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The smell of burning pancakes crept under the door and loitered in the air over my nose. Pancakes really weren’t her specialty -- I just didn’t have the heart to tell her. As I put a pillow over my head and rolled over, I wished the night wasnâ€˜t over.
“MAX! You gotta get up, babe. Adam and Emma have to be at school in 20 minutes!” she nagged, innocently.
“Amanda, can’t you take them? I’m so tired.”
“I would, but I have to leave now to get Parker off to my mom’s. Please get up.”
She walked out of the room, her auburn hair in a ponytail, swinging her hips just barely, and leaving just her scent behind her. I’m not exactly sure if it’s normal to be this in love with a woman after being married to her for 7 years. We’ve grown up so much since the day we met. I remember her getting upset when I would bring up the idea of getting married when we were only 15, but I meant it.
“ADAM, EMMA? Get your shoes on! I’ll be down in a sec,” I called downstairs as I groggily rose out of bed to find a t-shirt.
As I walked down the stairs in a trance, I saw two of the most important people sitting underneath a blanket on the couch, the lumps of their bodies moving continuously as giggles escaped their mouths.
“Where could those two little monsters be?” I wondered aloud, pretending not to see them. “Are they behind the couch? Are they under the table?” I said as I dramatically looked around the room. “Eh, whatever. Guess I don’t have to go anywhere, then. I’m just gonna take a nap until Mommy gets home.” I slowly sat down putting a little weight on the two bumps I liked to call my children. “Ugh, this is lumpy. What is this?” I patted the sides of my kids, as they screamed with laughter. “AHHHH! My couch is laughing!!!” I said as I jumped up.
“DADDY! You were sitting on us!” Emma shrieked.
“I..what? No.” I grabbed her in a hug as Adam raised his head from under the blanket, too. “Are you two knuckleheads ready for school?”
“I don’t wanna go school, dad,” Adam whined.
“Well, ya gotta. You wanna be smart don’cha? Get in the car, crazies.”
I pulled back into the driveway, my thoughts lost in what I could possibly waste my day doing today. Looking in the classifieds, going online, calling for interviews…I’d been out of work for 7 months so far. The CIA was getting too dangerous for a man with a family.
“No way…are you serious?” I said outloud to myself as I whipped out my cell phone.
“AMANDA!” I shouted.
“What’s wrong?” She asked curiously.
“All Adam and Emma have left in this garage is a box of chalk and an empty refill bottle of bubbles. It’s not even 9 o’clock yet,” I got out of the car cautiously, looking over my shoulder and remaining on the phone with Amanda.
“Someone stole their stuff? Wait, are you still in your car? Don’t get out. Be careful.”
“I’m fine, Amanda. I’m sure the jerk that did this got out of here as fast as he could. The door was locked, they couldn’t get into the house thankfully.”
“You locked the door today? We never do. See, maybe we could just take this as a sign. We were starting to get too comfortable here anyways.”
“How can you be okay with this? I can’t get all this stuff back. I have no JOB, AMANDA!”
“Max…I gotta go. Do whatever you gotta do but do not act like an a** to me. I’ll be home later, my kids are coming in from recess now.”
“Bye,” I said through gritted teeth as I hung up the phone.
Amanda was always the level headed one in the relationship. I could picture her face as she talked on the phone with me, her blue eyes getting bigger and her eyebrows raising as I told her about the toys being missing, and her forehead getting wrinkles as she got angry with me when I raised my voice at her.
Another five and a half hours passed before I had to pick up the kids from school. I was running late, as usual, and I left at 3:35--exactly when they get out of school.
“COME ON!” I shouted, as if the drivers in front of me could hear my frustration. It’s not like it was their fault that I didn’t leave sooner to pick up my kids. I felt guilty as I pictured them sitting in front of the school waiting for me. Emma’s blonde ponytail drooping to her shoulders after a long day of second grade, and Adam, still tons of energy left sitting on the steps while the teachers tried to keep all the kids under control until their parents got there.
I finally got to the school parking lot, and pulled up alongside the curb.
“Adam and Emma Redmond.” I said to the PTO mom sitting outside.
“Mr. Redmond, Adam and Emma were picked up about ten minutes ago.”
“They were?” I asked, shocked. “By who?”
“The man said he was your wife’s brother, Cole.”
“Cole...hmm. Okay, well thanks. I didn’t know he was picking them up today. I’ll give her a call.”
