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Abducted kids, a ghost, and Teddy Roosevelt.
Someone is stealing Louisville’s children. The deceptive kidnapper prowls unnoticed, making every park and gathering their hunting grounds. In this sequel to Ghost in the Park, Bryce saves one child from abduction but sees another snatched before his eyes. He’d stop this child stealing spree, but he needs help. Enter Bridget. She might be a ghost, but she will do anything she can to help her missing brother. Together, they will find the culprit, even if they have to recruit every ghost in town.
Nearing the intersection where I entered the fair, I see a large older woman dragging a screaming child by the hand as she makes her way out of the crowd. At first, I think nothing of it. I’ve seen screaming children by the dozens today. For some reason, my wife’s voice drifts into my mind. I remember her telling me of children crying and asking me to keep my eyes peeled.
A few hurried steps and I am directly behind the woman and the child. The kid’s face has an expression of pure fear and he’s frantically trying to pull his hand out of the woman’s tight grip. The woman pauses just outside the police sawhorses to wait for the light to cross the street and I draw a little closer. It’s here I realize the child isn’t just crying, he’s shouting something. His voice is so high and loud it’s difficult to make out the words, but I soon sort out what he’s shrieking over and over.
“This isn’t my mom! This isn’t my mom!”
With sudden clarity, I believe the boy. The traffic light changes and the old woman takes a step into the intersection. Lurching forward, I grab the boy’s arm in a firm grip which pulls her up short. Her head snaps around and her mouth opens, perhaps to shout at the boy, but her expression freezes as she catches sight of me.
I also freeze in shock. The person who is kidnapping this child is Teddy Roosevelt. Oh, she has slightly more hair and slightly less mustache, but she is the spitting image of America’s twenty‑sixth president wearing a dress. She’s even built a little like a linebacker. I could easily imagine this woman shooting and stuffing a bear or leading the Rough Riders into battle.
“You. Let boy go.” A woman of few words and perhaps fewer brain cells. Her voice is gravelly and her words slow and slightly slurred.
“No. I don’t think this is your child.”
“He’s mine.” To punctuate this statement, Teddy gives a fierce tug on the boy’s arm causing the weeping child to cry out.
I don’t want to see the boy hurt by being in the middle of a tug‑of‑war, but I’m also not about to let this horrid woman drag him off to God knows where. I quickly bend down and pick the child up. He wraps his free arm around my neck and hides his face in my shoulder. There’s no way this woman is any relation to the kid. He’s happy to snuggle up to a complete stranger to get away from her.
“Turn him loose!” Spittle flies from her slack lips as she shouts at me.
“I will not. You might as well let go, you nutter, because you aren’t taking him anywhere.”
“I’ll call the police!”
“Excellent. I think talking to the police is exactly what we should do.” I glance around and see there are two policemen near the sawhorses chatting together and keeping an eye on the traffic and pedestrians. “There’s some right there. Let’s go speak with them.”
One second she’s holding onto the boy’s hand as if she’ll never let it go and the next she is disappearing back into the crowds of the art fair. No doubt about it now. That crazy woman was trying to snatch this child.
“It’s all right, young man. The crazy woman is gone.”
The child lifts his head from my shoulder and looks around. His face is wet with tears and his expression tells me he remains frightened. As he sees I spoke the truth, his entire body relaxes and he wraps his arms around my neck to give me a quick hug.
“Who was that crazy lady?” He’s still sniffling, but I can understand the lad fine now he isn’t shrieking in terror.
“I don’t know. A bad person. She shouldn’t have been trying to take you with her. Are you here with your parents?”
“Yeah, my mom. I was right next to mom and the lady grabbed me. Gosh. How are we going to find my mommy?”
He begins to cry again as he’s looking forlornly at the crowd of people at the fair.
“Now, don’t you worry. See those policemen there?”
The child nods but continues to cry.
“Policemen are excellent at finding lost mommies, so we are going to go talk to them and tell them about your mommy and about the bad woman. All right?”
The boy nods again and wipes at his eyes.
“Now, then, what’s your name, pet?”
“Excellent name. Very manly.” It’s painfully clear I don’t talk to young children much. “My name is Bryce. What’s your mommy’s name?”
“I don’t know. She’s mommy.”
River looks very close to crying again. My best guess is the boy’s about eight years old and he’s had quite a fright. It’s little wonder the little man can’t remember anything at the moment.
“Not to worry, River. I’m certain the policemen will be able to help us. They are quite good at this sort of thing.”
Further tears averted, I carry River over to the chatting policemen.
“Excuse me, officers. This child has been separated from his mother. His name is River.”
“Well hello there, River.” One of the officers leaves his coworker and walks up to us. “Did we get lost?”
“No! That bad woman tried to take me away.” This statement brings the fear back with it and River buries his face in my shoulder again.
The policeman looks a question at me.
“I’m afraid he’s quite right. A nasty old woman was trying to drag him away from the festival when I intervened.”
“Are you certain the woman wasn’t a relative of his? Kids can get pretty stubborn when they don’t want to leave an event.”
“I shouldn’t think so. River wasn’t acting out, he was terrified. He kept shouting about the woman not being his mother and trying to get away.”
“That does sound bad. What did the woman look like?”
“Honestly, she looked like Teddy Roosevelt in a worn house dress with a dirty brown sweater over it.”
“Really? You’re shitting me.”
“She truly did. The resemblance was startling.”
“Are you sure she was a woman?”
“Reasonably certain, yes.”
“Well, don’t that beat all. Once we get River here reunited with his mother, I’ll make a report and put the woman’s description in it. The entire force will be on the lookout in case she causes any more trouble.”
