If I Were to Write a Novel

I

If I Were to Write a Novel, this would be my beginning.

I’ve had a few coincidences to happen in my life. Not many. I’m only seventeen. Those coincidences were so incidental, I didn’t pay that much attention to them. This one, I can’t forget.

I didn’t want to wait for the next streetcar at the streetcar turn-around. This one was an express that stopped six blocks from my house, and went downtown to the big city before stopping again. The regular stopped only two and one-half blocks from my house.

When it’s a hot May day, three weeks before school ends for the summer, and both street cars are air-conditioned, I’ll walk the extra three and one-half blocks to keep from waiting another thirty minutes.

I do count it a coincidence that this express showed up and not the regular streetcar.

I exited the express, and was in the second block, and glanced at a basement window of a house. I’m not sure of the time, a second, two seconds. I saw a young girl’s frightened face showing for that time through a small glass window reinforced with metal bars. I thought I heard a momentary scream. Then she was gone.

The house to the left appeared to be vacant with a For Sale sign in the front yard, so nobody could have seen what I saw from that side. As I walked past the house I noticed a car, probably a ’47 or ’48 Chevy which would have made it four or five years old. I did memorize the tag number.

I looked at the right of the house that was my focal point, but there was no basement window, only what appeared to be a concrete block foundation.

I was walking slowly, and noticed a bearded man, unkempt hair, somewhat dirty clothes had come out on the front porch. I caught him out of my periphery, and then almost stopped to turn and look at him. His steely eyes warned me not to stare.

I continued on, and don’t know whether he saw enough of me to recognize me or not. I wasn’t exactly scared of him, because I was bigger than he was, but you don’t argue with a gun, and I imagined he had one.

I did write down the car’s tag number on a piece of paper once he could no longer see me, and stuck it in one of my books.

I should have mentioned the situation to my mom and dad, and sister at the supper table that night, but I could have been mistaken about the scene I saw. Mom and dad would have said it was the goings-on of a typical teenager, and my sister would have thought I now qualified as a 100% twirp. She had accumulated enough up to now to classify me as a 97% twirp, and this would certainly have added 3% to her scorekeeping.

My parents didn’t even turn on TV that night, preparing to get up at five for an out-of-town trip. My sister was on the phone her normal 24/7, or it seemed that way.

Still that night in bed I couldn’t forget that face frozen in my mind. The terrifying face. Probably some girls in my class, aware I was coming, designed a prank to make me look like an idiot if I intervened.

Yet the man didn’t fit the parent mode. I’m sure some of the parents were slovenly, but parents were more middle-class in our neighborhood and not this.

I was due the next day Friday after school at the grocery store at 3:30, and wouldn’t get off until 9:00. Good pocket money after I worked all day Saturday until 7:00 and dashed home to run through the shower like it was a car wash to arrive in time for my date.

I rode the regular streetcar on this Friday, got off at the stop where I had the day before, because it was only a block away from the grocery store. I glanced down the street, and didn’t think I could see a car in the driveway of what I now called the suspicious house.

I really should head for the store, but I decided I would take a few minutes and walk past the house, before doubling back to the store. The car was gone. I listened for any sound. Nothing.

The door was locked, wood frame on the outside, yet significant glass, if I decided to break it. What am I saying, break it? Am I willing to gamble on the police hauling me off to jail for breaking and entering, along with a list of other charges? All this for not minding my business.

That face crossed my mind and vision again. Was it terror or a prank? I didn’t even know if any of the high school girls lived in this house. Certainly none I knew who even lived on this street.

It was three-thirty. I should be at the store. A rock was handy in the front yard. I broke the glass and unlocked the door from the inside.

I called out. Nobody answered. I spent a few minutes looking for the stairs that led to the basement. I stood at the window where I thought I had seen the young girl. It had been covered with a piece of cardboard.

Then I saw a remnant of pre-refrigerator days, a storage unit with a large wooden door, and a lever lock, that you could lift to open it. Beyond the door, the wooden storage unit recessed into the ground, which provided some measure of cooler temperatures.

