- Challenge Response
- Crime Drama
Special Agent Martin Fitzgerald pulled the bureau issued SUV onto the side street across from the Lowen Street Park. He slowly put the vehicle in park and crossed his arms over the steering wheel while watching the officers patrol the park behind the fluttering crime scene tape as the little mound of flowers and teddy bears at the southeast corner park bench grow. A few candles were flickered in the still night in front of the impromptu memorial on this cold Christmas Eve night.
He watched as a little boy, no older than the child the memorial was dedicated to, stepped up to tie a drawing to the chainlink fence. His mother gently pulled him back and held him close after helping him in his task. There were so many mothers holding tight to their children tonight.
Work in the Missing Persons division was never harder than when a child was lost. But to lose a child during the holidays was a special kind of hell. Today had been a day of ups and downs that ended in only questions. Martin thought back to this morning when the call went out that five-year-old Peter Thompson was abducted from the park. His mother, Eveline Thompson, reported that he was playing on the jungle gym when she looked away to get her infant daughter a bottle. When she looked up, he was gone.
She called for him, and within moments there were screams. Then the hotdog vendor on the corner was chasing after a van. The vendor and other witnesses reported a boy matching Peter’s description was seen being thrown, kicking and screaming, into the van before it drove off. Amber alerts were issued, and the FBI was called in. Martin and the rest of the team took over, leaving no stone unturned.
Eventually, the suspect, George Waltman, was apprehended. His van was positively identified as the van at the park. However, young Peter was not inside. When the story came out, it was discovered he had loaned the van to his employee, Alexander Krynski, who had to drive his son upstate for his court-mandated visitation with his mother. They were going through a difficult custody battle, and little Lawrence Krynski ran from his father and threw a tantrum because he didn’t want to leave the park. Krynski never knew the scene or confusion he left behind in his single-minded mission to get the tantrum-throwing child to his mother on time. Martin’s boss, Jack Malone, and his coworker Vivian Johnson had hammered at both Krynski and Waltman non-stop until Lawrence and his mother were found. Lawrence, who looked so like little Peter from the back.
Martin was exhausted, but Peter’s case was his, and he had been following the wrong leads all day. He unbuckled his seatbelt and grabbed his FBI jacket. There was a child missing on Christmas Eve, and he needed to take this back to the beginning.
He skirted the shrine and headed toward the reported location of the original disappearance. He slipped quickly under the crime scene tape and flashed his badge at the officer there before moving forward. Only when he was far enough into the park to deter reporters did he put on his jacket. Word had already leaked that the child found was not Peter Thompson. News reports of police incompetence were interspersed with pleas for information.
A very young member of NYPD’s finest was standing guard over the bench where Mrs. Thompson had reportedly been sitting that morning. Martin nodded to him and then moved in front of the bench and gave himself a moment to take a deep breath before he slowly turned around in place. Then he stopped and sat down on the bench. He looked toward his right, where the baby stroller would have been sitting, before looking up and toward the jungle gym. The soft glow of the light pole near the bench his only light.
He stared at the jungle gym for at least two minutes, trying to put himself into the last time Peter was seen. Then he stood and started walking toward the jungle gym. He stood next to it and then turned back to look at the bench. He shook his head and then reached up and hauled himself up to the top. Sitting up there, he hunched down a little and looked around to see what he could as his eyes adjusted.
“Excuse me, Agent.” The young officer had followed him over. “Can I ask what you’re doing?”
Martin glanced down at him and then gave a partial smile. “I suppose this must look a little silly. But this right here is the last place Peter Thompson was seen. His mother saw him at the top of these bars. How long she looked away, we’ll never know. Long enough to find a bottle in the bag for the baby and start feeding it. Then she looked up here and didn’t see him.”
The officer looked back and forth. “So, you want to know what he saw?”
“Malkins,” The officer supplied.
“Martin Fitzgerald,” Martin responded automatically.
