"Pratt Elementary," she says.
Unless a kid is lucky enough to get into Cape October's exclusive public elementary school "for the gifted," officially called Pratt by the school board but snidely referred to as "Brat" by the parents of children who have not passed the stringent entrance exams; or unless a kid is rich enough to afford one of the area's two private preparatory schools -- St. Mark's in Cape October itself, and the Headley Academy in nearby Manakawa -- then the elementary school educational choices are limited to three schools, and the selection is further limited by that part of the city in which the student happens to live. Jamie has not spoken a word since his father drowned, but he and Ashley are bright as hell, and after the family moved down here both kids passed Pratt's entrance exams with ease.
"Hi," Alice says, "this is Mrs. Glendenning. Did my kids get on the wrong bus again?"
"Oh golly, I hope not. Which bus were they supposed to be on?"
"Let me see if I can reach him."
There is a silence on the line. Rosie raises an inquisitive eyebrow. Alice shrugs. She waits. The voice comes back on the line again.
"Harry says they didn't board his bus. He thought you might've picked them up."
"No, I didn't. Can you find out which bus they did board?"
"It might take some time to reach all of the other drivers. I got lucky with Harry."
"Last time, they called me from Becky Feldman's house. They got off there when they realized they were on the wrong bus. Would you know which route that might be?"
"I can check. Why don't you call the Feldmans meanwhile? I'll get back to you."
"Thanks," Alice says, and puts the phone back on its hook, and then opens the Cape October directory and looks under the F's for Feldman. She thinks Becky's father's name is Stephen, yes, there it is, Stephen Feldman on Adler Road. She dials the number, and waits while it rings once, twice, three times...
She can hear children's voices in the background.
"Hi, this is Alice Glendenning."
"Oh, hi, how are you?"
"I don't suppose my kids are there again, are they?"
"No, they're not," Susan says. "Did you misplace them again?"
"It would seem so. I don't suppose I could talk to Becky, could I?"
"Just a second."
She hears Susan calling her daughter to the phone, hears Becky approaching, hears her picking up the receiver.
"Hi, Becky, this is Ashley's mom."
"Oh, hi, Mrs. Glendenning."
"Did you happen to see Ashley and Jamie after school today?"
"No, I din't," Becky says.
"Getting on one of the buses maybe?"
"No, I din't."
"Okay, thanks a lot."
"Did you want to talk to my mom again?"
"No, that's okay, thanks, Becky, just tell her bye."
"Okay," Becky says, and hangs up.
Alice replaces the phone on the wall hook. It rings almost instantly. She picks up.
"This is Phoebe Mears at Pratt?"
"I checked with the loading area guard. Man named Luke Farraday. He knows both your kids, says somebody picked them up after school."
"What do you mean, somebody picked them up?"
"Around two-thirty, yes, ma'am."
"Well...who? Who picked them up?"
"Woman driving a blue car, Luke said."
"Picked up my kids?" Alice says.
"Woman in a blue car, yes, ma'am."
"I don't know anybody with a blue car," Alice says.
"What is it?" Rosie asks.
"Is he still there? The guard. Luke Whoever."
From Alice in Jeopardy, chapter 1, pages 3-23. Copyright © 2005 by Hui Corp. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.
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