"The Ransom of Lois Ann"
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Timeframe: Amanda's childhood
Series: Amanda West: Spy on the Horizon
Special thanks to: Moxie for the suggestion; and everyone who beta-ed, made suggestions, gave feedback, and put up with my writer's insanity, especially Debilyn and Lynda.
This is a backstory for the Scarecrow and Mrs. King episode "Playing Possum," in which Dotty reminds Amanda that as a child she asked for a bicycle so the dragons wouldn't catch her after school.
References: Calvin Elementary School where Amanda gives the princess a tour in "Always Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth."
Arlington, Virginia, 1958
"This is the swellest thing I ever saw in my whole life!" Seven-year-old Amanda West gazed enviously at the shiny new bicycle parked on the sidewalk in front of her house.
Her favorite playmate Toby Anderson, only a month older than she, was standing beside her, glowing with satisfaction. "It's my birthday present from Mom and Dad. And it has everything I could ever want on it too! See….. it's got a mirror and a horn, even a kickstand. Best of all, it's the fastest bike in the whole neighborhood. Faster than even Bobby Johnson's bike."
"Can I take a ride on it, Toby?" Amanda donned a sweet smile. Clad in her neat white dress and a pretty pink ribbon pulling back her shoulder length hair, she was hard to refuse.
"Well….. I'm sure a little ol' girl like you can't handle a hot-shot bike like this… But I guess I can take you for a spin around the playground if you like."
"You would do that for me?" Amanda bounced up and down with delight and dashed into the house to tell her mother of her plans. Returning with her beloved doll Lois Ann under her arm, she was greeted with a skeptical look from her escort.
"Aww… gee whiz….. you aren't gonna bring that thing along, are you?"
Amanda's face bore an injured look. "Lois Ann is NOT a thing; she's a girl. And she wants to ride your new bike, too. If you say no, I just know she'll cry." Toby rolled his eyes as he shook his head with a sigh. He confidently flicked up the kickstand and straddled his bike. He watched over his shoulder as his excited passenger climbed onto the seat and wrapped her arms around his chest. She clutched Lois Ann in her fingers. Toby pushed off, and they headed toward the nearby school yard.
"This bike sure is super, Toby!"
"Mom and Dad knew I wanted a silver one. A silver hot rod makes a fellow look first class."
Amanda sighed, "I wish I had a bike."
The boy shrugged, "Maybe your parents will get you one. Why don't you ask 'em? You're not chicken, are you?"
She cocked her head with forced confidence and asserted, "Course I'm not chicken! I'm gonna ask them tomorrow…..really I am."
They had reached the schoolyard by this time and found themselves on the little dirt path worn in the grass at the edge of the playground. Bushes lined the trail on one side. Various pieces of playground equipment were scattered on the opposite side. They scooted past the swings and the slide, approaching the red steel rocket ship that towered over the yard. Without warning, three boys leapt out from behind the rocket and blocked the path, their arms crossed at their chests menacingly. Toby slammed on the brakes, and the bike slid to a stop a few feet from the wall of boys. Amanda shifted her hands to Toby's hips as he took his feet off the pedals and placed them on the ground. She peered around him with a grimace.
The three boys barring the path were not strangers to the neighborhood. All the children attending Calvin Elementary School recognized the infamous trio of fifth-graders, who had been terrorizing the playground since the school year began. They called their little band the "Dragons," and every grade-schooler in the neighborhood was convinced it was in his own best interest to avoid the part of the playground now designated "Dragon Territory." Standing a few steps ahead of the other two, Butch looked every bit the part of a ringleader. His hair was slicked back, and his stance was intimidating. A scowling face completed the look. Jasper, more commonly known as Lumpy, was a chubby youth. He stood next to Rocky, who, though well-endowed with muscle, was severely lacking in brains.
For several moments, no one spoke. Toby's voice broke the silence. "All right, fellas, what's up?"
"Sure is a nice bike ya got there, Anderson." Butch feigned a friendly smile.
"It's his birthday present," volunteered Amanda.
