Hermina Romunda Guadalupe Lizet Villanueva left the school without a backward glance. She shot through the double doors and barreled down 11th Avenue as fast as she could run. She paused at the corner of Eleventh Avenue and Church Street, realizing that she couldn’t just march into Finklemeyer’s Store — if it was even open. Was Mr. Finklemeyer still in jail?
Mina stood with her bottom lip between her teeth, her hands on her hips, and tapping her foot. She needed a plan. A patrol car rounded the corner and the policeman inside slowed down and took a good look at her. It suddenly occurred to Mina that every other kid in town was in school right now. The police car was moving slow. Mina could tell the officer was looking at her in the rear view mirror. Any second now, his tail-lights would flash. He’d throw the car in reverse and come back to question her. Mina didn’t fancy being taken home to her mom in a patrol car. She’d already landed herself in a big enough can of worms when she charged out of school.
Mina wanted to run, but she knew it was time to stop acting scatter-brained. She pivoted on her foot and looked at the building behind her. Until that moment, she hadn’t thought much about where she was.
“Excuse me, young lady.” The officer had left his car in the middle of the road with the driver’s door open. He walked toward Mina. “Is there a problem?”
Mina just shrugged and pointed at the sign. DENTAL CLINIC.
“Ah, I see,” the officer said, grinning. “Why don’t I just wait right here while you march yourself in there?”
“It’s okay.” Mina said. “I don’t want to trouble you.”
“No trouble,” the officer said. “It’s my job. Come on. In you go.” He put his hand on Mina’s shoulder and escorted her to the door, which he opened for her.
The receptionist, one of her mother’s friends from church, looked up in surprise. “Mina! What are you doing here?” She looked at the officer standing outside the glass doors. “Are you in trouble?”
“No.” Mina shook her head, but the answer was obviously, yes! “I’m a …. I’m a ….” Mina shrugged her shoulders.
“Do you have an appointment?” The receptionist asked. She was frowning at her computer monitor. “I don’t remember seeing your name.”
Mina couldn’t remember the woman’s name and walked forward to read her name tag. Audrey. No last name. Big help that was. “Listen, Mrs. -”
“I’m sorry, Mina.” Audrey interrupted. “I have a broken computer monitor and not even CPR can reserrect it. And you don’t seem to be in the appointment book, either, dear. Are you certain you have the right day?”
Mina shook her head. “Not really,” she said, and chanced a glance over her shoulder. The officer was gone. Mina relaxed. A grin split her face from ear to ear.
The receptionist, Audrey, smiled to. “Today is your lucky day, Mina,” she said. “No appointment.” Then she added, “I’ll ring your mother in just a bit and have her reschedule.”
“Gee, thanks,” Mina said, but her smile was effectively gone. She turned and walked to the door, her eyes searching the street for the patrol car. Neither it nor the officer were anywhere in sight.
Mina left the dentist’s office aware that she couldn’t just walk down the street in broad daylight. It was barely past noon and people were certain to notice a kid out of school. She circled the building, and headed for the service alley.
This was more like it. No traffic, no prying eyes. Just Mina, the dumpsters in their little brick enclosures, and a stray cat here and there. She walked briskly, stopping just a block from Finklemeyer’s. She was behind Rona’s Five and Diner. Rona had a love of folk music. A song about burning draft cards was pouring into the alley mingling with aroma’s that reminded Mina she’d had no lunch.
Finklemeyer’s store was on the corner right across the street. There were no lights on inside. It didn’t appear to be conducting business, but someone was there. The back door stood wide open. Mina rushed across the street, away from the tantalizing aroma’s at Rona’s, and into the dumpster enclosure behind Finklemeyer’s. The aromas there weren’t in the least bit enticing.
Once inside the enclosure, Mina slipped behind the wooden gate and peeked out through the gap between the door and the wall. It was too dark inside the store and she was too far away to see anything. She was going to have to move closer.
