He was different when he was dead, but while alive he was an idiot.
He needed money and of all the ways you can get some, legal and illegal, he chose to kidnap and hold to ransom a rural one teacher school — teacher and all. What a moron.
The minister for education volunteered to deliver the ransom — which took guts — no one considered him to be ‘just another politician’ after that. Before his phone went flat, THE KIDNAPPER didn’t turn up — couldn’t get the bus started — Miss Stephenson knew how to start the cantankerous machine, but she wasn’t about to help him. He got it going eventually, but by then the Minister and about a hundred well hidden, heavily armed police officers gave up on him and went home. THE KIDNAPPER didn’t have a plan B — didn’t have a phone charger either, so his phone died. He’d cut the school phone line — he probably saw that done on TV. With no way to contact the police, he panicked, not noticing the still functioning phone box outside the school.
He drove the bus towards the City until it ran out of fuel — parked it in a laneway and within an hour the area was awash with police. In the confusion, Miss Stephenson slipped away with five of the children. She would have gotten away with all of them but THE KIDNAPPER heard them, and she wisely left with the children she could save. He waived his rifle at her and the children, shouted at them, but didn’t fire. Miss Stephenson held her breath and didn’t look back.
The four kids I ‘saved’ were left behind. THE KIDNAPPER paced around the empty house and terrified the children before leaving by the back door when I banged on the front door — the rest has been well documented. That’s not strictly correct. You are one of the few people who know that I stumbled across the children.
Do you know how I pulled that off? The high point of my career? I was in the right place at the right time. I didn’t think they were there. I was banging on that door because someone had hemmed me in — parked so close that I couldn’t move my car. I was tired and pissed off, and I guess I sounded angry. The fuckwit must have thought I was the police and he legged it out the back door. When the front door came open, and that little face looked up at me and said, “Have you come to save us?” I just froze. I expected to get a shotgun pushed into my chest, but the kidnapper was gone. The kids were all scared and tired and grubby, and except for the boy who opened the door, they were very quiet.
I sat on the old vinyl couch with the kids and waited for the police to arrive. I’m not sure that the switchboard operator believed me when I rang it in. I left the front door open to show that we were in there and we were okay, but it didn’t stop the Special Response Squad from bursting in with the familiar sound of ‘Armed Police, get on the ground.’ I still have that fuckers knee print on my back.
They caught Stanley James Smith a few houses away, and I got a curt apology for being roughed up. ‘You know how it is Mr Fox. We can’t be too careful. Sorry about arresting you and all the rest.’
‘What’s your name again?’ I said.
‘Commander Wilson. I was in charge of the search.’ He put his hand out to shake mine — for the cameras.
‘Fuck you very much, Commander Wilson,’ was my reply — or words to that effect.
The Commander smiled at me and said, ‘Fair enough.’
We both produced our best smiles for the camera.
About a year later I won a Walkley Award for my series of articles on the Cameron Street Primary School kidnapping. The story stretched over four Saturday editions — about twenty thousand words and not once did I mention the kidnapper’s name — didn’t give the fucker what he wanted — fame.
The rest of the world needed a hero that week, and cynically, I cashed in on their need. I thought it would be good for my career. The truth of it weighed me down over time. It certainly did help my career, but it did nothing for my heart.
I interviewed Miss Stephenson for the series of articles I was writing. In a sane world, she would be the hero, but she made one mistake — she chose wisely and left with as many of the children as she was able — but not all.
THE KIDNAPPER walked into the well kept little one teacher country school on a bright Spring morning. Strangers are noticed quickly in rural communities, but although he was new to the area, THE KIDNAPPER didn’t raise suspicion. His appearance and demeanour made him look like any rural worker. His battered utility, just like a thousand others. Even the rifle he was carrying was not out of place in this environment.
People worry about their kids, but never in their wildest dreams would they expect them to be involved in a ransom attempt.
It didn’t take long for the press, of which I am one, to work out that Miss Stephenson was not going to sell newspapers beyond the usual five-day window — she wasn’t interested in being famous. “I was just doing my job. The parents entrust their children to my care, so I was doing my best to keep them safe and get them home to their parents.”
When I asked her how she kept the gunman from hurting any of the children she said, “I treated him like one of the children. I spoke to him firmly but gently and reminded him that people would not be happy if anything happened to the children.”
“Weren’t you frightened?” I asked.
“Yes, but I had a job to do, and if I showed fear, it was only going to escalate the situation.”
What a woman.
THE KIDNAPPER had a predictable background which was laid out in minute detail by his defence counsel at trial. His father beat him regularly, which caused some brain damage and he didn’t do well at school — which had nothing to do with his decision to hold an entire school to ransom, apparently. His defence team worked hard, but in the end, he was found guilty of kidnapping and a bunch of other stuff — all window dressing, the main charge was the big one. The sentence didn’t surprise anyone — life in prison, which meant that he would be out in about thirty years as long as the government of the day didn’t see the need to make some ‘hard on crime’ mileage and keep him inside.
In the end, it was all academic, as they say. THE KIDNAPPER got into a discussion with a big bloke who had kids — lots of them. The big bloke wasn’t allowed anywhere near his kids, for obvious reasons, but that did not stop him from striking a blow for parents everywhere. The resultant blow ended THE KIDNAPPER’s life after a few days in a coma.
His death was front page for a day, and my paper reran the series of articles I had written more than a year before and I became ‘the bloke who saved those kids’ all over again.
I never visited THE KIDNAPPER’s grave, and I never mentioned his name in print.
I don’t know where Miss Stephenson is these days although I believe that she got married and moved to a warmer climate. I’ll bet the children in her classroom will remember her and so will the parents.
Me too, if it comes to that.
She got her quiet life back, I got to be famous, and THE KIDNAPPER got to be dead — he was different when he was dead.