What I’m Writing This Week
This week filmmaking teens Tessa and Eric become tangled in an Amber Alert situation. Did they find the abducted baby?
“The Amber Alert” features two of the teens from my Film Crew series. In book 1, Off-Road, the teens film an off-road race in the Mojave Desert while environmental activists sabotage their film shoot. You can find it on Amazon.
The Amber Alert
Four p.m. on a December afternoon, outside a mall packed with holiday shoppers, Tessa Warren balanced her film camera in her right hand, the camera bag over her shoulder, a tripod leaning against her leg. Thanks for being late, Eric. She panned the camera across the temporary skating rink set up alongside the mall entrance. Little kids shuffled around on the ice. Collided with each other. Cried to be picked up. Fell down again. Not exactly a winter Rockefeller Center skating rink scene.
Eric Pyne ran up. “Hey, Tessa.”
“About time you got here. Do you not remember our school video project on the insanity of the Christmas holiday is due in a week?”
“Detention. What can I tell you?”
“Again? You’ve got more than the entire junior class combined.”
Eric shrugged. He held up his phone. “There’s an Amber Alert! I got the text message before I left school.”
Tessa continued to film the skating rink. “Oh, they alert you directly now, huh?”
“Yeah, actually they do. I put an Amber Alert button on my phone, and it triggered the alert. It happened a few miles from here.”
She looked up. “Seriously?”
“A supermarket on Ventura Blvd. Only two hours ago. They grabbed a baby and drove off in a black SUV.”
“Help me with this tripod, will you? I want some shots of the outdoor decorations before it gets too dark.”
Eric put the tripod on his shoulder while Tessa carried the camera.
“What if we could help catch them?”
“They’re probably miles away by now,” Tessa said. “If a black SUV traveled for two hours at sixty miles an hour, that would put them a hundred and twenty miles away. A mile a minute for two hours… who said we don’t need math?”
“They could still be around,” he said.
“Let’s get this done. We need the footage for the school video.”
Tessa set her camera on the tripod and focused on a cluster of giant red and white holiday trees.
“That’s an ugly shot,” Eric said.
“That’s the point. The malls are making the holidays uglier every year.”
Tessa started her shot with a close up of one tree, then pulled back slowly to take in the entire display. “I’m afraid the shot is going to be grainy. I had to open it to let it more light.”
“Let’s get some shots inside now.”
Before they stepped inside, Eric motioned toward the parking lot.
“What if the people who took the baby stayed in the area?” he said. “What if they tried to get lost in the holiday shopping crowds?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
They snaked themselves through the crowds inside the mall.
“Where do they all come from?” Eric said.
“They come down out of the hills,” Tessa said. “The once-a-year shoppers. You won’t see them here again till next holiday.”
Holiday music hit them from every angle. Hip hop versions from a teen clothing store. Standards from the mall speakers. Women singing jazz tunes from a boutique. And down at the mall center, live music from a group of carolers.
“Let’s shoot the carolers before they stop singing,” Tessa said.
“How about we shoot them to make them stop singing,” Eric said.
“Violence is an unacceptable solution.”
Eric watched a family walk by, the mom holding a little baby close. “Who could steal a baby?”
“Let’s hope at least it’s someone who wants a baby of their own,” Tessa said, “and not some creepy predator.” She scanned the mall.
“Let’s go up to the second level. I can get a better shot from up there.”
At the top of the escalator they elbowed through the crowd to get a position at the rail. Eric spread the tripod legs while Tessa set her white balance for indoor lighting.
Tessa tilted the camera down to get footage of the carol-singing on the level below.
“Getting any good shots?”
“Decent enough,” she said. “Now I want shots of the crowds. From the shoulders down so I don’t have to worry about signed releases.”
Eric tapped the tripod. “I need to pee. I’ll be right back.”
He headed down the mall to the nearest bathroom. As he washed his hands, a man came in with a crying baby. He put the child down on a changing table, then dug through a small bag.
“Damn,” the man said. Turning to Eric, he said, “Where can I buy a diaper here? My girlfriend didn’t show up.”
Eric shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe one of the big department stores.”
“Watch the baby, will you, while I take a leak.”
The man turned his back for a few moments. This is weird, Eric thought. Out with no diapers? Keeping one eye on the man, Eric took out his cell phone and got a few shots of the baby. The little thing was crying harder now.
The man washed up, grabbed up the baby and the bag, and walked out without a word of thanks. Eric followed.
