“That’s just fine,” she said into the phone. “Thanks.” She hung up the phone and turned to the three thirteen-year-old girls who were watching a movie in the living room. “Girls,” she called to them. “I ordered the pizza. I’m going down the street to give Mrs. Anderson her mail; they stuck it in the wrong box again. You guys listen for the pizza guy, okay?”
“Okay, Mom,” one girl said. Another said, “Sure, Mrs. Ritchie.” None of the girls looked at her, but kept their attention riveted on the television screen. Mrs. Ritchie chuckled, grabbed Mrs. Anderson’s mail, and left the house.
Twenty minutes later, a knock sounded on the front door. One of the girls got up and went to the door, but when she opened it, no one was there. She looked up and down the street, but it was empty. “Weird,” she said, stepping back into the foyer and closing the door. “D’you guys want some soda?” she asked, making her way to the kitchen at the back of the house.
“Sure,” both of the other girls said. Neither of them turned away from the TV, so they didn’t see that the front door had opened again. Over the loud volume of the movie, they didn’t hear the man walk into the house and toward the kitchen. But when their friend screamed, they jumped up from the couch.
“Mindy!” one of them shouted, running into the kitchen. “What-?” She stopped suddenly, and the third girl bumped into her, throwing both girls off balance.
The man who had followed Mindy into the house now held her prisoner, crushing her against him with one arm while with his other hand he held a large knife to her throat. He glared at the other two girls, who were momentarily paralyzed with fear.
Suddenly the second girl rushed forward to the sink and yanked a steak knife out of the dish drainer. She spun around with it held high, and lunged at the man.
The man was surprised, but reacted quickly, ducking away from the steak knife so that its tip nearly hit Mindy. He dropped his own knife and reached out for the second girl, dragging her easily to him. He was not particularly large, but he was much stronger than the girls, and now he had two of them.
The third girl had vanished.
Growling in anger, the man hauled the two girls into the hallway between the kitchen and the living room. “Where is she?” he muttered under his breath. He stood for a moment, as though debating what his next step should be, then he pulled Mindy up so that his face was inches from hers. “Let’s go for a ride,” he said, and Mindy, her cheeks already covered with tears, began to sob and tremble uncontrollably.
“Let me go!” she pleaded, trying to twist out of the man’s grasp without success.
The man stalked into the living room with his hostages, his fingers tightening on the girls’ throats until they could barely breathe. He looked around the living room one last time, searching for any sign of the third girl, but she had disappeared.
“No matter,” he decided. He leered at Mindy. “Two is fine.” He started to turn back to the hallway, but, without warning, a ball-point pen was plunged into his shoulder.
“Let them go,” a woman’s voice said.
The man blinked in disbelief at his attacker and fell to his knees. The two girls quickly wrenched themselves away from him, and raced out of the house through the open front door.
The woman stood staring at the man for a second. Then, fishing for her cell phone in her front pocket, she also fled the house. She found all three girls on the front lawn.
“Get in!” she commanded, pointing to the pizza delivery car sitting at the front curb. Soon all four were in the vehicle and driving down the street. “Call the police!” the woman said, handing her phone to Mindy. She looked in the rear-view mirror, and watched as the man stumbled out of the house and up the street in the other direction. She slumped with relief. “Do you guys know him?” she asked.
“No,” each of the girls said. The second girl looked at the woman. “Are you from the pizza place?”
“Yeah,” the woman said.
“I hope Mrs. Ritchie tips you real good,” the girl said.
They pulled over, and the woman took the phone back from Mindy. “Hello?” she said. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m a driver for Marty’s Pizza.”
The man stopped at the top of the street and stared at the delivery car from behind a tree. He was squinting at it, as though he were memorizing details. His shoulder was still bleeding from where the pen had stabbed him. He stood behind the tree until he heard sirens, and then he scuttled away, disappearing into the shrubbery of a nearby park without a trace.