Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
aitlyn Galloway stared at the FBI credentials lying on her desk. They were a hard won symbol of status in a man's world. They were hers but they were no help now. She had hit the pit. She was in the place where the answers didn't come together and the pieces dispersed in different illogical directions. There was no pattern to this case. It was a kidnapping without a ransom request. There was no obvious motive. There was no connection between the driver, one Mason Munford, and the kids except for the school bus. He drove the bus and they rode on the bus. Not exactly the circumstances for a bonding relationship. Now Munford was dead and the kids on the school bus were gone again.
The assistant superintendent Charles Needham and the teacher, a Miss McGovern had taken a school bus to Maryland to bring the children home. They had said a police escort would frighten their charges and the parents wanted as little fuss as possible. Now news cameras, parents, and the local cops were waiting at the school for the bus that never came. Needham and the teacher had pulled a fast one.
The one lead they had was Darlene Batti and she didn't want to be rescued, according to the surveillance tracking team. She had not only given them the slip, she and three other youngsters had taken the team's car, and the million-dollar GPS device. Now they had no way of tracking Darlene and the other kids. These country kids could drive anything so she wasn't too concerned about the car. Was Darlene a Patti Hearst wanna be? What was the link? What was the motive?
Kaitlyn paced in the temporary office space the bureau had leased for the investigation. She knew she focused better when she moved. Needham was up to his neck in this kidnapping but what did he want the kids for? Needham and McGovern had clean records. There wasn't even a traffic ticket on either of them.
Her attention shifted to the pictures of the children spread across her desk. They all seemed alike. Adolescents from white middle class intact homes, all the same except the kid with the Poindexter glasses and the big ears. He was the odd man out, cute face and the only black kid in the group. Who was he? What was his story? She pulled his bio sheet from the profile stack. Florence Detmier, a single, wealthy, white woman had adopted him at age eight. He had way above average grades in all his subjects and was the schools only finalist, ever, in the statewide history competition. He had won the first place award the last two years in a row. Interesting but nothing new here.
She returned to pacing but the pictures drew her back. There was something about the Detmier kid that was familiar. But how could that be? She had never lived in this area and she was sure she had never seen this kid before. It had to be that grin. It wasn't as innocent as it should be. It was a cocky kind of smirk that made him look older than his twelve years. She stared at the face staring back at her and quickly passed the photo back to the pile. It gave her the creeps. She was seeing stuff where there wasn't stuff. She needed some hard evidence. The whole thing was getting on her nerves. She was suddenly afraid. This case was different. It was too different. Why did she feel this kid was so familiar?
The vibration of her cell phone pulled Kaitlyn out of her trance and back to the present.
"Lieutenant, this is Don Hoerth, ex-NYPD. You took my statement on the school bus caper."
"Yes Mr. Hoerth, I remember. Have you thought of something that you think might help us?"
"Well, yes. Nothing big but something that I think you should be aware of."
"The kids in the van at Blind Marvin's place had been exhausted and not your typical happy go lucky campers. All of the kids, except one, were punchy and stumbling with exhaustion."
"I didn't have a weapon and the driver, who had a gun wasn't playing with a full deck. Marvin had said his cousin was a bit squirrelly. That's the native Pennsylvanian description of a nut case."
"You know the driver was killed and the kids are missing again"
"Yeah, I heard that on the five o'clock news"
"Well?" Kaitlyn was abrupt but she didn't cut Hoerth off.
"Look, I know this is a tough case and this is what I have. It's a place to start. The kids were, as I said, all wimpy and dragged out. There was one kid who was different. He was a black kid with Poindexter glasses."
"Okay, what about the kid? His name's Alfred Detmier, by the way."
"Alfred huh? Whatever, he was out of sync. That kid just didn't fit in. He was alert, unlike the rest of the group. He was overly polite to the driver. His whole demeanor was different. The other kids were confused and tired, but this kid was ready to act, his eyes kept moving rapidly. He was gathering in the details of his surroundings. This kid seemed to be in on what was going down or know something about the situation, that the rest of the kids were not privy to."
Don Hearth paused. "This is a hunch and that's all it is. We all know that body language is often as important as any physical clue and I thought I'd give you a heads up on it."
