from: Telephone Call for Carolyn Keene
Good times were not to last and George Benson also suffered a stroke and died the night before the couple was to leave on a trip to Central America. Heart broken, Millie did not marry again.
Times changed and the demands for the girl sleuth changed. Stratemeyer had died and his
daughter Harriet had taken over the Syndicate. Other ghostwriters were hired to work on the series.
Eventually, Millie herself got tired of Nancy and wanted to move onto something else. She eventually worked on a number of series for kids, some under different pen names and some using her own. Her favorite, Penny Parker, was about a girl reporter full of pluck and independence. She still worked as a reporter for the Toledo Blade and was busy taking trips to Central America to explore her favorite ruins. It was there it happened. Mildred Wirt Benson was kidnapped in Guatemala!
After the death of her husband, George Benson, Millie continued to take trips to her beloved Central America to look at the Mayan ruins. It was on one of these trips that it happened. Mildred Wirt Benson was kidnapped in Guatemala!
Millie was with her local guide and was eager to start their exploration of the Rio de la Pasion River. Their canoe was ready, provisions were packed, she had her leather messenger bag complete with camera and notebook. Millie loved to record her journeys and show pictures when she got back to her friends in Ohio. The guide spoke passable English, the weather was good; they were set!
It was mid-morning, the sky was bright blue and the sun was gaining on the sky but it still wasn’t completely hot. Early November and the real heat had not yet set in. The jungle around them was a deep green. Birds could be heard calling to each other overhead. When Millie looked up from her paddling, she could glimpse their bright colors fliting from tree to tree. Her guide promised to take her to some Mayan ruins off the beaten track that not too many people had seen. Millie was giddy with excitement. She loved this!
They paddled down the seemingly tranquil river and had been gone from their dock about a half hour. Millie could see a canoe approaching them from the opposite direction. She assumed it was a farmer come to sell his goods at the little market in the village they had come from.
“Buenos Diaz!” Her guide shouted and waved at the oncoming canoe.
“Buenos Diaz, amigo!” was the reply as the two men seemed about to row past them. Suddenly, as the canoe glided past them one man pulled his paddle out of the water and stuck it into the back of their boat and pulled. Her canoe started to swing around, the other man pulled out a gun and pointed it at the guide who dropped his paddle in the canoe and held up his hands. Rapid fire Spanish flew between the two men. The other canoe came along side of theirs. The man with the gun gestured at the guide who then stepped over to the second canoe. The man with the gun got into hers.
“Vamonos!” Millie heard the man from the second canoe shout and the two canoes made a detour toward the shore. There, the two strange men quickly jumped out and secured the canoes on a short shelf of sand.
“Out, out,” one of the men shouted at her. Getting up while the canoe was still rocking, Millie slung her messenger bag over one shoulder and steadied herself to get out. Her guide rushed to her side to help her and she put a dainty foot over the side of the boat. The two men were still shouting and the one with the gun gestured for them to walk.
They entered the jungle and Millie realized they were on a small dirt path through the trees. They walked in silence for another half hour. Later, Millie remembered hearing the howler monkeys calling to each other from above. Sometimes from a branch of safety, she thought she could see bright eyes in dark faces peering at them through a canopy of glossy green leaves.
Finally, they reached a small house or more like a hut in the middle of a small clearing. One man went forward, opened the door and gestured for them to go in. The hut was small and dark and smelled like goats. The two men had Millie and the guide sit down on two rough chairs. One went and fetched rope from a corner and then tied both travelers to the chairs.
The men started talking to the guide and he translated.
“Ms. Millie, these men know you are American and they want money for your release.”
“How much money?” Millie asked. More conversation.
“One thousand dollars, American.”
“But I don’t have that kind of money on me. I only have a few dollars.”
More back and forth in Spanish.
“They say you will have to get it or they will have to hurt you.”
“Well, tell them not to do that. We can work something out. If they would only release this rope and give us some water, maybe we can talk about it.”
“They say okay, but if you try to run, the man, he will have to shoot you.”
“Tell the man I won’t run. However,” Millie replied, “I am very thirsty and would like some water. All our supplies are in our canoe.”
The man without the gun, a short, squat man with dark brown skin and black hair came over and loosened her rope. Then he went and ladled some water from a bucket into a rough cup and handed it to her. Millie drank it down and said “Now him,” she gestured at her guide with the cup.
The man stared at her a moment then grabbed the cup and went to refill it with more water. He walked over to Juan, loosened the ropes and handed him the cup. The guide finished it with a gulp.
“Tell the nice man, Juan, that I am a writer and don’t make very much money. $1,000 is really a lot to pay.” Millie said. Juan translated.
“But you are American, they say, you all have a lot of money.”
“Not really. Ah, ask if I could have my bag. I could show him something.” Juan translated and the man with the gun, stuck the gun in his belt, grabbed her bag. He looked through it first and then handed it over. He loosened her ropes so she could use her hands.
Millie reached in her bag and pulled out an old battered copy of The Hidden Staircase. “See, I write books. This is my book.” She pointed at the title.
The shorter man, without the gun, reached over and took the book from her.
“No, is not you,” he pointed at the cover. “Is Carolyn Keene, writer. Is not you. You is Wirt. Not the same.”
Millie was surprised the man spoke any English. But, she thought, that’s a good thing.
She slowed down her speech. “No, it is me. That is my book. That name,” she pointed at the book, “that is like,” she paused, “a stage name. Like an actress’s stage name.”
Juan translated. Millie could hear actriza spoken over and over.
“So, dis is your book, you are worth much money!” The short man said and he and his friend laughed.
“Oh, no,” Millie replied. “Not much money. That book, only $125 to write.” Juan translated the dollars into dineros. The two kidnappers shook their heads. “Plus, I’m only a woman, and kind of old. People probably wouldn’t pay much for me.” Is fifty-five that old? Millie thought to herself.
The two kidnappers shook their heads and again and went to the corner and whispered to each other. They came back. The short one did the talking.
“How we know you really write the book?” The short man asked.
“Oh,” Millie answered pleasantly, “I could read it to you. I have it practically memorized anyway. But you really must untie me. Where would I run to? I have no idea where I am.”
The two men whispered to each other and seemed to come to an agreement. They untied Millie and handed her back the book. Then they pulled her around to a small kitchen table. The taller man got more cups of water. They gestured for Juan to come over. He hobbled over on his chair.
The four of them sat at the table; Juan still loosely tied, while Millie read them The Hidden Staircase.
Continued Part II
Taken from – Kindle Vella
Carolyn Keene, Telephone for Miss Keene
Courtney E. Webb