Drake was washing dishes while Elijah helped dry. It was a struggle to hold onto the wet plates, but he wanted to help Drake. When he grabbed a large plate, though, his grip slipped on the wet china and the plate smashed to the floor. Instinctively, he stepped away from Drake and braced himself for a blow.
“Uh, oh,” Drake said. “Can you go get the broom? It’s hanging on the wall in the garage.”
Elijah stared at Drake. He wasn’t mad? Drake looked at Elijah. His blue eyes were serious, but they didn’t seem mad.
“Are you all right, Elijah? You didn’t hurt yourself did you?”
Elijah shook his head, and moved around the pieces of china to get the broom. If his father had been here, he would have cuffed him hard on the ear. He found the broom in the garage and carefully lifted it off its hook. He was starting to like Drake more and more. He’s almost forgotten himself and spoken to him several times. He would have to be careful. He couldn’t afford to slip up. He couldn’t let Drake, or the Sheriff, find out about his father or himself.
He brought the broom to Drake. Drake snapped off the dustpan which was attached to the handle and handed it to Elijah. While Drake swept up the shards, Elijah held the dustpan in place. Working together, they cleaned up Elijah’s mess. As Drake handed Elijah the broom, he said, “We make a pretty good team, don’t we?”
His father never talked like that. His father was always the boss. Elijah did what his father told him and that was that. They didn’t work together. They weren’t a team. Elijah often felt like he was a bother to his father, just an irritation. He often wondered why his father didn’t get rid of him. He could travel a lot faster and longer without having to stop and rest or get food. His father was like a machine—never stopping, never sleeping, but always on the alert. Elijah was amazed that he had finally outsmarted him. He hoped his father was far away right now. He thought of his father walking down the highway into the darkness, finally alone. For a moment, Elijah felt guilty standing in this warm kitchen filled with golden light. He was safe from his father, but at what price?
As he was hanging the broom back up in the garage, the garage door began to open. For a moment, he froze. His father had found him. He hadn’t left town, but had tracked him here. He was getting ready to hide when he saw the lights on the Sheriff’s SUV. Even though the Sheriff made him as nervous as his father did, he relaxed when he saw it was her coming home. Drake came to stand behind him at the door and put his hands on his shoulders. For once, Elijah didn’t tense and pull away. He liked the warmth of Drake’s hands seeping into the cloth on his shoulders.
The Sheriff got out of the SUV. Even though she parked her car in the garage, she still locked it. She was careful like his father. She reminded him a little of his father—the way she was constantly on alert, always scanning the surroundings, even when she was at home. He’d noticed that at dinner how she sat so she could face the side door from the garage and the livingroom where the front door was. His father did that, too. If they ever ate in a diner or a fast food place, he always sat so he could see all the exits and his eyes never lost that calculating look as he scanned the place for danger.
The Sheriff was like that. When she looked at him, he felt like she wasn’t seeing him. She was seeing the key to solving her case, but he wasn’t going to help her. This case would have to go unsolved. She didn’t seem nervous or scared as she approached Elijah and Drake. Elijah had heard them fighting when he went into his room and slammed his door. He heard another door slam and the house had gone quiet. He’d finally dozed off and when he had awoken, someone had covered him with a quilt. That was strange. He didn’t usually sleep that soundly, but he hadn’t even known someone was in his room.
Madison came and stood at the bottom of the stairs. She looked sad.
“Hey, you guys, I’m really sorry about this afternoon.”
Drake stepped around Elijah and headed down the stairs. Elijah thought to himself, Here it comes, but Drake didn’t hit Madison. He just hugged her. Of course, Madison was a sheriff and she had a gun. Maybe, that was why Drake didn’t hit her. He had vague memories of his mother and his father fighting, and the fights always ended the same way, with a punch. He turned and headed back into the kitchen with Drake and Madison on his heals.
Drake asked, “Did you eat dinner?”
Madison nodded. “Hal and I grabbed a really late lunch, so I’m good for now. I’m going to go change, and then I need to talk to you and Elijah.”
As he settled in on the couch, Elijah prepared himself to be questioned again. She could ask him all the questions she wanted, but he wasn’t going to answer them. They couldn’t know about what his father had done, or about what he had done. Elijah wasn’t exactly innocent either.
Drake sat down next to Elijah on the couch. “After we talk, do you want to play MarioKart again? I’m ready for another round.”
Elijah wanted to play, but his hands had been aching. He wasn’t used to using them so much, and he thought they were getting tired. He didn’t know how to tell Drake. He didn’t want to bring up his hands, or that would mean more questions, so he just nodded.
“Good. I have to even our score.”
Madison came into the livingroom. She had changed to a large blue sweater and blue leggings. Her hair was down. She had long black hair, but she usually kept it up in a ponytail. She looked completely different. Not like the Sheriff at all.
“Elijah,” she said looking at him. He braced himself to resist her questions. “I’m not going to ask you any more questions.”
He wasn’t sure he could trust her.
“But we need to take you to a doctor. Actually, I want you to see two doctors. One is a medical doctor and one is a psychologist. Do you know what a psychologist is?”
Elijah shook his head. He’d never been to the doctor. His father always took care of him if he got sick.
“A psychologist is someone who helps people with problems they might have. People talk to them and they help them. Would you go see a doctor like that and maybe talk to them?”
Elijah shrugged. He didn’t want to say no exactly, but he wasn’t going to talk to any other adult, either. Madison seemed to accept his answer. He and Drake began playing their game. His hands hurt, so he didn’t do very well. Drake finally noticed that he wasn’t playing very well.
