ADVENTURE IN THE FOREST
Back at the house Penny and Glenda began organizing the food and putting together some lunch, while Phoebe stood around awkwardly, trying not to think about Abby. After a quick meal Glenda and Tiny hurried off to prepare for a visit to Tiny’s father’s parents. As Phoebe washed the dishes Penny began setting up the kitchen for a baking session, muttering about having way too much to do. Phoebe wandered off unnoticed with her coffee to the front steps.
Staring blankly at the forest, she focused her full attention on the incident at Scutter’s. There’s no getting around it, she thought, aghast at the implications of what she had seen. Abby tried selling her produce to Scutter. Frustration overwhelmed her. She felt like she had failed her father already. What will keep those Morphy men from coming after every piece of information Abby may know?
She closed her eyes and concentrated, and realized that she’d already decided what to do. It was still early in the afternoon on a beautiful day. She set off down Main Street walking with all the speed she could manage. At Bridge Avenue she turned right, and limped hurriedly toward the river and the forest beyond. In less than an hour she was on the dirt road to the dead end, walking in the shadow of the thick pine trees. As she followed the curve of the road she suddenly saw an old green car a short distance ahead, facing the rusted gate marking the end of the road.
Phoebe froze. She stared and listened carefully. Her view did not afford her a look at the house, but there was no one visible in the car or the space beyond the gate as far as she could see. The path on the right was screened by the trees. All of a sudden she heard a distant word or two of a man’s voice. Her heart beat loudly in her breast. She turned to the woods on her right and crawled under the long pine branches reaching out into the road. In seconds she was invisible, lying flat on a carpet of pine needles, with a broken view of the road not fifteen feet away.
The voices became louder: “But Will! Why does he want her?”
“How do I know? He just said, find her and bring her.”
“Yeah. But what if we had found her? What if she didn’t want to go? What were we supposed to do then?”
“I told you. He said persuade her. That’s your job.”
The two men were standing by the car. Phoebe could see the old work boots and jeans of one of them.
“My job! I don’t even know what he wants with her.”
“You’re not supposed to know. Just make something up, Marcus. She likes you.”
“You mean lie to her. Trap her.”
“You don’t have to see it that way,” came the reply. “And you’d better keep those thoughts to yourself. They want that girl bad.”
A car door opened and slammed with a bang. The other door opened and closed more quietly. The engine coughed to a start, and the car moved forward and back in an effort to turn around.
“Damned road isn’t beg enough to ride a bike on!” growled the driver through the open window as they passed just a few feet from where Phoebe lay. “And they’ll probably just send us back again.”
In seconds the car puttered slowly by, making a strange rhythmic clicking sound that slowly faded down the road. Phoebe felt her heart thumping against the ground beneath her. She lay without moving for what seemed a long time.
On the way back Phoebe thought of avoiding the road, but the forest was thick, dark, and without a path So she walked carefully near the trees, stopping and peeking ahead around every bend. Her heart pounded. Her body was coved in sweat. She felt helpless alone in the forest with a bad knee. If they saw her they could catch her. It would be useless to run. And then what would happen?
After stalking slowly along the stretch of road that wound through the forest, she came to the top of an incline, and could see down the slope to the Half Moon Bridge, and all the way up the hill to the town. The faded green car was nowhere in sight.
As she walked along she imagined the two men arriving at the haunted house looking for Abby, and realized there was almost no chance they could find her. People could not approach the house without her seeing them first, leaving her plenty of time to slip into the forest, where she could moved as swiftly as a fox. Their only chance of encountering her would be in town, where the presence of other people would provide some level of safety. Phoebe guessed that Abby was aware of the situation, and had organized her life to deal with it. Abby knows these men, she thought. It’s all so confusing. But she’s probably okay for the time being.
Phoebe crossed the Half Moon Bridge and walked up Bridge Avenue. Her adrenaline was still pumping, but she couldn’t decide on a course of action. She definitely did not want to go home and worry alone in her room. She considered talking it over with Penny, but felt uneasy. If Sammy and her father regarded Abby with distrust, then Penny probably did too. Phoebe wanted to talk to Glenda, but Glenda and Tiny had gone off to visit the grandparents.
As she approached Main Street Phoebe looked up toward the neighborhood of the toy store and Sutter’s Market. To her surprise, the sun was still a few hours from the horizon. It seemed as if it should be dark already, what with all that had happened. A glimpse of the toy store reminded her that a second mission was waiting for her attention. The time had come to pay Gilligan a visit.