Imagine a happy, classic American family: two parents, Reagan and Roosevelt (Rosy for short) Washington, two kids, Liberty and Unity, and a dog and maybe a cat. Let’s go ahead and put a goldfish and a guppy in a tank on the bar between the kitchen and dining room. One kid is in dance and the other in traveling baseball and the parents have a good marriage: not blissful everyday but not looking to make any trades either. Everybody is ok, content, and living their “best life now.” They know they’ve got it better than most families, and although they have their disagreements, in the end their love for one another and their common principles keep them together. Plus they have a nice car and and SUV with heated leather seats and power retractable running boards.
It’s September. The leaves are silently drifting to earth and the sugar maples are turning that glowing red/yellow/orange that they do after a not-too-dry summer. The family is wandering through Target, picking up healthy but tasty snacks for a fall Saturday of pumpkin carving at home before settling in with popcorn to watch “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Someone in a black head-covering seems to be showing up in each department, almost as if they were being followed. At first no one minds, but after this stealthy stranger quietly inspects the merchandise in three different departments at the same time the family does, Reagan begins to wonder. To avoid the disquieting effect such news would certainly have on the rest of the family though, the perceptive spouse guides them out of the store and home to pumpkins and safety from risks and dangers unknown.
Two weekends later, the stranger’s significant other is wearing a hoody in the clearance section of the same local Target, considering whether to buy the chocolate candy corn or the regular, when enters the family. Of course no one in the family knows who the hoody person is, and they are all a little suspicious of head coverings other than baseball caps or cowboy hats, but no one pays much mind as they all go about their way. talking among themselves, they agree that one will go to the pharmacy, one will go to the grocery, one will go to the toys, and the other is going to the video games. Hoody overhears and texts Stranger, who is in the back of the store close to the holiday items, and Stranger casually heads for the video games. Taking a bandana soaked in propofol out of a ziplock bag in a pocket, Stranger finds one of the kids – Unity – at a back end cap in electronics, covers her mouth and nose with the bandana and walks her out the back door before the child slumps down into the back of a cargo truck. By this time, Hoody is there to help get the door shut and drive away.
About the time Stranger and Hoody are taking an on-ramp onto the interstate, the rest of the family meet up at the chips and soft drinks and begin to question where the fourth might be dawdling. After just a few minutes of looking down aisles, their pace picks up and panic begins to sprout. At first just seedlings in each member of the family, those seedlings quickly grow and pollinate through accusation and unintentional glances, and within 30 minutes they have become a forest of despair through which the family can hardly see one another with compassion.
After alerting security, who brings in law enforcement, a lock down and search of the store reveals nothing. The security monitors show a couple seconds of a cloaked figure putting something over Unity’s face and walking her out without much resistance, but the image was low quality and the other cameras weren’t recording. After an hour or so of the family being in a numb, dream-like state while law enforcement processes the crime scene, the family loads into a friend’s car to be driven home. Neither parent is in shape to drive, and they will hardly let go of Liberty long enough to open a door.
“I was carrying, you know. I could have stopped this had I been back there,” says Reagan.
“But you weren’t. It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have let her go by herself,” says Rosy.
“I’m supposed to protect my children. That’s my job. What else am I good for if I can’t even do that?” Reagan quips. Rosy, trying to find peace for both of them, reminds him that they’ve been there a hundred times and spread out the same way with no problem.
A week goes by in a daze. The story is on the news and people make every speculation in the book, including accusations against the parents for being everything from neglectful to deliberately criminal themselves. Reagan and Roosevelt, having never agreed on religion much before, are attending church together in a desperate effort to gain God’s intervention. Church members and neighbors are astonished at how this tragedy has pulled the family together and to God, but Reagan’s prayers are bouncing off the ceiling and Roosevelt is questioning the existence of this God who would allow the kidnapping of her child.
At home, they are a mess. Rosy brings up the old questions of why they have guns in the house since Reagan was carrying a useless gun when it happened. Reagan won’t let Liberty play in the yard or go to her friend’s house anymore for fear of strangers. Liberty is trying to hold on to them for her own sake and for theirs, but that’s hard to do when they are never in the same room anymore. So Liberty cries, because her sister, Unity, is gone.
. . . to be continued. . .