"Tim? That you? Ha, we haven't even talked since yesterday?"
"Yeah, yeah, Dan, we have a big problem. Someone's kidnapped, Elliot!"
By the time I'd said even that much, I was practically shouting. Luckily, I'd stepped into a vacant room to call Jeffy before he took off so I'm sure I hadn't upset AJ. He had enough going on without something else to worry about.
"Did you say kidnapped? Tim, give me all you know. Start at the beginning and try to get calm. I need to know everything you can tell me."
I then heard him lower the phone and say, "Norton, we got troubles. I'm transferring this call to our office phones. Hit the recorder and get on one of the extensions.
"Okay, Tim, go ahead," he said after I heard clicking and ringing and phones being answered. "Norton's on here too."
"Hey, Norton," I said. I couldn't help wondering, probably because I was in shock, that the man had no first name.
"Hey, Tim. What gives, guys?" he asked.
"Tim says Elliot's been kidnapped. He's about to give us details. Go ahead, Tim."
"Well, that's the problem, guys. I have very few details. I called Jeffy to explain why we were at the hospital and . . ."
"Wait, wait! Hospital? Why are you at the hospital?" asked Dan.
"I don't know. I mean, AJ has been sick and when I took him for a doctor's appointment he fainted in the office, so the doctor admitted him. That's all I know about that as well." I was feeling a bit upset with me. I had very little idea what was going on with my family, it seemed.
"Yes, but . . ." started Dan.
"Dan, I'm sorry," interrupted Norton, "But our first priority has to be Elliot. We aren't doctors but we are the law around here."
"Oh, yeah. Later, Tim. Tell us what happened with Elliot."
"Like I was saying, I called Jeffy to tell him that we would at the very least be late coming home and for the two of them to make their own lunches and dinner. He told me that he hadn't seen Elliot. They were supposed to meet at Jeb's after Elliot's normal morning bike ride, but he never showed.
"About that time the doorbell rang at the house and Jeffy went to answer it. I couldn't hear who it was at the door, but I could hear Jeffy's panicked voice yelling at whoever it was. I distinctly heard him yell, 'Show me where the guy took him from.'"
"Okay, go on," prompted Dan.
"That's all. I didn't hear anything after that except the front door slamming shut. I have no idea now where Elliot or Jeffy are. As far as I know, Jeffy is on his way to find the kidnapper. That doesn't make me any too happy."
"No, I wouldn't be either," said Norton. "You said that Elliot was on his normal morning bike ride. Do you know the route he took?"
"No. Well, I went with them once, but it was just up the road toward the town. I think my butt gave out before we got the whole way that he's used to riding. I think I heard him say it was like ten miles long, his route."
"Okay, Tim, I know this is going to be hard, but we need you to stay by the phone and just be with AJ. You can do the most for him right now. We'll do what we can about Elliot, and Jeffy, for that matter. We'll call you if and when we know anything."
"Thanks, guys. I have never been so distraught about losing any . . . Oh, well, except, well, you know, Dan. You were with me."
"That's not going to happen this time, Tim. Everyone, including AJ, is going to be just fine."
"Thanks, Dan. Let me know if anything develops, please." I couldn't believe I was being so calm.
I hung up and went back to AJ's spot in intensive care, but he and his bed were gone!
"Mr. McGill," a nurse called to me as I stood there wondering where my son was, "They just took him down to do the two scans. We didn't know where you were, or you would have been with them. Take the elevator to the basement, turn left and follow the signs to Imaging. They'll help you at the desk down there."
I was in such a daze right about then that I couldn't even picture where the elevator was. The nurse finally came over and laid her hand on my shoulder.
"Are you all right, Mr. McGill? I'm sure everything is going to be fine."
"Um, yes, I think I'm alright. My family is just falling apart. I'll explain later. Can you point me toward the elevators?"
She pointed to the other side of the double doors that were just a few doors from the curtained area in Intensive Care where AJ had been laying when he was there.
I got on the elevator and pressed the 'B' button. There was that familiar rush of air and, in a few seconds, the elevator stopped, and I heard the doors open with a ding. Trouble is, I didn't see them open!
