Right, gotcha, Beth,” Kyle said eagerly into his cell phone in the Coalport Diner, “We’ve got an idea here ourselves, so if we can find you, we’ll be there. We’ll do the best we can. Right. Keep in touch.”
He hung up. “Well, mostly good news; they rescued Amy and got away with her safely,” he told everyone else in the booth, who breathed deep sighs of relief, “They’re holed up in a ranger cabin at the moment, so they’re in White Birch State Park; problem is, they don’t know exactly where.”
“If they were coming down from Sharp Mountain...” Andrea mused, typing in some information on her own phone, “...hmm, that leaves about five possibilities of their exact location in the park; problem is, the stations are a bit spread out, so it might take all day...”
“We’ll do it,” Beverly stressed, “Whatever we can do for Amy, we’ll do it.”
“We appreciate it, Beverly,” Andrea commended her.
“I used to think you and your Sidekicks friends were just some strange soccer clique, but now I think I understand everything you say about friendship and being there for each other,” the popular girl confessed, “It’s something Kevin and I’d like to try more now, with you guys and maybe other people in our class we haven’t been close with going forward,” she turned to her boyfriend, who nodded emphatically.
“OK, it’s now...” Kyle glanced at the clock above the diner’s counter, “quarter after eleven. How about we meet at Tim’s dad’s store at seven thirty, if you can get the key by then, that is?” he asked Tim.
“I probably can, Kyle. My dad’ll probably be upset-he doesn’t like me borrowing any of the merchandise-but for Monica and any of her friends, I’ll do it. I just hope this snow finally ends,” Tim glanced warily at the still falling snow outside.
“Looks like it finally starts tapering off tomorrow morning, Tim,” Kevin said, staring at a weather report on his own phone, “And if it doesn’t, the snow’ll at least give us some cover. In the meantime...”
He pulled out his phone and started dialing a number. “Adam, it’s me. Where’re you at right now? Actually, that’s just a past loop running, Adam; she just got rescued by all the soccer players she was spending the weekend with. Yeah, I know, I’m relieved too. Anyway, I’ve got a job for you; who all was going to that vigil they had planned for Amy tomorrow morning? Call around to them, as many as you can; we’ve got a plan forming here to help get her and them back to Coalport safely, and we could use all the help we can get...”
“...our top news story this morning, Coalport holds its breath for the fate of a high schooler being held prisoner by the thieves who robbed the Miners’ Union Bank in town on Friday afternoon,” the morning newscaster was stating on Mrs. Newberry’s phone as she and her husband sat slumped in their car, still stranded on Mountain View Road, “Friday evening, a feed was posted online showing sixteen year old Amy Newberry, who was new in town, being held hostage at an unknown location. The thieves, who killed two bank employees and made off with over one hundred thousand dollars, announced that they had taken the girl prisoner as insurance against capture, and that they would kill her if police attempted to capture them. Police have informed reporters that the ongoing blizzard had hindered efforts to determine Miss Newberry’s location and to try and reach her, but are working to narrow down their leads. Meanwhile, once word of Miss Newberry’s plight came to light, Coalport has responded with an outpouring of support for the new town resident...”
“That’s so nice,” Mrs. Newberry smiled at the sight of a dozen or so people praying in church for their daughter’s safe return. A woman being interviewed next told the reporter she worried for Amy as if she were her own daughter, and then a high school boy followed by saying that the whole school would be standing behind her, hoping she was returned safely. “Maybe you were right about there being a friendly feeling in the air up here, Scott,” she told her husband in the seat next to her, “If she...when she comes back, she’ll be delighted to know this many people care for her now here.”
“Yeah, I know, I just wish it didn’t have to be this way because of her being kidnapped like this,” Mr. Newberry mumbled grimly, staring out the driver’s side window at the brightening horizon. “Those goons never called us back for ransom drop instructions. Did they just forget, or was it something else...?”
He was interrupted by his wife’s phone ringing. “Yes!?” Mrs. Newberry answered it breathlessly.
“Hi Kelly, it’s Joyce,” came the solemn voice of one of her new coworkers, “Where are you now?”
“To be honest, Joyce, stranded with Scott somewhere on Mountain View Road,” Mrs. Newberry admitted grimly, “We went out looking for Amy ourselves and got stuck. Why!? Have you heard anything...!?”
