"Mrs. Papp?"

 

"This is Sister Zoe at St. Francis."

 

"Julian has been missing since yesterday. We weren't aware of this until an hour ago… Mrs. Papp?… Mrs. Papp?"

 

"I know you're concerned. We all are, too. But I don't think we should think the worst. This is not another suicide attempt. You can rest assured of that. He left no note. He has not had any recent seizures. He has not been seriously depressed."

 

"Of course not, Mrs. Papp. Now please calm down."

 

"We think he was caught out in a storm and had to find some shelter. We've had heavy snowfall overnight, and again all day today. Julian was seen leaving the grounds Friday morning about ten o'clock. All his things are in his room so it does not appear as if he's run away. But he has been known to take extended walks."

 

"Mrs. Papp, you'll do neither Julian nor yourself any good by getting overwrought."

 

"Well, as I said, we've had a lot of snow. The main roads have been closed so we're very much cut off right now."

 

"Let me finish. Of course the Highway Patrol has been alerted, as has the Forest Service. There are a number of observation towers in our area from which a campfire might be seen. Visibility has been poor, though, so we've heard nothing yet. But I assure you, Mrs. Papp, everything that can be done, we are doing."

 

"Search parties would do no good until this storm has passed."

 

"Mrs. Papp, he could be three feet away from a would-be rescuer and not be seen in this blizzard. It is senseless even to try until the snow lets up. And senseless to speculate about morbid possibilities. There are summer cabins in the area. There are some abandoned mines, some caves. Your son is bright, resourceful. There are as many reasons for hope as for despair—more, in fact. Now, as to your coming, I can hardly object. If you feel you must, by all means come. But I should warn you that it may prove far more frustrating than staying at home. As I have said, the roads are closed. There's no telling when they will be reopened. You could be sitting in a lonely hotel room for days just waiting. That is, if the airport itself is open. On the other hand, the telephone lines, obviously, are clear. I can keep you abreast of everything as it happens. Again, it's up to you. I just think it would be far worse to put yourself through all the trauma and expense of traveling under these conditions."

 

There was a pause during which the nun hoped Mrs. Papp would reconsider. Everything she had told the woman was true. A visit now would serve no useful purpose.

 

"I understand. Any mother would feel the same. What's important is that we keep our heads."

 

"Now, if I may suggest, call a friend—a close friend—and have her come and stay with you tonight. I promise you I'll phone the minute that I hear. According to the latest weather forecast, the skies are due to clear sometime tomorrow. Until then, there's really nothing any of us can do. I know it's useless to say, 'don't worry,' but I tell you frankly, Mrs. Papp, I believe your son is okay. We've had many crises at St. Francis through the years, and in every case I've had a feeling when one was going to turn out badly. I have not had that feeling this time. I believe your son, like all of us, is simply waiting out the storm."

 

"I pray, too. Prayer is always helpful. Now do as I suggest and call that friend. And please, try to be patient. We ourselves are relying on the phone for information; it's important that we don't tie up the line."

 

"Expect to hear from me tomorrow."

 

"Yes?"

 

"I'll call tomorrow. Goodnight."

 

As Father Ring...

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