There had been a full investigation.  Elizabeth’s baby had almost been stolen, and she had been attacked.  Being her neighbor, best friend, and wife of a police detective, I was there for her constantly in the following weeks.  At first, she refused to leave her house.  She didn’t feel safe, especially without Robert home.  He had been deployed a week before the attacks--Army surgeon.  Jack, my husband, was positive that she had been watched for quite some time before it all happened.  The attacker knew her daily routines and patterns, when she went for groceries, what time Robert came home.  Then their free pass came when Robert was deployed, and they hit. 

        That fateful Wednesday, Elizabeth had just returned from getting groceries for the week from the local market.  She liked to walk with the baby in the buggy.  Elizabeth liked the old fashioned baby buggies, and little Sarah always seemed to enjoy the time out on Wednesdays.  It was a nice time for them to share, and the routine helped Elizabeth get through the days without Robert.  Sometimes I even joined them for my grocery run, but I couldn’t that particular day.  I had a doctor’s appointment, and I didn’t want to tell anyone about it just yet. 

        Dr. Michaels had been very surprised to see me that day.  It had been less than two months since my annual checkup with him, and I had been given a clean bill of health.  This time, though, I had something special to ask him about. 

        “Well, Ann, you’re right.  Congratulations, you’re pregnant!”  Dr. Michaels carried my test results into the small room.  He beamed at me, like a proud father himself.  I could see through the smile that he was still hesitant, and I understood.  Jack and I had been trying for so long to have a child, and had only met with heartache time and time again.  After two miscarriages in one year, Jack was ready to stop trying.  Twice he had come home to see me crying in the bathroom, wrapped in my bathrobe and surrounded by toiletry items I had knocked off the sink.

        The first time, Jack thought I had been attacked, or that I had taken very seriously ill.  I couldn’t even make out words to explain what happened or to instruct him to get me to a doctor.  Just sitting there on the bathroom floor, I couldn’t stop crying.  Finally, in desperation, Jack picked me up to carry me to the car just as I was.  Then he knew.  He was just as devastated, but we both felt we could keep trying. 

        The second time, Jack knew as soon as he arrived home.  It was like deja vu, seeing me sitting there, nearly catatonic from grief.  It was not even six months later.  We sat there together, crying, and I thought neither of us could bear it any longer.  When I brought it up a few weeks later, Jack balked. 

        “I will not let this happen to you, to us, again, Ann,” he argued gently.

        “Don’t you want a child, Jack?”  My voice cracked with emotion.  Of course I never wanted to feel that pain again, and I broke my heart to see Jack just as struck, but I knew we would be good parents.  We had to try again.

        “Of course I do, it’s just...” his voice trailed off and he held up his palms in resignation.  He gave me a small smile and held my arms.  “You know it’s not you, honey,” he tried, waggling an eyebrow. 

        “I know, I’m irresistible,” I returned, trying to break the melancholy. 

        “Then how can I refuse?” Jack asked, and I knew he had consented.  He wanted a child just as much as I did. 

        “I’ll be all right, Jack, it will be all right,” I tried to reassure him as he hugged me.  I could feel his deep breaths, an attempt to steady himself.  His chin bumped the top of my head as he nodded. 

        It had to be different this time.  Maybe the old adage “third time’s a charm” would work for us.  I wish I could have convinced Dr. Michaels of this belief, but it would not have been scientific enough for him to understand.  Instead, he put on a great show of happiness, giving me all the standard guidelines and information of things to do and avoid, what to expect--as if it hadn’t been the third time I’d heard it all.  His eyes betrayed him, however, but I didn’t let his worry affect me.  That Wednesday, things had to be different.  And they were, just not in the way I had hoped.

        I felt light as I made it home from Dr. Michaels’.  I saw Elizabeth’s car in her drive, and wanted to stop by.  Surely she was back from getting groceries by now, I thought, and as soon as I had parked, I walked right over to her porch. 

