I hate to see a woman cry. It is embarrassing for both of us and it reminds me that I forgot to get a box of tissues for my desk.
Mrs. Legree, a plump woman, was crying copiously while her short husband, with a belly like a sumo wrestler and a posterior that overspread the chair seat like a landslide, frowned. “Our beloved grandson has been kidnapped,” she sobbed.
“This is really a matter for the police.”
“We contacted them, but all they did was give us statistics on the number of kidnappings each year”- that can't be many in Blandsville, I thought- “the percentage of victims returned, and the average amount of ransom paid.” They must have dealt with my betes-noires, Trade and Son.
“Maybe he's just run away. Children sometimes do, and they come back.”
“No,” said Mr. Legree. “Show him the note.”
“It was hand-printed on a piece of lined paper torn from a three-ring binder.
“Wee have yer granson. Wee wont hert him, but wee want 500 dollers kash. Put it in an envelop and tayp it to the stop sine at the korner of Main and Hill Street.”
Hmm, I thought, obviously a recent product of our educational system.
The Legrees said that their grandson was seventeen years old, the son of their daughter, and that they had taken him in when his parents were killed in a car accident nine years ago. He was now in his last year at Blandsville High School.
“We miss him, “ blubbered Mrs. Legree.
“I need him, “ said her husband almost angrily.
I agreed to see what I could learn about the kidnapping. They left, Mrs. Legree still weeping. I was afraid she would collapse from dehydration.
I avoided the school since I had retired a few years before, but it seemed to be a good place to start. I knew that I was supposed to have permission from the school board even to enter the building, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't get it, so I trespassed. Luckily, the head secretary remembered me.
“Good to see you. Is this a social visit?”
“No. I need some information for a case which you can't give me.”
“A student named Tim Vick. Do you know him?”
“Yes. A good student. High marks. Never in trouble.”
She found his file and conveniently left it open on the counter while she went to do some other task. I jotted down a few details. I also noted that on the daily attendance list he was not mentioned as absent or late, but teachers do make mistakes.
“Does he have any close friends?”
“Not that I know of. The other students don't dislike him, but he's a bit of a loner. Oh, he does have one sort-of friend, Bob Goodfellow.” A slip of paper with Bob's address and telephone number appeared.
“Thanks a lot, Terri. Good to see you.”
“Good to see you, Elmer.”
I telephoned the Legrees. Tim was still missing and Mrs. Legree was still crying, “Like Niobe, all tears,” as Hamlet said. Heraclitus was wrong: all is not flux. Some things don't change.
When school got out, I was parked across the street, watching the students explode from the front door and scatter, but I didn't stay long. An old man outside a school could look suspicious and I didn't want to give Trade and Son an excuse to hit me with a morals charge. Besides, I didn't know what Tim Vick or his friend Bob looked like, but since Bob was my only lead, I decided to go to his house.
On the way, I drove past the Legree's place. It was large and surrounded by an expansive lawn as well groomed as a Miss Canada contestant. Behind the house was a weedless vegetable garden that could have supplied the local food bank for a month. Someone did a lot of yard work.
The case was puzzling. Why would anyone kidnap an orphan and demand only five hundred dollars ransom - in an illiterate note? And why was a kidnap victim still attending school?
I rang the Goodfellows' doorbell three times and was leaving when the door opened a few inches slowly.