Authors: Paula Stokes
for Einstein, for Odd, and for
being so nice to my mom
I DON'T MAKE TO-DO LISTS,
but if I did, today's would have gone something like this: 1. get drunk, 2. get laid, 3. go surfing (not necessarily in that order). Noticeably absent from the list: get arrested. And yet here I am, spending my eighteenth birthday with my back against the wall of the Colonel's hunting cabin, two FBI agents prowling the dark with their guns drawn, both trying to get me to confess to the murder of my friend Preston DeWitt.
“It's all right, Max,” one of them says. “We just want to talk.” It's the nice agent, McGhee.
“How'd you guys find me?” I ask, stalling for time. I push my long bangs out of my eyes with the hand that isn't
clutching a gun. To my left, I can just barely make out a razor-thin beam of gray light creeping in under the back door. I debate making a run for it, but it's too far away. By the time I get there and undo the bolt, both agents will be on top of me.
“Colonel Amos tipped us off,” Gonzalez says. That's the other agent. He's kind of a dick. “Your little girlfriend ain't as smart as she thinks she is.”
My girlfriend, Parvati. The Colonel's daughter. I knew hiding out here was a bad idea.
“Where's Preston?” McGhee again.
“I don't know.”
“Did you kill him?” Gonzalez sounds like he's already made up his mind.
“No. Of course not.”
The blackness ripples in front of me. One of the agents is moving. I can hear him inching his way across the floor. Slowly, methodically, like I'm a rabid raccoon and he's a guy from animal control.
“Don't come any closer.” I wave the handgun back and forth in front of me. “I don't want to shoot anybody.”
They probably don't think I'll do it. They're right. I've never shot a gun before. I'm not even sure if I know how. But if there's one thing I learned from spending a year on the streets, it's that people are afraid of weapons.
“Everything is going to be okay, Max.” Soothing voice. Another quiet scuff. They're closing in. I have to do something. I point the gun at the ceiling and pull the trigger. Nothing happens. Apparently I
know how. I swear under my breath. Then I remember what Parvati told me.
You just slide the lever and pull the trigger.
I fumble with the little lever on the side of the gun and feel the bullet enter the chamber. I shoot at the ceiling again. Fire erupts from the muzzle. The light fixture explodes and glittering shards of glass rain down on my shoulders. The gun shudders violently, but I manage not to drop it.
The agents mutter four-letter words as they duck and cover. It's all the distraction I need. With my ears still ringing, I lunge for the back door. As soon as I open it they'll be able to see me, but all I have to do is make it to the woods. I can lose them in the trees.
As I throw open the door, I hear shouts. Hoping the feds won't shoot me in the back, I cover the distance between the cabin and the edge of the tree line in just a few strides. It's as black in the forest as it was in the house, but I'm not afraid of the dark or what hides within its shadows. To me, Mother Nature isn't nearly as scary as human nature.
I plunge through the shrubbery, branches clawing at my face and arms. I hear McGhee and Gonzalez behind me, crashing through the brush like angry bears. Lengthening
my stride, I propel myself forward. I know these woods. I know where I'm going. The river. These guys aren't superhero TV FBI agents. They won't go over the cliff.
But I will.
I've done it loads of times. Never while being chased, but still, it's easy. Run. Push off. Fall. Sink. Emerge.
The moon shucks off a veil of clouds, illuminating the widening path in front of me. I can see where the trail dead-ends at a sheer drop-off. Water roars, just out of sight. My tennis shoes crunch gravel as I accelerate. Blood pounds in my ears. Where's Preston DeWitt? I don't know. That's the truth. Not the whole truth, because it's too late for that. Even if I told the feds everything, they wouldn't believe me.
My left foot lands at the edge of the cliff. I push off with all my might, rocketing my body out toward the middle of the river, far away from the jagged rocks below. As I plummet through the crisp night air, I think about whether things might have been different if I had just told the truth from the beginning.