Recap: Shani calls the number on the card, and a man tells her to meet him at her house and to come alone. On her way, as she’s walking through the park, a girl stops her. Shoshana realizes the girl is Ruty, Penina’s sister. Ruty says she knows she’s Penina’s new friend and she tells her not to go home.
I decided to follow Ruty. I ran after Ruty and the other girl. They headed towards a wooded area. I followed them.
They went inside a small deserted-looking shack. I debated. Should I knock and ask them for help. Ruty was so certain I shouldn’t go home. She had to explain. I needed to know what she was talking about. Could I trust her?
I asked Hashem for help and then I knocked. The other girl peered at me through the door slot. “Who are you?”
“I’m a friend of Ruty’s sister. Please, please let me in. It’s a matter of… It’s a matter of life and death.”
There was a long pause. She must be arguing with Ruty. I heard loud whispers, then the door opened very sightly. I slid inside. The girl closed it quickly. It was dim inside. There was only one light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The room was dusty, and I noted an old couch and a rickety card table.
“What do you want?” The girl had blue hair.
“I want to speak to Ruty, please.”
Ruty stepped into the room. “You followed us?”
“I’m sorry but you said something to me, and I need to know what you meant. I was going home to show someone something and I need to know what you were talking about.”
The other girl nudged Ruty. “Be careful what you say. It could get us both in trouble.” She snorted and left the room.
“There’s nothin’ to eat,” she called from the kitchen.
She was opening cabinets and slamming them shut. “We’ll have to sneak into the store again.”
Ruty turned towards me. “Look, you’re my sister’s friend. I don’t want anything to happen to you.” She motioned me away from the door. “There’s a gang. They’re vicious. The leader is the worst. She’s evil.”
“How do you––”
“Just listen. Her name is Eva Gator, but she goes by A. Everyone calls her A – short for Alligator. She’s been tracking information about something with your family. Your father’s a scientist? I think I heard Gator talking about a medical journal. She reads so she can figure out perfect crimes. She’s super smart and super dangerous. It’s sick. It’s totally sick.”
Just then, a car with tinted windows screeched to a halt in front of the shack.
“It’s her. Quick, run out the back door.”
I didn’t ask any questions. I just raced toward the back of the shack. I couldn’t find the back door. The car door slammed. I found a dusty closet in the kitchen, and I rushed inside and closed the door.
I heard someone stomp into the house and slam the door.
“Where you been? I want dinner.”
“I’m here, Gator,” the other girl purred. “We’ll get dinner, but we haven’t got any stuff to cook.”
“You figure it out.” I heard a loud slap and Barrie gasped.
“You get me food.”
“Okay, I’m going,” Barrie said. I heard the sob in her voice.
“What about you? I want some hot coffee. Make it.”
I heard someone shuffling around in the kitchen with a kettle. It must be Ruty.
“Did you find what you wanted?”
“None of your business. I’m trackin’ someone. Did you see someone – a girl with blonde hair. I need to find her.”
“I didn’t,” Ruty lied.
“Well, I hope you are telling the truth. She hangs with your sister. Hey, that’s an idea. I’ll get you to find her for me.”
I heard a lot of banging and doors slamming. I heard Ruty in the kitchen. I suddenly had the urge to sneeze. I stifled it the best I could, but there was a noise.
Instantly, Ruty opened the closet door. “You’re still here,” she hissed. I told you to leave.”
“I couldn’t find––”
“What’s takin’ so long?” Gator’s voice boomed from the entryway.
Ruty slammed the closet shut. “It’ll be ready soon. Just plugged in the coffee pot.”
My neck muscles tightened. I was shaking all over. What if that Gator person came into the kitchen? What if I sneezed again? I had to get out of here, but how?
Ruty called to the woman. “I’ll bring your coffee on the front porch. It’s too dusty in the kitchen.
Thank you, Ruty!
I heard her moving outside. The front door slammed.
Was it safe for me to unfold myself out of this dirty closet and get out of here somehow?
I waited. The only sound was my heart pumping like 100 miles an hour. I carefully opened the closet door and crept out. I looked around. Where was the back door?