        “Elizabeth!  You home?”  I called, noting the front door open.  It was highly unusual for Elizabeth to leave just the front screen closed.  I tried the screen, but it was not locked.  I frowned, concerned about what might have happened, or be happening currently.  I could hear Jack’s voice in my head telling me to go back home and call him, definitely not to go inside alone, but I couldn’t help it.  Elizabeth might be in trouble, so in I went. 

        “Elizabeth!” I tried again.  No answer, not even a baby’s cry.  “Sarah?”  I called instead, stopping to listen for any sign of life.  “Anyone home?”

        I went right to Elizabeth’s phone and dialed Jack’s direct line.  Now things seemed wrong, and he was the one to figure it out.         

        “Jack!  Jack!” I whispered frantically into the receiver.

        “Ann?  What’s happened?  Are you all right?”  Jack responded, and I imagined he just stood up at his desk, already grabbing his jacket. 

        “I’m at Elizabeth’s.  Her door was left open, and I don’t hear anyone here.  I’ve called out, but--”

        “I’ll come over.  A squad car will probably reach there first.  Be careful, Ann, it may have been a break-in.” 

        I nodded, realizing that Jack couldn’t see that.  “Okay.  Should I look for her?”

        Jack sighed, and I knew he wanted to send me back home.  I almost laughed at myself.  Poor Jack, he just wanted to keep me safe, but I had a tendency to get myself involved in every sort of trouble.

        “You know what I’ll say, Ann.  And I know what you’ll do, so take a frying pan with you, at least.”

       I smiled.  “I love you, Jack.  Thank you.”  I hung up then, and grabbed a cast iron pan Elizabeth kept inside her stove.  Walking on tiptoes, I headed out of the kitchen.  Hesitating at the stairs, I strained to hear any sounds.  The grandfather clock ticked, a bird chirped outside, and thump.  Thump?

        This time, calling out did not seem like the wise course of action.  Instead, I tried to follow the low thump sound.  It did not repeat, as if it was an accidental noise.  It had come from upstairs, so I ascended the stairs, glad that Elizabeth and Robert had recently installed plush carpet.  Only, it was likely some intruder had found that helpful as well.  I gripped the pan tighter, ready for anything.

        I turned towards the nursery.  Sarah was not in her bed, and the room was a mess.  Baby blankets were scattered on the floor, and the cradle was turned over.  Baby powder coated the dresser, changing table and part of the floor.  There had definitely been a struggle, or a tragic accident.  Entering the room more fully, I found them.

        Elizabeth was huddled in the corner, covered in baby powder and blood.  She held a small bundle in her arms, both of them shaking.  “Elizabeth, it’s Ann,” I crouched down and held out an arm.  It seemed Elizabeth just realized my presence when I spoke.  She jumped slightly and held Sarah closer to her, soliciting a whimper from the three-month-old. 

        “I won’t hurt you, Elizabeth.”  I spoke softly and moved very slowly toward her.  I got a better look at her, the tousled hair, bloody lip, bruised face--and who knew what else.  Sarah looked fine, for what I could tell through the blanket.

        Recognition started to color Elizabeth’s face.  “Ann?”  she whispered.  “Ann help me.”

        I took her hand as Elizabeth began to sob quietly.  “I am.  Jack is on his way,” I reassured her.  Not a minute later, I could hear the squad car pull up.  Two doors opened and closed, and I knew we were safe.  Another car, and I heard Jack’s voice barking orders.  I didn’t want to leave Elizabeth’s side, but I wanted them to know where we were.  Elizabeth looked so fragile, as if I left her she’d crumble into a thousand pieces.  I squeezed her hand and called as quietly as I could while still projecting my voice: “In the nursery!”    

       It was only by that evening that details were pieced together.  Elizabeth described her attackers--two men, and their accomplice, a woman who tried to steal Sarah.  Elizabeth fought back tooth and nail and was able to protect Sarah.  She was unclear what made them leave the house finally, but she was sure nothing else was taken.  Elizabeth and Sarah stayed at our house for the rest of the week, returning home the same day that man had entered the police station with information.

