Read Final Touch Online

Authors: Brandilyn Collins

Final Touch (9 page)

26

A
t Bear’s command, Randy and Coop abandoned their positions in the forest, as did the other men in the unit. Within one minute they had regrouped, taking cover behind the deputies’ cars. Double the adrenaline now pumped through Randy’s veins. Storming the cabin was necessary but so risky. So many things could go wrong.

Bear spoke low and rapidly, telling them the plan. “Okay.” He nodded. “Mask up.”

From the backseats of the two vehicles, they pulled their extra gear. Volt carried an attachment for his weapon—the XM–26, which used short-range, nonlethal bullets that could turn a door’s lock into dust. Once the breach was complete, Volt would transition his weapon to fire lethal bullets.

Randy pulled on his mask and fixed the protection over his ears. Outside sounds muted. He could hear the thump of his heart. Sheriff’s deputies on scene donned their own ear protection.

Crouching down, the men formed their lineup. Bear signaled
go
to the two state policemen, who’d put on their own similar gear. They took off toward the woods to circle behind the house.

Randy gripped his MP5, every muscle in his body gathered to spring.

Seconds ticked by. Randy envisioned the two officers. They’d be reaching the rear woods by now, taking out their flash-bangs. When they threw the grenades to create a distraction, they’d look away, eyes closed—

Bang, bang!
Through his ear protection, Randy heard the muted explosions.

“Go!” Bear’s command.

Randy jumped up and stacked against the man in front of him. In a tight unit, they ran toward the front door. They flew up two steps. Volt veered to the left side of the door, Rex toward the right. Volt raised his weapon and fired at the lock at a forty-five degree angle. The lock disintegrated. He kicked in the door.

Rex threw in a flash-bang.

Randy jerked his head away, closed his eyes.

The stun grenade exploded.

Bray stormed inside, gun raised. The rest of the team pressed in after him.

Every man peeled off in his specified direction.

Randy jumped inside the cabin behind Coop, his eyes glued to his target—the staircase to the right. In the split second it took him to reach the bottom step, he sensed the quick movements of Bray and Starsky as they cleared the downstairs.

No gunfire.

Randy pounded up the steps.

In front of him, Coop swerved left. Randy stayed inches behind him.

Bear and Eagle cleared the threshold of the first door and ran inside. Coop and Randy sprinted to the second. Weapon up, Coop checked around the doorjamb, then burst inside. Randy followed.

Small bathroom.

Tub, sink, toilet.

Clear.

They returned to the hall.

Still no gunshots. Vaguely, Randy heard the men in the second bedroom.

“Downstairs clear.” Bray’s voice in Randy’s ear.

“First bedroom clear.”

Randy keyed his radio. “Bathroom clear.”

He looked toward the second bedroom. The only place left.

Rex stepped into the hall. “Second bedroom clear.”

Randy’s muscles sagged. No way. The cabin was
empty
?

No HT, no Shaley.

Mission over.

Just like that.

Everything in Randy’s body slowed as his adrenaline tried to dissipate. He shook his head at Coop. He still couldn’t believe it.

“There’s a TV on down here.” Bray again. He cussed, sounding like Randy felt—crushed. “Must be the voices the deputy heard.”

Randy leaned against the wall and let out a long breath. They’d failed. The HT had escaped—hours ago. And Shaley O’Connor would now be in more danger than ever.

27

I
lay on my side in the third-row seats of the Explorer, hands still bound with rough rope. The fibers bit into my wrists, and my head pounded. My whole body felt weak. Dully, I gazed at the back of the dirty beige seat in front of me, the scene at the cabin playing over and over in my mind.

I never should have called 9-1-1.

After Joshua had tied my hands, he slammed out the cabin’s front door, pulling me with him. “We’re leavin’ now. No rest for us here—thanks to you.”

We didn’t even stop to turn off the TV.

He hauled me to the garage, pulled up the door and jerked me inside. Getting into the Explorer was harder with bound hands. Joshua pushed me in and ordered me to the third row. “Lie down on the floor.”