It was so dark and dusty everywhere. I tripped over an overturned chair. Where was light coming from. Finally I spotted the back door. It was shut tight. I crept towards it.
“Yes, I’ll go and get it for you.” Ruty’s voice rang loud.
She was buying me time.
I reached for the door handle. I turned it. The door wouldn’t budge. I pressed against it with my shoulder and my whole body. It was warped and shut fast.
“I need more sugar!” Gator screamed.
I kicked at the door as quietly as possible. I begged Hashem to please help me.
“I’ll get it myself.” Gator stomped towards the kitchen.
I held my breath and shoved at the door with all my might. It opened. I thanked Hashem and sprang out the door as fast as a grasshopper. The backyard was a mass of overgrown weeds and piles of wood. I jumped over piles and ran as fast as I could. The sun was setting. I hadn’t realized how long I’d been here. School was long over. I debated where to go next. I didn’t want to go home. It was too risky. Penina’s house was the closest to here. I ran and ran until I reached her house, all out of breath. I ran around to the back and banged on the door.
Penina appeared. “Hi, what’s wrong.”
Suddenly, I felt that awful dizzy feeling. “Can I come inside? I need to come inside.”
Penina let me in. “It’s messy. Don’t mind the mess.
There were stacks of boxes and old couches with clothing strewn over them. I plunked down on one of the couches.
“I didn’t have time to straighten—”
I put my head between my knees and waited for the scary feeling to pass.
“I’ll get you a drink of water.”
Penina came back with a glass of ice water. I lifted my head slowly.
“Baruch Hashem, I feel better. Thank you.”
I sipped the water.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
I wasn’t going to reveal my health secret, so I focused on why I came.
I ignored her question and I told her about the warning from her sister and how I’d followed her and then everything that happened and how I’d run to escape.
Thankfully, she didn’t ask about why I was dizzy. She probably assumed I was feeling ill from the fright.
Penina gasped. “Ruty’s with that awful gang. They’re really bad news. She––”
Penina sat down next to me. “It’s so hard. I can’t have friends over anymore. Ruty and I were always so close. It’s so hard. I don’t know what happened to her. She was always so smart and good at everything. She had questions and the teachers would get annoyed. I know that wasn’t good. All I know is my parents are always bickering and fighting about her. My mother stopped caring about the house. She’s upset all the time. Our house didn’t always look like a mess like this before.
“I am so mad at Ruty. She’s destroying our family and she doesn’t even care. I used to look up to her. She was always so smart, and I wanted to be just like her. She’s ten years older than me.”
“I’m sorry to hear this. But Penina, she tried to help me. She really did.”
Penina shrugged. “Alligators are a terrible gang. They’ve stolen and done worse. I don’t know how she got involved with them, but she could end up in jail.”
Just then we heard a car. I felt my heart jump. We both looked out the window.
I saw someone step out of the car. There wasn’t much light on Penina’s block.
“What if it’s that Gator person?” I asked. “I’m going to run over to Ilana’s house.”
“It’s probably not her,” Penina said.
“I just don’t want to wait here. She knows where Ruty’s house is and that I’m your friend. I don’t want you mixed up in this.”
“Good luck. Be careful,” Penina said.
I left out the back and headed in the dark toward Ilana’s house.
I kept glancing behind me as I ran to make sure no one was following me. When I reached her house, I saw the shades were all drawn and their car wasn’t in the driveway. Tonight was Wednesday. I’d forgotten that they went to Ilana’s parents every Wednesday and sometimes they slept over. Now what?
I surveyed the house. I spotted an open window on the side. I noted there was enough space for me to squeeze through. I didn’t like doing this, but I was sure Ilana and Yehoshua would want me to come in to be out of danger. I pulled myself up from the ledge and then swung myself in. Luckily, I’m skinny and pretty agile. I made it inside easily. I closed the window and turned on a small lamp in Ilana’s office. The first thing I saw on her desk was the journal. That was exactly what I needed to distract myself. I took it and sat down in a rocking chair and began reading.
To be continued…