by Jessica Stone
Lisa Nightlie took the call. With her advanced skills in IT and her cutting-edge organizational abilities, she would have served the academy better in a higher-level position but her superior, Sean McGuffin—or Sarge, as he insisted she call him—was adamant that all his trainees start, as he had, at the bottom. Lisa didn’t mind taking on the more mundane jobs in the Westminster Academy Department of Security because her position allowed her time to work on her secret project—an invention she hoped would change law enforcement in ways unimagined by the good-old-boys’ club currently in command.
“Junior Assistant Deputy Nightlie. How may I assist you?”
“There’s been an abduction on campus! A student has been kidnapped! I’ve always said—this is just the sort of thing that would happen with Peregrine in charge.” Debra Abel’s tone went from frantic to disgusted in one breath.
“Whoa. Hold on a minute. I need to get your name and did you say a student has been kidnapped?” Lisa took notes on a yellow sticky pad as Debra went through what she’d heard from outside the headmaster’s door.
“I tried to give him the subpoena that was delivered this morning but McPherson was too busy trying to impress the father of a prospective new student, and so I stood in the hallway, fuming—as you might imagine, I mean really—”
“Mrs. Abel, please just get to the facts. The student? Kidnapped?”
“Oh yes. Well, that silly goose, Justine something-or-other, was supposed to be showing Annabelle, the new girl, around but somehow—probably a boy involved—there’s always a boy involved with that girl—”
“Mrs. Abel, please—”
“Yes, well, Justine managed to lose track of Annabelle and she told McPherson and then that new teacher, Netta something, took Mr. Watson, the girl’s father, to look for his daughter and then they followed some app thing on the girl’s phone and apparently found the phone—with a broken screen—in the staff parking lot and Annabelle’s father, is not amused.” Debra paused to gulp a deep breath, then pushed out a final thought. “And now, we—that is, Peregrine McPherson—Dr. Peregrine McPherson, is in more trouble that he can even imagine.”
Lisa collected a few more details—last known whereabouts, etc., before she hung up and wandered down the hall to McGuffin’s office. It seemed pretty obvious to her that Mrs. Abel, and probably the headmaster, were winding themselves up over nada. Lisa had no idea what the subpoena thing was about, but looking for some lost girl, yeah, that would be easy and she figured that getting out of the office—taking a walk across campus—would be a good head-clearing exercise. A little fresh air in the line of duty would be just the thing she needed to help work out the newest hiccup in her inventing process.
Sean McGuffin sat back in his worn faux-leather chair, his feet crossed on the gray metal surface of his desk, his fingers twined together behind his head, eyes closed. Smiling as he napped, or maybe daydreamed.
Lisa cleared her throat. “Sarge. I need to leave the phones and go help look for a student who’s lost on campus. I should be back pretty soon. Can you take over?”
McGuffin jerked forward, unfolded his considerable weight, and pulled his feet from the desk. “Wait just a darn minute, Junior Assistant Deputy Nightlie. Lost student? Are we talking misplaced? Or abducted—kidnapped?”
Lisa resisted an eye-roll before relaying what she’d heard from Debra Abel. Why did these Boomers insist on so much drama? She waited a beat before answering. “I should get out there, to the staff parking lot, right? Ask around—see if anyone’s seen the girl?”
McGuffin’s face turned a deep strawberry. He huffed as he stood and fumbled at the coat rack for his jacket and hat. “First things, first, Nightlie. As the senior officer, I’ll go and interview the headmaster. You assemble the crime scene equipment. We need to secure the area. And you be sure to keep the press at bay.”
Lisa scratched her head. “Um, Sarge. What crime scene equipment? What does that even mean? And, keep the press at bay? I mean, it’s just a girl who was checking out the campus and probably got turned around on her way back to the headmaster’s office. Maybe she dropped her phone but didn’t notice it. Maybe it fell out of her backpack. I’m guessing she’s trying on those new varsity sweaters at the bookstore—or maybe she’s grabbing a snack.”
McGuffin wagged one thick finger at her. “Now you listen to me, Deputy. Junior Assistant Deputy. The first rookie mistake is assuming that everything is perfectly fine. That’s the way to waste valuable time. Every second counts—this could be the difference between life and death for that young and helpless girl!”
His entire body shook as McGuffin worked himself into an agitated state.
Lisa raised her hands, palms forward. “Okay, okay, Sarge. Take it easy. You’re gonna pop something.”