“I just got a call from my son Adam; he got word from a couple of the kids who were at the campout with your daughter: she’s been rescued. They’re holed up in a cabin in White Birch State Park...”
“What!? When!? How!?” Mrs. Newberry gasped, exchanging glances with her shocked husband, who’d listened in.
“I don’t know; Adam didn’t say. He said he’s going out there with some friends; he hung up before I could ask more...”
“Well let us know if you hear any more, Joyce. Thanks for letting us know,” Mrs. Newberry hung up. “White Birch State Park...!” she tore open the glove compartment and fumbled around for a road map. Yanking one out, she spread it out over the dashboard. “There, right on the other side of the mountain from here!” she pointed triumphantly at it.
“Let’s roll, then, if we can,” Mr. Newberry restarted his car’s engine, shifted into drive, and jammed his foot down hard on the accelerator...but the car’s wheels spun uselessly in place, still stuck good in the snow. Growling, he slapped the dashboard hard. “How are we supposed to get out of here!?” he bellowed.
Before his wife could answer, there came the blaring of a horn behind them. They jumped out of the car to see a snow plow approaching, pushing snow to the sides of the road. “Stop, stop!” Mr. Newberry leaped out and waved his arms at the driver, who indeed slid to a stop right behind their car. “What are you two doing out here?” he rolled down his window.
“We went looking for our daughter; she’s been abducted. Could you please give us a lift?” Mr. Newberry begged him.
“Sorry, no can do; I’m on a tight timetable to get this road cleared,” the driver shook his head, “Can you move your car out of the way?”
“We’re stuck! Please, help us!” Mrs. Newberry pleaded him.
“Lady, sorry, but no. Could you at least try and push it out of the snow?” the driver shot her down again. Mrs. Newberry opened her mouth to protest again, but stopped. She and Mr. Newberry turned to each other, grinned, and nodded. “Uh, yeah, sure, then, we’ll move. Could you come down and help us push it?” Mr. Newberry asked the driver.
“Well, guess that wouldn’t hurt,” the driver opened the plow’s door and climbed down. Where do you want me to...?”
“Right in the middle’ll be good,” Mrs. Newberry directed him to the center of the rear bumper of her car. Once the driver had grasped hold of it, she turned to her husband again. They nodded in unison, turned and raced for the snowplow. “Hey, hey, hey, come back here!” the driver shouted at them and turned to give pursuit, but they’d already jumped up into the cab of his truck. Mr. Newberry threw it into reverse and peeled backwards down Mountain View Road. “Sorry, but we have to help our daughter!” he shouted at the driver, who continued running after his vehicle, but was soon left well behind. Mr. Newberry did a quick three point turn so he was facing forward again and pressed down on the gas pedal hard. “You brought the map, Kelly?” he asked his wife.
“Right here,” she held it up, “Looks like a right turn in about a mile or two. Hopefully they’ll have park maps when we get there. And hopefully Amy and her friends have gotten away from those thugs for good...”
“Gil, it’s me,” Nevin said frustratedly into his cell phone on top of the wooded ridge in the woods, “We’ve got a bit of a problem here: the blonde’s friends raided the hideout last night. They escaped with her and took half the loot we’d stocked up-anything!?” he asked Vera, running up to him.
“Got most of the cash on the snowmobiles they stole back, but no sign of those brat kids,” Vera shook her head, holding up two bags of cash. Nevin growled out loud. “We’re trying to hunt them down and eliminate them, because they know Dyl’s face by heart, and they might have seen ours last night...” he continued over the phone.
“I’ve got a better idea, Nevin; just forget about those kids and get over here,” Gil told him, sounding frustrated now himself, “I saw on the news this morning they arrested Lou, and it looks like he spilled all he knew. So take my advice: cut your losses and get to safety while you can. This storm’s starting to wind down, and my guys can’t wait for you much longer out here without being caught. Use your head here, Nevin. Hopefully see you in an hour.”
He hung up. “How’s it going, Uncle Nevin?” a now freed again Dylan came running up the ridge towards he and Vera.
“Terrible on my end; you see them?” his uncle demanded.
