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The Pied Piper

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The train left the station headed for nowhere, its destination also
its point of embarkation, its purpose not to transport its
passengers, but to feed them.

By early March, western Washington neared the end of the rinse
cycle, a nearly perpetual curtain of ocean rain that blanketed the
region for the winter months, unleashing in its wake a promise of
summer. Dark, saturated clouds hung low on the eastern horizon.
Well to the west, where the sun retreated in a violent display, a
glimpse of blue cracked the marbled gray, as welcome to the
residents of Seattle as any sight alive.

Arrival at the dinner train surprised Doris Shotz. She had thought
her husband Paul was taking her to Ivar's, one of Seattle's more
popular fish house chains. A simple dinner date had presented her
with a test of sorts, being that it was her first evening leaving
her four-month-old baby girl, Rhonda, with a sitter. She'd finally
decided she could handle an hour or two a flew blocks away from
home. But an entire evening stuck on a train in the woods was
unimaginable, unthinkable!

"Surprised?" he asked, dispalying the tickets proudly.

On the verge of total panic Doris reminded herself that Julie was
an experienced sitter, having taken care of Henry for the last
year, as responsible a fifteen-year-old as one could ask for.
Better to give Paul his moment than to start a fight.

They'd been talking about the dinner train for years. And Doris had
to concede that over the last nine months, Paul had been a saint.
She owed him.

"I can't believe it!" she said truthfully.

"I know. You didn't guess did you?"

"Not for an instant. I promise: It's a complete surprise."

"Good." He reached down and took her hand and squeezed. She felt
flushed. She wanted to be home with the kids.

"All aboard," he said.

The train lurched. Doris Shotz shifted to avoid spilling the cheap
champagne that Paul had ordered. Although she didn't want to drink
while nursing, she knew Paul would consider it an act of defiance
to say no to any part of the celebration, and given that she had
already gone this far to please her husband, she wasn't going to
let one glass of champagne ruin the evening. When the train turned
east the frosted mountains flooded crimson with the sunset, Paul
said with obvious satisfaction, "This is a long way from the
backside of a computer."

Paul repaired PCs for Micro System Workshop, a name his employer
had invented because it could be reduced to MS Workshop, and in an
area dominated by Microsoft those two initials meant dollars. Paul
drove a blue MS Workshop van around the city, crisis to crisis,
fire to fire: hard drives, networks, IRQ ports- Doris had heard all
the buzzwords enough times to think she might be capable of a
repair or two herself.

Paul provided for them adequately. He loved her in his own way. She
loved him  

too, though differently than she once had. Now the children
absorbed most of her time and much of her love too. She wasn't sure
exactly how to categorize her love for Paul; she simply knew that
she would always be at his side, would attempt to put up with his
moods. But the truth was that she lived for her children, Rhonda
and Henry. She had never before known such a complete feeling. It
warmed her just thinking about it.

She politely refused a refill of champagne as she watched her
husband's cheeks redden behind the alcohol's effects. Clearly
carried away with happiness and the light buzz that came from the
champagne he talked at her, but she didn't hear. Boys and trains,
she thought.

"Do you think I should call home?" she asked him.


She motioned to the rear of the train car. "There's a pay phone.
Cellular. I could call them."

"You know how much those things cost? Fifteen minutes, Doro," he
pointed out, checking his Casio and saying sarcastically, "we've
been gone a whole fifteen minutes!" He leaned closer and she could
smell the sweet alcohol on his breath, a smell that reminded her of
the occasional drunken violence that Paul had sometimes brought
with him to their bed. "They're fine. Julie's perfectly

"You're right," she said, offering him a fragile smile. He nodded
and stared out the window. She felt sick with anxiety.

It occurred to her that in a few minutes she could excuse herself
to go to the bathroom and use the phone. Paul would probably never
know. The champagne bottle's white plastic cork rolled noisily at
his feet. The train clattered past condominiums that reminded her
of a Monopoly board. A few of the couples had dressed for the
occasion, though most wore jeans and sweatshirts. It wasn't exactly
the Orient Express.

It soon became clear that Paul's romance was with the train rather
than her. Flushed cheeks pressed to the glass, his right foot
tapping quickly as it always did when he drank in excess, her
husband disappeared into the alcohol and she retreated into
thoughts about her children.

Ten minutes passed with minimal conversation. Doris excused herself
and made the call home. It rang and rang, but there was no

Wrong number, she decided. At those prices-$3.95 for the first
minute, $.99 each portion of a minute thereafter-Paul was certain
to catch the charge on the credit card bill. But so what? She
pressed: NEW CALL. She redialed, again suffering under the weight
of its endless ringing. She could envision Julie busy with a
diaper, or in the middle of feeding. It didn't necessarily mean
trouble . . .

A fire, she thought. Paul's home entertainment center-a sports
center was more like it-crowded the outlets with far too many
wires. What would Julie do in a fire?

The knot in her stomach twisted more tightly. Her fingers went cold
and numb. Julie might be in the bathroom. Nothing more than

her imagination wouldn't let it go. Perhaps Julie had a boyfriend
with her in the house. In that case, she wouldn't be paying
attention either to the kids or the phone. Doris stole a look
around the corner and down the shifting train car's center aisle to
the back of her husband's head. She had already been gone a few
minutes, and it would ruin everything if he caught her at the pay
phone. She had promised him she would wait to call until after

She hung up the receiver, deciding to slip into the washroom and
then try again when she came out. But she emerged only to find
someone else using the phone, ironically a mother happily talking
to her children.

When the woman hung up, Doris tried again. This time the phone's
endless ringing seemed a kind of punishment for trying at all. She
glanced up the aisle at Paul, but now all she could think about was
that there was something terrible going on. She decided to call her
neighbor Tina who answered on the second ring.

Doris concentrated on removing any panic from her voice. "Tine,
it's Doris. I have a really weird favor to ask of you . . ."

In her mother's heart she knew: Something was dreadfully

(c) Copyright 1998. Ridley Pearson Published by


The Pied Piper
by by Ridley Pearson

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786889551
  • ISBN-13: 9780786889556