“You’ll never get away with this,” Penny said. A now un-disguised Hooper was kneeling in front of her with a length of rope in hand, getting ready to tie her feet together now that he had already tied her to the chair.
“And why is that?” He crossed her ankles.
“They’ll find you.”
“How?” He wrapped the cord around her ankles, “All the cops know is that I jumped somewhere between Seattle and Phoenix. That’s over 1600 miles, kitten.” He bound her tied feet to the left chair leg. “By the time anyone finds you I’ll be long gone. No one will ever know what became of me.” He stood up, triumphant, and grabbed a strip of parachute silk.
“I’m warning you. Let us go and turn yourself in. We’ll do everything we can to see to it you get off easy. Isn’t that right, girls?”
Jodi and Daisy nodded and grunted their agreement through their gags.
“Nice try, sweetie.” He yanked the silk cloth between her lips, then wrapped the strip around her head several times, finally tying it off at the base of her neck. “I have to say, kitten, you’re pretty bright. Pretty too. If I was twenty years younger, and under different circumstances, who knows.” He kissed her on the cheek. Penny grumbled and yanked her head away in disgust.
“You don’t like me?” He picked up the silver briefcase full of cash, “Even now that I’m a millionaire? You’re not easily impressed.” With that, he went out the door, locking it behind him. The girls heard the jeep’s engine start. The dark Ranger Station was flooded with the illumination of headlights for a few seconds before the vehicle turned around and melted into the night.
The cabin was pitch black, but Penny could hear her friends trying to escape. She heard the creaking of the old wooden chairs, the grunted moans through their gags, the thumping of the chairs rocking. She prayed neither of them fell over. She wished she could work her own gag loose so she could tell them that, if all went as she expected, they’d be free in less than an hour.
Time went by. Jodi and Daisy quick gave up struggling, as the ropes wouldn’t give and all they’d accomplished was a burning on their wrists and legs. They sagged into their chairs, resigned to being tied up all night.
Suddenly, the cabin was lit-up by headlights, as well as the flashing blues and reds of police sirens. The girls heard a few sets of car doors open and slam before someone smashed the door open; “FBI! Nobody move!”
No problem, thought Penny.
A few silhouetted figures entered the cabin before someone flicked a light switch. The girls saw several men, some in Park Ranger uniforms, others in dark windbreakers with F.B.I. brightly stenciled on the backs. One of the Rangers walked up to Penny and removed the gag.
“You okay, sweets?”
“Yes,” Penny gasped, “What took you guys so long? I’ve been sitting here for almost an hour.”
“So,” Agent Marx said, handing Penny a styrofoam cup of coffee. The girls were safely at the nearest F.B.I. office, giving a statement to the G-men. Their night of terror was over. “Explain again how you knew he wasn’t a real agent?”
“Well,” Penny began, “I first thought something was fishy when I got him on the CB radio. He identified himself as Agent Hanson of the F.B.I. But if he was really with the Bureau, he should’ve introduced himself as Special Agent Hanson. That was when I first smelled a rat.”
“But you didn’t call him on it.”
“Goodness no. I was afraid he might hurt my friends, since he was at the same Ranger Station they were heading to.”
“So you just played along?”
Penny nodded. “While he was on his way to the cabin, I frantically kept calling on the radio. Luckily, I got a trucker in the area. I told him to call the police and send them to Ranger Station 18, pronto. I told him this just as I saw the headlights of the Ranger’s Jeep coming. I quick ran into the cabin, not knowing if the trucker would call the cops or not.”
“Bold move,” Agent Marx said.
“Thanks. As soon as Hooper came to the cabin, I knew my initial suspicions were correct. He had different hair and a mustache, but he was the same height and build as the guy who tied me to a tree earlier. The badge he flashed was identical to the one I’d seen on that witch of a Park Ranger. But I didn’t want to endanger my friends, so I played along. He asked me to tell him what happened.”
“And you told him?”
“Well, sort of. While we were driving to the station, I gave him all the details. I have to admit, he was as cool as a cucumber when I talked about how the nasty hijacker tied us up, you’d never guess he was the same man. Then I told him that if I were the hijacker, I’d take route 69. I’d already seen on the map that the bridge was out, but he didn’t know that. The fuel gauge in the Jeep said he had less than 20 miles worth of gas left. So by the time he got to the bridge and realized he’d been lied to, he wouldn’t have enough fuel to return. If you guys comb the woods around the bridge I’m sure you’ll find him. He can’t have gone too far.”
Another agent walked into Marx’s office and whispered something into his boss’ ear. Agent Marx shook his head, amazed. “Well, young lady, you’ve done your good deed for the day. Because of your quick thinking we’ve apprehended two fugitives. We caught Hooper less than a mile from the bridge, just as you said. And we found the corrupt Ranger, tied to a tree and gagged. Seems she’d had another run in with Hooper, and he’d overpowered her yet again.” Penny smiled. Now that she was done giving a statement, she walked out into the hallway, where she was joined by her two friends, Daisy and Jodi. The girls hugged and giggled. “Penny, you saved us!” Jodi said. “I thought we were goners for sure. Anything I can do to repay you?”
“Sure. Just one thing.”
“The next time you need to get away from it all, let’s just go to the movies!”