New York Cool

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The Big
Apple Posse:
Escape From
Los Angeles

First Chapter

Written by Wendy R. Williams
Illustrated by
Sophie Escabasse

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The Big Apple Posse:
Escape From Los Angeles
(Third Book of The Big Apple Posse Trilogy)

Written by Wendy R. Williams
Illustrated by Sophie Escabesse

 

Teen Action Adventure Story
Copyright @ 2012 by Wendy R. Williams

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce or transmit this book or any part thereof by any means whatsoever, without written permission of the author, except where permitted by law.

Address story inquiries to:
Wendy R. Williams Oval Concierge
276 First Avenue
New York, New York 10009
bigappleposse@newyorkcool.com

Address illustration inquiries to:
essoclaffi@gmail.com
esofii.com/

 


Chapter I

Amanda squirmed in the backseat of the Escalade, unable to find a comfortable position without waking her brother Peter who was asleep, his head on a pillow in her lap. Amanda also had a pillow; she had a blanket too, for which she was grateful. It was nice to feel warm again after swimming from a yacht to shore in fifty degree weather wearing a cocktail dress, high heels, and what was now a soggy, smelly down jacket. Now that she was warm, she could feel the bruises developing on her face from where the thugs had slugged both her and Solange to make them tell where Thibodeaux and Peter were hiding. But for now, they were safe. Thibodeaux and Solange were asleep in the middle seats of the Escalade; she was trying to sleep in the back, and Michael and his brother, DJ True, were driving. Amanda guessed it could be worse. She could be the one trying to stay awake and drive all night instead of trying to sleep without pressing on her bruises. Not that anyone would allow a thirteen-year-old girl to drive on a highway at 1 a.m.

Today was shaping up to be one of the worst days of Amanda's life—right up there with the day they were trapped in the basement of the theater after the terrorists attacked New York City. Well, maybe not quite that bad, but being kidnapped, beaten up, and forced to escape by jumping out of a yacht porthole in March in New Orleans (people who thought New Orleans was always warm really needed to log onto weather.com) would be considered pretty awful on anyone's scale of yuck. Nice girls from nice homes in Greenwich, Connecticut were not supposed to have "those kinds" of problems.

Amanda dozed on and off, but sometimes she could hear Michael and DJ talking on their cell phones. It sounded like they were talking to their Dad, Mr. Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau must be trying to figure out where they should go next, because she heard Michael say, "We'll drive to Baton Rouge and call you again."
About an hour later, Amanda woke up. The car was stopped in the parking lot of a twenty-four hour Walmart. Amanda asked, "What are we doing?"
DJ answered, "Michael is going to buy some clothes for you and Solange? What size shoe do you wear?"

Amanda was really tired but she thought for a moment and said, "Seven, and I think Solange wears an eight, because I wore her shoes tonight and they were a little too big."

"Go back to sleep. I'll take care of this," said Michael.

Strangely enough Amanda did go back to sleep only to be awakened fifteen minutes later by Michael handing a bag of clothes to her and Solange and telling them to put them on.

"Sorry, you need to wake up enough to put these on. If we get stopped by the police, I don't want you getting out of the car looking all beat up, wearing just a sweatshirt, and without any shoes," said Michael. Amanda fished around in the bag that Michael handed her. There was a hoodie, some sweatpants, socks, sneakers, and underwear. Amanda did not want to think about how Michael decided what size underwear she wore. She just took the clothes and put them on, using the oversized men's sweatshirt she was wearing as a cover as she changed. Surprisingly, everything fit, including the underwear which Amanda still did not want to think about.

While Amanda and Solange were changing DJ's phone rang.

"Okay, we'll head to Natchitoches. Can you give us driving instructions? Michael disabled the GPS on this car when they arrived in New Orleans. We really need to hide the car before sunlight when it will be visible by satellite. You know the New Orleans police have the license plate and description of this car from their traffic cams," said DJ.

Amanda thought that DJ must also watch a lot of Law & Oder. But then she dozed off again. While she was sleeping she would occasionally hear the phone ring and DJ talking in a hushed voice. The next time she woke up, they had pulled off the highway and were driving through the outskirts of some town, and then she woke again as they drove onto a roughly paved road that seemed to go on for a bit before they pulled to a stop. Amanda could see the outline of a large two-story wood house by the light of the moon. There were no lights on anywhere, making the house look haunted.

A lady with a flashlight in her hand approached their car and gestured for them to follow her as she guided them to drive the car towards an old barn. The lady used hand signals to indicate that they should park the Escalade inside the barn.
Once the car was parked, DJ and Michael got out of the car and DJ said, "I'm Terrance Trudeau and this is my brother Michael and you must be Mrs. Gallagher."
"Yes, I am and we need to get everyone inside the house before dawn. Please wake the kids. I don't want anyone to know you are here until we figure out exactly how much danger you are in," said Mrs. Gallagher.

Amanda woke Peter up and they very grumpily followed Solange and Thibodeaux as they climbed out of the car. As soon as they were out of the barn, Mrs. Gallagher closed the door. Amanda looked at Mrs. Gallagher. She looked to be in her sixties, was very tall and thin with short curly blonde hair. She was dressed all in black—black jeans and black leather jacket. She must really not want to be seen.

