The story so far:
The Volvo is gone. I stare at the parking lot exit where I last saw the station wagon turning—which direction suddenly doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that it took my Michael away from me.
The voice is shrill and getting closer, piercing the numbness that paralyzed me. I turn to face a woman, one of the mothers. She’s the type with an enormous chest and even more enormous mouth. I don’t want to face either right now.
Another parent, a burly father, is coming at me from the nearest field. “Did I just see you kick my kid?” he thunders, his face purple. His height and broad shoulders suggest that he has quite an edge on me, but his beer belly hints otherwise.
“Why aren’t you putting Eddie in?” the mother demands, her face twisting unpleasantly. “He’s the best player on your team!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” Another parent, joining in the fun, following megamouth from our field. “We’re in the middle of a game. You can’t just walk away!”
My mouth is hanging open, I realize. So much for not letting anyone see my panic. Other parents are staring, the same way everyone slows down to stare at a car crash.
A horribly fitting analogy for my present situation.
“You’ve hardly even played Eddie once!” Mouth wails.
I finally find my voice. “I have to go-”
“Go?” It’s the other random parent from my field again. “What kind of coach are you? You can’t abandon us in the middle of the game!”
“What kind of freak are you?” shouts purple face.
Games are coming to a complete stop around us as adults and children alike gape at the scene. The only other person speaking is the little kid I tripped over a moment ago, if you can call piercingly loud screeches “speaking.”
“I’m calling the cops!” purple face continues. “You’re never coaching anything again!”
“Get back in there!” shouts random parent.
“You’re just biased, giving your own kid all the field time!” Mouth shrieks.
My own kid.
They all stare at me, shocked that I would actually dare to stand up for myself. Not common around here, I take it. At least not from people other than themselves.
I point to the random parent. “You take over. Someone just took my kid.”
And then I leave them gawking after me as I run to my car. My hands are shaking as I pull out my keys. It takes three and a half tries before I can get the door unlocked—and that’s with the automatic clicker.
My mind races as I climb into the car. Did I see which way the Volvo went? To the right, I’m sure. Toward the wooded end of the park.
Images flash in front of my eyes as I fumble to get the key into the ignition. My wife always clings to me when we watch the news, gasping with every story about a child who’s gone missing, been abused, been kidnapped. I always chuckle about how silly she’s being. I always remind her that the news stations make everything sound bad so they get better ratings. I always tell her that those things don’t really happen very often, not as often as the news makes it seem.
No one’s here to tell me that. And the images from those news reports just keep flashing before my eyes.
Danged hard to drive that way.
My cell phone is ringing. I glance at it briefly as I pull out of the parking spot.
She’s finished her shopping early. Or one of the parents called her up to tell her how shockingly irresponsible this disappointment of a husband acted.
Either way, I have no interest in answering that call.
I shove the minivan into drive and peel out of the parking lot.
He went right. I’m sure of it.
The phone stops as I turn onto the main road, staring ahead with such intensity it makes my eyes water. As if doing so would magically make the station wagon appear on the road in front of me.
My thoughts continue spiraling downward, growing less and less friendly by the moment. Why would Michael get in a car with a stranger? We watched the “Stranger Danger” video at least a hundred times. I can even sing the “If Someone Grabs You, Call a Cop, Call a Cop, Call a Cop” song in my sleep. How could none of that have sunk in?
Unless it wasn’t a stranger. Unless it was someone he knew.
My whole body comes to a screeching halt; thankfully, the minivan doesn’t follow suit. Though my eyes continue searching my surroundings frantically, my heart, my lungs, and my brain seem to have stopped altogether.
Didn’t I just recently hear that most child abductions are committed by a friend of the family? Wasn’t there just a news report about some uncle who snatched five kids right in broad daylight, leaving no evidence that anything was amiss?
Names and faces fly through my thoughts as I scan for any who might want to take Michael. But then, most of our family members cite babysitting Michael as the best form of birth control known to mankind. They wouldn’t take him. I was sure of it.
Then who could it be? Why Michael? Why here? Why now?
And why hadn’t I been there to stop it?
The phone rings again. My hand shakes as I pick it up to see who it is.
The wife again. I shudder and drop the phone.
I’m going way too fast, I realize. Far past the speed limit. I better slow down.
I might miss seeing the Volvo down a side street.
There’s one thought tugging, toying its way into places I don’t want it going. I don’t want to let it come to me, but it keeps pushing, snaking through until it crash-lands in my consciousness.
That pervert in Washington. The one who kidnapped little boys and kept them alive for weeks, torturing them slowly to death.
The one who escaped the FBI trap laid for him there.
The one who was last seen in Portland.
Driving south on the I-5.
Straight toward our little town.