Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
t the Buhnne Tramutola Rest Area along the interstate, Darlene walked to the familiar yellow bus. A man wearing jeans and T-shirt was lying underneath the vehicle. As far as she could tell there was no blood on him. Good. She hated blood. The man shook his head from side to side and groaned.
Darlene straightened her back and spoke sharply to the boys. "Come on. What are you waiting for? Get him out from under the bus."
Mikey snorted. Just what he needed, that spoiled brat telling him what to do. Yet he bit his lip and said nothing. He'd known Darlene for over seven years and had never won an argument with her. Besides, rescuing the man was exactly what they were about to do - even before the strange white limo carrying Darlene and Robert pulled up and dropped them off, that unwelcome pair. Then the limo sped away, heading for who knew where.
Tommy had been driving the yellow bus when it hit the poor man, but who could have known some dope was lying in the roadway. It wasn't Tommy's fault, nobody's fault. Mikey crawled to the man under the bus. Grabbing him under the arms, Mikey pulled the man's shoulders while Tommy and Robert pulled the ankles.
Inch by inch they dragged the man from under the bus and sat him against one of the back tires. He blinked in the bright sunshine, and letting out a loud moan covered his face with his dirty hands.
"Turn out the damn bathroom light," he said, slurring his words. "And bring me a beer. Two beers."
Darlene's face contorted with disgust. "He's drunk."
Mikey scowled. "Of course he is."
Darlene's back stiffened at the rebuke. But before she could answer, a dark car at high speed came down the ramp and swerved into the shoulder next to where the kids -- Darlene, Robert, Tommy, and Mikey -- were standing, the car's tires screeching as it braked. The front doors opened and two men in black suits and black glasses poured out. One of them ostentatiously pointed a gun at the drunk, who was still moaning as he leaned against the bus, as if he could discern a bullet from a Bud.
The second man went to Darlene, a black box in his left hand, a microphone-like object attached by a cord to the box in his right. He held the object to her right wrist. As he did, a humming noise coming from the box went wild. The man looked from Darlene's wrist to her face and said something behind the noise she couldn't hear.
Darlene screamed, "What?"
He moved a switch on the side of the box and the noise stopped.
"Sorry about that, Miss Darlene Batti," he said.
Darlene's eyes widened in surprise. "How do you know my name?"
"Don't be afraid, kid. We're here to rescue you."
"Excuse me, but I asked you for help, like, when?"
"You didn't, kid. Your father did."
"I'm not a kid, you moron. And anyway what's this about my father?"
"No need to be rude, ki ... I mean young lady. Your father hired our GPS company to track you down. Believe me, I'm just doing my job. I'm using a prototype of a one-in-a-kind mechanism that can lead us to as close as one fraction of an inch of any object in our trajectory. No other GSP device can do that, and I've been entrusted with it. That's how I traced you."
"Track me? But how?"
"The chip you have in your wrist."
Darlene, face as white as chalk, stumbled backward. She would have fallen if the man hadn't grabbed her arm.
"Sorry," he said as Darlene shook herself free. "I thought you knew. It's not big deal, really. The chip in your wrist's harmless. But the box I'm holding is a million dollar baby that led us right to you. Thanks to that and your father's planning we're going to take you home."
"Who said I want to go home?"
"Your father said you'd been kidnapped. And ..."
"My father had no right to do this to me, that chip and all. And you have no right to track me as if I were an animal or a criminal. This must be at least ... at least unconstitutional. So get back in your car and leave before I call the police and have you arrested for harassment. I'm staying here -- with my friends. There's something important we have to do."
"Listen, young lady, you have no choice. You have to come with me."
Darlene was furious. First, that crazy Munford, then the creepy limo driver, Gordon, and now this, that dressed-up in black fool telling her what to do. Enough was enough. From now on she'd be the one to decide her life. But first, she had to get rid of those two clowns, one with a gun, the other with a box. But how? Even if she managed to escape, they'd track her down again with their stupid device. The device. Yes, that was it.
"All right," she said using her sweetest voice. "But first, would you mind, I mean, I'd like so much to see how you did it. You know, how that detector works and all. Could I make it work myself? Just once?"
