"What?" Fire mumbled, staring at her.
"I said, I think she might be dead by now." Ella sounded sure of her words. "She hasn't come back, she's a strong person, who would find ways to get us a signal - at least maybe a signal to me, so I could pick it up."
"What kind of signal?" asked Slayer.
"Well – something, because she's tough. She's tougher than I am. And because she's my friend – you know, how friends seem to understand each other?"
"Not exactly," said North. "Unfortunately, I sometimes can't understand him." He pointed at Fire, who snatched away his glasses.
"That aside, how about you tell us what happened the last time you saw her?" said Fire, ignoring North's indignation and the Weiss' surprise as he fumbled with the glasses.
"Um – the night I saw her, she was leaving our apartment in the city to get drinks and some snacks for the next day," said Ella, now suddenly nervous. "I was the one who wanted those stuff, but I made Maya go out instead of me. And then – she didn't come back, so I thought she'll return soon and went to bed. Maya sometimes takes long walks at night. Then the next morning, I was heading off to university and Maya didn't show up. I thought she had gone on ahead of me like she does sometimes, especially when she's late for something.
"I only called the police about her that night when I couldn't find Maya in her classes, or in the places we always hang out at."
"Maya's always absent?" said Fire.
"No, I just let her take time out for herself, because I always had her to myself, my best friend," said Ella.
"Yes, she's also an absent friend," Mrs. Weiss butted in.
"Mom!" Ella protested.
"You have pictures of Maya, don't you?" said North, snatching his glasses back from Fire and putting them back over his eyes.
Ella sprang to her feet. "I'll be right back." She hurried up the stairs and was soon back in two minutes with a few photographs. "The cops took most of the pictures I had of being with her, but these are the rest."
She handed them to Fire, who looked through them.
Maya was clearly a pretty girl: with long smooth blonde hair and blue eyes, she would have heads turn to her wherever she went. Ella was always with her in the pictures.
"You have one near the Statue of Liberty in New York," History noted, squinting with North and Slayer to look at the photographs in Fire's hand.
"Maya wanted to be a sculptor," said Ella. "Weird idea, but that's what she wanted to do, and I think its great to have a strange job like that. That's why we're there. That's one of our vacations when we were in high school. We were friends since middle school with two other guys. They're also my friends."
"What are their names?" asked Fire.
"Mike Watson and Shane Burgess."
"Um . . ." Mrs. Weiss trailed off.
"What is it?" asked Fire.
"Detectives normally take notes, right?" said Mrs. Weiss.
Fire grinned. "I could boast a really good memory, Mrs. Weiss. Me and my sister here." He tapped Slayer's shoulder. "You can start on your work now."
Slayer pulled out a laptop and began to work on the keys, fingers dancing over the keyboard fast.
"So she left and you remained alone so – your alibi of that night probably couldn't be confirmed, but maybe those people at the university you attended could, for your appearance there," said North.
"It still doesn't give her a way out for the event of the night Maya disappeared," said Fire with a frown.
"True," said North.
"The cops were at a stalemate, too," said Ella.
History stared at the photographs.
"Are you kids going to solve this case?" asked Mrs. Weiss.
"We will," said Fire.
Mrs. Weiss looked at them dubiously. “Ella is not the culprit.”
"Boy, is she persistent about that," History grunted.
Fire felt a little sorry for Mrs. Weiss when she sent a glare back at History.
"We'll start with the convenience store Maya was supposed to be heading to," said North. "Ella, wanna come?"
"Wait, you're going to take her out?" Mrs. Weiss demanded.
"We neen plenty of clues to catch, for Maya, whether's she's dead, as Ella thinks, or alive," said Fire. "So, then, please?"
"Okay," said Ella slowly. "Um – also – my friends?"
"Shane and Mike?" said North.
"Yeah – are you going to question them? You are, right?" She looked nervous.
"What's wrong?" asked North.
"Mike's just about ready to kick out anyone who tries to question him, whether he gets in jail or not. He's fed up already."
"We have a researcher here," said Fire, nodding to Slayer. "We were going to check up on them if needed, but we'll start with researching for plenty of information about the case. By the way, he's the researcher." That seemed to make Slayer chuckle, but no once did he lift his eyes from his laptop – nor could they see what he was working on.
"Well, then, let's begin solving this case," said Fire, getting up.