As I drove home, I tried to remember a conversation happening between me and my wife about picking up the kids. Not remembering anything, I called her again.
“Amanda?” I asked when she picked up her phone.
“What now, Max? I’ll be home in like a half an hour.”
“No, Mands. Adam and Emma… I just went to pick them up and apparently Cole picked them up already?”
“What? No he didn’t. He is in Wisconsin with Sienna today.”
I slammed on my brakes. “Adam and Emma aren’t at the school.”
“They have to be… I’ll call him to make sure, but I don’t think he would pick them up without telling me.”
As Amanda called her brother, I floored the car back to the school. I threw the car into park and ran into the front office of the school.
“Adam and Emma Redmond, you are sure they aren’t here?!” I frantically asked Robbi, the lady sitting at the front desk.
“Sir, what are you talking about?”
“My kids, Emma and Adam. They are in first and second grade. I came to pick them up from school today and the lady in front said they had already been picked up by my wife’s brother.”
“So, aren’t they already at home?”
“NO!” I screamed at her feeling the veins on the side of my neck pop out and my face get hot as it turned to a violent red, looking even more intense against my green eyes and dirty blonde hair. I could tell Robbi was nervous.
“Mr. Redmond, aren’t you over reacting? Don’t you think your kids wouldn’t get into the car if they didn’t know who was driving?”
“I would think so, but I wasn’t here for it. How am I supposed to know what happened? I left my kids at their elementary school this morning expecting to see them when I came to pick them up. You think I’m overreacting…overreacting. IMAGINE this being your children. Do I not have the right to be this upset?!”
I stomped out of the room, feeling childish, but pissed off. The only thing I could think about was where my kids were. I got back in the car, trying to come up with a plan.
Siiting in silence, I leapt out of my seat as my phone played the ring-tone for when my wife calls and I grabbed for it as fast as I could.
“He doesn’t have them, Max.”
I broke down. “Honey, I don’t know what to do. When are you coming home? What are we going to do?” My eyes welled up, my kids were gone. “The school doesn’t have them. I don’t know where to look. They left with someone…no one knows who it was..”
“I’m on my way home, call the police or something,” Amanda sobbed as she hung up on me.
As I got out of the car, I dialed 911. I broke down into tears, as the dispatcher answered the phone.
“Mount Prospect Police Department, please state your emergency.”
I couldn’t answer.
“Mount Prospect Police Department, please state your emergency,” the dispatcher repeated, but only mumbles came from my mouth.
“My KIDS,” I choked out, “they’re gone.”
“Sir, what do you mean gone?”
“GONE! SOMEONE TOOK THEM!”
“I’m going to need you to calm down. How long have they been missing?”
“I went to pick them up after school today, and they weren’t there. S-s-school let them go home with someone else,” I collapsed onto a stool at the island countertop in our kitchen.
“I’m sorry sir, but we cannot make a missing child’s report until they have been gone for 24 hours.”
“24 hours?! They can be half way across the world by then! You can’t be serious?”
Amanda walked in the door at this point, and I hung up the phone while the dispatcher was replying.
“MAX!” Amanda’s eyes were swollen; she had Parker on her hip clinging on to her shoulder, a diaper bag hanging from the other shoulder and a briefcase in her left hand. She was still crying as she put Parker in his bouncy chair and came up to me, collapsing in my arms.
“I’m so sorry, Mands, I’m so sorry,” I said, unable to pull myself together for her. “I shouldn’t have been late.”
Amanda didn’t say anything, which made me nervous. I couldn’t tell if she blamed me, if she was mad at me, or if she just had nothing to say.
“Max…what are we going to do?”
Just as she asked me this, I heard something upstairs. “Amanda, stay here. Get Parker, and keep a phone in your hand. If anything sounds weird, call 911 and get Parker out.”
“Max!” she whispered, looking at me with puzzled eyes; waiting for an answer.
“Just do it.”
I grabbed my cell phone and my Swiss army knife and put it in the back pocket of my jeans. I walked quietly up the stairs, unable to think. I was moving on instinct. I heard a tiny squeal, and a hushing sound. I had no idea what to expect when I felt something hit me on the back of the head.
I woke up in a hospital bed, an IV running through my left hand. My wife was nowhere to be seen. I raised my arm and realized I could barely move it when I pushed the nurse button.
“Mr. Redmond, you’re awake,” a blonde haired nurse looked surprised as she walked through the door.
“Why am I here? Where’s my family? Adam and Emma…Amanda...Parker…” I was confused. As I talked to the nurse, the room was spinning.
