Every week I’m required to do a “ride behind” one of my drivers – quality assurance and all that. This particular week, my co-worker, Amber, and I decided to tag team the ride in order to keep each other company.
We chose to meet the driver at the first stop after we picked up coffee and breakfast. We arrived at the address much too early, so following protocol, we moved away from the address and parked at a more public area to wait for the driver. At the corner of the street sat a small shopping center.
Thumbing through our phones and finishing off breakfast, I noticed a figure moving at the far end of the lot. “There’s someone over there,” I alerted Amber without turning my head. As it was still very early in the morning, dark outside, and we were the only car in the lot, I hoped the figure was a fluke.
After a moment, “Um… they’re coming closer.” I couldn’t ignore the figure anymore, but noticed it wasn’t getting much bigger. “Oh, god. I think it’s a child!?” He came closer to the car, following a wide arc that made him clearly visible from the driver’s window. His arms were wide apart, flapping up and down in the universal “SOS” cadence. Smart kid.
I rolled down the window, “Uh. Hi.”
“Hi, I think I’m lost?” He said.
“Uh, okay,” I stammered. Hell, I didn’t know what to say, I’d never been in such a situation. I looked the boy over – tennis shoes, pajamas, and a light wind breaker. “How did you get here?” I asked.
“I went for a walk and we come here all the time, but it looks different and I don’t know how to get back.” He took a step back. “Wait, why are you here?” Smart kid.
“My name is Mallory and this is my coworker, Amber. We work at [my employer] and we’re waiting on a delivery driver in a big truck so we can follow him. It’s part of our job.” After showing him our employee IDs, he seemed satisfied with out alibi.
My instincts were to invite him into the car and take him home, but I sensed that wouldn’t go over well. I also knew that me getting out of the car could come off as a threatening gesture. “How about we stay here, call the police, and we’ll all just wait until they get here?”
“That sounds like the best option.” This kid was funny and sensibly skeptical. I shuffled around, tripping over myself to right the phone.
“What’s that non-emergency 911 number?” I turned to Amber. We both drew blanks. Finally, the dumb jingle came to mind and I dialed the 863-8600 number. Meanwhile, Amber googled the boy and found an article. “He’s been missing since 10.30 last night,” she whispered while the phone finally clicked and a male voice came through from the other end.
“Hi, yes. Um… we have a boy here who is lost. We’re at the corner of [wherever we were, I forget]. His name is Daniel.” Immediately, I heard the phone being slammed down an the man called out from a distance, “We found him!”
I hung up the phone and shit you not, in less than a minute, six cop cars came flying down the hill to our location.
The first cop out of his car called the boy out by name. It was starkly aggressive, and even made the boy jump. The cop then grabbed him from under the armpit, half dragged him to the vehicle, and sat him in the back seat. Maybe that’s how they’re trained to handle those types of situations? I don’t know. I could see them talking from my side view mirror as another cop came over to ask us some questions. After they ran our license and we explained why we were lingering in an empty parking lot at 6AM, they let us go. Perfect timing, too. As the last police car drive off, we spotted the box truck we were waiting for come down the hill.
“The article’s been updated,” Amber said, thumbing through her phone.
“Technology,” I chuckled. “What a time to be alive.”
It was a weird morning.