--- 5 ---
I let out a shriek, hugging my knees to my chest. I'm past the rest stop, pulled over by the side of the road, the parking lot's lights just in view behind me. Where are the police?
Whose gun went off? Who got shot? I call for an ambulance. It takes me awhile to explain the situation, but they say they're sending someone. Just in case.
I want to go in there. I want to sweep in and rescue him, the way he rescued me. I want to foil Jellyfish's plans, the way he did years ago. But there's nothing I can do that might help. Nothing, but . . .
I climb into my backseat, where the windows are tinted and no one passing will see me. I kneel down and fold my hands. Lord, protect Richard. Please—save him.
"Wade shouted in pain, so I knew it hadn't killed him—at least not yet. I pulled out my phone, and Keith screamed at me to drop it. That's when I saw that he had hold of the gun. That Myron had let go. Myron . . . didn't want to be blamed."
"Or hadn't been the one to shoot."
"Maybe. I told Keith I was just calling an ambulance, but he grabbed Myron by the arm and put the gun to his head. ‘Drop it or he's dead,' he told me."
She'll give a mischievous smile. "Weren't you the least little bit tempted?"
"Yes," he'll say, because he will not lie to her. "Yeah, of course I thought about it. Myron's no friend of mine. With him out of jail, could I ever really relax, could I ever feel safe? But then I realized that I'd rather be here with Myron and Keith than just Keith alone. They were checking and balancing each other; with either one of them gone, I'd have been the only target."
"Was that the only reason?"
He'll hesitate. "No. I couldn't let someone get killed because of something I did. Not even Myron. Besides, his expression—I mean, we lived in close quarters for eighteen months, but I'd never seen him scared before."
"So you handed over your phone?"
"Not right away. I was still a little in shock. I just focused on one thing—the cashier gasping in pain behind the counter. I said, ‘The man needs an ambulance.' Keith said he didn't care, yanking Myron a step toward the door. He told me to give him the phone. ‘Now,' he said. I set my phone on the floor and kicked it over to him. He kicked it out the door ahead of him and backed out, clutching his cash bag and Myron's arm in one hand and the gun in the other. He warned me not to move or Myron would get it. And then—this was the weirdest part of the whole night. Myron said my name to get my attention. Then he raised his eyebrows at something on the far wall behind the counter. He was indicating the phone. He mouthed the word, ‘ambulance'."
"He cared what happened to the cashier?"
"I wondered that at the time, but I know the reason now. It was less altruistic than it seemed."
"Even so, he did the right thing."
"Yes. Yes, he did. I waited until he and Keith had left the building and then I crept over to the phone. Wade was still breathing, though heavily, and there was a pool of blood on the floor. I called an ambulance, and they said someone was already on their way. I wondered if maybe an angel had called them."
She will laugh. "It was just me."
He'll say, "That's what I mean."
--- 6 ---
I press my face against the back window of my car, watching two figures leave the store. One is shoving the other ahead of him, but neither is Richard. I swallow a sob. Richard wasn't killed, he can't have been. As they pass below one of the parking lot lights, I recognize Jellyfish—the one being prodded into a van at gunpoint.
I fumble for my phone and call the police again. "They're leaving!"
"Someone is almost there," a calm voice tells me. "Just lay low."
The van pulls out of the parking lot, and then something clicks into place in my mind. A white unmarked van--the convenience store hold-up guy! The van zooms past my car where I'm pulled over.
I swallow hard. An ambulance is on its way. There's nothing I can do to help back there. Jellyfish kidnapped Richard—I have it straight from Richard's sister. And now the hold-up guy is driving off with Jellyfish, helping him escape. No.
I leap into the front seat and take off after them, praying all the way.
Okay, so now I know how Maxwell feels. Mister Insane Killer here didn't have any cuffs, but he did wrench my arms back behind me with duct tape. There goes my arm hair.
I don't even try talking to the creep. He's the sort of person I'd have ignored in jail. Messy, messy, messy. You hear the cops are on the way, and you split, you don't rush the job in hopes of pulling it off. Why haven't the cops caught this guy yet?
On the other hand, my fate is kind of linked to his at this point, so maybe I should try to help him get away.
"We're being followed," I mutter.
"An SUV is following us."
"Maybe." Why would they bother hiding? Inside, I wonder if Maxwell didn't abandon the dying cashier in hopes of hunting me down. Nah, that's paranoia. Besides, where would he have gotten the car?