Toby cast her a sideways glance and gestured with his hand for her to keep quiet.
Butch began to circle around the bicycle. "Well, fellas, isn't this romantic? Little Toby here is taking his girlfriend for a spin on his new wheels." The other boys laughed mockingly. Lumpy chimed in, "Awww…. isn't that sweet?" Rocky echoed in a moronic tone, "Ya…. Sweet….."
"She's not my girlfriend!" Toby released Amanda's grasp. Squaring his shoulders toward his taunter, he set his jaw. "You take that back, Butch Martin."
"Make me, you little pipsqueak!" Butch stuck out his tongue in a provoking pose.
Toby dismounted the bike, maintaining his grip on the handle bar.
As this drama continued to unfold, Amanda's sweet face adopted a look of defiance. She surveyed the ground around the path and slid off the seat unnoticed. Stooping down, she loaded her tiny hands with ammunition. Catching the mischievous band off guard, she proceeded to pommel them with a barrage of stones. Suddenly alert, the three boys made a dash behind the rocket.
Toby stood wide-eyed and speechless for only a moment, then seized upon the opportunity Amanda's boldness had provided. "Come on….get on!"
Amanda slid quickly onto the seat and Toby launched the bike into motion with all the
strength he could muster. "Hold on, Amanda!"
Butch and his sidekicks regrouped and emerged from behind the rocket, armed with handfuls of gravel and stones. They hurled them at their fleeing targets, who had already pedaled out of range. Rocky started in pursuit.
"Forget about 'em," Butch commanded.
Lumpy turned to Butch in bewilderment. "What do you mean 'forget about 'em?'"
"They'll be back," Butch assured the two youths, who exchanged confused glances between themselves.
Lumpy shook his head. "They're never gonna come back. Did you see how they beat it outta here? I never seen a bike move that fast. Never."
Rocky gave a dopey laugh. "Ya….never."
Butch nodded his head, giving a menacing glance to his cronies. "Oh… they'll be back alright. There's no way that little girlfriend of his will leave this behind." He reached for his back pocket and brandished a disheveled Lois Ann. They drew themselves into a circle around the doll. Butch dangled her by the hair as the three of them chorused in a sinister laugh.
THE NEXT MORNING
Toby kept a steady gait as he made his way toward Amanda's house, keeping a firm grip on the handle of his red plaid lunchbox. He whistled as he turned up the sidewalk that led to her front door. Before he even had the opportunity to knock, Amanda whisked the door open and bounded out to meet him on the porch.
"Good morning, Toby," Amanda greeted him cheerfully, swinging her pale blue lunchbox in her merriment. "Are you ready for our spelling test today?"
Toby shrugged apathetically. "I don't know. I'll guess I'll find out. But I don't think spelling is all that important anyway."
Amanda's face took on a serious expression. "Oh, Toby, how could you say that? Of course spelling is important. That's why Miss Harrison makes us practice so much."
Toby shot a disbelieving glance in her direction. He shook his head. "Miss Harrison makes us practice 'cause she's paid to."
Both continued on in silence as thoughts of yesterday's harrowing experience ran foremost in their minds.
Amanda was the first to voice her concern. "I hope the Dragons aren't on the playground today. They're so mean. I never want to meet up with them again!"
"Don't be afraid of them, Amanda," Toby consoled her. "I won't let them hurt you."
Amanda gave Toby a smile, which he returned uncomfortably.
At the end of the block, they looked both ways and crossed the street. The gate to the schoolyard was open and Toby ushered his sidekick through ahead of himself.
"Thank you, Toby," Amanda smiled sweetly.
Toby paid no heed to her courtesy. "Hey, Amanda…. I'm glad you didn't bring Lois Ann to school today. Who needs a silly ol' doll anyway?"
Toby continued his trek across the now bustling schoolyard, but turned back at the realization Amanda was no longer by his side. Finding her frozen in her place at the gate, he retraced his steps and then asked in a bewildered tone, "What's the matter?" Perplexed by the look of horror on her face, he added, "Even I ain't that scared of a silly ol' spelling test….."
