Authors: j l johnson
“Let me get that for you,” a young man said as he came up to their table. He dropped three menus on the table and reached up to open the window.
“There you go,” he said as the window finally opened and some fresh air flowed into the room, cutting down the fog. “Okay folks, my name’s Roger, and I’ll take your order after you look over the menu. Can I get y’all something to drink?”
After they’d eaten, the two women excused themselves to the powder room and Walter lit up his cigar. He’d smoked about half of it when Gertie came back to the table.
“Ida Belle’s still fussing with her hair. I paid the bill, so you can leave the tip,” Gertie said, returning alone from the restroom. “Just remember, it’s not that poor young man’s fault they didn’t have beer, so leave a good tip. You wait for Ida Belle, I need some air. I’ll be out at the car.”
“Where’d Gertie get off to now?” Ida Belle asked as she walked toward the table.
“She paid the bill and went out to wait by the car,” Walter said. “Said she needed air.”
“Fresh air sounds good to me,” She waved her hand through his cigar smoke. “Nasty habit. Gertie already paid for dinner?” Ida Belle asked, then she looked out the window as she dropped her purse and reached for her sweater. “What… Hey! Some guy out there has his hands on Gertie!”
The man in question was trying to throw Gertie over his shoulder, but Gertie was fighting his every move, kicking him and screaming like a banshee.
“C’mon, she can’t hold him off,” she shrugged her sweater on and ran for the door. Walter grabbed her purse from the table and followed her out to the parking lot.
“He’s dragging her to that car. Wait… Is that a gun? Hang on, Ida Belle, don’t give him any reason to shoot her,” Walter exclaimed, catching up to Ida Belle and pulling on her arm to stop her from confronting the man. “Gertie, just do as he says,” he yelled when he saw Gertie still fighting the man.
“Just take it,” she was struggling with the young man, trying to free herself and give him her purse. He seemed to have no interest in her bag and was now trying to force her into a station wagon.
“Hey, just take her purse! There’s no reason to hurt her!” Walter yelled.
“He’s kidnapping her!” Ida Belle watched helplessly as the man pushed Gertie into the driver’s side of the front seat. He got in beside her, now pointing the gun at Walter and Ida Belle. He started the car, and peeled out onto the highway. “Why would he kidnap Gertie?” she asked and went to pick up Gertie’s purse where she’d dropped it during the struggle. “He wasn’t after her money! What’s happening?”
“I don’t know, wait right here,” he said and turned back to the restaurant. “Somebody call the cops,” Walter yelled as he opened the door, “a guy just took off with our friend. He’s got a gun. He’s driving a light blue Ford station wagon and it looks like he’s going east on highway six. We’re gonna go after them.” He sprinted back to Ida Belle and rushed her to Gertie’s Caddy.
“Thank God she never locks the doors,” Ida Belle said, climbing in the passenger door when they got to the car. “The keys should be in her purse.”
“I can’t find her keys,” Walter hissed after he pushed the front seat back as far as it would go and started digging frantically through Gertie’s purse. “How can she find anything in here?”
“Give it here,” Ida Belle said impatiently. She dumped it upside down on the seat between them when he handed it to her. “Now go!” she said, quickly locating the keys and handing them over. “Hurry up Walter, we’re gonna lose them.”
“I’m on it,” Walter floored the Caddy and burned rubber exiting onto the highway. The Caddy quickly caught up to the station wagon. They could see Gertie shaking her finger at the driver.
“I hope she doesn’t piss him off,” Ida Belle said, shaking her head as she gathered items and shoved them back in Gertie’s purse.
“That’s Gertie up there, she can’t help herself,” Walter exhaled loudly, “you know she’s lecturing him right now.”
“Who is that guy?” Ida Belle shook her head. “And why did he take Gertie?”
“Right now, none of that matters,” Walter took Ida Belle’s hand. “What matters is we get her back,” he rubbed circles into the palm of her hand with his thumb. “And, we
get her back, I promise,” he said as he squeezed her hand, his big hand completely covering hers.
Ida Belle believed him. They wouldn’t let Gertie out of their sights. Whoever that man was and whatever nefarious plans he had in mind, he hadn’t counted on Ida Belle and Walter following him.