"Um sir, I think you want to leave by these doors behind you," said an orderly behind me.
I think I must have jumped because he put his hand on my shoulder to steady me, I think. Was I even cognizant of what was happening anymore? I felt like a blithering idiot.
"Thanks. I . . . I'm just a little shaken. Could you point me to where they do the CAT scan and, um, the other one?" I just couldn't get my brain functioning on all pistons.
"That's MRI. Yes, sir, I can. I know, why don't you just follow me? I'm going that way anyway," said the young man in his gray scrubs with a nice smile.
"Ha! Liar. You were getting on the elevator. But, yes, I really and truly thank you for helping me."
He laughed with me. "My pleasure, sir. Why do you look so familiar to me if I may ask?"
"I, um, I don't know. The other time I was here was with a young man named Tyler. But he was Boy until we could identify him."
We were walking down a hall of blank, hospital green walls. There were doors but none of them looked inviting or had signs like a public area. We made a few turns eventually, while we were talking.
"Oh, well, while I remember Tyler, and most everyone here does, it wasn't that."
"Let's see, I was here when they admitted my son, Elliot. He'd been beaten pretty badly by some kid at his school and . . ."
"Yeah! That's it. I was in his room several times. I even helped remove his parents and that quack pastor guy. But you aren't the man I removed."
"Oh, no. I'm just his foster dad for now. I hope to make it permanent, if they'll let me. Trouble is, he was kidnapped today."
"Oh my God! I can't believe that. Who would . . . You mean his parents took him? Why would they go to all that trouble to get him back? Probably wanted to finish their exorcism on him, huh?"
I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at him. He couldn't have been more than about twenty.
"Wait. You think his parents had something to do with this?"
"Well, that would be my guess. They were ranting and raving all the way outside about how they had to rid the area of such a demon as their son. Can you believe anyone would feel like that about someone they brought into the world?"
It made sense. I never would have thought that, being a parent myself, but they certainly were fanatics and that's the kind of things fanatics do.
I immediately reached for my cell phone, but the young man stopped me by placing his hand on my arm as I pulled the phone out of my pocket.
"Sorry, sir. There's no signal down here. If you need to, you can use the phone at the check-in station when we get there. In fact, this is it."
I had to call Dan with that information. It might lead them to Elliot. But I really wanted to know how AJ was doing.
The orderly left me at the desk to return to his other mission, whatever that was, but not until I practically shook his arm out of its socket and thanked him profusely, not just for helping me get to Imaging, but in his suggestion that may be the information we needed to find Elliot.
The attendant at the desk let me use the phone. I had to get the number from my cell phone, though. I can't remember any numbers anymore; not since cellphones have contact lists.
"Yeah, we thought of that, Tim, just not very seriously. Now we'll look at that possibility in a new light. I have two officers combing the route between your house and the town, but they haven't called back with any information."
"What about Jeffy, Dan. Have you found him yet?"
"Nope. They have his description too. I told them he might be with someone else, maybe both on their bikes. That was just a guess."
"Hmm, that would explain why he yelled at them if they were his peer. I don't think he would have yelled at an adult the way he did."
"Probably. Anyway, thanks for the info. How's the boy, Tim? Any word yet?"
"No. I just got down here to Imaging. I'll be asking them in just a minute."
"Keep us up to date, please. You know he's a favorite of ours. I mean all the boys and Linda Sue and Tyler too."
"Thanks, Dan. Please find Elliot."
Left with his assurances, we hung up and I turned to the attendant standing at the reception desk.
Jeffy's hair was matted to his forehead and sweat was seeping through his shirt. He was hot and tired.
"Huff, huff. Hold on, Carlton. I can't keep up. I'm outta shape I guess."
"It's just to the top of the hill. It's right where I saw him bein' pulled off his bike and thrown into this cool-lookin' car."
"Okay, okay. But 'cool lookin' car' isn't much to go on, Ray. Do you know what kind it was?"
"Sure. It was white and classy lookin.'"
"Ray, what kind was it?" Jeffy asked again, perturbed at the other boy.
