I buzzed the door phone. ‘Announce yourself, www.sportaround.ru please. '
‘It's Donald, Mama. '
‘What are you doing here? '
‘I've come to see Priss. '
‘You can't see her. '
‘I'll see her if I have to bust this door downt'
I reached up and set off the Argus Patrol's ‘Mayday! ' ‘Donald, I will not let you enter this house. '
‘Try and stop me! ' He started kicking the door.
Priscilla came running downstairs, started to open the front door. I grabbed at her; there was a scuffle, we both went down.
I'm no fighter. Fortunately Priscilla was not trained, either. Brian had taught me just one thing: ‘If you have to do it, do it fast. Don't wait'
As she was getting up, I punched her in the stomach - no, the solar plexus. She went down and lay there, trying to gasp air.
I heard from outside, ‘Mrs Johnson! Argus is here:
‘Nab him and take him away! I'll call you. '
‘Nab who? '
‘Uh -‘ Priscilla was trying to get up again. I punched her in the same spot; she went down the same way. ‘Can you wait around for twenty minutes or a half-hour? He might come back. '
‘Certainly. We'll stay as long as you need us. I'll call in. '
‘Thank you, Rick. It is Rick, is it not? '
‘Rick it is, Ma'am. '
I turned round, grabbed my daughter by the hair, lifted her head, and snarled at her. ‘Crawl upstairs, go to your room, and stay there! If I hear another peep out of you, I'll punch you again. '
She did exactly as I told her to, crawled away, sobbing, and crept upstairs, slowly. I made sure all doors and windows on the ground floor were locked, then I called Dallas.
I explained to Brian in bitter detail what had happened since I had last called him to report on our children, what I had tried to do, what had actually happened. ‘Brian, I can't cope with them. You must come and get them. '
‘I want no part of either one of them. I was relieved when they ran away. Good riddance, '
‘Brian, they are your children and you have custody. '
‘Which I happily turn over to you. '
‘You can't; it takes a court to do that. Brian, since I can't handle them, if you won't come for them - or send someone for them - all I can do is have them arrested -‘
‘On what charges? Sassing you? '
‘No. Delinquency. Incest. Use of drugs. Possession of drugs. Running away from custodial parent, Brian Smith of Dallas, Texas. ' I watched his face as I read off what I would tell the juvenile court. He did not flinch when I said ‘Incest' so I concluded that it was no news to him. He did not flinch until I named his name and city.
‘What! The newspapers would have a field day! '
‘Yes, in Dallas I imagine both the News and the Times Herald would feature it. I don't know whether the Kansas City Star would touch it or not. Incest is a bit whiff for their editorial policies. Particularly incest involving a sister with two of her brothers, August and Donald. '
‘Maureen, you can't mean this. '
‘Brian, I'm at the end of my rope. Priscilla knocked me down not twenty minutes ago and Donald has been trying to break down the front door. If you won't come here by the very next rocketplane, I am calling the police and swearing out warrants, all those charges - enough to get them locked up at least long enough for me to dose this house and get out of town. No half measures, Brian. I want your answer, right now. '
Marian's face appeared beside his. ‘Mother, you can't do that to Gus! He didn't do anything. He told me so, on his honour! '
‘That isn't what they say, Marian. If you don't want them saying it on the witness stand, under oath, Brian will come here and get them. '
‘They're your children. '
‘They are Brian's children, too, and he has custody. Six years ago, when I left them with you, they were well-behaved children, polite, obedient, and no more given to naughty spells than any growing child. Today they are incorrigible, uncivilised, totally out of hand. ' I sighed. ‘Speak up, Brian. What will you do? '
‘I can't come to KC today. ‘
‘Very well, I'll call the police and have them arrested. Have them taken in and then swear out the warrant, the criminal charges. '
‘Now wait a minute! '
‘I can't, Brian. I'm holding them off temporarily with the patrol, the private police who watch this neighbourhood. But I can't keep them here tonight; she's bigger than I am and he's twice as big. Goodbye; I've got to call the cops. '
‘Now hold it! I don't know how soon I can get a ship. '
‘You can hire one; you're rich enough! How soon will you be here? '
‘Uh. .. three hours'
‘That's six-twenty, our time. At six-thirty I'm calling the cops:
Brian got there at six-thirty-five. But he had called me from the field in North Kansas City well before the deadline. I was waiting for him in my living-room with both children. .. and with Sergeant Rick of the Argus Patrol and Mrs Barnes, the Patrol's office manager, who doubled as matron. It had not been a pleasant wait; both rent-a-cops had been forced to demonstrate that they were tougher than teenage children and would brook no nonsense.
Brian had taken the precaution of fetching four guards with him, two men, two women, one pair from Dallas, one pair from Kansas City. That did not make it legal but he got away with it because no one - I least of all I - cared to argue technicalities.
I saw the door close behind them, went upstairs and cried myself to sleep.
Failure! Utter and abject failure! I don't see what else I could have done. But I will always carry a heavy burden of guilt over it.
What should I have done?