The next couple of days passed by slowly for Matt and Sam. For his part, Matt sulked over what to do about Sam, despite Aaron's best efforts to distract him. Aaron wasn't sure what had happened between them because Matt had refused to share, but he could see that it hurt Matt a great deal. Sam merely brooded in her room, only leaving when necessary. She ignored several phone calls from Rob and Erica and even the knocking on her door Wednesday afternoon. She didn't want to talk to or see anyone at the moment.
It had hurt her to say those things to Matt, but she just couldn't see how it would ever work between them now. No matter how hard she tried to fight it, she was still in love with him, and for that reason, she knew she had to let him go.
Friday morning dawned overcast and cool. Sam decided to go out for a walk to get some fresh air and try to clear her head. There weren't many people out yet. She shivered slightly and tucked her hands into the pocket of her jeans, wishing that she had brought a sweater or something. Just as she was passing a couple who were talking animatedly, an explosion rent the air and the man fell to the ground. The girl screamed and fell to her knees next to him. "He's been shot! Someone call 911!" she begged.
Sam stared at the scene just long enough to register what had happened and then started running. She somehow knew that bullet was meant for her. She sent a silent prayer heavenward for the man who had taken the bullet. Another explosion sounded. The few people who were out were all panicking now and running for cover. A third shot rang out, but Sam kept running. She took cover in the bookstore where she had been just the week before and pulled out her cell phone.
"Sam? Is that you? What~"
"Matt, they've found me! They know where I am! There was just a shooting and~"
"What?! Are you ok? Are you hurt?"
Sam took a deep breath to steady herself. "I'm ok. They didn't shoot me. I've got to get out of here, though. It's not safe anymore."
"Can you meet me at the campus entrance in ten minutes?" asked Matt.
"Ok, I'll pick you up, and we'll figure out what to do then." He hung up.
Sam took a minute to compose herself, and then walked out of the store. Everything was in disarray. People were still running around screaming, and campus security hadn't arrived yet. Sam dashed through the crowd, careful to try and blend in with the crowd. She dashed in and out of buildings. When she finally got to the campus entrance, an ambulance was screaming down the road. Vaguely, she wondered how many people had been hurt.
There wasn't much time to contemplate it, though, because a car she recognized as the one Matt was driving came careening down the street and stopped right in front of her. She jumped in, and before the door had closed properly, Matt took off the way he came from. They were quiet the entire ride back to the hotel. Sam was shaking violently, just staring out the window. She didn't know what she was going to do now. Any sense of security she had had was lost.
The fact that the car had stopped didn't register with her until Matt opened her door. She looked at him for a moment before taking his proffered hand and allowing him to help her out of the car. He took her hand in his and guided her into the hotel. When they reached his room, he pulled out the key card and led Sam in. Aaron was pacing around the room. He rushed over to them.
"Sam! Oh my gosh! Are you ok?"
She nodded weakly and allowed Matt to escort her over to a chair and gently push her down into it. Aaron was right behind them. He frowned and said, "What happened to your leg?"
Matt and Sam looked down. Her right leg was soaked in blood at the calf. Matt jumped up. "I thought you said they hadn't shot you!" he exclaimed.
Sam just stared at her leg in disbelief and shuddered violently. Matt turned to Aaron. "Can you go grab the first aid kit out of my suitcase?" he asked.
"What? You carry a first aid kit with you?" Matt gave him a stern look. "Ok, ok! I'm going."
Matt knelt down in front of Sam. "Are you sure you're all right?" he asked gently.
She shook her head and leaned back against the wall. Matt was starting to worry about the fact that she hadn't said a word since she had spoken on the phone. He was sure she was going into shock, but he had to take care of her leg first. Aaron came back with the first aid kit, and Matt set to work cleaning and wrapping up the wound. He was glad to see that the bullet had just grazed her leg. Once she was patched up, Matt stood up and stood over her. "Sam, I need you to open your eyes."
She didn't respond. "Sam, please." Still no response. Matt stepped over to her side, gently placed his hand behind her neck and said softly, "Rebecca, I need you to look at me. You're going into shock."
The sound of her name seemed to get a response from her, and Sam opened her eyes to stare into his. He saw terror and uncertainty in her blue eyes. She saw compassion and understanding in his hazel ones. "I need to know what happened," he said.
Sam sat up and took in a shuddering breath. "I'm still not quite sure myself," she said haltingly. "I was taking a walk along campus, and when I walked behind this couple, the first shot hit the guy. His girlfriend yelled that he'd been shot. Once it registered what had happened, I took off. I just somehow knew I was the target. There were a couple more shots and I took shelter in the bookstore. After I called you, I ran out and made my way toward the entrance."