        “I used to work with the people that broke into that lady’s house,” he said immediately upon reaching Jack’s desk.  “They said you was the guy to see about that.”

    Jack stood, sizing up the man in front of him.  He was average height, fairly rotund, and smelled awful.  A mixture of stale alcohol, body odor, and pond water.  “That’s me, Detective Miller,” Jack affirmed.

        “Well, what are you gonna give me?”

        “Excuse me?”

        “Protection or somethin’.  Those guys are gonna be after me soon as they find out I talked to you guys, y’know?”

       Jack nodded, not totally comprehending.  “Why don’t you start from the beginning, Mr., uh--”

        “Worden.  Sam Worden.  Used to be a thug, hah, believe that?  Used to work for those guys, bustin’ heads and stealin’ stuff.  Only I took some for myself, what’s so wrong with that?  Well, Mr. Finelli didn’t like it so much, so out I went.  Kicked me right out, they did.  Been livin’ in the streets, can’t get a lot of work, y’know.  But I saws them that day.  Saw them at that lady’s house.  I was walkin’, just walkin’ and I saw them.  Didn’t say nothin’, but I saw them.”

        Jack had been taking notes, and glanced up when he realized Sam had stopped speaking.  He was sitting back, picking at the few teeth he had left in his mouth.

        “You gonna protect me now, then?” Sam finally asked.

        “From Mr. Finelli?” Jack clarified.

        Sam nodded hard.  “They’ll come after me if they know I talked, see.  You gotta set up a, a sting or somethin’ to catch them fellas.  They’re tough brutes, but I don’t know what they’d want with a baby and all.”

        Jack kept writing then summoned for a clerk.  “Take Mr. Worden to the showers, please, and let him clean up.  He’ll be staying in custody--protective only,” he explained as Sam stood up abruptly.  “For a little while,” he finished.

        It all seemed to fall into place.  Jack had a lead, Elizabeth and Sarah would be safe, and a notorious crime ring could be taken down.  Jack went home that Friday feeling good about the day. 


        I didn’t tell Jack our good news until that weekend.  When he came home with such helpful leads on Elizabeth’s attack, and Elizabeth felt well enough to stay at home again, I thought it was time for him to have this news.  He took it as I expected--mixed.  Jack hugged me tightly and said he’d start stocking the freezer with my ice creams, but he had the same look Dr. Michaels had.  Reservation.  He didn’t want to get his hopes up, for either of our sakes. 

        “Jack, just be happy, please,” I pleaded with him as his face fell a little.

        “I am so happy, Ann, I worry, that’s all, you know me,” he smiled for my benefit, and gave me another quick hug.  “It’ll be better this time.”

        And this time, it was.  The investigation went well.  Sam’s information seemed correct, the Finelli’s were involved.  Jack still couldn’t find out why they would want to kidnap Sarah, and found no other evidence of kidnapping or human trafficking to back up reasonings for it.  While their guilt seemed logical, it was still hard for the police to locate them.  For months, the police continued to follow leads, but each time the Finellis changed locations, almost as if they were tipped off as well.  Jack suspected a leak, but couldn’t find any direct evidence of this.

        The months passed easily for us.  My pregnancy carried on without any issue, and Jack’s mood quickly improved as time passed.  It seemed that the third time really was a charm for us, and we would finally, really be parents.  We were both so excited that nothing seemed wrong in the world.

        Elizabeth’s case even seemed to go well, and Jack had another lead that the Finellis were back in town.  It was another Wednesday, and I was going to join Elizabeth and Sarah getting groceries.  I was really craving chocolate-covered peanuts and alfredo sauce, two things we definitely didn’t have on hand.  Jack had called at lunchtime to see how I was.  I was in my sixth month, the farthest we had ever gotten.  He was excited and nervous at the same time.  His calls became daily, twice a day if he had to go out on a case.  This time, he let me know he had a lead on the Finellis and would be out--but he’d be sure to call when he could.  I smiled at his attentiveness, it was endearing. 

