THE GAMING HOUR
By Karin Britt Gall
Doris Cavanaugh parked her SUV and watched as two women unloaded a pink stroller, a baby, and a young boy with espresso-colored hair from a white Lexus. The luxury car had a decal on the rear window that depicted silhouettes of two adult women, a young boy, baby, and a cat. The boy danced around while one of the women fussed over the baby.
“Tommy, stay still. We’ll go inside in a minute.”
“Here, hand the baby to me,” her companion said.
“God, I can’t wait until I get some peace and quiet from that kid.”
“He’s just excited, Carol. He misses Mark. He’s the only father he’s ever known.”
“Well, he wasn’t much of a father,” Carol said with a toss of her auburn hair.
Doris pulled a matching pink stroller and a black purse from the back of the Honda CRV and tucked a receiving blanket into a baby carrier. She followed the women into the Pizza Palace and Game Emporium.
After the women exited the security area of the restaurant, Doris offered her hand to a security guard and allowed it to be stamped. All children and their parents had unique matching stamps for security reasons.
“And the baby?” the security man asked.
“Please, can you just pin the number to the outside of the stroller?” she asked. “I just got her to sleep.”
“I guess so,” he said, attaching a piece of stamped paper with a code that matched hers to the stroller. He turned his attention to a group behind her. They were obviously there for a birthday party. Dad was loaded with gaily wrapped gifts and looked harried.
“How many tokens can I have, Mom?” a little girl in rose-colored Sketchers asked. “I want to ride all the rides and play all the games.”
Doris hurried into the restaurant and sat at a table behind the white Lexus group. She waited patiently while the woman called Carol and her companion, Kelly, walked to the counter to place their pizza orders. She pretended to watch a little girl on one of the kiddie rides. She decided to call the little girl Rachel. Doris loved to watch children play. She used to go to a nearby park to watch them when she was allowed.
She waited until the order line dwindled before making her move. She left a bottle of milk and a receiving blanket on the tabletop to show that the table was taken. She pushed the stroller up to the waiting line.
When it was her turn, Doris ordered a slice of pizza and a soft drink from the girl behind the counter. She pulled her purse from the stroller she was pushing and paid the girl.
“Can I get you anything else?” the girl asked, glancing at the stroller and smiling.
“No, the baby’s still on milk,” Doris said, smiling back.
She pushed the stroller back to the table and adjusted the protective hood so that it covered the top half completely shielding the contents from the glare of the overhead lights. Only the bottom of the receiving blanket was visible.
The noise from the children and the games were deafening. A kaleidoscope of children, all ages, ran up and down the aisles playing pinball, arcade games. They stood in lines, shifting from foot-to-foot waiting for their turn at the kiddie rides. The dings of bells, crack of clappers hitting the pinballs, bumpers being smacked by balls, and the whirring of the released levers were music to Doris’s ears. It reminded her of happier days. She had loved to play pinball with her nieces and nephews. She’d done some things she wasn’t proud of, but she loved children.
She ate her pizza slowly and took careful sips of her drink. The play area was chaos. She looked around casually. No one was paying attention to her especially the women that she had followed into the restaurant.
“Tommy, stop that. Don’t stand on those bowling machines,” the white Lexus mother said, rushing toward him, wagging her finger. Her companion looked on in horror as the child started to fall toward the floor.
Doris took her chance. She reached over into the next stroller, grabbed the sleeping baby, and put her beneath the empty receiving blanket in the pink carriage she had brought with her. She made sure the sleeping baby was covered completely. She gathered up the bottle of milk and the receiving blanket from the table and pushed it into her oversized purse. She stood up and pushed her way toward the door. The exit guard checked the hand stamp on the paper attached to the stroller and her hand to ensure they matched and waved her on.
“Have a good day,” he said. “Come back again.”
“Don’t count on it,” she muttered, making her way toward the Honda CRV. When she reached the Honda, she grabbed the baby and loaded it into a car seat someone had placed in the backseat and shoved the stroller behind the car next to hers.
She hopped into the SUV and drove out of the parking lot just in time to see a family leaving the restaurant. The baby was awake and crying now.
“Hush, now. Mama’s going to take you home. Everything’s going to be all right. You’ll see.”
* * *
Dr. Mark Schultz met Doris at a rest stop on I-71 South half way between Columbus and the Jeffersonville, Ohio mall. He looked around to make sure the area was deserted, climbed out of his black Lincoln MKZ, and took the baby out of Doris’ arms.
