“Dad! Come on!” Dylan called from downstairs.
Bobby groaned as he rolled out of bed. He glanced down at his wife as he stretched.
“Hurry up, he’s waiting,” Lynda hissed as she peeked over the quilt.
“You just want me out of here so you can go back to sleep.”
She flipped him off and rolled over with a grunt.
“Trying to sleep off last night’s bender?” His sarcasm was bitter. “Or still sleeping off two nights ago?”
She held up a defiant one finger salute.
“Come on, Dad, hurry up! I want to stop for donuts,” Dylan called. “You promised we’d have time to stop!”
The Saturday morning ritual. Bobby always took his 10-year-old to the local bowling alley. The boy participated in a junior league designed to encourage teamwork and friendly competition. Bobby took him because it was a good way to bond with his son. Dad was a lifetime kegler and knew his son would benefit from the experience.
Dylan had his own idea of benefits, which included the ability to belch really loud after a deep drink of Mountain Dew without having to say “excuse me” to anyone. All in all, it worked out pretty well for both sides.
Ready in time, they were able to continue the tradition of a healthy breakfast at The Donut Shoppe – one large Mountain Dew and two sprinkle donuts for Dylan, two large coffees for Dad. Sufficiently stimulated, they drove to the bowling alley in record time.
Dylan laced up his shoes and picked out his ball while Bobby figured out what lane they were on and grabbed a score sheet. They met down on the assigned lane and exchanged the usual morning greetings with the others on the team. Bobby felt the side effects of two large coffees and headed off in the direction of the men’s room.
The restroom was empty and quiet when Bobby entered. Standing in the stall, he tried to remember the last time he was able to belch loudly without having to excuse himself. Youth really is wasted on the young, he thought. His musings were deep enough that Bobby didn’t hear the door open.
The little girl’s voice jolted Bobby out of his reflections. She sounded young and scared.
“Mommy?” The girl was inside. Bobby heard her feet shuffle after the door closed. She continued to search for her Mommy.
Feeling very uncomfortable, he quickly finished his business. Bobby also wondered where Mommy was. Sure as hell not with her daughter. His comfort level fell farther when the little girl stooped down and peered under the stall door.
“Mommy? Is that you? Mommy?”
Bobby saw that she was small, maybe four years old, with auburn curly hair that reminded him of a young Shirley Temple. Parental instincts took over. “I am not your Mommy,” Bobby said in his most firm and manly voice.
Maybe too firm and manly. The girl began to whimper as she backed away from the stall door. She continued to ask for Mommy in a sad and scared voice. Her pleas got closer and closer to a full cry as she backed up to the entrance.
Just as Bobby left the stall, she let loose with a full-throated wail.
He quickly strode to the door. As he pulled it open, he started to say “Let’s go find your Mommy.” But the door pushed inward and bounced off of his shoe before he got the words out.
Bobby looked up into the eyes of the uniformed county police officer.
“Boy am I glad you’re…”
“Step back from the door and put your hands on your head,” the officer said.
“Step back from the door and put your hands on your head. Now.”
Bobby took a tentative step back from the door, confused. “Why do I have to put my hands on my head?”
The officer pulled a taser from his holster. Bobby did as he was told. The cop patted him down and emptied his pockets.
The officer was not alone. Several other men and women were holding the door open. It dawned on Bobby that these people had been helping the officer look for the child. He saw Mommy pick the girl up and ask her if she was all right. Then he heard Mommy ask if the bad man had touched her.
Oh shit. “Hey, wait a minute here,” Bobby said to the cop.
“Be quiet and put your hands behind your back. Now.” The officer had handcuffs out. His gaze was stone cold.
Bobby put his hands behind his back. Then he heard voices outside the bathroom.
“Let’s just take him out back.”
“Show him what happens to perverts around here.”
Bobby realized he had better keep quiet until he got to the station. There, around more reasonable people and circumstances, he could rationally explain the situation. The handcuffs snapped in place. The officer gruffly moved Bobby out the door and guided him through the mob.
Hateful eyes burned into him as he passed. He saw Dylan. The boy’s eyes were full of tears, a look of pure terror on his face.
“Call Mom,” Bobby said calmly. “Tell her to come down to the police station.”
On the ride, Bobby tried to digest the surreal situation. He shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t wait to get to the station and get this mess straightened out.
