Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
ieutenant Deever tried to control his imagination. Probably just a breakdown. If there had been an accident he would have heard about it by now. Almost everything is reported and the rare school bus accident gets high priority. He would notify the patrols to lookout for a disabled bus. But ... Still ... If a driver went off ...
"Mr. Needham," he said into the phone, "I need the bus ID, its license number and name and address of the driver."
"I'll call you back, Lieutenant."
"No, sir. I need that now."
"Do you think ..."
"No, I don't, Mr. Needham, but I want patrols to check for a broken down bus, and I need the ID information for them right now, please."
"Yes, Lieutenant. Hold on. By the way, uh, your son is aboard that bus."***
Twelve-year-old Cynthia-of-long-hair, all eighty, skinny pounds of her, mustered the courage to walk up and tell Grouchy Munford she had to go to the bathroom. Munford's reply was she'd have to wait because he was taking everyone to a surprise place that would have food and bathrooms for all. Then he ordered her to sit down and be quiet with a glare in his eyes that made her obey as if hypnotized.
There was a look on Munford's face, but it wasn't Munford's. It was the face of Casper. Casper had been with Mason since age six and he planned and coerced Mason to do incomprehensible and often criminal things. Like, for example, heist this bus. Or shoot someone, years ago, as in manslaughter. Casper was as logical as he was deranged, and told Mason, "You gotta ditch this bus, stupid. The cops will be thick as snot looking for it."
"I know," replied Munford.
"You know? How the hell do you know anything, you idiot. You only know what I tell you. Do you remember what I told you about changing vehicles?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"Of course I do," mimicked Casper. "So tell me. What are you going to do?"
Munford recited the plan as revealed to him by Casper a few days earlier.***
Charlies Needham returned to the phone and gave Deever all the data concerning the bus and its driver. The lieutenant handed a note to the dispatcher to alert all cars. Then he tried phoning his son, but got the recording that the subscriber was not in the area or the phone was turned off. What bothered Deever most was that Mikey, a sharp kid, would have called whether there was a traffic jam or flat tire or, especially, something urgent, his only way to imitate a police officer. He would have called his father even just to check-in. It was odd, indeed, and began to cause Deever even more consternation. On instinct, he went to the NCIC terminal and entered the driver's ID. After a few seconds, he was disturbed by the rap sheet that popped onto the monitor.
Aside from the manslaughter conviction years ago there were several pages of scrapes with the law, one of which included a firearms possession. But Munford beat that charge claiming he never knew there was .357 in the glove compartment of the car he rented. The gun turned out to have been reported missing by a fellow in Montana. Over the years, Munford's crimes became more serious. There were even some outlandish pranks as a high school kid. So this is the kind of garbage we let drive our kids in a school bus, pondered Deever. He tried to phone his son again and got the same cold electronic response. He decided to have a closer look at Mr. Munford, who was a widower, but who had a daughter, Gloria, married to a Charles Needham. The same Needham as the school administrator he'd just talked with on the phone? What the hell did that mean, if anything? The world's just too damn small, Deever concluded, and while I'm having a look at the driver, I better look at this Needham too.***
"You better do like Casper says."
"Oooo, Mr. Munford. You best not be talking to me like that. You know how mad Casper gets when you holler at me."
"Yeah, I know. What the hell do you want, Harris? Who invited you on this trip?"
"Casper. He says I go everywhere he goes."
"Just what I need."
"Oooo, Mr. Munford. You know you need me. I always help you when you get confused. You need me so you don't screw up and get Casper real mad at us."
"Mr. Munford." No answer. "Mr. Munford." She was now getting desperate.
He turned and began to put Harris out of focus. "What?"
"I gotta go real bad. When will we stop?" Sophie, a thirteen-year old with a minor bladder condition.
"Soon. Sit down and don't bother me."
Munford reached for the PA microphone. He became his jolly self now, acting in the best behavior Casper could conjure up for him. "Kids, we'll be stopping for a bathroom break and lunch. And, a new bus. And something else. A surprise."
"Way to go Mason," rasped Casper.
"I know what I'm doing, Casper. Leave me alone."