“Are you tired of playing, Elijah?” Drake asked.
Drake shut off his game and turned on the large screen television that was mounted on the wall above the fireplace.
“Let’s watch a movie instead.”
Elijah settled back in next to Drake. Drake got up. “We can’t watch a movie without some popcorn. Hey, Madison! We’re watching a movie. Do you want to join us?”
Madison had gone back into their bedroom, but she came out when Drake called her. She sat on the couch next to Elijah, and grabbed the remote. She went to a guide on the television and began scrolling through the movies.
“How about The Incredibles?” she asked. “We can watch the first one tonight and then the second one tomorrow when we get home from the doctor.”
Elijah nodded. He could smell the scent of hot buttered popcorn as Drake popped the popcorn in the microwave. Drake came out with a large bowl of popcorn and some glasses of juice on a tray. He settled back to watch the movie. He hadn’t seen many movies. Every now and then, his father would get him a room somewhere and he would watch whatever happened to be on, but he’d never been able to just order up any movie he liked. As Drake and Madison settled back on the couch, he began to relax. He leaned back, too, and for a while, even forgot that Madison was the sheriff. For a moment, he could pretend that this was his family and that he was home.
He’d had to get rid of the body and clean up the mess he made. He’d hit the guy at the base of the skull with the tire iron. The guy never even saw him coming and he went down like a bag of rocks. After checking to make sure that the rest of the cabin was empty, he had loaded the body in the back of the pick-up truck that was parked in front of the cabin and drove it around to the back. The lot for the cabin backed up against a stand of pine trees. He carried the body into the thickest part of the trees and dumped him in a small hollow at the bottom of a large pine tree. He covered the body with some branches and leaves and then headed back to the cabin. He now had transportation that the cops wouldn’t be looking for and a place to say.
When he stepped back into the cabin, he noticed some spots of blood on the shiny wood floor. He cleaned up the blood and then scoped out the rest of the cabin. He checked the front bedroom first. A double bed was in the center of the room and covered by a worn quilt. A battered chest of drawers stood in the corner. The drawers were all empty as was the closet, so he figured that this must be an extra bedroom. He thought of the boy as he checked the room. It would be nice to live in a spot like this all the time. No more moving around, no more running. They would be on their own away from people. And without people around, he probably wouldn’t get his urges as often. He could keep the boy from getting any urges himself. He sighed as he closed the door to the empty room. He had to quit dreaming about things that could never be. Someone would probably miss this guy sooner or later. He checked the next room down the hall. A small bathroom with an old claw-foot tub and cracked tile, but at least it was clean.
The last room at the end of the hall was another bedroom. This one looked lived in. The bed was rumpled and the closet was filled with clothes. There was only mens’ clothes in the closet. No sign that he had a wife or anyone living with him. He thought he was safe for now. He closed the door to that bedroom and decided to sleep in the front bedroom. He went out to get his pack out of the car. He needed to do some laundry and take a shower. Then, he would eat and come up with a plan. He knew that the Sheriff had taken the boy home with her. The woman he had snatched from in front of the Sheriff’s office had finally told him what he needed to know. She had died before she could tell him any more. He needed to figure out where the Sheriff lived. He couldn’t go around asking people in the town where the Sheriff lived. People would notice. He had to assume that the Sheriff had gotten a description from someone. When he had an impulse, he didn’t hide who he was other than putting up his hood. He never stayed around after a kill, so he’d never had to be very careful. He and the boy kept moving from city to city. He tried to avoid small towns like this one whenever he could, but they were stranded. He would never have given in to his need to kill if they hadn’t been so desperate for money. He didn’t usually steal from the women he killed. It wasn’t honorable, but this time he had had no choice. He’d only gotten a couple of hundred dollars, but it would have been enough to get on a bus and get out of this god forsaken town.
Now he was stuck here. He’d walked right under the security camera to snatch the last woman. Again, he’d had no choice. He needed to find his boy and that woman was talking to him and the Sheriff moments before they left. He’d kept his hood on, but he was sure the camera had caught him. Probably, every business in the town had his picture by now. He grabbed his pack out of the trunk of the silver car. At least, he had a vehicle that wouldn’t draw attention. The man who owned the cabin had a red 150. He would be able to drive it for a while until someone noticed the man was missing. He was going to ditch the silver car as soon as he could. Shouldering his pack, he went back through the front door, through the livingroom and back into the kitchen. There was a small mudroom to the right of the backdoor. There was a decrepit washing machine that he hoped still worked. Fiddling with the dial, he heard a rush of water. After loading his and the boy’s clothes into the washer and adding detergent, he went into the kitchen to get some food.
The kitchen was stocked with enough food to last a few days at least. He made himself a bologna and cheese sandwich and grabbed a beer out of the fridge. As he sat at the scarred mica-topped kitchen table, he began leafing through the local newspaper, The Fruita Times. It was a small paper, not many pages. He stopped on the Community page when he saw a picture that he recognized. The picture showed a woman with long dark hair officiating at a pie-eating contest. Even though she was smiling, he could tell that she wasn’t quite comfortable being there. Her whole body was stiff and her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Next to her stood, a tall man with curly brown hair. The man was laughing and his arm was around the Sheriff. He looked at the caption: “Sheriff Rhodes and her husband, Drake, officiate at the Fruita Carnival Pie Eating Contest. The Sheriff vows to arrest anyone who tries to cheat.”
The caption was trying to be humorous, but he couldn’t keep his eyes off the Sheriff’s husband. A plan was beginning to surface. He ripped the picture out of the paper and stared at it. He smiled.