“That’s the problem with you Gen—Gen-enders of the alphabeters. You fail to see the seriousness of a situation. This is—”
A shrill ring tone cut him off.
“I’ll get it.” Lisa grabbed for the phone on McGuffin’s desk. But before she should spit out her standard greeting, the dial tone hummed. Wrong number, or maybe a telemarketer. Still, the call had worked to distract her boss. Lisa stifled a smile as she watched McGuffin strap on his night stick and adjust his walkie-talkie. She and the sarge were the only officers in the school’s security department and they weren’t allowed to carry firearms. Plus, their personal cell phones were faster, clearer, and more reliable, than their antiquated two-way radios. But Lisa’s boss was old-school and obviously, he enjoyed playing with his equipment. Just wait until her invention was released. Walkie-talkies, night-sticks—ha!
“Okay now, I’m heading out.” McGuffin glanced at a mirror by the door and adjusted his hat. “My first stop, the headmaster’s office. Then I might grab a dozen donuts for the department—can’t expect my officers to work on empty stomachs. You get that crime scene equipment together and get over there to the staff parking lot. I wanna see that entire area roped off and secured. And like I said, do what you can to keep the press outta this. Dammed pesky news people.”
With a nod, he slipped out of his office and clomped down the hallway.
Lisa shook her head and grinned. With two phone calls, she could get the equipment she needed and have the parking lot roped off before her boss made it across campus.
McGuffin huffed the short walk across the parking lot from his car to the area his deputy—Junior Assistant Deputy—had secured. By now, a small group of lookie-loos gathered behind the pink and purple tape which marked two empty parking spots in the lot. The tape wound through the handles of cars on either side of the spots, was attached to a fence at the front end of the area, and through the spokes of a bicycle parked at the rear end. Sarge puffed out his chest and nodded. Clever girl—she’s learning fast—of course, she has a superior role-model. He continued to congratulate himself on his amazing mentoring skills until he noticed what the crime scene tape read. HAPPY 21ST! TIME TO PARTY! Over and over again, the pink and purple tape’s bright yellow letters announced, HAPPY 21ST! TIME TO PARTY! McGuffin hurried over to stand next to his deputy.
“Nightlie, what the blazes is with that tape? It’s supposed to say CRIME SCENE—STAY BACK! Or at least, POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. Not Happy Birthday.”
Lisa shrugged. “Sorry, Sarge. It was the best I could do.”
McGuffin harumphed. “When we get back to the office, I want you to order some official tape. Never know when a major crime scene needs securing.” He lifted his hat and scratched his head. “Though, not sure where you can get official police tape.”
“Amazon, Sarge. You can get anything on Amazon.” Again, Lisa shrugged.
“Dammed Gen-whatevers. Back in the day we used to have stores.” McGuffin mumbled to himself as he stepped over the birthday tape and entered the crime scene. Glossy evidence makers, each showing a number written in black Sharpie ink, circled a single cell phone. The phone lay face down. McGuffin bent over, grunted, and picked up one of the markers.
“Nightlie!” His face puffed red, sweat gleamed. “What the bloody-hell are these?”
He held the folded cardboard marker up to Lisa. The black number “3” floated on a photo-cloud of whipped crème which topped a slice of pumpkin pie.
“Look Sarge. We don’t really have any official crime scene securing equipment. My roommate works at the diner downtown—these are the table-tents for their dessert menus. Best I could do.”
McGuffin ground his teeth. What is police work coming to?
“Alright. But buy some official evidence makers. Do you think—”
“Yeah, for sure, Sarge. Amazon.”
Sean McGuffin pushed aside his disgust with the state of modern police work and focused on the crime at hand. Everything he’d learned from the initial call matched what he’d heard from the headmaster. And all of that was repeated by both the school’s Finance Director (who insisted on repeating the story), and by that lovely woman, Jane Varner.
Sean started to daydream about Jane, a woman he’d always admired, and kept meaning to invite out for coffee, maybe even a donut but—
“Excuse me. I’m Jack Watson.” A tall man dressed in pressed khakis, light blue shirt, and navy blazer walked over to McGuffin. He pointed to the cracked phone by table-tent number “7” which featured homemade blue-berry crumble with a scoop of French vanilla ice-crème.
“My daughter is missing and I think all this is a waste of time. That’s her cell phone. Shouldn’t you be tracking her or something?”