The course of love was not running smoothly.
September 4, 2013
A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement
“Good morning, Mr. Taylor. I trust you slept well. Breakfast is ready, come right on into the kitchen.” Hattie pointed to the doorway.
Cal felt drugged by the fitful sleep of the previous night, but the smell of bacon and hotcakes revived his spirit. “Oh my, it smells so good. I hope there is some strong coffee made.”
“It’s a chicory blend, Cal. Glad to know you enjoy a morning cup. I don’t think I could start my day without it.” Hattie poured the black liquid.
“Come on, come on, young man. I’m about to starve. Don’t keep an old woman waiting for breakfast. I have to get into town today to buy supplies.” The owner of the establishment sat at the table tapping a fork on the china plate.
“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Whitehead.” He sat down and reached for the hot brew.
“Never mind, now tell us about yourself and why you came here in the middle of the night.”
His mouth watered at the sight of the fluffy flapjacks in front of him, but swallowed hard, and smiled at the owner of the boarding house. “I made the trip from Barkley’s School for Women to find a gentleman who is involved with a student of ours. It’s a long story, but I fear she is in danger, and I thought he could help.”
“Barkley’s School for Women? Is it far from here? I’m looking for a position as a teacher. Maybe they have an opening.” Hattie held her fork in midair. “I plan to buy the boarding house, but they won’t give me a loan unless I am gainfully employed. You say the young woman is in danger?”
“Yes, there was a kidnapping at the school last night. It’s most bizarre because they took Ella instead. A case of mistaken identity I’m afraid.” Cal wolfed down a couple of bites.
“Kidnapping—at the school? Who would do such a thing?” Hattie stopped eating and lay down her utensil.
“The detectives think it is mob related, probably wanted to get the daughter of a prominent citizen in exchange for money. Extortion, you know. I’ve never known them to come out that far though.”
Hattie gasped. “Gangsters…why we encountered such a thing in town yesterday—right by our automobile. They had guns and everything. The poor girl. Do you think they will kill her?”
“I am not familiar with the way they operate. The girl is in danger, I know that much.” He took the last bite, swallowed the last of the coffee, wiped his mouth, and stood. “Now ladies, if you will excuse me, I must be going.”
“I know you are in a hurry, Cal. It’s really been a pleasure talking with you. I hope we see each other again.” Hattie stood and followed him into the foyer.
“You’ve been most kind, Ms. Morgenstern.” He bowed toward the old woman. “And you as well, Mrs. Whitehead.” A wrinkled piece of paper fell out his coat pocket. “Oh, I almost forgot, can either of you tell me where to find this address? I need to talk with the girls’s parents.”
Hattie shook her head. “I’m not familiar with the town. Mrs. Whitehead?”
Cal motioned for the woman to stay seated and hurried to her side. “If you could point me in the right direction, maybe I could find the young man.”
“Oh yes, I know exactly. My nephew lives on the same street. Would you like to follow us into town? I could show you.” The grandfather clock in the hall sounded eight o’clock. “We must hurry, though. The day is getting away from us.”
“Wonderful, but are you sure it won’t be an inconvenience?” Cal worried.
Hattie looked at both of them. “My plan was to look for work in the city today anyway, it’s really no problem.
“Great idea. Ready to go, Ms. Whitehead?” Cal asked.
“I was born ready, sonny. What are you waitin’ on?”
Cal Taylor followed Mrs. Whitehead’s directions and parked in front of Robert and Priscilla Squires’ Brownstone, waved at the women, and continued his mission—find Peter Kirby. A quick knock and the door swung open immediately.
“Yes, do ya have news? Are ya from the bureau?” A small woman in maid’s attire addressed him in a strong Irish brogue.
Cal snatched the cap from his head. “Pardon me, no, I’m not from any bureau. I am from Barkley’s Women’s School. Could you tell me where to find Peter Kirby?”
The maid gaped, mouth open. “The school? Where Miss Ruthie goes?”
“Yes, Ruth Squire. She is in danger, and I’m looking for Peter. Can you help me?”
She shook her head. “I cannot, but if you will wait a moment, I’ll fetch Mrs. Squire.”
The door closed in his face. He waited and tried to peer through the glass to see if anyone would return.
Two minutes went by, and the door opened again…slowly. “Who did you say you are, sir? From the school?”
Cal gazed at the stout woman holding onto the door handle. “My name is Cal Taylor. Are you Ruth’s mother? Ma’am, she is in danger. I would like to talk to you about Peter Kirby. She talks about him all the time. I know she is in love with him, and maybe he could help protect her. I was in the office when you called. You know they kidnapped the wrong girl. They wanted Ruth, and Peter needs to know.”
“Come in, young man. The detectives are here. You should talk to them.” The door opened wider.
“Look, I don’t want to be involved. I just thought Peter needed to know. If he loves her, he might want to help.” Cal stepped cautiously inside.
Once settled in the parlor, the two detectives questioned him at length about the incident. He told them the same story he told the others at the school.
One serious looking investigator asked, “Who is Peter Kirby? Has he got something to do with this kidnapping?”
Cal shook his head firmly. “No, nothing at all. You see, Ruth and Peter are in love, but he chose to marry someone else, and Ruth ended up at the boarding school for women. It’s odd, but I have this feeling something isn’t quite right. Ruth loves him, and if I were a betting man, I would say Peter loves her. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but I sure would like to talk to him.”
The detective looked at Mrs. Squire. “Why haven’t you told us about Peter Kirby, ma’am? Might shed some light on the situation.”
“I…well.” She began to weep. “I thought the school could provide the security she needed. Peter tried to find her, but I wouldn’t communicate with him. Once again, I was trying to undo the first mistake I made.”
Cal stared at her. “You mean, Peter doesn’t know where she is—you didn’t tell him?”
Mrs. Squire’s tears increased. “No, he hasn’t any idea.”
One of the detectives stood. “I’m confused. An explanation is in order here.” He offered a handkerchief. “Start talking, Mrs. Squire.”
She dabbed her eyes and explained about the arrangement of marriage. “I wasn’t thinking about her happiness at first, only avoiding trouble. Times are so dangerous. My thought was to provide the safeguard of a home and family, a husband to protect her. I was surprised when she actually fell in love with Peter, but the banker destroyed everything. We had to choose to save our home, instead of our daughter’s happiness. Eric Horton demanded her hand in marriage, and in return, he would balance the second mortgage on our home. It is shameful, I know. When we saw Peter and Ruth in love…our decision changed. But, Hattie showed up, and once more, our plans crashed around us.”
Cal looked up at the mention of Hattie. “Morgenstern? Is her last name Morgenstern?”
Priscilla hesitated. “Why, yes, I believe that is her name. She lost her family and came to the states to marry Peter. They were betrothed since childhood. Ruth thinks Hattie and Peter will wed, and I allowed the assumption, I’m afraid. How do you know her?”
“Never mind…did you tell Mr. Horton their engagement was off, also?”
Cal rose. “I must find Peter and get him to the school. Where is he, Mrs. Squire?”
“Wait just a minute, young man. We are in charge of this investigation. You don’t need to take matters into your own hands.” The older detective shook a finger at Cal.
“One of you come with me. We can find him together. It’s important we hurry. Horton could be behind the whole thing. If he was ready to foreclose on the Squires to get their daughter, he’s capable of anything.”
Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.
You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.