If Finklemeyer was in jail, then who was in the store? And was Finklemeyer in jail? Why would he fake stealing the carousel — unless part of it had been stolen and he was stalling for time trying to get it back? That’s what Mina suspected. The Maitlands had stolen the golden rings, and Finklemeyer faked the theft of the carousel because … Mina wasn’t certain. Finklemeyer didn’t own the carousel, so he wouldn’t get any of the insurance money. If he faked the theft to gain time to find the real thief, he probably wasn’t having a lot of luck finding them from behind bars.
Mina sprinted from the cover of the dumpster enclosure. Darting across the alley, she came to a stop crouched below the loading dock. That put her just beside and below the open back door. She wished for her mother’s cell phone so she could take a picture of what was aroud the corner. Of course, the last time she’d done that, it hadn’t turned out so well.
Mina listened intently. She could hear the traffic out of the street, snatches of music from Rona’s, and bits and pieces of other neighborhood noise. She didn’t hear anything from the store. Nor did she hear the foot-steps of the man who slipped up behind her. The first clue Mina had that she wasn’t alone, was a hand clamping over her mouth.
Mina tried to wiggle free, jabbing with her elbows and kicking backward. Someone seized her right braid, wrapped it around his fist, and shook her. Mina tried to scream. Nothing emerged but a squeak. Her head was shaken again. She kept fighting, trying to turn to get a look at her attacker.
Her hair was released. Mina twisted and saw … nothing but a gunny sack as it came down over her face. The hand over her mouth remained, but even had it not, Mina wasn’t certain she could have screamed. The bag reeked of motor oil and mildew, causing her breath to catch in the back of her throat.
Mina heard the unmistakable sound of duct tape peeling from a roll. She flayed backward with her hands, trying to hit her captor. She’d show him that Hermina Romunda Guadalupe Lizet Villanueva wasn’t that easy to subdue! She reached up and dug her fingernails into the hand across her mouth.
“Holy crap! Stop her!” The man holding Mina snapped. Her wrists were seized. She tried to pull away, but whoever held her was much stronger. Her right wrist was wrapped in duct tape. And then her left, securing them tightly together in front of her.
She felt a hand close around her ankle and kicked as hard as she could. Her foot sink into a soft body part. Score!
“Shit! Hold the little brat still!” Her captures were men, and Mina didn’t recognize their voices. She kicked out again, but her foot struck only air. A hand covered the top of her head. The hand over her mouth tightened. The man holding Mina leaned into her, applying his weight to her back and shoulders. Her knees buckled.
Mina was forced into a crouched position. She was not allowed to sit, nor was she pemitted to stand. She was in no position to kick, either. In short order, her ankles were duct taped together, then Mina was lifted and carried away.
They didn’t go far. Mina heard a heavy door open. Her feet were dropped to the floor and Mina was stood upright. With her feet taped she couldn’t balance on her own. She was pushed roughly from behind and pitched onto an icy floor.
“That ought to take care of the paragon of virtue and her playmates.” The voice was bitter cold — and female. Mina didn’t recognize it, or understand her meaning. “Come on,” the woman said, “We’ve got work to do.”
Mina heard the door close. “Help!” She shrieked, belatedly realizing the hand no longer covered her mouth. She screamed again. “Help!”
Hands reached out, grabbed her arms and lifted her to a sitting position. “Hush, dear,” and gentle, female voice urged. “It’s no use. This place is sound proof.”
The bag was lifted from Mina’s head. She was in a gray, cold room. And she was with the Maitlands. “Where are we?” Mina demanded.
“We’re in a walk-in freezer,” Mr. Maitland answered.
While Mrs. Maitland picked at the tape around her ankles, Mina turned her head and stared at the freezer door.
“Locked from the outside,” Mrs. Maitland said.
“Let’s just hope it doesn’t have an air tight seal,” Mina thought.
TO BE CONTINUED …