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When my two sons were teenagers my husband, Bill, and I took them to London for a weekend. On Saturday morning, Danny suggested a visit to the Transportation Museum. Over the past years we’d seem most of the tourist sites, and Danny’s idea seemed like a good one.

“Oh no,” wailed Patrick. “Not another museum. Can’t we do something fun?”

“Well. What would you like to do?”

“I want to go to Piccadilly Circus, walk to the top stair and sit there.”

“Then what would you do?”

“I’d watch the Lamborghinis and the Jaguars whiz around and I’d look at all the tourists.”

“That would be fun?”

“Yes, and I want to do it alone. I don’t want to hang around with you and Dad or even Danny. I’m a big kid now and I want to be alone.”

I looked at Bill who had made numerous business trips to London. He nodded, “It’s a Saturday morning in the middle of London. He’ll be safe.”

We took off. Patrick, with his longish hair combed perfectly, headed down the two blocks to Piccadilly Circus. Bill, Danny and I headed the opposite way. I looked back at Patrick, almost six feet tall, wearing jeans and a Levi jacket, striding along, with such a carefree gait. “Dear God, please send angels to keep him safe.”

Patrick found a seat on the top of the circular stairs at Piccadilly. Just as he had planned, he watched the colorful scene of tourists, red buses, black taxies and shining sports cars. He could hear clanging horns, screeching brakes and street music. He sat there happily in the center of this dazzling metropolis.

A man climbed the stairs and sat beside him. He had longish hair too. He wore black trousers and a black jacket. He seemed friendly. “Quite a scene.”

Patrick agreed and a conversation started.

“You’re an American?”

“Yeah.”

“Who are you here with?”

“Myself.”

“Where are your parents?”

“They couldn’t come. They had already paid for my ticket so they said I could come by myself.”

“No aunties to meet you?”

“No.”

They talked for half an hour. The man asked, “Have you been to any of the London night clubs?”

“They won’t let me in.” 

“I’ll tell you what. You come with me and I can get you into any night club you want.” 

“Really?”

“Sure. My guys and I know a few tricks. Cops just look the other way.”

Patrick shifted. “Naw. Hafta get going. “

“Come on, I’ll show you the town.”

Something didn’t feel right. Patrick edged a little further away. The man moved with him and showed Patrick a gun. “Come with me and you won’t be hurt.” The man motioned toward a kid with chains across his black motorcycle jacket. “He’s one of mine. Over there, see the one with the big hat and that one laughing with the green hair. They’re mine, too.”

The friendly man’s voice turned cold. “If you try to run all I have to do is blow this whistle and they’ll be on you.” Patrick had already seen the guys he’d pointed out. They’d looked flamboyant and fun. Now they looked scary. He had no idea how to get out of this.

Two elderly women, loaded with bags, stumbled up the stairs and stopped in front of them. One of them thrust a camera in the hand of the man, “Would you please take our picture…my friend and I…” She began what might become a long story.

Patrick fled down the steps and into the traffic. Cars honked and he hardly heard them. He raced two blocks to the hotel and into the lobby. What should he do? He knew they’d followed him. He ducked behind a row of potted plants and tried to catch his breath.

Cramped in a corner, he watched the front doors. His heart still pounded. Nothing seemed safe. He waited. When a large contingency of tourists came in Patrick raced for the stairs.

He was in a hallway when he heard a clump, clump, clump. They’d found him. He snatched opened a door and crowded into a linen closet. He heard voices. Familiar voices. His family. OMG his family. As soon as they walked past the closet he slipped out. “Patrick, where did you come from?”

“I was just looking for you guys. Danny has the room key.”

“How was your morning?” Bill asked. Without waiting for an answer he said, “What would you like to do this afternoon? Do you want to go to Covent Gardens and have lunch?”

I looked at Patrick who hadn’t really wanted to be with us, “That OK with you?”

“Yeah.”

He stayed so close to us for the rest of the day that we kept bumping into him. We had no idea why until years later.

I can’t help but wonder if those two women with the camera were the angels I’d prayed for. 

Pat King

Pat King, married to Bill for 59 years, had her first child at age 17 and her last at age 38.

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