Authors: Ty Hutchinson
An Abby Kane FBI Thriller
The symphony of the rainy season had returned to the Amazon. Large drops fell from the treetops, hammering huge, paddle-shaped leaves and thumping the ground like a bass drum. Deafening, wet, but not enough to slow the teen’s efforts. His bare feet continued to grip the earth as if it were dry.
Whack! Whack! Whack!
His hands attacked the wet hanging vines, slapping them out of his way as he dodged mossy tree trunks and hurdled thick, exposed roots. He had navigated that trail countless times. He could do it blindfolded. He practically was.
Whatever sunlight was left in the day lacked the strength to punch through the thick canopy of the jungle. With every passing second, the shadows around him faded together, forming the inevitable darkness that would envelop the slippery terrain. It forced his eyes and ears to work harder at navigating. He didn’t worry. He was born in the jungle. It was his backyard. Nothing could stop him from moving at full speed. Nothing could prevent him from reaching his village. Nothing except the thing chasing him.
At first, the boy kept a pace that had him thinking he was in the clear, but when he heard movement behind him, he realized he had misjudged his pursuer’s speed.
How could that thing have caught up?
He forced his eyes to adjust to the dark and willed his legs to move faster. He wasn’t the only one.
Sooner than he expected, the burn in his thighs set off a warning: slow down or run the risk of losing all power. How much longer could he maintain his speed? He didn’t want to know the answer.
he kept repeating to himself. That was the distance separating him from the safety of his village. He had to hang on for ten more minutes. Fail, and he would face the terror behind him.
He shook those thoughts from his head and concentrated on moving. By then, the rain had soaked him to the bone. It snaked its way down his face, forcing him to wipe his eyes clear every few feet. Or were those tears? He couldn’t tell.
Suddenly, flashes of movement appeared on either side of him.
What was that?
Could there be more than one chasing him? He shook his head and told himself to focus. The jungle was playing tricks on his eyes. His ears would have to take the lead. And when they did, the throaty growl behind him grew louder.
With the spring of a panther, the boy hurdled over a half-rotted tree stump; so did the thing behind him. The loud smacking of leaves and vines behind him grew louder. Whatever it was, it had caught up.
At times, it sounded as if the beast had backed off, but at other times, it appeared as if it were off to his side, ready to flank him. Again he asked himself how something could move with such agility. Nothing he knew of in the jungle could move like that—nothing human or animal.
Worry exploded into fear and ravaged his body like never before. No matter how hard he tried, he could not lose what was chasing him. Tears flowed freely from his eyes, and muffled cries escaped between breaths. His head shook. His eyes widened. His heart thumped against his chest. “Faster. Faster. Faster!” it shouted. It took the young man all he had to keep trying. He willed his legs to move quicker, but they wouldn’t; they couldn’t. At times, it felt like that thing hunting him was right on his heels, able to strike at any moment, but nothing happened.
How could something so close not strike?
And then it all made sense. It was toying with him. It chose to extend the chase. The situation had worsened more than he ever could have imagined, and the hope of reaching his village safely dimmed.
He darted to the left then to the right. No matter the path or the direction, he could not escape that growl. But there was hope. He had an idea.
A large tree had fallen across the trail earlier in the week. Impossible to see in the dark, but the boy knew exactly where it lay. Whatever was chasing him would run smack into the trunk, break a leg even. He could hear it gaining once again. Maybe it, too, knew the village was near. It was no more than a few steps behind. He hurried. The tree trunk was just ahead. Five steps. Four. Three. Two. Jump!
Upside down, sideways, right side up, the jungle spun around him then stopped.
The boy lay dazed on the jungle floor. He couldn’t have tripped. He leapt at the right moment. Yet, there he lay on his back, staring up at the treetops.
Footsteps off to the side quickly gained his attention. The slow stepping appeared to be methodical as they circled him. Was he being sized up? Was this still a game? Before he could react or give it more thought, his attacker pounced on him, thrusting his shoulders against the ground. The boy twisted his body, looking for a way out. It was useless.
Rapid breaths forced his chest up and down. This time, the instigator was fear, not exhaustion. His attacker leaned forward, close enough that he could feel blasts of hot air against his face and glimpse the black eyes staring at him.
Lately I’ve resorted to something I’m ashamed to admit: sneaking bites. Ever since I discovered the Ghirardelli Square landmark, I’ve made it a habit to keep a few of the famous chocolate bars at home or in my purse. My daughter, Lucy, was at the age where she had to have a little of everything I ate. Usually it’s not a problem to share, but this past Sunday I was down to my last bar, so I hid in my bathroom where she couldn’t find me. Terrible, I know, but it was my last piece, and for once I didn’t want to have to share it.
It was Wednesday afternoon. The skies were clear, and the fog was absent—a perfect day in San Francisco. We lived within walking distance of North Beach Elementary School, and my job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation was flexible enough that I could leave the office on some afternoons to walk my children home.
I arrived as the bell signaled the end of the school day. Cars were already lined up along the sidewalk. I didn’t envy the parents who sat in their luxury vehicles tapping away on their phones or tablets. They were the ones missing out. I could have easily picked my kids up that way, but then I wouldn’t have the playful walk home with them. I like to think that makes me a good mom.
Ryan, my oldest at eight, usually made it to our meeting spot first. Little Lucy was five, and her teacher was required to escort her class to the front of the school. From there, I would watch her run the remaining twenty feet to me.
