seen me running across the field?
I could feel the blood rushing around my head and I struggled to calm down. I glanced upward and saw a small window. Pulling myself up slowly, I peered inside.
Disappointment flooded me. No one was inside. I could see an old push mower and an assortment of rusty cans and glass Coke bottles. A rake was propped up in the corner along with a shovel.
I had been so sure I’d find Daniel and Chris inside. Was I on a wild goose chase? I’d set myself up to confront a psychopath and rescue my family. Was I seeing things that weren’t there? If Chris had taken off like the FBI had told me, was my brain tricking me into thinking I was being persecuted? Had I adopted Casey’s tragic story and warped it in my mind?
My pulse slowed to normal. I clicked the safety back on the gun and put it in its holster. I should just walk up to the door and ask to see Casey. But what if John and his sister really did take Daniel and Chris?
I stuck my head out slowly, peering toward the cabin. I guessed I was looking at the kitchen window. Faded gingham red and white curtains were flapping in the slight breeze. The window was open. Further down I noticed a ramshackle structure made of lattice. It was probably an attempt to keep animals out of the garbage. I’d have to move into the open again but if I made it unnoticed, I could take cover behind the lattice enclosure.
I glanced one more time at the window but saw no sign of activity. One, two, NOW! I bolted from my hiding place and quickly scrambled behind the lattice. The smell of rotting food nearly made me wretch. I bit my lip and fought back the urge to vomit. The feeling passed and I tried to breathe through my mouth to avoid smelling the stench.
“Can you get me a drink, Casey?” a voice yelled through the stillness.
“I’m upstairs!” a female voice screamed back.
“Get down here! I need to talk to you, anyway!” the male voice thundered back.
My nerves returned in full force. The man’s voice was rough and laced with bad temper.
“I’m coming, John!” Casey called back, quickly.
John. He was here.
There were sounds of movement. They got closer until I guessed someone was now in the kitchen. “Here’s your drink.” Casey’s voice floated through the air clearly.
“It’s time to make our next move. I’m sending out the ransom note,” John said.
My breath caught. They had them.
“I’m not delivering it again,” Casey replied.
“Yes, you will,” John snapped back at her. I heard the sound of a hard slap.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Casey chastised her brother. “We don’t even know where she is. How do you know she’ll even get it?”
“You’re going to leave it at her mother’s house. She’ll track her down once she gets it.”
“How can you be so sure?” Casey questioned.
John laughed, “When she gets one of the boy’s fingers, she won’t waste any time.”
At the sound of his words, my body froze. The overwhelming fear I’d felt since I’d first come home to find my house empty evaporated like a slow trickle from my body. Warmth turned into fire that spread through me like a lightning strike. I’d never experienced rage as a full body sensation but now I felt immersed in it. I pulled the gun back out and flipped the safety off.
“She’ll go to the police if you do that,” Casey replied. There was no sign of squeamishness or horror in her voice. Apparently, she thought nothing of cutting my child’s finger off.
“No, she won’t. We’re going to make it look like Liz was involved at first and then we double-crossed her. Her mother will want her grandson back but she won’t call the police if she thinks her daughter was involved somehow.” John coughed and then I could hear the clinking of a glass.
“That doesn’t make sense. Why would Liz have been involved in her own son’s kidnapping?” Casey questioned her brother.
I heard the sound of smashing glass. “She wouldn’t have been. I’m going to make it look like she wanted us to kill her husband and then we took her son for insurance that she’d pay the rest she owed us for the murder.”
Casey growled, “You didn’t have to hit me again!” She paused a second, “How much are you going to ask for?”
“That’s not enough!” Casey interrupted him.
“Shut up!” I heard the sound of another slap. “That’s just for starters. She’ll be able to get that without thinking about going to the police. Her parents could come up with that.”
How wrong he was. I couldn’t lay my hands on fifty thousand dollars unless I robbed a bank.
Casey spoke up again, “How are you going to get more out of her?”
“I’m going to plant evidence on the boy and husband’s bodies when I bury them in the woods near her house. I’m going to taunt her that if she doesn’t pay up, I’m going to the police with the proof she killed them.”
“That’s genius!” Casey exclaimed, “She’ll have to pay us over and over again.”
John laughed and the sound scraped over my back teeth. “You said you wanted her to suffer.”
“I do,” Casey said, “But you don’t have to kill Chris…”
“Don’t get squeamish on me!” John thundered back. “I have to be able to trust you…” The threat hung in the air.
