Authors: Robert J. Crane
Tags: #Young Adult, #Powers
THE GIRL IN THE BOX, BOOK THREE
Robert J. Crane
THE GIRL IN THE BOX, BOOK THREE
Robert J. Crane
Copyright © 2012
All Rights Reserved.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the internet or any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Robert J. Crane via email at
Layout provided by
I wondered how many cops were within a hundred miles of me as I slammed the convenience store clerk’s head into the counter. It made a satisfying thump and rebounded as he spiraled to the ground, his head hitting the shelf behind him before it made contact with the tile floor. He didn’t move, which was fortunate more for his sake than mine, as I took the bills out of the register and stuffed them in a plastic bag. I fiddled around behind the counter for a minute, tidying up loose ends, then broke his cell phone and the landline, smashing the plastic into pieces. It’d be a long walk to the next one.
The smell of day-old hot dogs wafted around me as I walked past trinkets and tourist shirts that proclaimed
See South Dakota!
The slow hum of the air conditioner working overtime to keep the building cool in the prairie summer heat thrummed around me. I ripped open a candy bar and took a bite, savoring the sweet taste of the caramel and chocolate mingled with the salt from the peanuts. It was the first thing I’d eaten since I made a stop outside Gillette, Wyoming a few hours after sundown. I wondered if the clerk at that store had woken up yet. Probably. He wouldn’t remember anything. Just like this one.
I walked to the back of the store and paused when I opened the cooler to grab a drink. The bitter chill of the freezer air overpowered the air conditioning, sending goosebumps up and down my arms. I threw three bottles of soda on top of the piddling amount of money I’d taken from the till; I’d thought it would be more. I considered trying to wake up the attendant to get him to open the safe but decided he’d had enough excitement for one night.
I stepped up to the door that led to the space behind the freezers. Locked. I rolled my eyes and kicked, sending it off its hinges and into the room. It wedged in the back wall, sticking out as though it was a tombstone buried in the brick. The symbolism was obvious, at least to me. I reached over and ejected the DVD that was recording from the camera feeds all over the station, put it into my plastic bag and pondered the safe in the corner. Wasn’t worth the time. I only needed petty cash for this trip and it was better to remain as off the radar as I could. Not that robbing convenience stores was going to keep me off the radar, but let’s face it: it was a means to an end, not an end itself.
And the end was ahead. Far, far ahead.
Everything on the shelves looked good as I wandered back out into the store, but I didn’t need much. I threw a couple packages of chips into the bag and three boxes of white powdered donuts. Way better than the chocolate ones. I took one last look around and decided to try one of the hot dogs. Sure, they looked old, but I’d been eating food that came in a plastic wrapper since I left Casper, Wyoming yesterday. And before that, other canned and plasticized food. Laying low wasn’t pleasant, but living off gas station food wasn’t much better.
After I finished fixing my hot dog, I took a bite and stepped outside, the flavor of the ketchup and mustard masking the chewy, rubbery consistency of the meat. The convenience store was right off Interstate 90. The nearest town, Draper, South Dakota, was a few miles away and probably deader than a prairie dog on the freeway by this time of night.
I felt the hot summer air of the planes, my little bag in one hand, and a half eaten hotdog in the other, as I walked back to my car, an older model Honda. I’d stolen it before I left Casper, but I acquired some new license plates in Rapid City so I wasn’t real worried about the cops taking an interest in me. By the time the sun came up tomorrow I’d be in southern Minnesota. I could melt away onto the back roads, pick up some new tags, maybe even a new car. This one smelled like the previous owner had a problem with Mary Jane. Actually, not so much a problem as a deeply troubling relationship.
I watched another car pull into the parking space just down from me. I caught sight of the lights mounted on the roof and realized my earlier question about cops was answered: there was one here, now. The lights weren’t on, no siren was blaring and once the officer parked his car he sat there, looking at a clipboard in his lap. I sighed; the minute he walked inside he’d discover what had happened and I’d have the cops after me. I needed time.
I walked to his window and rapped on the glass with my knuckle. He made a motion for me to step back, which I did, and he opened the door. Tall, heavily built, and in his early forties, he clicked on his big, heavy flashlight before he started to speak. “Is there a problem—”
He didn’t have a chance to see it coming. It wasn’t his fault; he followed procedure flawlessly, but I was possessed of strength and speed far beyond a normal person. His hand had reached his holster when mine broke his nose. I brought his head to my knee, giving him something else unpleasant to deal with when he woke up. He hit the ground and I stooped over him. After I was done, I grabbed his pistol, his pepper spray and taser. I smashed his cell phone to pieces, broke his radio, then picked him up and stuffed him back in his car. He’d live, but suffer for the inconvenience he’d placed on me by driving up at this particular moment.
