He followed the boy's trail about a hundred feet and saw it led to an old hunting blind -- a gray shack big enough for three or four hunters. The gun slots were dark and the place seemed to be deserted. Okay, he thought. Okay...He's probably not in there. But still...
Breathing hard, Ed Schaeffer did something he hadn't done in nearly a year and a half: unholstered his weapon. He gripped the revolver in a sweaty hand and started forward, eyes flipping back and forth dizzily between the blind and the ground, deciding where best to step to keep his approach silent.
Did the boy have a gun? he wondered, realizing that he was as exposed as a soldier landing on a bald beachhead. He imagined a rifle barrel appearing fast in one of the slots, aiming down on him. Ed felt an ill flush of panic and he sprinted, in a crouch, the last ten feet to the side of the shack. He pressed against the weathered wood as he caught his breath and listened carefully. He heard nothing inside but the faint buzzing of insects.
Okay, he told himself. Take a look. Fast.
Before his courage broke, Ed rose and looked through a gun slot.
Then he squinted at the floor. His face broke into a smile at what he saw. "Jesse," he called into his radio excitedly.
"I'm at a blind maybe a quarter mile north of the river. I think the kid spent the night here. There's some empty food wrappers and water bottles. A roll of duct tape too. And guess what? I see a map."
"Yeah. Looks to be of the area. Might show us where he's got Mary Beth. What do you think about that?"
But Ed Schaeffer never found out his fellow deputy's reaction to this good piece of police work; the woman's screaming filled the woods and Jesse Corn's radio went silent.
Lydia Johansson stumbled backward and screamed again as the boy leapt from the tall sedge and grabbed her arms with his pinching fingers.
"Oh, Jesus Lord, please don't hurt me!" she begged.
"Shut up," he raged in a whisper, looking around, jerking movements, malice in his eyes. He was tall and skinny, like most sixteen-year-olds in small Carolina towns, and very strong. His skin was red and welty -- from a run-in with poison oak, it looked like -- and he had a sloppy crew cut that looked like he'd done it himself.
"I just brought flowers...that's all! I didn't -- "
"Shhhh," he muttered.
But his long, dirty nails dug into her skin painfully and Lydia gave another scream. Angrily he clamped a hand over her mouth. She felt him press against her body, smelled his sour, unwashed odor.
She twisted her head away. "You're hurting me!" she said in a wail.
"Just shut up!" His voice snapped like ice-coated branches tapping and flecks of spit dotted her face. He shook her furiously as if she were a disobedient dog. One of his sneakers slipped off in the struggle but he paid no attention to the loss and pressed his hand over her mouth again until she stopped fighting.
From the top of the hill Jesse Corn called, "Lydia? Where are you?"
"Shhhhh," the boy warned again, eyes wide and crazy. "You scream and you'll get hurt bad. You understand? Do you understand?" He reached into his pocket and showed her a knife.
He pulled her toward the river.
Oh, not there. Please, no, she thought to her guardian angel. Don't let him take me there.
North of the Paquo...
Lydia glanced back and saw Jesse Corn standing by the roadside 100 yards away, hand shading his eyes from the low sun, surveying the landscape. "Lydia?" he called.
The boy pulled her faster. "Jesus Christ, come on!"
"Hey!" Jesse cried, seeing them at last. He started down the hill.
Copyright © 2000 by Jeffery Deaver. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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