        I decided to wait to tell Elizabeth about Jack’s progress right away.  She became twitchy when I brought up the attacks, even though she put on a good front.  It was such a lovely fall day that we decided to take the long way home after shopping.  Sarah was enjoying the sunshine and Elizabeth seemed so at ease.  I walked in front of them as we passed a narrow bit of sidewalk by an old building.  A long fence had been put up all around it, as the city was preparing to tear it down.  Ivy was growing through the fence, it was clear the city felt no real rush in dealing with the eyesore.  I glanced towards the house as I walked by, when I was suddenly viewing the fence and ivy up close.  Something grabbed my shoulder roughly and yanked me into an opening of the fence.  I was held back, a dirty hand gripping my face, twisting my head to the side, and another hand trying to keep me steady across my stomach.  I tried to scream, kick, or even move, but the arms were strong.  My massive belly made it difficult for my assailant to hold me, so I was able to squirm, but I could not escape.  That’s when the blows started, an attempt to subdue me.  Elizabeth had reached the opening and froze for a moment.  I could see her horrified face, unsure what to do with Sarah in the buggy.  I tried to flail an arm to indicate for her to run.  She shook her head at me, eyes wide.  I nodded and managed to get a strangled “Run!” out.  She did, and I knew she would call Jack. 

        I fought back as best as I could, managing to get an elbow to the man’s gut and my heel into his knee at least once.  But his fists were heavy and my head began droop with the force.  I worried not for myself, but for my baby, we had tried...

        Jack had arrived faster than Elizabeth could call.  It turned out his lead on the Finellis was going to bring him to this abandoned house.  Sam Worden was there--coincidentally?  Jack felt not.  He came on the scene with two squad cars.  I was unconscious, but Jack was able to extract me from Sam’s arms.  I was bloody and bruised and out cold.  The other officers told me later he was enraged and would have shot Sam if they had not restrained him.  I was grateful for both actions, honestly. 

        The four officers dealt with Sam on the scene while Jack accompanied me to the hospital.  Now nothing seemed to make sense, Jack and everyone at the station thought that Sam was giving them information.  Now it seemed that Sam was the leak, somehow he was getting details back the Finellis.  Sam wouldn’t crack on what the Finellis wanted, but Jack would no longer take chances. 

        I woke up in the hospital with Jack there, holding my hand.  His eyes were red but dry.  “Jack...” I tried to speak but my throat was so dry.

        “Ann, shh, relax, Ann, you’re all right,” Jack was up and smiling as best he could.

        “Baby?”  I managed.

        “Alive...” was all Jack could say. 

        I nodded and drifted off again.  The pain medication was so strong, all I wanted to do was sleep.


        Thirteen hours passed.  I slept soundly, and awoke with a start.  I wanted to go home.  Right away.  Jack tried to convince me to stay another few days at the hospital, as Dr. Michaels advised, but I began to panic, I wanted to go home.  I needed to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings.     

        “Please Jack, take me home, I can’t be here, I need to go home, please...”  I was reduced to tears in begging Jack to get me out of the dreary room.

        Jack argued with the nurses, but Dr. Michaels was more easily convinced.  “If she stresses herself too greatly, it will affect the baby,” he warned.  “It might be wise for her to go home now, in a space that is comfortable and calming for her.  It will make her feel safer, in light of her attack, and it will raise the baby’s chances of living.” 

       “I’ll make up the guest cottage.  That way we’ll be out of the main house, away from the street, and still in clean, comfortable, familiar surroundings.  And there’s more room for whatever, uh, material,” Jack waved his hands around, indicating all the tubes and bags of medicines surrounding the bed, “Ann will need.”

        It was better at first.  Jack didn’t leave my side and just held me while I cried for three days straight.  He was so patient, and amazingly calm since the Finellis were still missing.  He helped me eat all the strange things I wanted, and made sure I took all my medicine. 

        “We want the baby to be strong, don’t we?” Jack tried to coax me into eating more during the second day in the cottage. 

