Red Wagon by Tpa
Christmas Story contest entry
"Kyle is missing!" Mrs. Tate screamed into the phone.
"Please Betty calm down," I said. Her thundering voice rattled my eardrums.
"I can't sheriff. It has been six hours. I told Kyle to come home for lunch, but he never did," she cried.
"Did he tell you where he was going?"
"His friend, Justin," she sniffled, "Kyle wanted to show him his new wagon."
"I see he opened his Christmas presents early." I laughed, hoping to share a happy moment with whose tears I could not see, but could only imagine.
"Today is his ninth birthday," her voice mellowed. "Mark and I let Kyle open his birthday gifts in the morning every Christmas Eve. My husband wrapped the gift and placed it at the bottom of the staircase for Kyle to see when he came down for breakfast."
"Where is Mark?"
"He's driving around the neighborhood. Please, Sheriff, please help us find our boy, "she pleaded.
"I will Betty."
After our farewells and my promise to keep in contact with any development, I hung up the phone. I smiled, thinking of my youth, telling my mother I was going to Steve's house. I didn't know a Steve, and neither did mom. Kyle may have journeyed somewhere that his parents prohibited him from going.
I didn't expect foul play- not now. After all, nothing ever happens in La Cueva, not during my twelve years as sheriff. Of course, I did see plenty of vandalism when our only high school won the state football championship, the first time in twenty years. No arrests, it did, however, make everyone pitch in and clean up the town square, which hadn't been clean since the last championship game. This is a quiet town, except for a few speeding tourists now and then. If someone kidnapped Kyle, I'd never stop hunting for the culprit.
I grabbed the keys to the SUV, but before I began my search, I went to the back of the office. My deputy, Jess, was cleaning the jail cell where a few town drunks spent the previous night.
I told him about Kyle then asked Jess to handle the phones until I returned. He nodded and followed me down the short hallway to my desk where he sat down.
I opened the door, ready to make my exit when the phone rang.
"Pete," Jess yelled. "It's your wife."
I hurried to my desk. "Hi, Mary. What wrong?" I thought she was delivering some bad news from her doctor's appointment she had earlier that day.
"My car won't start, and I need to be at church. Could you help me?"
I couldn't tell her about Kyle, didn't want to create any havoc and rile the townspeople especially tonight. I didn't want to generate an argument between the missus and me, either. My dad always said 'A happy wife is a happy life' with that in mind. I told her that I would be there in ten minutes.
Before going home, I stopped by the playground, hoping Kyle was there. He may have been having fun and lost track of time.
I parked the car in the small asphalt parking lot. A giant wreath hung on each lamp pole. I stepped out of the car and sauntered my way to the swings and slides where most of the children were playing.
"Hi Sheriff," the kids yelled.
I smiled and waved to them. The children were well-mannered and came from respectable parents. Being a small town, everyone had their eyes and ears on everyone's business, except their own. I started to ask around, but everyone shook their heads.
"What did he do?"
I turned around and saw Kayla Spencer. She was twelve-years-old going on thirty. She had long black pigtails and wore wire-rimmed glasses. "He didn't do anything," I said.
"Then, why look for him?"
"I want to talk to him."
My adrenalin started to rise faster than a Roman candle. I took in a few deep breaths before Miss Sherlock Holmes started asking more questions. "If you see him, just tell him that his mom is looking for him." I walked back to the car. As I began climbing into the vehicle, I saw Justin and called out his name.
The skinny, freckled face boy came running to me. "Hi, Sheriff Randall. What can I do for you?" The eight-year-old smiled, showing two of his bottom teeth were missing.
"Did you see Kyle today?"
He shook his head then scampered off.
I drove home, thinking, I may be right. Kyle went to a place where he shouldn't have gone.
Mary was waiting at the front door with several dozens of chocolate brownies, a few trays of homemade jelly cookies, and six hot pies.
"That was a long ten minutes," she groaned.
I told her about Kyle. Her eyes widened in disbelief. "I don't want anyone to know, not yet," I said.
She agreed, and we finish packing up the car for tonight's celebration.
This was going to be a special Christmas Eve in La Cueva. Bishop Reyes was coming from Santa Fe to celebrate mass and to bless the three-foot golden statuette of the Blessed Mother.
I'm not much of a religious man. I respect and loved the Mother of Jesus, but showed less enthusiasm as the other townspeople. Our Pastor, Father Ryan, was elated upon receiving the figurine from the Pontiff, himself, in early fall. Fr. Ryan insisted the statuette was a sign of many miracles to come. One of those miracles, the pastor, exclaimed, was a visit by the bishop, whereas up until now he never knew our church, St Francis, existed, nor for that matter La Cueva.
Hogwash! I thought. Bishop Reyes just wanted to see the sculpture that the Pope gave to us instead of him. During the Blessed Mother's arrival to the church, many parishioners would pray in front of the stature, requesting her Son will heal their illness, make them wealthy, and find them new jobs. Even my wife visited the Blessed Mother for nine Tuesdays in a row. She prayed for a child that we so desperately wanted. It was a waste of time, I thought. For Fr. Ryan, it helped the church as he placed a collection box next to the figurine.
