"Hal," my mother was saying, "I'm really at the end of my wits. I don't know what to do now." We were collapsed on the living room sofa, both of us in near shock. We'd just come from my mother's lawyer's office, where he'd been very sympathetic, but at our request had explained our situation all too candidly.
Tomorrow we were due in court again at ten. At that session the family court judge would almost certainly issue an order returning me to my father's custody. I'd have forty-eight hours after that to comply before my mother would be placed in contempt of court. An appeal was of course possible, but in what the attorney called "the present climate" (a euphemism for the judge's all-too-apparent bias) it was very likely that the order would be enforceable in the meantime.
"I can't do it, Mom," I insisted frantically. "I'll run away. Surely you can't be held accountable for that." There'd been no word from Rann that evening; I'd checked my email the moment we'd gotten in the door.
"Where could you go, Hal?" she asked, weariness heavy in her voice. "It's just not realistic. You're only sixteen. You've got no way to support yourself, even if you did manage to evade the police. You'd be putting yourself in real danger. Please don't ask me to go along with that."
I shook my head in frustration, but she was right. I knew the typical fate of runaway minors of either sex: being forced into prostitution if they didn't meet a worse fate. "We can still appeal this," she said. "It just might take a while."
"Let's give Rann a little more time," I said rather curtly.
We made a half-hearted attempt to eat dinner, but neither of us had much of an appetite. You could have cut the gloom with a knife that evening, and the silence as well. Finally, at about ten, the two of us climbed the stairs to my second-floor bedroom to check once again for a reply from Rann.
I started up my email client, my mother watching anxiously over my shoulder. It efficiently informed me I had five messages and began downloading them as we watched, hardly daring to breathe. Then I was scanning the subject lines, and my heart sank. There was a message telling me how I could buy printer toner real cheap, another on how to make three thousand dollars a week at home, and ads for three porn sites.
"Nothing," I said despondently and logged off. For several seconds we just stared at each other. "I'm not going to court tomorrow," I said finally. "I'm going to the rendezvous point. If Rann doesn't show up, he doesn't show up." I told her about the second message I'd sent.
"Then I'm going too," she said. I shook my head in dismay.
"Mother, the stakes are too high for you," I protested. "If we knew he was coming, I'd say risk it. But if you go along now you're facing possible kidnapping charges. You know Dad would love to press them, too."
"I don't care," she said softly. "There's nothing for me here any longer if you go." That's when I melted. I suppose if I'd been older and wiser I would have firmly put my foot down and demanded that she stay. But at the time I'd pretty much convinced myself that message or no message Rann wouldn't fail me now.
"All right," I said reluctantly. "Keep your fingers crossed. But we'd better start packing. We'll need to get out of here by three."
It was an odd feeling to select what to retain out of the possessions of a lifetime. Fortunately my mother wasn't a clothes-horse and I wasn't much of a collector. While I packed I backed up the contents of my computer onto a DVD-ROM; there was no way I could fit the whole system into the car and I assumed that with all their advanced technology there'd be some way to read my files later. I packed a number of other disks as well, a few scientific journals I'd saved for sentimental reasons (including several with articles by or about Alan Brinkman), and the few books I didn't think I could get along without. I also carefully stashed the manekineko I'd bought in Little Tokyo in a safe place. No way was I leaving that behind, I decided.
About the time I'd finished, my computer backup had too, and I carefully put away the disk and entered the command to format the computer's hard drive. I didn't feel like leaving anything of myself behind for my father to root through, and most of me was on that disk. It was with a considerable feeling of trepidation that I hit the "Enter" key and watched the machine begin obliterating several years worth of meticulous data collection.
I hauled the five boxes of stuff I'd winnowed out downstairs, where I found my mother waiting with four of her own. She looked frightened, I thought, and I couldn't say I blamed her. We set to work loading the stuff into the car, barely managing to fit it all into the trunk and the back seat. It was just five minutes to three when we opened the garage door and pulled out of the driveway.
My mother's house is located near the center of one of those rabbit-warren housing developments with no direct way out. We'd just started threading our way through the maze of residential streets when I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw another vehicle, its headlights dark, pulling onto the street we'd just turned from. My throat suddenly felt dry. At the next intersection, where I'd planned to go straight, I turned left instead and watched my mirror intently. Sure enough, the other vehicle soon followed us around the bend. I fought off a rising sensation of panic.
For several minutes we played cat and mouse in this way, me leading him on an aimless chase through the development as he continued to remain a block behind us at all times. I knew this couldn't go on forever, though; he'd probably long since phoned in a report to my father.
"Where on earth are you going, Hal?" my mother asked, obviously perplexed at my strange behaviour.
"We're being followed," I muttered grimly, and she gasped. For a moment I considered the practicality of a high-speed chase, but rejected it--my little car was hardly in any shape to take corners on two wheels, even if I'd known how to do it without putting us in the hospital.
We'd just turned at another intersection when a car backed out of a driveway about halfway down the street ahead of us, its lights on like ours, and headed away from us towards the next corner. I suddenly realized that in the relatively dim street lights it looked vaguely like my own car.
Several houses ahead on our right was a large SUV parked on the near side of a two-car driveway. Glancing back, I saw that our pursuer wasn't yet in sight. The car in front of us was just about to turn the corner, apparently heading north. As we pulled even with the parked SUV I saw to my relief that it was the only vehicle there, and turned sharply into the driveway, dousing my headlights at the same time. "Mom, put your head down and don't move," I hissed and switched off the ignition.
