Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
octor Robert Batti, by his nature tended to be a hyper, intense, over-reactive person, something that no doubt helped make him a superb dentist, always meticulous and striving for perfection; but news of his precious only daughter's kidnapping nearly drove him ... over the edge.
"How could something like this happen?" he asked his wife, Marge, as he paced the kitchen floor frantically while she was scrambling with stressful indecision to locate her raincoat and hat. It was a rhetorical question, of course, and one his loyal wife couldn't even fathom to answer. Years seemed to be adding to her face with every passing minute from the anguish of the shocking news, which she had first heard, of all places, on the television set earlier that afternoon.
"Come on Marge, we really have to get going," Dr. Batti urged, with tension building in his voice. He had demanded an urgent meeting with the school principal, the assistant superintendent in charge of transportation, and the police.
Dr. and Mrs. Batti gathered what they needed and scurried out the back door, moving faster than they had in years. The worst part for them was the not knowing. The lack of information so far, and the horrifying possibilities running through their minds, almost made it seem to them both as though they were living some kind of terrible, terrible dream.
"Try to stay calm, dear," said Darlene's mother once they were in the car and her husband was backing it out of the driveway. She was a soft-spoken woman and normally reserved. Marge was the traditional, old-fashioned homemaker and usually deferred to her very successful, highly regarded husband, but oddly enough she often seemed to be the one who could better handle a crisis situation.
"If anything happens to her," Dr. Batti said as he shifted the car from reverse to drive and proceeded to take off like a shot down the street, "I swear ... I'll sue the school district, the principal, every single damn teacher they have."***
It was during the drive to the police station that Dr. Batti had the flashback to the night eight months prior when he and his wife saw a special documentary on cable about child abductions in the United States. It was after seeing the horrors of all those true stories, some of which were much too close geographically to rationalize distinctions, that he and Marge discussed the current irony of today's society. They debated that night till early into the next morning the hypocrisy of modern America. So many people just like them driving around in expensive cars with sophisticated theft prevention devices and six airbags for safety reasons. Today's modern homes with complex, hi-tech, alarm systems, some even with monitored fire detection sensors. Husband and wives with insurance for every possible monetary or natural catastrophe one could imagine. Yet people did little or nothing to truly protect their most important and valuable assets, their beloved children. They agreed parents remained at the mercy of one single act by a deranged person of evil or psychotic intent. The innocent faces of so many children on milk cartons in convenience stores all around the country were abundant evidence of that harsh truth.
Meanwhile in the passenger's seat, Mrs. Batti made the many calls requested by her husband on the cell phone she kept in her purse in the event of an emergency. She was trying her hardest to hope for the best and keep her mind away from negative thoughts, but it wasn't easy. She paused in between calls and remembered how she had packed Darlene's lunch and book bag that same morning. It seemed like days already since she had last seen her blonde-haired, hazel-eyed, teenage princess. Mrs. Batti was especially worried because Darlene hadn't been feeling too well the last few months. She had been experiencing migraine headaches off and on and complaining of mild periods of dizziness. Mrs. Batti had, in fact, scheduled for Darlene a follow-up appointment with the family pediatrician for that very afternoon, which of course now had to be canceled. Only a dentist's wife would think of the need to cancel an appointment at a time like this. All in all, Darlene was the absolute sunshine of Mrs. Batti's life, the center of her world, and even her best friend. Mrs. Batti dreaded the contemplation of life without her daughter.***
In the crowded Arcadia police station, Dr. Batti calmed himself down and demanded everyone's attention. Altogether, there were some sixty emotionally distraught parents, several police officers attempting to keep everyone in order, and assorted individuals from the school administration who looked increasingly worried. The news reporters with their cameras and oversized microphones had been restricted to the front steps of the police station, outside, where they were swarming like bees and vultures, waiting for more information.
"Excuse me, Lieutenant Deever," Dr. Batti said in a loud voice almost to the point of yelling, trying to drown out all the assorted side conversations and get everyone to stop talking, "but I have something very important to say to everyone."
As Dr. Batti collected his thoughts, he couldn't help but inflict a resentful glare in the direction of the assistant superintendent, Charles Needham, who was standing off to the side of the room, looking increasingly sheepish as the facts of the abduction so far slowly unfolded. It was, after all, Needham who had hired the driver, Mason Munford.
"About four months ago," Dr. Batti said, "our Darlene went into the hospital for a procedure to have a beauty mark removed. Only that's not what really happened. Instead, we had a microchip surgically implanted under her skin on her right wrist. It's the size of a grain of rice and she doesn't even know about it. She thinks they removed a mole. Anyway, the chip is one of those devices that works with radio frequency waves and a global positioning system. The security company that monitors the system has GPS ground stations at various locations across the country. We spoke on the phone with their Mid-Atlantic division as we were driving over here, and they are, thank God, picking up the signal. The kids, Darlene at least, is somewhere around the upper part of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, and apparently on the move toward the Eastern Shore. The Security Company has alerted the FBI and an elite special task force has been dispatched."
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Bucks County Writers Workshop