I got back in the Honda and caught another whiff of the reefer that permeated the seats, the upholstery, the dashboard, everything. I looked at the map sitting on my passenger seat and traced my finger along the line I’d drawn to my destination. From the money I stole this time, I might actually be able to pay at the next convenience store. That’d throw ‘em off the trail.
I stepped on the accelerator and took off, back to the freeway, back to the long ride. I was over five hundred miles from where I was going and it’d take me at least a couple more days to get there. But it’d be worth it; I’d show them all. I let a little smile of triumph float onto my face as I broke open the pack of donuts and pulled out the first powdered. I took a bite then spit it out the broken window.
Stale. I felt a flash of rage and had a fantasy about killing the convenience store clerk instead of letting him live. I threw the rest of the package out as I hit seventy, not a car on the road ahead of me. This time...this time they couldn’t stop me.
My heart thudded in my ears as I ran, the green of the woods surrounding me. My breath caught in my throat; I was gasping from the exertion of running, and that wasn’t easy for me. I’m a metahuman, with powers that include far more strength, speed and agility than humans. But apparently I needed more cardio in my workout.
I heard the footsteps behind me, pounding against the hard ground. I stopped, pressing my back against a tree. Scott Byerly ran past and did the same while Kat Forrest trailed a little behind him.
“Thanks for slowing down,” Kat said, huffing as she came to a stop. She was taller than me, with long blond hair and green eyes. Her face was usually tanned but it was red now, spots of color standing out on her cheeks. She wore a simple T-shirt and gym shorts which seemed far too short, and socks and tennis shoes far too low for my tastes. Her long, smooth, tanned legs almost blended in with the backdrop of old pine needles on the forest floor. “Thought you were gonna leave me behind.”
I grunted. It wasn’t for lack of trying; we were on the run for a reason, and I had no intention of getting caught because Kat couldn’t keep pace.
“Any sign of him?” Scott didn’t bother to complain. He was tall, with short dark hair and a nose that was a little rounded. Kinda good-looking. Like me, his eyes were scanning through the trees around us, watching for the unseen threat that was somewhere out there. His eyes halted for a second on Kat’s legs, causing me to snort, then they kept going. He wasn’t breathing as hard as she was, but close.
“Not that I can see.” I pushed off the tree, trying to steady myself. We had been running for over an hour before this, full tilt. I was tired; my legs hurt, my lungs hurt, and I was cranky. “But the way the three of us are gasping for air, a tractor trailer could sneak up on us and we wouldn’t know it until we felt the treads on our backs.”
“I’m exhausted.” Kat stood up straight and her hair hung in strings over her shoulders as she joined us in looking around. “I’m in no condition for a fight; I’m not sure they’re paying me enough for this.”
Scott shot her a half-smile. “You don’t think it’s worth it to be the next generation of M-Squad recruits?”
“Not sure I wanna be an M-Squad anything,” Kat said under her breath.
I had been offered a position as a trainee with the Directorate, an organization that helps track and police metahumans – metas – like me. They hoped to position me to help their agents in hunting down dangerous metas. Shortly after I’d gotten an offer, so had Scott and Kat. Their offers might have had something to do with the fact that the three of us almost single-handedly stopped a very dangerous meta who had threatened to blow up Minneapolis. I thought it was a signal that the Directorate was looking to expand their reach because of some growing threats.
“So are we gonna keep moving or wh—” Kat got cut off mid-sentence as something hit her from behind. I saw a flash of white fur, heard the WHUMP! as she went down, her hair a solid streak of blond. I was already in motion. My foot lashed out at the ball of white as she hit the ground, her shriek drowned out and muffled. I missed clean; the creature that attacked her rolled through and landed on all fours, ready to strike. I was off balance and it was impossibly fast. I stared at it, the red eyes of a wolf glaring back at me as I tried to recapture my footing.
It was long, bigger than the dogs I had seen, and the fur was stark white, the faintest reminder of the last winter, when snow blanketed the ground in the same shade. I saw it tense, watched it shift weight from its hind legs to its front as it moved to pounce again. I had no easy defense; my leg was almost down when it left the ground and I flinched, already anticipating the pain as I saw it leap, mouth open and focused on my neck.
A solid wall of water hit the animal, causing it to yelp and hurtle sideways, knocked off course by the pressure of the blast. It slammed into a tree trunk and I lunged, foot extended in a running jump sidekick. I aimed at the neck, hoping to put the beast out of the fight. When I was a foot away from my target the hair changed color, shifting in a ripple down the fur like the summer wind had stirred it, and as it went brown the neck grew wider and longer and the shape of the creature began to change.