Home > Four Live Rounds(9)

Four Live Rounds(9)
Blake Crouch

“I dug a hole three days ago. About fifty yards out.”

“Kalyn—”

“Alphas aren’t the kind of people you walk away from. You understand what I’m saying? They’d use every resource tracking us down. Kill friends, family to get to us.”

Will shook his head. “Not in cold blood, Kalyn.”

“You can wait here, Will, for all I care. I’ll take—”

“No. Not like—”

“Oh fuck.”

Will didn’t even see the draw, just a blur of movement, then Kalyn standing with her feet shoulder width apart, a two-handed grip and the Glock out in front of her, sweeping back and forth, aimed into all that darkness.

“You see him?” she whispered.

Will kept staring at the trunk of the dead saguaro, as if the man might rematerialize, but he wasn’t there.

“No.”

“Get in the car, passenger seat. Right now.”

Will turned and opened the door, got in and shut it as Kalyn climbed behind the steering wheel.

She flicked the locks.

For a moment, with the interior lights on, they were blinded to the nightscape beyond.

“Keys.”

Will handed them over and she fumbled with them for a moment before jamming one into the ignition.

The engine cranked. She flicked the headlights to high beam, shifted into drive.

The brights shone out into the desert, and the first thing Will noticed was the glimmer of metal near that dead saguaro where they’d questioned Javier.

“You see that?” he said.

“What?”

“By the cactus. He got out of the handcuffs.”

Kalyn eased her foot onto the accelerator.

“What are you doing?”

The car lurched forward, crossed twenty feet of pavement, then rattled into the desert.

“He can’t have gone far,” Kalyn said, dodging jumping chollas and shrubs of Mormon tea. “He had what? Thirty seconds? At a dead run, might have covered—”

“Two hundred meters.”

“Really?”

“I ran track in college. He’s in great shape.”

Something darted out from behind an ocotillo—just a cottontail, two bunnies in tow.

“See the arroyo up ahead?” Will said.

“Yeah.”

Kalyn braked, the Buick sliding through the dirt. She reversed, then drove on again in a slow, wide circle, the headlights scanning the desert.

Thirty seconds later, they were stopped again at the arroyo’s edge.

“Think he went down in there?” Will asked.

Kalyn pulled her Glock out of the shoulder rig.

“No,” Will said.

“He’s out here. We either get him now or spend the foreseeable future looking over our—”

“Don’t go out there.”

“I’ll be fine.” She shook the Glock. “He doesn’t have one of these.”

She threw open the door, got out.

“Kalyn.”

“He’s not supernatural, Will. Bleeds like you and me. Stay here.”

She slammed the door. With the interior lights on, he couldn’t see Kalyn moving away from the car, only heard her footsteps crunching through the dirt.

Just the headlights now, blazing into the desert, and the last thing he saw before they went dark was a roadrunner streaking between chollas on the far side of the arroyo, a snake twitching in its beak.

TWENTY-ONE

Kalyn was at least a hundred yards out from the car before she realized she’d forgotten the flashlight in the glove compartment. She stopped beside an ancient saguaro, gnarled and rotting to death. With no wind, the silence screamed, though after a moment, she began to discern the subtlest inklings of noise—low bass from a radio blaring out of the campground a mile away, the scraping hiss of dry brush set in motion by a wood rat or a wren.

She scrambled down the twenty-foot embankment and stood on the sandy bottom of the arroyo. It was absolutely quiet, the cooler air having settled here.

She stood for a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the meager starlight. Shapes appeared—boulders, scrubs, ten feet away, the carcass of a coyote—sharp whiff of decay.

There was movement in the sand behind her—crunch of fast footsteps.

A cottontail bounded past.

“You little shit,” she called after it.

She climbed back out of the arroyo. The moon had edged above the Superstitions. The car was up ahead, a black hulk standing in the desert, the chrome glowing as the moonbeams struck it.

She walked around to the driver’s side. As she touched the door handle, a bush shook behind her and she turned, saw Will.

“What the f*ck is wrong with you?” she said. “I told you to stay put.”

“I was afraid if he killed you, I’d be a sitting duck for him inside the car.”

