Authors: Robert Liparulo
Tags: #Thriller, #ebook, #book
“You sure?” Laura said. He did look spunky.
He said to Macie, “Change places with me. You can lie down back here.”
Her eyebrows came together.
Laura said, “Honey, that guy's tied up. He can't get anywhere near you.”
Dillon leaned over his seat back, then returned. “Besides, he's still out.”
Macie slipped between the seats. Dillon went the other way into the front passenger seat. He leaned over the seat and snagged his Happy Meal. Macie was already sprawled on the bench, eyes closed.
Laura brushed Dillon's hair away from his face. “You doing okay?”
She reclined her seat back and slouched down into it. Her eyes closed. “Wake me if you see anything.”
“Don't worry,” he said. He looked at the blood on his finger, then smeared it with his thumb. He pressed his lips together, not upset at all that he'd put an arrow in that guy. Not even a smidgen.
Laura woke to Dillon shaking her shoulder. His face was close. Beyond him it was still dark. The gleam of a parking lot light caught his eyes: the blue sparkled in a sea of white. He looked frightened.
She rubbed her face. “Whatâ?”
“Shhh,” he said.
“What is it?” She began to sit up, but he pushed her down.
“Some men,” he said. “They're checking out Hutch's car.”
The skin on her arms and back of her neck tingled and tightened. She licked her lips. “Let me see.”
“Stay low.” He pulled back into the passenger seat. Slouched, Dillon's head breached the level of the dash only enough to let him see.
She put her hand on the console and pushed herself up. A man dressed in black stood in the aisle near the Honda. His hands were in his pockets and his back was to the car, casual, uninterested. His posture was canted enough away from the XTerra for Laura to believe he was not intentionally facing them. His head swiveled slowly around.
“I only see one,” she whispered.
A man-shaped shadow occupied an edge of the bench. His immobility more than his dark clothing had caused her to overlook him.
“They came from separate directions,” Dillon said. “The one standing walked between the rows. He went right to Hutch's car and looked in all the windows. Then he stepped out to where he is now. The other one was more sneaky. He stayed low and weaved through the cars until he reached the shelter.”
“You didn't see them looking for it?” she asked.
“A couple cars went by. They could have been in one.”
“I think they're soldiers from the house,” Laura said. “Same clothes.”
“They aren't wearing helmets.”
“They want to appear as normal as possible,” she said. “Can't do that with futuristic helmets.”
The men confirmed her suspicion that they wanted Hutch as well. Whatever had happened in Washington, Hutch had gotten away. He had tried to warn her, but the people after them had cut off their communication.
“What time is it?” she whispered.
He looked at his watch. “It's 3:41.”
She'd slept two hours.
The man standing in the aisle rose onto his toes. He craned his neck to catch every direction, then he nodded.
Shadow Man glided off the bench, barely growing in height. Laura realized he was bending his knees, hunching his back. He carried a small duffel bag, which pulled down in the center under the weight of some heavy object within. He floated out of the shelter and drifted toward the back of the lot. He stopped in front of the Honda. Without pausing, he dropped to the blacktop and slid under the front of the car. The duffel bag went with him.
The man in the aisle backed closer to his partner. He turned his head and raised his hand to his mouth.
“I think he's talking,” Dillon said.
The man's head snapped around. He crouched, touching his fingers to the pavement.
Laura followed his gaze. At the far end of the aisle, closest to the entrances, the white car with flashing amber lights cruised slowly past.
The man unfolded from his crouch.
The legs and boots protruding from under the Honda wiggled and squirmed, as though he were hard at work on the car's suspension.
“What's he doing?” Dillon asked.
Shadow Man slid out from under the car. He got his feet under him and semi-stood. The duffel bag was empty. He flattened and folded it and pushed it into his waistband behind him. He pulled something from a shirt pocket.
