INGE, OUR baby sitter, woke me shortly after noon and said "Robin, I can't find Roland and Nadine".
I muttered something about how, when their mother got home from work, they should be punished.
"It's serious" she said. "They rode off on their bikes at 9:30 and I haven't seen them since. They said something about going to the Elmley Recreation Center. I said no, and a few minutes later they were gone."
I woke up, pulled on some clothes, got in the car and cruised around the neighborhood. No Roland or Nadine. I asked kids I saw on the streets. Ed Miller, pastor of the local Lutheran church, showed me where the Elmley playground was. The kinds weren't there.
I called my wife at work and she promptly panicked. Inge was saying, over and over "If something has happened to them, I'm responsible."
I called the police at 2:30.
"They won't be here before you have to go to work at three" Inge said. "With all the crime in Baltimore, they aren't going to take two missing kids seriously." She started pacing.
Inge was wrong. Officer E. Vogt, badge number 356, was at our door in less than 10 minutes. He asked all the usual questions: height, weight, age, color of hair and eyes, and a few that were frightening, like, "What size clothes do they wear?" and, "Do they have any hidden scars or birthmarks?"
Five minutes later, he was relaying descriptions to not one or two, but six other officers on his radio's emergency frequency. "I'm sure they're all right" he said. "And we find most missing children right away, but it never hurts to be sure."
Two minutes later we heard a helicopter overhead.
"If they're inside, they'll run outside to look when they hear the helicopter," Vogt said. "And even if they don't, maybe we'll spot the bikes."
Another officer stopped by to look at the pictures we had found before he started searching. Vogt drove off.
Neighborhood children started combing alleys and our older neighbors asked what was going on. Inge went on pacing.
My wife called to say she'd get home from work as soon as she could. I tried to stay calm. It wasn't hard, because I wasn't fully awake yet.
Ten minutes later, a police car pulled up in front of the house, with Roland and Nadine in the back seat. Vogt came in his car. "Should I go get the bikes?" I asked.
"We've got them coming" one of the officers said. "Don't worry about it. We deliver." He laughed.
My wife showed up, relieved and angry. Inge stopped pacing. I thanked the various officers, who certainly deserved all the thanks we could give them.
We were amazed at the speed and intensity of the police response. The guys we usually see lazing around the 7-11 had gone into high gear from a standing start. They were in touch with each other at every second, and did their jobs in a professional, efficient manner.
My wife said, "Maybe our taxes are too high, but we sure got our money's worth today."
She was right. So often, when we think of our local, state and federal governments, all we think about is how much they cost. We forget that any one of us, at any minute, may need help from the government.
That day, the Baltimore Police Department earned every dime we've paid in property taxes since we bought this house, and I won't forget it for a long time.
Robin Miller drives a taxi in Baltimore.