"Come on kids, we can't turn on any lights, but I have your beds ready. We'll sort all of this out tomorrow after you get some sleep. Is anyone hungry?" asked Mrs. Gallagher.

Mrs. Gallagher looked at the motley band of travelers as they slowly walked toward the house and said, "I guess not. Well, you'll be hungry tomorrow."
Amanda walked towards the back of the house which looked larger and prettier once she was closer. They climbed up the steps to the raised porch and entered the back door, going into the kitchen. Looking at the kitchen through the light of Mrs. Gallagher's flashlight, Amanda could tell this was an old plantation style house. The kitchen was huge with old white cabinets, some with glass doors. There was a tin topped table in the middle of the room surrounded by old chairs which must have been white at one time.

"We always have a lot of company so there are lots of beds," said Mrs. Gallagher as she led them out of the kitchen and down the hall and then shined the flashlight up the stairs. "My room is downstairs so you can just figure out the bed situation upstairs for yourselves."

Amanda stumbled up the stairs by the light of the moon, entered the first bedroom at the top of the stairs, and climbed into the first bed she saw, and strangely enough, she fell back to sleep.

The next thing she knew, it was noon. Amanda's watch had lost the ability to tell time when she jumped into the Gulf to escape the kidnappers, but there was an old clock on her bedside table and the hands were straight up.


Solange and Amanda at Miss Gaby's


Amanda looked around the room. The walls were covered in dark green wallpaper with large pink roses and flowery vines. When she moved in the bed, she could hear something moving underneath her which she guessed were old fashioned bed springs. The bedspreads and curtains were old also, made of some waxy green fabric that matched the wallpaper and was printed with huge cabbage roses. The room was filled with pieces of old mahogany furniture which Amanda thought were probably antiques or at the very least, old pretty things. She smelled the scent of dried roses coming from bowls of potpourri on the bedside tables.

Amanda sat up and looked around. Solange was still asleep in the bed next to Amanda's so she quietly got out of bed and walked across the hall to a bathroom. Even the bathroom was old; it looked like an ad out of Restoration Hardware, but that would be before the restoration.

Mrs. Gallagher had laid out a bunch of toothbrushes that were still in the packages plus a couple of hair brushes. Amanda opened one of the packages and brushed her teeth and washed her face. She looked longingly at the tub, but quickly jumped into the shower, washed, shampooed her hair, dried off, and re-dressed in her new Walmart fashions which looked uglier than they had in the parking lot lights last night. Amanda left the bathroom without trying to find a hair dryer to dry her hair. She had no idea how many bathrooms were in this house, but after living with only one while they were hiding in New Orleans, she knew better than to hog it.

Amanda walked back into the hall and looked around. There were six doors in the hallway so there must be five more bedrooms or maybe one of those doors was to another upstairs bathroom. It was a big house. If you followed the upstairs hall to the front of the house, walking past the stairway, there was a pretty glass door that led to an upstairs porch. Amanda opened the porch door and peeked outside to see several wooden rocking chairs. Looking around, she saw that the house was surrounded by woods—she could not see another house close by. But Amanda did not go outside because she remembered what Mrs. Gallagher had said last night about not letting anyone know they were here, so she walked down the stairs instead.

The stairway ended in the front hall. Amanda looked to her right and saw what must be the formal living room which was filled with antiques, but had a couple of comfy-looking old sofas. The living room opened into a formal dining room which had an enormous old mahogany table and twelve chairs. There was a swinging door between the dining room and what must be the kitchen and hearing voices from behind the door, Amanda pushed it open, screamed, and ran straight to an older man who was standing in the middle of the kitchen with his arms wide open.


"Granddaddy!"

"Hello, darling!" Amanda's grandfather picked her up and spun her around.

"How did you get here?" asked Amanda.

"I was in Dallas for a horse show when I got the call from your mother. So I called Gaby (he gestured to Mrs. Gallagher) and asked her to take you in. And then I drove all night and got here just after you did. Both you and Peter were sound asleep when I arrived. Just look at you. You must have grown two more inches since I saw you last summer."

Amanda looked around the kitchen and saw that Michael and DJ were sitting at the table drinking coffee and she remembered her manners, "Michael, DJ—have you met my grandfather, Wallace Abernathy?"

Michael and DJ smiled and nodded.

"I sure did meet them and they are already calling me Wally, and we are busy swapping war stories," said Amanda's Grandfather Wally.

Mrs. Gallagher walked up to Amanda and said, "You were really sleepy last night so I don't know if you remember me, but I am Gaby Gallagher—you can be southern and call me Miss Gaby. I am so glad you were able to sleep. (Miss Gaby touched Amanda's chin ) You do look better this morning, but you are going to have some nasty bruises."

"Bruises?" asked Amanda's grandfather looking again at her face. "How did I miss those? What kind of man would beat up a little kid like you?"

"It's okay. I’m going to be okay and I think Solange is too. She got beat up too but no worse than me," said Amanda.

