fraudulently passed polygraphs just to be here. And here I was, a internationally-known criminal, lying to the faces of federal law enforcement officers and wanted by Interpol, only to be lied to myself. How could I not have known?
Three months ago, I sat in a telephone booth in France, waiting for a rainstorm to pass. With nowhere else to go and fearing I would run out of warmth before rain, I picked up the phone, put on my best adult voice (my natural voice, I suppose) and dialed the French police.
“Police. What is your emergency?”
“Hello, my wife and I are tourists here and we just found a kid…
“Thank you, sir. Can you tell me what he looks like?”
“I’m not totally sure, since he’s wearing a hoodie. He speaks English, probably around sixteen years old. He seems really scared and says he doesn’t have any identification. I think you need to come help him.”
“Thank you, sir. There are officers on their way.”
Within minutes, I was warm and dry, in the back of a police car, and on my way to somewhere with a hot meal for my consumption. The way I saw things, this was the only way for me to survive- mostly in the needs-based way, but also in the wants-based way. When you are a homeless adult, nobody gives a shit about you. But when you are a homeless child, there is suddenly love to give. Love I wanted.
The office they kept me in for questioning reminded me of Law and Order. Clean, but not too clean. Books were stacked behind a desk covered in neatly stacked paperwork. There was one of those little name plates on the edge of it reading “Aide Sociale a l’Efance” and I had a sneaking suspicion I’d made it into the Department of Child Welfare and Protection. A female officer strode through the doorway staring at me with deep concern. I slumped in my chair, with my hood still over my head, frowning down at me feet. If I was going to be a teenager, I needed to act like a teenager.
She asked me for my name for fifteen minutes before threatening to finger print me. Alright, she didn’t MEAN to threaten me. But when you are wanted by Interpol and someone says “if you don’t tell us your name, we are going to put your prints through the system,” it sure sounds like a threat. So I did what anyone in my situation would do: I lied.
“Okay,” I said quietly, “I will tell you who I am. I’ve been going by Beau and I’m from the States. I was abducted three or four years ago. Please…. I’m scared…. I just want to go home.”
“Alright, Beau. Stay calm. We are going to help you,” she spoke with the kind of concern that could only mean that she herself was a mother. If I was going to succeed, I needed to use this to my advantage.
“I just want to talk to my mom… in private… Please. Just leave me here in your office and I will call her,” I pleaded.
“There is a big time difference between France and the United States, Beau. I would have to leave you here until morning,” she said.
“Is…. Is there any way I can stay?” I peered up at her innocently. We locked eyes and I immediately knew her answer. I was playing my part well.
After taking a long overdue nap, I shuffled through the books in her desk. The lights in the hall were off, but I knew security must be patrolling the halls periodically and there were cameras in every corner. As much as I wanted to run away from this, I couldn’t. A good feeling had washed over me, anyway, after she had agreed to let me stay in her office. My odds weren’t great, but there was definitely a chance I could get away with this. So I shuffled through the books in her desk and came across the perfect resource: United States Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There was a phone number on the inside cover.
Six days later I was boarding a plane with Tina. Somehow, over the phone, I had managed to convince the woman at the US Center for Missing Children that I was a police officer in France. Then, I convinced the French police that I was Daniel Walker. And then I convinced a judge to let me go “back” to the United States. Because I am a minor, or at least everyone thinks I am, I had to have an escort. So then, Tina showed up, took one look at me, and was already so convinced that I was her brother, even I was surprised. Everyone else’s certainty had been so solid and overwhelming, that she didn’t even second-guess it. Even I started to believe I could be Daniel… but I wasn’t…. at all. I was just trying to survive and this was the only way I knew worked… at least, until now.
Tina’s shadow shifted as I stood silently against the wall of the hall closet. I had spent my whole life running and hiding, so you wouldn’t think this was so bad, but it was. It was really, really bad.
“The FBI might find out what we did to Daniel, mom. And if we let this guy go in for this interview, we are just going to let it happen. Can’t we deny their interview request?” Tina sounded desperate.
“Honey, it’s the FBI. You can’t deny something like that. But if we just pretend to be clueless, what’s the harm? For all they know, we’re just the innocent, traumatized family of a missing child who got taken advantage of by a con artist.”
There was a knock on the door. They were here to collect me. Karen and Tina’s footsteps marched solidly down the hallway and to the front to answer it, at which point, I crawled out of the closet, shaking. My body was thinking faster than my brain and, fearing for my life, I was suddenly running, full sprint, to the door as it opened.
I knew how to run- I’d been running my entire life, but this time was different. For the first time ever, I was running TO the police and I had never felt this sense of safety in a sprint before. Fireworks went off in my head, I’m sure from excitement. Only they weren’t fireworks… and they weren’t in my head. I suddenly fell to the floor, my entire body numb. The officer, who I recognized from the last visit, looked down at me with his jaw slack and eyes wide, while his partner requested aid over the radio, “Oh my God! I’m so sorry kiddo- you just can’t- SO sorry, but you can’t run at an officer like that! I thought you were armed, oh my God.”
“My name…,” I started.
“Yes, Daniel. I know your name. Just try to keep still. The paramedics should be here soon. Just stay with me, Daniel,” replied the panicked officer, placing his gloved hands over my wound. It stung at his touch, but was less painful than I ever imagined a gunshot wound would be.
“No…. my name is Frederic.”