He backed out the SUV, then hopped out to close the garage door. We sped away from the cabin so fast I was sure we’d crash.

That was, what, two hours ago? It was just turning light outside. I couldn’t tell if the sun had risen.

How long would this go on? What would happen when we stopped next?

At least the police knew what kind of car we were driving. They’d be looking for it. Did they know the license plate? Why hadn’t anyone found us by now?

My stomach felt so empty. And I needed water.

I couldn’t live like this.

My eyes closed, tears squeezing through my lids. Fact was—maybe I wouldn’t.

It wasn’t something I’d allowed myself to think about before. But the more I tried to push it away, the stronger the feeling grew. The police knew our car and they knew the cabin. Still, Joshua had gotten away. And he was going to kill me. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow or next week. But I could never become the subservient wife living in the wilderness that he wanted me to become. If he thought he’d brainwash me to believe in his false Christianity, he was in for a surprise. I wouldn’t.
Ever.

One day he was going to get tired of my fighting.

“Shaley!” Joshua barked.

I tensed. “What.”

“I’m going to stop soon. We’ll get a different car. I don’t want you to
move
until I tell you to, hear? Then you’re going to do exactly what I say.”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

No answer.

“Joshua!”

“Shut up.”

Get a different car.
The words registered. How was he going to do that?

From deep inside me, a new voice whispered. The voice of justice.

Minutes ticked by. The voice grew stronger.

If I didn’t live through this, never saw Mom and Dad again, there was one thing I could do—make sure this man paid for what he did to me. Make sure he wasn’t free to kidnap someone else.

I needed to leave evidence. A trail of clues to prove where I’d been, what Joshua had done.

Vengeance and anger washed over me. It felt good, energizing. I
could
do something, even kidnapped and with my hands tied.

The Explorer slowed.

Reaching up with my bound hands, I stuck out my right thumb and pressed it hard against the bottom of the window.

I brought my hands to my hair, still loosely bound in the rubber band. Took hold of a small lock and pulled. Pain scratched my skull. I didn’t care. I pulled harder. The hairs came out. I dropped them on the floor.

Our car turned right, then bumped over an entrance.

I swallowed. “Where are we?”

“I told you to shut up.”

The Explorer stopped. I held my breath. Joshua’s seat squeaked as he got out. His door slammed.

Silence.

Heart thudding, I dared to half sit up and peek through my window.

We were in a parking lot behind some big store. Joshua stood with his back to me by a maroon four-door car that faced the opposite direction of the Explorer. He was doing something to the driver’s door.

Breaking into the car.

The door opened. Joshua pulled up straight and glanced around. I ducked back down in my seat.

A short time later I heard a motor start.

How did he
do
that?

The engine kept running. Joshua’s footsteps came around the rear of the Explorer. The back door opened.

“Get out,” he snapped. “Hurry.”

I sat up and wriggled my way to the end of the seat. Pushed to my feet and struggled forward. Joshua caught my tied wrists and pulled me down to the pavement. “Move.” He shoved me around the Explorer and to the maroon car. Opened the back door. “Get down on the seat.”

I slid inside and lay down. Joshua slammed the door.

More noises came from the SUV. Joshua opening up the back? A door on the Explorer closed. Joshua reached into the driver’s seat of our new car, seeking a button. The trunk popped open.

I heard a muffled thump as he threw things inside.

A suitcase? His possessions? I’d never even looked in the back of that SUV.

The trunk closed. Joshua ran around and jumped into the car. With a surge of the engine, we took off.

Only then did the realization fully hit me. The police would be looking for the Explorer. They wouldn’t know about this car—my new prison. And Joshua would be free to take me farther and farther away.

As the sun rose, streaming light from the passenger side windows, I lay on the seat and cried. There was no help for me now.

Mom, Dad. I’ll never see you again.

I had no strength even to pray. But the voice of vengeance inside me did. The voice begged God that he’d lead the police to the Explorer. That they’d discover my hair and the fingerprint. And that they would know Shaley O’Connor had once been there.

