Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
on't be surprised if they look to talk to you today," Gloria Munford Needham said to her husband Charles as they were having their coffee. "That FBI lady grilled me pretty good. Too bad you weren't here. But for some reason she wanted to see me alone. Her card's in the fruit bowl."Charles Needham's face tightened as he read the calling card: Kaitlyn Galloway, Special Agent, FBI, Profiling Specialist. What the hell else could she want to know?
"What can I add about your father that you haven't told her?"
"Charles, anything's possible about Dad, you know that. You understand him as well as I, even better. This Galloway wanted to know about his antique gun collection, how he gets along with his neighbors, the manslaughter rap." Then Gloria zoomed in on her father's hallucinations, if they were hallucinations. "Charles, he's heard voices for a long time, but more recently he's been seeing things. I was reluctant to tell Agent Galloway about it, but a number of times in the last several weeks, I caught him talking with people who weren't there. At least I couldn't see them. He was about to introduce me to someone he called Casper, but then he caught himself and stopped."
"Gloria, you father's always been a jokester. He was pulling your leg."
She put the cups in the sink. "Charles, I believe they're out to get him."
"Who's out to get him?"
"Someone, something. Those voices. Maybe even the authorities. Setting him up. He wouldn't have stolen that school bus with all those kids on board on his own." She started to sob.
"You're overwrought, Gloria."
"Am I? I'm worried sick, Charles. The last time Dad and I were together he complained of headaches, and he vomited all over the room. I never saw vomit shoot out like that. And the drooling ... I must have wiped his face a dozen times. And then he seemed to get better, so even though I tried to stop him he went out to go to work. To drive the yellow bus. And about you ... yes, you Charles, dammit. Don't think I don't know about you."***
"Look, Mr. Needham, we're not here to fry you, but only to connect the dots," said petite Kaitlyn Galloway, demurely, as she drew her chair closer to Charles' broad desk in the school administration offices.
This babe doesn't fool me, thought Charles. She's tougher than she looks, despite trying to hide her legs. What's a profiler anyway? When he noticed Lieutenant Deever staring at him intently and some other guy taking notes on a laptop, he reckoned they were all there to do more than just connect the dots. As an assistant superintendent of the Arcadia School District, he'd had to summon the lieutenant to school headquarters on several occasions to tell him his son Mikey was a troublemaker, and Charles had to demand the lieutenant exert more discipline at home. Just because Deever was a cop didn't give him and his son special privileges. Needham and Deever weren't exactly good friends.
Then Miss Ingrid McGovern walked unexpectedly into Needham's office.
"Oh, I'm so sorry to burst in like this," McGovern said. "I should have knocked. But the secretary wasn't at her desk. And so I ..."
"Quite all right, Miss McGovern," Charles said, rising from his chair. "It's fortuitous you arrived just now. You can help shed light on the situation. I believe you know Lieutenant Deever. And this is Agent Galloway of the FBI. And the man with the laptop ..."
Then Needham's eyes met the floor as if to disguise a great truth. "Agent Galloway, I understand you've already interviewed my wife Gloria."
"Correct, Mr. Needham," Galloway said. "Her as well as others who may know some information about this crime."
Needham said, "Yes, the kidnapping of children. A terrible thing. Agent Galloway, I must make a confession, whether or not it deals directly with the crisis at hand. Gloria's lost all respect for me. She thinks Miss McGovern here and I are having an affair. What a laugh, right, Miss McGovern?" He chuckled.
"Hysterical, Mr. Needham. Simply absurd."
"But my marriage problems aren't really the issue, no matter what Gloria might have said to you, if she said anything." He touched Ingrid's shoulder. "It's Mason Munford, Gloria's father. He's our main concern. Miss McGovern's taken a special interest in this crisis, since many of the missing children are students in her class. And that's why she's here now."
"For no other reason," Miss McGovern said.
"Really," said Agent Galloway, "a special interest?"
Needham said, "As you can understand, what with the disappearance of the yellow bus, our Mason's in trouble."
"To put it mildly."
"What's been happening to Mason the past few weeks has made him the whole Arcadia School District's concern. Aside from a few troublemakers, we're like one big family here. And the children, those who ride his bus, adore him." Needham returned to his seat. "Perhaps Gloria's already informed you about this, Agent Galloway, but my wife revealed to me her father's been complaining of violent headaches, and that he's been vomiting horribly. I'm not a doctor, but I looked it up on the Internet ... Projectile Vomitus."
"I'm quite familiar with the term," Galloway said. "We studied it at Quantico in explosives class."
"And he's been hearing things for a long time, Agent Galloway. He told my wife he's been talking to certain imaginary people. She mentioned a Casper, a Harris, and a Jake the Fake. Headaches, projectile vomiting, drooling, visual as well as auditory hallucinations. Add his paranoia and other strange behaviors, and he may very well have something growing in his head. A brain tumor, perhaps. Not that I'm any expert ..."
