Chapter 23: Chase
Katy Ferril startled awake in her prison room. It was black indoors, with only an orange beam from a security light entering from a two-inch ventilation window over the door. She clutched the thin covers, as if it could provide her with some protection.
There it was again, a scratching of claws against her door. The dog growled and scratched again.
I can’t stand the waiting!
Leo Drye had a deadly reputation when she worked in Las Vegas. People who crossed him simply vanished.
But before he went missing, Mark Haskell gave her the information that now filled her nightmares.
He had pointed out Thompson (no one used his first name) and two others who worked for Leo.
“Steer well clear of those butchers,” he had cautioned. “The police never find the victims because there isn’t enough of the bodies left to identify.”
Katy kept her tears silent, for fear of exciting the monster at her door.
She could well imagine what might happen to her body, once Leo Drye had wrung everything he could from her. She could feed his pet for a week.
Please God, just kill me now—and keep Luke safe from this madman!
Luther woke at first light. He stuffed the blanket in the back seat and stretched.
I had forgotten how stiff this made me. Sleeping in a real bed this past year had been paradise. Deena had better appreciate it.
But now, he urgently needed to relieve some pressure.
Let her sleep a little more. He could find some place private at this hour.
Other than a few birds announcing themselves to the world, the little one-road town was quiet as the forest that wrapped around it. He walked down the driveway and along the road, looking for a place to duck into the bushes.
It’s a nice town, but a little too small.
He would have to find a new place to live. Someplace nice and quiet would be good. But he would be an unknown there, and it might take too long for the locals to accept him. That had been one of the nice things about Crescent City. It had been large enough to hide a stranger.
When his father was killed, Katy should have vanished—taken her own advice. Her job was gone, of course, and it was made plain that the company didn’t trust her. She left, but she didn’t go far enough. Malibu and Las Vegas were just too close, culturally. The traffic between Los Angeles and Las Vegas was bumper to bumper on Interstate 15, and slowed to a crawl on weekends. The chances she would run into someone she had known was too high.
I wish there was something I could do. This ‘rescue’ is just a joke—something to keep Deena happy.
They would eventually get to Malibu, find her house deserted, and no one would know where she had gone.
Just like Mom and Dad. A tight bundle of old pain threatened to bubble to the surface, but he ruthlessly forced it back down.
He walked back to the motel and up to Deena’s room.
The door was open. He walked in.
The bed was in disarray, with the covers half on the floor. Draped over the table were her slacks and on the back of the chair were her socks. She must have washed them and carefully hung them out to dry. Her slacks were clean, although dingy in places from the mud.
On the shower curtain rod, underwear dangled.
But where was Deena?
He ran to the door and looked around. No one was in sight. Hurriedly he checked the car, but there was no sign of her there either.
Deena is gone. So was his shirt.
If she were sleepwalking again, he had to find her fast, before the town woke up.
He quickly stripped the room of all her things, tossed them in the back of the car and headed north.
Every other time she had gone zombie, she had tried to get to that one redwood grove. But that’s nearly a hundred miles back. She’d never make it, not half-dressed and barefoot.
With each mile, his confidence dropped. Deena had said that she no longer felt an urge to go back there. Suppose she hadn’t been deluding herself.
When he reached the junction with the main highway, he pulled a U-turn and headed back, driving as fast as he could, searching the shoulders, looking for red-plaid.
By the time he was five miles south of the motel, he noticed a gas station, with a graybeard in overalls sitting on a rocker on the porch. I need gas.
He started the pump and walked over to the man.
“Hello. Have you seen anyone come by here, walking or running?”
“She belong to you?” The oldster coughed. “If she hadn’t been moving so fast, I’d have introduced myself. Nice legs.”
“Thanks!” Luther hurriedly topped off the tank and handed the man more of his stash of cash.
By the time he had gone a couple of more miles, he whispered, “Stupid!” I should have asked the guy how long ago she passed by.
Another five miles clicked off on the odometer. A delivery truck passed going the opposite direction. If he didn’t find her quickly, she would wake up facing some very interested strangers.
Confidence that she was just ahead faded. How fast is she running? She had claimed thirty to forty miles per hour, but she couldn’t maintain that rate, could she? If so, he’d never catch up to her, not on this twisty road.
White legs caught his eye before the rest of her came into focus. Not very tan.
He honked. She didn’t miss a beat, totally ignoring him. The Chevy crept up behind her. She was doing a constant twelve miles per hour.
At least she’s not bright red.
He followed for a few hundred yards, then pulled ahead of her and stopped the car.
Like a soccer goalie, he braced himself to stop her charge.
Deena’s gray eyes were open, but her face held no expression. She ran straight towards him, then at the last moment, swerved to avoid an impact.
But he was ready. He snagged her arm and swung her around. They both went down, tumbling on the pavement.
She screamed, rolling to the grassy shoulder.
“Deena!” He crawled on hands and knees over to where she was frantically trying to stretch his shirt farther than the fabric allowed.
“I did it again!” she wailed.
“It’s okay. Come on. I’ve got your clothes in the car.”
Hesitantly, she gave him her hand. He pulled her up and led her to the car.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she grumbled, crawling into the back seat.
“You were decent enough. I didn’t see anything.” Much.
The old guy had been right. Deena had really great legs. All the way up.
