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  • Illustration: Sweet Angelina

    • • • • •

    Papa came home at the usual time and walked into Angelina’s bedroom to find an empty bed. On the pillow he found a note. Simple and concise, the note read. Place 40 twenty dollar bills and 20 ten dollar bills in a duffel bag at the north end of the Palisades Park behind the last bench by 5pm tomorrow nite. If you ever want to see your little girl again, you’ll be there on time and no police. We’re watching. At first Papa cried out “No” loud enough for the neighbors to hear. Mama came running and sobbing and then the accusations. Where were you and what were you doing and when did this happen, until collapsing and sobbing in each others arms they vowed to get their baby back. Just like Yegg said, no matter what.

    Papa had set aside a small savings and Mama had pinched pennies here and there so together they had roughly $430.00. Far short of the thousand they needed. Papa had a friend he had worked with at McDonald Douglas during the war. She was a bookkeeper at Douglas and had invested in real estate all up and down the Wilshire Boulevard corridor. She had sold lots off a little at a time and had sold Papa his first property, holding the note. He’d ask her to advance him the money from the equity he had paid on the property and the amount would cover the ransom. Mama and Papa talked through the night whether or not they should call the police. Papa said most of the cops were on the take and they’d probably just make a bigger mess of things. Mama pleaded, but Papa held firm saying, "You can’t bargain or second guess a thief. We don’t know who or where they are and they have time on their side. We have no choice." Mama red eyed and sniffling agreed, so Papa took the next day off. Pulled an old duffel bag from the attic and stacked the dollar bills nice and neat with the 20’s and 10’s, mama had tied the bills in stacks. With the duffel bag in hand he took the red car line to the pier and walked the mile or so to the north end of the Palisades Park. He placed the duffel bag behind the bench and walked away, didn’t look back.

    Yegg and Seth watched as the man walked away and Yegg spots a young boy on a bike and says, “Son, you seem like a nice young man. I’ll give you $10 if you go pick up my duffel bag behind the bench. I forgot it and I’ve got this terrible blister on my foot”. The boy, who had never seen that much money altogether said “Sure”. He rode to the end of the park, picked up the bag and returned it to the old man. Yegg said to Seth under his breath, “Price of do'n business, heh, heh." The boy held the crisp bill in his hands and said “Gee, thanks mister” and off he rode.

    Yegg said, “Would love to tarry but we’ve a train to catch. Seth said, “What about the child?” Yegg said, “Ain't our problem no more.” Seth said, “I want my cut.” Yegg said, “now’s not the time.“ They took the bills from the bag and stuffed their pockets. Yegg grabbed the twenties and Seth the tens. They headed back to the rail yard at a fast pace. They needed to play it smart. Yegg saw a freight head’n east and started to run for it. Seth pretended to follow but he didn’t jump. He just waved and Yegg said under his breath “Damned fool”.

    Pretty soon the news hits the street. Child kidnapped from bed while mother sleeps. Newspapers telling how the ransom was paid but no word came back from the kidnappers. No phone call was made. No child found. They say sweet Angelina may be dead.

    Seth had been on his own for a number of days and had found a job on the construction site. Had shown up for work, the first day and was loading a cement mixer when low and behold he hears a tiny voice. He being the hero of the day, lowers another man down into the hole and little Angelina is saved.

    The child dirty, smelling of four days trauma is weak and is whisked away to the hospital for observation. Seth throws the bag in the debris pile and awaits the police to interrogate him. Clean cut, no beard, hair cut and showered, new shoes, a finer citizen you’d never see. Young strong man, work’n to get enough money to marry his sweetheart. Finding a debris sack. Work crew buy him drinks and celebrations all around. She’s found, she’s fine, just like Yegg said. Or is she? Seth couldn’t let go of the trauma he had caused and vowed to be a secret angel to the child. He got a job with the school district as a grounds keep and watched the young ones play, all accept Angelina.

    The child was fearful and inward. As a grounds keep Seth would organize play for the children at recess and knew each child by name. The teachers and children all loved him. One day Seth gave Angelina a gift. A very soft and small stuffed toy dog, as he handed it to Angelina he said, “His name is Bruno. He will protect you from any bad people that come your way. You hold onto him, here. Doesn’t that feel nice? Don’t forget, he’ll protect you.”

    Bruno sat by her at recess and slept with her at night. Angelina and her family had moved cross town after the kidnapping. Seth was reassigned several times and he watched Angelina grow. Seth hoped the terror had subsided but knew deep down the wound he inflicted had deeply harmed Angelina. Years slipped by and Angelina grew more timid by every change.

    Only Angelina knew the terror as each night she jumped to the bed and locked the window and vents in the room. Beneath the covers, eyes wide open, don’t move, don’t breathe, don’t cry or the bad boogeyman will get you. He lives in the walls, the vents, the closet, under the bed. He waits until your barely asleep and stands over your bed with a knife. Threatening to stab you if you call out. Every night the same ritual. Until one night with Bruno at her side. Laying there she said, “OK boogeyman. Every night you threaten to kill me or stab me. Go ahead and do it. Take me where you will. “ So again Old Yegg throws the bag over her head and again he carries her through the house. The hallway, the living room the fireplace and then down through the clean out hole in the fireplace to beneath the house into a huge dungeon with chains and chambers of terror, with children moaning. She wakes up and Old Yegg is gone. The next night, he’s no longer standing above her bed. He’s no longer calling from the vent.

    Angelina slips out of the bed and outside it is foggy and it’s early morning. She crawls out her bedroom window onto the garage roof and she looks out to a sea of grey mist. She can just make out the clock tower in downtown Santa Monica. A site she knew from long ago. She knows that she’s no longer afraid of the bad man, the boogeyman. The fear is gone. The worse thing that would happen is that he’d kill her and it’s so much worse to be tortured night after night than to die. She was nine years old and Bruno was at her side.
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