“No, no trace of them. The snow’s probably filled in their tracks now too,” Dylan kicked the snow in frustration. “This was supposed to be smooth and simple: you and I off to a life of luxury, and me finally having scored a pretty girl. It wasn’t supposed to fall apart like this. We were supposed to be on our way out of this dead end town by now-why’d you guys have to barge in and screw this up for me!?” he bellowed out loud to the other Sidekicks.
“I know, Dyl, I’m as upset as you are,” Nevin put a sympathetic arm around his nephew, “But we’ll make this right in the end, trust me.”
“Maybe we should just take Gil’s advice and get going, Nevin?” Vera suggested, glancing around the woods, “If those kids did get back to Coalport, the cops could be here any minute now. Especially if Lou did crack and tell them everything.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have trusted him to...anything, Fred!?” Nevin demanded to his other partner as the man came huffing up to him on the wooded ridge.
“I just might, Nevin,” Fred grinned, “Come this way...”
Amy let out a soft sigh as she woke up. The first thing she realized was that she wasn’t cold anymore. The blankets had done their job, perhaps even saving her life again from hypothermia, she wondered. There was still some pain when she moved around, but it wasn’t as bad as before. Progress was progress, considering how bad she’d been just hours ago, she reasoned.
She rolled softly sideways, not wanting to open her eyes just yet. Right next to her, she could hear Monica softly praying again: “...Lord Jesus, you’ve gotten Amy and ourselves safely this far, please stay with us and get us safely all the way home. And give Amy comfort if we do so that the horrifying experiences she was put through don’t traumatize her for the rest of her life, for she’s a good person who doesn’t deserve to suffer that. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, amen.” And outside the room, she could heard Laurie’s voice: “...never really noticed how lovely a winter sunrise is before,” she was said softly, “There’s a lot of things in life I haven’t noticed until now. I was so obsessed with being the best soccer player in the world, that I let a lot of things slip my mind...”
She let out a sad sigh. “It’s OK, Laurie, it really is,” Amy heard Shawn tell her, “At least you see more now.”
“Yeah, Shawn, I do,” Laurie’s voice brightened, “Like that I was so bent on getting Craig to like me that I didn’t realize other people already did. I just want to say thanks, Shawn, for staying here with me all night, and all the sweet things you said to make me happy. I’ve been so angry and bent on pushing everyone away; I forgot how much kind words can mean, especially from a kind person like you.”
“I really, really like you, Laurie,” Shawn sounded lovesick himself now, “You’re very pretty, and you always have been.”
“You know, not many guys have told me that, Shawn,” Laurie sounded very touched now, “I kept thinking you were too smart for someone like me, that guys like you weren’t my sort, but it looks like you’re exactly who I should have been looking for all this time. So come on over here; I have a reward for you for everything.”
Amy heard Shawn shifting over, and then Laurie clearly pulling him into a hug. She smiled and let out a contented sigh, happy to know Shawn was getting a happy ending, and Laurie was more healed inside than ever now. A yawn now escaped her lips. “Well, good morning,” Monica greeted Amy as she finally opened her eyes. The brunette gave her a soft hug, “Hope you’re feeling a lot warmer now.”
“A lot warmer, Monica, yeah,” Amy admitted, stretching and sitting up in bed.
“Morning, Amy,” Judy greeted her warmly at the foot of the bed. She and Patrick walked over and sat down on the right side of the bed next to her. “Hope you slept well,” the girls’ goalie told her.
“Pretty good actually, Judy. Where’s Craig and Beth?” Amy glanced around the room, not seeing the twins.
“They went out to look around and get a better idea of where we might be. You need anything at the moment?” Patrick offered her.
“If you have any more granola bars, Patrick, I’m still really hungry,” she admitted.
“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” Patrick rummaged through his pockets. “Um...” he frowned softly, making it clear to Amy he didn’t. “You got anything, Judy?” he asked his best friend.
“Hmm,” Judy searched through her pockets as well, then shook her head. “Sorry Amy, I think we left most of the food in the car,” she apologized to the other blonde. “Monica?” she asked the brunette.
“I think there might be some Pop Tarts in Shawn’s bag; give me a minute to check,” Monica rose up and walked towards the door. “I guess you’re starving by now?” Judy asked Amy sympathetically.
