“I don’t believe it. Of all the places we had to go for help, it was there— and he’s in with the gang!”
The Boss. Here in the small, peaceful village where they thought they were finally, finally safe. Heading straight for the door of Amberside’s tiny, one-room police station.
No no no….
“Avi, let’s call the police officer, let’s get outside!” Elchanan exclaimed, grabbing his arm.
Avi shook his head, desperately trying to calm his racing thoughts. “Wait. Wait, Elchanan. We can’t do that. Officer Brown — he’s just one man, I don’t think he even has a gun on him. The Boss is armed. We can’t go out there — that would be crazy. Besides, we’ll never reach the officer in time — the reporters are so tightly packed together….”
“But — but if we can’t go out the front door… do you think there’s another way out of here?”
Mrs. Brown came hurrying down the stairs. Avi opened his mouth, thinking of asking her for help — maybe she could bolt the doors, do something to buy some time — but the officer’s wife didn’t even stop to say anything — she rushed straight past them and out of the door, breathless. She nearly ran straight into the Boss, who was now approaching the driveway, a thin, stooped, white-haired figure right behind him.
“Hey — that’s the store owner!” Elchanan cried. His grip on Avi’s arm tightened. “I don’t believe it. Of all the places we had to go for help, it was there— and he’s in with the gang!”
Avi’s mind clicked frantically, things falling into place. So he was the one who called the reporters. He probably wanted to create a diversion, get Officer Brown distracted and busy with trying to keep the reporters at bay, so he could sneak past and get to the boys… who were now standing frozen at the window, just moments away from being captured.
He turned to Elchanan, his terror mirrored in his friend’s eyes. “We’ve got to get out of here!”
“How much further?” Rabbi Stark asked anxiously. He tapped his foot against the Highlander’s soft interior flooring. The luxurious design was lost on him; desperate as he was to see his son, and his son’s friend, safely in their charge again.
Mr. Shine glanced at the screen of the built-in navigation system. “Not far at all. It’s giving me 15 minutes.”
“Good.” Rabbi Stark shook his head. “I’m glad you had your car parked near the search headquarters. I want to get the boys home quietly, and as privately as possible. They don’t need a hundred people asking them questions and trying to get pictures. Especially after what they’ve been through….”
Mr. Shine clenched his hands around the steering wheel. “Yes. Yes. Tell me again, what exactly did they tell you on the phone?”
Rabbi Stark frowned. “They spoke very briefly, and I couldn’t hear so well. I was at the headquarters outside the forest, and there was a lot of noise. Besides, I was so overcome hearing that they were safe… honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. They’ve had such an ordeal, I’m wondering if any of the story was, you know….”
“Avi’s a smart kid. And I think your Elchanan has a head on his shoulders, too,” Mr. Shine said firmly. “If the two of them think something fishy was going on in the forest, I take their word for it.”
“Of course, of course I believe them,” Rabbi Stark said quickly. “It’s just… they were suggesting that the search parties need police escort, that there are dangerous criminals in there… I’m not saying there aren’t unpleasant people roaming around there, but armed professional criminals? Wouldn’t the search parties have come across them, raised the alarm somehow?”
Mr. Shine gave a sudden exclamation, and the car lurched to one side before he righted it. “We did meet a few rough-looking men. We met them, I was with Mordche Fishman’s group, and we asked if they’d seen the boys. They said they hadn’t.”
“Well, maybe the boys saw them, and hid,” Rabbi Stark suggested. “In any case…”
“But they weren’t — they didn’t do anything to us,” Mr. Shine said. “So could they have been the criminals Avi was talking about?”
“We’ll find out very soon, I hope,” Rabbi Stark said. “Is this the turnoff to the village?”
Mr. Shine checked the screen again. “Amberside… yes, here we are. The police station should be just down that road over there.”
As they neared the cul-de-sac, though, it was becoming more and more difficult to drive. Cars were double-parked in every which direction, reporters and police officers were coming from all sides. Frustrated, Mr. Shine parked the car in a nearby alley and jumped out.
“We’ll have to walk. Let’s go get the boys!”
But that was easier said than done. The crowd outside the police station — was there really a police station there? wondered Rabbi Stark — had swelled to fill the quiet village street. The two fathers looked around desperately for a police officer , while Rabbi Stark dialed Mrs. Brown’s number over and over, to no avail.
“The boys said they’d be waiting inside the police station, didn’t they?” Mr. Shine asked. “Then I’m guessing it must be that house over there.” He pointed to a small red-brick home, its lawn packed with reporters. He made for the door, Rabbi Stark hot on his heels. They dodged reporters and microphones and ducked to avoid camera flashes. They were bent on their mission: to get to their sons, and rescue them from the drama, before the situation spiraled out of control.
Mr. Shine elbowed his way through the crowd, making for the door next to the small, lopsided sign: POLICE.
“Yes, I was the one who found them!” A plump woman was telling several reporters, waving proudly at the cameras. “Hello, everyone! I’m Sylvie Brown, from Amberside, and we are so pleased to have been the ones to find the missing boys….”
“Finally!” Mr. Shine reached for the door handle, just as it opened from the inside. As Rabbi Stark caught up with him, panting, a black-haired, threatening-looking man stormed out, followed by an older man who looked pathetically worried.
Rabbi Stark and Mr. Shine looked at each other in horror.
“Who— what—” Mr. Shine stuttered in consternation.
Rabbi Stark shook his head — he didn’t know who those men were, what they were doing, and what the terrifying one had been angry about — he just knew that they had to get to their sons, now, and make sure they were okay.
The two men hurried inside. The police station was one room only, and it was empty. An untouched tray of food sat on the desk, and a plastic cup of water had tipped on its side, dribbling its last contents onto the floor.
“Avi?” Mr. Shine called out. “Avvviii?? Elchanan?”
But there was no response. The boys had vanished.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 889)
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