"Oh, Toby… we've got to go find her…." Amanda broke into a hurried pace across the playground.
Toby fell in pursuit behind her. He caught up with her at the rocket ship and randomly joined in the search for the mysterious "her." In frustration, he asked, "Who are we looking for?"
"Lois Ann!" Amanda replied with desperation in her voice. She circled the rocket, her eyes darting to and fro along the ground. As the futile search continued, tears began to well up in her eyes. "Oh, Toby… what could have happened to her?"
Toby responded with feigned concern in his voice, "I'm sure she is here somewhere. Let's just keep looking." Toby ventured a look inside the rocket. He spied a stone lying in the grass along the wall of the structure. Tucked underneath was a piece of paper. Toby knelt on the ground and picked it up. Unfolding it, he read the message scribbled almost illegibly within. "Oh no…" Toby muttered to himself.
Amanda joined him inside the rocket. "Did you find her?"
Toby shook his head.
"What is that paper, Toby?"
Reluctantly, he read the note aloud. "We have the doll. Hand over the bike if you ever want to see her again. Meet us in the middle of the playground after school today. The Dragons."
"Oh, Toby, are you going to give them your beautiful new bike?"
"Course not! That bike is a champion. It's worth way more than some ol' doll."
Amanda's alarmed expression dissolved into one of hurt. "Well, she may not mean very much to you, but I sure like her a lot."
"Oh, Amanda, you know I didn't mean it like that. I know Lois Ann is important to you. You're a girl and you can't help it, that's all."
Toby's consolation left Amanda far from pacified. "I'll just find something of my own to trade her for."
"No, wait…. I can get your doll back and still keep my bicycle." The words surprised even him.
Toby waved his hand at Amanda with a confident air. "Sure… it'll be easy."
Amanda threw her arms around Toby in jubilation. "You're the swellest boy I ever knew, Toby Anderson!"
Toby's face grimaced, while his arms remained at his side throughout this unpleasant gesture of gratitude. A surge of relief ran through him as the school bell rang, and Amanda instantly released her embrace. "We'll get your doll back right after school, Amanda… I promise."
The pair melted into the stream of children entering the school building. As they filed down the long hallway to their classroom, an inescapable dread crept into Toby's thoughts. Why in the world had he promised Amanda he would get her doll back? How could he possibly lick this trio of rascals? But now she was counting on him. He could not let her down. He determined to have a plan ready by the time school let out. However, in the back of his mind, the possibility of handing his bike over to the Dragons produced an uneasiness he could not shake.
Time dragged on for Amanda, who spent the whole of the day imagining the unbearable suffering that Lois Ann certainly would have endured at the hands of the Dragons. The opposite was true for Toby. The day seemed to have come to an end shortly after it began. The final bell rang and Toby reviewed his plan in his mind as he and Amanda passed through the door leading to the school yard, lunchboxes in hand.
"Okay, let's go get her now!" Amanda was off in a flash.
Toby called her back. "Amanda, wait!"
She stopped quickly and turned to face him. "Wait? I don't wanna wait! We need to save her now!"
"I have to get my bike first."
Reluctantly, Amanda returned to his side. Toby scurried off to get his bicycle. Amanda sat against the wall of the school building to await his return, their lunchboxes sitting at her feet. She emptied out the bag of marbles she had brought from home and began counting them.
By the time Toby arrived with his bike, the playground had cleared.
"All right," he declared. "Let's go."
In short order, Amanda returned her marbles to their sack and tucked it in her sweater pocket. Abandoning their lunchboxes, Amanda stuck like glue to Toby's side as he walked the bicycle along the wall. They rounded the corner of the school building and stopped short at the sight of Butch and Lumpy standing in the middle of the playground. The leader crossed his arms and scowled in intimidation, while his chubby sidekick glared at them, repetitively pounding his fist into his hand.
Butch turned to Lumpy and spoke in a mocking tone, "Well, well, well….. look who showed up." He sneered at Toby and Amanda. "You sure are a sucker for your cry-baby girlfriend, Anderson."