The sixth sense developed over the years on the NYPD had not deserted Don Hoerth. No feeling, however far out, should ever be eliminated, because connecting the most trivial and unimportant incidents were the bricks that built the strongest cases. To go to the grand jury you needed a case with guts and linking the unimportant was how you made bricks. This case made him feel alive and that was something that he hadn't felt in a very long time. There was always a clue and Don Hoerth would find it. His face was a mess because of 9/11 but his brain was just fine. The black kid was the link and he was sure of it.
Don Hoerth was sharp. Kaitlyn Galloway decided it was time to have a talk with Ms. Florence Detmier. If there was something off with this kid the mother would know. Mothers know what make a kid tick and hopefully Florence Detmier was no an exception to the rule. It was worth a try.* * *
Alfred Detmier sat by the window watching and thinking. So much had happened, so quickly. It was crucial he make a plan before all was lost. He had one of his headaches and he knew that the memories would come back again.
I know that I'm an old soul. Eleven years ago I came back for the twelfth time. This time I have to get it right. There is no thirteenth try. You don't get it right on twelve, that's it. You're done! Another lost soul. Haven't you ever wondered why thirteen is an unlucky number? Well now you know. The one good thing about the last try is that you remember all your past lives. This is to keep you from making the same mistakes again.
When I came back this time, the first thing I saw was busted bathtub in a crack house in Brooklyn. Trust me it was not an encouraging sight. I've had it with parents. I know that you need them but I have had more than my share of losers and the newest twosome were no better than any of the others. My mother was out cold from an overdose and my father, a Haitian musician didn't feature fatherhood, ergo, he wrapped me up in a towel and dropped me off at the Angel Guardian Home, requesting I be reared in the Catholic tradition. Wheee! The nuns cooed, washed, and baptized me. My new life had begun and I found out that baby Catholics are wrapped in very stiff, clean, scratchy sheets.
I was an adoptable. Now that was a laugh. How many black Catholics are looking for a pigeon toed kid with myopic vision. Can't think of any? Amazing. The Poindexter glasses were a definite turn off.
After five years, the nuns regretfully accepted that I wasn't adoptable material, so I went to the orphanage at Mt. Loreto on Staten Island, and what a joint that was, more nuns, social workers, and unlimited amounts of oatmeal. What a life! Every day was the same until Aunt Florence came. She's Reverend Mother's real sister. For reasons still unknown to me, Aunt Florence decided that I was the missing something in her life and the next thing I know, I'm adopted and off to a wilderness west of the Hudson called Pennsylvania.
Now this is not a bad thing, if fact it was a really good thing until Aunt Florence couldn't start the Range Rover and I had to take the school bus. Just as the importance of bus #132 was registering on my early morning brain the doors closed and I was looking at Munford and I knew I was in trouble. I would have known that chrome dome anywhere. The last time I saw him was in 1320 and he was leading the Children's Crusade. He was Peter the Hermit back then and because he was a nut job we all croaked. This must be his routine, taking kids on wild trips. Now you know why history repeats itself. Dumb people do the same dumb things.
Well it has been wild and now Munford, alias Peter is very dead and the good thing is, this time he didn't take the kids with him. This is a relief because I know if anything happened to me Aunt Florence would be alone again. Now this lady is no Whitney Huston but she is the absolute greatest, most beautiful person, I have ever known. She is a little on the innocent side of stupid and I worry about her. Aunt Florence cannot say no to a salesman, therefore our basement has more stuff than the Smithsonian. She buys most of it for me. Aunt Florence thinks I am her treasure and in need of protection. She loads me up on all kinds of self-defense stuff, like the mace in my backpack and the Swiss army knife with thirty-nine functions and the six-pound thermal blow up tent that can sleep dozens. I don't know where she thinks I go every day.
The cops and the medics were all over the place when we were rescued and they even had a triage tent. It is the most interesting set up you ever saw. There was stuff in there that Aunt Florence doesn't even know about. I guess most of it is not for public consumption. They have cans that look like spray starch only they give off sleeping gas. I thought they would quiet the frogs that keep Aunt Florence awake, so I packed a few cans in my backpack and left five bucks in the empty box. I hope its enough. I'm no thief.
