“Maggie!” the voice boomed as he charged into the house. “He’s
gone. Here, just look at this! He’s been kidnapped, right before our very eyes. Can you believe it?”
Then the phone went dead. Max Stryker sat at her kitchen table, staring in disbelief at
the phone in her hand. She had hung up on her! Her very own mother!
She had been through a lot in the last twenty-four hours. She twirled the pink slip around on the table. There was no point in arguing about it; everybody knew the St. Paul Pioneer Press might be nearing its last days. Knight Ridder had just announced that they had been bought out,
and nothing was sure. But—she smiled—it was fun while it lasted.
She reread the notice in the latest trade magazine for the umpteenth time. Wanted
Immediately: reporter and editor to run successful small town newspaper. Owner/pub retiring.
If only it was someplace else. She had tried so hard to get out of Willow Creek. It was so small there was no room
for advancement in her future. Sure, old Joe McGrath had argued that she owed him everything she had; after all, he had taught
her the newspaper business from one end to the other when she worked for him during her high school days. But that was then,
and this was now.
“You’ve come a long way, baby!” she said, trying to convince herself of the truth of the statement.
“You’ve been there and done it all. How could you even consider going back to your old stomping grounds once you’ve
seen what big city life is like?”
She cringed at the mere thought of returning home. It was the one thing she had vowed she
would never do. So many of her friends had been forced to return to their parents’ homes because they couldn’t
make it in the outside world, but not Max. Oh, no! She was better than that. Her final words as she left Willow Creek were,
“I’ll show you!” as she looked in the rear view mirror and thumbed her nose—so adolescent-like—at
the small-potato life she was leaving behind.
Now, about to do what she promised she would never do, she smiled as she thought of all
the things she had learned from her father. Bud Stryker was the chief of police in Willow Creek. It didn’t matter that
he was the only cop in town. He was still the boss. Of course he was also the mayor,
the head of the city council, and the president of the school board…
She punched the numbers on her phone automatically. Funny,
she thought, some things—like your own phone number—you never forget.
The busy signal growled angrily in her ear.
again, and again, and again, punching the redial button each time. Finally, her mother answered the phone. She had barely
said "Hello" when Max heard her father bellow in the background.
"Keep that line clear, Ma! You know we have to have it open in case they find out where he's gone! Who'd a thunk it?
A kidnapping!" And then the phone buzzed in Max's ear.
“Wonder who is missing?” she said aloud. Nothing exciting ever happened in Willow Creek. The biggest event
she could ever remember was the time Pete Bjornson got run over by the moose. Poor old Pete! Neither Pete nor the moose survived
A kidnapping! That was about the most farfetched thing she’d ever heard of, at least
in Willow Creek.
She punched the redial button again. Still busy. She kept redialing, time after time, hardly
giving the line time to cool in between calls. Finally, she heard her mother answer again.
“Mother?” she asked. “What’s going on up there? Did I hear Pops
right? Somebody’s been kidnapped?”
“That’s right,” her mother said.
“Is Pops on top of it already?” Max asked. Then, she knew what she had to do.
He needed her. She had learned a lot while she was covering the crime beat on the big time St. Paul Pioneer Press. She had tracked down serial killers and kidnappers on an almost daily basis. She could certainly
help Pops find a kidnapper in Willow Creek. After all, there were only 265 people there. No, she thought, 264; she had left.
To her knowledge, no one had moved into town to take her place.
“I’m coming home,” Max said. “Tell Joe I saw his ad. I’ll
be there in about four hours. He can’t handle this by himself. It’s too big for him.”
A loud clap of thunder echoed through the phone and then it went dead. Max laughed. Just like on TV, she thought. Every time something weird happens, it is in the middle of a storm.
Max scurried around her apartment, shoving her belongings into suitcases. When they were
full, she ran down to the basement to grab whatever boxes she could find.
Max’s sleek white Jaguar slithered along the Interstate. Her mind seemed to be traveling
faster than the car. She hated to admit defeat. This way, if there really was a kidnapping, it offered the perfect excuse.
She didn’t have to take out an ad, notifying everybody that she’d been sacked.