“Umm, sir, let me notify you’re wife that you’re awake. It’s really not my place.”
I had never felt so upside down in my life. The last thing I remembered was walking up the stairs in my house…I didn’t even know the time, the date, how long I’d been asleep, what happened to my babies. I felt weak. I knew something was going wrong with my body. It felt like someone had taken their foot to both sides of my chest multiple times. I felt the back of my head, where I found a gash covered in stitches and dried blood in the short strands of my hair.
“Max!” the sound of Amanda’s voice had never been so welcoming. I tried to sit up, but could barely move my torso. “Don’t move, babe.” She came over and touched my shoulder.
“Where are Adam and Emma?”
“They’re upstairs with my mom,” tears welled up in her eyes.
“Upstairs? In the hospital? I gotta get up there,” I tried to sit up again, but gave up easily as pain shot through my body.
“Max, you can’t get up. You’re ribs are bruised pretty bad.”
“Honey, I still don’t know what happened. I can’t remember anything.”
“Honestly, babe, no one does. But Emma and Adam are coming down soon. So I’ll be back.”
I sat in the hospital bed staring up lost in the ceiling tiles. I was relieved to hear that my children were coming down to see me, but I wish I had just a few more minutes with my wife.
“DADDY!” I heard Adam shout as he jumped onto the bed, Emma following right behind him.
“Hey sport, hey cutie,” I said as I embraced both of them in the biggest hug I was able to give without the shooting pain forcing me to cringe.
“Daddy, you were brave!” Emma said to me as she sat down.
“Dan is a meanie,” Adam said unknowingly.
“I know,” I replied. “Don’t worry, you won’t ever see him again.”
“I like the police now, Daddy. They’re nice.” Emma added in as Parker and Amanda entered the room. My family sat with me for awhile. The nurse brought in some ice cream for us. I sat with my children, the dark circles under their eyes indicating their exhaustion. They were telling me about their hospital stay, and how they got to sit in dark rooms and have machines take pictures of their bones.
“Hey guys, Daddy’s probably pretty tired. Let Parker say hi. Nana is waiting for you out in the hallway, okay?”
The kids got off the bed slowly, looking over their shoulders as they left. The hospital room was getting dark now as the sun was setting outside.
“Amanda, who took them?” I asked her as she placed Parker on the bed.
“It was Dan. As soon as you started up the stairs, I called 911. I knew something was up. They were there within 2 minutes, and before Dan could escape they had the place surrounded.”
“I don’t get it…why did he bring Emma and Adam back to our house?”
“He had them tied up in Emma’s room. I don’t know how our kids are gonna feel safe in that house again. It seemed like Dan was setting up a hostage situation, like he wanted to get something out of you. Do you have any idea what it could have been?”
Amanda knew that I was an ex CIA agent, but she didn’t know that I brought my work home with me. Dan was one of my fellow agents when I was still working for the CIA. We both worked on a project to try and take down an enemy, and he knew that I had everything that the CIA needed to decode passwords in my house. As I started to explain to my wife, I was coming to my own realizations.
Dan, always a paranoid man, seemed to fit the perfect personality of a mole. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see him for his true colors. I let him into my home so many times, near my children, and told him everything.
“He seriously tried to take our kids…my best friend? The guy I let be the best man in my wedding?” I wondered aloud, bewildered at my own stupidity.
“Itâ€˜s not your fault. I’m sorry,” she put her arm over my shoulder, Parker still sitting in my lap. “I think that this isn’t going to be okay until you talk to him.”
“Talk to him?! What do I have to talk to him about? â€˜Hey, so why did you try to take my kids from us, a**hole?’ No way, Amanda.”
“Well aren’t you curious? A man you have known for years almost took away two of the most important things in your life.”
“I don’t care. I hope he stays locked up in that jail until he dies,” I said. Parker was starting to get fussy as I got worked up.
“I’m gonna bring Parker out to my mom,” Amanda said as she picked him up. “I’ll be back. The kids are gonna stay at my parents’ house tonight.”
“Okay, see ya in a few.”
“Kay. Wave bye, bye to Daddy, Parker.” Parker picked up his tiny hand and waved goodbye. My heart sunk as I realized I almost lost half of my world to a job that wasn’t even paying my bills anymore.
“I love you,” I whispered under my breath, thanking God for the strong woman raising my children. She was the only thing that was going to get my family through an experience like this.