"And your leg?" prompted Matt.
Sam shook her head. "I don't know. I guess one of the shots grazed my leg. I had so much adrenaline going through me I didn't notice." She stopped as she realized how close she had come to being shot. She gasped and buried her face in her hands. "How did they find me?" she murmured.
Matt shook his head. "I don't know." He sat down on the bed and thought. "We need to figure out how we're going to get out of here," he said. "We're far enough away from the university that it shouldn't be a problem, but we can't take off with a rental car."
"Why don't we go buy a cheap, used car?" suggested Aaron.
Matt stared at him. "What?"
"We can go buy a used car. That way, we're not stealing anything, and it'll be harder to trace," Aaron explained.
"But how are we going to do that?" inquired Matt. "I certainly don't have the money for it."
"I'll buy it," said Aaron. "I can use my emergency credit card and explain it to my parents. They'll be able to pay it off easily enough, and I think this qualifies as an emergency."
"Are you sure?" asked Matt. Aaron nodded. "This might work. We need to just hang around here today, though. I don't want to draw undue attention to ourselves by leaving earlier than planned. Where are we going to go, though? We can't go back to my parents'."
" How about my aunt?" asked Aaron. "She lives in Brisdane, Oklahoma. We can go to her for a couple of days."
Aaron and Matt turned around. Sam was looking at them with a steely glint in her eyes. "I'm not going to allow you two or anyone else to risk your lives like that. The guys who are after me are dangerous! You guys don't fully grasp what these people are like. Doug shot a three-year-old little girl without so much as batting an eye! I refuse to let the same happen to you."
Matt's eyes softened. Behind the stubbornness, he could sense Sam's fear. She was afraid to lose them. It all went back to the self-preserving life that she had been forced to live. "You really don't have much of a choice," he said kindly. "It's us or the maniac goons. You can't go back to campus, and you're not going to make it anywhere with what you have. Besides, being with us is probably the safest place right now. No one knows we know each other, so no one would think to look with us."
Sam was about to retort but stopped herself when she realized he was right. All she had with her were the clothes she was wearing, her cell phone, and her wallet. Her wallet contained limited cash, useless credit cards, and her driver's license. She sighed in defeat. There was nothing to be gained by arguing. She nodded her consent.
"Good," said Matt. "I think we should go get the car today so we can be ready to leave first thing tomorrow morning."
Aaron nodded. "We should go do that right now." He glanced over at Sam. "And we should probably go get you a new pair of jeans," he added.
"Can't- can't I come with you?" she asked.
Matt shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea. Those guys are bound to still be on the lookout for you. And we can't blow our cover by having too many people see us together." He looked at her sympathetically. "We shouldn't be gone for more than an hour or so. You'll be safe here."
Sam nodded her head. "Ok. Please be careful."
"We will," Matt assured her. He and Aaron walked out of the room, leaving her alone.
"What do you mean she got away?!"
"I'm sorry, sir. I don't know how it happened. One of my men was following her this morning, but she stepped behind this guy, and he got shot instead. My man took another couple of shots at the girl and swears he hit her, but she's disappeared. We haven't been able to locate her anywhere." He didn't like the silence on the other end of the phone.
"I want her found. Is that understood? Have her phone records pulled. Trace her credit cards. Do whatever you have to do to find her. I want a progress report by the end of the day!" The line went dead.
Sam was restless. She wanted to get up and pace to burn off the excess energy, but her leg wouldn't allow that. She was stuck lying on the bed until the boys got back. Her eyes closed, and she sighed in exhaustion. It wasn't even ten o'clock yet, but she had put in a day's worth of energy and emotion. She opened her eyes and grabbed the remote. The news would be on in a few minutes, and Sam hoped to get some news of the shooting.
The door opened and Aaron and Matt walked in. Sam sat up when they entered and stared at them curiously. They were carrying more than just a pair of jeans. Each one was ladened down with a few grocery bags. "What on earth did you guys buy?" she asked.
"All sorts," answered Aaron. "A few clothes for you, food and water bottles, a new car, and a few other items you might find necessary." He tossed her a bag.
"But how did you know what size clothes to buy?" she asked as she caught it.
"A little guessing and deductive reasoning, not to mention Matt's freaky stalker type knowledge of you," said Aaron. "I have a sister, and you're a little smaller than her, so we figured that you were probably a size twelve jean. Matt just happened to remember your shirt size."
