The girl was snatched before their eyes—why didn’t the police respond to the women’s calls?
It all happened so fast.
One minute the young girl in the pale pink track suit, eyes cast down as she texted on her cellphone, was walking down the opposite side of the street from where Charmiele sat on her front porch working on her laptop; the next minute, a young man jumped out of a black SUV with darkened windows that rolled to a stop behind the girl, and grabbed her phone. Thirty seconds later another man jumped out of the SUV and helped him bundle the girl into the vehicle.
Charmiele screamed and raced down the steps of her front porch, reaching the sidewalk just as the driver gunned the engine of the SUV and took off.
More screams issued from her neighbors, LaTisha and Helen, who had been piecing a quilt on the front porch of LaTisha’s house. They ran down the steps to join Charmiele on the sidewalk.
“Did you see that?”
“Let’s call the police!”
“Do you know the name of that girl child?”
LaTisha hit 9-1-1 on her mobile and spoke to the dispatcher. “I want to report a crime that just happened one minute ago. A girl has been snatched in broad daylight!”
Charmiele and Helen stood by as LaTisha worked her way through a five-minute exchange with the 9-1-1 dispatcher, giving her name, address, and what she had witnessed. When she disconnected the call, she said, “They’re sending a unit here. She said it would be a few minutes.”
The three waited on the street, almost wilting in the hot June sunlight, but ten minutes later no police cruiser had arrived.
“I’ll call again,” LaTisha said. “I can’t imagine why they aren’t here!”
“Let’s sit on my front porch,” Charmiele said. “It’s scorching out here in the street. When the police arrive we’ll come out again.”
Five minutes later later LaTisha disconnected the call and said, “Well, I think they’ll send someone. I wish I hadn’t had to go through the whole thing again. Time’s wasting—that little girl could be anywhere by now!”
The three women sat stone-faced as they contemplated what might be happening to the girl.
Twenty minutes there was still no sign of the police.
“This is unacceptable!” Helen said. “Look—since the police haven’t showed up, let’s try to find her ourselves. Did anyone see the license plate on the car?”
“Saw it but don’t remember the number,” LaTisha said. “I could describe the men, though.”
“Okay. Charmiele, why don’t you try calling the police again, while LaTisha and I go to each house on the street and ask if they know the girl. Once we find out where she lives we can inform her parents.”
Forty-five minutes after the incident the police still had not arrived. While she waited for the others after calling the police again, Charmiele used her laptop to narrow down the make and model of the SUV.
“We had some luck,” LaTisha reported when she and Helen returned. “Helen took one side of the street and I took the other. We located the girl’s grandmother. The child’s name is Shironda Taylor, she’s twelve, and—“ she looked triumphantly at her friends—“I’ve got her cellphone number!”
“Good,” Charmiele said. “There’s an app to find out the location of a given cellphone number. Give me a few minutes.”
The third app she tried proved to be the lucky one. She followed the instructions on the website and announced, “That cellphone number is located at 2037 Lawrence Expressway. Come on, we’ll take my car.”
“But what about the police? What if they come after all?” LaTisha asked.
“Do you see any police around?” Helen asked sarcastically. “We’ll leave a note on the door with that address on it.”
The address turned out to belong to the Just-Like-Home motel two miles away. Charmiele drove slowly around the motel, which was all on one level. The three gasped as they saw the black SUV parked outside the sliding glass door of one of the units.
“I’m sure that’s the one!” Charmiele said.
“Looks like it,” Helen agreed. “Okay, what now?”
“First of all, we’ll park at the front entrance,” Charmiele said. “One of us has to go in and rent a room for the night, then come back out to the car so we can drive around and park in front of the unit. Then whoever rented the room can go in and let the other two in through the sliding glass door.”
“Uh, where is this going, exactly?” LaTisha asked.
Charmiele turned around to talk to the other two. “Look, we were invisible when the crime was committed right in front of our eyes. We’re invisible to the damn cops, who can’t be bothered to come and take our statements. No one is going to pay attention to us.”
“Shironda’s grandmother said she’d call the police and Shironda’s parents. They’re at work, of course,” Helen said.
“Yeah, but the grandmother is our age,” Charmiele said. “Women our age are invisible, remember? Shironda has been abducted, but we’re going to find her and take her home. We should ask the blessing of Demeter. Her daughter Persephone was abducted, remember.”
“Let’s invoke her now,” LaTisha said. The three joined hands and closed their eyes as LaTisha prayed to Demeter for inspiration. “Great Goddess Demeter, mother of the corn and of all growing things, protectress of maidens, help us find your daughter Shironda before she comes to harm.”
Afterwards, Charmiele said, “Demeter wandered the earth searching for her daughter. We, on the other hand, have tracked Shironda to this motel. Demeter disguised herself as a nursemaid while she gathered information as to Persephone’s whereabouts.”
“Disguise,” repeated Helen thoughtfully. “Good idea, but we need to make sure Shironda and those two men are in that room, first of all.”
“I’ve thought of a way we can do that.” Charmiele quickly outlined our plan.