“He’s gonna drive right into Natchitoches,” Walter said, keeping a short distance between them and the station wagon. While he didn’t want to get too close and spook the man or give him any reason to turn his gun on Gertie, he also wanted to stay close enough that the man would realize they weren’t giving up the chase.
They’d caught up to the car fairly quickly once they were on the highway. The station wagon’s engine couldn’t begin to compete with the Caddy’s big 500 cubic inch, V-8 engine.
“Maybe he’ll turn north. He might be hoping to lose us in all the hurricane evacuation traffic coming up from the Gulf. Dad said he heard a lot of people are going all the way up to Shreveport, just like he is. Who is this guy?” he wondered out loud.
“Who is he and why on Earth did he grab Gertie?” Ida Belle was shaking, she was so mad. “How dare he?”
“Oh good!” Walter exclaimed. “Look, it’s a police car.”
“But, it’s going in the wrong direction!” Ida Belle twisted around and looked out the back of the car as the police car zoomed past them down the shoulder of the highway, its sirens blaring. “Damn it! There’s another blue station wagon back there. It looks like he’s pulling them over.”
“And there goes our guy!” Walter slid between two cars, barely avoiding an accident as he slammed on the Caddy’s brakes, trying to take the same exit the station wagon had just turned off on.
“Watch out!” Ida Belle yelled when an eighteen wheeler almost jack-knifed to avoid hitting them. Cars behind the big truck squealed their brakes and some even drove off the road, causing a complete stop of traffic on the highway.
“At least that should get that cop’s attention!” Walter said as he continued down the exit, looking for the station wagon. “Did you see which way he went?”
“I was watching that truck,” Ida Belle swung her head around. “Don’t tell me we lost them…”
“I’m sorry, Ida Belle. We lost him,” Walter resignedly flipped on the blinker as he prepared to turn. “Don’t worry,” he took her hand, “we’ll find her, they can’t be far.” Walter drove in ever widening circles around the area directly off the highway as the night got darker and darker.
Thick clouds rolled in and they could see lightning on the horizon. Fat raindrops hit the windshield. “That’s just great. Looks like Carmen’s moving in,” Walter pulled his hand away and slammed it against the steering wheel. “That’s just what we need right now.”
“Nope, that’s not the right one, either,” Ida Belle sighed as they drove slowly by the station wagon. The car was parked on Natchitoches’ main street. She couldn’t believe how many blue station wagons there were in this small town. They’d spotted at least six of them since they’d exited the highway and not one of them contained Gertie. “Now what do we do?”
“I’m not giving up yet,” Walter squeezed her hand as he turned the car down another cross street. “He got off the highway for a reason. He’s got to be around here somewhere.”
“I hope you’re right…” Ida Belle sighed as Walter kept driving.
“Stop Walter!” Ida Belle slapped his shoulder. “That’s the car! That’s it! Right there.” She whipped her head around and pointed toward the seedy motel they’d just passed on the outskirts of town.
“You’re sure?” Walter asked as he performed a three point turn in the middle of the street and drove slowly by the station wagon before parking across the street in the motel’s parking lot. “I think you’re right. Now what?”
“He must’ve taken her into one of those rooms. Look! That’s the office, there’s a light on…” Ida Belle was reaching for the door handle.
“Now just hold on a minute, remember he has a gun Ida Belle,” Walter firmly grabbed her shoulder. “We have to think about this, come up with some kind of a plan,”
“There he is!” Ida Belle interrupted him, shaking his shoulder. “Don’t look, he hasn’t seen us yet,” she shrank down into the seat, motioning for him to do the same. He leaned over until only his head showed above the seat. “You’re squishing me!” Ida Belle hissed.
“Shh, he’ll hear you,” Walter whispered.
“Don’t you shush me!” Ida Belle hissed. “And get off me, I can’t breathe…”
“Sorry Ida Belle,” Walter said as he did a one-handed push-up trying to take his weight off of her. “This wasn’t my idea, ya’know.”
“Can you still see him?”
“Nope, wait, he’s going into a store,” Walter sat up straight, and Ida Belle twisted herself around so she could look out the back window.
“There’s only one other room with a light on. Do you think Gertie’s in there?” she reached for the door handle again.
