Authors: Blake Pierce
What would he do if he heard and found her trying to escape? Whatever it might be, it couldn’t be much worse than what he planned to do to her anyway.
She held still and listened. She heard no footsteps. Maybe he hadn’t heard.
Still, she had to do all this more quietly somehow. She pressed against that corner with the heels of her wrists, slowly and carefully, hoping to push out the nails little by little. She felt a slight budge with every push. Then a single nail came completely loose.
She kept pushing and the remaining nails loosened, little by little. They made alarming squeaking sounds with every push. There was simply no way to do this silently.
Finally, with a crackling sound, the whole square section of lattice gave way and fell to the ground. She could get out now—at least if he hadn’t heard that last sharp burst of noise. But where would she go, and how?
Crawling through the mud like a caterpillar, bunching her knees and hands together and stretching out again and again, she made her way outside. She managed to get across the piece of lattice without being hurt by any nails. From there, her face rubbed into the ground with every motion, scraping against muddy grass. She guessed that her face was probably bleeding by now—and her wrists and ankles as well. But there was nothing she could do about it.
When she was completely clear of the deck, she sat up and looked around. It was still raining pretty hard. A single light shining from a window reflected off the chrome trim on the big dark car, parked some fifteen feet away. In the yard closer to her there were only a few scrubby bushes. She could make out the shadowy shapes of some trees farther away, but she saw nothing beyond the trees—no streetlights, no lighted windows. There was no sign of traffic in any direction.
A sob rose up in April’s throat. She was alone, and she had no idea where the nearest helpful human might be found. She clenched her teeth and forced back a wail. She thought about her mother and tried to picture what she would do, but her imagination could find no easy answers.
But her mom wouldn’t give up. That was the only thing she knew for sure. Her mom never gave up on a problem. In fact, the thought whispered through her mind that her mom had never given up on
April knew that she had to make her way far enough to find somebody, anybody, to help her. Someone who could call her mother, who would arrive with a SWAT team to destroy the monster in the house and set April free. For a moment she pictured the flare of many guns firing and solving the situation once and for all.
But there was no SWAT team on hand and she had to keep moving. It didn’t matter where, as long as she could get away from the house, away from Peterson.
She decided that it was easier, faster, and less painful to roll than to bunch up and stretch out again and again. She lay down and started rolling.
But just then, a bright light pierced the darkness. She froze in place and saw that the light in front of the house had come on. The door opened and Peterson stepped out. April’s heart was pounding horribly.
He heard me,
she thought. But the man wasn’t looking around as though in search of her.
She flattened on the ground, trying to make herself invisible. But how could he not see her, out in the open like this? There were only a few shrubs that might just partly shield her from his sight.
Still, the night was very dark, and it was still raining. She barely breathed as he stepped down the front steps.
To her surprise, he walked right past her, barely three feet away. He got into the car and turned on the headlights and started the engine. For a moment, April dared to hope. If he drove away, it might give her time to escape.
But then he opened the car door again and got out. He shut the door. April choked with fear. Maybe he’d seen her after all. No, he headed straight back toward the house. Apparently he had forgotten something.
April’s mind buzzed with a new escape scheme. Peterson had left the car running.
If only she could steal it and drive away! But how could she possibly do that? She was bound hand and foot.
Still, she had to try. She rolled over and over until she reached the car. Then she pulled herself to her feet and opened the driver’s door. She scrambled into the seat and sat staring through the rain-streaked windshield. Suddenly this seemed like a completely insane idea. Not only was she bound, she’d never driven a car in her life. She didn’t even know how to turn on the windshield wipers.
But she had no choice. Peterson would surely come back at any second. She wasn’t completely ignorant about cars.
“You can do this,” she said out loud.
She managed to release the hand brake, then put the car into drive. To her alarm, it moved forward right away. She hit the brake with her two bound feet and the car lurched to a jarring stop.
How am I going to do this?
She put her bound hands on top of the steering wheel, hoping she could see well enough to avoid any obstacles. Then she took her feet off the brake and pressed down on the accelerator. The car moved forward and kept right on going.
Through the rain, she could make out the shapes of trees coming up. Steering frantically, she managed to avoid them. She had no idea where she might be going.
In a few seconds, she was past the trees and bouncing across an open field. She kept pressing the accelerator to keep the car moving.
At one rough bump, the driver’s door flew open. She hadn’t shut it tightly enough, but she certainly couldn’t reach out and pull it shut again. She wasn’t harnessed in and was in danger of being thrown from the vehicle as it lurched across the rough earth.
One bounce made her push the accelerator too hard, and the car leaped forward. For a moment, the vehicle seemed to be airborne. Then it hit the ground again and reeled ahead. In the headlights, she saw a large tree coming up, but too late to shift her feet to the brake. As the car slammed against the tree, an airbag erupted in front of her, cushioning her from the sickening crash.
April was dazed for a moment, and she tasted blood on her lips. She realized that the car engine was no longer running and steam was gushing out from under the crunched-up hood. One headlight was still shining ahead. She climbed out of the car, but she fell, rolled down a weedy slope, and splashed into shallow water. She managed to sit up and look around.
In the glare of the headlight, she saw that she was in the edge of a river. Through the rain, she could dimly make out some lights on the opposite shore. It didn’t look too far away, but how deep was the water?
Damn that girl!
Peterson thought as he staggered through the rain. He clutched a flashlight in one hand and his pistol in the other.
The flashlight had caused the problem. Just a few moments ago, he had gotten in the car and was ready to drive away. It was high time, he’d thought, to abandon this vehicle somewhere and steal another one. Probably something less flashy. A rainy night like this was perfect for getting both things done without attracting attention.
