In the six years I spent looking for David Alamont, it never occurred to me that I might actually find him.
I could tell that it had never occurred to him, either, as he stared blankly back into my face.
“I’m sorry,” I said. And I meant it.
I had first read about the Alamonts sixteen years ago, along with everyone else in our part of the country. It was the kind of thing that made you shake your head. A nice family, three young children. In the pictures they all looked healthy, sturdy, happy. They looked like people ought to look. Like families ought to look.
Their fourth child, David, was born at 4:17 am, after almost sixteen hours in the hospital. David’s mother held him in her arms, his father cried a little. Mrs. Alamont’s parents were in town, watching the other three children at home. The nurses took little David, just for a short while. Dad was welcome to come along, they said, but he just wanted to hold his wife’s hand and smile into her eyes. They fell asleep like that, she in the bed and he in the chair, holdings hands and smiling. In that moment, everything was perfect.
And then the moment passed.
By the time The Alamonts woke up, the hospital staff had been aware of little David’s disappearance for almost an hour. At first, the nurses were sure it was a simple mistake, a mix-up of charts, an overlooked notation. A baby in the wrong room or on the wrong floor. After about thirty minutes, panic set in. Doctors and senior staff held rushed, huddled conferences. A room-by-room search was organized. Thirty minutes later, the police were called. The Alamonts were roused.
At first, for the Alamonts, there was shock. Then there was optimism. Employees were not permitted to leave the hospital. Everyone on duty was systematically interviewed. Statements were taken. Logs were scrutinized. The Alamonts were convinced, after they’d met with investigators, to go home to their other children. They’d be contacted, they were assured, with any information. The authorities would be in touch.
The Alamonts spoke with investigators every day, nearly every hour. They spoke with the press, on the advice of the authorities, offering details on little David’s disappearance and a large reward for any information. Investigators took the calls and sifted through tips. The Alamonts ate up every bit of information, every possibility. They chewed them over, talking endlessly with one another and with investigators, always in motion, always sure that the next call would be the one that would lead to little David.
When the feeling began to set in that they would never find their child, it felt a little like nausea. It grew, slowly, from a nagging, rotten, blasphemous little doubt after the first week to a great, terrible certainty after the tenth. By then, the authorities did not always return calls, and when they did it was days later. The initial investigators had been replaced, and then the new investigators had cycled out, and now it was unclear who had responsibility, or even if the case was still being investigated. The press had stopped inquiring, too, except for emissaries from television networks who wanted to tape them around the clock.
“For the case,” they said. “For little David.”
The Alamonts always declined.
When I met Robert Alamont in person nearly ten years later, it took me several minutes to remember who he was.
It was a bit after 7 am, and I was sitting at a corner table at Duffy’s, having my morning coffee and looking over the newspaper. My routine, since I’d retired, had been to rise early, careful not to wake Anna-Marie, and walk the half-mile into town for coffee and toast. Most of the other regulars were men my age, whose kids had families of their own and whose wives would just as soon prefer that their husbands get out of the house for a while.
The ragged, shuffling man who approached my table and dropped a flyer on top of my newspaper smelled like alcohol. I looked up, annoyed, and he looked down into my face. I glanced at the flyer. Find David Alamont was hand-lettered across the top. I looked back up and made the connection.
Robert Alamont was ten years younger than me, roughly, but he looked twenty years older. His eyes were red, and he seemed ill. I don’t know quite why—maybe it was the sheer strangeness of recognizing him at that moment—but I motioned to the chair across from me, and he sat.
Then he told me his story. I listened, from beginning to end.