28

R
ayne sat on a couch in the great room, holding hands with Gary on her right and Brittany on her left. Ross, Carly and the two other backup singers, Ed Schering, and the band members had shoved furniture together to form a circle.

For an eternity they waited for Al’s phone to ring. When it finally did, Rayne dropped Brittany’s and Gary’s hands and pressed both fists to her chest.

Al turned away and answered the call.

In the seconds that followed, Rayne imagined herself rising from her chair and floating away. This body she was in—the jagging nerves and runaway heart—it wasn’t hers. For the millionth time since Shaley’s kidnapping, Rayne told herself none of this was real. It just. Couldn’t. Be.

“Okay,” Al said. Was that disappointment in his voice? Rayne peered at him, waiting for some sign. A thumbs-up. A smile.

Nothing.

“Let me inform the family, then I’ll get back to you.” Al snapped off his phone and faced Rayne.

Her pulse stopped.

“When they entered the cabin, Fledger and Shaley were gone.”

A bright sword pierced Rayne’s head. Her lungs deflated as if all air had been sucked from the room. No. Not after all this waiting. All this time.
Wasted.

Gray amorphous dots crowded into her vision. Rayne’s stomach turned over. Her body slowly pitched forward toward the floor.

Strong arms caught her. Rayne’s head lulled to the side.

The world faded to black.

29

L
ong after Joshua had peeled out of the parking lot in our maroon sedan, I finally cried myself out. My wrists burned from the rope, and my head swam from lying down so long. My despair subsided, leaving me once again to think about how I could save myself.

As for Joshua—he had to be tired. He’d been up all night. The man had to sleep sometime. But when he did, no doubt he’d tie me up so tight I wouldn’t be able to move at all.

I had to get on his good side.

It was my only choice. Somehow I had to pretend I was bonding with him. Had to make him think I’d never try to escape again. Then I’d wait for his guard to drop.

Meanwhile I’d leave as many clues behind as possible.

Little by little I gathered courage until—on spur of the moment—I sat up in the backseat. I was taking a huge risk in disobeying. But I just couldn’t lie there forever.

“Hey,” Joshua growled at me. “Get back down.”

“I can’t. Really. I
have
to go to the bathroom.”

Surely he had to go too. From the middle of the backseat, I peered at what I could see of his profile. He was sweating, and his fat jowls seemed to droop more than ever. If he drove much longer, he just might crash and kill us both.

“I’ll stop soon enough.” Even Joshua’s voice dragged. “Gonna have to get gas.”

My gaze snagged on something on the floor by Joshua’s feet. I leaned forward and tilted my head.

His gun.

Would he shoot me in the back if I tried to run?

Through the front windshield, I saw a divided highway—a much bigger road than many we’d taken. Farmland to our right and left. A sign said
Highway 20.
Was that in Utah?

“Where’s the closest gas station?”

“There’s a town a few miles up. We’ll stop there.”

I met his eyes through the rearview mirror. They were bloodshot. “You need to sleep.”

“Yeah, tell me about it. Thanks to
you.

My chin dipped, and I looked at my lap. “I’m sorry.”

Joshua snorted.

“I
am.
Do you think I’m happy to have this rope cutting into my wrists? It really hurts. And I don’t want you mad at me.”

“You should have thought about that before you picked up the phone.”

“I know.”

Silence. My bladder was so full my back throbbed. Each mile was an eternity.

“Joshua.” I hated the sound of his name on my tongue. “What do you want me to do when we stop?”

“Won’t know till we get there.”

I gazed at him, an amazing thought leaking into my head. After his intensive planning to steal me in a jeweler’s van right off a guarded estate, now he didn’t seem to know what happened next. He obviously hadn’t expected something to go wrong. And he had no Plan B.

Every good schemer had a Plan B.

I could use this. How, I didn’t know yet. But I would use it.