Sam pulled out a new pair of jeans along with a green shirt. She smiled at the memory Aaron's comment had brought back. One of their friends from high school had gone to the mall for her birthday. While they had been wandering around, Sam had seen a black shirt with sequins scattered across the front that she had fallen in love with. Two months later, she unwrapped that shirt for her birthday. Her mom explained that Matt had called to ask what size she was so she could have that shirt. "Of course he remembers," she said, smiling at him.
Aaron tossed another bag at her. It contained a brush, hair ties, painkillers, and other necessary toiletry items. She raised an eyebrow at him. "You guys really thought this through, didn't you?"
He nodded. "We sure did! I'm quite pleased with myself right now."
"As you should be," laughed Sam. She carefully stood up with the jeans and gingerly placed a little weight on her right leg. It was painful, but if she hobbled the right way, she figured she should be able to walk. She started to take a few steps forward, but Matt rushed over to her. He put his arm around her waist and draped her arm around his neck.
"You are not going anywhere like that in the condition you're in," he scolded. "Besides, I put a lot of work into bandaging that wound. You're not going to ruin a fine wrapping job."
Sam nodded, knowing there was no point in arguing with him. She allowed him to help her over to the bathroom. Once she had carefully changed out of the bloody jeans into the new pair, she left the bathroom and asked, "Do either of you have a pocketknife?"
Both boys looked over at her in confusion. "Don't worry. I'm just wanting to fix these jeans," explained Sam. She held up the pants for inspection. "Since the blood is mostly down at the calf, I was thinking that we could cut them off at the knee and turn them into shorts."
"Ah," said Aaron. "Pretty, smart, resourceful, and conscious of the environment. You really know how to choose them, man."
Sam blushed at the comment but chose to ignore it. "So? You wanna help a girl out here?" she inquired.
"Sure," said Matt. He walked over to her and helped her over to the bed. Then he pulled a pocketknife out of his pocket and took the jeans. He carefully cut the bottom half of each leg and tossed them into the trash. Then he sat down next to her and flipped on the news.
"...at Jacksonville University, where a shooting occurred at about 8:45 this morning. Details are still coming in. What we do know is that two people are injured- one in critical condition- and both were sent to Mercy Hospital center for treatment."
Sam clutched the blanket underneath her hand. Two people were injured? There were only three shots fired as far as she knew. How had she escaped with only a graze?
"Police say that thirty-three year old Peter Williams was arrested shortly after the shooting for attempted murder." A picture accompanied the reporter's words. The man had short, shaggy brown hair, thick eyebrows, dark eyes, and a nose that looked like it had been broken on at least one occasion. His face was round and sported a beard. Sam stared at the picture in morbid fascination. So this was the man who had tried to kill her? The reporter's face reappeared on the screen. "We will keep you updated as more information comes in. The North Carolina House of Representative~"
Matt turned it off and looked at Sam. She was still gazing at the TV with a far away look in her eyes. He touched her shoulder, and she jumped. "Hey, don't think about it too much, alright? None of it is your fault," he said quietly.
She nodded but didn't say anything. Matt sighed. It was going to be a very long day.
"Here are the phone records you requested."
"Thank you. Now go find out what happened to Williams. He was supposed to have checked in already."
"Uh..sir, didn't you see the news?"
"No. What about it?"
"Williams was arrested. It seems he didn't get away from the campus quick enough."
"Great. That's just great. So not only do I have to track the girl down, I also have to worry about Williams shooting his mouth off to the cops."
"I don't think you have to worry about that, sir. Williams is a pretty loyal guy. He's been with us for almost four years."
"Yeah great. Good for him. Well then, go find something to do to make yourself useful and leave me be."
He turned back to the paper in front of him. It was a fairly short list. Most of the calls were incoming. He scanned down it, looking for any anomalies. The last call caught his eye. It was out going to an unfamiliar number. She had made the call just after the shooting started. Interesting. He'd have to find out who this person was.
Sam woke early the next morning. She was tired but didn't see any point in going back to sleep. She would just wake up again in an hour or so, as she had been all night. The clock next to her read 6:18. It would be at least another hour before Matt or Aaron woke up. She stared up at the ceiling thinking about the events of the last twenty-four hours. It had been a close call. She couldn't fathom how anyone had found her. Lorh was too careful.
She frowned. Lorh hadn't called yet. That was strange. Surely he must have seen something about it on the news. There wasn't one broadcast that went on that didn't have something about it. Just as the thought crossed her mind, her cell phone rang. She reached over to the nightstand and grabbed it. "Hello?"
