SEE TO BILLY
By I. C. Talbot
Dave and Sue Winton considered themselves lucky, with a capital L. Sue entered a drawing for a new van by dropping a form into a box, and doggone if she didn't win it!
The small economy car they owned was on its last legs, and crowding their six kids into it for a trip even to the grocery store was a chore. Not only was there a problem with where to put all the groceries they bought, but the younger ones wanted to sit by a window, or ride up front with Mommy and Daddy.
The latter was solved by letting the littlest, Billy, sit near his mother, because the minute the car got a good start and everyone was settled, Billy was off to dreamland.
To sit by a back window meant getting there first.
All six kids were born healthy, stayed healthy, weren't too hard on their clothes with three girls and three boys, hand me downs were common. No one said: "I don't like that," where food was concerned, all had hearty appetites, and Sue was a good cook, having been presented with cook books early in their marriage, with special sections on good, but nourishing low cost meals.
Today, they were taking their new van into the City forty miles away, for Christmas shopping.
They sold their old car to a young man in their neighborhood for enough to allow a shopping spree without dipping into either their Christmas Club or their savings.
Everyone enjoyed the shopping while Billy, the youngest, ogled at the toys, Santa, decorations, trees. He spent almost the entire day just looking. Billy was three, going on four quiet, not too talkative. He had little chance, with five others chattering all the time. He was an easy keep child, and Ellen, the oldest, Bobbie, Leeann, Davie and Chrissie all adored him.
He returned their affection.
For growing kids, they seemed able to function together with little friction. Their parents were grateful. Six kids could be an awful handful if they didn't get along.
When they were exhausted from shopping, Billy was still gawking at the windows of the stores when they reached their parked van.
The stroller Sue had taken along in case Billy tired, but hadn't, was loaded with packages.
They slid the van door open, loaded first the packages from the stroller, then the stroller itself. All the kids helped in loading, except Billy, who was still fascinated by the display in the window across the span of sidewalk.
"See to Billy," Sue directed without turning her head or speaking to anyone in particular as she entered the van. Everything was loaded, everyone seated, the doors closed. They were soon out in heavy traffic.
Billy stood against the telephone pole, deep in scrutiny of the window, attracted by a stuffed puppy. He turned to call his mother's attention to the window, only to find Mother was gone! The van was gone! Ellen, Bobbie, Leeann, Davie and Chrissie were gone! Daddy was gone!?
Billy hugged the telephone pole, tears as big as marbles sliding down his cheeks. His family was gone, and he was left all alone!
Minutes later, the store closed, and legs attached to the shoppers and then the store employees passed by his telephone pole. No one seemed to notice the little boy leaning against the pole, sobbing his heart out.
Millie's move to the City was just prior to the holidays on Thanksgiving weekend, in fact. She found an apartment, invested in a month's rent, deposit, utility connections, and had no trouble finding a job at one of the larger department stores. WalMart was a fairly new store in town, just down the street from the store next to the curb along which Dave had parked.
Today Millie had a question for her supervisor, and remained behind as the others rushed off on their way home. Now she, too, was ready for the walk to her apartment a few blocks away.
The apartment, like her job, was newly acquired. Millie had few possessions beside her warm smile and the ability to sell snow to the Eskimos. She was from a large family and this would be her first Christmas on her own.
As she explained to her mother, "I guess I either grow up and find my place in the world, or die by the side of the road."
Her mother laughed, "You may falter, my child, but I have every confidence in your making good even though we couldn't afford to send you to college. I know things will always go well for you."
So here she was, and here she would stay, until she could drive home in her own car, or invite her family to her neat apartment at some future date.
She stepped out of the doorway, and crossed the street at the light you don't jaywalk in the big cities, it costs you money.
Walking along the now deserted sidewalk, Millie heard some one crying it seemed to come from around that telephone pole, and she looked down.
A little boy's bright blue eyes, clouded with tears, met hers. Millie looked around for his mother, or someone but he was quite alone. She bent her head to his level. "Sweetie, where's your Mommy?"
Billy's tears welled afresh. "Everybody went away and left me!" he sobbed.
Oh, gee, thought Millie, opening her arms and the little boy walked into them.
Millie had dark brown hair like Ellen, she smelled good like Ellen, and suddenly Billie didn't feel so alone any more.
"Okay, its okay," whispered Millie in his ear. "What's your name?"
"What's your Daddy's name?" Whoops, thought Millie, that was a mistake, as Billy answered,
"What does your mother call him when she wants him to come to dinner?" she tried again.
"Honey." The blue eyes looked directly into hers. No help there, thought Millie.
"How old are you?" He held up three fingers, "going on" four fingers.