“Good. Quite frankly, she gave me the creeps.”
“Now then, let’s try to get River back to his mom. Would you like that, River?”
The boy rallies enough to lift his head again and he gazes at the officer solemnly. “Yes, sir. I miss my mommy.”
“Of course you do. Can you tell me your mommy’s name?”
“I don’t remember. I want mommy!”
“I know you do, and we are going to find your mommy, so don’t you fret. I bet you don’t know it, but we have a special booth set up at the fair just to get kids back to their mommies.”
“Yes, we do.” The officer reaches his arms out for River. “Now then, why don’t you come with me and we’ll go get your mom.”
The policeman is kind and patient, but River is having none of it. He grips my neck fiercely and hides his face in my shoulder again. His voice comes out muffled but understandable.
“No! I want Bryce!”
Fear is funny. The lad can’t remember his mom’s name at the moment but he remembers mine.
“Bryce, is it?” The policeman lowers his arms and shakes his head.
“Yes. Bryce Campbell.”
“Well, Mr. Campbell, I hate to take up any more of your time, but would you mind coming to the first aid tent with us? River here obviously feels safe with you and he’s certainly had enough of a fright today. I’d hate to scare him by forcing him to come with me.”
“River, do you want me to come with you and the policeman?”
He doesn’t speak but nods his head vigorously against my shoulder.
“Then that is what I’ll do. Lead on, officer.”
The streets are no less crowded than they were before, but having a uniformed policeman leading the way does much to speed us on our way. The crowd parts before him like Moses and the Red Sea and I trail along in his wake. River clings to me like a barnacle, but even with his help, my arms are tired by the time we reach the first aid tent. He’s a tall lad for being so young.
We are a few booths away from the first aid station when I see her. A young woman with wavy blonde hair is pacing back and forth in the small area and wringing her hands. It has to be River’s mother. The woman appears far too upset for anything short of a missing child.
“River, pet, is that your mum?”
The lad lifts his head from my shoulder and turns to follow my pointing finger. The gigantic smile which splits his face is the only answer I need.
The young woman’s head whips around and soon she is sporting an answering smile. River lets go of me and wriggles from my grasp to make a beeline for his mother who sweeps him up into a hug so tight I wonder if she’ll ever let him go.
My job here is done. I speak briefly to the officer and give him my phone number in case there are any further questions.
As I turn to make my way back out of the fair, someone stops me with a gentle hand on my arm. It’s River’s mum, and I’m surprised to see she is older than I thought. An attractive woman dressed in a printed skirt and a tank top, from a distance I had thought her in her twenties. Up close, I can see the laugh lines around her eyes and I take my estimate up a couple of decades.
“My son tells me your name is Bryce.” She holds out her left hand because her right is entwined tightly with River’s.
“Bryce Campbell. Pleased to meet you.” The handshake is awkward and we both smile.
“I’m Sonja Salazar. I can’t thank you enough. I was so worried. River’s a good little guy. He was holding onto my purse strap like we always do when we’re in a crowd. That crazy woman yanked him away and they disappeared into the crowd so fast I didn’t even get a glimpse of her. River told me how you rescued him and…well…I just don’t even know how to thank you.”
Sonja leans forward to give me a tight one‑armed hug and kisses me on the cheek. It makes me think I should rescue children more often. She’s a very pretty lady.
“I was happy to help,” I say once she’s released me. “Your River is a smart lad. He was yelling that the old woman wasn’t his mother. Unfortunately, people have gotten so used to children crying in public that no one paid any attention.”
“I’m happy you did. We’ve talked about what to do if we get separated or if the bad man or the bad woman try to take us away, and I’m so thankful he remembered and you paid attention.”
“Ask him, Mom! Ask him!” River is tugging hard on his mum’s hand to get her attention.
“I will, sweetie. River and I would very much like to take you to dinner to thank you if you are free tomorrow evening.”
“No thanks are necessary. I was happy to help.”
“We insist, don’t we, River?”
“Yes. We insist you go to dinner.” The lad sounds so serious and adult, and then he spoils the effect by grinning and bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“Well, if you insist, then I will come.”
“Are you free tomorrow?”
“I am. Where should I meet you?”
“Mom, can we go to Chuck E. Cheese? Please?” River is bouncing on the balls of his feet again and he’s tugging on his mom’s arm as he pleads with her.
“I’d like to take Mr. Campbell to someplace a little nicer than that for dinner, but I’ll make you a deal. We eat somewhere else, then I’ll take you to Chuck E. Cheese to play afterwards.”
“Now let’s see, there’s a nice Indian place not too far from there. Shalimar…it’s over on Hurstbourne. Do you like Indian food, Bryce?”
“I love Indian food. Shall we meet at Shalimar at seven?”
“That would be great. And please feel free to bring your wife along with you.”
“I’m a widower.”
“No. Unless you want me to bring Billy my cat, I’ll be on my own.”
Her smile is as bright as the sun. I’m not imagining it, River’s attractive mother is chatting me up and I don’t mind one bit.
“How about you,” I continue. “Will your husband be joining us?”
“No, I’m single. It will just be me and River.”
“Well, it sounds delightful. I’ll see you then.”
After a quick hug from River and another handshake with his mum, I take my leave and finally make my way out of the park. There’s a spring in my step which wasn’t there when I arrived, but why shouldn’t there be? I’ve found the perfect housewarming gift for my best mate, saved a child from Teddy Roosevelt, and gotten a date with a charming woman. My days don’t go nearly this well, usually.