She lowered the gun. “Well, you don’t have to worry about it now.”

“You got him?”

“No, he’s gone. Come on, we should go.”

“Just let him walk off—”

“What would you suggest, Will? You wanna stay out here all night, walking around in the dark. ‘Javier? Javier? Where are you?’ ”

“You said he’d warn Jonathan off if we let him go.”

“I know.”

“Well?”

“Well, he’s gonna be concerned with finding his family, first and foremost. That’s our only card, but it’s a good one.”

As Kalyn turned out of Lost Dutchman State Park, Will watched her face—pensive and hard in the glow of the dashboard lights.

“You know, you’ve been lying to me since I met you. ‘Come on down to Phoenix, Will. I’m an FBI agent. We just need you to make an ID. We’re just gonna talk to him, Will.’ You had this thing planned all along. Hole already dug.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know if I could trust you.”

“Anything else I don’t know? Wanna drop any other bombs while we’re on the subject?”

She glanced over at him, said nothing.

“From here on out, you start treating me like a partner,” Will said. “I wanna know what you’re thinking, what you’re planning. I don’t wanna be surprised again. One more lie, Kalyn, and I’m done with you. Devlin and I will take our chances on the run.”

They rode on in silence, speeding west toward Phoenix now, a massive, distant glow on the horizon, like a city on fire.

Space 151

TWENTY-TWO

They walked into Kalyn’s apartment at 8:30 P.M., and before he touched his daughter, Will scrubbed his hands with soap and hot water at the kitchen sink.

Kalyn went back into her bedroom and closed the door.

Will knelt by Devlin. She was snoring quietly on the couch, and he curled up on the floor beside her, the heat working on him like a sedative.

His eyes closed. Through the thin walls, he heard children playing a video game in the adjacent apartment. A jet roared overhead, shook the floor.

Someone whispered into Will’s ear. He opened his eyes, saw Rachael standing by the couch.

“So this is our little Devi?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“I can’t believe how perfect she is. Does she ask about me?”

“All the time, honey. All the time.” A strange light shone upon Rachael, like she was backlighted, the fringes of her curly black hair laced with glow.

Will opened his eyes, the apartment silent and dark, his face wet, Rachael gone.

“You awake, Dad?” Devlin whispered.

“Yeah.”

“What time is it?”

He glanced at his watch. “Midnight.”

“Did you see the man who took Mom?”

“Yeah, honey, I did.”

“What happened?”

“A lot happened.”

“Tell me.”

Will reached up, found Devlin’s hand in the dark.

“We questioned him.”

“Did Kalyn arrest him?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“She’s not an FBI agent. She used to be, but Kalyn lost her sister to Javier Estrada, just like we lost Mom.”

“So she lied to us?”

“Yeah.”

“But you aren’t mad?”

“Kalyn just wanted to find out what happened to her sister.”

“So what happened to Mom?”

“We still don’t know, just that Javier took her. But he isn’t the one who killed her.”

“Who did?”

“I don’t know yet.”

“What happened to Javier?”

“He got away.”

“Are we going home tomorrow?”

“No, I think we’re going to try to find out where Mom went. Would that be okay with you?”

“I don’t know. I just wanna go home.”

“Me, too, but I’m not sure I can walk away from a chance to know what happened.” He swelled with homesickness for their farmhouse in Colorado, wished he had Rachael’s sweatshirt with him now. He still slept with it on the hard nights.

“Sing to me like you used to, Dad.”

She squeezed his hand.

Two verses of “Sweet Baby James” put them both back to sleep.

A light in the hallway roused Will from sleep. His watch read 4:38 A.M., and there was a woman walking toward him. He thought, I’m dreaming again, because she looked like Rachael—big dark eyes, curly black hair. He got up, moving toward her now, his heart thumping in his chest.

They reached each other at the entrance to the hallway.

“What do you think?” the woman asked. She’d dyed and curled her hair.

“Why’d you do that?”

“So I’d look like the missing women.”

On close inspection, Will saw that Kalyn had used dark eyeliner and makeup to bring out her eyes. Colored contacts had turned them a brown so deep, it bordered on black. Excepting her height and the shape of her lips, she could have passed for Rachael.

