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Excerpt

Vanished

Kingsley Ward Henning returned to her office in Keynote National Bank’s lending department, dropped into her chair, and tried to refocus. She picked up the threads of her customer’s dilemma, disjointed as they now were because of the fire drill’s interruption.

She formed a plan and made a few calls before moving to the next challenge that screamed for attention. Realizing the day was flying unchecked, she glanced at her watch. Three-twenty already, and still that big loan presentation was not ready for Committee.

As she swiveled her chair to root for its file that was buried on her credenza, she paused, captivated. The beauty of rural south central Pennsylvania was emerging from winter at last. Beyond her expansive window-walls rose gorgeous wet greens, dripping with moisture. She imagined the smell of damp earth, pine, and hemlock that mingled with wild rhododendron. Her husband Todd slipped into her office so quietly that her trance was unbroken until he snapped her door shut.

“K...”

She loved the soft way he said it, spelled it, with no period, meaning no end. “Hey!” She rose to greet him. Her smile faded as she digested the alarm on his face. She circled the desk. “Todd, what’s wrong? Are you all right?”

“K, come with me.”

“Where?” Instinctively, she reached out to hug him, but he grasped her shoulders instead.

“It’s Billy.”

Adrenaline shot her into fight-or-flight mode. “Billy? What’s wrong? Is he sick? Did he get wet from the rain during the fire drill? Did somebody drop him?”

Todd squeezed her arms as if she might fall. “K. He’s missing.”

She flashed to the earlier mix-up in the daycare and sighed in relief. “Todd,” she said calmly. “It’s okay. The cleaning woman left his crib out of position. There was a scheduling mix-up, furniture out of place—”

But Todd was shaking his head with increased determination and gripped her arms tighter. He took a deep breath and started again. “K, he’s not in his crib. Or any crib, or a playpen, or with anyone. They can’t find him.”

Kingsley stared in disbelief and, then registering what he had said, wrenched her arms free. She bolted through the Lending Department, Todd in pursuit. She battered the elevator button with her palm, and when it didn’t appear instantaneously, sprinted for the stairwell. Taking the steps two at a time, she raced, trailed by Todd, down four flights to the ground level. Gasping, she muscled the fire door open and dashed across the corridor into the daycare.

“Where is he? Where’s Billy? Where’s my baby?” she demanded of the daycare workers who were frozen in place, mouths open, unable to speak.

Miss Alicia came forward, voice quavering. “When the shift changed at three o’clock, one of our grannies went to his room to check on him. He was asleep on his side, so she didn’t disturb him.” Alicia paused when her voice wouldn’t stop shaking. She cleared her throat and began again. “The granny went back a little while later and touched his head. It was stone cold. She panicked momentarily before realizing it wasn’t Billy. It was a doll. ‘Very funny,’ she said that she’d thought then went looking for him.”

Kingsley glared at the staff, several of whom were in tears.

“We checked the sign-in-and-out book, thinking one of you might have taken him. Nobody had. We looked everywhere, even called those authorized to pick him up, hoping they’d forgotten the rules. When that yielded nothing, we called Mr. Henning and Security.”

Pandemonium erupted as the security chief burst through the door and everyone started talking at once. Kingsley broke from the group and ran to Billy’s crib, which someone had returned to its normal position. It was empty except for a doll and a small, wadded-up blanket. She sprinted from room to room and corner to corner. She checked bathrooms and under the tables, hoping one of the four-year-olds had adopted him to play house. She demanded an answer from two little girls who immediately broke into tears and clung to a daycare worker’s legs. Startled by the confrontation, other children started to wail.

Billy was nowhere. Kingsley circled the rooms a second, then a third time, reopening every door and cupboard, irrespective of logic. She even opened the children’s play cook stove. Wild-eyed and panicked, she confronted Miss Alicia. “Billy! Where is my baby?”

“Ms. Henning,” she said in a trembling voice. “We can’t find him. It’s like he vanished.”

Todd jumped in the security chief’s face, fists clenched and red-faced with fury. He bellowed orders. “Shut down the building. Nobody leaves until every person and every inch is exhaustively searched. Get the police and whatever other bodies you need. And go over every scrap of security footage. Our son couldn’t just vanish. Find him!” 


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KOBO 

SCRBD

 
©2018 Nancy A. Hughes. All Rights Reserved.

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