       His good intentions released my emotions again, and Jack just sighed.  Things had been going so well.  “I’m sorry, Jack,” I managed through the tears.

        “No, Ann, no.  You are not at fault, I know this is hard.  This is so hard, I’m just trying to help,” Jack kept his face buried in my hair as he rocked me slowly, a calming gesture that was sure to put me to sleep. 

        “I know, the baby knows...” I whispered as I drifted off again.

        Jack hardly allowed me to leave the cottage for the last few months of my pregnancy.  I started to go a little batty, and began to resent the rotating guards I could see outside the house.  They were disguised as gardeners, repairmen, lawn mowers, and dog walkers, but someone was always there, every single day.  

        It didn’t help, though.

        Everything happened on a Wednesday.  It was a Wednesday when it was finally time.  Jack had begun working out of the house, moving all his case files to his home office.  He was paranoid about the Finellis, they were still missing and he was sure they’d be back for something, from Elizabeth, or from us.  Elizabeth and Sarah were just returning that day from a weekend away with Robert.  He was on a two-week leave and Elizabeth was feeling better than she had in months with him returned and Jack now staying so close. 

        I made it to the intercom system Jack had installed so I could communicate with him in the main house instantly.  “Jack, now,” I shouted into the little speaker.  I was doubled over with pain from contractions.  “Time to go!”  I reiterated.

        Jack responded with a quick “Okay!” and within minutes he was at the cottage with the little suitcase.  He was on the cell phone calling Dr. Michaels as he helped me to the car.  I had some trouble getting into our economy car, but managed to squeeze myself into the front seat.

        Jack raced to the hospital and I was prepped for delivery.  The pain reminded me Sam’s attack and I began to panic when nurses led Jack away.  I reached out for him, my face contorted in worry and pain.  “No, Jack--” I called.

        “You may stay with your wife, Mr. Miller,” one nurse allowed.  She was one of the ones that didn’t require as much convincing from my last hospital visit after the attack.  Jack gave her a grateful look and took my hand in both of his.

        “You’ll be just fine, Ann, I’ll be right here,” he kissed my forehead and walked alongside me, never letting go of my hand.

        Maybe we used up all our luck in becoming pregnant, or maybe it’s because the first is always the hardest.  No matter what the reason, the labor was one of the most difficult things I had ever been through.  Twenty-two hours of labor felt like twenty-two years.  I wasn’t sure how old I was or even why I was in the hospital by the time I had reached eighteen hours, and by twenty-two I was so doped with pain medication that I was sure I was still in college and at a party with my new roommates. 

        Then that cry.  The healthy screams pierced my medicated thoughts and it brought me crashing to the present.  A baby.  Jack’s and my baby.  A baby boy!  We had already decided on names, and as a boy, this little guy would be Paul Michael, in honor of Jack’s father, and our faithful doctor.  I was so relieved that he was alive and healthy that I fell right asleep at the twenty-third hour.  I stayed asleep for another twelve.

        Due to all of the special circumstances, Dr. Michaels insisted I stay one extra day in the hospital while Paul was put through a great deal of tests and I was monitored.  I consented, I would consent to anything now that my son was safe and alive.  We stayed the extra day, all three of us, and made it home safe and sound.  We all moved back into the main house as well, and it seemed our new life would begin on a wonderful note.

        We had that new life for a total of five days.  For five days Jack and I lived in the clouds, so happy to be new parents.  Paul was a calm baby, sleeping well through the nights and crying rarely.  He smiled a lot and ate even more.  We were overjoyed, until Wednesday.

        I was out in the cottage with Jack and Paul, preparing to change the guest room bedding and clean the small building so guests could actually use it again.  Jack was taking an armload of sheets to the main house basement when a great deal of commotion began.  I heard shouting, crashes, and shuffling.  I grabbed Paul and looked out the cottage door.  Our rotating officer, disguised as our gardener, was on the ground, twisted in an unfortunate position.  Jack had dropped all the sheets in the yard and held his arms up, facing three men all holding guns to him.  Jack tried to keep his back to the cottage, not revealing our presence there. 