Once inside he was led into a small, windowless room. There were three wooden chairs and one long table. The officer motioned at one of the chairs. As he sat, Bobby heard the door slam shut. The two had not exchanged a word on the trip from the bowling alley.
An eternity passed. Bobby occasionally heard mumbled voices outside the room. He wished someone would come in and talk to him. Plus he had to go to the bathroom again. Damn coffee.
Finally, the door opened. Two large men dressed in suit and tie entered.
“This is Detective O’Malley,” the older one said. “I am Detective Morrison. Mind if we chat?”
It wasn’t a question, but Bobby appreciated the civility. “Not at all,” he said. “I have been waiting to tell you what really happened.”
“So what did happen today, Mr. Harper?” O’Malley asked.
Bobby told him the story, exactly as it happened. He talked slow and made sure to cover every detail.
The detectives didn’t say anything. Morrison took notes as Bobby explained.
Bobby found he was getting very nervous. Stay calm. If they see you are nervous, they will think you have something to hide. He finished his tale. The detectives continued to stare stone faced at Bobby.
“Ever visit Ziggy’s Restaurant on Fifth Street?” O’Malley asked.
“Sure,” Bobby said. “Eat there every now and then. Good meatloaf.”
“How about Johnson’s Playhouse?”
“I have taken my son there a few times,” Bobby said. “Why do you ask?”
“Maynard’s Batting Cages?” O’Malley leaned in as he asked.
“Yes,” Bobby said, more than a little exasperated. “He’s ten, he plays ball. Is being a good dad a crime?”
“Funny,” Morrison said. “Seems you frequent the same places where we’ve had child molestation cases in the last few months.”
Bobby’s insides turned to ice.
“Got interrupted a little early this time, Mr. Harper? Didn’t quite get a chance to have your fun?” O’Malley spat the words out.
“Now just a minute…”
“For now, you’re free to go,” Morrison sighed. “Aubrey – her name is Aubrey, by the way – wasn’t molested. She was just scared out of her mind. Plus our physical description of the suspect is still in development. So we have no legal reason to hold you.”
“For now,” O’Malley added. “But you are officially listed as a person of interest. Want to know what that means?” The cop didn’t wait for an answer. “That means we know what you were up to. We may not have enough evidence to hold you today, but we will be watching. Everywhere you go, everything you do. We will be right there. And you will slip up. Your kind always does. And when you do, we will nail your sick perverted ass.”
Bobby was stunned into silence.
The detectives walked him to the main desk and gave him his personal belongings. They walked him to the door and practically pushed him out into the street. Bobby understood. They weren’t going to let him make a phone call, or give him a ride to his car.
Unbelievable. Bobby felt righteously indignant, but was not about to speak out. He just wanted distance between himself and the law.
He dialed Lynda’s cell as he walked. No answer. Then he called the land line. He realized how desperate he was to talk to his partner. The phone rang and rang.
Bobby decided to walk. Home was only about twenty minutes. It would give him an opportunity to sort through the day’s insanity. He needed to think about what he should do next, how things should be handled.
The more he thought about it, the more his righteous indignation swelled into full-blown outrage. The police were supposed to remain neutral while they gathered evidence – not become judge, jury, and executioner. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Or beyond a shadow of a doubt?
As he walked up his block, he noticed neighbors were staring at him from behind their windows. “Good God,” he said aloud, “how did news of this get out already?”
The power of social media. Great.
He decided that the first step was to spend some time with Lynda and Dylan. Then he would have to call a lawyer. Bobby felt his anger returning, but he pushed it aside. First and foremost, he needed to make sure things were good with his family.
Bobby unlocked the front door and slipped inside.
“Lynda?” he called. “Dylan?”
Silence. He went from room to room, calling out their names as he made his way through the house. Nothing. The last room he entered was the kitchen. He saw the note on the table.
I have taken Dylan and gone to my parents. I think it is best this way. Please do not try and contact us this weekend. I have a lot to think about. My lawyer will contact you next week.
There was more, but he quit reading. He slumped into a chair. The note fell from his hand and fluttered in lazy circles as it spiraled to the ground.
Unbelievable. So careful at Maynard’s, Ziggy’s and Johnson’s.
So careful to cover his tracks, to make sure nothing could lead back to him. Spacing them out, never the same place, never the same time, never the same disguise. Staying with that ignorant drunken bitch just to make sure he had the image of a perfect family man nailed.
And now a person of interest over a total accident?
Bob Moulesong — June 2014
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