He was still clinging tightly to her neck, and Millie grabbed the telephone pole to steady herself, stood up, and up came Billy, too, still clinging tightly.
"Billy, I won't leave you, but I can't carry you, you're too heavy. Shall we walk to my house, where its warm and we can get something to eat?" she asked.
His grip loosened, and Millie slid him to the ground. "It's this way," and started off, holding his hand.
Just what I need, thought Millie, is a visitor. My only furniture is a table and two chairs, one overstuffed chair, a bed, dresser, and a six inch, black and white TV, a clock radio, no telephone. But I do have the next two days off, my shopping is all finished and sent home, so maybe I can get Billy back to his family.
Meanwhile, Dave and Sue were well on their way home. Worn out from shopping, the kids were quiet for a change. Dense snow driven by a brisk wind, blew against the windshield, and as this was Dave's first experience driving a van in the wind, he drove slowly as heavy gusts hit the van.
It was fast becoming slippery, and although the tires on the van were new, they were not snow tires. Dave relaxed a little in his seat, confident he could control the vehicle despite the wind.
Suddenly he was passed by a truck, which cut him short. The van went into a spin, and before he realized what had happened, they were off the road, the van on its side, sliding down a hill.
"Oh, God, hang on kids." he yelled, unable to do a thing to stop it.
They banged hard against a tree, the front doors popped open when the van was lifted into the air, and Dave remembered no more.
The kids were badly shaken; the youngest two, Davie and Chrissie, began to whimper. They were asleep when they were dumped against the windows, which miraculously did not break. Leeann was crying. Ellen and Bobbie were trying to crawl forward from the third seat toward the open passenger door.
The sight of their parents, on the ground just outside the open doorway, unconscious and bleeding, stopped them.
The driver's door was also open and bent back. Bobbie crawled over the seat, shut off the engine, and lifted himself up and out the doorway to sit on the side of the van.
"Ellen," he called, "pass the kids up to me. Is anyone badly hurt?"
No one seemed to think they were. Ellen handed up Davie, then Chrissie, and although she was still crying, Leeann climbed out, too.
Ellen also handed out the two blankets lying on the seat. She knew there was danger
of fire, but her parents were in no position to be moved, and she prayed there would be none.
"Can you smell gasoline?" she asked Bobbie.
"No, and I don't see any leaking either. I guess the gas
tank is on this side and slamming into the tree didn't hurt it." he answered, calming her a little.
"Okay. Let's see if we can get someone to help us with Mom
and Dad." She was looking down at their bodies in their uncom
"Where's Billy?" she asked suddenly. "WHERE IS BILLY?" she
screamed, hysteria rising in her voice. "He's not under the folks, at least I can't see him. Oh, Bobbie, he didn't fall out, did he, and is under the van?"
"He's got to be here someplace. I'll get some help, Ellen,
you keep looking. Kids, wrap those blankets around yourselves to keep the snow off," he told the girls.
Bobbie had just gotten down from the van when he was asked
if he needed help by a deep voice in a tall body on the slope above him.
"Yes, my folks are unconscious and we can't find my three
year old brother."
"Where was he when you last saw him?" "He was riding up front with my folks." "Sitting up or lying on the seat?" "I didn't actually see him. I was in the very back of thevan it has three seats."
They followed the path dug by the van as it slid down from
the road, but found no trace of Billy. As they reached the roadway, they heard the sound of sirens.
The two girls and Davie were standing with a woman on the berm of the road when the EMT Unit drove up.
The man with Bobbie conferred with the driver briefly, as the others went from door to door of the unit getting equipment to carry down to the van. Soon they were carrying Dave and Sue up the hill on stretchers.
"They're both unconscious, but there's no sign of heavy external bleeding. You children get in that ambulance just pulling up and ride to the hospital to be checked out."
Bobby resisted. "My little brother is missing and I'm not leaving here without him."
"We'll find him," a police officer at his elbow assured him.
"The wrecker is here and we'll get the van out in minutes."
"What if he's under it, crushed. You could kill him lifting the van." Bobbie was crying openly now.
"Son, I'll see that every precaution is taken before we move it an inch, I promise you. Go along, you don't look so good."
"I can't, don't you see that? Billy needs one of us here to be with him. He's never been alone before."
"Okay, go sit in the cruiser where it's warm. I'll keep you informed so you can comfort your brother when we find him."
He opened the cruiser door, cautioning, "Don't touch any thing," and ran to the wrecker, asking the driver to shine his light over all the terrain near the van.
Bobbie watched from the cruiser, but he saw no sign of Billy, nor did the officer or wrecker operator, before or after they moved the van.
