It took a long while before anything was done about the disappearances. At first, the people noticed nothing and went on with their business as usual, concerned only with their own lives, their own jobs, their own friends and family. And those closest to the disappearances did not have voices loud enough to reach the masses. And when enough voices began to chime in, the police began to get involved, but it was still much later before 'regular' people began to notice. And for many people, it was required that someone point it out to them.
Such a slow reaction rate was common in the southern states. Some cities in Europe noticed within the first week with homeless shelters notifying officials immediately as their populations dwindled. And in Canada, some people noticed immediately while others refused to care. But most importantly, it took the world a full month to realize that each city was asking the same question.
Where are all the homeless people?
--As if 'homeless people' were another species that had suddenly decided to migrate. In fact, because of this dehumanizing label, very few 'Missing' posters were distributed with individual names on them. Instead, shocking statistics were required before newspapers would start spreading awareness. And the count was over 3000 by the time a massive international investigation was launched across four countries and the news hit the mainstream media with force.
Conspiracies flew across the Internet as people spread rumors about 'population reduction', or a new form of underground slavery. But real answers began to trickle in as detectives, policemen, and concerned citizens looked for patterns in the disappearances. There were still many 'homeless people', and many of them were distraught at the attention they were garnering. They joked loudly about the strange events in shelters that were nearly empty, and they hissed their fears and fantasies to each other in the alleyways at night. And sometimes, they told stories to police officers.
"I'd never seen 'em before in my life," grumbled Billy. "But he knew my name."
The police officer nodded. "And what did he want?"
"He wanted me to stand up."
"And did you?"
"No. I told 'em I'd bloody well sit here all day! He ain't gonna tell me what to do."
Officer Michael gave Billy a careful look. Then he began to jot a few notes on a pad of paper, but Billy was fidgeting anxiously and on the verge of interrupting. So Michael looked at him.
"When I refused to get up he come right out and said he was the one who took all them other homeless people from all over the world. He wanted me to join 'em all."
"He said that, did he?" Michael was serious. He had to be if he wanted to get the truth out of someone like Billy. All day he'd been making the rounds, speaking with those people who were commonly ignored. Many of them would tell stories just for further attention. He didn't blame them, but it sure made his job harder.
Billy nodded vigorously. "I told 'em to screw off cause I didn't believe 'em. But he says he can prove it if I just come with him. 'Cause he says he's got all of them in one place and they're all having a big ole party without me!"
Michael interrupted. "Billy, I want you to realize how important this is. This is a matter of international importance. So I want you to be sure that you're telling me the honest truth." He tried to make solid eye contact, knowing that the man wouldn't be able to tell a lie while meeting his eyes, but the man shook his head and looked at the ground. "Look me in the eyes, Billy!"
"I ain't lyin'! He tried to tell me that goin' with him would be good for me! No man knows what's good for me! I can take care of myself! And that means I spit on anyone who thinks they can take me as a fool!"
But Michael hadn't moved from his previous stance. "Billy. Look me in the eyes and tell me what the man said."
Billy shook his head, then nodded, then flashed a toothy grin. "Aw officer, why you gotta be so serious?"
Michael shook his head and decided to walk away. Billy would come around eventually. In fact, before Michael had even reached his police cruiser, Billy was at his heels. "Officer! I got something for you! You don't believe me, but I got proof!"
Michael turned and gave a critical stare with a small smile attached at the bottom.
Billy began to rifle in his pocket, but Michael was impatient. "Have a good day, Billy," he said, getting into the police cruiser. But then Billy slapped something onto the windshield and Michael froze. It was a business card.
"See?" Billy said. "You've just gotta phone him and you've got your answers. Case solved!"
Michael swung himself out of the vehicle and gripped the card between his thumbs.
For change, call us, is all the card said. It was sleek and black with blue lettering and a local phone number. Michael gave Billy a perplexed look, and then flipped out his phone.
Billy grinned and leaned against a phone poll. "Now you gonna know for sure," he said.
Michael frowned and fixed a stare on Billy as he held the phone to his ear. It rung once and there was a click.
"Hello Michael," said a calm voice. "I heard you were curious."