He fought against the knee-high water, struggling not to slip on the rocks and grasses below. His breath came in deep gasps. He looked back at the girl. The cold of her hand and her pale face angered him. He didn't understand why, and that made him even more angry. He focused once more on the rushing water and slippery rocks, and, grasping her hand more tightly, pulled.
They waded through the rapid flow for a few more yards, until he spotted several small boulders along the bank. With an impatient jerk, he hauled the girl toward them, and pushed her up out of the river. He climbed up beside her and immediately took her hand and drew her across the rocks into the trees that lined the banks. For the first time in over an hour, he stopped.
They crouched in the deep shade, trying to catch their breath. He glanced around, always looking back to the river, watching for signs of pursuit. He allowed only a few moments to rest before once again taking her hand and forging further into the woods. He found a deer trail, and hurried her down the path.
He stood in the doorway, staring out into the woods. Absently he reached for his breast pocket, swearing quietly as he hand came away empty. He took a last look at the trees and turned back into the shed.
Other than the faint hum of mosquitoes, the only sound in the room was the soft whistle of a yo-yo running up and down its tether. He stayed for a moment, noting the dull eyes watching the movement. In the far corner, a long necklace glittered in a shaft of faint light, fingers absently toying with it.
He shook his head, again felt at his pocket, and moved back to the doorway, staring out into the woods.
They were moving uphill now, and he could feel his strength draining. He knew the only reason the girl was keeping up was because he wouldn't let go of her hand. He wanted to stop and let her rest - let them both rest - but he couldn't. He didn't know how far behind their pursuers were, couldn't take the chance. He knew what would happen if they were caught.
She was bitching at him again, her fear and anger coming out in venom. For a moment, only a moment, he thought of letting her go, leaving her. God, he was tired. Every muscle ached. No, screamed.
Screamed wasn't even close.
Shut up. Shut up. Just shut the fuck up...
He tightened his grip and forged ahead.
He looked at his watch. He hadn't moved from the doorway in over an hour. Couldn't. Wouldn't.
The yo-yo was silent now, both men inside dozing in the heat. He knew the minute there was any movement or noise they would be up and alert. He wasn't worried.
Not about that.
Three hours. Maybe a bit more. Then it would be dark. Total dark an hour after that. No streetlights out here. No lights from houses. He looked up at the cloudy sky. No moonlight either, most likely.
Totally in the dark.
Three more hours. Maybe a bit more.
They had stopped, finally, at the top of the hill. From here, he couldn't see behind them, but had a clear view of the valley below. He wished he still had his field glasses, but it didn't really matter. Not now. He checked their position with the compass on his watch.
They'd veered on and off the deer trails all the way up here, trying not to leave too much evidence of their presence. He hadn't stopped to check their direction, relying on his instinct.
He'd been off.
He looked up at the sky. At least it hadn't started raining. Yet. But the sun was getting low, and they had to make up another two miles. At least.
He jerked around.
The girl. Gone.
Damn, damn, damn...
He could hear her clearly, thrashing through the undergrowth. He'd catch up with her. Not worried about that. But the delay...
And those guys behind them.
They were all outside now. He stood on the wooden steps, leaning against the post. The others wandered about in front, all looking at the tree line some fifty yards away.
All gone to hell. He'd never seen one go so bad so fast. But they hadn't known about the girl. Hadn't known she was part of it. Who would've? She looked so...innocent. So young.
A child, playing in an adult world she thought she understood. Fooled. Wouldn't admit it. No.
Who would, in her place?
Now his man was out there, with her. Her, and God only knew how many others searching for them. And he stood here, helpless.
He didn't like that feeling. Never had, never would.
He shifted. The others stopped, looked at him, then the woods.
False alarm, guys.
He sat, back against the tree. It was dark now. Completely dark. He couldn't see at all now. Too many trees. Too many clouds.
A curse and a blessing. Kept him stuck here, kept him hidden.
He sighed, leaned the back of his head against the rough bark. Closed his eyes. Opened them immediately. Rather look at the darkness than the scenes in his head.
He stiffened at the crack of a twig. Heard sniffing noises behind him. Relaxed. Just an animal.
Not the human kind.
He wondered if they were still looking for him. If they cared. They had what they wanted already. Their job was done. They'd be gone by sunup. Nothing to show they had ever been there.
Or maybe there would be.
Maybe they would've...
As a message.
Someone else would have to find her.
He wasn't going back.
He didn't know where he was going.
They'd heard the shooting. Not as far as they'd thought. But too far.
They'd move out in the morning. Early. Head into the woods, flying blind but they'd go. No more waiting, no more wondering. They'd keep going until...
One way or the other.
They'd keep going.