“Don’t put your shoes on yet,” he cautioned. “You’ve run about fifteen miles this morning in bare feet. I’ve got to check them out for cuts and blisters.”
“It’s okay.” She said quietly from the back seat as she dressed under the blanket.
“Don’t argue!” He was a little tired of how bossy she had gotten. Once she got the moral higher ground over rescuing Katy, he’d let her run all over him.
A minute later, she opened the door and poked her bare feet out. She had her arms crossed tightly across her chest. With a sullen expression on her face, she said, “I’m never going to get undressed for bed ever again.”
He took first one foot and then the other, checking for dirt and cuts and blisters. While they were dirty, the thick callus was perfect.
“I don’t understand how you made that run without shredding your feet. There were places where the pavement was nothing but sharp gravel.”
Something about her reaction made him suspicious.
“What is it?” he demanded.
“I heal fast.”
“You remember my cut hand?”
“That healed with no scar within the hour. Other scrapes I’ve had don’t last long either.”
Luther brushed the most of the dirt free from her foot and said, “Put your shoes on.”
Each revelation upset him a little. He had learned the strange rules of his survival, but it appeared that hers was in a different class altogether.
She reached for her socks. “I’m scared.”
He sat down in the grass. “My problems or yours?”
An old Cadillac passed by, the driver gave them a wave.
She said, “Mine. I don’t even know what yours are.”
He got to his feet. “Let’s get moving. I’ll tell you everything on the road.”
“Dad was some kind of an accountant. I don’t know exactly what he did for the casino, but it must have paid fairly well. We had a nice home. Dad always dressed well. Mom spent a fortune on her gardens, and I don’t ever remember a fuss over the cost.
“That about defined us. Dad liked the glitter of Vegas. Mom liked her flowers.
“I didn’t like anything.”
Luther didn’t look her way. He glared at the road.
“Luke Haskell was a self-absorbed little brat. Oh, he was smart enough, but he was blind to what was going on around him.
“For his sixteenth birthday, Dad gave him ... me, this car. I accused him of getting it for himself when he borrowed it a few times.” He looked like he had eaten something sour. “I wanted something sleek and modern.
“Anyway, we weren’t a happy family.
“Dad started getting nervous. I can remember some fights between him and Mom. I didn’t pay any attention.
“Finally, he planned a trip to Grand Cayman for the three of us. Of course, he hadn’t checked with Mom or me about it. Mom had some garden club event that conflicted. My buddies had planned a day trip to Death Valley—something like that thing we did to the Redwoods.
“It was nothing important, but it was enough. I had been to the Caribbean before. Nice place, but I was too old for family vacations. I threw a tantrum. Dad tried to be firm, and I think he believed I had given in.
“But on trip day, I skipped out early, and joined my friends.”
Luther drove in silence for a bit. Deena didn’t interrupt, only shifting in her seat to show that she hadn’t lost interest.
“I guess I thought they would go on without me. Or maybe I didn’t think it through at all. I don’t know. I don’t really remember.
“When my buddy Duke dropped me off, it was past midnight, and the house was dark. Everything had gone like I planned, I thought. Then I noticed that the front door wasn’t locked. Mom always locked the door.”
He began to whisper, intensely. “Inside, I found their luggage. Someone had tossed the clothes aside and ripped apart the seams. The bedrooms, the living room, every room had been trashed. Inside the garage, my Dad’s BMW and Mom’s Cooper were still parked, but the cushions were ripped open.
“My parents were missing. Just missing.”
“I was getting up the nerve to call the police when the phone rang.
“It was Katy. She was my Dad’s secretary—she had been for years. I knew her well. She was like...well, she was like an aunt. She gave me birthday presents and chatted when I tried to call Dad at his office.
“I told her what had happened. She told me to get out—to vanish.
“Dad had stolen something from work. And those people didn’t rely on the police to handle theft.”
Luther took a deep breath, shaking his head to clear old memories. “So I vanished. My car was a few blocks away where I’d left it that morning. They hadn’t found it. There was only one thing out of place.”
He picked up the GPS unit on the dash. “This thing.”
“It was Dad’s. It’s a Global Positioning System navigator. It uses satellites to tell you exactly where you are on the little map.” He let her see. It marked their position on SR 254, ‘Avenue of the Giants’. She could see Highway 101 less than a mile away on a parallel heading.
“You see this dashed line? That’s where we’ve been. It’s called a breadcrumb trail. The last hundred or so miles we’ve been is marked. It lets you retrace your path.
“Well, that morning, waiting for dawn, I could see where my Dad had gone the night before. He had borrowed my car and gone out into the desert and returned to the house. I found out how to make the gadget memorize the bread-crumb trail and after hiding out for a couple of days while the news media covered the strange disappearance of all three of us, I followed it.”
Deena couldn’t help herself. “What did you find?”
He hesitated. She guessed, “Oh! Gold coins?”
A nod. “Dad was a crook, I guess. Where he got them, I don’t know. When he was discovered, he tried to get his family to safety. He must have planned to get us all to Grand Cayman and then off to someplace where his boss, Angelo Benedict, couldn’t find us. But when I vanished, I messed that all up.”
His voice was even. But even though he had been through the story so many times that the sting was dulled, Deena could sense the deep guilt that he felt, and the anger.
“They caught Mom and Dad, and they killed them. Now they’re chasing me. They’ll hunt me forever.”