It was of little consolation, as she mulled the circumstances over and over, that it was
the newspaper that failed—not her. Nobody ever imagined that the Pioneer Press
wouldn't survive. Oh, sure, it might be bought up by somebody else, but it would never be the same. She was jobless, and
she needed them. But, she was in control of this whole mess. She lifted her head heavenward, saying a silent “Thank
you” to whoever was responsible for kidnapping the victim. It was exactly what she needed to save face back home in
At the Herald office in Willow Creek, Joe McGrath
rubbed his hands together in glee at the prospect of such a big story for his weekly edition. The sweat was pouring off his
bald head. “It’s the biggest news to hit town since the moose got loose and killed poor old Pete!” he said
gleefully just as Mrs. Stryker walked in.
“Joe?” she asked, staring at him with concern. “You look like you’re
burning up with a fever! It’s a good thing Maxine’s coming home to rescue you.”
“The only fever I’ve got is to get this type set and the paper run off. Shoot!
If Rick and I can get it done on time, we might even come out with a special edition. Two papers in one week! Can you imagine
Mrs. Stryker sensed that he was so excited he hadn’t heard one word she had said
about Maxine. Maybe this wasn’t the time for such news, but it was obvious that he needed help. She never really did
figure Rick was all that competent. He certainly couldn’t take Maxine’s place. Nobody could.
“So you heard the big news?” Mrs. Stryker asked.
“Of course,” Joe said. “I should have known you’d have heard, too.
I suppose Bud filled you in on all the details. Good, sit down.” He grabbed
a notepad and began to scribble. “Give me what you’ve got.”
Mrs. Stryker wasn’t about to admit—to Joe McGrath or anybody else—that
the only thing Bud had told her was that the kidnappee was Bill Crane, the bank president. Any details disappeared with Bud
when he raced out of the house as fast as he’d come into it.
“It’s Bill Crane, over at the bank,” she said.
“I know that!” Joe sputtered. “He’s disappeared. There’s
no sign of him anywhere. His car is at the bank, but he never went home last night. When Sally got to the bank this morning
she found it unlocked, so she figured he was already there. Working early. He did that a lot, you know.”
“Yeah,” Mrs. Stryker mumbled. “That and a whole lot more.” She had learned more from Joe in the last two minutes than she knew, even if she was
married to the chief of police and the mayor.
“Beg your pardon, Maggie. What’d you say?”
“Nothing,” she answered. “Nothing important.”
There wasn’t any need for her to repeat it. Everybody in town knew his reputation
with the girls at the bank. They all made sure they left well ahead of him, and as far as they all knew, he’d never
been successful in seducing any of them, but it sure wasn’t because he didn’t try! Yeah, this leaves a whole bevy of suspects, she thought. There probably wasn’t one single person in town—or
married either, for that matter—who would be upset by Bill Crane’s disappearance. Every woman, every husband,
every father—they all hated him with a passion. A passion capable of—kidnapping? Sure, easy. Maybe even murder.
“I told him some day he’d get his come-uppance,” Mrs. Stryker said. “So
where’d he go?”
“Don’t rightly know,” Joe said, “but there was a ransom note on
his desk. Asked for fifty thousand dollars. Can you fathom that? Old Bill, he thought he was priceless! Why, in a big city
they’d have asked for a few million for a bank president. Guess he wasn’t as valuable as he thought.”
Joe laughed at the irony of the situation. He knew it was nasty, but he was almost glad
somebody had tried to play games with Bill Crane. He remembered the time his own daughter had come home and told him about
Bill’s advances. He was ready to do a whole lot more than kidnap the guy. If Chief Stryker hadn’t been there when
he got to the bank, Joe would probably have killed him with his own bare hands.
“Sure wish Max was here to help me!” he grumbled as he kept on working at the
typesetting machine. “Rick!” he hollered. “Can’t depend on that kid for anything!”
Confirming Mrs. Stryker’s suspicion that he hadn’t heard a word she said, she
repeated the information. “That’s why I came over here in the first place. Maxine just called. She’s coming
home. She said she heard you were ready to retire and figured you needed some help. You know, somebody you could depend on.”
“Figured the old man couldn’t handle it any more, did she?” he said,
trying to sound like he was complaining. Mrs. Stryker, however, saw the twinkle in his eye that Maxine had always put there.
They had been a good team. It would be good to see them together again.
“Rick!” Joe yelled again.
“Yeah, boss?” the young man said as he nonchalantly wandered in through the
back door with a can of soda pop in his hand.
“Where’d you go? We’ve got work to do! Important work!”
“Got thirsty,” Rick replied, shrugging his shoulders.
Joe buried his head in his hands.
“Hurry home, Max,” he said softly as Mrs. Stryker walked out the door.