Amanda sat down at the old kitchen table. The table used to be white but most of the paint on the legs had worn away so the wood showed through. Someone had put silverware, plates, and yellow gingham cloth napkins on the tin table top. It was warm in the kitchen. The sun was shining through the wood frame windows, casting shadows on the walls and white washed plank flooring. The kitchen looked like it was at least fifty years old; the only new things were some pieces of blue Le Creuset cookware, a stainless steel coffee maker, a cappuccino maker, and a retro looking orange microwave.

"Would you like some breakfast? I made eggs and toast. I don't have bacon or much other food in the house because I thought I would be alone this trip," said Miss Gaby.

Amanda nodded and said, "I would love some breakfast."

"How about a nice cup of tea?" asked Miss Gaby. "I have a nice collection of flower teas that I bought at a tea shop in Austin."

"Amanda's a coffee drinker just like her grandfather. She's got a lot of the old West in her for a Connecticut girl," said Grandfather Wally as he poured a cup of coffee, added milk and sugar and handed it to Amanda.

"You said you were here for a trip. Don't you live here?" asked Amanda.

"I grew up here and when my parents died, I inherited the house. I live in Austin, Texas most of the time, but I come here when I need a break. I say break, but I spend most of my time when I'm here fixing up the house. But I couldn't bear to have the house pass out of the family, so here I am," said Miss Gaby. "This is a beautiful house," replied Amanda. "I can see why you love it."

"Thank you." Miss Gaby handed Amanda a plate of eggs and toast.

Amanda looked up at Miss Gaby and said, "Thank you. Where are we?"

Amanda's grandfather Wally answered, "We are just outside Natchitoches, Louisiana. When your mother told me you had to leave New Orleans and needed a place to hide, I remembered Gaby had a house out here in the woods and I called her cell phone hoping that she had a key hidden somewhere outside and that she would say that you could stay here. But we were in luck. Gaby was already here and she was gracious enough to invite us all to stay while we try to figure out what to do next."

"You talked to my mother? Where is she?" asked Amanda.

"Melanie has to hide too so she took a leave from work and is living in Boston. We all want to talk to you, but just can't risk someone finding you even when we are talking on burn phones," said Wally. "Melanie had to move twice because men supposedly from the FBI keep finding her friends and asking questions. They seem to know everyone she knows, even kids from her grade school."

"Is my Mom okay?" asked Amanda.

"Yes, she can't risk staying with any of her friends anymore. She is living in an apartment in Cambridge that she rented for cash. I sent her enough money to stay where she is until the trial so she should be okay. She dyed her hair and does not have a car so she does not need to carry an ID," said Grandpa Wally. "She wanted to come to New Orleans and take care of you, but we did not think she should risk driving. She would have to use her own driver's license and if she was stopped for anything...and of course, she could not fly. I'm pretty sure her name, and all of your names, are on some kind of watch list."

"I can't wait for June when we can testify and then I can go home and see my mother," said Amanda. "I wish she was with us. She must be very lonely without us." "She misses you very much, but the last thing she wants to do is lead those terrorists to you," said Grandpa Wally.

"How do you two know each other?" Amanda was really curious. Did her grandfather have a girlfriend? Amanda looked at Gaby closely. She was very pretty for an older woman. Even dressed in an oversized man's white shirt and jeans and with bare feet, Gaby looked elegant. Amanda knew her grandfather liked pretty ladies and Miss Gaby looked like she might be fun— she had a tattoo on her left ankle.

Wally and Gaby looked at each other for a few seconds and then Gaby spoke. "We met at the Marfa Film Festival a couple of years ago. I was there because one of my books had been made into a film and your grandfather was there because, as he told me, ‘It was something interesting within a hundred miles of his ranch.’”

"You went to a film festival?" Amanda asked her grandfather.

"Yup. I like to piddle around in a lot of different things these days," said Wally.

"Don't let him fool you. He has a real talent for storytelling. He spins some of the best yarns in our club," said Miss Gaby.

"Your club? What kind of club?" asked Amanda.

"Well, Gaby asked me to join her club and I have been meeting with them on and off for the last couple of years," said Grandpa Wally.

"What kind of club is it?" asked Amanda.

"It's called The Day of the Dead Drinking and Lying Club," said Miss Gaby.

"The what?" asked Amanda.

"We get together two or three times a year, and tell stories and well, some of us drink while we tell stories, but not me or your grandfather, of course," Miss Gaby gave a meaningful look to Grandpa Wally. "All of our members, except your grandfather, who really needs to start writing, are writers. Most of us are crime writers or screenwriters. We named it the Day of the Dead Drinking and Lying Club because our first meeting ten years ago was in Cuernavaca, Mexico on the first of November. We visited some friends outside the city in Ocotepec and saw our first Day of the Dead celebration and the name sort of stuck." "What's the Day of the Dead?" asked Amanda.

"It is a celebration of the lives of ancestors. In Latin American countries, everyone goes to the cemetery and brings offerings—food, flowers, gifts—for the dead in their family. They believe that life continues after you die, that you move onto a different plane. The celebration started in the Aztec culture, but after much hemming and hawing, the Catholic Church unofficially incorporated The Day of the Dead into the celebration of All Saints Day," said Gaby.

"That's nice," said Amanda changing the subject. "You write books?"

