Madman on a Drum (Mac McKenzie #5)
They kidnapped Bobby Dunston’s daughter in the middle of a bright September afternoon off a city street that I had traveled safely maybe a thousand times when I was a kid.
Victoria and her sister, Katie, had been walking the short four blocks from St. Mark’s Elementary School to their home. They crossed Marshall Avenue at Prior, even though it took them out of their way, because their mother insisted that they cross at the lights, and followed the street north toward Merriam Park, where their father and I had once played baseball and hockey and where they now played softball, soccer, and basketball. They would have to cut across the park to reach their house on the other side, but they were short of that, just passing Longfellow Public Elementary School. There was a guy, a sixth grader like Victoria at Longfellow, and if Victoria dilly-dallied long enough sometimes she would accidentally be passing the school when it let out and he would come flying out the door and accidentally bump into her. The trick was managing the accident without being too obvious. Katie, after all, might only be in the fourth grade, but she wasn’t stupid.
They were strolling past the school, Katie urging her sister to hurry up—“Why are you so slow?”—when a white van came to an abrupt stop behind them and a man dressed in white coveralls and wearing a black ski mask leapt out and grabbed Victoria.
Victoria kicked and squirmed and flailed her arms as the man lifted her off the sidewalk, and she screamed “Fire” as loud as she could and kept screaming it—except when she was screaming at Katie to run— because that was what her father taught her to scream if she was attacked, scream “Fire” because people were more apt to pay attention than if she called for help. Only there was no one to hear Victoria’s cries as the man pulled her into the van and the door slammed shut and the van sped off.
Katie paused only long enough to memorize the van’s license plate and began running. She ran along Prior until she reached a space in the Cyclone fence where people could enter the baseball field at Merriam Park. She sprinted across the diamond, ran up the hill that bordered left field, then down the other side, crossed Wilder, ran across the lawn and into her house. She ran all that way without pause. I doubt I could have done it.
Katie was screaming when she entered the house, screaming for her mother. Shelby took her by the shoulders attempting to calm her down, all the time trying to make sense of what the child was saying.
“They took her, they took her,” Katie repeated.
Shelby told me later that she knew instantly what Katie meant but kept asking, “What, what?” anyway. It was as if her brain froze, she said. This went on until the phone rang.
The man on the other end told Shelby that he had her daughter. He told her that Victoria was safe. He told her not to worry, that he wasn’t “some kinda pervert,” that this was about money and Victoria would be returned safe and sound as long as Shelby did exactly what she was told. He told Shelby not to call the police. He told her that he had better not see an Amber Alert issued or hear about it on the news. He said he would call back later with additional instructions.
The instant he hung up, Shelby called the police. More specifically, she called Lieutenant Robert Dunston, head of the homicide unit of the St. Paul Police Department.
I was home at the time, finishing up some yard work in the back. Like Bobby Dunston, I was a St. Paul boy, born and bred. Unlike Bobby, I had moved to the suburbs. It had been an accident. I thought I was buying a house in St. Anthony Park, one of the city’s tonier neighborhoods, just a short jog from the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. It wasn’t until after I made an offer that I discovered I was on the wrong side of Hoyt Avenue, that I had inadvertently moved to the suburbs, Falcon Heights to be precise. I shudder every time I think about it.