"Um, what kind has the four circles all overlapping?"
"The Olympics? He was in a car from the Olym . . .?"
"No, no, four circles, not five. You know, and all in a straight line."
"Yeah, an Audi!"
By that time, they'd reached the top of the hill.
"And then?" asked Ray Carlton, the boy that had passed the note to Elliot and had subsequently seen him being kidnapped.
"Ray, what happened next?"
"Oh! They drove away. Well, Elliot didn't drive but . . ."
"Good grief! What direction, Ray. Which way did the Audi go?"
"Oh, um, that a way," he indicated by pointing in the direction away from them, down the hill on the other side.
"Great! They could be in the next state by now."
"Hey, you wanna come to my place and get a drink? It's only about two miles from here and it's all downhill and I'm dyin' of thirst," the boy offered.
"I don't know," said Jeffy, looking back the way they came. "Besides, I need to keep going, I guess. No one else even knows he's gone but me."
"Yeah, too bad you don't have a phone to call the sheriff, huh?"
"Oh shit!" exclaimed Jeffy, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his cell phone. Then his hands dropped to his side in disgust. "Great! I don't know the sheriff's number."
"Duh. Try dialin' 9-1-1, brain fart."
"One of these days, Carlton. One of these days," Jeffy said, shaking his head at the boy as he dialed 9-1-1.
Just as they were answering, his phone was taking an incoming call.
"9-1-1, what is your emergency?" the very professional voice on the other end asked.
"Oh, wait, ma'am. I, see I gotta answer this other line. Can ya wait?" Jeffy was getting a little excited.
"Young man, if this is a prank call . . ."
"Oh, no ma'am, see my brother's been kidnapped and this call is Dan's, I mean, you don't probably know Dan, the deputy, but it's his son callin' me and . . ."
"Dan Perkins? I do know him. Take the call, son. Then come back on."
"Hello, hello! Don't hang up. I'm here!" he pleaded into the phone after he pushed the 'Talk' button.
Ralph asked him, "Jeffy? Dad asked me to call you and have you call his cell number. He's trying to find you and Elliot, I think. I have no idea why. I just . . ."
"Oh man, that's so perfect, Ralph. Oh, but wait! I got 9-1-1 on my other line. Can you call Dan and tell him we're at the top o' the hill above the store that's on the way to town, about ten miles out from home?"
"Oh sure, but what's . . ." But he was talking into a deadline.
"Okay, I'm back, ma'am. I'm glad I took that though cuz now Dan'll be on his way."
"Young man, I need some information while you're waiting for him. It can only help you find your brother."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll do anything to find him."
After answering her questions, he took off with his companion down the hill, to have a much-needed bit of refreshment to revive them, totally forgetting to stay and meet with whoever was on their way.
Just as they turned out of sight, a sheriff's patrol car crested the hill and stopped.
"No, dispatch, there's no one here. I'll keep going. Maybe he's just ahead somewhere. After all, how far away could he be if you told him to stay put."
"Um, I didn't exactly tell him to stay there. I guess I just assumed he'd wait."
"Great! Well, I'll keep at it. Now we know we're looking for a white Audi, anyway. Better tell Dan."
"I'm here with AJ, the little guy that was just brought down," I told the attendant at the reception desk in Imaging at the hospital. "They told me in intensive care he was here somewhere, doing the CAT scan and, um, oh, MRI?"
"And you're his . . ."
I immediately began to choke up! It was like a wave passed through me. It was a combination of so much pride to be his real dad and the idea that it might not be for much longer. By the time I could answer, tears were dripping down my cheeks and I was shaking even as I held onto the edge of the counter.
The attendant immediately came around and helped me to sit down.
"Sir, I know you're his father. I can see that all over your face. You must be Mr. McGill."
"Yes, um, yes, I'm he. I just realized there may be a chance that I might not be for too much longer, his dad, I mean. It can't be as bad as that, can it?"
"No, no. I'm sure it's something minor. Maybe something he ate or . . ."
I waved him off and he quit; he just stood over me.
