The next class period arrived. At two minutes before the hour, every seat in the room was occupied. People had been talking. Students suddenly had deep insights to share in their philosophy classes, world culture classes, geography classes. There were historical discussions taking place over lunch. The other professors were noticing.
Several of them stood in the back of the room, serious in their black suits, waiting to see what this man had done to accomplish all this with one class period.
Three after. The door opened and Professor James walked to the front of the room, unfazed by the crowd. He acknowledged the back of the room with a nod, greeted the class with a smile, and began his lecture.
Two hours and forty two minutes into the lecture, the room was still and silent except for Professor James’ voice. There was no restless fidgeting or secret texting. The students were listening with their whole beings to the story of the past.
Abby almost didn’t notice when her cell phone vibrated. She ignored it. A few minutes later it vibrated again. Professor James flicked his eyes in her direction, catching her gaze. She discretely pulled the phone from her coat pocket. He looked away. Two new text messages appeared on the screen.
From: Elaine Norris
I need you, mom is sick, come right away
From: Elaine Norris
At St Matthew’s hospital, doctor says it’s serious. I’m all alone
Abby grabbed her things and stood, her chair scraping loudly in the quiet room. Professor James kept talking as though he didn’t notice. All other eyes in the room turned toward her as she made her egress.
The door slammed behind her and Professor James kept talking in exactly the same tone of voice, but students on the front row noticed beads of sweat appearing on his brow and his hands shaking at his sides.
When he finished his lecture, the professors in the back of the room began to applaud, and it spread throughout the audience. To their surprise, he took off running, dashing past the students and teachers and out the door. It slammed behind him as it had behind Abby.
Abby Norris didn’t have a vehicle with her at the school. When she left class she ran out the front door of the building and down the street to the bus stop. She glanced at her watch. It was an odd time. The next bus wouldn’t be here for awhile. She sat on the bench and sank her head in her hands. Images flashed through her mind of her mother, bleeding, coughing, dying. Her little sister alone in the waiting room. The doctor approaching with that look on his face. They couldn’t go through this again.
A yellow cab pulled up in front of her. She jumped up and opened the door. “St. Matthew’s hospital.” She said. If her thoughts had been less distracted she would have realized how strange it was for a cab to approach someone at a bus stop.
Professor James was halfway down the street when he saw her get into the cab. “No!” he shouted, too late. He ran headlong, but barely reached the bus stop as the cab rounded the corner onto a main street. He collapsed onto the bench, gasping.
Abby re-read the texts from her sister and tried again to call. Her phone was out of range. Illness and injury cycled through her thoughts. She tried to calm herself, taking a deep breath and deliberately seeing her mother as she ought to be; jean shorts and a scarf over her head in the garden, laughing in the pool, singing along to the radio as she did the dishes.Mom is sick, hospital, serious, alone.Abby re-re-read the texts.
If she had been less distracted she would have realized that they were going the wrong direction. By the time she did realize, the cab was heading out of town on an empty highway.
“Hey!” she said. “We’re going the wrong way.”
The cab driver ignored her.
“Let me out!” She tried the door. It was locked. The ground was whizzing away too fast for a jump, anyway.
“Take me back right now.” She said, trying to think of a threat. “You’re going to lose your job. And also, you’ll probably go to prison.” As that was an incentive for him to not turn around, Abby decided to stop talking.
What was Elaine going to do if her mother was sick and her sister had been kidnapped? Abby imagined the doctor, grave, wearing a shining lab coat. He crept into the waiting room with a fake smile stuck to his face. Elaine was crying. “You’re mother is not going to make it, Miss Norris.” He said. “Also, your sister has been kidnapped. So sorry.”
A car passed them in the fast lane. Abby banged on the window and screamed. The man who was probably not a cab driver ignored her. The other driver also ignored her. There were no other cars nearby at this time in the afternoon.