His hands shook as Ingrid rushed to pour him a glass of liquid from a pitcher on his desk. He sipped from the glass, and the water, if that was what it was, seemed to have a calming effect.
Charles said, "At times, our school family has been disrupted by insidious, willful people. Our beloved Miss McGovern here almost went to jail, accused of lewd and salacious sexual behavior with both male and female students who were coached by certain overzealous abuse counselors, no longer employed by this district, and then egged on by hysterical parents. Lieutenant Deever knows about it, and he can look it all up if he doesn't remember.
Deever said, "I do remember, Needham. Everyone does. The DA refused to press charges against her, and a lot of people say your Miss McGovern here got off in more ways than one."
"There was no substantiated evidence, Lieutenant Deever. That's why she wasn't prosecuted, and that's why she's still retained as a teacher in this school district."
"A lot of people think different, Needham."
"And another thing, Lieutenant, and you too, Agent Galloway. I don't believe that concocted poison gas story, no matter what the claims. That our Mason Munford, my father-in-law, despite his problems, would threaten the lives of children in some gas-filled cabin somewhere in Delaware? Preposterous. There are a couple of kids who are out for Mason's hide, troublemakers, such as Lieutenant Deever's own son Mikey. And that strange Tommy Difford kid, always making up stories about superheroes. I'm convinced the whole poison story was made up, and that Mikey and Tommy were responsible."
Deever shouted, "You say another word about my Mikey and I'm gonna forget I'm a cop, Needham."
"Galloway said, "Lieutenant, let the FBI handle this. We're the experts here. Remember Ruby Ridge? Mr. Needham, the kids suffered the after-affects of some type of gas poisoning, but they're going to be all right, apparently. They're at a hospital in Wilmington undergoing tests. Experts from the Bureau are examining the equipment in the cabin, and it looks to be fairly sophisticated. Mr. Munford had worked at a machine shop, so just possibly ... A local police officer in Delaware, Patricia Connelly, who was first at the scene, relayed information that two boys who may have been Mikey and Tommy actually pulled the rest to safety before taking off in the yellow bus, possibly going after Mr. Munford ..."
"Yes, so some small-town cop says."
Deever said, "Damn you, Needham. If I hear another ..."
"Easy, Lieutenant," Galloway said.
Needham noticed Galloway's assistant, or whatever he was, pecking wildly on that stupid laptop. Charles, said, "One more thing before you good folks must leave. Since you're so intent on writing down everything I say, you're probably wondering why I gave Mason his job as a bus driver."
"My very next question," Galloway said.
"For that I have to give you a bit of history."
"Make it brief."
"Mason was eight when he saw his mother die, laying on the floor bleeding, the last beating she had to endure by her whiskey-soaked husband. Mason told me this himself. As a child he vowed someday he'd kill the drunken lout. Thus, his obsession with guns. One day he ran away to the circus. His old man found him feeding the elephants. You can guess what happened to the poor boy. Whippings and worse, forced to eat what the elephants ate, only in smaller proportions."
Ingrid, listening to the story, ostentatiously filled a hanky full of tears.
Needham said, "Mason snapped after his wife Betty died. It had been a wonderful marriage. As she was dying he started to have flashbacks. Mother bleeding, father drunk, soaked in wife's blood. As a young man he'd been blamed for anything, everything. A gun went off ... manslaughter, not murder ... forty years a clean steady worker until his machine shop was bought by a Swedish conglomerate, which cut his pay forty percent. He was broke, desperate, money exhausted by Betty's illness. And because he had a fascination with buses, school buses, and had a spotless driving record, I gave him the job, nepotism aside. Yes, I take full responsibility. It was the right thing to do, morally right. Remember the Ten Commandments?"
"Any one in particular, Mr. Needham?" Special Agent Galloway said.
Needham rested his head on his chin, as if exhausted. Miss McGovern poured him some more liquid.
As Galloway rose to her feet, she said, "Thanks for the heart-warming story, Mr. Needham." She signaled the glowering Lieutenant Deever, gathered up her blue flamer, and as they left she said, "You'll be hearing from us, Mr. Needham. And you as well, Miss McGovern. Yes, particularly you."
Outside in the parking lot, the tentative morning sun becoming warm, Deever said, "Here's a card that's got my home number as well as my office number, Agent Galloway. If you need any more ..."
"No doubt I'll be calling you, Lieutenant."
"Call me Robert."
"The important thing, Robert, is to get your son back. Mikey's important to you. And call me Kaitlyn. Just because I'm in the FBI and you're only a local cop doesn't mean we can't talk crime."***
Charles and Ingrid were alone. A passionate embrace followed, their first of the day.
"How do you think I did, Ingie?"
"You did just fine, Charlie. It'll keep the dust in the air for a while. The Master will be very pleased."
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Bucks County Writers Workshop