The man hesitated. Darlene smiled her cutest, and that was it, the man caved. "Sure. It's easy. But be careful. This thing breaks and my career in global security's gone forever. Just hold it like this and ..."
As soon as Darlene had the box in her hands she darted away from him. She stopped at a safe distance and said, "Tell your partner to drop his gun and stand next to you. If you try to come closer, I'll drop the box and smash it, and tell everybody it was an accident."
"Easy kid. Fortunes are on the line if that box breaks ...""Lemme just plug her," said the man with the gun.
"We got no choice, Zeb. Put your gun down. The kid smashes that box and it's all over for me -- us."
The man with the gun, reluctantly, dropped the weapon on the ground and joined his partner. If he'd had his way he'd have plugged the brat.
Darlene smiled. "Good thinking, boys" she said.
"You're crazy, girlie," the first man said. "You don't know what you're doing. Give the box back to me. Before ..."
"I know exactly what I'm doing, mister. And I also need to borrow your car. Don't look so shocked. I promise I'll return it to you as good as new, and maybe the box too. That is, if you don't do anything stupid after we leave, like calling the police and giving them the license plate number. If you do, I may get nervous and drop the box, accidentally. And maybe your precious prototype, not to mention your car, will never be seen again."
"Okay, okay, you win, kid. Take the car. The keys are in it. But don't let anything happen to that box. I swear to god, if I lose that box ..."
"Thank you so much. And if you happen to see my father, tell him not to worry. He'll be hearing from my lawyer soon. Putting a chip in my wrist ..."
By the time she reached the car, Tommy was already there holding the door open for her. "Wow, Darlene! You were awesome."
Darlene blushed. "It was nothing, really."
Tommy closed the door and ran to the driver's side. It took him only a moment to adjust the seat and mirrors. After a look over his shoulder to make sure Mikey and Robert were safely in the back, he moved the shift to drive, and hit the gas.
"Where to?" Tommy asked, looking adoringly at Darlene.
Robert leaned forward. "Aren't we going home?"
"No," Mikey said. "We have to find Mr. Munford's van and rescue the other kids."
Darlene shook her head. "We don't need to find the van. I know exactly where he's going. We'll beat him there and ambush him. I can't wait to see the look of surprise on his ugly face when he sees us."
"Where's he going? How do you know?"
"He told me. Well, not me. He was talking to himself as we changed vans, and kept repeating that name. Virginia Game Preserve. The name sounded familiar somehow, but I couldn't remember where I'd heard it. But now I know. It's a park just outside Alexandria. We drove by it last year on the way to my grandparents. I remember because I asked my parents to stop, but they refused. They said it had a bad reputation or something like that. Excuses, I thought then. But now, I wonder."
Robert whined. "But what are we going to do if Mr. Munford starts shooting?"
"Mr. Munford has a gun. I saw him pointing it at the guy without a face when we changed vans at that blind guy's house. I thought you knew."
Darlene wasn't pleased. "That changes things." She bit her lip as she concentrated. She asked Mikey, "Does the battery still work in your cell phone?"
"I think so."
"Call your father. He's a policeman. He knows how to handle crooks. Tell him where Munford's headed and about the gun. Just don't mention where we are or what we're planning. I want to see it when Munford gets his, I want all of us to see it."
Tommy smiled. What a girl. Spiderman had finally found a worthy companion.***
Munford saw a police car at the side of the road, and was glad he wasn't driving the yellow bus anymore. The bus would have given him away. In the anonymous brown UPS van he now drove, he felt invisible. Just as he passed by it, the police car slid from the shoulder and joined the traffic. Still he didn't worry. Just a coincidence, he reassured himself. Then, without warning, the police car moved into his lane, just behind him. As the siren started its loud distressing wail, Munford's heart shrunk in fear. Dammit. They were after him. But why? He wasn't even doing fifty.
"You stupid little man." Casper's voice tense with anger startled him. "Why did you leave the pump without paying for the gas? You had to call attention to us now that we were safe."