“What can you see?” Malkins glanced around before looking up again.
Martin motioned, and Malkins climbed up next to him. They looked around, pointing out different points of interest. They pulled out their flashlights and let the light hit the shapes.
Malkins sighed, “Doesn’t look like there’s much here of interest.”
“You have to think like a small child.” Martin admonished the officer. “What is interesting to a small child? Look at that tree over there. Doesn’t it look much higher than these bars? What could I see from up there? That bush could have a treasure behind it. Is something happening on the other side of the park? A five-year-old boy could find dirt fascinating.”
They looked again, this time with Malkins adding better suggestions. Having determined several points of interest, they climbed down and started to look around.
Most of the things had little of interest once they drew near. Half erased drawings in chalk; from the subject matter, Martin speculated it was a girl who drew them. He picked up the pink sidewalk chalk that had been left behind, just holding it while he continued to look. Behind one row of evergreen bushes were a few syringes. It was probably nothing related to Peter, but Malkins called one of the other officers over to document it and collect the evidence.
As the light was making it harder to see, Martin reached the last row of bushes that could have been seen from the top of the jungle gym. He noted that this one had shown the hint of a metallic gleam that could have caught the eye. Two bushes were slightly divided with signs of hands having been in the dirt. Stepping around the bushes, the ground sloped sharply down, ending in a metal grate door with a chain and lock.
Martin stepped toward it, but Malkins just shrugged. “Those are just the flood drains. They were supposed to connect to the sewers back when, but I don’t think the project was ever finished. It just goes around and around down there. They keep it locked to keep the homeless out of it.” He said the last of it like he was repeating a training briefing.
Stooping down, Martin pulled out his flashlight and looked. A small piece of the grating at the bottom was just offset from the rest, and there were long strands of matted black hair in it, along with red and blue fibers. He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of it before pushing on the grating to see how far it would open. It swung freely at his touch.
“Peter’s mother reported that he was wearing a black coat, but under that was a red and blue sweater. So, do you think this is big enough for a five-year-old child to crawl through?” Martin asked while shining his flashlight through the opening.
“Maybe, but why would a kid crawl through into a dark tunnel?” The officer stooped down beside him and looked at the door. “How would he even know it could move? It looked solid to me until you touched it.”
“Little boys like to explore. You said it just goes around down there?” Martin shined his light to see how far back he could view while he calculated the possibilities.
“Like a maze, I was told. Nothing too intricate for an adult, but for a kid, it would be easy to get lost. You really think he might be down there?” Malkins asked.
“I think we need to check it out.” Martin stood up and looked at the lock. “Can you get a couple of your guys and a bolt cutter? But don’t make a scene. There are reporters out there.”
Officer Malkins nodded and walked away. Martin stooped back down with his flashlight and shined it through the small opening. There were marks and signs that something had dragged through the dirt on the other side, but some of it looked like it had been swept over to obscure it. He considered the possibility that the child was lost in the drains. It wasn’t much to go on, but his team was running down every other lead they had. Jack should be at the child’s home now, asking more questions. Vivian was combing through witness reports and the tip line. No one wanted to leave it for the next shift.
Malkins soon returned with three others, one of which Martin recognized as Sgt. Gillespie. He had been the first officer on site this morning.
“Agent Fitzgerald, Malkins tells us you have a theory,” Gillespie said as he drew closer. “Hope it’s a good one. I couldn’t sleep, so I volunteered for a shift.”
“About as good a theory as any.” Martin shrugged. He stepped back with Gillespie as one of the others moved up to cut off the lock and open the grated door. “No one had a look here?”
“I’d say they looked about as well as we did at anything here. Everyone was looking for the kid in that damn van.” Gillespie spat out. “We had eyewitnesses. Why would we do more than have a look around the park?”
