"One second, Elchanan. Look out the window — it’s not our parents, and it doesn’t look like the search party, either"
Just when Elchanan had decided they’d better give up on the hardware store owner and try to get help somewhere else, the door behind him opened. Elchanan spun around to see a woman bustle in, short and plump, a basket held in the crook of her elbow, fitting right in with the village’s outdated atmosphere, except for the phone she held in her other hand. When she saw the two boys standing there, her mouth fell open in shock.
“But you — you’re the boys who’ve been in the news! Missing — missing in the forest right near us, weren’t you? Does this mean you were found? Oh, how silly of me — I guess we’re the ones finding you! Oh, my! I’ve just got to tell Sam! He’ll be delighted! And to think it’s happening in our very own village....”
Things were moving so fast, Avi looked like he could barely register what was going on. Elchanan stepped forward, mustering up a tired smile. At least there was someone who believed their story.
“Yup, that’s us,” he said. “We’ve just arrived here. Could we please use your phone to call our parents? There’s a search party in the forest, we heard them, we even saw them once, but we lost them before we could get to them.”
“Of course you can call them! Imagine,” she went on, swiping her phone screen and helpfully tapping the “call” icon. “Just imagine, me, Sylvie Brown, actually finding you boys. I’m just so pleased you’re safe, we’ve all been thinking of you, and my Sam, he was up all night, he was, waiting for reports….”
Elchanan dialed his mother’s number. It was busy. He tapped the “back” icon and punched in Tatty’s.
“Just a minute,” Avi said suddenly. “Your husband — he isn’t Officer Brown by any chance, is he?”
“Sam — of course he is! How do you know?”
Elchanan heard his father’s phone ring once, twice. Then his father picked up, sounding wearier than Elchanan had ever heard him. “Hello?”
“T — Tatty?” Something caught in his throat. “Ta, it’s Elchanan.”
“Elchanan?” His father repeated, incredulously. “Elchanan, is that you?”
There was a babble of noise, like an explosion, on the other end of the line, and suddenly a hundred voices were on the phone at once. Elchanan’s voice felt choky, somehow, he couldn’t get a word out. Instead he handed the phone wordlessly to Avi, who filled Rabbi Stark in on the situation in a few brief sentences.
“We’re in a small village now — it’s called —” He broke off, looking at Mrs. Brown inquiringly. “Amberside,” he repeated after her. “It’s a few miles away from the forest. Can you tell the search parties? And my parents? I’ll call them, too, but I want them to hear right away that we’re safe….”
“You’ll come to the police station, of course, until they come pick you up,” Mrs. Brown chattered on as Avi continued the call. “Sam will want to speak to you….”
“Oh — Rabbi Stark?” Avi said into the phone, his voice suddenly sharpening. “This is important — please warn the search parties. There are dangerous men in the forest — armed criminals. They need to be very careful. Maybe have the police come escort them out… baruch Hashem, we’re safe, we’ll tell you the whole story afterward, but in the meantime, the search party needs to know to watch out.”
Elchanan glanced around the store as Avi spoke and noticed a strange expression flitting across the storekeeper’s face. His hands suddenly became very busy with something under the desk. Texting? Did he regret not having believed them the first time? Now the Browns would be getting all the reporters coming to speak to them; they’d be celebrities on the news for having found the two missing boys. The man from the hardware store had lost his chance.
Avi handed the phone back, and Elchanan briefly spoke to his father again. Then Avi called his mother — his father’s cell was out of service, presumably because he was still deep in the forest — and after he spent several minutes reassuring her that he was safe, and they would be waiting at the police station for the search party to come down and collect them, they set off with the chattering Mrs. Brown, who asked them an endless stream of questions without waiting for answers, and simultaneously put in a call to her husband, Officer Brown, to fill him in on the news.
“And I’m bringing them right over, Sam, so just make sure we have two chairs out in the waiting room, will you?” Then she turned back to Avi and Elchanan and asked, “So tell me again, you boys really walked from the Bordon Road entrance of the forest to here?”
The comment reminded Elchanan of how much his legs were aching. He hoped the police station wasn’t too far. To his surprise, though, Mrs. Brown led them away right off the main road, down the street, and onto a little residential cul-de-sac with two or three red brick houses on each side of the road, bordered by well-kept lawns.
“This is the police station?” he asked. Mrs. Brown gave a vigorous nod as she turned into the second driveway. “Oh, yes. See there?” And she pointed to a little sign hanging crookedly in the corner of the window: POLICE.
Avi nudged Elchanan. “We’d never have found that ourselves,” he muttered. Elchanan made a face in agreement. This was a real hick town.
The police station was a neat room at the front of the Browns’ house. It had its own front door, which led into a small waiting room with a desk. Seated at the desk was a friendly-looking man with curly brown hair and an open-necked blue shirt. His police cap was hanging on a hook, and a radio sat in its charger beside him. Other than that, there was no sign at all of his profession.
“Hello, boys!” he said cheerily. “Given your parents a run for their money, haven’t you? And kept us all pretty worried on the Force, too. Glad you’re all safe, though, right we are, Sylvie?”
Mrs. Brown agreed vociferously, and bustled off to the kitchen, while her husband took out a clean sheet of paper and began asking them questions. She came back a few minutes later with a tray piled with cakes and drinks.
“You boys must be hungry,” she said.
Elchanan looked at Avi. Yikes, this would be awkward.
“We’ll just take water,” he said, hesitantly. “I’m — I’m not so hungry.” His stomach growled in protest at his words, and he felt his face redden.
Mrs. Brown looked taken aback.
“It’s — we only eat kosher food,” Avi explained. “That is, we have special dietary requirements… we could have some fresh fruit or vegetables, if you have. Or we’ll be okay until our parents come….”
There was a sound from outside. A car turned into the cul-de-sac, followed by another, and then another. Elchanan jumped up, making for the front door. “They’re here!”
“Wow, that was super fast,” Avi said. “I wonder whether…” He stopped, halfway to the door. “One second, Elchanan. Look out the window — it’s not our parents, and it doesn’t look like the search party, either.”
Elchanan followed his gaze. Men and women were emerging from the cars, holding microphones and camera equipment.
“Reporters!” Mrs. Brown said, and she actually clapped her hands in excitement. “Oh, Sam, there are real live reporters in our own village!”
Officer Brown stood up, frowning. “That was fast,” he said. “A little too fast. How in heaven’s name did they get here even before the police and the boys’ parents? I’m going out to them; the boys shouldn’t be harassed by the media.”
He strode outside. Mrs. Brown followed him out of the room, muttering something about getting her lipstick.
Elchanan thought he wouldn’t mind facing a bunch of reporters; not after Ivan and his gang. He was about to tell that to Avi when another car edged up behind the reporters’ ones, and a very large man casually got out, stretched, and sauntered up the road toward them.
He had heavy black brows and a huge scruffy beard, bulging muscles, and bulges under his jacket that told Elchanan all he needed to know.
He grabbed Avi’s arm, mouth suddenly dry. “It’s the Boss!”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 888)
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