Winter - 2012
"I’m ready, Daddy."
My seven-year-old daughter, Megan, stood in the foyer, dressed to her nose in a red snowsuit she found under the tree that Christmas morning. The suit was a gift from Santa Claus himself, via my wife’s frenzied pre-Christmas shopping spree. The padded, zippered, waterproof, one-piece garment was a little big on her, but she loved it and had to wear it. I remember laughing as I watched Megan sneeze each time the faux-white fur trim tickled her nose.
Megan was our personal Christmas elf. Her big eyes fairly popped with wonder as each day brought the anticipation of Santa Claus and his arrival closer. Tales of the magic man, who came dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur were well known and often repeated this time of year. Megan could recite the story of Santa Claus from memory.
He was the elusive elf who arrived in a sleigh pulled by eight prancing reindeer. He carried a huge bag of gifts for all. He was the same jolly old elf who would under the cloak of night, materialize in our homes and dress our tree, afterward filling our stockings to overflowing with gifts for everyone.
For now, I was her jolly old elf and she watched me as she would a wiggly puppy. Megan could hardly contain herself as I struggled to get into my boots and heavy down jacket in place.
The voice of my wife echoed down the hallway. I listened to the clatter of several cookie making utensils as Sherry called out again, "Simon? Wait please."
Sherry joined us at the front door with a hand towel draped on her shoulder and spots of spaghetti sauce staining the apron she had received for Christmas. Sherry crouched, tugging at Megan’s parka as if checking the zipper for leaks.
"Honey," she said in a cooing voice, "dinner is almost ready. Daddy was late tonight. I think you should wait until tomorrow to practice."
Megan’s face fell like an elevator with a broken cable. "Please Mommy. Pleeeeese?" A tear trickled down and over her scarlet cheek.
"We won’t be long, babe," I said and opened the front door. "Get your snowboard, sweetheart. I’ll meet you in the garage." I gave Megan’s upturned face of dismay a smile and a wink. "Let Daddy talk to Mommy for
A gust of cold air bit my face as Megan slipped through the crack in the door. I kicked it closed and wrapped my wife in an embrace. Her lips had the saucy tang of her homemade pasta sauce and tasted almost too good.
"Ummm," I licked my lips. "Can we spread that sauce on a few other places and things later tonight?"
"You’re lucky I haven’t put the spaghetti in the water," Sherry said and shook her finger in my face. "You shouldn’t indulge her like that. Can’t you see it’s starting to snow again?"
"It’s okay, babe. You know this is our Christmas ritual. Megan is always
eager to show me her athletic prowess. In winter its snowboards and ice skates and come spring or summer its roller skates and skateboards. Tolliver’s Grade is just up the street. She can try a couple of runs, take a tumble or two in the snow and be ready for dinner and a warm bed soon after."
"You sure?" Sherry stroked my cheek. "Don’t drive, okay? You look so tired."
"I’m sure." I said. "I am tired, but there’s the need for Father/Daughter time and I’ll be looking forward to a little wine and thou in the bedroom after Megan's tucked in."
"Sherry smiled. "Ummm, I’ll save the extra sauce, but be warned ... you will lick up every drop.
Waste not, want not," I said, and gave her bottom a squeeze and a rub.
Megan and I stood at the top of Tolliver’s Grade. I shivered as she fooled with the binding on the snowboard. I looked down the hill at the lights of our home two hundred yards away. They looked like flickering flames in the blowing snow.
Maybe, I thought, this wasn’t such a good idea after all.
The snow had increased, the frozen flakes blowing sideways through the gloom. It was then I saw the headlights appear at the end of our cul-de-sac. They approached Toliver’s Grade at a slow pace. Snowflakes swirled and danced on the wind. Through the slanting flakes of frozen moisture I watched the odd bluish light cast by the car’s halogen headlamps approach.
“Where did they come from?” I mumbled
Megan looked up and said, "What, Daddy?"
I shook my head. "Daddy's just mumbling. That's what Daddy’s do."
Megan gave me one of her mischievous smiles. "I think I'll stay a kid."
My mind was on the big car and I didn't answer. It was a black SUV and it passed at a crawl below us. The new snow popped and crunched as the truck-like vehicle's wide tires cutout a new path. It almost sounded like the corn we popped while lounging in front of the warm family-room's fireplace.
The path the big SUV's tires left filled with new snow as fast as those wide, fat tires could lay down a new track.
Gotta' be a Mercedes, I thought.
"Help, Daddy." Megan’s cry drew my attention. She had slipped, stepping into the snowboard binders. I managed to grab the hem of her coat as Megan and her board went careening down the hill.
Already an accomplished skateboarder, now my daughter was determined to master the snowboard as well. "Master" being the operative word.
Her gloved hand found a grip on the bottom of my leather overcoat as she caught her balance. Her quick fingers then made fast work of the binding and she yelled,
"I’m okay, Daddy. You can let go now."
"I don’t like the looks of this," I said, still holding on. "I think we better go back to the house."
"Daddy," Megan moaned in her softest, wheedling voice, "just one time. I want to show you what I've learned."
I looked at her eager little face, so red and shinning from the cold and anticipation. I peered in the direction the car traveled. Our road was plowed less than an hour ago. Fresh snow, piled high along the berm of the road formed a smooth, sloping bank curving sharply left as it lead back to the manned entry gate of our enclave.
