Shadow’s Blade – Snippet 33
I flung myself out of the tent into another cool, clear morning. Gracie and her children were up and eating breakfast. The sound of the little boy laughing tempered my mood a bit. I zipped the tent shut and carried a change of clothes to the nearest restroom. I felt Gracie watching me as I walked past their site, but I ignored her.
She didn’t give me the chance to do the same on the way back. As I neared their site, she stepped out into the road in front of me.
“You got back late.”
“You my mom now?”
Her smile was thin and reflexive. “I suppose I deserved that.”
I stepped around her and walked to my site. She followed.
“So I was thinking maybe you’re right,” she said. “Maybe we could use your help.”
“I’m trying to apologize, all right? Could you give me a break?”
I turned so suddenly that she had to stop short to avoid walking into me. “Tell me about the break-in at your house.”
“How did you –”
“I used to be a cop, remember. I still have friends on the job.”
She pushed her hands into her pockets. “The break-in happened after the kids and I left. But from what Neil told me, it sounded like someone went through all of our stuff, the way they would if they were searching for something. A lot of things got broken — picture frames, plates and glasses, some of Neil’s stereo equipment. But they didn’t take much.”
“Did they take anything at all?”
A frown knitted her brow. “I assumed they did. I guess I don’t know for certain.”
“What do you think they were after?”
“I don’t know.”
She took no time to think about it, and though she looked me in the eye as she said this, I didn’t believe her.
“I think you’re lying to me.”
“You don’t know me well enough to make that kind of judgment.”
“They’re going to find it, you know. Something like that can’t stay hidden for long. And whoever has it is going to wind up dead.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
She pivoted on her heel and started away from me.
“Did he steal it from them?” I asked, following her now. I didn’t want to use Neil’s name out loud, because I thought the kids would hear. I figured she would know who I meant. “Is that the real reason you left?”
“I told you yesterday why I left.”
“And I’m not sure I believe that, either.”
She halted and faced me, her arms thrown wide. “Why would I lie to you?”
“Because you’re scared. Because you’re in more trouble than you want to admit, and you don’t see a way out. But you think that maybe, if you can simply keep your head down for long enough, it’ll all blow over. And I’m here to tell you it won’t.” I glanced past her toward the kids. Emmy watched me, her expression as hard as her mom’s. “If Neil’s as much a fool as I think he is,” I went on in a whisper, “and he did what I think he did, there’s no running away from this.”
“Neil didn’t do anything wrong.”
She spun away from me again. Once more I wanted to ask her why she was so eager to defend him. But before I could speak, a sound reached me, one that had no business being here, one that stopped me cold.
Gracie halted in mid-stride, and stood stock still in the road, her head canted to the side, as if she was listening for it as well: the dull chop of a helicopter. I searched the sky. She did the same, even as she pulled the Ruger from her pocket. The chopper was still some distance away, and several seconds passed before I managed to pick it out of the featureless blue sky.
Emmy and Zach were running toward us, Emmy pulling her brother along by the hand.
“I know, sweetie.” Gracie squatted down and put one hand on Emmy’s shoulder and one on Zach’s. “I need you both to be brave, okay?”
The kids nodded.
“Get back in your tent,” I said. “Maybe if they don’t see us –”
“They don’t need to see us,” Gracie said. “They sense us.”
“Is it Daddy?” Zach asked, squinting up at the sky.
Gracie shook her head. “I don’t think so, kiddo.”
I continued to mark the chopper’s approach. “Well, if we’re not going to hide-”
“I’m going to blow them out of the sky.”
I turned to her. “They could be cops. You don’t want the police after you for killing one of your own. And we’re not even certain they’re here for you.”
“I am,” Emmy said, eyeing me, her expression grave but perfectly composed. “I can tell.”
I didn’t want to believe her, but I did. And the truth was, I thought I could tell, too. Everything about that copter felt wrong. It didn’t belong here, and appeared to be headed straight for us. Not for the monument, but for us in particular. Even the police wouldn’t be that precise.
“My truck then.” I ran to the tent to retrieve my Glock and the Sig Sauer.
“What good –”
“It can deal with dirt and gravel better than your minivan,” I said.
“Okay, let me get the booster seats.”
I gaped at her. “Seriously?”
Gracie’s cheeks shaded to crimson. “Mom moment. Never mind.” She shepherded her children to the truck. “Kids, we’re going in Mister . . .”
“Right. Mister Fearsson’s truck. And this once you’re going to have to ride without your boosters.”
Zach’s eyes went as wide as saucers, and seemingly for the first time since my arrival, Emmy grinned.
“Really?” she asked.
“Really.” To me Gracie said, “I’ll be right back.”
She ran to her site. I helped the kids into the truck. Gracie came back moments later with an old day pack and a huge stuffed animal — a zebra — that looked like it had been through a war or two. She squeezed in next to Emmy and handed the zebra to Zach. He hugged it to his chest like it was a puppy, even though the thing was about as big as he was. Together they looked like something out of a comic strip.
There was no back seat, and not a lot of room up front, but this was an old truck and it wasn’t made with bucket seats. Rather, there was one long seat stretching from door to door. We all fit, though it was snug. I started the truck up, pulled out of my site, and drove around the loop way faster than I should have. As I drove, I put a warding on the pickup, taking care to include the tires.
Zach turned to his mom, panic in his tiny face. “I need blankie, too!”
“This shouldn’t take long, kiddo. Blankie will be fine without you for a little while.”
His face reddened, and even without knowing much about children, I sensed a tantrum coming on.
I reached across them, opened up the glove compartment, and was pleased to find that my dad still had an old pair of Korvette’s brand binoculars in the car.
“Hey, Zach,” I said, handing them to him. “Can you hold these for me and keep an eye out for Gila monsters?”
“What are Gila monsters?”
“Really big lizards. Very cool things to see. They might be on the road.”
“Yeah, okay! Mom, I’m looking for Hee-lo monsters!”
“I heard,” Gracie said. But she was watching me from the far end of the seat, seeming to reappraise me.