I pulled up in front of the church. Crowds of people were at the top of the stairs at the entrance to the church. While stepping out of the car I heard someone yelling.
"What's gone?" I yelled as Mary and I quickly ascended the concrete stairs.
"The Blessed Mother," a parishioner responded.
My lower jaw dropped. Two strange occurrences in one day, I could hardly believe it. This town never had that amount in one year.
Fr. Ryan sat on a bench in the vestibule of the church, surrounded by three acolytes. He had his face buried in his hands.
"Fr. Ryan," I called.
He looked at me. "You must find her." His wet, brown eyes limped with sympathy. "Bishop Reyes will be here in a few hours," he sighed.
Others gathered around him while I began asking questions. All seemed to concur the theft happened after the noon mass.
"There was a big crowd," Bill Meyer said. He was the town's mechanic and had a keen eye that was more aware of the town's happenings than just corroded spark plugs. "I noticed three guys in the back pew, never seen them here."
"A rowdy bunch," recalled Kevin Taylor, owner of the hardware store. He twirled his finger next to his temple. "I don't know why they came to God's house, had no respect, just talking and laughing away. My grandkids have more respect for the Lord, and they're only six and eight," he snarled.
"They wore dirty jeans and carried knapsacks on their backs," Bill mentioned.
"One guy had a black beard and hair down to his shoulders," remarked Agnes Carter, the town's beautician, joining into our conversation.
Bill and Kevin offered to help in the search. Other men responded in the same manner. I had my rescue party, but not for the Blessed Mother.
I assembled the men in the church's parking lot and informed them of the missing child. Some men were shocked while others gritted their teeth and clenched their fists, ready to act as judge and jury.
"Hold on." I raised my hand. "Let's not become vigilantes. We need to split up and go through all the neighborhoods."
"How about the river?" a man asked.
Reluctantly, I nodded. "Don't tell your wives or any of your neighbors about Kyle. He might just be playing hide n seek with his parents. I don't want to stir up the town."
"Sherriff," a man waved his hand, "what if people ask questions during the search?"
"Tell them; Kyle is needed to set up tables at the church. One more thing, if you happen to see the Blessed Mother, bring it to Fr. Ryan."
Voices of anger and vengeance trickled through the crowd as the men dispersed. I climbed into my car, which Mary and the other volunteers had unloaded. I put the key into the ignition and started the vehicle. My thoughts were on Bill's words, talking about the men's apparel. They could have been going to Jemez Mountain to do some skiing. The last place for them to stop for supplies would be the Winchester Market before entering the mountain trail. I pulled out of the parking lot and decided to talk with Mr. Olson, the proprietor of the store. First, I wanted to speak with the Tates.
When I arrived, Betty and Mark were on their front porch.
"Any news, Sheriff?" Mark walked down the wooden steps to greet me. His hands were shaking.
I shook my head as Betty ambled towards us. Her swollen eyelids reflected sorrow as her jaws shook with sobs and ragged breaths. Mark put his arm around her, attempting to console the grief tearing her apart.
I told them about the playground and the volunteers.
"I'll join them," Mark offered.
"Stay with Betty in case Kyle comes home."
Mark began yelling and waving his arms frantically. He insisted searching for his son. Betty cried, pleading with him to stay as she buried her head into her husband's broad chest. Mark kissed her on the top of her head. "I'll be here sheriff."
I started climbing in my vehicle when confronted with one more question. "Where are places Kyle may go without telling you?
"The river or the woods," Mark said. "He obeys our rules." He frowned, perhaps insulted by my question.
I told them that I'd check out both places.
Being a kid once, I broke a few rules, especially puffing on my first cigarette when my dad preached every day on the hazards of smoking.
Mark started again, wanting to ride with me. I shook my head, reminding him of keeping our first arrangement. He sulked for a few minutes, then nodded. It must have been the kiss Betty just then planted on his lips that changed his mind.
The highway was congested as I drove to the market. Much of the traffic pointed towards the ski lodge. My gut feeling made me think that this could be a stab in the dark, but I couldn't risk it. I did that when an old man, Frank Stevens, disappeared. He suffered from boozed and the death of his wife. The daughter insisted I searched the woods; his friends told me the place where he went fishing. "Too far," said his daughter, "not with his arthritis." I found the body two days later. He fell into the water, the same spot his friends told me about, and the same spot where he and his wife would drive to, on weekends. I wouldn't take that risk with Kyle.
I arrived at the market. Crowds of people were entering and exiting the store. Smiles on their faces with laughter filling the air and various parcels snuggled under their arms.
I went to the exit area where Mr. Olson stood, making sure his customers were happy for their shopping experience while examining both the receipt and items in their bag, making sure he was also happy. He was a pudgy little man with loops of flesh hanging over his shirt collar. "Good afternoon sheriff." His eyes sparkled with a broad smile the showed his yellow teeth. He vigorously shook my hand. "What can I do for you? Shopping for the wife? I have a special on Hoover vacuums."
