Gone for Good Page 85

“He probably is, but would you rather wait for the Ghost to come back?”

She shook her head. “How do you know he’s not coming back right now?”

“I don’t.” The rope cut through. She was free. She rubbed her wrists as I said, “You with me?”

She looked at me and I thought maybe it was the same way I used to look at Ken, that mixture of hope and awe and confidence. I tried to look brave, but I’ve never been the hero type. She nodded.

There was one window in the back. My plan, as it were, was to open it, climb out, and crawl through the woods. We would try to keep quiet as possible, but if he heard us, we would break into a run. I was counting on the fact that the driver was either unarmed or not supposed to wound us too seriously. They’d have to figure that Ken would be careful. They’d want to keep us alive—well, me anyway—to bait their trap.

Or maybe not.

The window was stuck. I pulled and pushed against the frame. Nothing. It had been painted over a million years ago. No chance of opening it.

“Now what?” she asked.

Cornered. The feeling of a cornered rat. I looked at Katy. I thought about what the Ghost had said, how I had somehow not protected Julie. I would not let that happen again. Not to Katy.

“Only one way out of here,” I said. I looked at the door.

“He’ll see us.”

“Maybe not.”

I pressed my eye against the crack. The sunlight was fading. The shadows had picked up strength. I saw the driver. He sat on a tree stump. I saw the ember from the end of his cigarette, a steady marker in the dark.

His back was turned.

I put the broken-glass shiv in my pocket. I signaled with a lowering palm for Katy to bend down. I reached for the knob. It turned easily. The door creaked when it opened. I stopped and looked out. The driver was still not looking. I had to risk it. I pushed the door open more. The squeak quieted. I stopped the door after only a foot. Enough to squeeze through.

Katy looked up at me. I nodded. She crawled through the door. I bent down and followed. We were both outside now. We lay flat on the platform. Totally exposed. I closed the door.

He still had not turned around.

Okay, next step: how to get off the platform. We couldn’t use the ladder. It was too out in the open. I gestured for Katy to follow me. We slid on our bellies toward the side. The platform was aluminum. That made it easier. No friction or splinters.

We reached the side of the shack. But when I turned the corner, I heard a noise not unlike a groan. And then something fell. I froze. A beam under the platform had given way. The whole structure swayed.

The driver said, “What the hell . . . ?”

We ducked low. I pulled Katy toward me, so that she was on the side of the shack too. He couldn’t see us now. He’d heard the noise. He looked. He saw the door closed and the platform seemingly empty.

He shouted, “What the hell are you two doing in there?”

We both held our breath. I heard the crunch of leaves. I’d been prepared for this. I already had something of a plan in mind. I braced myself. And then he yelled again.

“What the hell are you two—?”

“Nothing,” I shouted, pressing my mouth against the side of the shack, hoping my voice sounded muffled, as if it were coming from the inside. I had to risk this. If I didn’t answer, he would definitely check it out. “This shack is a piece of crap,” I said. “It keeps shifting on us.”


We both held our breaths. Katy pressed herself against me. I could feel her shivering. I patted her back. It would be all right. Sure, we were just fine. I strained my ears and tried to pick up the sound of his footsteps. But I heard nothing. I looked at her, urging her to crawl toward the back with my eyes. She hesitated but not for long.

My new plan, as it were, was to shimmy down the pole in the back corner. She would go first. If he heard her, a seemingly likely event, well, I had a plan of sorts for that too.

I pointed the way. She nodded, clear-eyed now, and moved toward the pole. She slid off and held on to the pole, firefighter-style. The platform lurched again. I stared helplessly as the platform wobbled some more. There was the groaning noise again, louder now. I saw a screw come loose.

“What the . . .”

But this time, the driver did not bother calling out. I could hear him moving toward us. Still holding on, Katy looked up at me.

“Jump down and run!” I shouted.

She let go and fell to the ground. The fall was not that far. After she landed, she looked back at me, waiting.

“Run!” I shouted again.

The man now: “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.”

“Run, Katy!”

I threw my legs over the side and let go. My fall was somewhat longer. I landed hard. I remembered reading somewhere that you’re supposed to land with knees bent and roll. I did that. I rolled into a tree. When I stood, I saw the man coming at us. He was maybe fifteen yards away. His face was twisted in rage.

“You don’t stop, you’re dead.”

But he didn’t have a gun in his hand.

“Run!” I shouted to Katy again.

“But—” she said.

“I’m right behind you! Go!”

She knew I was lying. I had accepted this as part of the plan. My job now was to slow down our adversary—slow him down enough so that Katy could escape. She hesitated, not liking the idea of my sacrifice.

He was almost on us.

“You can get help,” I urged. “Go!”

She finally obeyed, leaping over the roots and high grass. I was already reaching into my pocket when the man leveled me with a tackle. The blow was bone-jarring, but I still managed to wrap my arms around him. We tumbled down together. This, too, I had learned someplace. Almost every fight ends up on the ground. In the movies, fighters punch and go down. In real life, people lower their heads and grab their opponents and end up in a grapple. I rolled with him, taking some hits, concentrating on the shiv in my hand.

I gave him a bear hug, squeezing him as tight as I could, though I knew I was not really hurting him. Didn’t matter. It would slow him down. Every second counted. Katy would need the lead. I held on tight. He struggled. I would not let go.

That was when he landed the head butt.

He reared back and struck my face with his forehead. I have never been head-butted before, but it hurts like nothing else. It felt as though a wrecking ball had smashed into my face. My eyes watered up. My grip went slack. I fell away. He wound up for another blow, but something instinctive made me turn away, curl into a ball. He rose to his feet. He aimed a kick at my ribs.

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