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The War – Episode 9

December 19, 10:37 AM Eastern
Cincinnati, Ohio

Kate wiped her greasy hands onto her coveralls and reached into her pocket when she heard her phone chime. She swiped an errant lock of strawberry blonde hair out of her face while she unlocked the device. As the screen brightened, she read the message:

All Hamilton County public schools are closed. Students are being sent to designated collection points for pick-up and will arrive there by 11:30 AM. Please check our website for details. All students need to be picked up by 1 PM.

Damn it! she thought after she read it, I can’t afford this!

Kate swore under her breath as she put the phone back in her pocket. She looked around the shop and saw Jamarcus, her boss, working with one of the other mechanics to lower an engine into a Mercedes sedan. She walked over to him and got his attention.

“Just got a message from Kylee’s school. They’re closed,” she said over the din of the shop.

Her boss looked at her for a moment. “Yeah, kind of figured that would happen sometime today,” he answered, mopping sweat off his brow with the sleeve of his shirt, “Is it just hers, or all of them?”

Kate answered, “All of them. Should I spread the word?”

The big man swore and looked around the garage. “Yeah,” he sighed, “tell Joe and anyone else you can think of. Damn it, we were just starting to get caught up.”

“I’ll come back after I get her,” Kate said, “She can sit in the office and read or something.”

“Yeah, just make sure she’s OK,” Jamarcus replied, “There’s a bag with crayons and coloring books in the closet. Get that out for the kids when you get back.”

Kate smiled and walked away. She grabbed a few other people on her way out to her car and told them what was going on. She zipped up her jacket as she walked out to her ancient station wagon. For once, it started on the first try, which she took as a good sign.

While she waited for the little diesel engine to warm up, Kate pulled out her phone and found the school district’s website. A large banner across the top of the page led her to the list of places for pick-up. Kylee would be at a mall a couple of miles from her school, about a twenty-minute drive from the garage.

Kate pulled out of her parking spot and wove her way into the busy traffic. A couple of blocks from the mall, she pulled through a burger place and got lunch for both of them. It was a splurge which she would have to take out of the money in the Christmas savings, but she figured they both needed some comfort food.

She arrived at the mall parking lot a few minutes before noon, and saw several bright yellow school buses parked in a corner near one of the entrances. A crowd of children and adults was milling about near them.

Kate parked her car next to the buses and walked over, fishing her identification out of her purse. One of the bus drivers recognized her and waved.

“Hi!” he called, “Kylee’s over here!”

“Thanks!” Kate replied as she walked toward the crowd of kids.

“Hello, Kate,” a smooth voice behind her said.

Kate jumped in surprise. Turning, she saw the familiar face of Saindra, the mother of one of Kylee’s friends. They had met several times over the past couple of years, with Saindra’s oldest daughter spending the night at her house or vice versa.

“Oh, you scared me!” Kate said with a smile.

“It’s just me,” Saindra said, returning the smile.

“It’s a scary day, isn’t it?” Kate said, waiting for Saindra to catch up to her, then walking alongside her toward their children. The smaller woman’s pale blue surgical scrubs contrasted with the dark material of her coat.

Saindra nodded her head sadly and shoved her hands into the deep pockets of her heavy coat. “Awful. What’s going on, it’s just awful,” she replied.

The two mothers walked over to the children, and Kylee broke away from the bus driver with a squeal.

“Mom! They sent us home early!” she said excitedly, wrapping her arms around her mother’s legs.

“I know! And I got burgers for lunch!” Kate replied, trying hard to not show the nerves she felt. Kylee squealed again and started chanting “Food! Food! Food!”

Saindra’s children waited for their mother at the edge of the crowd. Saindra gave each of them a hug, then walked up to the bus driver.  Over her shoulder, she said, “Taj, you and your sisters wait there for me.”

“Do we need to sign something?” she asked.

“Yeah, they gave me this,” he said, holding out a clipboard with a yellow legal pad on it, “Just write down their names and sign.”

Saindra smiled as she took out a pen and scribbled on the paper. She handed the clipboard to Kate and motioned to her children. They walked over to her, and she enveloped them in another hug. Kate was finishing her signature when the shock wave centered at Saindra’s torso hit her and Kylee.


Other episodes can be found here.  The rest of the story can be found in Escort Duty, available now at Amazon.

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