LaTisha was doubtful. “But suppose they’re armed? We’re not.”
“Oh, yeah?” Charmiele threw a glance at Helen, who pulled her key ring out of her handbag. Charmiele pulled hers out as well. From each key ring dangled a miniature canister of pepper spray. “Now, let’s coordinate. How much cash have we got on us?”
“Among the three of us, $120,” LaTisha said a couple of minutes later.
“That’s enough. LaTisha, here’s $70,” Charmiele said. “You know what to do with it. Helen will rent the room and then come back to let me know where to park the car. You’ll be able to see the car when you come back with the stuff. Let’s hop to it, ladies!”
Half an hour later Charmiele, LaTisha, Helen, and the chambermaid, Dorothy, were ready to put the rescue plan into action. Dorothy had confirmed that unit #103, outside of which the black SUV was parked, was the only unit besides theirs that had been rented that morning. When she found out what the three planned to do, she not only lent them disguises, she refused to accept any money for her help.
Charmiele was wearing a black suit with a tag on her shoulder that read “Manager.” Helen wore a black skirt and white blouse with a shoulder tag that read “Room Service.” LaTisha wore the same gray-and-white housekeeping overall as Dorothy. The top tray of the wheeled cart, attractively arranged with its contents, was Dorothy’s responsibility. She began to push the cart toward unit #103, with Helen on one side and Charmiele on the other. LaTisha followed Dorothy.
As Dorothy stopped the cart in front of the door to the unit, all the women took a deep breath. Helen and Charmiele, each with her right hand in the pocket of her skirt, fingered the canisters of pepper spray. Helen knocked on the door. “Room service!” she called out cheerily.
There was a short silence, then a male voice said, “We didn’t order no room service!”
“You’ve won a prize!” Charmiele called out. “You are the ten thousandth person to rent a unit here at our motel, so we’ve prepared a surprise for you! Champagne, shrimp tray, and a fruit basket. It’s all yours!”
The door opened to show a young man with a moustache whose expression brightened as he saw the balloon that read “Congratulations!” and the gifts. Instantly Charmiele’s right hand came up as she shot the pepper spray into his eyes. Dorothy rammed the cart past him into the room, followed by Helen, who shot the other man in the eyes with her pepper spray. LaTisha went straight to Shironda, who lay on one of the beds with her hands and feet tied and her mouth gagged with a scarf. Quickly she cut the bonds with the scissors she’d borrowed from Dorothy while the men screamed with pain and lurched around the room. Dorothy opened the sliding glass doors and helped LaTisha carry the terrified girl to the car, while Charmiele ran out and slid swiftly into the driver’s seat. LaTisha got into the front seat beside Charmiele, Helen and Dorothy climbed into the back, and Charmiele took off.
“Ohmigoddess, ohmigoddess,” Helen and LaTisha kept saying. Shironda seemed incapable of speech as Dorothy patted her shoulder and spoke to her soothingly. “Don’t worry, sugar, we’ll get you home to your grandma. You just hang tight, okay?”
They could hear the wailing of police sirens as Charmiele drove away.
“She’s in shock,” the medic said, “but she’ll be fine tomorrow. I’ve given her a sedative, which she’ll sleep off. She wasn’t harmed at all aside from the minor abrasions from the rope they tied her wrists with.”
When Shironda arrived at her grandmother’s house, the terrified child had told her story to her grandmother, parents, rescuers, and the late-arriving police. “After the younger one, ’Stache, snatched my phone he and the other guy took me to the motel and tied me up on the bed. They were waiting for Scars and Baldy to drive down from New York so they could decide what to do with me.”
The adults exchanged horrified glances. One of the police officers said, “Scars and Baldy are known traffickers. We’re arranging a little reception party for them at the motel when they arrive in an hour or two.”
“Well, let’s hope you show up for that one,” Charmiele said sharply. “Unlike when we reported the crime to you no fewer than three times!”
“Sorry about that,” the police officer said. “There was a shift change, so your first call didn’t get into the system. When the second call came in, the dispatcher figured it was a childish prank and the girl would be back home soon, so he cleared the call. The third time, the officers driving the patrol car couldn’t find your address, so they returned to the station. We’ll investigate the system failure.”
Mrs. Taylor, eyes filled with tears, wrung the hands of the four women. “We can never thank you enough for what you did for our daughter, ladies. God bless you and keep you.”
“Shironda would have been rescued even sooner if it hadn’t been for the invisibility factor,” Charmiele said. She turned to the senior police officer. “Perhaps next time you’ll take it seriously when a crime is reported—even if it’s an older woman doing the reporting.”
He looked at the floor. “Yes, ma’am.”
The four women left the house. After driving Dorothy back to the Just-Like-Home motel and returning the disguises, the other three returned to LaTisha’s house.
“Maybe we should start the Invisible Detective Agency,” Charmiele said.
Helen snorted. “No one would ever see the advertisements!”
“I think we should do a ritual of thanks to Demeter for inspiring us,” LaTisha said.
“Hear, hear,” the others agreed. “All hail Demeter, Earth Mother, protectress of young maidens!”