“I understand. We did the same thing. So now we need to back up and try again. We’ve got people manning the tip lines, so until there’s a better lead, we search every inch of this park.” Martin looked them over. “Let’s do this in two-man teams. Someone stays here to coordinate. Go slow and look at everything. Peter was wearing a black coat, so he might be hard to spot.”
Gillespie agreed. “Sounds good. Jake, you stay here. I’ve got six more officers coming over here quietly. Jake can team them up and give them instructions as they arrive. Hightower, you’re with me. Malkins, you go with Agent Fitzgerald.” He looked at Martin a moment. “You ok with that?”
Martin nodded. “Sure. Malkins and I will get along just fine.” He hid a smile as the young officer stood a little straighter.
The four of them started slowly down the drain. It was big enough for Martin to stand up straight with cement on all sides. They reached a split and stopped, looking both ways for clues. Martin held up his hand for quiet and shouted, “Peter Thompson!” They listened to the sound echo, but there was no reply.
Gillespie shook his head. “Well, let’s get searching. We’ll take the left side; you take the right. I suggest if the tunnel splits again that you always take the same path or you will end up lost.”
Martin reached into his pocket and pulled out the pink sidewalk chalk. He broke it in two and then wrote his Initial and an arrow on the wall where they were going. He handed the second piece to Gillespie. “Mark your path.”
They traveled for a while, marking their path at each turn. Stopping each time to call out for Peter and wait in silence for a response. Malkins checked in with Hightower at regular intervals. The dark and cold crept into your soul. Martin slowly felt it snuff out any hope of a Merry Christmas for the Thompsons. It seemed every Christmas was worse than the last for him. Maybe it was time to leave Missing Persons. Martin just didn’t think he was up for another holiday loss. He was as far from the Christmas Spirit as one could be this day.
They came to a four-way split. After calling for Peter, Martin kept to their right-hand path. It was the logical choice. They had traveled maybe ten steps when a sound reached out from behind them. Martin held up a hand to stop Malkins and turned his head to listen. Was that?
“Did you hear that?” Martin asked softly.
“I don’t know; I heard something…” Malkins trailed off as the distinct sound of jingle bells drifted down the corridor.
The men turned around and retraced their steps. They stood once more within the intersection of passages and listened. Martin was about to suggest just trying one when the sound jingled out from the left-hand path. They moved together as quietly as they could so that they didn’t disrupt the sound, which played at random intervals, speeds, and durations.
In the darkness, a very dim blinking of lights could be seen. As they neared the light, Martin spotted a few boxes, which made him think that there had been squatters in here at one time. He flicked the flashlight over the box with the blinking lights and froze as a small shoe was highlighted, sticking out from inside the box.
Martin swallowed hard and motioned Malkins to keep back. He didn’t want anything to disturb the scene. Sweeping the floor with his eyes, he saw nothing that he would disturb and moved in closer. His flashlight showed blue jeans and a black jacket, which partially covered the blue and red Christmas sweater with blinking led lights. Martin choked back a sob as he recognized the dark hair and description of Peter Thompson. He was lying as if only asleep, wrapped around something that resembled a large dirty mop.
As the light lingered, dark eyes opened, and the dirty mop that had rested beside the boy was up and moving, a growl forming as it stood between Martin and the box. The jingle of bells on the collar ringing out.
“Mimi?” The sleepy voice was the best thing Martin had ever heard as the shoe pulled into the box a moment and turned. Then a very dirty face was staring out at him.
“Peter Thompson?” Martin asked, his voice tight with emotion while keeping an eye on the dog.
“Yes,” Peter answered hesitantly. The boy rubbed at his eye then used his hand to shade his eyes as he looked toward Malkin’s light. Then he refocused on Martin.
Martin lowered the light slightly, to save the child’s sight. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“You have? Are you a policeman?”
“Yes, I am. I’m an FBI agent. My friend here is a Police Officer. Your mother has been worried about you.” Martin took a step closer, and the dog growled again.