Abby knew that if you were stuck in the trunk you were supposed to kick the tail lights out, but she wasn’t sure what protocol was for a back seat kidnapping. She wished momentarily that he had put her in the trunk then realized how stupid that wish was. She turned around and watched out the back window as the town grew smaller and the fields grew wider.
A tiny speck that seemed to be a car was coming from the direction of town but rapidly growing larger. Abby watched it. It looked odd for it to be increasing in size when the rest of the world was falling away. Abby measured the speck’s progress against the telephone poles next to the road.
Soon it was only five poles behind them. It was a small black car that looked like it shouldn’t be able to go so fast. Abby glanced over the man-who-was-not-a-cab-driver’s shoulder. The speedometer was hovering just above eighty. The black car behind them had to be going over a hundred.
Three poles behind, Abby could begin to see details of the person in the driver’s seat. It was a man. A young man with brown hair.
Two poles behind. It was a man with piercing dark eyes.
One pole behind. Professor James looked her right in the eye and motioned for her to stay silent. Abby continued to look out the back window, shifting to block the view of the small black car, in case the man-who-was-not-a-cab-driver turned to see what she was looking at.
The small black car pulled up next to them. Professor James picked up a black box, like a thin remote control, from the passenger seat and aimed it at the cab.Hold on, he mouthed to her.
Abby buckled and grabbed a hold of the plastic handle on the door. BOOM. A burst of smoke poured from the engine and smothered the front window. The car rocked and weaved, slamming Abby’s side into the door. She held her breath. “So sorry, Miss Norris,” the imaginary doctor said to her sister. “Your sister was killed in a deadly car crash while being kidnapped.”
The car slowed as the cursing man (who was not a cab driver but had the vocabulary of one) let up on the gas and let the car roll to a stop. They were engulfed in smoke. Abby unbuckled her seat belt and tried the door again. She looked out the back window. Smoke. The man opened his driver’s door and disappeared into it to look at the engine. A shout. CLANG. Something slammed against the hood of the car.
Professor James appeared at her window and opened the door. Smoke poured into the cab. He reached in and helped her out as she coughed and sputtered.
They emerged from the billowing cloud and climbed into his waiting car. Professor James slammed the car into drive and rapidly accelerated. Within seconds they were pushing ninety. Abby put her seatbelt on and wondered if she might die in a crash after all.
Professor James glanced in the rearview mirror. His eyes were steel. He gripped the wheel as though it would try to get away.
Abby shook, every muscle in her body moving with involuntary spasms. Her teeth chattered. She leaned back on the seat and took deep breaths.
Professor James glanced at her and his eyes softened. He reached into the back seat with one hand and found his jacket, tossing it over her. “You’re safe now.” He said. “Everything’s going to be ok.”
Abby wanted to ask what was happening but she couldn’t form the words through her chattering teeth.
“You got a text message saying that your family was in danger, right?”
Abby nodded. “M-my mom.”
“It’s a lie, your family is fine. Abigail, your family is just fine, nothing has happened. So don’t worry.”
They were still driving out of town. Abby observed this as her nerves began to calm and she breathed at a normal rate again. She was still shaking but she had control.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
He glanced at her and saw the worry in her eyes. “We can’t go back to the school just yet. You’re still in a little bit of danger.”
“You said everything would be ok.”
“And it will be.”
Several minutes later they pulled off at a small town exit and parked at the hotel. Abby had stopped shaking but her muscles were like jelly. Even her eyelids were exhausted. When he had turned the car off she found she could barely move. Professor James came around, opened her door and helped her out of the car. He supported her with a gentle arm around her shoulders and they made their way inside.
He spoke to the desk clerk. Abby’s vision was blurred and even sounds were muffled as if through a fog. Somehow they made it to the room and Abby sat on the edge of the bed.
“I’m going to sit up and keep watch. Go to sleep.” He pulled a chair over and sat in front of the door. She pulled off her shoes and fell asleep the second her head was on the pillow.