The Calling Page 52

“I’m … not sure. Can we…?” I glanced at Sam. “Can I talk to you?”

I pulled Sam aside and told her what I had in mind. As I did, I motioned for Daniel and Corey to move through the woods, closer to us. Then we went back to the man.

“Okay,” I said. “We’d really appreciate a lift. My friend here has to, uh, go to the bathroom before we leave. She’s been holding it a long time. I know they won’t let her use the one inside, so she’s going to use the woods.”

Sam had already taken off, loping toward where Daniel and Corey were hiding with Kenjii. There, she’d tell them the plan—we’d get into the truck, and make sure the guy paused at the exit, so they could jump into the back.

While Sam was gone, I asked the man about his vacation, to keep him occupied. Sam talked to the guys, then gave them time to make their way over near the exit.

When she came back, we climbed into the truck. I sat between the guy and Sam. As I settled in, I reached for the radio, then said, “Is this okay?”

He smiled. “Sure. You might not like my station, but you can change it.”

I left it on his—country music—and cranked it up loud enough to hide any noise the guys and Kenjii were about to make.

The pickup pulled to the roadway. There was a stop sign, but around here, most people just roll up, glance around, and pull out, and that’s exactly what he was going to do until I said, “Sam! Your ID. Do you have it?”

He stopped. She checked her pockets and I checked mine, bouncing in our seats, hoping to cover any other movement as the guys got in the truck bed.

“I think you left it inside,” the man said. “It wouldn’t be any good anyway.”

“I guess you’re right.” Sam sighed, as if resigned to the loss.

He pulled out onto the road and turned north.

“Um, isn’t the town south?” I said.

“Southwest, actually. This is quicker.”

He pulled onto the first side road—little more than a rutted trail.

“Are you sure you should take this?” I said. “Your truck looks really new.”

He laughed. “That’s what trucks are for, hon. No sense buying a four-by-four if you don’t plan to go off-road. Just hold tight. We’ll be there before you know it.”

He had no idea where this road led. That was obvious as he drove along, leaning forward, straining to see. Was he looking for a place to pull over?

I swallowed a bubble of panic. I knew this might be what he had in mind. The guys were in the back. Everything was okay.

He turned off onto another path.

“Um, I don’t think this is a road,” I said.

“Sure it is. It comes out at—”

The truck lurched a couple of times … as he surreptitiously tapped the brakes.

“Uh-oh,” he said. “Come on. Please don’t—”

A sudden stop had us all hitting our seat belts.

“What happened?” I said.

He shook his head and cranked the engine, making it whine. He pretended to hit the gas, muttering, “Come on, come on.” Then he swore when nothing happened.

“Can you fix it?” Sam asked.

“I can try. Got my tools in the back.”

“Great!” we said in unison.

He got out. We did the same. I stood beside Sam and she grinned at me. The man reached for the back door on the truck topper. As I braced for the cry of surprise, I couldn’t help grinning myself. We were about to have transportation. And this time, I wouldn’t feel bad about taking it.

Only there was no cry of surprise. No scrabbling of claws. No shout from Daniel or Corey. The back was empty. The guys hadn’t made it in.

“Run!” I whispered.

I dove into the forest. That was instinct for me—avoid open areas, take refuge in dense woods. I heard Sam’s running feet. But there was no crashing of undergrowth behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see her racing along the open trail.

A shot fired. A rifle shot. Grow up in the forest, and you recognize that sound the way an inner-city kid recognizes pistol fire.

“Stop or I shoot again,” the man said. His voice had changed. Not calm and jocular now.

I looked around frantically.

“I said stop!”

A second shot. A yelp.

Sam dropped out of sight.

Oh God, he’d shot Sam.


I FOUGHT THE URGE to run to Sam and instead picked my way through the trees, heading in her direction.

“Don’t worry,” I heard the man say to Sam. “I just winged you. Now you wait right there while I go find that pretty little Indian friend of yours.”

He jogged down the trail, passing Sam where she lay. Good. Keep going. Please keep going.

I crept through the trees until I was alongside Sam. I could still see the man. He stood a few meters away, peering down the empty stretch of trail.

Sam tried to wave for me to get the truck. I shook my head and motioned that he had the keys. Then I mouthed, “Where are you hurt?” She pointed to the side of her leg. I could see it now, blood darkening her calf. A long way from the femoral artery. Good, but she wasn’t racing out of here anytime soon.

“No way your friend got to the road that fast,” he said. “So where is she…?”

He scanned the forest. I stood perfectly still, and his gaze passed over me.

I’d screwed up. Really screwed up. It’d been too complicated a plan. Too easy for something to go wrong. I’d looked at this man—clean-cut and quiet—and at worst I’d seen a garden-variety pervert who’d take us into the woods, maybe try to feel us up and hope we might like it. Not a dangerous predator. Just a middle-age guy with a creepy fantasy.

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