I said, "This has been going on for a while. It got increasingly worse very fast. It's got me very worried."
"Well, sir, they're just starting the MRI. It will take a while. Your boy seems to be cooperating very well with the technician, so it shouldn't take but about a half an hour. They actually do several small passes before they do the lengthy one."
I have no idea if that's what he really said or not. Something like that. My mind was going in a million directions. I thought about my training in the service, to be an elite leader during the very worst circumstances ever, literally a daily matter of life and death and that I'd take that job any day over the last few hours of my life. I felt like I was a failure as a dad. I couldn't even hold onto my new family. They were all gone or leaving . . . again.
I don't know why I was being such a pessimist about AJ's condition. It wouldn't have surprised me to know that he had some brain tumor or rare blood disease. I couldn't shake that out of my head.
I guess I'd closed my eyes and rested my head in my hands propped up on my knees where I sat waiting for AJ to come out of that chamber. I could hear the beating of those magnets as the wheel or whatever it was circled my little guy to find something that they could fix.
The attendant was holding a glass of ice water in front of me when I finally opened my eyes.
"Here. Drink this. You need to relax and know that we're doing everything we can to help your boy, Mr. McGill."
"Thank you," I said, taking the glass and pouring half of it down my throat. It really tasted good and cooled me off a lot.
"Let me refill that for you. About five more minutes of the MRI, Mr. McGill. The technician said your boy is doing just fine. He's even sleeping through the test he's so relaxed."
'Well, that makes one of us,' I thought.
"Look, Ray, I really thank you for the Coke and all, but I really need to get going and try to find my brother."
Jeffy rose from the chair he was sitting in at Ray Carlton's house. They'd raced down the hill but there was no catching up to the Audi. It seemed to be long gone.
"Daniel, how you gonna catch that car? It ain't possible. You might as well go home and wait," the boy said as he walked up behind Jeffy.
Jeffy got a little indignant, turned around and stepped up until he was in Ray's face. He sounded calm but resolved when he said,
"Let me make this clear, Carlton. If I have to check every house and every square foot of this county, I will find my brother. I will not let anyone hurt him anymore. Hell, I promised him. So, did my dad."
Tears were in his eyes by the time he'd finished. He sank into the closest chair, weak from grief. It was not that long before, that he would have been humiliated to show that kind of emotion, but right then, he didn't care who saw him.
Another half an hour and both tests were done. AJ was wheeled out in the bed. He was covered with a sheet up to his chin and had his eyes closed.
"How's he doing?" I asked the orderly who was pushing the bed.
"Oh, the testing seemed to go very well, they said. They were . . ."
"No, no. Please, how is my son doing after all that?"
"Oh, um, they didn't say. I guess . . ."
"AJ? How are you feeling, son? Feeling any stronger?" I asked walking to the side of his bed even as it was rolling toward the elevator.
"I, uh, Dad, I feel really weak. I can barely even raise my arms. Nothing seems to be working right. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get sick."
Tears were streaming from his face which was pink as though he was flushed.
"Oh my God, AJ, it's not your fault! Please don't feel that way. You need to concentrate on feeling better. Right now, and until the doctors know something, you are the only one that can do anything to get you better."
"But I don't know what to do. I don't want to feel like this, but I can't help it."
"I'm sure these tests will tell the doctors something, then they can start treating you. You'll be better in no time, I'm sure."
As I said that, the bile in my stomach was beginning to make its way into my throat, burning the passage that emitted the words that just lied to him. Oh, I know that's not really why, but I felt like I was deceiving him. I knew I needed to get out of this mindset. It wasn't helping either of us.
I asked the orderly as we waited for the elevator, "How long before we know the results of the tests?"
"Well, usually a doctor comes down and reads them, you know, an expert at this stuff. He's usually here right after lunch. Then he sends his results to the attending physician."
Just then the elevator opened and a man in blue scrubs rushed past us, almost knocking me over.
"Sorry. Gotta hurry," he called over his shoulder as he rushed down the hall we'd just come from. "Didn't mean to run into you."
"Wow," commented the orderly, looking at his watch, then back at the doctor.