"It's Lorh. I heard what happened. Are you alright?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. What took you so long to call?"
"Sorry. I had men over at the campus and hospitals looking for you. The last one just called in to report that he hadn't found you."
That didn't make any sense. Why wouldn't he have just called? It was probably some weird protocol thing that Witness Protection did. She shoved it aside.
"Where are you?"
"I'm~" she hesitated. "I'm with a couple of friends. We managed to find each other immediately after the shooting and took off away from campus. We'll be back soon." It wasn't technically a lie. Actually, it was mostly true. She was with a couple of friends, and soon was a relative word. It all depended on your perspective.
"Ok, let me know when you're back. Whoever is after you obviously found you. We're going to need to relocate you as soon as possible."
"Will do," replied Sam. She hung up.
"Hey." Sam jumped and looked to her right. Matt was sitting up on the floor and looking at her drowsily. "Who was that?"
"Lorh. He just wanted to touch base after what happened."
"Does he want you back?" asked Matt.
"Yeah," said Sam, "but I think we should just go ahead with the plan we have."
"But you said you'd be back soon," Matt reminded her.
"Soon is a relative term," explained Sam. "Even if I waited a few months to go back, it's still soon compared to the average human life span."
"You think there's something wrong with him?"
"My gut tells me there's something off from this whole thing. I'm just not sure what yet. Lorh always told me not to trust anyone, so right now I'm including him. I trust you and Aaron, and I trust the plan we have right now. We're going to stick with that."
"Sounds good. How's your leg?"
"Fine. I should probably try walking on it before we leave."
"Matt, I have to try. If we want to get out of here unnoticed, I can't be hobbling around. If it turns out I need help, I'll accept that, and we can figure out how to do that so it just looks like we're a couple. There's no reason to draw undue attention to ourselves, though."
He saw her reasoning, and it made sense, but he was still a little worried about her. He stood up and stretched. "Why don't you try that right now, and if you can walk, we'll go down to breakfast. If not, I can bring something up."
Sam swung her legs over the side of the bed and put a small amount of pressure on her leg. It hurt a little, but it was nothing she couldn't handle. Plus she'd be stuck in a car all day, so it would be better to get all of the restless nerves out of her right now. She stood as well and followed Matt out the door.
When they came back up half an hour later, Aaron was still sound asleep. Sam sat on the bed and flipped on the TV. She didn't pay attention to what was left of that hour's news since it would all be weather and traffic report. She propped her leg up as Matt gently undid the wrapping around her bullet wound. He pulled the bandage away, and they saw that the wound looked good all things considering. It was wrapped back up and Matt went to wake Aaron. They were going to have to check out in an hour. Aaron grumbled as Matt shook him and eventually just rolled out of bed. He let out a string of oaths that Matt was going to regret interrupting his sleep but got up anyway.
Despite Aaron being slow to get up, they were all ready to go forty-five minutes later. Matt turned in the keycard and led Aaron and Sam out of the hotel. They walked over to a red Honda Civic, and Matt tossed the keys to Aaron.
"You're going to let me drive?" he asked in delight.
Matt nodded. "Yes. Heaven help me, but I'll let you drive today. Besides, we're going to your aunt's house. I swear, though, if you do anything stupid, I'll throw you in the trunk!" He opened the door for Sam, and she climbed in. Instead of getting into the front passenger seat, he climbed in after her. She looked surprised but not displeased. Matt leaned over and said quietly, "I don't trust him. I feel much safer back here."
Sam laughed, and Aaron shot them a look through the rearview mirror. "What's he telling you back there? I swear it's not true!"
"Guilty conscious, uh?' said Sam. "No, he wasn't telling me any horror stories. He was saying that your feet stink."
"Oh, well if that's all," said Aaron as he started the car. He pulled out and drove toward the highway- away from the place she had never learned to call home, away from the reminder that her life was in ruins, away from the hidden dangers that lay in the shadows- toward freedom.
"WHAT?!" He stared in disbelief down at the report in front of him. Why in the world had she called him? He was all the way out in California, wasn't he? He was starting to feel unnerved. The girl had disappeared, and the boy had suddenly reappeared. Those two things had to be linked. "Blast it all to Kingdom Come! How in the world did they find each other?" He was going to have to solve that problem, and he was going to have to do it fast.
A smiled spread over his face. It was an evil and cynical thing. "Or..." He chuckled. "This could be exactly what I need. If they don't know I'm onto them, they can't know I'm tracking them. The boy could lead me straight to her." He laced his fingers together and rested his chin on them. "Yes. This could make my job that much easier and that much more pleasurable. Rogers!"