"Crime novels. I also teach literature at the University of Texas in Austin. Writing books used to be my sideline, but now they bring in enough money to pay for all the renovations on this old place. And with this kind of house, it's 'write a book, write a check.'"

DJ and Michael were eating breakfast and had been very quiet, letting Amanda talk to her grandfather. DJ cleared his throat and said, "So what are we going to do now? I have been talking to my father on and off all night, but so far, we haven't worked anything out except hiding here. I don't think we can stay here long. We would attract too much attention."

"You're right. This isn't a safe place for you. Natchitoches still operates like a small town and people talk. And even if you stay inside this house for the next few months, someone will come to the door and see you. Plus your grandfather told me there might be an All Points Bulletin out on you from the New Orleans Police. Some lawyer in New York City is talking to the FBI to try to get that quashed, but for now, I don't think any of you should be seen anywhere there might be a policeman," said Miss Gaby.

"The lawyer in New York is our Dad, Benedicte Trudeau. He has been up all night making phone calls, trying to find a place we can stay until the trial," said Michael.

"Well, you are in luck. Since I knew you could not stay here, after your grandfather called me and told me about how much danger you are in, I called some of my friends to try to find a place for you to stay. One of the people I called was one of our club members, Lafayette Loomis. It was only 11 p.m. in Los Angeles, where he lives. Lafayette is a screenwriter and he told me that he just bought an old house close to the University of Southern California where he guest lectures. The house had only one owner for the last fifty years and she just died at the age of ninety so it probably needs as much work as this place, but he said we could stay there until the trial. He bought the house furnished because the only heir lives in London now and it was impractical to ship or dispose of the furniture or the household goods. Unfortunately, Lafayette is leaving town to work on a film in New Zealand so he won't be with us. So now we just need to figure out how to get to Los Angeles without being picked up by some local yokel cops." said Miss Gaby.

"What?" asked Michael. "Is this guy trustworthy?"

"Lafayette has been my friend since we were students at Yale. Once I told him why we needed help, he wanted to do anything he could," said Miss Gaby.

"But if he talks about this…," said Michael.

"I told him that if he talks to anyone, some really sweet kids could be killed," said Miss Gaby.

Amanda gasped.

"Honey, no one is going to let anything happen to you," said Grandpa Wally.

"But shouldn't we wait for my Dad to figure this out? He has been working on it all night," asked DJ.

"If he comes up with a better plan, we'll go with it. But right now we need to concentrate on figuring out how to go to LA. We will have to drive, because with all the security at airports and bus stations, we don't dare risk flying or riding on a bus. But we are in luck, since I took this semester off from teaching to finish my book, I can go and stay with you in LA. Unfortunately, your grandfather needs to get back home as quickly as he can. If the thieves knew about Thibodeaux's relatives, they know about Wally," said Miss Gaby. "And if they know Wally is missing, they will start looking for his friends and acquaintances."

"Gaby is a very good crime writer. She thinks about all the angles," said Grandpa Wally. "Just look what she figured out since last night."

"Yes, that is quite something," said Amanda. She was dazed, listening to this stranger who seemed to have taken over and planned out their lives. But she wondered why she was surprised. All sorts of kindhearted strangers had helped then since the bombing and they all seemed to be full of ideas.

"Well, we can't travel in the Escalade. We need to assume that all of law enforcement has the make, model, and license plate of that car," said DJ.

"You're right about that. I closed the barn doors on your car last night and that is where it needs to stay," said Miss Gaby.

"But will it be safe to be in LA?" asked Amanda.

"Lafayette's house is next to a university with over thirty-five thousand students, so a few more young people won't attract any attention. Plus it is pilot season in Los Angeles and the city is swarming with actors from all over who have moved to LA to make the rounds. If anyone asks, we will just say that you are in town for pilot season and that I am your acting coach and manager," said Miss Gaby.

"Oh no, this stops right now. Solange is not going on any auditions," said Amanda.

"I did not mean to imply that any of you would actually audition for a TV show, after all, you are going home after the trial. But why are you worried about Solange in particular?" asked Miss Gaby looking around the room to see that Michael and DJ were laughing.

"Because whatever Solange does, she is amazing. The only thing she can't do very well is swim and I'm sure that is because she never tried. But if she auditions for a pilot, they will cast her and then her photograph will be in magazines and we will have to leave Los Angeles just like we had to leave New Orleans. So, no, she doesn't get to audition. Solange was born under a lucky star or she has a fairy godmother or something, but that girl has to stay away from auditions, talent scouts...," Amanda's voice trailed off as she saw Michael and DJ convulsed with laughter.

"Amanda's actually right. If we do end up in LA, we need to keep Solange in a closet,” said Michael. Michael saw the look on Amanda's face. "That was a euphemism. No one is putting Solange anywhere she doesn't want to be."

"I know what a euphemism is," said Amanda. She actually didn't, but she was tired of everyone considering her to be such a clueless nerd.

"Well, none of you will actually audition and Lafayette told me the house has an old heated swimming pool, so maybe Solange can learn how to swim," said Miss Gaby.

"Yes, that is what she needs to do. Solange needs to practice swimming and stay away from clubs, music stages, auditions..." Amanda just gave up. Michael and DJ kept looking at her and cracking up. She did not think she was being funny at all. Going anywhere with Solange was like attending Sunday School with Lady Gaga.

