In the beginning, John Morrison is working in his garden. Not the garden at the police house, which he has long neglected, and not the allotment he rented when he was first married, but the real garden, the only garden, the one he likes to think of as a shrine. A sacred place, like the garden in a medieval Resurrection. To anyone else, it would look like nothing more than a patch of flowers and baubles, set out in a clearing amid the poison wood, just above the old freight line; but then nobody else could ever see its significance. Morrison created this garden himself and he has maintained it for seven years: a neat square of poppies and carnations, dotted here and there with the knuckles of polished glass and stone that he collects on his long walks around the Innertown and the wasteland beyond, filling the pockets of his police uniform with worthless treasure as he pretends to go about his duties. Of course, these days, he has no real duties, or none he could ever believe in. Brian Smith saw to that, years ago, when Morrison made the one big mistake of his career—the one big mistake of his life, other than marriage.
That was the day when Smith talked him into concealing the first of the Innertown disappearances. Now, with five boys missing, Morrison is almost ashamed to show his face on the street. Not that anybody knows about the lie, the confidence trick, that he has perpetrated upon them all. People want to know where the Innertown children have gone, but aside from the families of the missing boys, nobody expects anything much from him. They know he doesn't have the training or the resources to track the boys down, and they also know that nobody beyond their poisoned tract of industrial ruin and coastal scrub cares a whit about what happens to the Innertown's children. Even the families give up after a while, sinking into mute bewilderment, or some sad regime of apathy and British sherry. After more than a decade of dwindling hopes for their town and for their children, people have become fatalistic, trying to find, in indifference, the refuge they once sought in the modest and mostly rather vague expectation of ordinary happiness that they were brought up to expect. Some choose to believe, or to say they believe, the official line—the line Morrison himself puts out, with more than a little help from Brian Smith. In this version of events, a story full of convenient and improbable coincidences, each of the boys left the Innertown of his own accord, independently and without speaking a word to anyone, to try his luck in the big wide world. Some say this story is credible, boys being boys. Others say it is far-fetched, that it seems most unlikely that all five of these bright children, boys in their mid-teens with families and friends, would wander off suddenly, and without warning. Among this group, there are those who say that the boys have, in fact, been murdered, and that they are probably buried somewhere in the ruins of the old chemical plant between the Innertown and the sea, where their mutilated bodies will decay quickly, leaving no trace that could be distinguished from the dead animals and anonymous offal that people find out there all the time. This latter group gets restless on occasion, usually just after a new disappearance. They demand a full investigation, they want independent outsiders to come in and conduct an official inquiry. They write letters; they make phone calls. Nothing happens.