“For a minute, I thought you were her. That I was dreaming.”

“You dream about her often?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, the worst are when I dream all the bad stuff didn’t happen. Or that it was just a nightmare, and I wake up looking for Rachael in bed.”

Kalyn touched his arm. “Sorry I blindsided you yesterday. I was afraid you wouldn’t help me if I just told you what I was planning to do.”

“I probably wouldn’t have.”

“If you want to walk away from this,” she said, “I’ll drive you back to Colorado.”

“Tempting, but I need to know what happened to Rachael.”

“I’m glad.”

“One caveat. Devlin doesn’t go anywhere near a dangerous situation. That’s top priority.” Will looked Kalyn up and down as it hit him again what this thirtysomething woman had pulled off, what she was capable of. “Javier was right about one thing,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“You are very good.”

Kalyn let slip a little smile, and he missed her blushing in the semidark.

“So tell me,” Will said, “how are we going to do this?”

TWENTY-THREE

They rented a new Land Rover from the airport, black, with a tan leather interior. Kalyn drove, Will in back, Devlin asleep against the door in front.

In the early morning, in a brown cactus-ridden neighborhood in Sun City, Kalyn pulled over to the curb.

“What are we stopping for?” Will asked.

“I have to get some things from this private investigator. He’s a friend. One of the last I’ve got.” She got out, and Will watched her walk up the driveway to the small adobe house.

A minivan passed by. Then another—people on their way to church or weekend jobs, morning coffee steaming up from the mugs in their laps.

Will envied them.

By midday, they were passing through the extravagant wastelands of Las Vegas. Then it was I-15, north through Utah, Kalyn and Will taking turns behind the wheel, even letting Devlin drive for a stretch. They made a forty-minute stop at a rest area near Zion National Park for Devlin’s CPT, and played car games through the late afternoon—Punch Bug and I Spy.

They reached Salt Lake a little after 9:00 P.M. on Sunday night, road-weary, landscape-numb, tired, and hungry.

Rented a pair of rooms at a Super 8 and wandered over to the Denny’s across from the string of cheap motels along the interstate.

Burgers, fries, bad salads, Mormons.

Ate at the counter, talked out, worthless, Will thinking, All I want to do is finish this greasy meal and lie in bed in the motel room, watching something mindless on television.

Kalyn broke his daze. “It’s a little disconcerting we haven’t heard from Jav.”

“I know. What if we don’t before tomorrow night?”

“Things might get interesting.”

Will woke in the motel, the TV still on, barely dawn outside, and the interstate noise roaring through the thin walls. Devlin sat up in the other bed, and the first thing out of her mouth was, “Are we crazy for doing this, Dad?”

“Probably.”

The call came during breakfast the next morning at a diner in Brigham City—a strong buzz emanating from Kalyn’s purse.

She pulled out the BlackBerry and they all watched it vibrate across the table.

“What’s the name on the caller ID?” Will asked.

“Just a number. Phoenix area code.”

“Gonna answer it?”

“Yeah, I’ll put it on speaker.”

Kalyn pressed TALK. “Who’s this?”

A few seconds of silence elapsed, followed by a sigh. “You know who this is.”

Devlin mouthed “That’s him?”

Will nodded.

“Javier,” Kalyn said, smiling. “I was beginning to wonder if you were going to call. That was a nifty little move you pulled Saturday. What’d I miss? Handcuff key in your back pocket?”

“Where’s my family?”

Will glanced at the nearest occupied table, a good fifteen feet away—young couple sharing the same side of the booth, each in the other’s world.

Kalyn said, “Why do you think we would tell you that right now?”

There was an abrupt noise on Javier’s end—probably a snort—which emerged as static through the speaker. “Because when I find you, I will take into consideration this moment. It’s an opportunity, not for you to stop what’s coming, but perhaps to make things end faster than they otherwise would. I understand this is a concept difficult to fully grasp. I’m where I am, you’re where you are, and you don’t think we’ll ever see each other again. But I can promise you we will. And I will murder you both and take great joy and pleasure and time in doing it.”

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