“Yeah,” Amy nodded sadly, rubbing her stomach, which felt completely empty.
“Poor Amy,” Judy slipped an arm around her, as did Patrick, “You didn’t deserve to be left starving like this. No one deserves to be treated like Dylan and those thugs treated you. If we make it back home, we’ll treat you to a big meal somewhere the first chance we get.”
“When, Judy, not if. We’ll make it back,” Patrick assured her. Judy let out a soft laugh and shook her head. “I don’t know how you can always be so positive, Patrick. I like it, and that’s part of why I’ve always liked hanging out with you, but the odds are still really stacked against us here. We’re still miles from Coalport, it’s still snowing good, those guys might be here at any minute, who knows if Amy can make it...”
“I feel a lot better now, Judy. I’m a lot warmer, and I don’t hurt as much. I’d like to try; I don’t want to be the helpless little heroine who lays around waiting to be rescued,” Amy declared.
“See, if Amy believes we can do it, we can do it. And why are you always so negative, Judy?” Patrick asked her in turn, “You worry too much about lots of things, from winning soccer games to this.”
“I just can’t help it, Patrick, that’s who I am. And this is life or death, and...”
“You’re in luck, Amy, he did have some Pop Tarts,” Monica reentered with a packet in hand. She handed it to Amy, who tore it open and eagerly ate them. Shawn and Laurie entered the bedroom after her. And something immediately caught Amy’s attention. “New crutches? Where’d you get those, Laurie?” she asked, seeing her using what looked like two long branches as supports now.
“Shawn broke these off a couple of the trees outside overnight; he said he wanted me to be able to walk around on my own. And I really appreciate that he’d go to that much trouble for me,” Laurie gave Shawn a deep, grateful smile. Shawn blushed heavily, making Amy laugh. “Well, Shawn, you’re quite the ladies man now, aren’t you?” she teased him.
“I can see now what you were trying to tell me, Amy. He is worth my attention, and then some,” Laurie put an arm around Shawn. Both turned at the sound of Shave and a Haircut being knocked on the cabin door. “Craig and Beth,” Shawn mused, hustling to let the twins in. “Glad you made it back safely, guys. What’d you find?”
“We’re deep in the woods for one thing, Shawn,” Craig entered the bedroom. “Morning,” he smiled at Amy, giving her a soft hug of his own, being careful to avoid squeezing her ribs, “How’s Princess Amy doing this morning?”
“A lot better, Sir Craig. And thank you for being so gentle with me all this time,” she leaned her head against his shoulder, “After Dylan got so rough and...almost did what he intended to do, I...”
“Oh I understand, Amy,” he gave her two quick kisses on each cheek, “Unlike Dylan, I’ve always believed in treating girls with respect. Especially the stunningly beautiful ones.”
“Craig...” she gave him a playful shove.
“Well you are, Amy,” he rubbed her shoulder gently. Amy grinned happily, grateful Craig was there to be chivalric with her after what she’d gone through. “What’s the news, Beth?” she asked Craig’s sister, who finally entered the bedroom now, looking drained.
“Good news and bad news, Amy: good news is, the snow’s finally winding down. Bad news is, we’ve got close to thirty inches on the ground, and I don’t recognize where we are at all,” Beth slumped down to the floor, “I hate to sound like a quitter, but I don’t know if we’re going to make it. I don’t see how we get home alive, with...”
“Beth, we have to try,” Amy slid out of bed, “I don’t want to just sit around like a weak little damsel, waiting for those guys to show up...”
“Go where, Amy!? These woods all look the same! I don’t know what else to do!” Beth leaned her head back against the wall, depressed.
“Beth, we’re doing fine. We got this far, didn’t we?” Craig sat down next to his sister.
“But now we’re stranded, Craig!” Beth put her face in her hands, “I’m supposed to be the leader, I’m supposed to have all the answers, but I’ve got nothing left now! You know how deflating that is!?”
“Beth, I think you’re doing great,” Amy bent down to her level and took her hand, “You led the gang in rescuing me, you managed to get us into position to find this cabin. You are a great leader, so there’s no reason you can’t lead us home. I believe you can; we have to try.”