"Well, right now I need to go to the grocery store and since no one knows I have company, I better go alone. Please make sure your friends get something to eat when they wake up," said Miss Gaby.

Amanda's grandfather pulled out his wallet and handed Gaby a couple hundred dollar bills. "Here, use this and don't argue with me. Let me do my bit."

Miss Gaby took the money and gave Amanda's grandfather a quick kiss on the cheek. Amanda thought that she would watch them closely so she could figure out just what was going on with them.

Grandpa Wally walked back to the table and said, "Amanda, let's go wake everyone else up. Michael told me that Peter and Thibodeaux are the only ones who have any clothes with them. I will go into town and buy a couple of changes for everyone, but I need to know the sizes."

"I'll make more coffee, toast, and eggs," said Michael.

Amanda walked upstairs with her grandfather. First she stopped at the room where she slept last night and woke up Solange who was very surprised to meet Amanda's grandfather. Then she walked down the hall and peeped into the rooms until she found the one where Thibodeaux and Peter were sound asleep. Amanda walked into the room and shook both of them.

Peter was thrilled to see his grandfather; he hugged him and said, "Please take us home with you."

"I would love to, but I can't. We know those hoodlums found out about Thibodeaux's relatives and we should just assume that they know about your family," said Wally. "So you need to go somewhere else and I need to go back home and act like I have not heard from any of you. But just look at you. I haven't seen you since last summer and you must have grown two inches just like Amanda. "

"But will you be safe if you go back to the ranch?" asked Peter.

"Hey! I've been taking care of myself for a very long time and no one can get anywhere near my ranch without my knowing about it a mile before they arrive," said Wally. "I've warned everyone who works for me; they think they are looking for a gang of horse thieves who want to steal a race horse I just purchased. Plus we are high tech these days—there are security cameras hidden all over the ranch."

"Hi, I'm Thibodeaux."

"I'm sorry. Granddaddy, this is my friend Thibodeaux. He is a member of Peter's and my posse," said Amanda.

"Pleased to meet you young man. Hmm, so you call yourself a posse. You know, my grandfather and his brothers used to ride with a posse every time someone stole a horse or broke out of jail. The sheriff would come bang on the door in the middle of the night and they would load their guns, saddle their horses, and ride out with him. It was a rougher time in Texas back then and everyone had to pitch in and do their part to keep the place safe. But I'll tell you my tales some other time. Why don't you three (Solange was leaning against the doorway) get cleaned up and come downstairs and eat some breakfast. I am going to town to shop for some more clothes for everyone so you will need to give me your sizes," said Wally.

"We'll go with you," said Solange.

"We can't, Solange. Everyone thinks the police are looking for us so we need to stay inside the house. But Granddaddy, if you go shopping, don't you think the bad guys can track you here by your credit cards?" asked Amanda. She was getting really good about thinking of all the angles. Michael and DJ weren't the only ones who had been watching Law & Order.

"I'm old fashioned and don't use credit cards much. But I do have a wad of cash in my wallet and I will buy the clothes at several different stores so no one will remember some old guy buying clothes for six different people," said Wally. "There are two bathrooms upstairs and a half bath off the hallway downstairs. Gaby's room is downstairs in the new addition and she has her own bathroom so you can use any of the other ones. I will see you in a few minutes."

"Peter and I have our clothes with us. We had about an hour after Michael called us before they picked us up, so we were able to pack. You will only need to get some clothes for the girls and Michael and DJ," said Thibodeaux.

"That's right. I actually did hear that," said Grandpa Wally.

Amanda looked at Solange, "How are you this morning?"

"I'm going to go to the bathroom and look at my bruises. How do you feel?" asked Solange.

"Sore, but I'm okay," replied Amanda.

"I guess we are lucky, but the next class I take is going to be karate," said Solange.

Amanda and her grandfather went downstairs. Wally went back into the kitchen to get Michael and DJ's sizes. Amanda wandered around the house. In the living room she found an old VCR player and a bunch of VCR movies. Well, it wasn't a blue-ray player or an Xbox, but they would have something to do with their time while they were figuring out where to go next.

Amanda walked back into the kitchen as DJ was saying, "Thanks for going for some clothes, but I don't need more than a shirt. I have to get back to New York City because I have a television show every day at five. I got a substitute, but that can't go on forever; my viewers expect to see and hear me spinning the tracks. I need to figure out a way to get to Atlanta without anyone seeing me. If I make it to the Atlanta airport, and the Feds stop me when I am boarding the plane, I can probably talk my way out of it and not let them know where you are. But I bet by the time I make it to Atlanta, my father will have figured out a way to quash that APB."

"You are leaving us?" asked Amanda.

"Michael is going to stay with you," said DJ. "When I get back to New York, I will have my crew. They will pick me up from the airport, and I won't go anywhere without them until after the trial."

"You are staying with us and not going back home with DJ?" Amanda asked Michael.

"Of course. You need someone to take care of you," said Michael.

Amanda looked at Michael and thought about how much he was giving up to stay with them—his career, his girlfriend . She thought about hugging him, changed her mind and tentatively touched his arm, "Thank you."