"I am not a cry-baby!" Amanda protested. "And I'm not his girlfriend either." She stomped her foot with insistence. "Now give me back my doll!"
Butch shook with an exaggerated tremble, "Ooooh… Lumpy… I'm so scared! Let's run away before she hurts us!" The boys held their stomachs as they laughed.
Amanda scowled as she planted her fists on her hips.
"All right, Anderson, here's the deal." Butch pointed a threatening finger at Toby. "You walk that bike right over here. When we have the bike, you can go fetch that stupid little doll from the seesaw."
Toby and Amanda simultaneously trained their eyes across the playground. There they spied Rocky, keeping guard over Lois Ann as she rested on the lower end of the seesaw. Amanda's eyes grew wide in delighted surprise.
Amanda leaned toward Toby and whispered, "What are we going to do?"
Placing his finger on his lips, Toby hushed Amanda and answered in feigned confidence, "I'll handle this, Amanda. You stay right here."
Toby looked at Amanda for a moment, then turned to face his rivals and swallowed hard. He gathered his courage and headed in the direction of his opponents. Butch smiled as he watched Toby draw closer with the shiny bicycle.
Amanda's eyes darted back and forth between Toby and Lois Ann. After several moments, an idea hatched in her mind. She bit her lower lip as she debated for only a moment. In an instant, she broke into a sprint toward Lois Ann. Closing in on the end of the seesaw, her face lit up as she reached her hand for the beloved doll. Without warning, the seesaw tilted and catapulted Lois Ann into the air. Amanda looked up to see Rocky standing with one foot on the opposite end, laughing cruelly. Lois Ann landed with a thud at the top of the slide.
Rocky spoke in a mockingly apologetic voice, "Oops….. Did I do that? Sorry, I was trying to lift her up so she was easier for you to reach." Pleased with himself, he continued to laugh as he turned to find his cohorts also enjoying the comedy playing out at Amanda's expense. Rocky left his post at the seesaw to join them as they prepared to collect their ransom.
Toby neared Butch and Lumpy, who were doubled over with merriment. Caught off guard, they were stunned as Toby suddenly broke into a run, mounted his bicycle, and took a sharp turn across the playground.
"Get 'em, Lumpy… we can't let him get away with my bike!" Butch led the charge as the two of them started in pursuit behind Toby. Rocky was closing in on the scene, but did an about-face at Butch's reprimand. "Rocky, you idiot….. The doll…. Don't let her get the doll!"
Toby pedaled as fast as he could, glancing back occasionally at the bullies on his tail. Spying Amanda making a break for the slide, he called out across the playground, "Amanda…. I told you to stay out of it!" In the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Rocky doubling back for her. "Amanda! Look out!"
Amanda approached the slide and began to ascend the ladder. Heeding the warning from Toby, she turned around at the top, just in time to see her pursuer nearing the ladder. Reaching into her sweater pocket, she scooped up the bag of marbles and spilled them on the ground below. Unable to stop, Rocky pitched and reeled in unbalanced circles, struggling to stabilize himself. After several moments of awkward fumbling, his legs gave out beneath him and he toppled to the ground, striking his head on the iron steps as he went down. He sat up slowly, holding his head and wincing in pain. He looked on helplessly as Amanda gathered Lois Ann under her arm and plunged down the slide.
Toby looked back over his shoulder. Unfit Lumpy offered no threat, but Butch was steadily closing the gap. Toby pedaled faster as he wove between the pieces of playground equipment, still unable to shake his relentless adversary.
Amanda watched as the scene unfolded. Toby zig-zagged his way through the schoolyard and headed in the direction of the swings. Amanda ran directly across the playground and arrived there just seconds before he rushed past. With Lois Ann tucked securely under one arm, she quickly grabbed one of the hard rubber seats and pulled it back over her head. She launched it with a mighty heave.