He saw the man dash quickly to the escalator and head for the mall exit.
How long does it take to pee?
Eric grabbed his cell phone and phoned Tessa while he kept an eye on the man and baby.
“I need you here,” she said. “How long does it take to pee?”
“Meet me at the mall exit. Where we came in earlier. Hurry. There’s a man with a baby and he’s acting weird.”
“All men act weird with babies,” she said. “They’re clueless. Come back here and help me.” She hung up.
Eric continued to follow the man as he exited out into the parking lot.
Dodging the cars that prowled for an open parking spot, Eric kept his eyes on the man till he stopped at a black SUV. Eric felt the hair stand up on his neck. Could this be real?
Eric casually walked down the row of parked cars so he could get near the back of the parked SUV. Holding his phone low, he snapped a photo of the license plate.
The man had opened the passenger door and was laying the baby on the seat. Wait… no child seat! This wasn’t right.
He started to call Tessa again, but the man slammed the car door and stepped around to get in the driver’s side. No time, Eric thought. He walked a few steps away from the SUV and dialed 911. “I think I know where the Amber Alert baby is,” he almost shouted. “The mall parking lot. Hurry.”
“Slow down,” the emergency operator said. “What’s your name?”
“And where are you calling from, Eric?”
“The mall parking lot.” He looked around. “Near a light pole that says section P3. There’s a black SUV here with a baby in it.”
“Son, how old are you?”
“Sixteen… come on, you have to hurry.”
“Why do you think this is the missing baby?”
“The man just laid the baby on the front seat. No child seat. And I followed him from the mall bathroom. He had no diapers for the baby. The baby is screaming.”
“Okay, slow down,” the 911 operator said.
“No, he’ll drive off in a minute. I got pictures of the baby and the license plate.”
“You have pictures?”
“Wait, give me your email address. I’ll send you a message. When you get the message, reply and attach the pictures. And stay on the line.”
“Okay. Just hurry.” Eric dashed over under the parking lot light pole to see his phone more clearly.
The message came through right away. He attached the pictures and hit Send.
The operator said, “We may have a match. I’m sending a police officer. Please step away to ensure your own safety.”
Eric’s phone buzzed. He put the operator on hold to take Tessa’s call.
“Where are you?”
“Out in the parking lot. Section P3. I got the Amber Alert kidnapper right here! The police are coming!”
“On my way.”
The black SUV started to back out of the parking spot. Eric panicked. Where is everybody? A car coming up the parking lot lane signaled to take the spot of the exiting SUV. But as the SUV backed out, another car from the opposite direction also signaled for the spot.
Yes, thought Eric. He’s blocked in for a few minutes while the two cars fight over the spot.
Tessa ran up behind him. She shoved the tripod at Eric. “That him?” she pointed with her camera.
“Yeah, move around and get a shot of the driver, if you can.”
“It’s getting dark, and the windows are tinted,” she said.
Eric spotted a police cruiser move into the lane. He turned to see another from the opposite direction. Eric waved to them. Red and blue flashing lights lit up the lane.
“The cops are here!”
The SUV driver’s door flew open. The man jumped out and ran forward to another lane. Tessa ran after him, her camera running.
The best she could do was a profile of his side. The man ran under the parking lot lights for a moment and Tessa’s shot brightened.
The sound of the baby’s wailing filled the air.
Then he was gone. “Black sweatshirt and jeans,” Eric yelled. Two officers ran off in pursuit. The other two approached the SUV. Guns drawn, they stepped up slowly. The door was still open, and the sound of the baby’s wailing filled the air.
“All clear,” one officer shouted. An ambulance now pulled into the lane. The two cars vying for the parking spot were now totally blocked in.
An officer waved the EMT over to check the baby. She wrapped it in a blanket and carried it to the ambulance.
Eric and Tessa approached the officer. “Is it the Amber Alert baby?”
“You the kid who called it in?”
“Nice work, kid. Step over here so I can get your name and address.”
“What about the kidnapper?”
“They’ll run him down. We got his car and his plate number.”
“I recorded him,” Tessa said, holding up her camera.
The officer looked at her. “I’ll have to take the memory card.”
Tessa ejected it from the camera. “Can I get it back? I’ve got other footage I need for a school project.”
“Probably not. We’ll need to hold it for evidence.” The officer pocketed the memory card.
Eric smiled. “Tessa, we did good!”
“Yeah, we did,” Tessa said. She high-fived Eric. “This holiday isn’t ugly after all.”