"Don't mention it," replied Michael.

Thibodeaux and Peter came downstairs. Thibodeaux immediately poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Amanda looked at him and poured herself a second cup of coffee and sat down beside him. Hey, after what they went through last night, she deserved a second cup.

Thibodeaux looked at Amanda's face in the sunlight, "Oh man, look what they did to you. If I had been there…"

"I know. If you had been there, you would have helped. But I am glad you weren't there to get beat up too," said Amanda.

"From now on, we all need to stick together," said Thibodeaux.

Amanda looked at Thibodeaux and nodded.

"Where's Solange?" asked Michael.

"I'm sure she's in the shower. I could not wait to wash that dirty water out of my hair," said Amanda. "Grandpa, don't buy a coat for me. I have a Tommy Hilfiger coat and I would rather wear it. It's just wet and dirty. I'll wash my coat and Solange’s. I saw a washing machine in the mud room. Do you think Miss Gaby has three tennis balls?"

"Why do you want three tennis balls?" asked Grandpa Wally.

"You use them when you dry down coats. It keeps them in shape," said Amanda.

"How do you know something like that?" asked DJ.

"Because I've heard them. The balls thump around in the dryer. You'll hear them too if we can find some tennis balls," said Amanda wondering why every time she opened her mouth, DJ and Michael looked like they were about to burst out laughing.

"I doubt she has tennis balls. Gaby has never been much for sports, just yoga and running. But I will bring some back from town," said Grandpa Wally.

Peter looked at Amanda and Thibodeaux drinking coffee and poured himself a cup with a lot of sugar and milk and sat down on the other side of Amanda who wrapped her arm around his shoulder to hug him. Strangely enough, he did not squirm out of the way.

"When did you start drinking coffee?" asked Grandpa Wally.

"Right now," said Peter.

"Oh," said Grandpa Wally.

"Well, I guess everyone is going to be short," said DJ.

Amanda gave him a stern look. She was definitely not going to laugh at his jokes if he insisted on laughing at everything she said. But the stern look did not work. DJ just looked back at her and burst out laughing again.

"Okay, Amanda, Michael, and DJ, give me your sizes," said Grandpa Wally. "I will get everyone two changes of clothes, pajamas, and toiletries. Once that APB is quashed, we will figure out a way for you to shop for more clothes by yourselves so you can get what you really want. "

Amanda rummaged through one of the kitchen drawers and found a pad and a pen, "I'll go upstairs and ask Solange what she needs. Why don't you tell Thibodeaux and Peter about Los Angeles?"

"Los Angeles? What's going on in Los Angeles?" asked Thibodeaux.

Amanda left the kitchen and climbed back up the stairs. The shower had stopped so she banged on the bathroom door and asked Solange if she could come inside.
Solange opened the door. She was wrapped in a towel and combing out her hair with one of the hair brushes Miss Gaby had laid out with the toothbrushes.

"We need to make a list of two days worth of clothes and drug store stuff that we need," said Amanda.

Solange wrote out her list while Amanda told her about the plans Miss Gaby had made.

After Amanda was through telling her everything that had been "settled" this morning, Solange looked at Amanda and said, "Do you think going to LA is a good idea?"

"How do I know? Ever since the bombing there have been all these nice strangers helping us. Well at least this time, one of them is my grandfather and I do trust him," replied Amanda.

Amanda looked at Solange and asked, "Are you going to be okay about leaving Armand in New Orleans? You were really upset last night."

"I don't really have a choice, do I? Armand and I have not been apart since grade school. The only time I did not see him was when I went to New York City to visit Auntie Tina and Thibodeaux," said Solange. "And when we were both sixteen, he went to New York with me."

"I guess we are just going to have to miss everyone until after the trial," said Amanda. "But what about Michael? Now that Armand is not around..."

"Hey, men have been interested in me ever since I turned twelve, old men, young men, little boys. But that has not changed how I feel about Armand; he's my best friend. Besides, even if I did not love Armand, Michael lives in New York City, he is twenty-three years old, and we have nothing in common. I am not about to be some fling for a guy in the hip-hop business. Besides, Michael thinks I'm an idiot."

"I don't think that's true," said Amanda.

"Which part? Me being a fling or Michael thinking I'm an idiot?" asked Solange.

"Both," replied Amanda.

"Yeah, I was really smart to get us both kidnapped. But hey...now that you are growing up, all kinds of men will want you and you need to be sure not to fall for one of them like my Cousin Marie—having Thibodeaux at such a young age ruined her life. She never did grow up. That's why it's Armand for me. He respects me and who I am," said Solange.

"I told you. I am going to Harvard and I am not interested in boys," said Amanda.

"Well, they sure will be interested in you," said Solange.

"Well, I will think about that when I get back to my life. Right now the only men who are really interested in me want to kill me," said Amanda.

"Except Thibodeaux," said Solange.

"Thibodeaux and I are just friends," said Amanda.

"Right, just friends," said Solange. "You could do worse than Thibodeaux, a lot worse. He was the best little kid. I took care of him full time starting when I was nine years old until Auntie Tina came and got him after the flood."

"Why did she do that? Your house was not flooded," asked Amanda.

