“Did you— did you tell her what you told us? About the boys going to the police station?” Rabbi Stark asked, his voice shaking
Mr. Shine and Rabbi Stark drove up and down the village streets, looking for any signs of their missing sons.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” Rabbi Stark called from the window. A small woman walking a dog hurried over. “Have you by any chance seen two boys, one with—”
“Oh, yes, I have!” the woman said excitedly, nodding her head very fast. “I know exactly who you’re talking about. Lovely young lads they are, too. They asked me the way to the police station, not very long ago, and I showed them the shortcut. You’ll have to take the road though.”
“Thank you very much,” Rabbi Stark said, relief in his voice. “That’s very helpful, Mrs.—”
“Just call me Bess,” the woman said, beaming widely. “I’m glad to help, I am. And would you believe it, you’re not even the first ones to ask me about the boys! Another car drove by not five minutes ago, a fancy red car, and the driver asked me the same thing! Scary-looking fellow he was, I don’t mind telling you that,” she chattered on.
Rabbi Stark and Mr. Shine looked at each other in horror.
“Did you— did you tell her what you told us? About the boys going to the police station?” Rabbi Stark asked, his voice shaking a little.
“Oh, yes, just like I told you, I’m always pleased to help a visitor, and goodness knows we don’t get many visitors to our little village…”
Mr. Shine didn’t wait to hear more. He simply pressed down on the gas pedal and sped away to the police station. Behind them, the little old woman called Bess shook her head and muttered something about rude city strangers.
“That man — I’ll bet he’s the one we met, the angry, dangerous-looking fellow coming out of the police station, remember?” Mr. Shine said, speaking as fast as he was driving. He swerved round a corner, blasted his horn at the one other car dawdling at an intersection, and sped toward Officer Brown’s home again. “If he’s after the boys…”
Rabbi Stark held onto the edge of his seat, whispering Tehillim.
As they neared the cul-de-sac, a red car emerged from an alleyway just behind it. Through the open car window, the two fathers heard screams of horror, and several reporters ran out onto the road, cameras in hand, waving microphones and cell phones.
“Kidnapped — in front of the police station itself!” one man bellowed.
“Call the police! Call for help!” a woman was shouting over and over.
“The boys! The boys!” shrieked Sylvie Brown.
Mr. Shine gripped the steering wheel, swung the car around in an astonishing 180-degree semicircle, and shot off after the red car.
He was going to throw up. Or faint. Or both.
Avi lay in the back seat of the car, letting out a faint moan of despair. They’d been so close to salvation — so close — and now, it seemed, it was all over.
There was no escaping from here, not from the direct clutches of the Boss himself, not from a moving car with locked doors. They were doomed, done for, finished, over. And his father… his parents… they’d been so close to getting back home….
A hand gripped his. Elchanan.
“Don’t give up,” Elchanan breathed into his ear. “We’ll get out of here. Hashem will help us. The reporters all saw… someone will call the police.”
Avi gave a half snort, half sob. As if that would help. One village police officer against a gang of armed criminals.
“Quiet in the back there!” barked the Boss, his voice even more fearsome than usual. “There will be plenty of time for us to hear what you have to say… oh yes there will. But not now. When we get to the cave.”
Another voice spoke up, and Avi realized that they weren’t alone in the car. One of the other criminals was there, too — from his profile he recognized him as the guard who’d caught them for the first time, and tied them up back when the Boss was still sleeping.
“We’ll be bringing them to the cave, Boss? Is that… the best course of action? With all that they know…”
“With all that they know, I need to know who they’ve told and what they’ve said,” the Boss snarled, and he bared his teeth in the rear-view mirror. Avi saw, and shuddered. “They’ve destroyed our whole operation — destroyed it! Plans have to changed, everything has to be rearranged, we may have to relocate our entire base of operations — and all because of two interfering, good-for-nothing kids!”
“We’ll take care of them, for real this time,” Gregor said, a cruel smile twisting his face.
“Yes.” The Boss’ foreign accent deepened for a moment. “But first, we must extract from them exactly what they know and who they told — to assess the extent of the damage. And if they don’t want to talk, they’ll find out just how unpleasant that can feel.” He made a growling sound in his throat, like a wild dog.
“And then,” the Boss said, dropping his voice to a sinister whisper. “We’ll get rid of them once and for all. And it won’t be a moment too soon.”
“Can you go any quicker?” Rabbi Stark pleaded. The red car was a blur on the road ahead of them, and Mr. Shine’s Highlander picked up pace to keep up. “We can’t lose them….”
Mr. Shine’s forehead was dripping with sweat. “I don’t want them to realize we’re on their trail. They have the boys in there….”
“I think we’re heading back to the forest,” Rabbi Stark said, as trees began flashing by on either side of them.”
Mr. Shine’s hands trembled. “Call… call someone. The police. Did you get the license number?”
“I spoke to the police. And the search party. I gave them all the details I could see. Everyone’s after that car, they won’t get much further,” Rabbi Stark said reassuringly. But inside, he felt his heart give out in terror every time he thought of his Elchanan, captive in the back of that car.
The red car suddenly veered off the road, and Mr. Shine slowed just in time to avoid driving straight past a small, deserted parking lot. The two fathers watched, transfixed, as two criminals got out of the red car, flung open the back doors, and pulled Elchanan and Avi out, throwing them to the ground.
With a cry of fury, Mr. Shine slammed on the brakes, double-parking the car across the entrance of the parking lot. He and Rabbi Stark jumped out, leaving the engine running.
The Boss spun around, reaching inside his jacket.
“Ta! Heeelp! No — Tatty — nooooooo!” came simultaneous screams from the two boys.
And then, in a rush of noise and action and voices, all at once, a dozen figures burst out from between the trees.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 892)
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