        Paul sensed the situation and remained quiet even though I was tense.  I rocked him in my arms and he squirmed, wanting to remove himself from the danger.  Quietly, I soothed him, but I did not leave our partially-hidden post by the door. 

        Jack’s efforts were valiant but failed.  I saw one man hit him on the back of the head with the butt of his rifle and gestured for the others to follow him to the cottage.  I gasped involuntarily, and moved from the door.  There was nowhere to go.  The cottage was located in the corner of the large yard, and there was only one door.  They would find us, there was no chance to escape before they did. 

        Just as I was trying to determine a way out of a window, I heard screams from not too far away.  I knew it was Elizabeth.  Sarah’s screams were masked by her mother’s, and I could see Elizabeth being led out of her house by a woman holding Sarah and two other men.  I thought one looked like Sam Worden.  I thought he was still locked up.  Where was Robert?  If he received the same treatment Jack did, we were surely in trouble.

        The cottage door was kicked open.  The small window pane in the door shattered and I sheltered Paul and crouched down.  There was no good place to hide, though, since we had been moving furniture just minutes before.  We were spotted quickly.

        “Get the kid,” the man who had hit Jack ordered.  “Tie her.”

        “No, please, please don’t hurt my child,” I begged and held Paul tighter.  I felt sudden pain in my neck and back as one of the thug’s guns connected behind my head.  My grip on Paul loosened and he was swept out of my arms.

        “Tie her, let’s go!” The same man barked out. 

        I was dragged out of the cottage, muttering incoherently about Paul and Jack, and asking about Robert.  I saw Elizabeth, also bound and gagged now, in the backseat of a car.  Sarah was nowhere around, and now I had lost sight of Paul.  What did they want with our babies?  I couldn’t figure it out, and tried to call out to Jack one last time before I lost consciousness in the backseat of another car.

        I awoke leaning next to Elizabeth in the abandoned house in town.  I could hear soft baby’s cries, and knew Sarah and Paul were at least here with us.  Robert and Jack weren’t.  Elizabeth stirred as I stretched, still bound.  “You all right?” I whispered in her ear, not wanting to alert anyone of my consciousness.

        “Mostly,” was her reply, equally quiet.

        “What is happening?”

        Elizabeth shifted and the woman who had been holding Sarah took notice of us.

        “You’re awake,” she stated.  We remained quiet, but didn’t deny our status.

        Heavy footsteps sounded on a set of stairs I could not locate.  Two men entered the room, only one I recognized.  “Sam is getting food.  Pizza at the corner,” one of them explained to the woman.

        “And Harry?”

        “He’s monitoring police action.  The two guys we left are awake, and starting to investigate.  They don’t know where we are yet, though.  Decoy car led them far out of town, so that should keep them busy.”

        The woman nodded then looked at us.  “I’ll untie you if you promise to stay put.”

        I glanced at Elizabeth and we each gave a quick nod.  Neither of us spoke.

        “If you don’t...” the man who hadn’t spoken yet trailed off as he held up his automatic rifle.  He gave a short chuckle, accentuating the point that he had no problem using the gun on us.

        We were untied, but were kept from our children.  “They’ve been fed,” the woman explained.

        Finally, I spoke.  “What do you want with them?  With us?”

        “Mr. Finelli wants them.  Not you, but it was easier to take you for ransom,” the man with the rifle explained.  Apparently information was cheap for him, because he had the authority to keep us silent forever if necessary.

        “For what?” I was feeling bold.

        “Trade, of course!” The woman stepped in. 

        My confused expression mirrored Elizabeth’s.  “Trade?”   

        “Child labor, child slaves, whatever you want to call it.  People want kids, they want workers, they want slaves.  Younger, the better.  Finelli wants to break into the market.”

        “And us?”  I felt much less bold now.

        “Just for money.”