“Here you are Dr. Schultz,” Doris said, with the air of someone delivering a UPS package.
“Hi beautiful,” he said, nuzzling the baby’s neck. The baby had strawberry-blonde hair and blue eyes, just like Mark. She smiled and waved her hands gleefully at him. He quickly put the baby into a car seat he’d placed on the backseat of his Lincoln.
“She’s such a good baby,” Doris said.
“Everything go okay?” Mark asked.
“Just fine,” Doris said.
“No one saw or followed you?”
“No. They were distracted by Tommy falling.”
“Good. Good. Well, you better get going,” Mark said, opening the door of the CRV for her. “I really appreciate this, Doris.”
“Glad to help, Dr. Schultz. Reminds me of the old days,” she said. Doris settled herself into the CRV and looked up at Mark expectantly.
“Doris,” Mark said in a calm, hypnotic tone, “Look at me. “Revert back,” he said, reversing the hypnotic suggestion he’d given her earlier in the day. Mark watched confusion reign on Doris’ face. He looked at her frightened and disoriented eyes.
“Dr. Schultz?” she said with a relieved look. “Where am I?”
“You decided to take a joyride in one of the staff vehicles, Doris,” Mark said. “It’s time to go back home now.”
“Yes, Dr. Schultz. Whatever you say.”
“Just follow my car. We’re going to make a stop along the way first, then go home.”
Mark started his car and left the rest area making sure that Doris was following him. He made a stop at a carryout and motioned for Doris to park in one of the empty spaces. “I’ll be right back,” Mark said. “I have an errand to run.”
“Okay,” Doris said. “I’ll stay right here.”
Mark drove two miles toward the town of Mount Sterling. Before he reached the village limits, he spied a middle-aged Mexican woman in an old Ford who’d pulled off onto the berm of the road. He parked directly behind her and looked around to ensure he wasn’t being watched. When he was satisfied that he was alone, he nodded at the woman, walked to the passenger side of his car, and retrieved his precious bundle. He placed his daughter into a baby carrier in the back of the Ford.
“Take her to the house,” he said, smiling at the woman. “And don’t let her out of your sight,” he said in Spanish to the woman. His Spanish language studies from college and summers in South America were starting to pay off. “I’ll be there after work on Friday,” he said, referring to the remotely located cottage where the baby, his baby, would be reared.
He turned his car around and drove back to the carryout where he’d left Doris. He’d only been gone about ten minutes. “Do you want anything to drink before we go?” Mark asked, approaching Doris’s car. He glanced toward the back of the SUV and frowned. No baby stroller. Oh well, maybe Doris had ditched it somewhere. He couldn’t ask her now, she’d never remember. And who would pay attention to the babblings of a mentally ill woman anyway?
“No thanks, Dr. Schultz. Just anxious to get home.”
“Just follow me,” he said.
* * *
Two miles from the Columbus State Psychiatric Hospital, Mark Schultz picked up his cell phone and called his office secretary. “Tell Dr. Summers that I have located, Doris. We’re on our way home.”
“Where was she?” the secretary asked.
“At her old house.”
“You mean the one where—”
“Her family died,” Mark said, finishing the sentence for her. “Yes. She’s calm and doesn’t remember a thing about her trip.”
“I’m glad she’s okay.”
“Please have someone meet me at the door, and then sedate her. Oh, and the vehicle she took is okay. No damage was done.”
Mark ended the call and smiled thinking of his ex-wife’s panic. Leave him for a woman would she? Let the bitch figure this out!
* * *
That weekend, Mark rushed out of the city toward the cottage where Baby Louise—he’d decided to rename her after his dead mother—resided with her new nanny. Mark thought he’d keep the baby in the cottage and visit her on the weekends and whenever else he could get away. He’d bought the cottage and a fishing boat after his divorce because it wasn’t far from Deercreek State Park. He needed to keep up the pretense of living in the city for a while until the clamor about the baby being missing died down. Then, maybe he’d send the nanny and the baby out of the country to South America. He’d get the baby a passport. With enough money, these things could be done quietly.
He drove toward Mount Sterling. He watched the autumn leaves, a deep shade of gold and red, fall into the two-lane highway.
He pushed a button on his phone and let the phone automatically dial the cottage. “I’m about five minutes away,” he said into the phone. He replayed a voice mail message from his ex-wife, smiled, and then turned off the phone.
