- SpeakEasy is the 2013 Community Novel Project of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Read more about the project including the premise, behind the scenes, and the book launch party.
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Downloading SpeakEasy Chapter 13 by D. L. Rose
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Read Online: SpeakEasy Chapter 13 by D. L. Rose
Ronni came to with Donna crouched above her, worry creasing her forehead. She started to sit up, but Donna held her down.
“Whoa. Are you okay? Maybe you shouldn’t be rushing to get back up so fast. Do you need food? Juice?”
Ronni waved her concerns away and tried again to sit up. She hadn’t realized Donna could worry like that. But the last thing she needed was to end up bundled in bed with chicken soup.
“I’m fine,” she said. and it was only partly a lie. Physically, she probably was fine. Mentally and emotionally? Not so much.
“Are you sure? I can call Pete. I don’t want to leave you alone and have something terrible happen while I’m in class.” Something terrible already had happened, but Ronni wasn’t about to say that to Donna. Especially not while she looked so worried.
“Sure. Call Pete so you can feel better and get to class. I don’t want you failing because I had a little spill.” Donna looked as though maybe she wanted to refute the “little spill” part of her statement, but thankfully she said nothing. Instead she moved into the other room to call her brother, leaving Ronni alone.
Ronni let out a sigh of relief and reached over to retrieve the picture from where it had drifted. She turned it over and forced herself to comb it for details. Everything depended on the details.
Plain wall in the background. Thick rope around her, probably something you could pick up at any hardware store. Basic bandanna in her mouth.
She shied away from examining her mother’s eyes in the picture. If anything was reflected in them other than terror, she probably wouldn’t have been able to make it out without some computer assistance anyway. Taking a deep breath, Ronni slipped the picture back into the envelope and closed her bedroom door. Climbing underneath her bed, she retrieved the phone that she kept taped to the back side of her headboard and crawled back out before turning it on to dial the only number in the phone’s contacts.
“Ronni?” came the answer from the other end. “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you until next week. Is something wrong?”
“Yes,” she hissed, trying to keep her voice low enough that Donna wouldn’t hear. “Everything is wrong! What have you gotten me into? I’m being followed, people are dying, and now my mother has been kidnapped.”
“Your mother?” he asked. “By who? Who even knows about your mother?”
“At this point, I don’t know. Not Charles.” She ran a hand through her hair and let out a breath. “I don’t know where this goes, but he is the tip of the iceberg. And the cheating ring isn’t what they’re after. People don’t kill over test scores.”
“Are you sure?” he asked with a snort. “People get pretty competitive.”
“Please don’t make jokes right now.”
“Fine,” he said. “I’ve got your report. You know we can’t go in right now without blowing the whole investigation. But I’ll send you a special pizza. If they call for ransom, get it recorded and send it to me as soon as you can. We’ll worry about finding your mom. You worry about protecting Julia.”
Ronni shook her head but agreed out loud. She wanted to be finding her mom and letting someone else protect Julia. Especially since she still hadn’t figured out how her cheating ring investigation could have led to the elderly woman in the first place. There was a knock on her bedroom door and she jumped.
“Gotta go,” she whispered into the phone. Hanging up, she hid the phone behind her back and moved to her door. Opening it a crack, she smiled at Donna.
“Pete’s coming over. I have to go to class, but I should be back not long after he gets here. He was at work, so it’ll be a bit of a drive. You sit. Okay? Don’t do anything dangerous while I’m gone.”
Ronni held back a laugh. Breathing felt pretty dangerous at the moment.
“I promise. Nothing dangerous. Go to class.” Donna nodded, and Ronni was left alone. Moving to the computer she shared with Donna, Ronni rushed to scan the picture of her mother. She emailed it to her contact, then erased it from the drive. By the time she’d finished that, she’d received her “pizza” delivery and added the tiny attachment to her phone. She’d barely sat down after that when there was a knock on the front door. With just a glance out the peephole, she swung the door open wide.
“Geez, Pete. How fast did you drive? I wasn’t expecting you for at least another 10 minutes.”
“Why? You gonna write me a ticket?” Rolling her eyes, she pulled Pete into the apartment and shut the door behind her. Clearly he was still upset about her being a cop.
“Nice of you to tell the whole neighborhood. Thanks.” His sheepish expression nearly made her apologize for her sarcasm, but she couldn’t afford to get too friendly with him. Not now.
“Donna said you passed out. Are you okay?” he asked. She allowed him to change the subject only because she didn’t want the awkward silence to last any longer.
“I’m fine. I just got some bad news. Really bad news.”
“Bad enough that you passed out?” He sounded skeptical, and she didn’t blame him. Rather than answer his questions, she found the envelope and passed it to him. She sat on the couch as he opened it, staring at her phone and willing it to ring.
“Whoa,” he breathed, looking at the picture. “Who is this?”
“My mother,” she said, rubbing her face. “My real one.”
“What do you mean, your real one?” he asked. She sighed and leaned back on the couch.
“I’m undercover. I can’t exactly be dragging my mother to dinner dates. I had a fake mother to go with the rest of my fake life. But that’s my real mother. And I have no idea how anyone could have found her.” It was quiet for a moment as the enormity of her situation sunk in. This time, Ronni didn’t mind the silence.
“So, which mom was having the blood pressure problems?” Pete asked. All the blood drained from her face at his words. Ronni knew Pete didn’t need to hear her response. He simply moved to sit next to her on the couch, wrapping his arms around her. “She’s going to be fine,” he reassured her. “But maybe you need to call the police.” She couldn’t help but laugh.