“She’s right, sis; don’t quit on yourself now when you’re doing great,” Craig put an encouraging arm around Beth. “Every one of us trusts you to the core, and we’d follow you to the end of the earth. Right guys?” he asked the rest of the Sidekicks, who nodded, giving Beth supportive looks. Beth took a deep breath. “OK, yeah, we should try,” she agreed with a nod, “I don’t know how we’ll make it, but let’s at least try.”
She rose back to her feet. “OK, hands in again, everyone,” she extended hers forward. Amy and the others all grasped hold of it. “We solemnly swear that we’re in this together, that succeed or fail, we’re all going to be there for each other in trying to get home,” Beth said to all of them, “All for one and one for all, Sidekicks are...”
“Wait, you hear that?” Judy suddenly interrupted, raising her hand. Amy heard it too: snowmobiles getting very close to the cabin. “Oh my god...” she mumbled, “They’ve found us...!”
“OOOOOOOh, they must have seen Craig and I walking around outside somewhere!” Beth moaned, pounding her fists off the wall, “Stupid, stupid, stupid, Klein; you should have looked around more carefully!”
“No time for guilt trips, Beth; let’s just get out of here!” Patrick shouted, looking around for another door. There was none, however, except for the front door, and the snowmobiles-plus what sounded like the van Amy had been taken away in before-now came to a screeching halt right outside the front of the cabin. “OK kids, we know you’re in there, come on out!” Nevin ordered them out loud, “We’ll give you two minutes, then you face the consequences!”
The Sidekicks all exchanged nervous glances with each other. “No other way out...!” Judy mumbled fearfully, “What do we do now, guys?”
“They’ll kill us if we step out there,” Shawn muttered, “Let’s fight for all it’s worth...!”
“Against four thugs with assault rifles!?” Patrick shook his head from the window, where he had crawled and could now see Dylan and the other thieves standing outside, heavily armed. It was in fact Dylan who stepped forward now. “Amy, it’s me,” he shouted at the door, “I know you probably don’t want to hear from me right now, but I want you to know, you’re the one we want the most here. If you come out, I’ll convince everyone else here to let the rest of the gang go, I swear it. And we won’t hurt you again either; we’ll go on a long vacation to a warm place together. What do you say?”
“What do I say!? You really expect me to want to go with you after what you try to do to me last night, Dylan Wilson!?” Amy furiously approached the door, but did not open it, “I’d rather die here instead!”
“Amy...you don’t understand; when I saw you for the first time, I was just captivated by you,” Dylan protested, “You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen. I’ve never had any luck with girls, I wanted you to love me. I still love you...!”
“So loving someone is to capture them and try and force love on them because you think they’re beautiful!? That’s not love, Dylan!” she shouted at him, “What I have with Craig is love; he treats me like a human being, not some sexual toy! You have my answer: no, I’m not coming out! You’ll have to kill me instead!”
She took a nervous breath, hoping that wasn’t what he was about to do. “Great job,” Craig whispered in her ear, patting her shoulder approvingly, “Didn’t I tell you that you were strong and brave?” He approached the door himself. “Like Amy said, we’re not coming out!” he shouted defiantly at the criminals.
“Craig, I’m trying to be reasonable with you and Amy and everyone...!” Dylan continued protesting.
“Save it, Dyl. They’ve made their choice. Now let them take the consequences,” Nevin snarled. Moments later, two bright objects smashed through the front window and fell to the floor, which immediately started burning. “Oh god, oh god!” Amy gulped, backing away from the flames, which was already spreading rapidly across the floor. “Out the bedroom windows, guys, it’s probably our own chance!” she shouted at the other Sidekicks.
“I know!” coughing, Craig rushed into the bedroom-but backpedaled as two more Molotov cocktails smashed through the bedroom windows, starting another fire. And more flaming projectiles were still crashing through the front windows as well. The air was now heavy with smoke, and flames were seemingly everywhere. Coughing herself, Amy collapsed to the floor. “There’s got to be a way out of here!” she gasped.
“Too late now, there’s no way out,” Shawn slumped to the floor next to her, depressed, “At least,” he looked around at the other Sidekicks, slumping down around them, “We’re going to go out together as friends...”
“Heavenly Father, we pray for one last miracle...” Monica desperately started praying again, but Amy knew it was too late now. Nothing could save them now...