“Mimi. Don’t be mean. Policemens are the good guys.” Peter held out his hand, and the dog ran back to him.
Martin took another step closer, and this time, the dog stayed quiet and was wiggling happily. “Who’s your friend here?”
“This is Mimi. She’s been living at the park for three whole weeks. Sometimes I give her part of my snacks and once I gave her half of a hotdog. She’s really hungry.” Peter was petting her, and she happily licked his face. “I didn’t have a snack for her today, but she wanted to show me.”
“What did she want to show you?” Martin asked, carefully checking out the cold but obviously happy boy.
“She’s got a family now.” The boy smiled up at Martin, his eyes dancing as he pointed inside the box. Then he reached inside and pulled out a tiny wriggling animal. “Puppies!”
Martin looked inside to see several more in a tight mass.
Peter put the puppy back with the others. “She brought me home to show me her family.” He hugged Mimi and then looked up a little sad. “But I got lost and didn’t know how to go back. I missed Santa and everything. I’m gonna be in trouble, aren’t I?”
“I think your mom is going to be so happy to get you back that you won’t be in that much trouble.” Martin looked at Malkins, who had shifted back to radio in the good news. “Are you ready to go home now? We still have time to get you home before Santa.”
“Yes, sir. What about Mimi’s puppies? It’s so cold here.” Peter held tight to the dog, and Martin scratched the side of his face. It wasn’t that he disliked animals, but his concern was for the boy. The boy with tears in his eyes who was looking at Martin like he expected him to save the day.
Martin sighed and then quickly stripped off his jacket, sweater, and thermal shirt. He dressed again, sans shirt, and then used the long sleeves to tie up the bottom, creating a rough bag. With Peter’s help and Mimi’s approval, they moved the puppies into the bag. Malkins bravely carried Mimi out, considering the thing looked like a mop that had been thrown in the refuse heap. His every step causing a joyful little jingle of bells.
Peter insisted on walking most of the way but tired at the end. They stopped before they reached the last tunnel, and Martin picked him up, careful not to disturb the puppies he had tucked inside his coat. “There are going to be some people out there with lights. If it’s too bright or too loud, just hide your face against my shirt, ok?”
“Yes, sir. Is momma waiting for me?”
“I don’t know. If she isn’t here yet, then I bet she will meet us. When we leave the drains, we are going to walk over to an ambulance. They want to check you out and make sure you don’t have any cuts or sores that they need to take care of, OK? But I will be right there with you.” Martin waited for the nod and then turned down the now well-lit drain tube.
As they emerged into bright lights and shouted questions from reporters in the distance, there was a round of applause. Peter grabbed Martin tightly and burrowed into his side. They followed the open path the officers were keeping clear to the ambulance that had driven into the park. Amazingly, instead of freaking out at the lights and crowd, Mimi seemed to perk up and held her head high for the cameras pointed their way.
The ambulance crew was wonderful with the boy and spoke to him excitedly about the puppies while checking him over. Even better was the ambulance driver who called his father-in-law, a veterinarian in the area who was headed in to open up and take in the dog and puppies. Malkins and Gillespie gave Peter a chance to say goodbye before heading out with the dogs.
Martin’s phone rang while he was securing the puppies in a blanket nest on the floorboard of the police car and receiving a thank you lick from Mimi. “Fitzgerald,” he answered, tucking the phone between his shoulder and ear.
“Martin, how’s Peter?” Jack Malone, his supervisor, asked.
He turned back to look toward the ambulance and Peter’s enthusiastic descriptions of each of the puppies. “The kid is fine. Not even a scratch on him. Right now, he’s just cold and hungry. They’re checking him out. They’re deciding if he needs to go to the ER. His temp was pretty good, considering. Honestly, Jack, it’s something of a miracle we found him.” Martin shut the door and waved to Gillespie as they left.
Jack gave a relieved sigh and murmured to the side. “I’m about ten minutes out with his mother. So keep him there until we arrive.”