Laura thought it was a pack of cigarettes until a light on it illuminated, glowing red. He returned the device to his pocket. Nodding at the other man, he walked to the rear of the car and dropped out of sight. Where his upper torso and head had been, now only the red roof of the Corvette glimmered in the yellow glow of sodium vapor lamps.
The other man twisted his hips and kicked at pebbles. It was a completely relaxed gesture, designed to appear harmless. A minute after his partner had disappeared, he broke into a striding gait. It carried him across the aisle and into the row of cars in which the XTerra was parked.
Dillon tugged off his sneakers. “We have to know where they're hiding,” he said, as if in one long word. He spun and opened his door.
“Wait!” Laura said, low and harsh. She slapped her hand over the dome light. “Dillon, no!”
He closed the door softly. It clicked, and the interior light blinked out.
“Dillon!” She scrambled over the console and opened his door. The light came on again, and she didn't care. “Dillon!” she whispered.
He had faded into the shadows of the cars.
Dillon immediately moved toward the rear of the XTerra. He peered around the bumper, between the rows of cars. He crossed to the next car and quickly moved along its length. He stopped at the next aisle. He, Mom, and Macie had not gone down it, because they'd found Hutch's car first. He saw no one. The man must have been walking faster than Dillon thought. He paused to study the car windows. No lights, no head-shaped silhouettes.
He was about to bolt across the aisle when the sound of a shoe scuffing against the pavement made his heart leap into his throat. He ducked and edged his vision past the bumper. A dark figure three cars away peeled itself away from the shadows and stepped into the aisle.
The man had stopped. Waited. Had he heard Dillon leave the car or shuffle over the blacktop? Dillon thought he'd been more than quiet; he'd been truly silent. He was accustomed to moving over a forest's groundcover, with its twigs and leaves and needlesâessentially, a blanket of noisemakersâwithout alerting keen-eared animals. Surely he could handle flat pavement.
But the most dangerous aspect of this new terrain was precisely that it was new to him. His father had taught him that every terrain, every environment presented its own challenges.
Unless you've spent hours living with it
, he'd said,
don't think you understand how it will respond to your presence.
So Dillon knew better than to think that simply because he knew how to move with stealth through a forest, he could do it here. He had no clue which seemingly harmless things could trip him up. Did gravel have a way of sticking to socks, only to click against the asphalt as he ran? Would it come off his socks and clink into the side of a car? How much pressure could he put on the metal all around him without it creaking under his weight? Could he peer through automotive glass without a thousand reflections transmitting his image to the person he was hiding from?
He had figured out a few things while waiting for his mother and Macie to return with the food: the blacktop was cracked in places, usually at the margins of the aisles, between driveway and parking space; some of these cracks were inch-high toe catchers; headlights could sweep across your hiding spot at any time; and it was never safe to touch a mirror because too many of them were loose and rattled. Even so, there were too many things he
The man slipped between two cars.
Dillon crossed the aisle. He was moving parallel to the man, about forty feet behind him. He looked under the cars. He saw the shifting shadows that were the man's feet moving away, between the rows. Touching his fingertips to the metal to keep his balance, he sidled to the bumper of the car. He poked his head into the row. The man was walking away from him, twisting sideways when two cars had parked too close together. Near the back end of the row, the man turned in between two cars. Dillon heard a door open. A front bumper rocked. The door closed.
He heard a soft sound, like clothes rubbing together, and turned his head. A dozen cars away, the other man was duckwalking directly at Dillon.
The man had circled around, for whatever reason: Maybe the two men avoided being seen togetherâmore suspicious in a place like this. Or he had hung back to catch anyone tracking or spying on his partner.
Dillon fought the urge to jump up and run. Instead he pulled his head back. Surely if the guy had seen him, he wouldn't have continued duckwalking. He'd have made an all-out sprint for Dillon.
The man drew closer.
Dillon put his palms on the asphalt and walked his legs out from under him. When he was lying flat, he rolled to the car closest to the approaching man. He went a little farther, so he was lying between the car's right-hand tires. He watched the man come.