On the way to the hospital, Ellen asked the others, more to get their minds off their parents' condition, "When and where did you see Billy last?"
By the time they reached the hospital (as no one was seri ously injured nor bleeding they were not breaking any speed records nor even using the siren), they all agreed the last time they saw Billy, he was entranced by a display in a store window. Ellen remembered her mother calling "See to Billy" as she was helping load the car and packages into the van.
"Who saw to Billy? Bobbie was in the van helping put the cart in. Leeann? Did you help him into the front seat?"
Leeann shook her head. "Davie?" who shook his head, too. As she went down the line, she was certain that if Bobbie hadn't put him in the front seat with his parents or he hadn't crawled in by himself, either up front or in back with the packages (and was still there), Billy had been left back in town. When she got to the hospital, she asked to speak to a police officer. The officer who was with her folks came to talk to her. She explained about Billy.
He took her out to the cruiser and made a call to the scene of the accident. The officer with Bobbie had signalled the wrecker to go out into traffic when he took the call.
Bobbie heard it. "Yes, we looked in the back of the van for Billy, but it was dark and there were purchases everywhere."
They took off after the wrecker, and Bobbie was soon looking in the back of the van. No Billy.
"I think he somehow got left in town, son," the officer com miserated. "I'll call the police there and see if someone has turned him in."
By the time Bobbie got to the hospital, he knew no little boy had been 'turned in'.
Dave regained consciousness and was arguing with the nurse that he must check on his children. He was assured they were all fine, and would be taken care of, not to worry. They did not tell him the youngest was missing. They were all quite certain Billy would turn up safe and sound.
Meanwhile, Millie and Billy were in her apartment, Billy was curled up in her easy chair while she was making hot chocolate and toast for him. He was watching a Christmas program on Millie's TV, half asleep, warm and well cared for.
After Millie fed him, she got him out of his coat and boots, put a pillow under his head and let him finish watching his program. When he was sound asleep, she took off his shoes, socks, shirt and trousers, put one of her T shirts over his undershirt and shorts and tucked him into bed.
There was a pay phone at the bottom of the stairs near the door in the apartment building. Millie took her spare change and placed a call to the police station, where there had just been a shift change.
The officer on duty knew nothing about the call from the hospital, but he dutifully made a report of a boy named Billy found by a girl with no phone number. He advised her to keep him until morning when they would send someone to unite Billy with his family. Unfortunately, he inverted the street number on his report.
Both lost boy and his 'finder' slept in. Billy was looking for the bathroom in the wrong direction, calling for Ellen to get up and get his breakfast, he was hungry, when Millie woke. He looked at Millie with surprise.
"I dreamed I lost everybody. Did I?"
"You just mislaid them for a while, Billy. But we'll find
them together. While you're having breakfast, you tell me all about your family."
Billy did. Although Millie didn't know their ages, she heard all about Chrissie and Davie, Bobbie and Leeann, and Ellen. Billy certainly liked Ellen, her name came up forty times more than any of the others. She wrote down all the names and other information she could gather from his chatter.
Millie realized it was almost ten o'clock, and the police officer said they would pick Billy up around eight. Hadn't he been missed yet by all those people whom Billy talked of so fondly?! Could something have happened? Millie couldn't believe they just walked away and forgot him. She darned sure knew how to find them!
When Millie was living at home, the local radio station disk jockey was able to find the owners of lost dogs, so why not the family of a lost boy?
"Come on, Billy, I think I know a way to get you home." She picked up her coin purse and headed down the stairs.
The operator gave her the local radio station number, and she dialed it.
"May I speak to someone about a very special Christmas story?" she inquired of the receiver.
"What kind of a story?" she was asked. "About a lost boy named Billy." "Is this some kind of a joke, maybe?"
"Do you have a newscaster?"
"May I have his name and may I speak to him, please, let him be the judge of whether this is a joke or not?"
"His name is Jack Clark. I'll put him on." Jack Clark believed her story. In fact, he sent a taxi over to bring her and Billy to the radio station.
Millie told her story again of finding Billy, the names of his brothers and sisters. Billy said they all went to school, so someone might recognize a family with six children with the youngest missing?
"Tell you what, Millie, you two can go on the air if my boss okays it. Wait 'til I get him."
Soon Millie was speaking into a microphone. Jack told her to tell her story in her own words.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," she began after Jack asked for his listeners' attention. "I work at Walmart in Pine Ridge. Last night I got off work, crossed the street, and heard a child crying. I looked down on the other side of a telephone pole and there were two bright blue eyes looking up at me through a veil of tears. He wore a bright red stocking cap, a blue jacket, blue sweat pants and brown four buckle artics. I stayed several minutes after work to talk to my supervisor, so the street was pretty clear of shoppers. There was no car parked near the little boy. He told me his name is Billy and he's three, going on four. We waited a while near the pole, but no one came looking for him. I live only a short walk from work, I took him to my apartment, fed him and he fell asleep. I tucked him in, called the police station, reported my find, gave my name and address to the Desk Sergeant. He said there was no report of a lost boy, could he stay with me for the night, and they would pick him up at eight this morning? They never came.