“I am the police, remember? I’m just waiting for the phone to ring. Whoever sent me that picture has to call me with their demands at some point, right?” He pulled away, and she missed his closeness.
“What does it mean if they don’t call?” he asked. It was a question she didn’t want to answer. Thankfully, her phone chose that moment to ring, saving her from having to. She’d never answered a call so quickly in her life, and it was pressed to her ear before the first ring was over.
“You’ve received our message,” a woman’s voice said. She sounded familiar, but Ronni couldn’t figure out who she was.
“Yes,” she said, though the woman hadn’t asked a question.
“We’d be willing to let bygones be bygones if you hand over the jewels,” the woman said. “And the jewel thief.”
“Julia isn’t a thief,” Ronni said. She couldn’t outright refuse their demands. It would mean choosing Julia over her own mother, and she couldn’t even contemplate that. “I want to talk to my mother,” she added. The woman on the other end laughed.
“She’s fine. She’s resting now. Kidnapping is hard on the blood pressure.” Ronni could feel tears building, and she turned around, not wanting Pete to see her cry. A hysterical breakdown might be fine for Ronni the anthropology student, but she was Ronni the undercover agent now, and if he saw her cry she wasn’t sure he’d ever trust her instincts again.
“No point in negotiating with you if I don’t have assurance that she’s alive,” she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. Another laugh from the other end.
“If you plan to negotiate at all, you’ll have to keep your boss out of things. I think we both know his policy in that regard.” There was a pause, and Ronni had to literally bite her tongue to keep from breaking the silence. Too much talking would interfere with any background noises from the other end.
“Fine, Veronica,” the voice said with a sigh. “I’ll have your mother call you in five minutes. After that, you’d better be ready to make a deal.” The call ended before Ronni could reply.
An hour later, Ronni paced the floor while Pete watched, an amused smile on his face. She wasn’t sure how he could be so calm, but someone had to be. The short phone call with her mother had done little to settle her nerves.
“What are you smiling about?” she asked. He shrugged.
“I just thought of something. Why did you need a fake mom?”
She let out an exasperated sigh. There was no guarantee that he was taking their conversation anywhere useful, but she supposed she’d have to go along with it for now.
“Charles and I had been dating long enough that it was about time to meet the parents. I couldn’t very well introduce him to my real mother. I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t accidentally mention my real job.” Pete leaned back with a satisfied smile. Ronni raised an eyebrow. “What?”
“You’re dating Charles for your job,” he said.
“So I just wanted to hear that. Despite my misgivings about your job, I am still interested.”
Rubbing at her forehead, she sighed again. Why did he have to push her on everything?
“By the time my investigation is over, you won’t be nearly so interested.”
“I told you what I’m investigating, right?” she asked. He nodded.
“Yeah. Some cheating ring.”
“They’re cheating on the bar exam,” she said, hoping he’d get it without her having to say it out loud.
“So?” he said, but she could tell when he finally figured it out. He stood up and actually looked angry for the first time since she’d met him. “So Donna’s a law student. You’re friends with her because of your job.” The accusation in his eyes twisted Ronni’s stomach into knots.
“I’m roommates with Donna because of my job. I’m friends with her because I like her.” He seemed unconvinced and Ronni couldn’t really blame him. “It’s not like it’s easy to lie to everyone around you,” she said.
“Yeah. I’m sure it gives you headaches.” If she hadn’t felt so terrible already, she might have commented on his sarcasm. As it was, she headed to the kitchen to get herself a drink. Her boss should be calling her any moment with an update on their search for her mother. If they didn’t find her soon, Ronni might have to go looking for her alone. Pulling down a glass, she wondered if they still had any alcohol from their housewarming party. She climbed up on the counter and rummaged around in the tops of the cupboards.
“What are you doing?”
Ronni nearly fell off the counter when Pete spoke from behind her.
“Geez. Make some noise when you walk, will you?” She returned to rummaging through the cupboards.
“Okay.” Pete stomped on the floor a couple times, then held his hands out. “Now, what are you doing?”
“I’m looking for something to drink.”
“I think that’s what a refrigerator is for.” It suddenly annoyed her that he spoke so intelligently. Who actually said refrigerator anymore? It was a fridge.
“Look,” she said, sticking her hand into the cranny at the back of a cupboard. “My mother’s kidnapped, my fake boyfriend is probably a killer, there are people trying to steal from a sweet old lady I’ve recently befriended, and this guy won’t stop hitting on me even though my life is just a little bit insane at the moment. I need a real drink.” Her brow wrinkled in confusion as her fingers hit something that was definitely not alcohol, but wasn’t supposed to be in the cupboard, either. Pulling it out, she stared at the prepaid cell phone in her hand. “What is this?” Flipping it open, she tried to figure out what it might have been doing hidden in the kitchen. But there was only one name in the contacts.
Chapter 14 will be published next week at https://tscpl.org/community-novel
About Author D. L. Rose
D. L. Rose has been writing since she was old enough to hold a pencil. The Community Novel Project is an exercise in writing without a plan, something she very rarely does otherwise. 30 Days of PreWriting, her ebook, is available on Amazon and her other writings can be found at maidenfine.com. When not writing, she is a homeschooling homemaker with two adorable minions and a cat. Photo by Morgan Chilson.