After the game, Crystal and I organized the food brought by our friends and neighbors. Fathers and older boys unloaded tables from a rental company trailer in our driveway, arranging them in a horseshoe around the pool so we could eat and talk.
“Have you seen the kids?” I asked her when Theo and Chrissy seemed to have been absent for a long time.
“Oh, come on, calm down,” Crystal responded. “What could happen here?”
We joined our neighbors at a tent erected on the ball field. One of our traditions was to have entertainment as the late afternoon set, so the children would not be so impatient for darkness and the fireworks. I had arranged with the local Mohegan tribe to have a troupe perform traditional dance routines of celebration. Crystal and I worked for many years with the tribe. Our project was developing job opportunities, which had evolved into a business of creating replicas of art, apparel, and pottery from their rich cultural heritage. Our work was gratifying and successful. Members of the troupe mingled in the crowd entertaining the kids. On stage, each child was outfitted with handmade costumes complete with colorful feathers and leather trim. Tribal artists applied face and body paints to duplicate markings from the proud history of the Mohegan people. We were all lost in the magic. It became difficult to separate child from tribal dancer.
“This is amazing?” Raymond declared, enjoying the collage of color and laughter. His career with the Jets ended suddenly when a vicious cross block broke his ribs and punctured his heart muscle. He became a youth counselor in the Greenwich school system, close to home and family.
I searched the faces of dancers and children trying to find Theo and Chrissy, ignoring the conversation surrounding me. I had not seen either since the game ended. Always in the midst of the children, they should be playing and laughing. I tried not to panic, but was failing. When the exhibition was at an end, darkness began to envelop the scene. “Crystal, they’re not here!”
“Raymond, get the officers,” she directed, taking my arm.
“No child has left the grounds,” the head of security detail assured me, deploying his team to search. As the fireworks display began, the Greenwich police, as well as the Connecticut State Police began checking cars, trucks, and the equipment of the Mohegan troupe. No one was allowed to leave. Backup security teams arrived as the dark sky was illuminated by a kaleidoscope of color.
I barely heard the increasingly anxious discussions of friends and security people. Chrissy did not like chaos and always curled up in my lap at such times. “Where are you, sweetheart?” I asked pacing back and forth.
Neighbors were herded onto the driveway as officers checked each person. Police cars with emergency lights blocked the entrance to our property. Flashlights illuminated fence lines as the search broadened.
“Who delivered the tables?” the senior security officer asked, trying to confirm all who had come and gone.
“I, I, I don’t know,” I stammered, my mind not able to focus on even a simple question.
“Where are they officer? They can’t be hiding this long. They wouldn’t run off. Who would take them?” I asked.
“Ma’am, we’re trying to . . .”
“Mrs. Moran?” a man in a suit asked politely, interrupting the security officer’s response. In the midst of the chaos, a dark sedan had been allowed to enter the driveway.
I was drifting into shock.
“Mrs. Moran, I need to speak to you,” the man repeated gently taking my arm.
“Who are you?” the security officer asked.
“I am Peter McGuire with the FBI,” he said, holding out identification. “What’s going on here?” he asked, looking at dozens of flashlights sweeping grounds and trees. Neighbors stood by the garages. The Indian troupe clustered by their vehicles.
“My children have disappeared,” I blurted out.
New South Wales, Australia
“Can you tell me your plan, yet?” I asked one evening around the fire. Alice sat with the kangaroos. Their names rolled off my tongue like they were my schoolmates. Onur the father, Yueci the mother, and their cubs Zeki and Cari.
“Are you ready?”
“For anything that will help rescue my children,” I responded.
“Do you enjoy fishing?” he asked.
“Sure. I used to fish with my father long ago. He loved to make bait. We cleaned the fish and cooked them for dinners and sandwiches.”
“Did you help make the lures, Jaspar?” Sister Ismerelda asked. It was the first time she had joined us in the bush.
“Yes, how did you know?” I asked. “It was one of my favorite chores as a child. Dad would secure a large hook in a vice on his workbench. My job was to wind the string. The binding had to be strong to hold the sharp hook as it lodged in the jaw of a fish when it bit. Then we could reel it in,” I explained. I could see dad’s shop and my little chair next to his. The smell of his chewing tobacco was lodged in my memory. “It was our thing.”