There was no way I could escape if the car returned and that haggard man came down here. I’d just have to take my chances on bolting past him, out the front door, and down the alley. I knew I could outrun him.

The closed door on the storage unit wouldn’t let me leave. I opened it, and tried to peer into the darkness. The light in the middle of the basement must have been about twenty-five watts, and offered no illumination. I thought I’d find some boxed-up remnants of food from twenty years before.

I heard some kind of movement, somebody trying to talk. I felt around along the rough boards that must have been six feet to the back. There seemed to be some sort of seat there, and as I inched my hand along it, something squirmed.

I ran my hands up and down. It was a person, tied up and gagged. I tried to pick up the person, but couldn’t and wound up dragging male or female, I had no idea at this time, out into the basement light.

I took off the gag, and recognized the horrific expression I had seen before. I was able to work her feet loose from the ropes. Why I stopped to pick up my books on the front porch before we tore out from the house, down the street as fast as the both of us could run, I’m not sure. I must have thought my name was somewhere in them.

A lady was sitting out on her front porch. We dashed by her, and into her house. She almost screamed, but I told her to call the police, and somehow she sensed the urgency. The girl’s smudged face, scraggly hair with a cobweb or two, and trembling body must have convinced her.

I knew the grocery store manager would be furious at me. It was four o’clock. As soon as I knew the police were on the way, I had to leave. The girl, sixteen or seventeen, reached over to give me a huge hug, and a delicious kiss on the side of my face. I remembered the piece of paper with the car’s tag number, fished around for it in my books, and told her to give that to the police.

I didn’t know whether they would catch the guy, or more than one, and he or them might be looking for me. They might have followed me home the day before, and I didn’t even know it. But at least the police could be looking for him or them.

I took off down the alley without exchanging names. I had made an excuse or two before that seemed to be out of the ordinary to the store manager, and I certainly didn’t want him to even think about this one, so I only apologized for being late. He accepted my no excuse better than he would this.

My folks had left about six that morning, and my sister had the phone glued to her ear. Anything happening in the outside world was of no consequence to her.

On Saturday I had some toast and coffee (Can’t believe my sister got off the phone long enough to fix it for me), and headed for the store. When my sister did me a favor, she was looking for one in return. I’m sure I would find out later what it was.

The store was abuzz with what happened on Friday, and only three blocks away. It was hard to separate fact from fiction, and I wasn’t willing to accept anything until I knew it to be a fact. The storyline went while two men had gone to collect the ransom, the girl was freed, and the police and FBI were alerted to the drop point for the $100,000, and they caught them there. Nobody knew who the boy was that rescued the girl, and how he had any idea where she was. For all anybody knew, he had something to do with the kidnapping.

I certainly didn’t want to be questioned by the police and FBI. When I rescued her, I didn’t think my good deed would turn into a criminal act. But I was safe. Nobody knew who I was, and I wasn’t about to tell.

We didn’t even lock our doors at night. This kind of thing didn’t happen in our city, our state. This was just some girl walking down the street alone on Wednesday night. A crime of convenience, and nothing else. But $100,000 was a sizable chunk of change.

About a couple of hours later, the grocery store was humming with the activity of the shoppers, when we’re all in awe as a long limousine pulls up in front of the store, and a very glamorous lady gets out, with a daughter who was no less a beauty than her mother. The lady sure looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her.

She asked for the manager, and he stood there almost drooling while he was talking to her in a cubicle visible to all of us, but not close enough to hear what was said. Then the girl pointed at me.

If this was one of the girls from school I didn’t know her, but I sure would like to. And her mother as well, if she were only twenty years younger.

I had learned in the past that if anyone pointed their finger at me, the best thing to do was to attempt to hide. Behind the counter wasn’t big enough, and grocery sacks were too small to get into. The manager summoned me with the curling of one index finger. One curled index finger is never good.

Just then a fellow came in the front door hauling a huge TV camera, followed by a reporter I had seen on local TV. Right behind was another possible reporter, perhaps newspaper. The TV camera was in my face.

I was not known for profanity, but if there was ever a time for it, it was now. I blurted out for no one in particular, “Boy, am I deep in it now.”
 

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