The Stolen Girl
Imogen Wesson didn’t always like the teacher at her elementary school in West Hollywood, but today she thought she was just great.
Ms. Bishop told the class they would be going into second grade soon, and it was never too early to think about the future. Their assignment was to write about what they wanted to be when they grew up.
Imogen knew what she was going to write about. And as the bell rang and she pulled on her backpack and headed out the door, her mind raced with ideas.
She wanted to be either an astronaut or a zookeeper. Or a rock star.
A zookeeper, she decided following the rest of the kids out to the waiting buses. She loved animals.
She’d been begging her mother for a puppy. In fact, she’d asked for one that morning before school. But Mommy said they couldn’t have one in their apartment. And they were both too busy to take care of a puppy. She’d gotten mad at Mommy and said she didn’t care about her. She said she bet her Daddy would let her have a puppy.
She hadn’t mean that.
She was sorry she’d said that to Mommy. When she got home, she’d tell her so. And maybe if she made good grades, maybe Mommy would let her have a puppy for her birthday.
Though that was a long way away.
No, not a zookeeper, she thought. She wanted to be a veterinarian.
Thinking about what it would be like to play with puppies and kittens every day, Imogen lingered along the blue fence. As she peered through the gate, something caught her eye.
A squirrel was sitting on the lawn in front of the school chewing on a nut he held in his little paws. He was looking straight at her. She glanced back at her bus. Most of the other kids were climbing aboard, but she still had a little time.
Trying to be quiet, Imogen opened the gate and took a few steps toward the animal.
“Hello, there,” she said, grinning.
The squirrel froze, dropped its nut, and scampered away across the grass and up a nearby tree.
“Oh, you didn’t have to run away,” Imogen pouted, wondering if she really could be a veterinarian.
Then her gaze drifted to the street.
A man stood behind one of the skinny trees growing in the sidewalk. Imogen had always thought it was funny to plant trees in the cement.
The man was tall and dressed in black leather. He had tattoos on his arms, like her daddy. Was it her daddy? She hadn’t seen him in so long, she wasn’t sure.
He was staring at her and smiling. He seemed friendly in a scary sort of way. And familiar.
Slowly she inched toward him.
He bent down and his smile grew bigger. “Hello there, Imogen.”
She sucked in a breath. The man knew her name. “Daddy?” she said softly, her heart starting to beat faster.
“I’m a friend of your Daddy’s. He’d like to see you.”
The man nodded. “He sent me to get you and take you to him.”
“He did?” She’d dreamed about her father coming to get her.
“C’mon. My car’s right over there.” He held out a hand to her.
It was big and rough. Don’t go with strangers, Mommy always told her. But this man wasn’t a stranger. He was Daddy’s friend.
She put her hand in his and let him lead her to the car. It was an old car. The side was dented. As she climbed inside, she saw the seat was torn. The man closed the door, then came around the other side and got in beside her.
He snapped a seatbelt around her. “Don’t want anything to happen to you,” he chuckled, then he started the car and drove away.
She watched the apartment building across the street fade away as they rolled down the street. This was the same direction the bus took every day. She recognized the bushes and the houses.
Was this man taking her to Mommy’s shop? Was Daddy with Mommy? Were they getting back together?
But then they were on the big street with the tall palm trees, and she was sure the bus would have turned by now. They passed a place with a big orange machine. A crane. They were building something here. Green pipes held up a ceiling with no walls.
She turned around and peered out the back window. She didn’t see the bus anywhere.
They were on a wide highway now, with grassy places and lots of trees. She didn’t recognize it.
They drove and drove.
“My Daddy must live very far away,” she said at last.
“It’s only a little longer.”
“Maybe he’ll take me for ice cream when we get there.”
“Maybe.” But there was a scary sound in the man’s voice now.
Mommy never let her have ice cream after school. She made her eat a sandwich. If she finished all her dinner later, then she might get ice cream, but she usually didn’t.
The man made so many turns, Imogen didn’t know where she was. They were on a big street she didn’t recognize at all, with lots of auto repair places. “Trans—mis—sion,” she read on one sign.
Then the man turned down a side street, drove a few blocks, and slowed.
They were at a light green two-story house with dark red trim and a short driveway. It looked funny. It didn’t have a front door. Imogen wondered how they would get in. Then the man turned into the drive, pressed a button, and the garage door opened. He drove into a tidy garage and pressed the button again to close the door behind them.
It was dark in here, and Imogen was frightened. “Where’s my Daddy?”
“Inside. I’ll take you to him.”
She didn’t believe the man, but it was too late to change her mind now.
She got out of the car and followed the man up a short step and into a kitchen. It was small and the edges of the countertops were chipped. On the other side of the refrigerator there was a door. It smelled bad in here. Like someone had forgotten to take out the garbage.
She moved away from the man and hurried into a nearby living room. The furniture looked old and worn here, but there was nobody here.
“Where’s my Daddy?”
“He’s at work. He’ll be home soon.”
“I think you should take me back home now.”
“Sorry. Can’t do that.”
“What if I run away?”
“You’re not going anywhere.”
“Yes, I am. I’m going right out that door.” She pointed toward the kitchen.
Though she had no idea what she’d do outside. Would someone help her? Mommy made her memorize her address, but right now, she couldn’t think of it.
She moved toward the kitchen again. The man blocked her.
“I said, you’re not going anywhere.” He sounded mean now.
“Yes, I am.” She tried to go past him.
Before she could get around him, he bent down and picked her up in his arms. She beat against him with her fists, but it didn’t do any good.
He carried her down a hall to a small room. She kicked and screamed, trying to get away from him, but he was too strong.
He stuffed her under one arm and opened the door to the room. It was a dirty place with a mattress on the floor and a wrinkled blanket on top of it. It smelled bad in here, too. He wasn’t going to make her lay down on that. She wouldn’t.
But instead he carried her to the corner and opened another door. A closet.
Was he going to put her in there? No! She screamed again. Then she did the only thing she could think of. She bit his arm.
“Ow. You little bitch, you.”
But he let go of her and she dropped to the floor.
She almost got to the hall. Almost got away. Then he lunged for her. His big hand clamped around her arm hard, making her cry out.
“Leave me alone!”
“Shut up.” He picked her up and carried her to the closet.
He slung open the door, tossed her inside and shut the door in her face.
She could hear him locking it from the outside. She banged on the door. “Let me out of here.”
“Shut up, I said.”
“My Mommy will call the police. They’ll put you in jail.”
“No, she won’t. Not if she knows what’s good for her.”
And then she heard the man walk away.
She sat down on the floor. It was dusty and smelly like the rest of the place. She began to cry. Why hadn’t she listened to what Mommy told her? Why had she got into the car with that bad man?
Where was her Daddy? Gone. He had been gone for a long time. He was never coming back.
“I’m sorry, Mommy,” she blubbered into her hands. “I’ll never be angry with you again.”
All she wanted was to go home, but she had no idea how to do that. She didn’t know what to do.