© Copyright 2018 by Kathryn Lynch
The Old Lady sat in the booth by the restaurant door. She could see the pepperoni pizza beginning to blister as it cooked away in the oven. When it was ready, she would drive directly to her daughter's house to share it with her and the grandchildren. She pictured her grandson, cheese and sauce dribbling down his face, chewing on his pizza and telling her about his day.
The restaurant door opened once again. A gray haired man holding the hand of a small boy approached the counter to place an order. The child bore no physical resemblance to the man. Was it his grandfather? His late in life dad? The relationship was unclear, but one thing was obvious to the Old Lady. The boy was miserable.
They sat across from her now—waiting. Most children anticipating a pizza dinner were happy, enthusiastic and somewhat difficult to control while their pizzas cooked. This boy wiggled his hand for release but when he did, the man tightened his grip. The child's eyes met hers, dilated pupils giving them a dark appearance. “Desperate, haunted”, she thought. Something was very wrong.
Both pizzas were ready about the same time. The Old Lady watched from her car as the man and boy climbed into a maroon pickup and prepared to leave. On impulse, she decided to abandon her plans for a quick family dinner. Instead she would follow the truck to see where it went.
On he main drag out of town, she followed at a discreet distance, allowing a third car to fill in the distance between them. Ten miles later, the truck turned right on King's Valley Road. At this point, following became much more difficult because the road meandered through the farmland, much of it flat. Slowing her pace to increase her distance behind, the Old Lady tenaciously stuck with the maroon pickup.
At last the truck pulled into a driveway which led to a white house with blue trim. As she drove past, she took note of the house in her rear view mirror.
The pizza was cold when she delivered it to her grandchildren. Even when the Old Lady explained the reason for her delay, the younger woman berated her for making the family wait so long, and for “snooping into the business of others”, which was “not a good thing to do”.
Nevertheless, she could not shake off the feeling that the little boy had somehow been in the kind of trouble from which he needed help.
A silent alarm in the marrow of her bones kept his plight in the forefront of her thoughts. When she tried to sleep that night, his desperate eyes intruded into the spaces of her brain which had already emptied for slumber.
She awoke early, an hour or so before the rest of her family who lived next door. Every morning she made a pot of coffee and sat down in her favorite chair to watch the news. Same old stuff; Muslim factions were fighting between themselves for land, exotic poisons were being used to eliminate political enemies, and thousands of refugees were on the move in Africa and the Middle East. The final segment as the local news; a five year old boy named Evan had been missing since the previous day. While his frantic parents tearfully begged and pleaded for his return, the camera zeroed in on the picture of a grinning child with a missing front tooth. A cold chill enveloped the Old Lady. She began to shiver, her hands shaking until coffee dribbled into her lap. It was the boy in the restaurant.
When she called 9-1-1, the operator wanted the information over the phone, but she insisted that an officer come to her house. The police response was overwhelming. Five cars, sirens screaming, plowed into her driveway, uniformed and plain clothes personnel swarming the front porch like bees on the hunt for a new hive.
Telling her story carefully, she agreed to ride with two detectives to the white house with the blue trim They instructed her to remain in the vehicle as the authorities advanced, guns drawn toward the residence. No one answered their knocks, so a burly deputy kicked in the door. Nothing. The house was empty. As they drove her home in silence, the Old Lady sensed that no one believed her and the police now felt that she was a Nut Case who had wasted their time.
Her anxiety level remained in high gear. The boy had not been found and with each passing hour he was in jeopardy from the gray haired man. It festered like a sore in her gut that there was nothing further that she could do. She had no idea where they had gone.
Flyers with Evan's picture now adorned the front windows of the downtown stores. At the grocery store, the Old Lady studied the information provided. There was no mention of the maroon truck, cementing in her mind that the police did not believe her story.
Parents with small children slipped into a state of paranoia, surveying their neighborhoods like buzzards searching for prey. Legitimate business men with work in the area were careful to work in pairs, severely limiting the time they spent outside. The children themselves, cringed under a mountain of new restrictions which curtailed their already scant freedoms.
The Old Lady changed her route from town to include the drive on King's Valley Road past the white house with the blue trim. There were no signs of life. She knew that the man was long gone with the little boy.
Evan had been missing for a month when she approached the familiar driveway on her way home. To her surprise, three chickens rooted and scratched in the gravel, searching for food. Either these birds had flown in from some distance or they were being fed and watered by someone connected to the house. Memories of Even's haunted eyes bored into her thoughts. The Old Lady instantly resolved to determine if someone was inside.
Using her cane, she ascended the front porch steps. The doorbell was answered by an elderly woman, a comrade so to speak in the business of growing old. “I'm looking for farm fresh eggs to buy. Do you have any”, she asked?
As the homeowner prepared coffee, she studied her surroundings. A few framed photographs were neatly arranged on the tables in the room. The Old Lady studied each one until her eyes rested upon the snapshot of a gray haired man. The hostess explained that this was her son who lived nearby.
“IT WAS HIM”! Had the police believed and investigated all the details of her story, they might have located Evan within a day or two of his disappearance. “What an absolute disaster”! Her overwhelming disdain for the police was second only to the sadness she now felt for the boy. Too much time had passed. It did not look good...
On the way home, she racked her brain for a way to pass on this new information. The police would send the report to the round file if she made another call. She remembered that one of the contacts on the missing child's flyer was 1 800-THE-LOST.
So it was that the Old Lady made the call. Refusing to provide her name, she identified herself as the resident of the white house with the blue trim on King's Valley Road. She was certain that her son, who lived nearby, was the man who had taken Evan. She had a picture of him and his local phone number. They should send somebody....
Following through on the tip, FBI agents, deputy sheriffs, and the local police quietly surrounded a downtown apartment building, slipping into prearranged positions. When everything was in place, the flashing lights on the vehicles were turned on and the Lead Agent called out to the gray haired man over a bullhorn, exhorting him to come outside. There was no response.
Four men prepared to smash in the door with a battering ram when a fifth officer signaled them to stop. He had detected a slight movement of the doorknob indicating that someone was coming out. They drew their guns and waited for the door to open at a maddeningly slow, inch by inch pace... At last, a little boy wearing dirty clothes stood alone in the frame, staring at them from a tear stained face with haunted dark eyes. It was Evan.
Epilogue: The boy was taken to the hospital where he was joyfully reunited with his parents. He quickly recovered enough to go home, but he would require months of psychiatric counseling.
The gray haired man had seen the police vehicles approaching. He ran out the back door to his maroon pickup, floorboarding it in the direction of the highway, where he was spotted and arrested.
Following the recovery, the police bragged about their exploits in excruciating detail, basking in the press characterization of them as “heroes”. Neither Evan's parents nor the public was ever told that the authorities probably could have recovered the child much earlier if they had followed through on a discarded lead.
The Old Lady remained silent. These days she is content to sleep well and on occasion share a pizza with her grandchildren. The pizza is always hot.