You roll back into a kneeling position and open the door again, just enough to reach the glovebox. Inside, tucked beneath the driver’s manual, is Tony’s gun. You reach for it, your entire body trembling, your pulse drumming in your ears. The weapon in your hand does nothing to calm you, but its weight does ground you, helps you focus. You’ve been shooting with your uncles a few times. You stare at it, try to remember how it works. You grip the slide and ease it back with your left hand just enough to see the flash of brass in the chamber. Loaded. You find the safety, thumb it off.
Something cold pushes against the back of your neck and your heart is suddenly still. There’s nothing you can do. You’re dead. Then the cold nudges you forward, licks your ear, and your heart begins to beat again, even more wildly than before.
You manage to find the half empty package of bologna on the floor of the car and slide it behind you and into the waiting maw of one of the dogs. Easing backwards from between the door and the inside of the car, you let the handle click shut. With your back against the car, you scan the edge of the vineyards and are relieved to see no sign of the girls.
The car moves against you at the same time you hear the driver’s door open and feel the weight of a body in the seat. “Fuck,” you hear Timo say as his weight lifts and the door slams shut. No key.
You hold the gun close to your chest with both hands, ready for Timo to appear around the car at any moment, but from which direction?
“Thumper! Bambi!” he snaps. “What are you eating?” It sounds like he’s heading back to the shed. “Where did you get that?” The dogs must have given themselves away, exposed their bologna bribe. “Fucking Tony,” Timo sighs, and you want to hear something in his voice, guilt, regret, but you’re not sure.
Move, you tell yourself. He’ll be back in a minute with Tony’s keys. You crawl to the front of the car and peer over the hood. The old white truck is between you and Timo. Staying low, you use it as cover and make a run for the side of the mobile home where you hunch down behind the wide metal beam of the trailer hitch.
A minute later, the Trans Am starts up with a low growl. The edge of the car is still visible from where you are and you watch as it slowly rolls backwards, stops, and then pulls forward and out of your view. At first, you think Timo might actually be turning the car around to leave. There must be a phone in the house, you think. You could call the police. But the engine continues to rumble somewhere nearby and you realize he must be moving Tony’s car into the cover of the shed. And why not? He doesn’t know there was anyone else in it. He doesn’t know about Ruth and Joanne running desperately through the vineyards in search of the nearest house, the nearest phone. He doesn’t know about you curled up against the faded aluminum siding of his rundown trailer waiting for the chance to make your own run for it and join them.
You close your eyes, only for a moment, but long enough to see Tony’s head jerk back, his body fall. You open them wide, afraid to blink. If Timo walked around the side of the trailer now, not expecting to see you. Could you do the same? Point the gun at him, pull the trigger? Could you make it around the corner of the house right now, sneak up on him from behind, end him as easily as he ended Bobby and Tony?
There is a sound from inside the trailer, a muffled thumping, someone walking maybe. How did Timo get inside so quickly? Wasn’t he just in the car? You can still hear the engine running. There it is again, the sound. Not walking, more like knocking, something hitting repetitively against the wall or floor in the trailer just above you.
The car’s engine shuts off. It can’t be Timo, you realize. He’s still with the car. Someone else is in the house.
You stand, slowly easing your head up to the window above you. There are no curtains or blinds and you can easily see inside the trailer, but not much from this angle. You’ll have to get higher. You click the safety on and slide the gun into the back waist of your jeans. Then, one foot on the trailer hitch and both hands on the window’s edge, you pull yourself up to look inside.
There is a metal bedframe in the center of the room with a bare mattress on it. On the floor beside the bed is a woman in only her underwear. Her arms are taped behind her and there is more duct tape around her ankles and over her mouth. She is lying halfway beneath the side of the bed, repeatedly striking her taped wrists upwards against the bottom edge of the bedframe in an obvious attempt to free herself.
You drop down again, pull the gun from your waistband, and make your way to the back edge of the trailer. The first thing you see as you peer around the corner are some beat-up lawn chairs circling a makeshift cinderblock firepit. Your gaze moves upwards and across the property where, from this angle, you can see that the shed is actually a large garage or auto repair shop of some sort. There is at least one other car parked inside, and something else, but it’s hard to tell with Tony’s Firebird blocking your view. There is no sign of Timo.
“Goddammit, Thumper,” you hear Timo say from somewhere inside the garage. “Get away from there.”
You turn and look behind you at the patch of open desert and the vineyards just beyond. The thumping noises from within the trailer continue to sound weakly in your ears. What kind of sick fuck is this guy? What does he plan to do with that girl and how long does she have to live? You think about the nearby lawn chairs circling the now cold firepit. How many times did Tony sit in front of the flames there with his cousin drinking or getting high? Joking, laughing, trusting?
You look down at the weapon in your hands. Your legs say run, but your hands, your hands say something else.
Go to next episode.
THE MISADVENTURES OF MATTHEW VAN DER BOOT is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and places are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental … no matter how many times you ask.