"What?" I asked.
"Um, well, that was the doctor that I told you about. Um, it's just noon and he's missing his lunch to come and look at the test results."
"Maybe there's so many that . . ."
"Um, no. Your son's are the only ones there, sir."
As he said that the elevator dinged and started closing. He reached in and the doors opened, and we got in. But it only redirected my thoughts for an instant. Seeing the doctor hurrying like that was not a good sign as far as I was concerned. And I was more concerned than ever just then.
"Well, Dan," said Norton, "There can't be too many white Audis around town, as long as we get him before he gets into the city."
"That's just it. He was headed that way. It won't take any time for him to get there. Let's have two more guys at the crossroads just in case, maybe even call the city. Wait, I know who can help us!"
"I'm comin' with, Jeffy."
"Then get your butt movin' cuz I'm not waitin'. Thanks for the drink, Ray, but I need to get back ta lookin' for Elliot."
"You sure care about him a lot, Jeffy. You sweet on him or somethin'?" asked the boy as he rode up alongside of Jeffy who was waiting for him.
"Why the hell do I have ta be sweet on someone ta care for him, asshole? He's my brother. Alright, not my real brother; at least not yet. Maybe we're an even closer family than real blood. And you gotta change your brain around. Quit thinkin' with your asshole. There's more good in Elliot this minute than you'll have in your lifetime, if you don't quit bein' so damned biased. Now let's go!"
With that, he left Ray astride his bike with his mouth hanging open. He finally shook his head to clear it and took off after the other boy, more impressed than ever in his new friend.
As they approached the next intersection, an SUV went sailing by them without even slowing down at the corner.
"Shit! They almost hit us!" screamed Ray, turning into the curb.
Jeffy screamed, "I know them! That's Elliot's parents! What're they doin' here?"
"Whaddya mean? I thought you knew Elliot. He lives, or used to live, down this street and over two. That's his parents' SUV, no duh."
"I've only been there once, and it was the first time I'd ever been in this area. Show me where he lives. Maybe we can find something that'll tell us where they're goin'. And maybe, just maybe those jerks are goin' to meet the guy and Elliot."
"Yeah," said Ray, mostly to himself, until he realized Jeffy was racing down the street that the SUV holding Elliot's parents had just come up. "Hey! Wait for me! I gotta show ya, ya know!"
Finally, due to Dan's call, an Amber Alert started pouring out to the cell phones in the whole county. All it said was to report any white Audis, especially if they could see a fifteen-year-old boy in it. It did describe Elliot somewhat, but they knew he could well be tied up and laid down in the car or even in the trunk.
He waited at the appointed place. They wouldn't tell him the final meeting place in case he didn't make it that far, giving their involvement away in the process. They did give him a cheap throwaway cell phone that would be nearly untraceable. He let them know he was waiting with the boy. He looked in the back seat at the tied-up boy, satisfied that he wasn't going to get away any time soon.
Elliot's parents were ready. They had the barn at the old church camp prepared and all they had to do was jump into their SUV and meet with Mr. Smith.
Elliot's father was driving a little fast in their otherwise quiet neighborhood. But he was going fast enough that his wife yelled at him as he turned a corner. He looked at her and by the time he looked back there were two boys ahead on their bikes. He came close but not close enough to do more than scare the boys. He laughed.
"One of those boys looks awfully familiar," commented his wife.
"So. We have little to worry about anymore. It's all going ahead as planned. Call the Pastor and have him meet us, dear."
Her call went through and the pastor of their church answered.
"Oh good, Pastor, you're there. We'd like you to meet us at the old camp, sir. We have a little ritual to perform and we think you'd like to be a part of it. We need you there. It will rid our circle of the stigma of that devil worshipper once and for all."
The Pastor was taken aback by the tone of her voice and her insistence on him being present.
"Um, just what ritual do you mean? I will help with an exorcism if that's what you mean. It will take . . ."
"No, no. I think we all know we're past that, Pastor. No, we feel we need to rid our circle not only of the spiritual takeover by the Beast, but his physical presence as well."