"Not today Clark, I'm here on business," I asked him about the men.
Clark rubbed his chin with forefinger and thumb. His brown eyes gazed momentarily at the scuffed linoleum beneath his feet. "Yeah, they were here a few hours ago. A noisy bunch of buffoons. They bought a few packages of Beef Jerky and several six-packs. The children got a charge out of them."
"Were there kids with them?"
"No, kids were clowning with them near their pick-up."
"Was there a red-haired boy about nine?" My adrenalin rocketed, hoping I caught a break.
He shook his head. "Hadn't paid too much attention."
"Did you see a wagon?"
"I have lots of wagons. There in the toy section." He pointed towards the area.
"No, No, I meant the children, talking with the men. Did you see a boy with a red wagon with those men?" A surge of frustration leaped through my voice.
Mr. Olson stood silently, his meaty finger scratching the gray whiskers on his jaw. "Sheriff Randall, did those men do something wrong?"
"I hope not," I told him about Kyle and the missing figurine; Clark informed me the truck was blue and had a big dent on the passenger's door. He also conveyed that he saw ski equipment in the truck. I thanked him and wished him a merry Christmas. As I headed out the door, he yelled.
"The Hoover is on sale until Wednesday."
Without turning around, I raised my arm, waving my hand side to side. My thoughts were sweeping up this case, not the living room rug.
The traffic crawled towards the entrance of Mountain Trail. I decided to take a side road. It was a rocky, narrow passageway.
The orange sun began descending as a cluster of thick gray clouds rolled along the pale blue sky. Slowly, the light of day oozed away as the high winds whistled through the trees, snapping off bare branches and carrying them across the wet, muddy land. As snowflakes pelted against my front window, my surroundings drowned in the dense evening mist. I hardly saw the huge log in the middle of the road. I climbed out of my car and tried moving the log, but to no avail. I knew the campers were not going anywhere not in this storm, nor did I want to endanger the lives of the volunteers. Tomorrow, I'll have enough men to search the entire grounds.
While driving to town, I radioed Jess, hoping for some good news. Instead, his report was as somber as mine.
I parked the car and walked up the stairs to the wooden doors of the church. Stepping into the chapel, people surrounded Betty and Mark. Ladies held white handkerchiefs, dabbing the tears glistening on their cheeks as they heard the news about Kyle. Men even rubbed their watery eyes with the back of their hands.
"Anything?" Mark asked with a hint of joy looming in his voice. But, he lowered his chin when I shook my head.
Betty laid her head on Mark's shoulder and wept.
Additional men offered to help in the search, women as well, including Mary whose hand had now intertwined with mine.
"We'll wait until the snow stops," I stated.
"I agree," Bishop Reyes said. He stood next to the grieving couple. "The weather is bad. Let us pray that no harm will come to Kyle and the safe return of the boy and our Blessed Mother."
Everyone kneeled in the pews as the Bishop and Fr. Ryan knelt in front of the Crucifix. The congregation faced the altar, adorned with red and white Poinsettias.
We started praying when suddenly we heard loud clunking sounds coming from the back of the church. Everybody turned. The sounds were small wheels rolling along the gray and red checker tile floor.
"KYLE!" Betty screamed, running to her son and locking her arms around him. "Where have you been?"
"I went to Angel Mountain." He smiled.
Mark rushed to the boy with a sour look on his face upon hearing Kyle's destination. However, the father's sour expression vanished when he saw his son's smile and his arms-wide-open for his dad to hug him.
"Why did you go there?" Mark asked, wrapping his arms around the boy.
"I promised the Blessed Mother if she would answer my prayers of getting a wagon for my birthday, I would give her the first ride."
A chorus of laughter filled the church as everyone looked into the wagon including Fr. Ryan who nervously told the altar boys to wipe the snow off the Blessed Mother and carefully bring it to the altar.
My curiosity started to perk. "Kyle," I pushed through the crowd until our faces met. "How did you get back here in the storm?"
"I started coming home, but my wagon got stuck in the mud. I couldn't get it out. Snow started falling, and I yelled for help. Finally, three men in a pick-up truck stopped and helped. The driver asked me where I lived. I told him about the party and here I am. He had a beard longer than Santa Claus." Kyle placed his short arms around his mother's neck.
"It's a miracle," said Fr. Ryan as the clergymen returned to the front of the church.
A shroud of happiness prevailed through the congregation as everyone returned to their pews for the mass to start.
"Another miracle happened today," Mary whispered in my ear as we return to our seats.
"What?" I asked, giving her a smug look.
"I'm pregnant." Her face lit up like a Christmas tree.
My mouth formed the letter o and words suddenly lodged in my throat. The pregnancy could have been a coincidence, I thought. Or perhaps, good things do happen when you let God hold you in the palm of His hands.
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