Chapter 19: Help
Over the strong cell phone signal, Deena could hear Luther’s steps, and even a faint echo of Katy Ferril’s voice, imperfectly cancelled out by the circuits in the phone. She couldn’t hear what the lady was saying, but she caught the desperation and fear in her voice.
“Katy, if it is Thompson, then you need to go straight to the nearest police station. Get yourself surrounded by police before he can grab you.”
The signal strength had faded a bit. Luther had walked away. Keeping his secrets.
Or trying to.
Deena dressed and grabbed several wet towels, to keep her face wet. She wasn’t going to let him get out of range.
“I know! I know! But you know I’m eight hundred miles away! There’s nothing I can do to help.
“You have to go to the police. They have nothing on you. Tell them everything. It won’t matter. As of now, Luther Jennings is gone—vanished—never existed. Nothing you can tell them can hurt me.”
Deena looked down the hallway, but he was nowhere in sight. She reached inside herself, feeling for the radio signal direction.
That way! He was heading out towards the parking lot.
“Thompson is too dangerous. Go to the police, I tell you! All the stuff you did here—they can’t pin anything on you. You used your own name. We didn’t defraud anyone.
“And they probably have a rap sheet on Thompson.
“Katy. I’m really, really sorry! I should never have pulled you into this.”
Deena could tell that Luther was choking up. Whatever was happening to Katy, he was going to run away, and it was killing him.
“I know. I wish you really were my aunt. You were the only.... Get out and run! Drop the phone and run!”
The signal shut off with a click.
Deena ran towards the parking lot. Just outside, she saw Luther’s cell phone. He had dropped it in the grass. She picked it up and ran towards his car.
“You have to help her!”
He stopped, questions on his face. “You don’t understand.”
“I understand enough.” Deena shouted. “You owe her. She backed up your little scam. You would have nothing here without her.”
He looked beaten, but not by her words. “Katy Ferril is the closest thing I have to a mother. I’d do anything for her.
“But there is nothing! Nothing, I can do!” He hit his steering wheel with his fist. “She’s too far away. I’d never get there in time.
“It may be too late already.”
Deena saw his pain, but she wasn’t about to give up.
She tried to get through to him. “I can help you. I can do things. More than you know!
“I’ll go with you.” The words came spilling out of her mouth. It made sense. It seemed right.
He shook his head. “I’m leaving now. I can’t afford to delay one minute more. The people chasing Katy—they’ll kill me. I should be in Oregon already.” He looked away from her. “I don’t know why I’m here today.”
She put her hand on the car door. “I’m coming with you, and we’re going to Malibu, not Oregon.”
He shook his head. He didn’t even try to puzzle out how Deena knew the things she did. “There’s no time for packing. No time for goodbyes. You’d go in the clothes you’re wearing. You don’t understand what you’re saying. You don’t want to do this.”
Across the parking lot, Bryony came out of the school building. “Deena?”
Deena poked Luther with her finger, hard enough to hurt. Firmly, she ordered, “You wait one minute. If you try to drive off, I’ll catch you!”
Quickly, she trotted over to her friend.
Bryony’s asked, “Deena? Are you okay? You looked horribly sick.”
Deena dismissed it. “It looked worse than it was. But something’s come up. I need you to do a very big favor for me.”
Bryony’s eyes were wide. “Sure. What do you want?”
Deena looked over at Luther. “I’ve got to go on a trip with him. It may take several days.”
Deena nodded. “I need you to tell my Mom that I’ll be okay. Tell her I know what I’m doing, and that she needn’t worry. Luther has a family emergency.
“I’ll give her a call when I can. Tell her to buy an answering machine.”
“Deena. Don’t do this! Luther can’t be trusted. You told me so yourself. Don’t believe anything he’s told you.”
She hugged her buddy. “Bryony, it’s okay. He hasn’t told me anything. It’s just something I have to do.”
Bryony bit her lip. She shivered. “I could never do anything like this.”
Luther started the car, and revved the engine.
“Tell Mom.” She pushed away and opened the passenger side door.
Luther was already moving by the time she closed it.
“Where are we going?”
Luther’s face was bleak. “ATM machine. This is the last chance I get to stock up on cash.” He pulled the car up to the drive-thru station.
“Why last chance?” Deena didn’t understand, but the note he had left in her locker implied that she could at least ask.
He inserted the card and followed the screen instructions.
“Every time I do this, an entry goes into my bank statement, including the location of the ATM machine.”
The machine began counting out the twenty-dollar bills. He stuffed them into his wallet, took the receipt and the card and drove off.
“Bank records aren’t secure. Police can get them. Bribed bank employees can look. Even someone with the right codes can look them up on the Internet.
“Every time I get cash, it makes a fresh pointer to my location.” He tapped his wallet. “This will have to last me.”
Deena tried to absorb this little bit of paranoia. It was so alien to her day-to-day life. What was Luther’s life like, really?
She noticed a dark blanket covering the back seat. She reached back and looked under it.
There were canvas tote bags, plastic laundry baskets, even ice chests, all filled with stuff. The Mayan Calendar wheel caught her eye.
“You’re all packed!”
He nodded. “I’ve been ready to leave town since you started unraveling Luther Jennings. I couldn’t wait until they were in town looking for me. There’s really only three routes out of town; south on the 101 back into California, north 101 to Portland, and 199 across the mountains to Interstate 5. Any determined hunter could catch me on any of them.
“And the people after me are determined. The only chance I have is to get a good head start.”
She was full of questions. And he had all the answers.
Once she knew more, would she still want to be on this quest with him?
But Katy Ferril is in trouble, and he needs to try!
There were some deeply troubled echoes in his voice when he said that there was nothing he could do to help.
The worst thing he could do is not to try.
Luther reached the intersection with Highway 101, and pulled over to the shoulder.
“You need to get out now!” He sounded desperate. “If I drive out of town with you, my life gets a lot more complicated. Complications can kill.
“And you become a target too. Stay at home and be safe.”
Deena gripped the seat cushion. “No. You’re just going to head off to Oregon and parts unknown if I don’t go along. We go south, the both of us.”
He put on the emergency brake. “Okay. I’ll just have to drag you out. It’s for your own good.”
Circling around to her door, he opened it, and grabbed her wrist.
“No! I’m going.” Deena tensed her arms.
He pulled, but nothing happened. He planted his feet and used both arms.
Deena felt a surge of glee. “You can’t do it! I’ve been changing. I’m the alien, remember? It’s not only my leg muscles that have gotten stronger. I’m strong all over.
“Now quit it before you tear the seat.”
That caused him to stop. He was breathing heavily.
He looked around, seeing if anyone was watching the strange spectacle.
“I should have kept going when I had the chance.”
He sighed and went back to his side of the car. He didn’t look at her, staring straight ahead, holding onto the steering wheel.
Deena said softly, “You know you have to go south, to rescue Katy. With my help, we can do this.
“You have to go south. And so do I.”
He pulled back onto the road and turned south.
Deena smiled. It felt right, moving down the road.
South is the way I need to go.
A little nagging question whispered, “Why?”