Lenny knew they would have to find the kids on their own. Someone else had to have seen a large group of children crossing the valley. He told the officers to take The Piper away. As the Police began to lead him away, he started to sing in a strange sad voice.
He was taken to the prison section below that they jokingly dubbed "The Dungeon". It was in the basement carved from earth and rock, a tomb-like room with a small barred window at ground level.
No one saw the Piper pick up his flute that had been lying on the table. The simple enchantment of distraction, he could do with his voice.
Lenny, in his many years on the force had seen some terrible things and even the Piper's sad personal situation did not justify him just handing over innocent children to some stranger. He said grimly to the Mayor he would have respected the guy more if he had taken them hostage to get the bill paid. At least The Piper could have given the children back unharmed for food or something. He could have gotten counseling. Now, who knows what happened to the kids? The mood in the room was grim.
The alarm was sounded too late. The Piper in the basement cell had summoned up with his flute all kinds of creatures to dig- and a massive hole in the wall, was all that was left. The dazed officer assigned to watch him said he saw the whole thing happen but couldn't do anything about it. By the time he could call out the Piper had been gone for a long time. Everyone who saw this believed that he would certainly warn the person who paid him. If things had been grim before, they were terrible now.
Lenny and his team worked long into the night with the other police across the valley. At first they thought the kids had to be in walking distance, maybe somewhere in the valley itself. But then the salesman said the Piper's music made him feel light, like he was floating- so maybe the kids walked farther than they usually would have while under his spell. They could still be under a spell somewhere. People were everywhere calling out names and banging on doors.
Evening came and still no leads. It seemed no one saw a thing! Lenny was feeling low and suffering from lack of sleep and hunger. He was an older man, okay fine an OLD man but, he told himself, he could still do this kind of work because it meant something. He was the best and if anyone could find the kids he could. He wondered if his fellow detectives had lost the confidence in him though. He felt useless, how could they feel more for him if he couldn’t feel it for himself.
He walked to the main entrance of the precinct and looked out to see if the local diner was open. They made a good prune danish. He hated to leave in case they got a phone call, some word on the children. He felt a chill, then a small draft- like a little breeze and looked up the stairs. It was dark up there, maybe a window was left open. It was well past office hours and the civilian employees had gone home or were on the search teams going door to door asking questions. He heard a strange noise. Lenny thought he was dreaming, but a tinkling sound of bells floated down the stairs and even carried to the desks in the other room and officers filtered out staring up and around and at Lenny. Maybe it was a message, maybe the kids were found?
"Lenny you rang?" they laughed, but still listened as the bells in the air grew more distinct. Some looked around out the door thinking they'd see a nocturnal ice cream truck drive by and suddenly the bells stopped. If they had known what to expect they would have been prepared but many simultaneously dropped their coffee and ruined multiple pant legs and shoes.
Lavender Mary had arrived.
She floated at the top of the main staircase, lighting the darkened area with an ethereal glow. Lenny's trusted team were not people who attended proms and wedding dances now- but somewhere in the misty past several recalled her. They thought they must have danced with her a long time ago as boys or swept past her and a partner on a dance floor somewhere in time.
As she came down the stairs she went back and forth in form. A skeleton in floating rags, then a melancholy young woman in a lavender tinged party dress, styled like the bittersweet past, long since faded. She came down the remaining stairs, the room filling with orchid milky light and sparkles. A smell filled the air- a mixture of sweet incense and.. soda pop? No one could place it and when they looked back on the memory, it always made them remember their youth both happy and sad.
Lenny chuckled. He remembered Lavender Mary. In fact he had never fallen out of love with her. Lenny wondered sometimes if she was the reason he had never been able to stay in a relationship. Her face never stopped haunting him. Under the rough detective exterior, he was a romantic.
Lenny had not only danced with her as a young man, but that night they sat on the veranda of his college ballroom and talked and laughed. They found they had a lot in common. Their likes and dislikes matched perfectly or in funny contradictions. While he was laughing he realized she was "the one" and looked forward to more nights like that one perfect night. He had driven Lavender Mary to her gate and dropped her off. She kissed him on his cheek and turned and walked away into the pitch black. He had lent her his jacket that night because it was chilly. When he returned the next day to get it back (a lame excuse to see her again he knew) he saw in the light of day where he was. Her black iron gate led to a small old overgrown graveyard. He wandered but seemed to be led right to her grave. His neatly folded jacket was lying on top. The grave marker had faded with time and acid rain, but he could make out the name Mary in beautiful carved script.
Now he smiled as she drifted close to him. Back then, at her grave he didn't smile, he wept, but now it was just a memory from long ago. He choose to remember her with the love he felt on that one perfect night although he never danced since. Lenny cherished the memory of dancing with her even though he knew he shared it with many men who danced with her. But in all the stories of her, no one said they talked with her- no one said they made her laugh.
In the fading light her bones shone through but as she came close it was the young girl again, who got her lavender dress from a charity barrel, and danced until it was rags. She died on the road walking home- that was the legend. Even if she had to walk for miles alone she wanted to come to dance. No one had known who she was, just a girl named Mary.
"Mary, pretty Mary, its been so long."
He smiled again because she smiled at him. It amazed him because she really looked alive, well somewhat alive. She was still floating and glowing. Her hair looked as though she was in water it seemed to be moving to its own unreal currents.
A mouse in a dark corner gazed at the twinkling lights and heard everything.
"My goodness Mary." "Lenny, my prince." "Some Prince- you ditched me remember? But I don't care, seriously it would have never worked. Me a man- you a ghost, what would we tell the real estate agent to look for? A nice little place with one foot in the grave?"
"Lenny, my prince."
"Some Prince- you ditched me remember? But I don't care, seriously it would have never worked. Me a man- you a ghost, what would we tell the real estate agent to look for? A nice little place with one foot in the grave?"
Everyone watching laughed.
"To what do I owe the honor of this visit?" "You know that I've watched you, and helped you, you just may not have known it."
"You know that I've watched you, and helped you, you just may not have known it."Mary’s voice seemed to trigger the tinkling of faint bells.
"I think I did know, I could tell when I got some help from above or below or wherever you live- no offense about the "below" comment- I just don't know about that kind of thing." "I'll show you everything one day." "I'd love that, I really would, but not too soon I hope, I'm still figuring stuff out here." "I came to tell you something. It's actually hard for me to be here where there is no music and dancing- it tires me. I don't know when I'll be able to come back now- but you mean so much to me- and that feeling brought me here. Something strange and frightening, something lovely for me to feel for you, to help you find what you have lost." "Mary you just gave me a creepy chill up my spine- what’s going on?"
"I'll show you everything one day."
"I'd love that, I really would, but not too soon I hope, I'm still figuring stuff out here."
"I came to tell you something. It's actually hard for me to be here where there is no music and dancing- it tires me. I don't know when I'll be able to come back now- but you mean so much to me- and that feeling brought me here. Something strange and frightening, something lovely for me to feel for you, to help you find what you have lost."
"Mary you just gave me a creepy chill up my spine- what’s going on?"
She spoke slowly but clearly, bells tinkling softly, "I went to what I thought was a party. The energy of people gathered together drew me out, but when I arrived I sensed something was wrong. It was fear that lit them at the core - lots of adults, happy, but not with happiness- it was wrong. Twisted music, frenzied dancing. They surrounded children, captive children I realized. I heard in the air that you were searching. I thought these might be the children you seek."
Check out the previous parts of Happily Ever Over right here.