It was business as usual in the popular city’s newly refurbished shopping plaza Saturday evening, last-minute shoppers bustling to make their final purchases.
“Help! Someone, help! My baby—someone stole my baby!” anguished screams rang out from the panicked young woman running from one end of the high-end mall as she frantically darted in and out of stores like a madwoman.
The missing babe’s stroller, upturned, abandoned and overflowing with shopping bags, was rescued by the nearest store clerk for safekeeping, even as security guards paged police-officers for assistance. Amber alerts were immediately issued. Store and mall entrances and exits were carefully screened and guarded while helpful volunteers aided in the search.
At the opposite end of the mall a play area for children, known especially for the Quarter-a-Ride two-story carousel, a melodic animal menagerie that ran almost constantly, echoed with kid noises. It was usually a welcome distraction for harried, exhausted parents, their little ones in tow. Now, however, children were clasped in arms and held close as the general alarm spread through the shoppers’ consciousnesses.
Speed walkers stopped their 30-minute stints, joining hands and hearts together into a prayer circle around the bereft and shaking woman. Cell phones were text-messaging radio stations and prayer chains simultaneously even as television crews complicated it all with their camera equipment, microphones and broadcasting paraphernalia.
Meanwhile, the gilded horses and passenger-less animals continued their automatic 3-minute cycles while the flashing light bulbs reflected off the garish mirrors in the carousel’s center.
“Our 60-minute window of this coming to a happy reunion is rapidly diminishing,” Agent Mallory admonished his aides, “lengthen the parking lot perimeters out to the connecting streets and thoroughly inspect each car at the checkpoints.”
Assignments were passed out to store clerks and customers alike to inspect restrooms, fitting rooms, hallways, stock rooms, restaurants, alcoves and the movie theatre. Anyone with a baby was paraded past the bewildered woman for possible positive identification before they were allowed to exit the building.
Another 15 minutes wasted away as sparse leads became dead ends and impossible odds of a compromised crime scene multiplied.
“Has anyone checked the information booth?”
“What about the locker cubicles?”
“I’ll go check out the Arcade!”
“I saw a guy with a hysterical baby over there!”
“Maybe that shopping bag has a baby in it—it really looks suspicious!"
Searchers frantically, but faithfully, fulfilled their assignments, only to come up empty. Store telephones buzzed, cops’ whistles and radios activated, shouts and babble complicated the air space while overhead mobiles flirted with accent lights above bevies of sympathetic onlookers anxiously waiting to hear the latest reports. The Big-Ben in the clock repair center chimed ominously, reminding them all of the minutes counting down like a bomb timer’s digital read-out.
Ultimately, the Golden 60-minute period vanished as surely as the child. Now 5 minutes to closing, the mall employees were busily inventorying cash drawers, straightening merchandise and giving each other nightly farewells.
Officer Gray dismally shook his head at the crime scene investigation’s failure to apprehend a suspect and deliver the missing child, unharmed, to its mother. The emptied shopping center was eerily quiet as he wondered, walking around its perimeter several more times, how he could have managed the kidnapping scene successfully.
“Cleared” janitors began their nightly duties of replacing trash bin garbage bags, cleaning the public restrooms and, much later and finally, dimming the lights. Supervisor Marcus, as was his custom, allowed his staff one 3-minute carousel ride before shutting down its mechanisms, a little perk to relieve their aching muscles and tired feet at the end of their shift.
Only one custodian chose the upper deck to his favorite polar bear decorated bench at the very top, almost plopping his ample body on top of the sleeping infant innocently smiling up at him in its sleep.
The DNA found on the baby’s blanket fingered a paroled habitual child molester, who was subsequently found and arrested for attempted kidnapping. He was appealing the charges, claiming that he had only found the baby abandoned and thought the 3-minute carousel ride would calm the fussing infant. In reality (and off the record) the suspect admitted that the timely arrival of security and police on the scene thwarted the abduction, giving him only one minute between the Carousel rounds to stow away his victim.
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