Munford moaned. "I'm sorry. I didn't think, I ..."
"Exactly. You don't think. That's your problem. I should have gotten rid of you long time ago."
"But you need me. I'm the one who can talk with people. Real people, and ..."
"Real people. That's a good one. So, what do you think I am? Stop the van this minute and I'll show you which one of us is real."
Munford screamed and closed his eyes trying to fight the pressure of Casper on his mind. Casper laughed.
"Stop it," Munford cried. His hands left the wheel and pressed themselves against his temples where a sharp throbbing pain was growing.
The van swerved wildly from lane to lane, while the children, frantic, clutched each other to avoid being thrown against the sides. Close behind, the police officers watched in horror as the van left the road and crushed against an anti-noise barrier that flanked the side of the freeway. The well-cushioned interior of the van protected the kids, but not so the driver, who was thrown from the vehicle.***
Charles Needham hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. His eyes stared blankly at the wall as he tried to come to terms with the incredible news. Munford was dead, the children in ambulances heading for the closest hospital at some town in Maryland. They'd be okay, Lieutenant Deever had assured him. The kids were just going to get a check up. But they'd need transportation back home, Needham's responsibility as assistant superintendent in charge of the school's transit system
But, Needham thought, alive or dead, the kids wouldn't be at the preserve by sunset. The plan, his plan, had collapsed, and the Master would blame him for it.
The phone rang again, and Needham jumped in his seat. Instinctively his hand moved toward the sound, then stopped. He wasn't in the mood to talk to anyone. Let the machine answer.
"The delivery is behind schedule," the deep voice coming from the speaker said. Needham's heart stopped for a moment before starting again in a furious gallop. It was his Master's voice. "If they are not here by six, the ritual must be postponed. I don't need to tell you what that would mean for you."
A cold sweat covered Needham's body. He'd promised the Master twenty-four children and had put his life on the line to do it. There was no way he could go back on his promise. No way to run away from him either. The Master had powers Needham was not willing to challenge.
Stupid Munford, getting himself killed in an accident. Needham shouldn't have trusted his father-in-law in the first place. Yet it had seemed the perfect plan at the time. Serving the Master, collecting his price, and still being able to keep Needham's life. Too late now for regrets. Munford was out of the picture. Gloria would have to be told. Yet, the Master had to be served. Needham needed those children even if he had to deliver them himself. Tearing his eyes from the picture of the Virginia Game Preserve on the wall, he checked his watch. The numbers flashed at him. One-forty-five. He didn't have much time. He lifted the handset and punched the number for the garage where the school bus fleet was kept.***
Miss McGovern looked up from the papers she was grading and saw Needham's familiar face outside the glass door of the classroom.
"Sarah, you're in charge," she called to the blond girl in the first row, and, running her fingers over her hair to give it a wavy look, rushed outside.
"Darling," she said to Needham, "I couldn't wait to see you." She fought the urge to wrap her arms around his body.
Needham ignored her eagerness. "Munford's dead, Ingrid. The children have escaped."
McGovern's smile froze. "Munford's ... How could that be? Are you, are you sure?"
Needham snorted. "Are you questioning me?"
"Of course not."
"We have to leave at once. A bus will be here momentarily. We've got to put the children on it."
"Children? You mean ..."
"The kids are being checked for possible injuries at some hospital down in Maryland, only a couple of hours from here. We're going to reclaim them."
McGovern's mind was busy trying to digest the facts, thinking of excuses, refusing to believe. "But who'll be driving?"
"I will, of course." Needham was getting angrier by the minute. Why didn't she do as she was told and stop the questions?
"But we can't just leave, Charles. If we do, we won't be able to return. Our careers here ..."
"We've no choice. We never had. Sooner or later, Ingrid, it would have come to this. And you always knew it."
McGovern was about to argue, to tell him she wasn't ready, that she needed time to pack. But the look at his face changed her mind.
"All right, Charles. I'll tell the children in my classroom they have an early dismissal today so I can leave and join you."
Needham smiled at her choice of words. An early dismissal. Indeed.
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Bucks County Writers Workshop