"No, not ours. But after the flood Auntie Tina came to stay with us and see about all of our relatives and friends. She wanted to be sure everyone had a place to stay and were not sick or anything. When she got there, my Mom was at this makeshift hospital all the time. They were shorthanded, a lot of people were hurt and injured, and she is a nurse so she was never at home. And the schools were closed so I had Thibodeaux all day long. Auntie Tina could tell that Thibodeaux thought I was his mother, so she started asking questions and found out that I had been taking care of him for the last three years, picking him up from school, making his dinner, making sure he did his homework. Well she got really mad and said that had to stop. She enrolled me in the best Catholic school in New Orleans, paid for my ballet lessons, and then she took Thibodeaux to New York City and put him in that fancy school in the Bronx. I missed him so much at first, I thought I would die. But Auntie Tina said she was doing the right thing, that I did not need to be a grownup at twelve just because my Cousin Marie was irresponsible and my Mom was too busy to help," said Solange.

"Wow, that is some story. I knew you used to take care of him but I did not realize that you were the only one," said Amanda.

"Well, that is what happened. And even though I was horribly sad to not see Thibodeaux every day, Auntie Tina was right. Both Thibodeaux and I did much better once we were enrolled in private schools, and you saw how much I love to dance. I had taken dance lessons before Thibodeaux came to stay with us, but afterwards, there was no one else to take care of him so I couldn't. Armand would come to the house after he got out of ballet school and he would dance with me, but it wasn't the same," said Solange.

Solange looked at Amanda who was speechless, "Come on, I didn't want to make you sad. Let's go downstairs. I want to see the rest of this house," said Solange.

Solange got dressed and then she and Amanda went downstairs and walked into the kitchen.

When Solange walked into the room, Michael looked up and pulled out the chair next to him. "Come over here so I can see your face."

"It is just a few bruises," said Solange.

Michael tapped on the chair and Solange walked over and sat down.

Michael put his hand on Solange's chin and turned her face from side to side. Amanda could see he was trying to hide how angry he was.

"Hey, Michael, it's okay. Amanda and I are walking and talking," said Solange.
Amanda turned away from watching them and handed the list to her grandfather, "Here you go and thanks so much."

Solange, Peter, and Thibodeaux ate breakfast like they were famished. While they were eating, Amanda and her grandfather cleaned up the kitchen. Amanda thought about how she always just pitched in to clean up now, something she never would have done when she was living at home. Then her mother would have to nag her to do her share of the chores. This pitching in without being asked was definitely something she needed to quit doing as soon as life was back to normal. Acting as grownup as Solange was exhausting.

Miss Gaby's car pulled up behind the house. She walked in and handed the keys to Michael and said, "Would you please bring the food inside. No one can see the back of my house from the road, so I think it will be okay for you to be outside."
Thibodeaux started to walk outside to help.

"Let me do it alone," said Michael. "I think we covered our tracks pretty well last night but just in case, the fewer people who go outside the better."
Gaby had bought a lot of groceries and once Michael had them inside, everyone helped her put them up.

Gaby stopped storing the food and looking at Michael and DJ said, "While I was out shopping, I was thinking about what we need to do and I would like to call three of my friends and ask them to help."

"Three more people! I don't think that is a very good idea. We already have two more people, you and Amanda's grandfather, involved in our problems," said Michael.

"Hear me out. I have three really good friends, two of whom I have known since grade school and another friend that went to Yale with Lafayette and me—Lafayette is the man who has the house in Los Angeles. And these three friends would want to help. Most Americans would do anything they could to help bring to justice the guys who bombed New York City and my friends would be honored to be asked to help," said Miss Gaby.

"Hey guys, listen to Miss Gaby. She's one of the smartest women I know," said Grandpa Wally.

"Okay, who are these three?" asked DJ.

Amanda was stunned. They were going to involve three more people? But she just sat down at the table and listened.

"First, I went to school with a guy named Cyrus Bernard who is now a Superintendent in the Louisiana State Police," said Miss Gaby. She saw the look on Michael and DJ's faces, "Hey, not all law enforcement in Louisiana is backwoods. Cyrus may be a redneck but he has been in law enforcement for almost forty years and he is also one of the smartest men I know. And I know he would be a lot of help. I want to call him and ask him to come over here today so he can help us figure out just what to do."

"Okay, so who else?" asked Michael.

"We need to do something about the kid's education. Solange, are you still in high school?" asked Miss Gaby.

"This is supposed to be my senior year. I was being home schooled by a nun from my school because I had to be at the ballet every afternoon. Sister Anne was home schooling Amanda too; well, she home schooled her for two days until I screwed up and put Amanda and me in a position to be kidnapped," said Solange.
Michael put his hand over Solange's hand. Solange looked at him and started to say something but then she changed her mind.

"Well, I can tell by looking that Amanda, Thibodeaux, and Peter should still be in school so I want to call another of my grade school friends, Bernadette Lambert. She is the superintendent of schools for Natchitoches parish," said Miss Gaby.

"What's a parish?" asked Peter.

"It's what we call a county in Louisiana," said Miss Gaby.

"Oh," said Peter.