        “Ransom to our husbands?”  This didn’t seem like a very good plan to me.  Elizabeth just stared at our captors, her face sickeningly pale. 

        “Worth quite a bit to them, I’m sure,” the woman gave a cackle of a laugh then turned away from us, bored with our conversation.  “What’s taking Sam so long?  We gotta move.”

        The three of them conferred quietly, then announced we were leaving.  My mind raced.  If we were going to the pizza place, maybe somehow I could pass a note to someone there who could alert the police, especially Jack.  He had been tracking the Finellis, surely he knew something about this?  The woman seemed to know what I was thinking.

        “Don’t try anything, or you’ll be sorry.  Understand?”  She gestured to the man with the rifle and led us down the stairs.  I sighed, resigned.


        We never did get to eat.  Instead we walked for miles, to places outside of town that I didn’t know existed.  We were led to a small park with an rundown indoor playground and a funhouse.  It was closed down, but open to the Finellis.   

        Elizabeth and I no longer knew where Paul and Sarah were.  The woman had disappeared as well, and we assumed they were together.  Instead, we were shoved around by the five men who had been involved in our capture.  I shoved my hands in my pockets and brushed my hand against hard plastic.  My cell phone?

        I pulled it out discreetly, but Elizabeth stopped me.  “It’s bugged,” she whispered in my ear, easing my hand back to my pocket.  “I heard them talking while you were out and I was pretending to be.  All of our phones have been bugged for months.”

        My facial expression did not change, but my resolve hardened.  If I could not get us out of this mess with our children, then I knew Jack and Robert would find us.  I just hoped it would conclude well before it reached that point. 

       We were allowed to explore in the small building.  It was eerie, walking through this old playground area that had been entombed in a warehouse-like structure.  I imagined happy children playing here, lots of lights and sounds and a funhouse that was really fun and not scary.  It could have been a place of happiness had it not been for our dire circumstances.

       I found a doorway past a small stage that held a karaoke machine.  The door was more of a passageway that led outside.  It seemed no one noticed it, or realized it was there.  In fact, no one else was even in this small side room with me.  I pushed the door open to see where it led.  It resisted against the tall grass meadow outside, but I managed to get it wide enough so I could squeeze through.  If I could get out and find help...

        Behind me, a sound stopped me.  I froze, then snuck a glance over my shoulder.  Just Elizabeth.  She spotted me, but did not change her pace to reach me. 

        “What have you found?”  The excitement in her voice betrayed her calm movements, likely not wanting to garner more attention than necessary.

        “A door out.  We need to go now,” I pointed and she peered out at the beige grass waving in breeze.  She stole a glance behind her and nodded briskly. 

        “They won’t kill the babies,” she spoke my thoughts aloud.  We needed to get out to get help for them.  They couldn’t escape on their own like we could.

        We moved through the grass like molasses pouring out of a bottle.  It was so tall and thick it was as if we were walking across a waist-high lake.  After a short eternity, I spotted a building.  I raised my arm, and Elizabeth gazed ahead.  “I see it,” she affirmed.

        The building looked to be a guard shack.  Guards?  I hadn’t noticed any other structures or buildings that required guards, nor had anyone else been around in the field.  Dense forest surrounded us on the right and behind us, where the indoor playground was located.  We reached the building--a small nondescript shack that looked like a miniature one-story frame house.  I decided knocking would waste time, and pushed the door open. 

        Three people stood around a desk.  There were at least six desks inside this one-room building.  I was surprised so much could fit in such a small building so comfortably.  No one seemed to notice us at first.  Slowly, Elizabeth and I approached the desk.  A man standing on one side of the desk looked over at us.  He turned slightly, revealing a dark blue rented guard’s uniform.  “Hello?” he asked.

        “Do you have a phone?” I asked urgently.  “We need help.”  Elizabeth stood next to me, surveying the room and studying the people here.  Were they friend or foe?  I needed to contact Jack, he could help.

        A woman behind the desk placed a large telephone on the counter top.  “Just dial nine to get out,” she said, unblinking.

