Books by Philip Hoy

Is this safe?

As soon as you are all in the car again and back on the street, Bobby says, “I need food.”

“I could eat,” says Joanne, “but how ‘bout we score some weed first?”

“You know someone?”

“Not out here in the middle of nowhere,” she says.

“I do,” says Tony. “If he’s home.”

After about ten minutes of driving past bell pepper and carrot fields, Joanne asks, “Where does this guy live, Shoreline?”

“No,” says, Tony. “It’s a ranch. We’re close.”

Just past a grape vineyard, most of the green leaves pruned back for the coming winter, Tony finally slows and turns off the street onto a dirt road leading into the empty desert. The landscape is mainly drift sand, dry weeds, and small bushes. Up ahead is a mobile home parked beneath the shade of a single, immense cottonwood tree. There is another structure, a large shed with an attached covered awning. An old, beat-up white truck is parked in front of the house.

You are only half way there when two very large ranch dogs appear and begin running toward you. “Oh, shit,” says Bobby. “They look mean.”

“Don’t worry. They know me,” Tony says. “See, they recognize my car. They’re not even barking.” He slows to a stop and rolls down his window. “Hand me the bologna.”

The dogs come right up, pushing their salivating muzzles into the car, and Tony gives each a slice of the lunchmeat. Then he tosses more out the window before rolling it up again.  

Before driving on, he turns to the back seat. “You three are going to need to hide,” he says.

“Really?” asks Joanne.

“Yeah,” Ruth says. “Is this safe, Tony?”

“Of course,” he assures. “Timo’s cool, but he can be a little paranoid sometimes.” He turns to Bobby. “Pull your seat up a little so Ruthie can sit on the floor there by Joanne’s feet.” Bobby moves forward and Ruth slides behind his seat with both of her feet now on your side. “Trust me, babe,” he says to Ruth. “It’s just easier this way.”

You and Joanne hunch down in your seats, heads as low as possible.

“How about me?” Bobby asks.

“No, he might see you,” he says. “You better come with.” The car begins moving again, but soon comes to a stop. Tony says quietly, “I’ll leave the windows open a few inches.” Then he and Bobby get out of the car.

You turn to look at the girls. Joanne has her face pressed up against Ruth’s head. “Your hair smells nice,” she says.

Ruth giggles. “Thank you.”

No one says anything for a minute until Joanne breaks the silence. “Lil’ Boot, take a peek. Tell us what’s going on. I can’t stand this.”

You raise your head just enough to see the front of the house through the driver’s side window.

“What are they doing?” asks Joanne.

“Standing at the front door.”

“Doing what?”

“Nothing,” you say, “just waiting. The door is closed.”

A second later she asks again, “Now what?”

“Still nothing—no, they’re moving, walking around the side of the house.”

Maybe they heard something, someone talking. You think you heard it too, voices coming from behind the second building, which you now see is a rusted, corrugated metal structure. You watch, as the two cross the space between the house and the shed. It looks like they see someone, there is recognition on Tony’s face. Now he’s raising his hand, opening his mouth to—

The silence explodes—three shots—Bam! Bam! and a final, Bam!

Each time, Bobby and Tony flinch. You all do.

“What the fuck was that?” yelps Joanne.

Ruth has your right forearm in an iron grip. “What’s happening? What do you see?”

Both stand frozen, their knees bent, hands half raised, their eyes fixed on something behind the shed. “They’re okay, it’s not…” them, you start to say, when a man with a gun steps into view. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and his head is shaved clean, with only a shadow of stubble.

“What the fuck? What the fuck?” Joanne continues to repeat, over and over under her breath. 

“Quiet!” you hiss. “I’m listening.”

“God Dammit, Tony!” the man shouts, waving the gun at them. “What the fuck are you doing here?”

“We didn’t see anything, Timo,” says Tony. “Nothing. We’re gone, Timo. I’m sorry.”

Bobby is looking past the man, into the shed. “Oh, my God, Tony,” he starts to say. “Is that—?”

“Shut up, Bobby,” snaps Tony, his eyes on the man with the gun. “Timo, we were never here, okay?” he says, taking a step back. “Never.”

“No!” shouts Timo, pointing the gun at Tony, his arm fully extended.

“Timo,” says Tony. “Please.”

Timo abruptly raises the gun in the air. “Fuck!” he shouts, putting both hands to his head. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” he repeats, each time knocking the flat of the black pistol against his own head in obvious anguish.

You slowly exhale, remember to breathe.

Then suddenly Timo’s arm is extended again, the gun pointed at Tony’s head. “I’m sorry, Primo,” he says, and pulls the trigger. Tony’s head jerks back and, like a tree falling, his body follows.

The pistol lurches left in Timo’s hand and, “Wait—” is all Bobby can get out before he too is gone.

You throw yourself sideways onto the seat, your only thought not to be seen. Ruth is still clinging to your arm. Her entire body is shaking against yours. “Oh God. Oh God. Oh God,” she is saying into your ear. She didn’t see what you saw, but you know she heard, heard everything.

There is a high-pitched whine, rapidly building in volume, coming from inside the car, the same sound your baby sister makes just before she starts howling. You reach over with your left arm, wrap it around Joanne’s head, squeeze her to you, hiss into her ear, “Stop it, Joanne! Stop it! You can’t scream.” All three of your heads are shoved together behind the seat. “Please, please,” you continue to whisper. “He can’t hear us. We can’t let him hear us.”

Somehow, she gets control of herself, begins to breathe in quick, shallow pants.

“Ruth,” you say. “Can you see? Are the keys in the ignition?”

You feel her head move forward to look between the seats. Her reply is a desperate whimper, “No.”

“Okay,” you tell them. “We have to get out of here. We have to run.”

You feel Ruth nod her head.

“When I tell you, Joanne, reach up and open your door. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” she squeaks.

“Then crawl out. First you, then Ruth, then me, Okay?”


“I’m going to look first.” Slowly, your heart pounding so hard in your chest it feels as if the entire car is shaking with it, you lift your head between the seats.

There is no one near the front of the house. No one near the shed. Maybe he went inside. Maybe he already walked over here. Maybe he is standing right behind you. You are about to turn when you see movement behind the shed. Yes, that must be him.

“Now, Joanne,” you say. “Go. Now. As quiet as you can.”

You hear the latch move, feel the door open.

“Where?” whispers Ruth.

“The grapevines,” you say, your eyes fixed on the back of the shed. “Don’t wait for me. Don’t look back. Keep running.”

She hasn’t moved. “Why, what are you going to do?”

You risk averting your eyes, for only a moment. “Ruth, go now. I promise I’ll be right behind you.” Your eyes are on the shed again, but you feel her feet slip away from yours, sense her absence in the car.

You remember what Bobby asked as soon as Tony suggested going to Dead Joe’s. “Dude, did you bring your gun?” And the look Tony gave him. But where would he keep it? The glovebox, beneath the seat, in the trunk?

As soon as you take your eyes off the shed, you’ll lose track of Timo, you won’t know where he is. You won’t have time to search the car. You need to go, now.

You drop down, crawl headfirst behind the seat and through the door. As soon as you are out, you are relieved to see that the girls have almost reached the vineyards. Maybe you still have time to at least check the glovebox? What do you do?

(A) Check the glove box. It will only take a few seconds.
(B) Have you not been paying attention? Run, Matthew! Run!

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.