The guy's moves were apelikeâhis knees bent, his hands touching the ground now and then to maintain balance and help his speed. He passed in front of the car under which Dillon lay. He paused at the space between cars, where Dillon had been. Three seconds, then he started moving again.
Dillon waited. When he heard a door open and close, he rolled out from the car. He squatted at the opening to the row and eyed the vehicle the first man had entered. An interior light went on, and Dillon could see both men. Neither was much older than Michael, Dillon thought. They were examining something between them. One of them kept looking toward the back of the van. Dillon wondered why. His breath jammed in his throat.
If these were the men from the house, they were the ones who'd taken Logan. Could he still be with them? Macie had cried over her brother for most of the day. She'd made him consider what his new friend, Hutch's son, was going through. It made him sad and scared and, more than anything, angry.
Dillon crossed the row and stopped at the next aisle. The vehicle was pulled in with its rear to the aisle, its windshield facing Hutch's Honda across three rows of cars. That meant the safest approach was from the aisle behind it. He began moving toward it. He crouched, but kept his eyes high enough to see the lighted passenger-side window. The rear windows came into view. They were small, set high in each of two doors. No other windows, except at the front. If Dillon wanted to sneak a peek, it'd have to be through the back.
When he was three cars away, the interior light flicked out. He braced himself to dive under the car should the doors open. He was behind a Volkswagen bug. He wasn't sure he could fit under it. Staying low, he took a step back, then another. He was at the corner of the bug now. He figured he could jump down between cars if he had to. Looking through the VW's windows, he watched the van. It rocked a bit, as though someone were moving around inside.
When, after five minutes, no one came out or showed himself in a window that Dillon could see, he crept forward. He made himself crouch lower as he drew nearer. He stopped behind the car parked beside it, a small, sporty thing. Good thing the van didn't have side windows in the rear. Anyone inside would have been able to stare down on him.
He went to all fours and peered into the space between the van and the sports car. The bad guy's side mirror stared at him like a lizard's eye. No face reflected there. One may have been hidden by the darkness inside, or no one was in the passenger seat. Big difference.
Slowly he moved forward, hands and knees. When he was the most exposed, positioned perfectly in the space between vehicles, he shuffled quicker. He stopped behind the van and sat, touching his back to the bumper, but only lightly.
Okay. Hop up, take a look.
The driver's door opened.
Dillon's heart stopped. At least it felt that way. His whole body turned to marble: lungs, thoughts. His skin felt stiff and crackly.
At the driver's door, a foot came down onto the blacktop. The other joined it. The van rocked down and came back up. Whoever stood there snorted up snot and hawked it out. Dillon heard a zipper, then a splattering flow, hitting the car next to the van on that side. It made a hollow, metallic sound, then stuttered to silence. The zipper again. The man sighed loudly. The van rocked. The door shut.
Dillon pulled in a breath. His vision blurred. He was dizzy, lightheaded. He closed his eyes and sucked in little bites of air. After a time he felt better. He realized he had to pee as well. Bad. Maybe it had been the scare or the suggestion, but if he didn't relieve himself, he would go in his pants.
, he told himself. Like in school. It gave him a sour stomach to even think about drawing attention to his need for relief, so he always held it. Half the time, when a break came, he'd forgotten he had to go so bad.
He turned and rose up onto his knees. He put his hands on the bumper and looked up at the windows. They were too high for him to simply stand and peek through. But if he stepped on the bumper . . . Did he weigh enough to cause the van to shift? Ninety pounds. That sounded like a
of weight at that moment. Would the men inside feel the movement? Would they think it was Loganâif Logan was in there and able to move?
An alarm went off: a loud
. His watch! Every morning it went off at four. He slapped his hand over it, pushed the button that silenced the alarm. He listened: no noises from inside. No movements he could feel. It had not been so loud. It had only sounded like it to him.