A little man hurried into the room. "Yes, sir?"
"I want you to check any and all flight logs for the name Matthew Preston. See who he is traveling with. Also, I want his credit cards and cell phone traced. Is that understood?"
Rogers nodded and hurried to do what he had been told.
"And in the mean time, I think I'm tired of being second in command. It's time to fix that." The click and glint of steel as he left the room left nothing to the imagination.
Aaron glanced back in the rearview mirror and saw Sam asleep against Matt's shoulder. "Surely she's not that tired."
Matt glanced down at Sam. He noticed the dark circles under her eyes. "I don't know man," he said. "She doesn't look like she's slept well recently, and I know she didn't last night."
"You sleep like a rock, so nothing short of World War III will wake you up," said Matt. "She was tossing around all night and waking up every hour or two."
"Well, I didn't talk to her about it, but I think she's at the end of her rope. Her life revolved around being in Witness Protection, and now she's run into someone from the past that she thought she'd never see again. Couple that on top of almost getting killed and the guilt she must feel about the other people who were shot, and I think you have a few good reasons to not sleep well. Not to mention whatever pain she was in from her leg."
Aaron glanced down at the gas gauge. "We're going to have to stop at the next gas station and fill up. I think the next town is only about ten for fifteen minutes out."
"Good," said Matt. He would need to get out and stretch but try to manage that without waking Sam. It probably wouldn't work, but he'd at least make an effort.
When they pulled into the little town fifteen minutes later, Aaron stopped at the only gas station in town. The sound of his door closing jerked Sam awake, and she looked around groggily. "Where are we?" she grumbled.
"Waynesville. We've just stopped for gas and to stretch. You can go back to sleep if you want," explained Matt.
Sam sighed and shook her head. "No. I should probably get out and stretch my legs, or I'm going to cramp real bad." She allowed Matt to help her out and asked, "How long was I asleep?"
"A couple hours," replied Matt.
Sam yawned as she clasped her hands above her head and pushed upward. "And how much longer are we going to drive today before we stop?" she asked.
"Probably three or four more hours. That way, we'll have cross over state lines, and we could actually be in Georgia by this evening. We'll stop there and then go through Tennessee tomorrow."
"Sounds like a plan. Aaron didn't try to kill us while I was asleep, did he?"
"No, he behaved himself. I think it's more because he paid for the car, though. Trust me, he was never quite this careful on campus with the car his parents gave him."
"Great, he really is a psycho lunatic, then? It wasn't just my imagination?"
"Who are you calling a psycho lunatic, woman?" demanded Aaron. "I'll have you know that I've never been in a car crash~"
"Although that's pure luck," interjected Matt.
"~and my car doesn't have any damage to it whatsoever. But anyway, the car is almost full, Matt. Are you paying with paper or plastic?"
"I probably should just use my credit card. It'll be faster, and we can get back on the road." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. Once they had paid for the gas, they all hopped back into the car and took off.
He lounged back in his chair and sighed in delight. It felt good to be on top. Now he'd be giving all the orders and not have to listen to anyone rattle on at him.
There was no way anyone would discover the body. He had used a silencer, effectively eliminating the possibility that anyone had heard what had happened, and disposed of the body. There were no witnesses, and no one would ever suspect him of it.
A tentative knock on the doors interrupted his thought. "Come in."
Rogers entered. "Sir. They boy's credit card was used in Waynesville earlier today. They had apparently stopped for gas."
"Waynesville? That's all the way across the state!" he exclaimed. He grinned at that. So they were on the run, uh? He was now playing a game of cat and mouse. It was only a matter of tracking them down. "Did you ever find out who Preston is traveling with?"
"A boy named Aaron Vistane, sir. I don't know much more than that."
"Well, find out more, then! I need to find the girl, and those boys will be the link to finding her. Also, send a message to my wife. Tell her I'll be working late again tonight."
Once Rogers was gone, he turned his attention back to the problem at hand. The girl had somehow managed to find her old boyfriend. Perhaps it was an accident. That was irrelevant now. What mattered was that she had taken off with him and his lackey, and they were on a cross-country trip together. Where were they going, though? Not back to California; she wasn't stupid enough for that. Being in Waynesville made him think they were going west, but it was a big country, and that general direction wouldn't help him find anyone. Did she have a relative out that way? That couldn't be possible, he reasoned. Both her parents had been only children, and her grandparents had long since died. What were the three runaways planning then?
