Please, Lord, he prayed, let me find her.

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Chapter 23 – 2

Hattie frowned. “I’m not going to get the loan, am I?”

“I have no idea, but the atmosphere in the office turned cold after I mentioned the gun. Did you notice?” Peter hurried Hattie out the front door. “Maybe, we should go to another bank.”

“Oh Peter, what am I to do? I’m afraid if I don’t get the loan, I will have to hold you to the betrothal. I have no other recourse.”

“Now Hattie, we will work it out. I promise. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I say, there seems to be some commotion going on. Get in the automobile.” Peter opened the passenger door.

A large, black vehicle had parked directly behind Peter’s. He could hear an argument heating up between two very large men standing beside the shiny sedan

“But Johnny, I thought the Cap’n told us to off those two. No one told me about a change in orders. He’s gonna take it out on me if I don’t finish the job.” The pug-faced goon, dressed in all black, flashed a revolver.

A tall, large-nosed fellow flicked lint from his pinstriped suit and stepped from behind the gunman. “You heard me, Moose. I get my orders directly from the Captain. That’s a fact, and you know it.” The man wrenched the pistol from the thug. “Case of mistaken identity, see. We get paid to protect the bank, that’s all.” He stuffed the weapon in a suit pocket, flashed a look at Peter, and tipped his hat.

Peter dodged the eye contact and scrambled into the automobile. “Let’s get out of here.”

“I heard what those men said. The city is so dangerous. Is it always like this in the States? Who is to protect me when you marry Ruth?” She dabbed her eyes with a rumpled handkerchief.                       He steered the auto toward the boarding house, but remained silent. A block from the bank he finally took a breath. “Don’t cry, Hattie. I will make sure you get the loan. No need to enter into a marriage neither of us wants.”

Hattie looked at Peter. “I don’t want to make you unhappy, but I have few choices left. I want that boarding house, Peter.”

****

            Hattie waved at him from the front door, and he rounded the corner for home. The Squires had not returned his messages or phone calls. Desperate at the possibility of losing Ruth, he made a quick decision to try their home once more, reversed his direction, and headed for town. The house had a look of abandonment. The drapes were drawn; no light twinkled through the shrouded windows. It was as if all life disappeared from the once vibrant home. His heart sank. Where could they have gone?

Despite the obvious, Peter ran up the steps and rapped the doorknocker against the thick door, and the hollow sound echoed, forlorn, and hopeless. How can I find her? She cannot have just disappeared into thin air. If I could only talk to Sarah, I know she would tell me. He stood, helpless, until finally, he backed away from the door, and returned to his auto.

~~~~

            The horses whinnied from the barn, but Peter ignored their pleas. Maybe Mother has heard from them. If only…

            “Peter!” Elizabeth called from behind the house. “Are you back already?” She hurried toward him, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Did she get the loan?”

He shook his head. “Not yet, Horton is making inquiries. We’ll know in a few days.”

“Horton? Eric Horton? Isn’t he the banker that wants to marry Ruth? Why would you deal with him? Surely, there are other loan officers.”

“Believe me, I didn’t want to deal with him, but a strange occurrence at the bank forced me to make a snap decision. A man flashed a gun in the lobby, a type of gangster, I think. Eric Horton was visibly upset, he practically begged me to follow him. Since I was responsible for Hattie’s safety, I decided to take him up on the offer.”

Elizabeth’s hand flew to cover her mouth. “Peter, a gangster? What is this city coming to? A respectable citizen is not safe anymore. Poor Hattie. Was she terrified?”

“She didn’t see the gun, but I told her about it. I thought she handled it well. Horton assured her he would make inquiries into employment for her since that is a requirement. I can only hope he’s a man of his word.” He removed his coat and hat and hung them in the entrance of the house. “There were more men outside talking about taking out two people, but one of them convinced the other it was a mistake. I hustled Hattie into the auto and hurried away.”

“Oh my goodness…”

“Mother, have you heard from the Squires or Ruth? I am beside myself with worry. Where can she be?” Peter sank down on a chair in the kitchen.

“No, not a word.”

“Hattie threatened to hold me to the betrothal if she doesn’t get the loan. I have to find Ruth.”

“We’ll find her, dear. Don’t give up. They cannot have just vanished from the earth. Let me finish your supper. The boys will return from the neighbors, soon, hungry and rambunctious.” She laid a hand on his back. “Why don’t you go out and bed the horses for the evening. It will be dark soon, and it’s going to be a cold night.”

He patted her hand and heaved himself from the chair. “You’re right. I should have done it before I came in. I am so tired and empty inside, but no reason to neglect the horses. I’ll be right back.”

Under the dusky sky, Peter raised his face in supplication. “Please Lord, help me find her. I need her in my life.”

The brush made a raspy sound as he curried the old friends…long, slow strokes. He wasn’t sure how long he stayed in the barn, but when his mother found him, he sat on a hay bale, the brush in one hand, staring into space. Night had fallen.

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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