"I'm not sure I . . . Oh, no! You can't mean . . . I can't imagine what you're thinking. If you intend to do harm or, even worse, take a life, I certainly want no part in that. Ridding the world of a possession is one thing I can condone, but a life is far too precious in the sight of the Lord to make the judgment to end it, especially one so young. No, I cannot be a part of this."
"Pastor, we really would like your help in this. In fact, we insist on it. You are a part of this, and we have to have you there, not only to help do this correctly but to ensure that we are equally on the same page, if you know what I mean."
The man driving looked at his wife with questioning eyes. She shook her head in disbelief of what she was hearing, the pastor's reluctance to follow through with something that, in their minds, he'd started long ago.
"No, no. This is not right. I'm not only not on the same page as your sickened minds, but I believe we may well be in totally different books. No, I will have nothing to do with taking an innocent life such as the boy's."
"Is that your final word, pastor, because we're very disappointed if it is?" she said, looking at her husband.
"Of course, it is my final word. May I offer my advice and just give the boy up. We may pray that he finds the Lord and seeks to rid himself of his evil spirit, but to end his life? I think not."
"Well, if that's the way you want it, pastor, then there's only one other task we must see to before we take this on our own. We'll talk to you later, then," she said and hung up the phone.
"So, he was adamant? He won't be joining us?"
"No. It's just as you predicted. I guess you need to turn around so we can take care of that one detail before we venture forth with our priority task."
The man eventually made a U-turn and made his way back to the city. Their church was at the outskirts so it would be easy to finish their task and get back to their important work.
Twenty minutes later a frantic woman called 9-1-1.
"What is the nature of your emergency, ma'am."
"Oh my God, oh my God! I can't believe it! I can't believe what I just saw out my front window! Oh my God!"
"Ma'am? MA'AM! Please calm down and tell me what you're talking about. What exactly did you see?"
"No, it couldn't be, but it was. I just saw it. Oh my God!"
"Lady, you need to chill out and calm down enough to tell me what happened! Please, I can't do anything until you tell me what happened. Take two deep breaths and slow down. Only then can I help you."
"Okay, oh my God. It just happened. I looked out my front window just as the Pastor across the street walked out of the church. Then this SUV pulled up and I guess they were talking. He was on the other side of it and I couldn't see them. I'd almost moved away when I saw the vehicle pull away a bit and the pastor yelling over at it. I went to the door and while I couldn't hear what was said, I could hear two voices shouting, including the Pastor's. They were quite heated. Then the pastor threw up his hands and walked the few feet to his car."
There was a pause as it seemed the woman was trying to catch her breath.
"And then, ma'am? Then what happened?" asked the call taker.
"Why, that's when it happened. Oh my God, I still can't believe it!" Her voice started to rise again.
"Ma'am, you need to calm down. Are you at your house now?"
"Um, why yes. Yes, I am."
"Okay, I have an officer on his way, but you need to tell me what happened next."
"Of course. Um, the SUV simply backed up."
"I'm sorry. You said it just backed up. I don't see anything wrong with . . ."
"Oh, no," the woman interrupted. "You don't understand. The SUV backed up, smashing the pastor into the side of his car. I'm sure he was crushed because the force moved the car several feet, but then the SUV did it again. That time it . . . Oh my God. I can't say it. I just can't. I think, I think I'm going to faint. Oh no."
The call taker heard the phone drop to the floor then a groan and the sound of something much heavier falling to the floor. The lady must have actually fainted, before she could tell the call taker that she saw the SUV back up over the pastor's head, crushing it. Then it sped away.
With the address and phone number mapped to the call taker's screen, finding the house would be very little problem. With the church on a main thoroughfare, getting to its location was also a cinch. Given that calls started coming in from cell phones that also mapped to that exact location, there wouldn't be a problem finding the still body of the pastor in his church's parking lot.
But what the call taker didn't hear was the conversation in the SUV as it pulled away.
"Well, we made short work of that problem. I doubt if someone saw us."
I would like to hear/read your criticisms, good and bad. I'd love to talk about where this gets to you. Matthew Templar