“How did he design each lure?” Nul inquired. I looked from one to the other, comprehension slowly dawning as I thought about the metaphorical question.
“He began with a vision of what he wanted to catch. If it was bottom feeders, the lure had to be weighted and have reflective material to catch any sliver of light. Each type of fish required a unique design. Dad had hundreds of them, but he always made new ones. I was supposed to help him remember what did and did not work. We both forgot. It was part of the joy.”
“What would attract the attention of those who hold your children?” Ismerelda continued.
“Me?” I answered.
“Why do you think that would be the case?”
“Because they need something from me? Is this why they kidnapped the children instead of killing them and me?”
“Yes, they fear something. Probably in that chip you carry around your neck,” he continued, nodding at the locket held in my fingers as we spoke. I wondered if my friend Crystal had gotten the stick to Chief Bearstrike. Will I ever find out?
“You think my disappearance makes Theo and Chrissy valuable as lures to catch me?”
“No question in my mind,” Nul said, “as you are the lure for their captors.” As always, he was calm. He sat on a carpet of leaves under the trees, drinking water he had drawn from the stream. I sensed a plan in his mind, carefully thought out and tested. Sister’s presence probably meant that a turning point was on the horizon.
“The need to permanently quiet you is surely the critical element of our enemies’ plan. Ours will be to take advantage of that need for our own purposes, which we have already successfully commenced. They are on high alert.”
“So, I am to be the lure on the hook to be cast?” I asked. “To get these sharks to rise from the depths of their hiding to feed on me?”
“Yes. You have been a good student. You will be attractive bait.”
I listened as patiently as possible. It seemed all too incredible. Yet, I had faith in my new leader. My children and my life were in his hands, as Father Michael had told me. We were as safe as possible. Nul’s facial expression seemed distant. He’s not telling me something.
“Nul, is there something you need to tell me?” I asked.
His eyes seemed tense as he focused on me. “No, I was just envisioning a glimpse of the future.”
The roos sat close by, jabbering and eating without a care in the world. It felt like watching my children play Wiffle ball back in Greenwich.
Alice stood and Nul leaned forward taking my hand. “Jas, being bait is the easy job. I have trained you to be more than that,” he said extracting a dull pistol and a gleaming knife from his belt, handing them to me. We had practiced with them often. The weapons rested comfortably in my hands.
“I will also be a fisherman?”
“Yes, if they bite, then we can reel them in.”
“I can do that.”
“That is harder, but still only part of the process,” Sister Ismerelda continued, leaning forward to speak barely above a whisper.
“I can cook them. Is that what you mean?” I asked, anxiety creeping up my spine.
“We will be reeling in people, not fish. Before you cook them, they must be dead,” Nul said, looking over his shoulder where our friends with strong legs and short arms were playing. My mind shrieked as the role of the roos suddenly became clear. Nul, Ismerelda, and Alice all seemed to nod. They want me to kill them. Why? I looked at the innocent family playing nearby as Alice meandered away. I have never killed anything larger than an insect or a snake with Dad when we were fishing.
The faces of Nul and Ismerelda were blank. It’s a test. They want to know if I can be trusted in whatever awaits us out there. I felt my heartbeat skip. I heard Trevor’s voice: “My strategy is as strong as its weakest link. There is no room for friendship. One mistake can scuttle an entire investment. This is business.” My mission is Theo and Chrissy.
I bolted, holding gun and knife at the ready. “Losers,” I yelled. Onur, Yueci, and their offspring sprinted after me in a chase game we had often played.
* * *
When I patted the ground under which I laid the roos to rest, my fingers were coated with blood and dirt. My soul felt cold. Nul, Ismerelda, and Alice joined me with the light of the setting sun at their backs.
I felt a strange composure. I had killed innocent beings who trusted me. Nul’s hands probed my shoulders, as Alice sat at my side.
“What do you feel?” he asked.
“I completed my job.”
“Can you kill again?”