"No-way, partner. You know I'm the brains of this outfit."***
Mikey Deever was annoyed with himself. How could I have been so stupid as to let Grouchy see me? I could have slid way down in the seat and hid while calling Dad. At least that way the cops would know we're on I-95 headed south just north of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. And, why did Mr. Munford call me a son of a bitch? That seemed out of character, well, maybe not. Hey, we just turned off 95 and I didn't get that exit sign. Damn daydreaming. Where the hell are we?***
Miss McGovern went looking for Charles Needham on her early break. She had been hunting him for years, no matter that he was married to that bitch Gloria. She almost had Needham in bed once but that fell apart. She couldn't understand why married Needham was more sexually attractive to her than that widower cop who was always snooping around her, the father of that smart aleck kid, Mikey.
She found Needham by the coffee pot. "Did the bus show up yet, Charles, uh, Mr. Needham?"
"No. The police are looking for it."
"I guess everything will be all right. You'll fire the driver won't you?"
"There may be criminal charges, you know."
"I know," replied Needham, thinking that if and when Munford's record got out, along with who'd hired him, he may have no career left in the school administration.***
Lieutenant Deever walked along the semirotten porch to the front door of the very much in need of repairs, one story, tiny house at the end of Factory Street. A half attached mailbox had weathered letters nailed on indicating 'Munford', the rusty shadow of a 'D' remaining. In the driveway were large tire marks, presumably from the school bus Munford drove. "Anybody home," called out Deever, pretty much knowing there wasn't and hoping the door would be unlocked. He tried the shaky doorknob. It was locked but the doorframe had split and the keeper fell out. Instinctively, he drew his 9mm semi-auto and stepped inside.***
"Here we are kids," Munford sang out in the joyous voice that Casper had rigged. "There are three bathrooms, so relax. I have food for everyone and tonight we'll eat out. How's that, kids?"
There were approving sounds of, 'All right' and 'Mister Munford's okay.' The girls smiled and tried to beat the boys to the toilets. Mikey didn't like any part of this, and what was with the large van he saw parked nearby mostly under a tarp? And, he wasn't happy that they were about a mile down a winding dirt road near some river. Munford was getting off the bus and carrying the briefcase with Mikey's phone in it, so he couldn't get to call his dad.
"Hurry up, kids. Hit the head and wash up. There's sandwiches and soda for lunch, and then I have a surprise."***
Mikey's father was astounded by what he saw in Mr. Munford's house. The walls were papered with school bus pictures and stories taken from newspapers, Internet printouts and copies of library microfilm. Every type of story from bus orders placed by school districts to budgets to crimes involving the yellow things. He lost no time radioing to his boss a request for a possible crime scene investigation, and how about alerting the profilers at Quantico that there may be a case here they would find of interest. And, let's get a search warrant. A broken door only goes so far in court. Nowhere, in fact.
"Aren't you over-reacting, Lieutenant," asked his boss, Captain Barnes. "I know your son's on that bus, but is there reason for alarm at this point?"
It was pointless arguing so Deever described more of what he found, and Barnes quickly offered his full support.***
The kids were almost through stuffing themselves on cold and micro-waved junk food and soda when Munford said, "Now listen up. Everyone finish and hit the head before we get going again."
They did and were ready to move out when he announced, "All except eight of you are continuing this holiday."
The chattering suddenly stopped.
"Kids, we have to change buses, but the new van won't hold everyone. By now, the cops must be looking for that big yellow thing. How can we have any fun with them pestering us?" He smiled the artificial happy face of every good natured clown that ever performed, and the face Casper constructed would have won over a brass monkey. "Makes sense doesn't it? So here's what I'm going to do. I'm asking seven of you to volunteer to stay here. For the eighth person I'm going to have Mikey Deever stay too because he has a cell phone and he can call his dad to come and get you all. So who else chooses to end their trip right now?"
Barbara did. She had a doctor's appointment tomorrow. John said he would quit now because he had a game tomorrow. Five others also volunteered.
"Okay, great," said Munford. "All the rest of you go out and I want you to pull the tarp off the van and place it over that bright yellow bus. You know the cops will use helicopters to look for it and we want to have fun. The van has no windows but it's brightly lit inside and the door's unlocked, so get going. You eight stay here."