"From talking with Billy, I think he has two brothers and three sisters. Chrissie, Davie, Leeann, Bobby and last but most important to Billy is Ellen. You sound like a wonderful family, and I know something dreadful must have happened for you not to have reported him missing. I don't have a phone, so you can't call me, but if anyone knows Billy's last name and where he lives, will you please call Jack Clark at this station. Billy needs his family. Thank you."
As Jack Clark said later: "She handed me the microphone and the telephone rang. I think every student in every class those five kids attended and every teacher in their school called the station. But it wasn't until the tenth call or so that someone told us about the accident."
"It seems the officer at the desk who took Millie's call recorded her address incorrectly, and the Sergeant's report from the hospital was buried at the change of his shift."
Jack Clark took his phone off the hook long enough to get back on the air to report they now knew who Billy's family was and where to take him, and the calls could cease.
As Millie owned no car, Jack asked for a break long enough to drive them both to the Winton's.
The five Winton children were waiting at home, taken there by the police from the hospital, as no one was seriously hurt. Billy had the warmest welcome Jack ever witnessed. After everyone had hugged and kissed him, he sat on Ellen's lap, smiling contentedly at Millie and Jack. Ellen was not the sixteen or seventeen year old Millie had imagined, but a twelve year old whose responsibility rested heavily on her shoulders. When Jack mentioned he had to get back to the station,
Millie thanked him for his time, effort and support, said she hoped to see him again she certainly would listen to his radio station from now on but she was going to stay and help Ellen. Later, when she found Ellen in her room quietly sobbing, she was glad she stayed.
Ellen hadn't slept the previous night, she felt she had betrayed her mother's trust in not "seeing to Billy" and if something happened to her folks, how would they all stay together?
"Cry," Millie said. "It'll make you feel better. I'll get lunch and when you're cried out, let's check on your van. Better not let anyone make off with all those precious gifts. And your parents will need a vehicle when they get home."
Giving Ellen something else to think about, and with Millie helping, they found out where the van had been taken, that it was locked up, and everything inside was secure.
They could prepare an estimate of the damages for the insurance company, if Millie wished.
Millie questioned Ellen about car and hospitalizationinsurance her family might have.
Ellen said her mother kept all their records in a drawer in a filing cabinet. With five pair of eyes watching her (Billy was napping), Ellen slid open the file drawer. There were about fifty labelled files, and Car Insurance was clearly marked on one. The van was recently covered.
Millie called the Agency and reported the accident. They would send forms in the morning mail; meanwhile, an adjuster would look at the van. Their insuror would need a copy of the police report and the doctor's report on the injuries sustained, as they were covered, and 'thank you for calling so promptly.'
Next, Millie called the police department. When she identified herself, she was put through to the captain who apologized for his department's laxity, said he would be glad to put the accident report in the mail immediately.
"Merry Christmas to all the kids, their parents and especi ally to you, Millie, for your help."
Millie wasn't sure exactly what the insurance on the van covered, nor what injuries the parents had sustained. They had no hospitalization that she could discover, and she hoped Christmas wouldn't be grim for the family. She must get those gifts from the van. Who, she wondered, had the keys.
Millie was cleaning up lunch dishes when an ambulance with no lights blinking nor siren shrieking, brought the elder Winton's home. They both limped in surprised and happy that someone was with their children.
Millie asked if she could make coffee, if it wouldn't interfere with their medication?
"That would be fine," they chorused. "We thought we'd be coming home to starving and upset children just how do you figure in, young lady?" Mr. Winton asked.
Everyone started to explain at once until their father shushed them. "May I hear it from Millie, please?"
Between Millie and Bobby, the elder Winton's learned for the first time how Billy was lost, and how Billy was found.
When the story was finished, everyone except Millie was crying. She got hugs and thank you's from grateful parents and all the kids.
The coffee was poured, and Millie offered to make supper.
She explained she had tomorrow off, her parents were far away, she missed her large family and kids underfoot, and she was lonesome for company. She really would appreciate it if they allowed her to stay until she had to go back to work.
At dinner, she told Mr. Winton what she and Ellen did about the insurance and appraisers, that the van was locked and all their purchases safe.
"Millie, I always wanted a secretary. How are you at filling out insurance forms?" Mr. Winton asked.