“There’s got to be a pay phone somewhere, we need to call the police,” Walter scanned the area.
“I’m not waiting for the cops! He could come back any minute!” Ida Belle barked, “We have to go get her out of there! Right now!”
“How about you go alert whoever’s in the office, have them call the cops, and I’ll knock on the door to the room with the light on?” Walter pointed to the motel office.
“Fine! Let’s go!” Ida Belle jerked the door open and ran.
Chapter 5 - Friday 9 PM, September 6, 1974
Walter was still standing at the door when Ida Belle approached with the manager on duty at the motel. He nodded at the man while she told him they’d called the police and asked what he was doing just standing there in the downpour. “I’m listening, I thought I heard something…”
“Move over, he’s got the key,” Ida Belle practically shoved Walter aside to let the manager unlock the door.
“Gertie!” she cried, as soon as he had the door open and then rushed in when she saw Gertie lying on the floor, bleeding from a gash on her head. “Oh Walter! Oh no! Is she… Is... Is she,”
“She’s alive,” Walter said as he knelt beside her and felt the pulse on her neck. Ida Belle sobbed and crumpled down next to Gertie. It looked like the man had just dumped her on the floor and left. He motioned to the manager, “Quick, lock that door in case he comes back. I hope the cops hurry...”
Gertie moaned pitifully and Walter said he knew he’d heard something. Ida Belle moved to take Gertie’s head in her lap, but Walter stopped her, shaking his head.
Walter motioned to the manager, “get a towel for her head. We need to see if we can stop some of this bleeding.”
“I hear a siren,” the man said as he handed the towel over, “maybe you should wait for an ambulance?”
“I know better than to move her,” Walter said, dabbing at the blood on her head.
Saturday, Midnight, September 7, 1974
Gertie looked so tiny and frail in the hospital bed that Ida Belle couldn’t stop the sob escaping. They’d waited for hours while the doctors worked on Gertie, and now to see her like this was more than Ida Belle could stand. She turned into Walter. He enveloped her in his strong arms.
“She’ll be fine,” Walter soothed her, running his hand up and down her back while she trembled. “The doctor said he’s just keeping her over-night for observation.”
One minute she was cocooned in Walter’s arms and the next minute he swept her off her feet and was kissing her. To her surprise, she found herself kissing him back. She lost herself for a minute and melded into him.
In that moment, she understood why other women would let men comfort and protect them. Right then, she believed with all of her heart that Walter would always keep her safe, and nothing bad could ever happen while she was in his arms.
“Whoa…” Gertie was awake and watching them. “Oh geez... Get a room… Whoa, is this a hospital room?” she asked, her eyes not quite focusing and her words slurring.
“Gertie! You’re awake!” Ida Belle cried, blushing furiously and stepping away from Walter, “yes, this is a hospital room.” She sat on the edge of the bed and brushed the hair off Gertie’s forehead. “How do you feel? Do you remember what happened?”
“That man… He pushed me into a car…”
“Yes, he kidnapped you,” Ida Belle started shaking again, even thinking about it made her angry. “You hit your head and you have a concussion, so the doctor said your memory might be affected. Do you remember anything? Did he say anything? Tell you why he took you?”
“I don’t remember; it’s all kind of fuzzy, wait, he hit me on my head with his gun. It really hurt,” she whimpered, reaching lazily for her head. She felt the turban bandage on her head and looked so pathetic, Ida Belle couldn’t stand it. She pulled Gertie’s hand away from her head and smoothed her hair back under the bandage.
“Do you remember anything else? What happened when you got to the motel?”
“He had me in that car… Wait, motel? What motel?”
“Walter and I found you on the floor of a motel room, you don’t remember that?”
“I only remember being in a car…” Gertie’s speech was slurring worse and her eyes were fluttering shut.
“Let her sleep Ida Belle,” Walter said, gently pulling Ida Belle off the bed and leading her over to a chair. “We’ll stay right here and you can talk to her more tomorrow. You need to try to get some sleep.”
“But nothing. I promise I’ll wake you up if she wakes up,” he said, leaning down by her chair and stroking her hair.
Ida Belle didn’t think sleep was possible but the next thing she knew Walter was shaking her shoulder. She opened her eyes to find Walter leaning over her. “Is she awake?” she asked him.