“You can trust me, John,” I heard Casey plead with her brother as if he were hurting her. “I was only a kid the first time.”
“If you’d kept your mouth shut we’d have had it made back then,” John replied.
“But Mom and Dad were good to us—Aww!” Casey yelled in pain.
“They were going to send me away!” John snapped back.
“John, please let me go!”
I heard a loud thump as if Casey had landed across the room. “Just remember to keep your mouth shut this time. If you don’t, I’ll bury you with them.”
Casey whimpered and then spoke up, “I won’t say a word if you keep your promise about giving me some of the money.”
Laughing loudly John said, “Nothing bothers you if there’s enough money involved, does it? I guess little sis is more like me than she’d care to admit?”
The fiendish sound of his voice hung in the air like black smoke. A loud slamming announced that he’d walked outside. “Come on, Casey. I’m going to need your help with this.”
My heart slammed into my ribs. They were going to hurt Daniel. He and Chris were still alive. I stood up and walked slowly toward John.
The shock on his face plainly showed, “What are you doing here?”
I brought the gun up and locked my arms into position.
He grinned, “You won’t fire-”
The shot hit him in the kneecap. “You bitch!” he yelled as he lunged for me. I hadn’t anticipated him moving so quickly. He grabbed my ankle, knocking me to the ground. I struggled against his surprising strength, kicking him in the face with the cleats of my hiking boots.
“I’m going to make you scream before I kill you!” he spat out at me as we struggled on the ground. He was nearly on top of me when I bit his wrist, plucking a large chunk of skin out.
He grabbed my hair and fisted it in his hand, ripping it from the roots. The rage tore through my body and even though the pain was intense, it seemed to grow like a wildfire out of control. I strained against him and pulled the knife from the holder on my ankle.
He laughed, “I’ll gut you with it.” He tried to pull the knife away but I reached up with my other hand and stuck my fingers into his eye sockets with all the force I could gain.
He screamed and reached for my throat. He never got there. I plunged the knife to the hilt into his stomach and kicked him away as he struggled with the searing pain.
I heard the click of a gun being cocked and turned around slowly.
Casey was standing in front of me with a gun pointed at my head. “Get up!” she spat at me.
I slowly got to my feet.
“Keep your hands up!” she yelled.
I put my hands up and started walking toward her.
“Stay where you are,” she snapped.
I wondered if I could grab the gun out of her hand before she could fire it.
“I wouldn’t try it. I’m a good shot.” Casey handled the gun as if she was very familiar with it.
Her brother was writhing on the ground. “Shouldn’t you see to him?” I asked.
She laughed but there wasn’t a trace of humor in it. “All John has ever done is ruin my life. It won’t be a great loss.”
“His plan won’t work now,” I said, hoping to distract her.
She didn’t falter and the gun didn’t move. “We’re going to take a trip to the bank.” She motioned with the gun, “Head toward the back of the cabin and get in the car.”
“There’s nothing left in my account. I’ve had to clear it all out already,” I said as I slowly moved the way she’d indicated.
“You’re lying!” she spat out.
“No, I’m not. You know the store was hardly doing well before you left. Do you really think I have gobs of money sitting at the bank?”
She paused a moment and I stopped walking. “Keep going!” she yelled and waved the gun.
I started walking again. “Where are we going to go Casey?”
“Shut up and let me think!”
“We can’t go back to my house. It’s wired with cameras everywhere.”
“Don’t be stupid, I know that already,” she bit out.
“You picked the wrong people to kidnap if money was what you were after,” I replied.
“I thought I told you to shut up!” she yelled.
We’d reached the car. It was now or never. I started to open the car door. It was unlocked. I pretended to trip and she leaned in closer. I swung the door out hard and knocked her off her feet. She still clutched the gun in her hand. I jumped on top of her and grabbed her wrist, beating it hard against the ground. “Let it go!” I yelled.
She snarled at me and pushed harder, bringing the gun perilously close to my chest. She smiled, thinking she’d overpowered me.
The smile triggered something almost feral in me. I threw ever ounce of strength I had against her. It took her by surprise and I saw her shock as I succeeded in knocking the gun from her grasp.
I kicked her hard and pushed. She fell away from me and I scrambled for the gun. I felt her hands grab my lower legs and tug me back down to the ground.
I pulled one leg away and kicked her in the face.
“Awwww!” she howled in pain. She still didn’t let go of my other leg. The gun was inches away. I pushed up on my chest and made a desperate grab for it.
My fingers grazed the metal but she pulled me back again.
Then I suddenly saw a figure approaching.