by Gary Hoffman
Enjoy this never before published mystery short story. Gary has been writing for us some short stories in some way involving little known holidays.
Janet Figg checked her watch. She had one more stop to make before she wanted to get home. She always liked to be at home when Jeremy got off the school bus. She calculated the time for the stop and the time for her to get to her house.
I can do this.
“What the hell is going on now?” Janet asked even though no one else was in the car with her. A voice was coming from the factory installed dash cell phone. The new car her husband wanted was nice, but had too many bells and whistles for her liking. It was a man’s voice, and he was laughing. The light ahead of her turned red, and she came to a stop.
“I should be there in about ten minutes,” the voice said again. Janet looked around trying to see if someone was playing a trick on her. Maybe she was on Candid Camera. The man in the car next to her had a cell phone to his ear.
The voice on her phone said, “Should be no problem.” And there was another laugh. The man next to her mouthed the words and then laughed. Somehow, her phone was picking up his conversation.
She then heard a different voice. “The maid is supposed to pick up the kid today. It should be an easy grab.” Janet looked away from the man.
An easy grab? What the heck is going on?
The light turned green and both cars headed forward. “You got the computer set up for the ransom message?” the guy next to her said.
Ransom message? Grab? These guys are gonna kidnap someone.
The other voice cut in. “Ready as it’s ever gonna be.”
“You almost to the school?”
“Got the van right in front of Waldon.”
Waldon. That’s Jeremy’s school.
Janet slowed to let the car beside her pass. She was digging through her purse to find a pen as she tried to memorize the license number. She found a pen and wrote the number on her arm since she couldn’t find anything to write on.
She then tried to form a mental picture of the man who had been next to her.
She pulled into a shopping center parking lot to try and figure out how to work the cell phone. Every button she pushed seemed to do nothing. She checked her watch. Jeremy would be getting out of school in just a few minutes.
A quick search of her purse told her what she thought she already knew—she had left her regular cell phone at home because the car had one built in. She jerked the car into drive and sped from the parking lot.
I know they’re not after Jeremy because we sure as hell don’t have a maid, but there could be all kinds of trouble there. Besides having a child taken, anyone could get hurt.
There was half a block long line of cars being driven by parents waiting to pick up their children. She pulled behind the last car, jumped out, and ran to the car ahead of her. A man who looked too young to have any kids in school was sitting there with his window down, listening to rock music and tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. “You have a cell phone?” she demanded.
“What? Who are you? What’s going on?”
“Do you have a cell phone? It’s an emergency.”
“Yeah, but you ain’t gonna get it.” He leaned away from the window.
“Just call 911. Tell them there is a kidnapping going on here.”
“You gonna kidnap somebody?” he asked.
“No. Please just do it.” She stuck her arm in his window. “Look. Look at my arm. That’s the bad guy’s license number. Tell that to the police.” She started running towards the school before the man could begin to memorize the number.
She continued toward the school. Buses were lined up in front of the building. She saw the principal, Tom Moore, standing just outside the front door. She was panting as she approached him. “Mr. Moore….there’s…going…to be…a kidnapping.”
“Kidnapping. Someone’s….going to be….kidnapped.”
Moore was carrying a radio. He put it to his mouth, pushed one button, and said, “Lockdown.” He looked at Janet.
“This better not be some kind of joke.”
Janet heard a buzzer signaling inside the school. “It’s not… a joke. I heard some men talking about it. They’re going to grab someone…. who’s going to be picked up by a maid.”
Moore scanned the scene in front of the school. They both heard a siren in the distance. A van parked across the street slowly pulled into the driving lane. “That’s probably them.” Janet said. Sirens were heard coming from the opposite direction.
By the time several police cars were on the scene, several reporters were, too. They filmed the children being let out one classroom at a time, and everyone being checked to see they made it onto the bus or their parent’s cars. Those that walked to school were returned to their classrooms until their parents were called to come pick them up. The police talked to Janet.
A lady who worked as a maid for one family was located and interviewed. Janet was interviewed. They wanted pictures of Jeremy, but she refused. Jeremy decided that wasn’t fair. She explained how, somehow, the cell phone signals got crossed and she overheard the plan. After the interview, she gave the police the license number she had written on her arm.
Janet got calls from many friends and neighbors that night as the news story aired. She was being hailed as a hero. When she and Ben were putting Jeremy in bed that night, they let their answering machine earn its keep and take the calls. Five more came in during that time period.
The next day, newspaper coverage was on the front page. Ben was kidding Janet about her fifteen minutes of fame. Two days after that, things pretty well calmed down. Her phone rang in the afternoon, and Janet answered it without a second thought, thinking more congratulations were coming in. As she picked up the receiver, she noticed the caller ID was blocked. The voice on the other end sounded like a robot. “We have Jeremy. You messed up our other plan, so you gotta pay. Don’t call the police. Will call later with instructions.” The line went dead.
Janet’s pulse rate soared and chills ran up her spine. She dropped the phone and stepped away from it as though that would help, somehow. Her hands went to her trembling lips. It then dawned on her to check the time. Jeremy should be on the school bus by now, but there was no way for the school to know whether he had been picked up or boarded the bus. She grabbed the phone from the floor and started to call Ben. She stopped. Ben would want to call the police.
They told me not to do that. Oh, God. Jeremy must be so scared. She put the receiver back in its cradle. I’ve got to try this by myself.
She got in her car and drove the streets she knew Jeremy’s bus would take. When she finally spotted it, it was just starting up again after dropping off some kids. She passed the bus, swerved in front of it, and stopped her car sideways in the road. The driver stopped the bus, but refused to open the doors for her. She ran to his side of the bus. “Did Jeremy Figg ride the bus tonight?” she shouted through the open window.
“Yes, Ma’am,” the woman bus driver said.
“Can I please take him off the bus?”
“No, ma’am. We got orders not to let anyone off until they get to their stop.”
Janet let out a huge sigh. “Okay. I’ll follow you to the bus stop. I’m his mother.”
“Sorry, ma’am, but I got my orders,” the driver said.
Janet held her hands out towards the woman. “That’s ok. That’s ok. Better safe than sorry.”
She followed the bus for another mile before Jeremy got off. He didn’t see that his mother was behind the bus. As he started walking toward his house, Janet saw a van speeding towards him. It looked like the same van she had seen a couple of days before. She cut her wheels hard to the right, drove across a lawn on the corner house, and crashed into the van before it got to Jeremy.
When Janet opened her eyes, her husband and Jeremy were standing by her hospital bed. She started crying and held out her arms toward Jeremy. “Did they get the guys?” she asked.
“Yes,” her husband said. Both of them had warrants out for them in other states.”
“How about our car?” she asked.
“Totaled. We’ll have to get a new one.”
“One request,” Janet said. “Not so many bells and whistles and definitely not built in cell phone.” She paused. “Or maybe even celebrate today’s holiday. I heard on the news this morning that March 10 is National Land Line Telephone Day.”
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Really enjoyed this story. Thanks for sharing it with us.
Cute story with a nice twist!