And besides, he had figured, the girl was perfectly helpless, reduced to a wet puddle of shapeless fear under the deck.
But just before he’d put the car in gear, he’d remembered that he’d need a flashlight. He’d snapped the glove compartment open and saw that he hadn’t left it there. It was still in the house. He’d cursed himself soundly. He liked to think of himself as better organized.
He’d hurried back to the house, still unworried—and unhurried, too, or so he’d thought. When he’d found the flashlight, he’d switched it on and realized that its batteries were shot. He’d had to scrounge through a kitchen drawer to find new batteries, and he’d barely gotten them in place when he heard the car drive away.
He’d charged out of the house just in time to see the car zigzagging off among the nearby trees and disappearing altogether into the darkness.
Now he could hardly believe what had happened. Shining the light around the back deck, he’d seen that a piece of lattice was broken off and lying in the mud. That’s when he’d known that the girl was out and she had taken his car.
A lot like her mother,
Too much like her mother.
But had the girl gotten loose from her plastic restraints? If so, did she know how to drive? She was too young for a license, he was sure, but perhaps she’d been learning. If so, she could have taken off for anywhere.
But as he followed the crazy trail of fresh, muddy tire tracks, he doubted it. Her driving had been wildly erratic, as if she’d had no real control over the vehicle. No, even if she did know how to drive, she was still bound. She couldn’t have gotten far. She must have crashed the car pretty quickly. All he had to do was keep following the trail. He’d catch up with her soon.
He was angry and frustrated. She’d spoiled everything. Her mother was probably tracking him right now, and might get here soon. He’d been counting on it. He had hoped to make the girl’s death painful and dramatic—a fitting punishment for the woman who had thwarted him. She’d be so sick with horror and guilt, she’d beg for him to kill her too. And he’d be glad to oblige.
But now the whole thing had turned sloppy and chaotic. He simply hated that.
When he saw the damaged car up ahead, he only hoped that the girl hadn’t killed herself in the crash. He fingered the trigger of his pistol, just itching to use it.
No more games,
It’s time just to kill her.
Standing outside the SUV, Riley removed the Remington 870 twelve-gauge shotgun from its case and slung the weapon over her shoulder. The heft of the Remington felt good. Then she took out her Glock, checked it, and holstered it again. She picked up a flashlight and put it in her jacket pocket. The street here was well-lighted, but she might need it soon.
Although it was still raining, she tossed her folded umbrella into the vehicle. She wanted to have both hands free for whatever was about to happen next. She didn’t mind getting wet.
she thought, clenching her teeth and slamming the SUV door shut.
She looked around, but didn’t see Bill anywhere. He’d gone around to the other side of the construction site hoping to run into a night watchman. She couldn’t wait for anything or anybody now, but she had to let him know what was going on.
She pulled out her cell phone and texted.
“I know where he is. West beyond construction. Hurry.”
Then she wondered just how quickly Bill would be able to catch up. He might not even read her message right away if he were talking to a watchman. She added another text.
“Isolated house near river.”
She walked briskly through the rain and soon passed the rest of the construction site. The road dead-ended at a broad, open field with trees scattered here and there. She knew the river must be somewhere straight ahead, but she couldn’t see it.
The only light came from a small house just off one side of the road. That was it. That was Peterson’s lair. From what the girl had told her minutes ago, there was no doubt about it. She approached the house cautiously, Glock now in hand.
Normally, her next move would be to bang on the door and announce that she was FBI, but nothing was normal here. Peterson was holding April somewhere. Before Riley confronted him, she needed to find her daughter and free her.
She crept nearer the front of the house and checked its foundation. From her own experience, she expected Peterson to be holding his victim in a crawlspace under the house. But this was just a low cinderblock foundation and she saw no openings in it. She thought that perhaps there might be access on another side.
Riley moved quietly around the house until she encountered a wooden deck.
She’s got to be under there,
But then her eyes fell on a broken piece of lattice lying on the ground, leaving an opening under the deck. She bent down and used her flashlight to look inside. No one was there, although she could see where the muddy ground was gouged. Someone had been under there recently. It had to have been April.
But where was she? Had she gotten away, or had Peterson hauled her out, planning to do away with her?
Riley’s pulse was pounding. No longer worrying about being heard or seen, she rushed up onto the lighted deck and to the window. She could see no one inside the house. Then she tried the door. It was locked. She smashed the window, reached inside, unlatched and opened it, and crawled through.
Her Glock ready, Riley explored the house. It didn’t take long. After a quick sweep of a bedroom, a bathroom, a living room, and a kitchen, she knew that the place was empty. But with the lights on like this, it looked as though Peterson might have left hastily. Why?
She opened the back door and stepped back onto the deck. The rain was dying down. Shining her flashlight across the yard, she saw something new—deep tire tracks that zigzagged away from the house, toward the open field. Dashing toward the tracks, she saw deep boot prints on top of some of the tire marks. It looked as though someone—Peterson, probably—had followed the car on foot.
What does this mean?
Riley asked herself.
What could have happened?
But she couldn’t just stand there trying to figure it out. She holstered her Glock and slung the shotgun off her shoulder, cradling it with her right arm. If she was about to confront Peterson, this was her weapon of choice. Even in the dark, if she had a clue where he was she’d be sure to hit him.
She hurried along the muddy trail of mixed tracks. They led across a field, winding wildly back and forth to miss the occasional trees.
At last, she saw a light up ahead. As she came nearer, she saw that it was the single remaining headlight of a Cadillac that had slammed against a tree. The driver’s door was open, and there was no one inside.
The car headlight angled across a drop to dark water beyond. She had reached the river. Down the bank ahead of her, someone was waving a flashlight around. She turned off her own flashlight and pocketed it.