It was the perfect spot, he thought, looking around appreciatively. Nice, quiet little park on a Tuesday afternoon. He took a seat on a bench about fifty feet from the two kids’ play areas. One was clearly meant for toddlers and the other for older kids. He settled in for a wait, although he really didn’t think it would take that long.
He was right. About fifteen minutes later he saw exactly what he was looking for. A little girl about three years old had wandered off by herself to look at a flowering shrub that grew near the swing set. She was a pretty little thing, with curly blonde hair, a red T-shirt and denim shorts. Cute red-and-white sandals too. He watched her for about five minutes. Nope – no adult. Just what he wanted.
He waited a few more minutes to be sure the little girl was alone. She was. He saw the perfect opportunity when she sat down on one of the swings. He walked over, sat on the swing next to her and said, ‘Hi.’
She looked up and smiled at him. ‘I have new sandals,’ she said proudly, pointing to her feet.
‘They’re very pretty,’ he said.
‘But there’s dirt on them.’
He was just getting ready to answer when a woman, probably the girl’s mother, rushed up. She had the same blonde hair and fair skin. She glared at him and pulled the child off the swing and towards her.
‘Are you OK, Baby?’ she asked anxiously, looking closely at the little face and smoothing the ruffled hair.
‘I want to go on the slide,’ was the little girl’s answer.
The woman looked at him again, her eyes narrowed. ‘You leave my daughter alone, you pervert!’ she hissed. ‘I’m going to call the cops!’
‘You don’t have to,’ he answered, reaching into his pocket and pulling out his police ID. ‘I’m Officer Campbell.’
‘I don’t understand. Did something happen?’ The woman drew back, not sure any more how to react. She hugged the little girl closely to her, despite the child’s wriggling to get free.
‘No, not yet it didn’t. But it could have. I’m part of a special police detail. It’s a new program. We’re working to increase child safety in public places like this. We come to different parks and playgrounds to patrol and to educate parents. I hate to put it like this, but you just set your little one up to be snatched or worse.’
The woman’s face crumpled as she began to see the risk she’d taken. ‘But I didn’t leave the park or anything,’ she tried to explain between sniffs. ‘I just went to the car to get her jacket.’ She waved the little red jacket clutched in her hand. ‘I was only gone for a minute.’
‘A minute’s all it takes, Ma’am. You were lucky this time. Another time you might not be so lucky. You need to keep your daughter in sight all the time. You don’t know who could be in a place like this.’
‘I’m not a bad mother,’ the woman insisted, becoming more defensive as she spoke. It was clear she’d been shaken by what could have happened.
‘I’m not judging you, Ma’am. I’m just trying to keep kids like your little girl here safe.’
‘I know,’ the woman said, slightly mollified. She whisked a tear from one eye, took her daughter’s hand securely and said, ‘Don’t worry. Lesson learned.’ Then the two of them turned to walk away. He could hear the little girl saying, ‘Slide, Mama, I want the slide,’ as they left.
Campbell wasn’t perfect, but he had the fairly strong feeling that this woman really had learned her lesson. He hoped so anyway. He watched them a minute or two longer and then returned to the bench where he’d been sitting.
Lydia had been sitting for the last forty minutes on another bench, next to the toddler tunnels. They were strung together to look like train cars, and she could see a few little ones sitting in two of the cars. There was another one pretending to drive the train. She’d have preferred an infant, but there were none here today. Well, that was all right. A toddler would be fine. She got up to see what the children looked like. Three little boys, two little girls. A little boy, she thought. A son. Yes, that was it! A lot of people wanted sons. That dark-haired boy in the driver’s seat would be just the thing. He had a cute smile and he looked healthy. He’d do very well. The path seemed clear, too. She didn’t see any adult near him.
She patted the right front pocket of her jeans; yes, she’d remembered the candy bar. Then she looked round – yes, the coast was clear. Nobody was watching her. That’s when she noticed the man by the swings. He was talking to that little girl in the red shirt. Was he – ? But no, here came the mother. Looked like- wait! That was a badge he was showing her. He was a cop! Damnit! That was all she needed – a cop! Well, at least he hadn’t seen her. Or had he? She didn’t think so but you couldn’t be sure. Best get out of here. No sense taking any risks.
She drifted slowly and easily past the slide, where that woman she’d seen waited at the bottom for her daughter to go down. Then she moved towards the trees that lined the path into the park. After all, she thought as she walked towards her car, there were plenty of other parks.
Not all terrible crimes are murders…
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a Moody Blues song.