“You son of a bitch,” she’d shouted into the phone. “I know you’re behind this.”
The police had come to his office at the psychiatric hospital, and he’d told them he knew nothing. He’d raged and shouted and told them his wife was irresponsible. He’d offered to help in any way possible.
After the police left, he shook his head at his stupidity. Carol had obtained full custody of the child. He was only allowed to see her under supervision. He’d made a mistake when he’d made a big deal out of Carol suddenly becoming a lesbian. He’d tried to prove she was unstable and immoral, but the judge, a woman, hadn’t bought it.
“I don’t think you’re a good example for the child. Not with your prejudices. You can see the child, but only under supervision,” the judge had said. “I don’t want this child being torn between her parents.”
That had been six months ago. Mark had bided his time and had seen the child along with the boy every other week for an hour at a time. Carol had always brought her bitch partner with her. One day he’d watched Jane Velez-Mitchell and that’s where he’d gotten the kidnapping idea. It seemed that lots of parents lost their children. The children were never found, and the perpetrators never caught.
* * *
Mark was in the cottage living room reading a medical journal while the nanny cleaned up the dishes from dinner. A few minutes later, there was a violent pounding at the door.
Should he have Maria answer it? No, it could just be a neighbor in trouble. The nanny poked her head into the room at the sound, and he motioned her to go back to the kitchen.
“Who is it?” he shouted back.
“Columbus Police. Open the door,” said a man in a no-nonsense voice.
“Of course,” Mark said, in a more modulated voice. He opened the door to find two officers standing on the little porch. “Did you find my daughter?” he asked.
The policeman ignored his question. “I’m Officer Roy Schmidt and this is my partner. We have a search warrant for this house,” he said, handing Mark the court documents. “Please step out of the way.”
“Now wait a minute. I’m a Doctor and—”
“Don’t make me restrain you, Dr. Schultz. Is there anyone else in the house?” the officer asked.
“Just my housekeeper and her baby,” Mark said, thinking fast.
“Uh-huh. Go get them,” he said, motioning to his partner.
A couple of minutes later the partner emerged with a wiggling bundle and the housekeeper following him. The woman kicked at the officer and made a grab for the baby.
“Tell her to stop, or I’ll handcuff her,” Officer Schmidt said, peeking at the bundle in his partner’s arms. He glanced at the baby, then back at Dr. Schultz. He checked behind the baby’s neck for a birthmark and nodded. His partner handed the baby to the female police officer that was now standing in the front doorway.
“I’ll sue you. Just wait until my lawyer …” Mark’s stomach clenched with the loss of his daughter.
“Save it. There’s no way that baby is that housekeeper’s unless blonde hair and blue eyes run in her family. Dr. Schultz, you’re under arrest for kidnapping. Put your hands behind your back,” he ordered, snapping the handcuffs into place as he read the doctor his rights.
Mark’s shoulders sagged. “How did you know? I was so careful.”
“We always suspect one of the parents, especially if they’re newly divorced.”
“I was careful,” he repeated.
“We found Doris’s fingerprints on the stroller she left in the parking lot. One of the nurses that sedated her saw the hand stamp from the Pizza Palace on her arm. The nurse remembered a kidnapping from the news and recognized the hand stamp from a recent birthday party that her son had attended there.”
Mark shook his head.
“Oh, and even though we suspect you gave Doris a hypnotic suggestion, she still remembered some things. She kept saying, ‘Dr. Schultz found me. Such a nice baby. He’s such a nice man.’”
“She’s irrational. “You can’t believe . . .”
“We also found the stroller with her fingerprints on it.”
“Now, I have a question. Why didn’t you take the boy, too?”
Mark shrugged. “He’s not mine. He’s from a former marriage of hers.”
The policeman stared, a disgusted look crossing his face. “I guess that kid is lucky,” he said, pushing Mark toward the front door.
He pointed to his partner and said, “Bring the nanny too. Get a translator. She might make a good witness.”
Karin Britt Gall writes fiction and nonfiction from Central Ohio. Her work has appeared in anthologies, international magazines, and newspapers both in print and online. Karin’s recent work has appeared in “Siren Lit,” “The Flash Fiction Press,” “Brilliant Flash Fiction,” and the anthologies “Feisty After 45” and “Tomato Slices.” Follow her @Karin_Gall or visit karinsgall.wordpress.com.
Copyright © 2016 Karin Britt Gall. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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