Sam collapsed onto the bed of her hotel room. It seemed so big and empty without two parents and four siblings to share it with. When they had pulled into Chattanooga, Georgia, they had found this motel and got two rooms. Sam had offered to share a room with them to save them the cost of a second one, but both boys had insisted that she have her own room. She pulled out her cell phone and turned it off. It had been a thoroughly exhausting week, and she planned to sleep hard that night. Lorh was not going to call and change those plans, however good his intentions might be. No one knew where they were, so no one could hurt them.
She grabbed the remote and started channel surfing. There wasn't really anything on TV.
"~in the upper eighties tomorrow~" Flip.
Dramatic music played as the character walked through the dark building with a baseball bat and flashlight. Sam rolled her eyes. "And cue bad guy or alien," she muttered. A dark shadow jumped out and began to fight with the other guy. Flip.
"~don't know why you chose her!" said a lady. She was clinging to some guy's arm. "I've always loved you, and she never has!" Soap opera. Flip.
"~leader of the notorious Flying Dragons~" Flip. Wait! Sam quickly went back to CNN. "~dead today in the Birten River. Officials say that he was shot once in the dead and dumped in the river. There has been no evidence as to who killed him." She listened for a few more seconds and then turned the TV off.
Sam felt numb. What did this mean for her? Was the threat gone? Doug was in jail, and the leader of the Dragons was dead. Or was he simply killed so someone else could take his place? That seemed more likely. That was the way of gangs and criminal organizations. But what was the threat to her, now? In a daze, she walked out of her room and to the one Aaron and Matt shared. The door opened when she knocked, and Matt looked surprised to see her.
"I was just watching the news," explained Sam, "and the leader of the Dragons has been found dead."
Matt looked even more surprised at that. "Come in," he said and stepped aside for her. She walked in and saw Aaron lying on his bed. He saw up when she entered.
"Sam. What happened?"
She took a seat at the edge of Matt's bed and said, "The leader of the Flying Dragons is dead." Aaron looked confused. She realized he didn't know anything. "The Flying Dragons are a criminal organization who have spread along the west coast. They deal a lot in drugs. My father had been working under cover to gather names of people within the organization, but they somehow discovered him. A man named Doug came to my house one night and shot my family. I was the only one who survived. Once the police learned what had happened and who was involved, they called the FBI, and I was handed over to the Witness Protection Program. I've been in it for two and a half years now."
Matt was surprised at how stoically she said all of this, especially considering how emotional she had been the last couple of days. It disturbed him. Why was she so calm about it? Was she detaching herself from it all to keep herself together? He decided that had to be it. She had merely listed facts of what had happened. It sounded like she had recited it out of a textbook.
"So what does that mean for you?" asked Aaron. "Is the threat over? Should we go back to Jacksonville?"
Sam shook her head. "No. He didn't randomly die, Aaron. He was murdered. His body was pulled out of a river. His death simply means that there is someone else in charge of the gang now. It makes it all the more complicated because we don't know what kind of resources this guy has available to him. We're going to continue on to Oklahoma like we planned. We'll figure out what to do once we get there."
Matt reflected with amusement that Aaron had delegated Sam as the leader of this little adventure, and that was fine with him. He was the first to admit that he had no clue what they should do in the current situation. "So what are our options?"
Sam sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't see that we have many since we don't know who we're up against," she replied. "For now, we need to get to Oklahoma alive, and then we can take stock there of what we know and have."
"Sounds like you at least have a plan," said Aaron.
Sam stood and smiled. "At least it sounds like it. We'll talk about it more when we get there." She covered her mouth as she yawned. "In the mean time, I am exhausted. I'll see you in the morning." They boys hade her good night, and she walked out of the room.
Matt closed the door and turned to face Aaron. "This isn't good," said Aaron.
"No, it's not," agreed Matt. He pursed his lips. "I don't know Aaron- this is all getting more and more dangerous. There's only so long we can run. What's going to happen when we're backed into a corner?"
Aaron didn't answer. Neither of them wanted to contemplate that grim reality.
"Matt, we need to call our parents!" Aaron exclaimed. "They're expecting us back at Ricks tonight! If we don't show up for classes on Monday..."
Matt's heart skipped a beat. He hadn't thought to call his parents. His attention had been focused on Sam. He had missed his plane and disappeared. Everyone would assume the worst. He pulled out his cell phone and opened the door. "I'll be back soon."
"Dad. It's Matt. If Mom is there, put her on the line. I need to talk to you both."
"She's out shopping. Do you want to call back later?"
