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On April 20, 2011, Professor David Thornton of the University of Toronto disappeared.

At first, it looked like he had taken an unannounced sick day. But by the end of May, Thornton was still missing. He didn’t come in to his classes. He didn’t contact his colleagues. His customary parking spot in the park near Innis College remained empty. He had vanished.

When no one else reacted, the university stepped in. They called his home, his cell, his bank. They looked for family but couldn’t find any. The university eventually called the police, who had no idea what to do. Professor Thornton was declared missing one day later, and removed from payroll in July, the start of the summer semester.

Dr. Thornton had no wife, no children, and very few friends. But he did have me—his old student. Professor Thornton taught me everything I know about writing, research, and stories. He’d also helped me with a few personal problems that came to a head three years ago in my second year of graduate school.

I figured the least I could do, considering all that Professor Thornton had done for me, was to find out what had happened to him.

So, as he had taught me to do, I searched. I dove into dumpsters for trashed faculty minutes, cold-called phones that had their service cut decades ago, and boiled my eyes on the Internet reading every scrap of information related to Thornton and his work.

My search eventually threw up some names. Not a lot. When I tried contacting these leads I usually hit a dead end. It even turned out one of the people on my list had also gone missing. This person’s name was Lena Romanuik.

The police had not connected the two missing people. Perhaps they didn’t try that hard: it was a busy season for violent crimes, and the relationship between them was so tenuous that my findings could have been a mistake. I’d already racked up a few of those.

A month after beginning my search, I got lucky.

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