Butch was closing in on Toby. "Ha, ha!" he thought. "This bike is as good as mine." He drew his arms back as he readied himself to tackle his prey. He leapt into the air, but his body met with a sudden jolt as the seat of the swing caught him in the throat. The collision sent him sprawling to the ground, where he lay grasping his neck as he gasped for breath.
"We got him, Lois Ann! We got him!" Amanda held the doll with both hands and bounced up and down with excitement.
"Amanda!" She looked around at the sound of Toby's voice. "Come on, get on!" he called as he circled back to the swings. Toby dragged his feet as the bike slid to a stop, and Amanda took her place on the seat behind him. They rode triumphantly back to the wall, and Amanda jumped off the seat to pick
up the two abandoned lunchboxes. Toby quickly snatched the red one and slid the handle over the hand grip of his bike. With Lois Ann tucked gently into her lunchbox, Amanda climbed back onto the seat, holding onto Toby's shirt with her free hand. Toby pushed off and they made their way through the playground toward Amanda's house.
Toby brought the bike to a halt at the end of the sidewalk leading to Amanda's front door. Amanda dismounted and stood for a moment, smiling at Toby.
"Well, I guess we….." Toby began, but Amanda's tight embrace choked his words.
"Oh, Toby….. You are the bravest boy in the world. I thought I would never see Lois Ann again! You saved her…. Oh thank you, thank you!" She gradually released her grip and stepped back.
Toby smiled sheepishly. Recovering himself, he declared gallantly, "Aw, it was nothing." His face took on a thoughtful pose. "And…and…..I guess you weren't so bad either…. for a girl." Toby sat down on the seat of his bicycle. He set off in the direction of his house, the front tire of his bike wobbling as he built up speed. Gaining control, he turned and waved to Amanda.
Amanda waved and skipped up the porch steps. Entering the house, she immediately removed Lois Ann and set her lunchbox on the table by the door. She wrapped the doll in her arms as she hurried into the kitchen. Dotty was busy at the counter with dinner preparations and turned around at the sound of Amanda's feet on the linoleum.
"Amanda West….. Where on earth have you been? You should have been home thirty minutes ago!"
Her mother's obvious annoyance did not hamper Amanda's bright spirits. "I'm sorry, Mother. But there was something important I had to do."
"And what, may I ask, was so important, Missy?" Dotty placed her hands on her hips and waited with doubtful anticipation for Amanda's reply .
"Toby and I had to rescue Lois Ann from the Dragons," Amanda stated matter-of-factly.
Dotty pointed a sauce-spattered wooden spoon at her daughter and mustered up the patience to speak sweetly. "Now, Amanda, darling…."
Amanda, seizing the moment, took advantage of the opportunity to petition for a bike of her own. "Mother, don't you think it would be a good idea for me to have my own bike? I don't need one as fancy as Toby's. Although if I did have a fancy one, I'm sure I'd be the fastest girl in the neighborhood. And that could be a very good thing. Like when I meet the Dragons on the playground and I need to get away quickly. I know if I had a nice bicycle, they could never catch me. Then I wouldn't have to be late when I come home from school, and you wouldn't have to worry that something terrible has happened to me and…."
Her mother listened wide-eyed as Amanda rambled on. Finally, with her patience wearing thin, Dotty gently cradled Amanda's chin in her fingers and interrupted, "Darling, if you really would like a bicycle, all you have to do is ask. But Amanda….. don't lie to me."
Amanda smiled sweetly as her mother withdrew her hand. "Oh, Mother, can I really have a new bike?" She clasped her hands in delight.
"Well, I didn't exactly say that, but I will speak to your father when he gets home, and we'll see what we can do."
"Oh, thank you, Mother. Thank you!" Dotty watched her race upstairs. She heard the child's voice trailing off as she entered her bedroom. "Did you hear that Lois Ann? We're getting a new bike! Now we don't have to be afraid of those nasty ol' Dragons anymore!"
Dotty sighed as she turned back to her duties. "Oh, that girl. She does come up with the most absurd imaginations." She shook her head and chuckled to herself. "Dragons indeed…. Next she'll be telling me she's a spy!"