Chapter 1: A Plague of Toddlers
This story is narrated by Special Investigator John Buck.
Assistant Director Robert MacLeod had left the previous afternoon with Investigator Karen Stiles to look into a Bank robbery in Dodge City, Investigator Sarah Bullock and I were taking it easy at our new base in Carlinville.
We had gathered together with Becky Lieberman for a drink and chat before lunch, when there was a knock on the front door. Becky went to investigate. After a short conversation she came back with one of the local Sheriff's Deputies.
After the introductions were made, he said, "We need your help! We've run into something beyond our experience. Either we've run into a plague of little girls or there is an outbreak of sorcery. Will you help?"
I looked at the others who nodded, before saying. "Yes, we will, but first, please tell us what happened and the order in which it happened."
"Oh yes! Well as far as I can tell, it happened like this. One of the factories here employs a fairly large contingent of women as machine minders. About twenty minutes after the morning shift had started. One of the women shrieked and cried 'stop the machine'. They did so and then they asked her why she wanted the machine stopped. She said her little girl had appeared inside this heavy machine and she was worried for the girl's life."
He looked at us to see our reactions before he continued.
"Well! They examined the machine and there was no sign of the girl. The matter might have stopped there, but then there was a report that a small girl had been seen up a tree in the Tom Thumb Park; impossibly high up. She then disappeared and since there have been sightings all over the place. It all seems too much for us to handle. Can you help?
"Yes!" I replied, "I think that first we need to interview the mother to see if it really was her daughter. We need someone at your office to keep track of the reports coming in. Becky, can you do that? Take a telepamplifier with you. We can keep in touch that way
We went to the stable and saddled up our mounts. The Deputy retrieved his horse from the rail in front of the house and escorted the three of us to the factory while Becky made her way to the Sheriff's office.
At the factory, we were led into a conference room and the distraught mother was sent for. She explained that it was her young daughter, who should have been with her neighbor, her baby-sitter. She said that she had panicked when she saw her daughter in the middle of the machine with all those tons of force bearing down on her child
I asked her, "What is your daughter's name and age? Also, what is the name of her baby-sitter?"
"Her name is Sam and she's four years old. That's short for Samantha, but Sam is what she answers to. Mistress Hernandez is the baby sitter's name. She lives next door at 150 Button street. I live at 152. Please can you find her? Can you find my baby?"
"Yes Mistress Boon, as soon as we find your daughter, we'll send for you."
We left the factory. As soon as we were on the street, I asked Sarah to contact Becky for an update on the girl's location. A moment later, she came back with, "She's returned to Tom Thumb Park. She's been spotted in the top of one of the trees. The Deputy who spotted her is trying to keep an unobtrusive eye on her."
"Have Becky ask for someone to go and find out what happened to the baby-sitter. We'll go to the park."
We mounted up and rode off to the Park. When we got there, we didn't see the Deputy at first. We rode around until we saw him sitting on one of the park seats, apparently contemplating his navel! We dismounted some way off, so we wouldn't spook the little girl and tied our horses to a conveniently placed tree.
We then strolled to where the Deputy was sitting and seated ourselves. I asked him to describe exactly where the girl was without pointing. We didn't want the Deputy to spook her either! After a short while we spotted her concealed in the top branches of an elm tree.
I asked the others, "How are we going to coax her down?"
Sarah suggested, "I wonder, if, like all other little girls, she likes ice cream?"
"See if she's receptive to telepathy! If she is, it could make reassuring her easier."
"OK!" Her face took on an expression of concentration and I could just about sense her telepathic conversation.
'Sam! Samantha, Can you hear me?'
'Who? Who are you?'
'I'm a friend. Your mother asked me to look out for you. Can you see the seat near your tree?'
'Look. I'll Give you a little wave.' She did so. 'Do you see me?'
'Do you like ice cream, Sam?'
'Ooh yes, I do! I like it very much!'
'Would you like to come and have some ice cream with me?'
'Yes, but Mommy said I shouldn't take anything from any one I didn't know!'
'Very good, Sam. I'd forgotten that! Suppose I got your Mommy to come here to introduce us. Would that make it all right for us all to go and have an ice cream?'
'Yes but I can't see her yet! She's awful cross at me! She shouted louder than I've ever heard her.'
Sam started to sob, while trying hard not to.
'Your Mommy's not cross with you Sam. She was scared for you. You could have been badly hurt. She loves you Sam. Can I ask her to come and tell you how much she loves you?'
'Yes. I suppose so. Are you sure she's not cross with me?'
'Ab ... so... lutely! So shall I ask her to come here and introduce us so we can go and have some ice cream? Do you want to come down here and meet my friends? If you stay up there, you could frighten your Mommy again! We shan't touch you so you will be perfectly safe!'
'How do I get down?'
'Think about floating. If you can float up off that branch, then you can float slowly down to the ground.'
'I don't know if I can do that. Could you come and get me?'
'I'll be there in a minute!'
Sarah turned to me grinning and said. "That was hard work! I don't think I've kept up a telepathic conversation for so long before."
She got out her telepamplifier and called up Becky, "Can you bring Mistress Boon to Tom Thumb Park. Oh and warn her to keep her emotions in check. I would hate to have to go and find Sam all over again."
"OK, see you soon." Becky replied.
Sarah turned to me and said "I've haven't done much in the way of floating around. I hope I'm up to it!"
She stood, put out her arms and twirled her hands. She slowly rose off the ground and floated towards the elm tree that housed Samantha. She rotated, giving us a somewhat lop-sided grin as she rose higher. We saw her talking to Samantha who hurled herself into her arms. It seemed for a moment as if they were going to fall, but Sarah recovered and then they floated slowly to earth.
They came back to the seat and Sam allowed herself to sit on Sarah's lap and be cuddled while they talked of things of concern to a little girl. A little while later we saw a hansom cab, escorted by a mounted Becky, enter the Park and approach us. I saw Becky say something to Mistress Boon before she descended from the cab. Becky, leaving her horse in the cabby's care, also came across to us slowly so as not to frighten Samantha who was still on Sarah's lap. Her mother stooped looking down at her.
"Samantha, dear! I wasn't cross with you. I was only worried that you would get hurt. It was so dangerous there. I was so frightened for you."
Sam floated off Sarah's lap and into her mother's arms, much to her mother's confusion.
"Oh Mommy, I love you so."
"And I love you too, Baby!"
"Please! Can we go with them and have an eye scream? Can we? Please Mommy?"
"Yes, dear, but I have to be getting back to work soon."
"No! You don't!" I said, "We have a lot to talk about. We'll make it right with your employers, Mistress Boon. Becky, will you see to it, please, and then meet us at home." I turned to the Sheriff's Deputy "Thank you for your assistance, Sir. It was much appreciated. I think we can take it from here. Thank you!"
The Deputy departed to return to the Sheriff's office, and Becky mounted and left for Mistress Boon's workplace. Sarah mounted while I helped Mistress Boon to re-enter the hansom cab and then handed Samantha up to her. I knew that Becky had plenty of ice cream in her preservator. Besides which, our house would make a more comfortable venue, for our meeting with Sam and her mother, than any coffee house.