Authors: Melody Carlson
Tags: #Young Adult, #(¯`'•.¸//(*_*)\\¸.•'´¯)
DJ returned to the kitchen where everyone was gathered and waiting. “Okay, you guys, before we do anything, I want everyone to bow their heads and pray. I don’t care whether you’re a believer or not. But no one goes on this search unless we pray first.”
“I agree,” said Taylor.
“And I’ll begin,” offered Conner as he bowed his head and started to pray. DJ prayed once he had finished, and then Taylor, Rhiannon, and Bradford. To DJ’s surprise even Casey prayed briefly. Harry and Lane actually said a few words and finally Conner said, “Amen!”
Then they all wrote down cell phone numbers for Marsha and headed their separate ways. DJ asked Conner to drive the general’s car, and Taylor and Harry came along. Casey and Seth went with Lane. Bradford stayed behind with Rhiannon.
“This really does feel like searching for a needle in a haystack,” DJ admitted as she waited for Conner to tape another flyer outside of a popular hotel. It seemed young people were
everywhere and half of the girls looked strikingly similar to Eliza.
“What is it with all these blondes?” Harry complained. “Don’t girls know that there’s more than one hair color to choose from?”
Taylor laughed. “And fortunately not
gentleman prefer blondes.”
“Quiet,” said DJ suddenly. “My phone’s ringing.” She saw the caller ID as she opened it. “It’s Eliza’s cell,” she said quietly. “
?” No one spoke on the other end. “
?” said DJ. “I saw your name. I know it’s you. Speak to me!” Still nothing besides some scritch-scratch static sounds. “Eliza, if you can hear me, make some kind of noise. Or text message, Eliza. Text us!” But then she lost the connection.
“Call her back,” commanded Conner.
“Maybe she doesn’t want her phone to ring,” DJ told him. “Maybe she’s hiding or something.”
“I’m going to call Marsha,” said Taylor as she got out of the car.
Just then DJ’s phone trilled.. “It’s a text message,” DJ said. “It says
They all waited impatiently for another text, but DJ’s phone was silent.
“At least we know she’s at a motel,” Conner said.
“Yeah, there are only dozens around here,” Taylor reminded him.
Just then DJ’s phone rang again. “Another text,” she told them. “It’s just the number six.”
!” yelled Harry as he leaped out of the car to tell Taylor.
Taylor relayed this to Marsha then hopped back into the car. “They’re on it,” she told them. “Apparently there aren’t that many Motel Sixes in the Palm Beach area.”
“If she’s really in the Palm Beach area,” said DJ.
“What do we do now?” asked Harry.
“Hey, I saw a Motel Six sign on the way home from the train station this morning,” Conner told them. “I thought if Lane and I got into some kind of fight over DJ I might end up there.”
DJ laughed. “Like that’s going to happen.”
“I know it’s a long shot, but want to check it out?”
“Why not?” DJ nodded. “But remember what Marsha said—no heroics. If we see anything suspicious, we just call her.”
“It’s probably not the right hotel anyway,” Harry said from the back.
“Eliza might not even be in the Palm Beach area,” Taylor pointed out.
“Well, it beats sitting on our hands.” DJ was looking out the window, keeping a watch out for a two-door white Nissan. Unfortunately, it was a fairly common-looking car.
“There’s the motel sign,” Conner called out.
“You should’ve turned back there,” Harry told him. “That was the entrance.”
“I’ll just go on around,” he said.
“Yeah, circle the building,” teased DJ.
But as he was going around the back side, DJ spotted a car that actually fit the description. “Don’t slow down or stop,” she told him. “But everyone look at the white Nissan parked between the Black SUV and the red car and see if you can read the plate.”
“That’s it!” shouted Taylor. “That’s the car.”
“No way,” said Harry. “Are you sure?”
Conner was slowing down now, craning to see the license plate.
“No,” DJ told him. “Just drive on by and act natural in case someone is looking.” She squinted, trying to read the numbers. But Harry was already spouting them out and they matched what DJ had on the paper in front of her.
?” Taylor was already on the phone. “We found his car!” There was a quick pause. “Yes, the numbers are the same. No, Conner just drove right past and no one is around. I’m not sure of the address but it’s not too far from the Amtrak station. Yes, that sounds right. Okay.” Taylor closed her phone. “She’s sending someone.”