"No. I don't have a lot of time. When I get home, I'll give you all the details. For now, I just have to give you the basic facts." He hesitated. "Dad, I found Rebecca."
"What?" his father gasped.
"I found Becca," Matt repeated. "She was living in North Carolina. There was a shooting at her school yesterday, and we had to make a break for it. Aaron is with us. We're on our way to his aunt's house. Tell mom not to worry. We're all safe. I'll call you when we get to Aaron's aunt's."
"Matt, wait. What~"
"I'll answer questions later. I have to go. Bye." He hung up.
It was late before the three friends got up and going the next morning. They packed the car hurriedly, checked out, and hit the road. Aaron said that if all went well, they'd be at his aunt's house by late evening. If all went well...
Lorh frowned. Sam's cell phone was off. She knew better than that. How was he supposed to check in on her? What if something had happened to her? Perhaps his nephew knew what was going on.
Robert had been one of the reasons that he had chosen Jacksonville University. He had hoped that something would happen between his nephew and his witness. Lorh figured that Rob was close enough to Sam's old boyfriend- at least physically- that something could develop. He had been pleased when Rob had called him to tell him that he had met a new girl, Samantha Morlon. Lorh had feigned ignorance and let his nephew tell him all about this girl.
Lorh had not told Rob about Sam. He couldn't, and even if he could, he didn't think he would have. Somehow, he thought it might have ruined things. Rob might have decided to meet Samantha out of duty or necessity, instead of chance and happenstance. Things might have run a different course, too. No, it was better this way.
He was sure that Rob was attracted to Sam. The problem was, Sam didn't seem to reciprocate, from what he had been told. Could she still be hung up on the other boy, Mark, or Marvin, or whatever his name had been? It had been two and a half years since she had gone under.
Lorh shook his hand and picked up the phone. He needed to see what Rob knew. He quickly dialed the number and listened to the ring tone.
"Hey Rob. It's Kevin."
"Uncle Kevin! How are you? Why did you call?"
"I'm fine," said Lorh. "I was wondering if you had seen Sam in the last couple of days."
Rob was silent. "No, I haven't," he finally said. "After the shooting, she disappeared. I'm worried about her. She could be anywhere by now, couldn't she? Why do you ask?"
"I was just wondering how things were going between you," Lorh covered.
"Oh, well, I don't know. I asked her out the other day."
"She said no," replied Rob. "She said she wasn't ready for a relationship- that she wants to get college out of the way. I don't understand her sometimes. She's obviously attracted to me, yet she shies away. What do you think?"
"I don't know, Rob. She may have a difficult past. There may be an old relationship you don't know about that went awry. Maybe she just needs more time. I'm sure she'll come around. You're a fine young man. She's bound to realize that sooner or later."
Rob sighed on the other end. "Hopefully. Well, thanks. I'll let you know if I hear from her. Bye Kevin."
"Good bye Rob." The lines disconnected. Lorh sighed in frustration. His witness had disappeared into thin air, and he had no way of tracking her. The FBI was going to love this...
Matt watched Sam with a smile. He had noticed that she was becoming more like Rebecca. She had quickly warmed up to Aaron, and the hours in the car were passing by amiably. Aaron and Matt asked her about life on the east coast, and she asked them about BYU. They had moved on to the old, classic, bored-out-of-your-mind car games.
Aaron pulled into another town and stopped at a gas station. They got out and stretched. Matt ran in to grab a few drinks and snacks. When he came back out, the car was full, and they were ready to go. Just as she was walking around the front of the car, Sam saw something. She turned her head and saw a man walking toward them. His hand was inside a black leather jacket. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.
"Get in, now!" she barked at the two boys. She lunged for the driver's seat as the man pulled his hand out of his jacket and withdrew a gun. The doors slammed shut, and Sam started the car. The first shot rang out, and they heard other people start screaming. Sam put the car in reverse and floored the accelerator. It shot backward as the second shot rang, and a bullet grazed the side view mirror on the driver's side.
"Stay down!" she ordered Aaron and Matt. She swung the car around and shifted to drive. They gunned out of the town. Sam checked the rearview mirror to make sure they weren't being followed. She didn't slow down until they were fifteen minutes out of town and absolutely sure that they weren't being chased.
"Where did you learn to drive like that?!" demanded Aaron.
Sam snorted. "It was all part of my training before I went to North Carolina. Lorh wanted to make sure that I could make a quick escape if I needed, so they honed my driving skills until I could do all kinds of crazy things. It occurred to me that I could probably be a stunt driver for Hollywood if I wanted, but marine biology sounded much safer to me."