"I will ask Bernadette to give us the books and curriculum for all of your grades and I will help you stay on grade level so when you go back home, you can convince your schools that you are ready to move on to the next grade. I am sure when the administrators at your schools know what happened to you, they will want to help. But you still will need to keep up next year and Solange needs to convince them that she qualifies to graduate," said Miss Gaby.

"Thank you," said Amanda. "I would hate to be held back a year because of what those terrorists did. It's bad enough that we had to run, but to be embarrassed...," Amanda's voice trailed off. She did not want to give Michael and DJ another chance to laugh at her.

"I'm not worried about that happening," said Peter.

"Well, thanks for sharing that," said Amanda. But then she thought about it and was glad that Peter felt comfortable enough to be snarky about how brilliant he was, so she smiled at him.

"So who is the third person?" asked Solange.

"One of my friends from work, Arnie Gillespie. Arnie is the head of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas. I want to call him and ask him to give us a cover story about how all of you were involved in the Summer Youth Arts program at the school and I was one of your mentors and I have taken you to Los Angeles for pilot season. This is a pretty thin cover story, but it would be enough to fool some local cop who wondered why a bunch of kids are traveling across the country during the school year. We could tell them this yarn about the University of Texas summer arts program and pilot season," said Miss Gaby.

"Wow, said Amanda."You really did think this through."

"So, what do you think?" asked Miss Gaby.

"Should we have a posse meeting?" asked Peter.

"No, I think all of us should talk about it," said Amanda.

"This Cyrus guy, the one that is with the Louisiana State Police, are you sure you can trust him?" asked Michael.

"I have known Cyrus Bernard all my life and I know he can help you. You know, all the good brains aren't in New York," said Miss Gaby.

Michael actually looked embarrassed. "So call him." Michael looked around the room, "Don't you agree?"

"Yes, call him," said Amanda and then everyone else chimed in.

"And I like your other ideas, I think you should call them all," said Amanda.
"So there we have it. Gaby, do you still have your skeet shooting set-up. I want to take my girl outside and see how she is shooting. I can buy some clay pigeons while I am in town," said Grandpa Wally.

"I can set it up out in the field if you and Amanda will stand in the trees so you won't be visible. But if you are going to be shooting, I need to call the neighbors and let them know I have company so they won't call the cops," said Miss Gaby. "I assume you have your shotgun with you."

"I have a couple. Also, do you have a torso target anywhere around? I have a handgun with me so Amanda can practice target shooting," said Grandpa Wally. "When Amanda is older, I want to take her to Scotland to shoot grouse. Hell, she might even qualify for the Olympics someday. "

"My Dad had a target and it is still in the garage," said Miss Gaby.

"It really is a good thing my mother isn't here," said Amanda.

"Hey, I taught her how to shoot when she was a little girl," said Grandpa Wally.

"I know, but she went away fro college and then she moved to New York and then to Connecticut. So now she is totally anti-gun and I guess I am too," said Amanda.

"But you still like to shoot, don't you. And don't you think sometimes people need a gun so they can shoot snakes and other varmints?" asked Grandpa Wally.

"Well, yes. But still, don't tell my Mom," replied Amanda.

"Mum's the word. Hey that was funny," said Grandpa Wally but he quit laughing when he saw the look on Amanda's face.

"I'd like to practice too, if you don't mind and I have my own gun," said Michael.
Solange just rolled her eyes and said, "If you don't mind, Miss Gaby, I would like to take my boys into your living room to watch TV while these guys play Wild Wild West."

"You don't approve of guns?" asked Miss Gaby.

"No I don't, but I sure did wish I had one last night," said Solange.

"I don't have cable but there is an old VCR and it still works. There are a lot of VCR tapes. They were my parents, but there should be something in there you would like," said Miss Gaby.

"Does anyone need anything else from town?" asked Amanda's grandfather.

"No, I think I got everything else. They just need clothes," said Miss Gaby.

"And tennis balls," said Amanda.

Grandpa Wally looked at the questioning look on Gaby's face and said, "Never mind." Grandpa Wally left.

"If you will tell me where the skeet shooting set and the torso target are, I can set them up," said Michael.

"I think we had better wait for Wally. I don't think anyone can see this house, it's on ten acres, but I would rather be safe," said Miss Gaby.

"Okay, DJ and I will keep working on a way to get him back to New York City," said Michael. "Hey, DJ, give Miss Gaby that extra burn phone so she can use it to make her phone calls to her three friends without there being a record."

Amanda wandered into the living room where Solange and the boys were sprawled on the couch and chairs. Solange had put X Men on the VCR. Who knew Miss Gaby's parents like to watch X Men?

"What do you think about going to Los Angeles?" Amanda asked no one in particular.

"It is probably just as good as any other place, and it is about as far away from New York and New Orleans as we can get," said Solange.

"I would like to see Los Angeles," said Thibodeaux. "There is a pretty big market for hip-hop clothing."

"A market you won't get to see this visit," said Solange.

"What do you think about those friends Miss Gaby is getting involved in our problem?" asked Amanda.

"I think right now, we should just watch the movie. I don't know about you, but I would like someone else to fix this right now," said Solange.

"Me too," replied Amanda.

And so they watched the movie.



 

 




 


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