Contrary to his final words before he left the car in such a dramatic fashion, Rich was proving extremely difficult to find, even for Linda and Davide who were usually experts. They circulated a description of his appearance around the students, hunted the streets day and night and made sure they always had somebody in the know posted at any of the many popular hideouts. But he was proving irritatingly elusive.
“That hostel he spoke of,” said Linda, a few hours into the search. “Would he be there?” Jonathan, Matthew and Alan had gone to stay in a small Bed & Breakfast just on the edge of the town, taking the limousine with them, so the two were left without a car. But in streets so narrow and old-fashioned, there really wasn’t room for the long black vehicle, and Davide couldn’t help feeling that it was just as well.
“It’s unlikely,” he said thoughtfully. “I expect Rich is clever enough to know that it would be the first place we’d look if we followed the normal rules. Which, of course, we never do. On the other hand, he could be even cleverer and be double bluffing, expecting us to think that he won’t be there because it is too obvious and then lying low there all along. We could have a look.”
Agreed, they made their way to the hostel and knocked on the door. Several rusted bikes were parked outside, and a strong smell of sweaty walking boots permeated the very air as the door was opened. Inside, several large hiking rucksacks were propped against a wall. It was obviously a popular place for walkers to stay.
“Excuse me, we’re looking for somebody by the name of Rich…” But the landlady shook her head. No, there had not been anybody with that name admitted within the past week. A Richard, yes, but that was almost three weeks ago. Linda thanked her, explaining their mission, and returned to Davide, disheartened. But they did not give up then, because Rich had to be found.
“I don’t understand. There’s nowhere else he can have gone.” Sitting together in the hotel lounge, poring over notes and maps, the pair tried to decide on their plan of action for the following day, despite the many other patrons surrounding them with bustle and noise. Alan tried to help them for a little while, but he was distracted with lecturing the landlord on environmentally friendly living.
“Did you not hear what he said?” asked Davide, looking very intense all of a sudden. “He said, ‘I’ll be in the gutter, like all other teenagers two hundred miles from home.’ It has to mean something. The gutter—perhaps it’s a code name?”
“Don’t be stupid, this isn’t James Bond.” But although Linda mocked him, she too was thoughtful. “I don’t know; it doesn’t seem like him to leave us with a clue and he wouldn’t know any nicknames, would he? He doesn’t exactly live here. I mean, he’s visited once or twice.”