Another man in his early forties appeared on the doorstep of the trailer three down from Penelope’s. He was my height with black hair and carried a wooden baseball bat. “Stop,” he yelled.
The attacker stopped pulling Penelope and looked at him expectantly.
The older woman was on her feet. She was standing sideways, her legs far apart, her feet at forty-five-degree angles, her body weight evenly distributed—it was a horse stance, a karate stance popular in the ’60s and ’70s. She let loose with a loud shout, a kiai, and I have no doubt she would have inflicted serious damage to the attacker, except I got there first.
I came up fast behind him and swept his legs. He went down hard. His head slammed against the asphalt. But he was tough. He quickly rolled to one knee and looked up at me. The expression on his face was of pure astonishment. I was about to drive my own knee into his nose when the man with the baseball bat shoved me aside. I fell into the older woman, and we both went down. The man with the bat swung on the attacker and missed. Twice. The attacker got inside him and pushed hard. The man staggered backward, swung the bat again, and caught nothing but air. The attacker was in his truck now. He muscled it into gear and motored down the street without bothering to close his door. The man slugged the trailer bed with the bat as it moved away. I looked for a number, but the license plates had been removed.
“Are you all right?”
The man with the baseball bat was talking to Penelope, the bat resting on his shoulder. They had hung a label on me early in my baseball career that I was never able to shake—“good field, no hit”—but even at my worst I was better than this guy.
Penelope smiled. It was a happy, trusting smile.
Amazing, I thought.
“Yes, I’m all right,” she said. Her voice had a breathless quality that had nothing to do with fear or exertion. She rubbed her wrist where Dirty Jeans had grabbed her. “But—what was he doing?”
“I think he was trying to kidnap you,” said the man with the bat.
Nonsense, my inner voice announced. He had been alone. He had no weapons. The attempt was made in the open, in broad daylight, before plenty of witnesses. And he couldn’t possibly have known that Penelope would be standing outside her trailer at that precise moment. Kidnapping? I couldn’t get my head around it.
“Why would anyone want to kidnap me?” Penelope asked.
“Because you’re pretty,” the older woman said. I was helping her to her feet. She shook off my arm. “I had him,” she told me.
“I was going to put my boot through his groin—change him from a rooster to a hen right there. Then I was going to stomp his head.”
“You’re awfully bloodthirsty, lady.”
She was in my face, giving me the mad dog.
“Who are you calling lady?”
I liked her.
“Who are you?” she asked.
I took a step backward before answering.
“My name’s Jake Greene.”
“What are you doing here?” Batman wanted to know.
“You don’t live in Hilltop,” said the older woman. “I know all my neighbors.”
“So what are you doing here?” Batman repeated.
“I’m a writer.”
“Where are you from?”
“In South Dakota?”
“Who do you work for?”
“I work freelance.”
“What are you writing about?” asked the older woman.
“I’m writing about Hilltop.”
“Trailer Park magazine.”
“I read that,” said the older woman. “But why write about Hilltop?”
“You have to admit, it’s an interesting community. An oasis of mobile homes in a hostile environment.”
The thing about lying, the more of it you do, the better you get.
The older woman smiled. “I like that. ‘An oasis of mobile homes.’ That’s good. Usually, we get names like redneck reservation, hee-haw Hilton, tornado trap …”
“Not from me.”
“I’m Ruth Schramm.” She offered her hand and I shook it. Her grip was firm.
“I’m Pen.” Penelope Glass extended her hand.
“Short for Penelope. Penelope Glass. Thank you for helping me.”
“You should call the police,” I told her.
“Oh, sure,” said Ruth. “So you can report what a high crime rate we have.”
“I don’t know what we can tell them, anyway,” said Batman. “There were no license plates on the truck.”
“It was a gray 1988 Ford Ranger 150 4x4 with thick rust on all sides. The man driving it was five-ten, 170 pounds, brown hair, dark eyes, wearing dirty blue jeans with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the sleeve of his white T-shirt.”
“You see a lot,” said Batman.
“I think I should wait about the police,” said Pen. “I want to speak to my husband first.”
“He’s a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
“Is he?” I said.
“Bet you thought trailer parks were filled with nothing but undereducated, minimum-wage hicks,” said Ruth. “Isn’t so.”
“We should go inside,” said Batman and nudged Pen toward her trailer.