So now that he knows we're being followed, ain't no way he'll risk stopping to track me down. His gun is all the way over in the glove compartment, anyway. I take a page out of Maxwell's book, wrench my bound hands behind me, and yank open the door. I even manage to yell, "So long!" as I tumble out of the van.
Ow. I mean, OW! I can't breathe. I'm flattened. The SUV rears up in front of me and I close my eyes, ready for the impact, but it screeches to a halt. Tears spring into my eyes. I never really thought about how much bailing would hurt—and I just fell onto the road, never mind what that cliff must've felt like. I suck breath back into my lungs, my ribs creaking.
A car door slams, and all of a sudden Lucy Cunningham-Schultz is standing over me, hair aglow from the headlights behind her, like some kind of avenging angel, and I'm at her feet and sobbing like a little girl. Nice.
"That's right, Old Lincoln Road," she's saying.
"We're right behind you," comes a scratchy voice from her cell phone.
I recognize that cop-on-duty tone. I scramble to my feet but can't get anywhere; the world's become a top and my feet are clown shoes. I can't stay here; I have to run; I can't let them catch me . . .
Lucy barely touches my shoulder and I'm on the ground again.
"Don't move," she says. "You're bleeding." A few cop cars pull up, but she waves them on, yelling, "He's up there, in the white van." They go on, leaving me here, leaving me out—free. What? "More will be here for you in a minute," she tells me.
"I called them."
I must've blacked out for a few minutes or something.
"Lucy, you've gotta send them back. You've gotta help me. They'll put me back in jail, and I—and I can't—I don't belong there!"
She doesn't answer me. All I hear is the hum of her Chevy's motor, and all I see is her standing in the headlights, staring down the road at the approaching cop car. It pulls up.
The cops close in on me, asking questions. I can't figure out what they want from me, but I think I'm being arrested. I close my mouth and refuse to talk. I know my rights.
Besides, I can't figure out what I'd say. I'm distracted by watching Maxwell get out of the cop car—he's not a prisoner anymore, not a prisoner of anyone. He walks up to Lucy, who for some reason is crying now. He can't believe it's her. I figure, why wouldn't it be her? These Odyssey goons are always helping each other out. There's nobody to help me. There never has been.
I wake up with something white in the corner of my vision. After a couple minutes of slow thought, I realize it's a bandage. Dawn light makes everything murky, but you can't miss the white van upended in a ditch, flashing blue and red as the cop lights spin atop their cars. They're dragging the guy who held up the store into the back of a different car than the one I'm in. Lucy stands by with her notebook in hand. From this distance I finally notice how much she's changed; she's a lot taller and maybe even pretty, which frankly just makes her more annoying as far as I'm concerned. You spend some time in jail, and the world gets weirder.
A car door slams; it's Maxwell getting out of Lucy's Chevy Equinox. He starts talking to a cop, and I notice how casual he is about it, how he's soon got the guy laughing. Then Maxwell motions toward me, and the cop makes some apologetic gestures. They keep talking, and then all of a sudden, the cop is leading him over to me. Outside my door, they talk some more. From what I can hear, the cop is telling him it's a bad idea. But next thing I know, the cop opens my door and strolls a few steps away, his back turned. Washing his hands of this little breach of policy, I guess. There goes Maxwell, winning the world over, one person at a time.
"Hiya," he says.
I ignore him. He's just here to lord his freedom over me, and I ain't gonna let him. "I have a right to remain silent," I remind him. "But I guess you told them everything."
He crouches down, the flickering, blue-and-white-and-red lights making his bruises more ghastly than they really are. His dislocated thumb's been splinted to his forefinger. "Did you expect me to lie on your behalf?"
"I don't expect nothing from you."
"Listen, Myron, I just wanted to tell you something. The cashier's in stable condition. He's going to be okay."
"So, you . . . you're the one who showed me the phone. I thought that meant you cared."
"Want to know what I care about, Maxwell?"
"I care that there's somebody to testify I didn't hold up the store, all right? If he'd died, well, you could've told the cops anything you wanted."
"That's all, huh?"
"Yeah, Maxwell, that's all. I answered your question. Now you answer mine. Why'd you save my life tonight? You could have held on to your phone. You wouldn't have gotten blamed if he'd shot me. You had a free pass."