I watched as the SUV's taillights, their rosy glow reflected on the curving snowbank, grow brighter. The car had come to a halt past the curve of the road, just far enough to obscure my view of the SUV. I wondered why, we were the only occupied house on this cul-de-sac.
Why are they stopped? What are they doing out here? How did they get through the gate? Visitors no doubt. Are they lost? That had to be it ... sure.
"Wait until the car leaves, babe. Okay? Honey-babe you hear Daddy?
When the car is gone you go one time, then home, deal?"
"Okay, I promise," she said and giggled. The falling snowflakes made her blink as she looked up at me. I knew what she was thinking. I knew what that little giggle meant.
I can talk Daddy into anything.
I smiled and thought. Damn if she isn't close to the truth.
I held Megan’s shoulder, making sure she waited for the car to move on.
Less than a minute passed and the red glow disappeared. I pointed to the plowed snow bank on the left side of the curve.
"See the fresh snowbank, sweetheart? Up the side and drop in the soft snow, okay? No nonsense, just make the run ... promise?"
She showed me a pout. "Oh, Daddy, I know how to stop ... you know?" She laughed, so excited she could hardly stand still. "Give me a push. Please? Mr. Policeman Daddy?"
I complied and Megan crouched on the board like a pro. A quick wave and she picked up speed and disappeared into a curtain of snow. I heard her yell.
"Watch me, Daddy."
I tried to pick her up in the beam of the big trouble light I brought along, but it only made my vision worse. She moved away so fast. She leaned this way and that increasing her speed down the hill. The snow was thicker than I guesstimated faster, all these factors contributed to her quick disappearance into the swirling snow.
"I’m watching, honey," I hollered.
There was a break in the wind-driven snow and I caught sight of her, she wobbled, but regain her balance with ease. From the corner of my eye I caught a rosy glow appear and disappear on fresh snow of the curve. An icicle of fear pierced my belly and I lost sight of Megan again.
Like magic, she reappeared looking more confident as she neared the bottom of the hill. She headed for the banked curve as I’d told her racing toward a brighter glow of brake lights.
My instincts screamed trouble ... this is trouble. They're the lights of that big SUV, they have to be. What the hell are they doing? Where did they come from? Where's our security? Why are they sitting down there?
All those questions squalled at me, screeching for my attention like a newborn might screech in the dead of night.
What the hell?
I saw Megan lean right and go up the slope and sweep around the curve in a graceful arc. She was doing what I'd told her to do, but that was before the red glow reappeared. That glow signaled some inner primal fear inside me and I recognized its warning ... it was crying danger ... danger ....
I blinked a flurry of snowflakes from my eyes, but it did no good. Megan was gone.
"Megan," I yelled.
I heard a faint, hollow echo. In my agitated state it sounded like a surprised little girl screaming. I tried to run, but slipped and went to the bottom of the grade rolling and sliding on the icy snow.
Regaining my feet, I shouted again. "Megan, answer me." A hot hand of terror gripped my heart in vice-like fingers.
"Megan." I shrieked.
I slipped, slid, and went down again. A jagged tear opened in my jeans, matching the bloody rip in the skin of my knee. My big light cut a swath through the gloom and falling snow as I came slipping and sliding around the curve.
The SUV crouched in the snow for a moment not more than thirty yards ahead. Its bright red brake lights winked off along with the trucks headlights effectively hiding the license plate number.
A light inside the SUV blinked on and Megan's bright red face popped up in the rear window. Tears streaked her cold-reddened cheeks. A larger, ski-masked head, appeared beside her terrified face. The man's hands gripped my daughter's throat. He waggled her head back and forth before she was jerked out of sight. The interior light winked off.
The SUV's back ducked toward the icy roadway as it accelerated away. My brain and body came out of their state of shock and I ran forward a few more steps before falling face first in the snow.
A voice yelled, "Simon Halloran," the words carried to my ear on the wind." Look for her snowboard."
A gusting howl of blowing snow silenced any further sounds.
"Megan," I screamed. "Megan," I whimpered.
My knees collapsed. I dropped to the snow, my knees landing in the icy ruts created by the SUV. My forehead collided with the snow-covered pavement and opened another gash.
I don't recall how long I huddled on hands, knees, my forehead melding with the ice. Long enough to lose more skin I learned as I climbed to my feet. My need to find Megan's snowboard broke through the state of shock that had paralyzed my body.
Blood trickled in my eyes and I staggered backward searching the banked snow for Megan's board. I went down several times, jarring my tailbone on the pavement. I was shaking with cold when I finally saw it through the swirling snow, jammed heel first into the bank. It leaned like a broken fence post to the left. The manufacturer’s logo, a bright orange smiley face wearing a silly black clown hat, mocked me. Above that logo, below the tilt of the toe, an envelope was duct taped to the board. One loose end fluttered in the wind.
Darkness descended and the silence of the night roared in my ears. Tears filled and overflowed my eyes adding to the blood running down my face. I looked dumbly at the red snow at my feet.
Something told me to move or die where I stood. I was quaking so bad I could hardly walk. I managed to pull the board from the snowbank and like a man with a bad case of palsy, I staggered home.
Tonight there would be no Megan to bathe and tuck into bed. No spiced and tangy spaghetti with a glass of wine and my wife. Tonight would first begin with the shock of our daughter's kidnapping. Then, we would feel the terror of waiting for a call. Recriminations would be followed by harsh words. Words that would cut wounds, wide and deep. Words that could in the end murder my once loving and caring relationship with my wife.
I whispered a promise of murder in return for those who took my daughter.