“Hey,” said Harry. “I see a blonde girl in a black and pink dress.”
DJ turned around to see.
“Don’t let them see you looking!” Conner commanded.
“It’s her!” DJ exclaimed. “And there are TWO guys!”
“I think one of them has a gun,” Harry said quietly, “underneath the jacket that’s draped over his arm.”
“That’s Ted—he’s pushing Eliza into the backseat of the car,” Taylor whispered. “The other guy is older and he’s driving.”
“Grab that parking space around the corner,” DJ told Conner. “The rest of us stay down.”
“Why?” asked Harry.
“Ted—he’s seen Taylor and me before.”
“I’ll just sit here until they drive past,” Conner said in a surprisingly calm voice. He was pretending to read a map as they all silently waited for what seemed like several minutes, but was probably just seconds. “Okay,” he told them, “they’re out of sight. DJ and Harry trade seats—hurry. You girls stay down in the back. We’re going to tail them.” And just like that, they switched seats and Conner was following about four cars behind the kidnappers. Meanwhile Taylor was on the phone,
and according to Marsha the police were on their way. “Yes,” Taylor said to Marsha. “We’re a safe distance away and Conner is being very careful. We just don’t want to let them—”
“Taking a left on the street ahead,” Conner told them.
“Palmetto,” Harry yelled out.
“Left on Palmetto,” Taylor said into the phone.
“Take your time, Conner,” Harry was telling him. “Don’t want to look like you’re in a hurry. Nice and easy.”
DJ’s heart was pounding and she wanted to yell at Conner to go faster and not to lose them, but she knew it was better to be quiet. So she just kept her head down low and prayed. She didn’t know how much time had gone by, but it felt like hours.
“I see a state police car,” said Harry. “Coming up from behind us at a fairly fast clip.”
“Are his lights on?” asked DJ hopefully.
“And I just saw what could be an unmarked car turning onto the street ahead of us—a slate-gray sedan,” Conner said quickly. “Let’s hope anyway.”
“Oh, man, will you look at that!” exclaimed Harry.
“We can’t see a thing!” Taylor shouted back.
“What’s going on?” cried DJ.
“They just ran a stoplight,” Conner exclaimed. “Right as a city police car came to the intersection. The black and white’s got his lights on and is pulling them over.”
“Hopefully the city cop knows what he’s getting into,” said Taylor.
“But talk about great timing.”
“Hey, Conner, you better pull over too,” Harry warned. “That cop behind you just put his lights on.”
“That’s right!” DJ called out. “Don’t get too close—there could be a shootout!”
“Wow,” said Harry. “This is like a movie.”
“With less action,” said Conner.
“Here comes action now!”
Suddenly DJ and Taylor poked their heads high enough to see from the back seat. Various cars were surrounding the vehicle and suddenly they were coming from every direction, with guns out and commands being given, and just like that the cops had both the driver and Ted outside and flattened out on the ground.
“That’s more than enough action for me,” DJ said with wide eyes. “Look, that cop looks like he’s going to arrest Eliza.” He had her face forward against the car with her hands up like she was a suspect too.
“They’re just being careful,” Conner told her. “You know, in case she has Stockholm Syndrome.”
“When the victim feels sorry for the kidnapper and does something crazy,” Taylor explained.
“That doesn’t seem to be the situation,” Harry said as they turned her around. “She looks like she’s about to go to pieces.”
“Should we go offer to help her?” asked DJ.
“It might not hurt,” said Taylor. “Eliza looks pretty rattled. Why don’t you just drive a little closer and we can explain who we are.”
Conner had barely stopped the car before DJ burst out and ran toward Eliza. The policeman near her looked like he was about to go for his gun. “Hold it right there,” he shouted when she was about ten feet away from him.
DJ stopped in her tracks and actually put her hands up. “I’m a friend of Eliza’s!”
!” cried Eliza with tears running down her face.
“Is it okay to come over there?” DJ asked tentatively.
He nodded. “But walk slowly—no fast moves.”
DJ slowly approached and Eliza literally fell into her arms sobbing. “It’s going to be okay,” DJ kept telling her over and over. “You’re safe now.”
Before long, they let Taylor and the others gather around her, and after a few minutes Eliza was able to calm down. But DJ could still feel her shaking.