        “If we dial nine, do you think we’ll wake up in our beds?” Elizabeth asked quietly to no one in particular.  I was beginning to worry about her state of mind.  I hoped Jack would pick up and Robert would be nearby.

        The phone rang and rang.  It never went to a voicemail message and never was picked up.  The three people just stared at Elizabeth and I, never blinking, expressions completely blank.  It was as if they were robots, awaiting commands.  I tried dialing Jack again.  Another fifteen rings, and nothing.  Then I tried the police station.  Then Robert.  No one picked up. 

        “Is this phone real?” I asked, frustrated. 

        The third person, a large woman, took the phone back.  “It is out of service.”

        Elizabeth inched closer to me.  “We should go,” she said softly.  The three guards continued to stare at us.  When I noticed the man’s hand reach for his hip, I grabbed Elizabeth’s hand. 

        “Thank you!” I called as we raced out of the building.  The man came rushing after us, but I slammed the door behind us.  “Run, Elizabeth!”

        She didn’t need any encouraging this time.  We bolted out of the building, knowing the three guards were on our trail.  The little building sat at the top of a steep hill and we nearly tumbled down it.  It helped our speed, but also gave our pursuers an edge as well.  We ran as fast as we possibly could, and I hoped we were going in the direction of town. 

        Just when I thought my legs couldn’t carry me any more, I saw headlights in the distance.  It had become dusk without me even realizing time was passing.  “Stop!” I called out, waving my arms.  “Help!  Stop the car!”  Elizabeth bolted towards the car in the middle of the road.  I screamed for her to stop, any more tragedy and I would lose complete grip on reality.  Only she was running towards the car because she recognized it.  It was Robert.

        “Elizabeth!”  Robert was out of the car before it stopped, an amazing feat since he was driving.  He embraced her and she collapsed into incoherent sobs.  I stood panting, and didn’t even realize someone was shaking me to attention. 

        “Ann, Ann, Ann!”  Jack shook my arm lightly trying to snap me out of my zone.  I looked at him in complete bewilderment before everything clicked.  I lost it as well, and Jack caught me as I crumpled. 

        A soft cry woke me from my sleep.  I checked the clock, it was 3:25 am.  Jack rolled over to face me.  “I’ll get him, you sleep,” he murmured in my ear.  I nodded silently and fluffed my pillow. 

       I had finally started sleeping regularly again.  Elizabeth and I were safe once Jack and Robert found us, but the affair was far from over.  Behind them came ten squad cars, nearly the entire force.  Jack explained later that they had captured Sam at the pizza place and managed to get information from him.  He had managed to escape the holding cell with help from a few of the Finelli thugs.  Sam really had been working for the Finellis the whole time.  I hoped they had not cut him a deal to get information, I was a little biased, and Jack reassured me that the information was extracted through threats of life in prison or returning him to the Finellis to take care of him.  He quickly gave correct information, to which he will serve a lengthy prison sentence. 

        Jack had finally captured the Finellis as well as their accomplices--all ten of them, which included Sam, the woman, the other five goons, and the three robot-like guards.  Through the funhouse in the creepy indoor playground, the Finellis kept their trafficking offices.  With Sarah and Paul, they had collected six babies under eighteen months old, all ready for an underground auction.  Jack busted up the ring, arrested the Finellis, and turned them over to federal agents who had been tracking them in other states and the other four missing children.

        It took weeks for Elizabeth and I to feel comfortable in our neighborhood again.  Robert put in a request for stationing at the local Army base, and was granted an extended appointment so he could be close to home.  Jack maintained his office out of our home, being around a great deal more than he had been previously.  I could tell he harbored guilt over all the events, but it helped that the entire Finelli group was arrested and away.  Elizabeth changed her grocery day to Tuesday, and I joined her then.  We stayed in most Wednesdays, sticking together and letting the children have play dates.   

        I still believe in our good luck, but now I keep a wary eye on the calendar every week--my Wednesdays have been stolen away.

Story copyright 2009, Sally Stephens