"You think letting you die would set me free?"
"Sure. I'm after you, aren't I?"
"Are you? Still?"
I shift my shoulders. I won't let him get to me. "Why didn't you tell the cops I'd tried to kill you? Last time. With Bovril."
Awkwardly, he reaches his left hand into his right pocket and takes something out. I can't tell what it is in the darkness. "It was Blackgaard who wanted me dead."
"Yeah, but I was gonna do it."
"That wasn't for me to know. I'd gotten away. That was all that mattered."
I snort. "I still hate you, Kamikaze."
His calm breaks—finally. I don't like to use that name, to remember when it was his, but I guess he hates remembering it even more. "Likewise, Myron."
"But I'm not gonna kill you. I just want you to know that. You kept me from getting shot today, so I'm not gonna look for you again. Even if this lands me in jail . . . when I get out, I'm not coming back to Odyssey. Ever. I'm done with you. Deal?"
Now he smiles. "This is the closest we're going to get to forgiveness, isn't it?"
"Forgiveness?" I sneer. What planet is he living on?
"I want to give this to you." He holds something out. It's a black chess piece, a knight. It looks vaguely familiar. "But the cops wouldn't like it. So, I'll, uh . . ." he stands and pitches the thing into the trees nearby. "There. I'm done with you, too, Jellyfish."
He walks away. The last time I'm ever gonna see him outside of court, and he finally calls me my real name. Maybe I don't hate him so much after all.
"I saw you talking to Jellyfish. What did you say?"
That will be something he refuses to tell her about. Politely. "Just parting words." Parting words—rude ones? Formal ones? Threatening ones? She'll want to know, but she won't ask again. He'll tell her, "You were really a Godsend, you know."
"Godsend?" Surprised to hear that word from him.
"You know. You might have saved Wade. By the time I called, it might have been too late. And of course, Keith might have gotten away if you hadn't followed him." He'll laugh here. "And maybe Myron owes you his life."
"I called in case someone was hurt. I thought it might've been you." She'll turn off the tape recorder here, because there is enough on the record for a story. Off the record, she wants to tell him something.
"I could hook you up with a digital recorder," he'll tell her, or words to that effect. "Much more convenient."
"That would be nice. Listen, I've wanted to tell you . . . something."
"Oh?" She won't see his hesitation; there will be no outward sign of his feelings. But he will know a trace of concern at what she might say.
"Yes. I wanted to tell you that you taught me something. Back when you saved me from Jellyfish. Did I ever thank you for that?"
"I'm sure you did."
"No, I don't remember thanking you. So, thank you. Thank you for saving me, and thank you for teaching me about God."
This won't be what he was expecting. "I did what?"
"Before I met you, I thought that God could only use Christians, people who strove to do His will. But you taught me that . . . that God can use anyone. Forgiving you taught me what forgiveness is. The way it . . . connects people."
He may or may not interject: "I feel that way too." Because he does—shadows of those who've forgiven him follow everywhere.
"And it makes me realize that that's why God extends His forgiveness to us. Because it binds us to Him in love."
He will find this a beautiful sentiment, but of course he cannot accept it. His way is not to forgive and allow himself to be forgiven. Instead, he remembers parting words, and a chess piece thrown into a forest. Forced severing. He only understands forgiveness insofar as it haunts him.
She will see his doubt and try to explain. "He used you to save me, and to teach me . . . so much. And maybe that scares you, but you don't have to be scared. It's a good thing. And I want to thank you for it."
He'll be humbled that she can appreciate him despite everything he isn't. Appreciation—is that what she's trying to say? Or is it something else? He knows of many options—the Japanese amae, or sweetness, used to describe dependence on another, or the Chinese ganqing, a rapport built by working together for the well being of all, or the Greek philia, of loyalty motivated by mutual benefit. His mind will leap to one of these words rather than an insufficient English substitute. She, who is expert at English, will not know these alternatives—the only English word she can think of will be "love". And is that the right word, really?
They will leave the library, then, perhaps to dally at Whit's End before rejoining their lives in progress. Many times in the future, she will call him to check on facts for articles and save herself valuable research time. He will think of her friendship in terms of amae, and ganqing, and philia. She will think of him in terms of Heaven and pray for him every day, trusting that God will find him, that they will someday be together in a place where they can laugh about past confusion.
In the meantime, they will say no goodbyes. There is too much life left to live.