"Hal?" my mother croaked.
"Shhhhh." She looked put out, but obeyed. The sudden quiet was unnerving, and I shivered. I heard the soft hiss of a vehicle passing by in the street, and involuntarily held my breath. Then the sound faded as our pursuer continued without stopping. Cautiously I peeked over the dash, just in time to see tail-lights vanishing around the corner.
"Yesssss," I gloated softly. As I'd hoped, in the predawn light he'd mistaken the other vehicle for ours. I knew it wouldn't take him long to discover his error, and quickly restarted the car and backed out of the driveway. "I think we ditched him. Now let's get out of here," I said, doubling back the way we'd come. I took the most direct route I could out of the development and headed south, hoping against hope that we wouldn't run into another of my father's goons.
It seemed to take forever to reach the southern beltway in spite of the deserted streets. At every stoplight I expected to see a police car take pursuit, even though Las Vegas has to be the world's most underpoliced city. People here strongly believe in passing strict laws about virtually everything, then complain vociferously if they're enforced. As a result you never proceed through an intersection without looking both ways: red lights and stop signs don't mean much here, and one rarely sees a police car except at accidents or crime scenes. There just aren't enough to go around. For once I was grateful.
We finally reached the beltway, then after a few miles I took the I-15 southbound exit. But instead of merging onto the through lanes I kept to the right one, which almost immediately became the Blue Diamond Road exit. We passed yet another casino as we turned due west, bumped across the Union Pacific mainline and continued along a relatively minor highway, currently almost deserted at the early hour. "Where are you going, Hal?" my mother exclaimed. "This isn't the way we took before."
"I'm taking the back way," I said.
There's a solid rampart of mountains to the west of Las Vegas, known as the Spring Mountains. I've called them the Walls of Mordor ever since I moved here, due to the seemingly impenetrable barrier they present. Just to the south of them, though, is a pass that leads to the agricultural community of Pahrump on the other side. From Pahrump one can head west into some of the bleakest parts of California, and not incidentally approach Rann's landing spot from the north. With only a few small towns along the way, I hoped that we might be able to get there without being noticed by the police.
We were well out of Nevada by the time the sky began growing light. As we approached the lights of a small crossroads town I realized that my gas gauge was showing only a quarter of a tank left. "We'll have to stop here," I said, spotting a service station that appeared to be open. "Bless you, Hal," my mother agreed warmly. "I really need to go."
She disappeared into the women's room on the side of the station as I removed my gas cap and turned to the pumps. Please Pay Inside, read the tattered sticker on the pump. Damn, I thought. I'd forgotten that not everyone these days had the credit card pumps yet.
Inside was a bored man in his thirties, watching television behind the register. "Five dollars of plain unleaded," I said, handing him the bill. Then my heart stood still as I heard the announcer on the set.
Police are currently searching for a teenage kidnap victim. Jennifer Larkin, of Las Vegas, is alleged to have kidnapped her daughter, Haley Larkin, over a custody dispute.
"I don't need a receipt," I said. I didn't wait to see if they were going to show pictures. As casually as I could I went around to the side, to find my mother just emerging from the bathroom. "Come on, Mom, we have to get out of here," I whispered.
"But don't you need to go too?" she said, slightly befuddled.
"Later," I hissed, practically dragging her along behind me. I pumped the gas as quickly as I could, and we left in such a hurry that I almost forgot to put my gas cap back. As we pulled out, I saw the attendant staring out the window at us, phone in hand. I hoped there were no active police cars nearby.
We were perhaps half an hour away from the valley, and it was already quite light out, when I heard the rhythmic beat of a helicopter. Keep moving, I told myself, he's not going to land on top of us. I didn't know exactly what police helicopters did, but I fervently hoped that their main job was to lead ground vehicles to their prey. By the time they arrived Rann would either be there or he wouldn't, I reflected grimly. My mother sat frozen in her seat.
We finally turned onto the dirt road leading into the valley, the helicopter still overhead. I could feel a strong wind periodically buffeting the car. Maybe the 'copter can't land in this, I thought, as we pulled up to the remains of the campsite. I braked the car to a stop and jumped out, looking around in all directions, the wind whipping my hair across my face. There was no sign of Rann or the Futaba. The 'copter circled overhead for a few minutes, then, apparently satisfied that we weren't going anywhere, headed off down the valley in the direction of the Interstate.
I turned to see my mother standing by the car. "He's not here, is he?" she said dully. I could hardly hear her, even though the wind had momentarily died down again. There was no sunrise; grey clouds stretched from horizon to horizon.
I saw a blue flashing light at the far end of the valley, followed by several more. They were probably about ten miles away. "Come on, Hal, get back in the car," my mother said, suddenly frantic. I took a deep breath.
"Mother, we're not going anywhere. This isn't Thelma and Louise. If Rann couldn't make it, then we'll deal with it some other way." For a few seconds she stared at me helplessly, then slowly sat down on the rocky ground. I sat down beside her and put an arm around her shoulders. "It's going to be all right," I said. "We'll get through this together." For several minutes we just sat there in the wind, watching the lights of the approaching police cars. This must be what a rabbit feels like when being stared down by a snake, I thought. Then we both nearly jumped out of our skins as a familiar voice sounded directly behind us.
"Someone here call a cab?"
This page last updated 2/5/2010.|