“Will do, thanks, Jack. I’ll let Peter know she’s on the way. He’s worried he’ll be in trouble.” Martin smiled as he hung up and walked back to the ambulance. “Hey, Peter. Guess who’s coming? My boss is bringing your Mom here now.”
“Is she mad?”
“No, she sounded pretty happy to me.” Martin shared as he sat at the end of the ambulance. “Sometimes, people can be so happy they cry. So, don’t worry if she cries some.”
“That’s ok. She cries every time my sister does something new. She’s a little baby, so she doesn’t do much.” Peter sighed. “I asked Mommy if I could have a puppy instead, but she said I would like my sister more. I’m not sure; the puppies were pretty good. I asked Santa for one, but then Mimi showed me lots. I wish I could take them all home. I think they would like my family.”
A couple of the nearby officers held back laughs. The earlier oppression was gone. It was replaced by an inner warmth that spread from officer to officer as they shared in a moment of relief and joy.
It was into this atmosphere that Jack and Mrs. Thompson arrived. There was one terrific reunion between mother and child just as the church bells rang out the call to Midnight Mass. Martin felt a touch of something cold and wet and looked up to see the first flakes of Christmas snow fall to the ground. It brought a smile to his face.
Martin could feel Jack’s eyes analyzing him. Eventually, he gave in and turned to look at his boss.
“You did good. Why don’t you go on home and get some sleep? I don’t want to see you until after Christmas.” Martin just nodded his agreement before he got one last hug from Peter and his mother. Then, slipping out of his FBI jacket as he ducked out of sight of the cameras, he left Jack to make any statements and headed to his car.
* * * *
Martin slept until almost noon on Christmas Day. He had a few messages from friends and family. And a reminder about Christmas Dinner. He ignored most of them, still tired from the previous day. But there was one from Jack Malone, requesting a callback.
“Hey, Jack. I’ll have my reports as soon as possible.” Martin had the phone on speaker as he was getting the coffee and checking on his bagel.
“Take your time. Did you see the news this morning?” Jack asked. The sounds of his kids playing in the background playing was a pleasant note.
“No, I overslept.” Martin reached for the cream cheese as the toaster finished.
Jack’s voice sounded amused. “You needed the sleep. That case ran you ragged. Do you get the paper?”
Martin shrugged and headed for his front door. “Yeah, let me get it.” It was laying neatly on his welcome mat as usual. “Got it.” He tucked it under his arm as he grabbed his coffee and bagel to relax on the couch.
“Peter’s story made page ten,” Jack said without much inflection.
Martin took a drink of his coffee as he put everything down, then picked up the paper and started to unfold it. “Doesn’t surprise me. If it was an actual abduction it would have probably made the front page.”
“True but look at the story on the front page below the fold.” Martin could hear the grin in Jack’s voice.
Martin raised an eyebrow at him through the phone and then flipped the paper over to see the bottom of the page. On it was a picture of Martin and Malkins carrying the dog and puppies to Gillespie’s car on one side and on the other a picture of a show dog with a ribbon and trophy standing by a sign that read Best in Show. Above it was the banner: Midnight’s Christmas Miracle Reunited with Family. The story continued about how happy the owners were to have their Miracle home with her puppies by Christmas. Readers will recall that only three weeks ago, the Westminster Grand Champion was stolen from her family. There was a ransom note, and the perpetrators were captured. Sadly, the beloved and very pregnant show dog was not recovered. But in a stunning Christmas Eve Miracle of her own, the beautiful Puli was returned to her home by the hard work of the NYPD and the FBI.
“You did say it was a Miracle.” Jack quipped.
Martin just stared at the photos at a loss. Finally, he just shook his head and smiled. “Merry Christmas, Jack.”
Profilers for Christmas is an anonymous crime drama Advent Calendar featuring both art and stories. Additional information about the challenge can be found here.