“We need to take you in to make a statement,” a man in a sports jacket told Eliza. He showed her his badge. “I’m Detective Snyder with the Florida State Police. The FBI have been in contact with us. Do you want one of your friends to come along with us for moral support?”
Eliza nodded, still clinging to DJ like they were long-lost sisters. “Yes! I want my friend DJ with me.
“You’re okay with that?” he asked DJ.
DJ felt her own eyes getting damp now. “Of course,” she told him. “I’m glad to come. My grandmother Katherine Carter is Eliza’s guardian. She runs a boarding house back in Connecticut. And Eliza’s parents are vacationing in Nepal. We were here for spring break…it was supposed to be fun.”
He nodded somberly as he led them to the unmarked car. “Your friend was lucky today. This could have gone down a lot differently.”
“It was more than luck,” she told him. “A lot of people were praying for Eliza.”
He actually smiled now. “Eliza has some good friends.”
Eliza continued to cling to DJ as he drove them to a nearby hospital. “Thank you for coming,” she told DJ again and again. “Thank you!”
It wasn’t easy for DJ to listen as Eliza gave her statement in a private room at the hospital, starting at the beginning, explaining how they met on the plane and how “Todd” seemed like such a nice guy. “He said he was a Princeton student,” Eliza said sadly. “And the way he talked seemed believable. I never thought twice about giving him my phone number.”
“Maybe you will next time,” the detective told her.
Eliza went on to tell about his phone call on Tuesday and how she probably told him a little too much about herself. “I was feeling kind of low that day.” She shook her head. “Saying how I might’ve been better off having gone to Nepal with my parents. Then we got to talking about parents and where we lived…and I know now that I said too much.”
“So he knew your parents were wealthy.”
She nodded sadly. “Oh, yeah—he knew.”
She answered more questions, explaining how Todd/Ted hadn’t been what she’d expected when they’d gone out for drinks. “I told him that I thought it was a mistake and that he should take me back,” she said as she continued to wring her hands. “And that’s when it started to get weird.”
“Weird in what way?”
“He kept giving me funny excuses and he said he needed to go pick something up from a friend first. And then everything got fuzzy.”
“Like I’d had too much to drink, but I’d only had one drink.”
“Do you think he put something in your drink?”
She nodded. “Oh, yeah, I’m sure he did.”
“What happened after that?”
“The next thing I remember I woke up with duct tape over my mouth and my hands and feet were tied.” She started to
cry again and DJ reached for her hand, holding it tightly. “I’ve never been so terrified. It took me awhile to remember what happened or where I was. The best I could tell was it was some fleabag hotel room, but I had no idea where.” She used a tissue to wipe her eyes. “It was like the worst nightmare imaginable.”
“Were both men there the whole time?” the detective asked.
“I’m not sure. It seemed like they took turns watching me. And I could tell they were trying to put together a plan.”
“To get ransom money?”
“Yes. They couldn’t reach my parents because they’re in Nepal. So I gave them the number of the general’s beach house.”
“Where Mrs. Carter is staying?”
Eliza nodded. “I didn’t know who else to call for help. I mean, I knew she couldn’t get them the money they wanted, but I didn’t know who else to call.”
“You did it right,” DJ assured her.
“Everything was so confusing and blurry. I’m sure they put sleeping pills in my water bottle.”
DJ handed Eliza a fresh tissue and then got one for herself as Eliza told the rest of the story, how she finally found a note pad with Motel Six on it and how she managed to get her cell phone open. “I was trying to call nine one one,” she explained, “but I accidentally hit speed dial and when I hit nine, I realized it was DJ’s number. I was so rattled I couldn’t even think. But when DJ said to text her, it came together.” She looked sadly at DJ. “Thanks.”
He asked a few more questions and finally seemed satisfied. “Claire will take it from here,” he told her.
“We have a doctor ready to give you a full exam and treatment,” Claire told Eliza. “We’ll collect evidence and then I think you will be allowed to go home.”
“Don’t leave me,” Eliza pleaded with DJ.
“Don’t worry,” DJ told her. “I won’t.”
Finally they were done, and DJ had learned a whole lot more about crime and the legal system than she had ever wanted to know. But she kept reminding herself that she was doing this for a friend. And sure, it seemed a little ironic that it took something this horrific for Eliza Wilton to finally acknowledge DJ as her “friend.” But maybe that was partly DJ’s fault too. Maybe she should’ve tried harder with Eliza before things had spun so completely out of control.