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.
The reading took a long time because they had to stop to have Juan translate different words and phrases. Hours later, Millie put the book down as the two men got busy making some simple tacos for them to eat.
“Okay, lady,” the man she now knew as Carlos said. “We make it $500 American and you give us the book.”
“Oh, I can’t,” Millie gasped. “That’s an original copy. I just carry it around to show people what I have done.”
“No, no,” Carlos waved his hands in the air “La nina,” he looked at Juan and said some words.
Juan said “Daughter.”
“She loves los libros and is working hard to speak the English. She would love this book.” He nodded and his companion nodded with him.
Millie looked at him. “How about $100 and the book?”
The two men looked at each other. The tall one shook his head.
“You see, senora,” the one called Carlos said, “we would be, ah…” He looked at Juan, more Spanish. “Ah, yes. Embarrassed to let you go for that amount.”
“Who would know?” asked Millie.
“People would know. Not good for our reputation.”
Millie sighed. “Okay, five hundred dollars and the book. Not a dollar more. I can give you a check but I won’t sign it unless you take us both back.”
Juan did some more translating. The two men looked at each other again and then nodded.
“Is getting late and no good to be on the river late. We stay here and go manana.”
“Esta bien,” Millie said to the two of them. The men looked at her with surprise then laughed. They all ate their tacos.
“Now,” the short man said, “you finish the book for us.”
Millie nodded, they moved over to a small fireplace and settled on the floor. The men built a small fire in the grate and even took Juan’s ropes off him. They settled down, now with cups of strong coffee and Millie continued to read.
The next day, the men led them back to the canoes and they returned the way they had come. They kept Juan as hostage as Millie went back to her hotel, got her checkbook out of her suitcase and wrote a check.
She returned to the small boat dock and handed the check over and Carlos let Juan out of the boat. She was about to turn to go when Carlos spoke again.
“Un momento, Senora. Una mas, por favor.” She paused. Carlos held out the book she had given him. “Could you sign, for my daughter? Mucho gracias, Senora.”
Millie laughed and shook her head. She pulled a pen from her bag and opening the front flap of the book and wrote ‘Millie Wirt Benson, aka, Carolyn Keene.’
She handed the book back to Carlos who read the inscription. “Gracias, Senora. You are very kind.”
Millie nodded and she and Juan made their way back to the village.
“But your trip, Senora Benson, the ruins!” Juan exclaimed as they approached the hotel.
“It’s okay, Juan. Enough adventures for one day. I need a bath. I’ll see you later!”
Juan nodded to the senora and went to unload the canoe.
Taken from – Kindle Vella
Carolyn Keene, Telephone for Miss Keene
Courtney E. Webb