They watched while the other twenty-four kids finished and got into the van. Munford yelled, "I'll be right out," and turned to the remaining eight. "I'm going to give Mikey his phone so he can call, but I'm going to have to put you in a special room so you'll be safe until the cops come to take you home. There are some strange characters who roam these woods sometimes, and there have been bears known to go by here. I sure as hell don't want anything to happen to you kids while I'm gone, so to protect you, go on inside."
"So give me my phone," said Mikey.
"Coming right up, kid," as Munford got it out of his case. "Now get in there, kids. You want to go home, right? Well, stop wasting time."
They went into the room, brightly lit and not at all bad looking for a basic cabin retreat. Several chairs, a fat sofa and four decent windows that were clean enough yet they couldn't know they were made of unbreakable Lexan and nailed shut.
"My phone, Mr. Munford," demanded Mikey.
"Sure, kid. Here it is. Start calling now if you want to."
Mikey took the phone and saw the indicators showed about eighty percent power and about half signal strength. He felt better already, but something still seemed wrong.
"There are magazines on that shelf and a radio over there, so sit tight, kids, and goodbye."
With that Munford closed and quickly, but quietly, locked the ordinary looking but reinforced airtight door to the ordinary looking but airtight room. Then, he pulled the handle hidden in the wall behind a hinged panel and went out to the big white van.***
"This place is nuts," was the unprofessional opinion muttered by one of the detectives assigned to Munford's house. Lieutenant Deever was getting more agitated by the minute and was about to try calling his son again when his cell phone rang. He pressed answer and heard, "Dad. You there, Dad?" Relieved almost to the point of becoming speechless, Deever replied, "Mikey. Where are you? Are you all right?"
Hisssssssss. Quietly in the background.
"Dad, the driver, Mr. Munford, took us for a ride. But he left eight of us here and is taking the rest of the kids...."
"Dad." Mikey saw some of the kids fall. He felt strange himself and was beginning to panic.
"Mikey, what happened? Where are you?"
"Dad ... There's ..."
"Mikey, where are you?"
"South ... nine ..."
A strange hisssssssss.***
Mason Munford tore the paper covering from both sides of the van to reveal advertising for a 'Cover-Up Carpet Co' complete with a sketch of a carpet unwrapping from around a good looking woman who was stretching out luxuriously on a floor. A phony phone number and other lying copy about quality installations and the like completed the disguise. He jumped into the van's driver's seat, locked the remote control doors, and started the motor. He backed out of the parking spur and headed towards the Interstate. Nobody on the bus seemed to notice one of the twenty-four remaining children who were supposed to be on board was missing.
"Are they all right, Mr. Munford?" asked pudgy Sophie, well known for overly caring about her classmates and everyone else.
"Just fine, my girl. Mikey's dad will find them real soon. Go sit down. I have a surprise for everyone." She waddled back to her seat as Munford clutched the PA mike and told them, "Hey kids, we're going sightseeing. And maybe to a ball game. Meanwhile, there are games under your seats and snacks. It's party time."***
"Mason, my boy, you aren't as stupid as you look. When you listen to me."
"Casper, lay-off. I told you I know what I was doing."
"You don't know shit, Mason, so shut up and do as I say. Got that?"
"He got it, boss. He got it."
"You shut up too, Harris. You speak when I tell you to."
"I know, boss. But ..."
Casper looked menacingly at Harris.
"He ... He ... Forgot the note.""Harris, just shut the hell up. There's no note this time."
"Casper," whined Harris, "You know what I want."
"I know, Harris. How well I know, you twisted, rotten, pervert of a degenerate. And you'll get what you want. But later. Do what I say."
Harris had done a nose count of the kids and knew one was missing, but he was too afraid of what Casper might do if he told. So he just shut the hell up as he was instructed and contemplated the fun promised to him later.
Casper gave Mason a sharp dig with his mental elbow and told him, "Now, Mason, show me you have something besides us and sawdust in your head. We just completed the first of our series of parallel killings so what's next?"
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Bucks County Writers Workshop