When Mr. Needham and Miss McGovern arrived with a new school bus, I figured that he was playing at hero. He would bring us back home and everyone would think he was the greatest. Maybe he would get a raise. Mr. Needham is a major blivet, which is five pounds of manure in a four-pound bag.
My hopes of seeing Aunt Florence anytime soon are not too good. From this back seat window I can see the night sky and the stars indicate that we are not headed in a northeast direction but due west. What a mess. Old blivet Needham is in on this kidnapping and must be finishing the job Munford started. Miss McGovern must know about it because she's here and when she's not looking gaga at Needham she's watching us. From her seat next to me she can see the whole bus. I have to do something.
The bus rocks and sways across the winding country roads and soon most of the kids are asleep.
"Aren't you sleepy, Alfred?" Miss McGovern wanted to know.
"Kinda, Miss McGovern, but I'm hungry and I always have a snack before I go to sleep. I know I have some candy bars in my pack, would you like one?"
Miss McGovern shook her head in the negative so I rummaged through my backpack and sure enough there's a forgotten Baby Ruth bar and those cans that look like spray starch. Miss McGovern seemed very nervous but she'll feel better soon.
Most of the kids are sleeping and even Miss McGovern is stretched across the back of the bus. She sure can snore. This spray starch really works.* * *
A sleek black Buick moved silently along the highway toward the bus. The fearless foursome inside watched the progress of the errant yellow bus with a manic fixation.
"It is a school bus and it is from our district," shouted Darlene. "Arcadia Middle School is written on the side."
"How can that be?" asked the reluctant Robert Grossman.
Tommy Difford moved the Buick closer to the bus. "When we left the group they were in a UPS van and Munford was driving, now, here's a school bus from our district and I'm pretty sure Mr. Needham's doing the driving."
"So Munford is gone and the rest of the kids are safe, so can we go home now?" asked the exhausted Robert as he thought of his eiderdown comforter, his mother's hot cocoa, and her goodnight kiss when she told him he was the most wonderful little boy in the universe. Nobody else ever told him how wonderful he was.
"Don't be a dunce, Robert," said Darlene. "That bus is heading west into Virginia. Its going in the same direction we're headed."
"You think Mr. Needham has taken over for Mr. Munford?"
"Brilliant deduction, Robert," said Darlene sarcastically. "What do you think Mikey?"
Mikey Deever was holding the road map on his lap and he nodded in agreement. The bus was headed west. They were not going back toward Pennsylvania and it certainly looked as if the kidnapping scheme was ongoing.
He was really glad he had gotten a message to his father. He couldn't get through to the police station because all circuits were busy so he had called the school, and that nice Miss McGovern had said she would give his father the message. She said everyone was terribly worried about all the children and she would certainly tell his father about Mr. Munford taking the children in a UPS van to the Virginia Game Preserve. She said she thought it would be a nice surprise for his father if he and the rest of his brave and resourceful group could find their way to the Reserve because then they could all be rescued at once and wouldn't that be wonderful? Mickey really liked Miss McGovern. She would really be annoyed at Mr. Needham for what he was doing. Miss McGovern and his dad were about the same age. Maybe they would get to know each other. Maybe his Dad would like her as much as he did. Maybe.
"Hey, pull over to the right side of the bus so that Needham can't see us," instructed Darlene.
"Right on, fearless leader," responded the smitten Tommy Difford, and easing the car to the right of the bus he caught sight of his pal, Alfred.
This was good. Seeing Alfred on the bus seemed to release some of the unease and the tension that had invaded his resolve. This whole thing was creepy and he felt he should say something to the others but Robert would probably freak out. Still, Mickey's father had been told where they were going so the cops would meet them and everything would work out. Mickey watched Alfred through the car window and wondered what was in the can that Alfred kept staring at as he chewed on his candy bar. Alfred always carried lots of stuff. When they caught up with the bus and Alfred, there would be lots to eat 'cause Alfred always shared. Yeah, things were looking up now that he knew his pal Alfred was on the bus. Alfred always knew stuff that other people didn't. It kinda gave the group an edge on stuff and right now they needed an edge, a very sharp edge.
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Bucks County Writers Workshop