The most innocent of ideas can turn the world upside down.

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A VG Serial: An Unlikely Arrangement

Chapter 24 – 2

Within thirty minutes, the campus lit up like a Christmas tree, police scouring the grounds for clues. Ruth sat in the office, shaking, while detectives grilled her about the incident. Mrs. Taylor tried to shield her from the interrogation, but they were relentless.

Gretchen entered the scene with two police behind her. “I knew you were bad news, Ruth. I should have slammed the door in your face. Now look what you’ve gotten me into.”

“Knock it off, Gretchen. You were more than willing to get in on the little scheme. I never meant for this to happen. How was I to know someone was after her?” Ruth turned away.

One of the police officers angled two chairs on either side of Mrs. Taylor’s desk and insisted the girls sit. They fired questions at them, over and over, and spent almost an hour corroborating their stories.

Ruth fought back tears and exhaustion.

Gretchen repeatedly blamed Ruth.

Mrs. Taylor tried to calm both girls with little success.

The phone rang in the middle of the fray.

Mrs. Taylor answered, “Mrs. Squire? Why, Ruth is here—what do you mean you got a ransom note? It wasn’t your daughter, they got Ella. Please calm down, I can’t understand…”

A rotund detective in a wrinkled trench coat grabbed the receiver from the school matron. “When did you receive this note? How did it arrive?” He scribbled furiously on a notepad.

Ruth jumped up grabbed Mrs. Taylor’s hand. “It’s Mother? Why is she calling here? Have they heard the news of the kidnapping already?”

“My dear, they think it was you who was taken. A note arrived on their doorstep. It said they had you and wanted $10,000 for your return.” Mrs. Taylor squeezed Ruth’s hand. “I’m as confused as you.”

Ruth took a step back, shaken. “Me? Why would anyone want me?”

The detective held the phone away from his ear and faced her. “Sounds like a case of mistaken identity. I’m sending a dispatch of men to your home to question your parents. You’re in a lot of trouble, miss. Take the phone and calm down your mother.” He shoved the phone at Ruth.

Her hand trembled as she took the receiver. “Mother? Yes, it’s me. I am okay. Please, don’t shout…I don’t know why someone would want to kidnap me. Is Father there? May I talk to him?” After a short pause, Ruth smiled into the phone. “Father? Come take me home, I’m frightened.” She shook her head. “No, I don’t want to stay here. What if they come back when they find out Ella isn’t me? Please, Father.”

Mrs. Taylor encircled Ruth’s shoulders. “Maybe it is best you stay here until we get to the bottom of all this nonsense.”

“She must stay here,” the rumpled detective interrupted. “She needs to be under our protection. We’ve witnessed other abductions in recent months. Seems to be a rash of them. Gang related, mostly. Extortion. It would be easier to keep an eye on her here. I can put a detail on Miss Squire’s room; post a guard at her door.”

“Father, they want to keep me prisoner. Please come and get me.” Ruth pleaded.

The investigator folded his notepad and motioned for Ruth to hand him the phone.”

“Mr. Squire, we will take good care of your daughter, but if you would like to come here, that would be fine, too. Yes, I will await your decision. You can call Mrs. Taylor when your mind is made up. Don’t worry.”

Mrs. Taylor nodded. “Certainly, it makes perfect sense. I’m sure it will calm the other parents to know we have detectives on campus. Let me get Cal to walk you to your room.” She paused and looked around the room. “Cal? Now, where has he gone? This is no time to disappear. I need him.”                                                                                                                 “Said he had some business to take care of Mrs. Taylor. He left a few minutes ago. Don’t worry about Ms. Squire, my men will see her to the dorm.”

“What about Ella, detective? How will you find her?”

“There is a massive search going on, already. Please don’t worry.”

The room cleared of officers, and Ruth paused in front of the school matron. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Taylor. No harm was intended for anyone. I only wanted to speak to Ella about her father. Once again, I have made a mess of things.”

“Sometimes, my dear, the most innocent of ideas can turn a world upside down. Don’t worry about it. We will find Ella.”

“What about me?” Gretchen whined from the chair by the desk. “What if they come back for me?”

“Oh my, I almost forgot about you, Miss McGrath. What shall we do with you? You were confined to your room, if you remember, for the little commotion at the dance. I believe we will extend your punishment. Return to your room and stay there until further notice. No one is after you. It’s safe there.”

“Before I leave, Gretchen, I want to apologize for my part in this. I was so hell-bent on revenge; I dragged you into this mess. Mrs. Taylor, I am the instigator. Gretchen shouldn’t be punished for something I started.” Ruth saw the surprise in the girl’s face at her announcement.

“Nevertheless, Gretchen’s infraction started at the dance, and she alone, decided to continue. Your attempt to get her off the hook is noted, the rest is in the hands of the school board. Good night, Ruth.”

Chapters of the novel appear on Monday and Wednesday.

You can learn more about An Unlikely Arrangement on Amazon.

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