"I finished it while you was sleeping," he said. "I like trains. I rode one once. When I was little. From St. Louis, after Mamaw died. Joey rode up by hisself on the train and got me. We rode back together. I got to sit in front with the rich people. We wasn't supposed to, but Joey figured a way. Joey's smart. He said it was only fair. He says I'm good as anybody. Ain't nobody no better than nobody else. That's a good thing to remember."
Peter stared at the little locomotive. There was even a tiny engineer inside.
"Whittlin's a good thing, too," Huey went on. "Keeps me from being nervous."
Peter closed his eyes. "Where's my mom?"
"I liked talking to you. Before you ran, anyway. I thought you was my friend."
Peter covered his face with his hands, but he kept an eye on Huey through a crack between his left cheek and palm. Now that he knew where he was, he thought about jumping out. But Huey was faster than he looked.
Huey dug into his coveralls again and brought out his pocketknife. When he opened the big blade, Peter pressed himself into the passenger door.
"What are you doing?"
Huey grabbed Peter's bound wrists and jerked them away from his body. With a quick jab he thrust the knife between Peter's forearms and sawed through the duct tape. Then he reached over and unlocked the passenger door of the truck.
"Your mama's waiting for you. In the playground. At the McDonald's."
Peter looked up at the giant's face, afraid to believe.
"Go see her, boy."
Peter pushed open the truck's door, jumped to the pavement, and started running toward the McDonald's.
Joe reached across Margaret McDill's lap and opened the passenger door of the BMW. His smoky black hair brushed against her neck as he did, and she shuddered. She had seen his gray roots during the night.
"Your kid's waiting in the McDonald's Playland," he said.
Margaret's heart lurched. She looked at the open door, then back at Joe, who was caressing the BMW's leather-covered steering wheel.
"Sure wish I could keep this ride," he said with genuine regret. "Got used to this. Yes, sir."
"That's not part of the plan. And I always stick to the plan. That's why I'm still around."
As she stared, he opened the driver's door, got out, dropped the keys on the seat, and started walking away.
Margaret sat for a moment without breathing, mistrustful as an injured animal being released into the wild. Then she bolted from the car. With a spastic gait born from panic and exhaustion, she ran toward the McDonald's, gasping a desperate mantra: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want....The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want....The Lord is my shepherd..."
Huey stopped his green pickup beside his cousin Joe with a screech of eroded brake pads. Two men standing under the roofed entrance of the Barnes & Noble looked over at the sound. They looked like bums hoping to pass themselves off as customers and spend the morning reading the papers on the sofas inside the bookstore. Joe Hickey silently wished them good luck. He'd been that far down before.
When he climbed into the cab, Huey looked at him with the relief of a two-year-old at its returning mother.
"Hey, Joey," Huey said, his head bobbing with relief and excitement.
"Twenty-three hours, ten minutes," Hickey said, tapping his watch. "Cheryl's got the money, nobody got hurt, and no FBI in sight. I'm a goddamn genius, son. Master of the universe."
"I'm just glad it's over," said Huey. "I was scared this time."
Hickey laughed and tousled the hair on Huey's great unkempt head. "Home free for another year, Buckethead."
Reprinted from 24 Hours by Greg Iles by permission of Putnam Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 Greg Iles. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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