The clock on the dashboard read 9:35 a.m. That would be Utah time. If we had still been in the Explorer, the clock would have read 8:35. The Explorer’s was the time that counted. It was California time.
Home
time.

“What state are we in?” I asked.

“Idaho.”

Idaho.
A long state. Were we still in south Idaho?

I told myself we were. Southern Idaho was closer to Mom and Dad than northern Idaho.

Finally ahead I saw a sign for the town of Rigby. “Please stop. Just tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.”

“Say nothin’ to nobody, that’s what. Walk with your head down like before.”

“You’ll need to cut off these ropes.”

We reached the town. Joshua slowed and turned off the highway, following a sign for a gas station. We drove down a street with businesses on either side. People were on the sidewalks, going in and out of buildings. So close to me. As we stopped at a red light, one woman even met my eyes. Silently, I pleaded with her.
Have you seen my picture on the news? It’s me, Shaley! Help me!

For a hovering second, I thought I’d fling myself toward the door, tumble out of the car. But my hands were tied, and the door no doubt was locked. And that gun by his feet…

The woman turned away. My heart sank.

With a dull stare I focused out the windshield. “There’s the gas station.” “I see it.”

Joshua pulled into the station and parked on the far side, away from other cars. He opened the glove compartment and took out a folded knife. Flicked it open. The blade shot out, six inches long and glistening.

I stilled. The whole time we’d been in the Explorer, I hadn’t known he had that.

Joshua hoisted around in his seat. “Put your hands on the console.”

After a long look into his eyes, I obeyed.

He brought the knife to the rope, and in two quick slices cut through it. The relief from that tightness! Joshua unwound the pieces and tossed them on the floor. I pressed fingers around one
throbbing wrist, then gasped at the even greater pain. The raw skin felt like a burn.

Joshua focused over my shoulder through the back windshield. “Bathrooms are on this side. I’ll take you now. Then we’re walking back to the car, and I’ll get gas.” He gave me a hard look.

“Okay.”

We got out of the car and walked straight to the bathrooms, Joshua’s arm brushing against mine. He smelled of grime and sweat. Joshua knocked on the door to the ladies’ room, heard no reply, then opened it. Looked inside. A one-toilet bathroom. “Go.” He pushed my back. “Don’t lock it.”

I scurried inside, ready to pop, thanking God I’d made it. Even after I was done using the toilet, my lower back still hurt. I washed my hands, avoiding the mirror. I glanced around, wishing there was some way I could leave a message. But I had nothing to write with, nothing to use to scratch the wall. And if I took too long, Joshua would come in to check.

Reluctantly I stepped back outside. Joshua stood waiting. “Don’t you have to go?”

He gave me a twisted smile. “Already did, while you were in there. You think I’d leave you alone?”

Grasping my elbow, he propelled me back to the sedan. “Head down.”

My chin dropped, but my eyes looked up toward the license plate. From the state of Utah. As we drew closer I could read
Olympic Winter Games 2002
below the plate numbers. To the left was the five-ring circle logo of the Olympics. I stared at the numbers and letters, branding them into my brain. Only five to remember, so much easier than a California plate.

478B2…478B2…478B2…

Once again in the backseat, I repeated the sequence again and again in my head.
478B2…

This one I wouldn’t forget.

Joshua reconnected some wires to start the engine, turned
around, and pulled to a pump. There were only two, and the other sat empty. Vaguely, I wondered what I would do if another customer drove up. Hands now untied, I could be out of the car and screaming so fast—

Joshua picked the gun off the floor, leaned back in his seat, and shoved it under the waistband of his pants. Through the rearview mirror he aimed a tight-lipped, meaningful glare at me.

“I know.”

As he filled the car with gas, I didn’t dare move.

When he finished he opened the back door on the passenger side, leaned down. “Get in the front seat.”

Why?
almost slipped from my lips. I bit it back and did as I was told.

We drove out of Rigby and back into wilderness. I felt like I left half my heart in that little town. So close to people and rescue, yet so very far.

I stared at the road uncoiling before us and tried not to cry.

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