While I waited, I kicked a pebble around and enjoyed the warmth of the sun; the temperature remained in the mid-70s. I pulled my hair back and twisted it into a bun. Lately, the weight was bothering me. Normally shoulder length, over the year it had slowly crept down my back. I desperately needed a trim, but I had myself convinced those shops that only did blowouts were all I needed. I wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a hoodie—my comfort clothes. When I first took a job with the FBI, I was a pantsuit type of gal. Lately, I had come to reserve them for colder days or impressing the brass at special occasions.
I looked up and saw Ryan walking toward me. Yes, he calls me by my first name, but I understand. He was old enough when his father and I married to remember his biological mother, and I’m not her, so I don’t take it personally.
“Hey. How was school today?” I gave him a hug and a kiss and nearly poked my eye out. I still wasn’t used to him wearing gel in his hair. He’d started spiking it a month ago. He said all the other boys did it. I’m glad he didn’t ask to get the tips dyed red. He tugged on his jeans, and I noticed they were starting to ride a bit too high. They grow so fast. I remember when we first met; his head was even with my belly. Now we’re at that stage where every hug sends his face smack into my boobs. Not ideal.
“It was cool. We played kickball during recess, and I kicked a homerun to win the game.”
“That’s great,” I said as I high-fived him. “With that leg of yours, we should sign you up for soccer.”
Ryan squinted as he looked up at me. “That would be cool.”
“Hold still,” I said as I licked my finger and cleaned a spot off his cheek.
“Abby?” He squirmed away from my finger
“Do you think I could go to camp this summer?”
Camp? What does he mean by camp? Like the whole family up in the mountains, sleeping in tents? I had never actually been camping, at least not in the whole set-up-a-tent-and-roast-marshmallows-around-the-fire type of deal. My father preferred hunting, and so did I. We would spend the day hunting with a guide and then be back in a cozy lodge or hotel by sundown. The closest we came to sleeping in tents was under the African stars, but those tents were majestic and included a butler.
“Well, I would have to check on when I could get time off and if Lucy—”
“No, not you guys. Just me. It’s a camp for kids.” He stuck his hand into his pocket and pulled out a brochure that looked like it had been studied more than that
I know he hides under his bed. “A bunch of my friends are going.”
When he handed the brochure over, it practically fell apart in my hands. The title on the front flap read
. There were pictures of cheery kids swimming in a lake, hiking, performing arts and crafts, and sitting around a campfire; the buildings were even log cabins. I completely understood why he wanted to go. It looked like a lot of fun. Still, I knew nothing about summer camp, and the thought of sending Ryan to the woods under some stranger’s supervision had me on cautious alert.
“Look, let me do a little research, and we’ll see what we can do.”
“All right,” he said. “But don’t take forever. Sign-ups are ending soon.”
I knew that answer was crappy, but I didn’t know how I felt about it. He had managed to throw me a curve ball. Before I could give it more thought, something slammed into my left leg.
I looked down and saw my daughter wrapped around my limb. Our neighbor’s dog had a habit of attacking everyone’s leg, and Lucy thought it was funny to mimic him. I pried her off right as she started to thrust.
“Sheesh, Lucy,” Ryan said as he rolled his eyes.
I lifted her up and hugged her. “Mommy’s so happy to see you. Did you have a great day?”
“I did. I made you a picture.”
I removed a tissue from my purse and wiped her nose. “We can hang it on the refrigerator when we get home, okay?”
Even though Lucy was growing, I loved carrying her for a bit. She hadn’t sprouted like her brother, and I like to think she’ll be short like me. Ryan will be tall like his father. I know we don’t share DNA, but let me have this moment.
As we headed back home, I again thought how perfect the day was. Nothing could spoil it, nothing but the ringing in my pocket. I fished out my cell. It was my supervisor, Special Agent Scott Reilly.
“Abby Kane speaking.”
“Abby, we found him.”
“The guy you’ve been hunting.”
Reilly was never one for small talk. He said to get back to the office as quickly as I could and hung up. I knew the second I noted how lovely the day was, I had jinxed it.
I picked up the pace on our walk home and got the kids settled in with Po Po, my mother-in-law. She had just finished making grilled cheese sandwiches for them.
“Sorry to dump and run, but duty calls,” I said to her.
“It’s fine. I like my alone time with my grandchildren,” she said with a smile as she brushed her hands against her blue nightgown. Or was it a dress? I could never tell the difference between her night- and daywear.
Yeah, I’m sure you do.
Po Po and I have had an ongoing battle over who’s better at taking care of the kids for as long as I could remember. The way she saw it, Chinese women were supposed to stay home and take care of the family. Yeah, well, someone had to bring home the pork buns.
Anyway, I had promised myself shortly after I losing my husband, Peng, that I would take care of his kids and raise them as my own. It was harder than I’d thought. Peng and I had only been married for six months. The kids didn’t know me very well, and Po Po never approved of her son dating a woman who had a career. But I know that wasn’t entirely the reason why she was against it. I was only half Chinese, which clearly wasn’t Chinese enough. The marriage drove her
Even with my black hair and almond-shaped eyes, she would refer to me, when speaking to her friends, as “that Irish woman.” It didn’t help that my own mother thought I was a
until I married a man. It’s a miracle I didn’t grow up having an identity crisis.
As I gathered my stuff and headed for the door, Po Po’s snacks elicited cheers from little Lucy.
I had lost that round, but I was hopeful for a reprieve later in the evening.