"Not to mention that Lorh wouldn't have let you anyway," said Matt. "That kind of job would bring too much attention to you."
"That it would," Sam concurred.
"So wait, do you have your own car?" asked Aaron.
"Yes," said Sam.
"Then did we buy this? Why didn't we just take yours?"
Sam threw him an annoyed look. "First of all, it was at the shop getting some work done on it. Second of all, my car is registered with the FBI. It'd be too easy for them to trace. I wouldn't be surprised if they've got some kind of GPS system in it."
"Sorry!" apologized Aaron, surprised at the anger in her voice. "I didn't mean anything by it."
Sam sighed. "It's ok. I should apologize. I've been on edge recently, and that little incident didn't help any. It brings up the question of how they found us."
They were silent as the impact and implications of the statement hit them. Whoever was after them was powerful and had a lot of resources. Sam frowned. She hadn't used her credit card since before she left the school, and she had forgotten to turn her cell phone back on. No one knew she was with Matt and Aaron or could even connect her to them. What were they going to do now?
He hung up the phone and cursed. How had she managed to get away again? The school he could understand, if not forgive. There had been people, trees, and buildings around to get in the way. But in the middle of a gas station? All the fool had to do was take aim and shoot! He didn't care how well the girl could drive. Hitting a car should have been like shooting at the broad side of a barn! It was true what they said: if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
The only problem was that he couldn't expose himself. He was already at risk that the girl would connect the dots and discover him. If she figured him out, he'd be done and gone. He wouldn't let that happen, though. All he needed to do was figure out where she was going.
He was pretty sure it wasn't to anyone the boyfriend was related to. All his relatives lived in Utah and Idaho, from what he had been able to find out. That was too far away. The other boy, though. He didn't know anything about this kid. He growled. Where was the information he had demanded, anyway? He had specifically told Rogers he wanted to know about this kid and soon.
There was a knock on the door, and Rogers walked in as if he had heard his boss's silent demands. "Sir. Here's the information we could find on Aaron Vistane so far. He has several family members around the country. His parents live in Missouri, and he has a cousin in Kansas. He also has an aunt who lives in Oklahoma."
He contemplated the new information. Where would the little refugees decide to go? He didn't have enough manpower to send people to three places. Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. They had enough of a head start that they could be in any of those locations by the end of the day. The parents in Missouri seemed like the obvious choice, but the girl didn't think like that. She would choose the place where it'd be easiest to get lost. And where better to disappear to than somewhere in the central US?
Aaron pulled into his aunt's driveway. It was a quaint, little house with a garden of flowers along the walkway. They all got out and grabbed their luggage. Aaron led the way to the front door and knocked. A short lady with brown hair and eyes opened the door. She smiled when she saw the three people on her doorstep. "Thank goodness you made it here alright. Come in. Come in." She stepped inside and allowed her guests in. Then she hugged Aaron tightly. "I've been worried about you," she said.
"We've been worried about us, too," said Aaron. "Tracey, this is Matt Preston and Samantha Morlon."
She shook each of their hands in turn. "It's good to meet you," she said.
"Likewise," replied Matt.
Sam nodded but didn't say anything.
"I know you kids have spent the last few days traveling. Is there anything I can get you?" Tracey asked.
"A hot shower and good food sound like a place to start," said Matt.
Aaron slid an arm around his aunt's shoulder. "You're in luck then because Tracey happens to be the best cook you'll ever meet."
Sam looked away at the painful reminder of her family. Cole and Ricky used to say the same thing about her. Kenny thought it, but he was too proud to admit it.
"Aaron's exasperating," Tracey said. "His mother is a better cook than I am."
"Yeah, but mom always cooks healthy stuff," Aaron complained. "You cook all the good foods- you know, sugar cookies and apple pie!"
Tracey shook her head but didn't say anything to her nephew's comment. "There are two showers upstairs. One is in he master bedroom immediately to the right of the stairs, and the other one is three doors down the hall and to your left. You're welcome to go freshen up, and I'll start on dinner."
Aaron gestured for Matt and Sam to go ahead. He followed his aunt into the kitchen. When he set his things by the door, she said, "Sam seems a little shy. She hasn't said a word since she walked in."
"I don't know what to think of her," said Aaron. "She seems different depending on the situation. I met her for the first time at the beach, and she seemed polite and unassuming. The next time I saw her was when she was teaching our scuba class. She was professional and thorough. Matt invited her to church with us, and she seemed introverted and skittish. When she came to the hotel room after the shooting, she was in shock and insecure, but as we've been driving, she's warmed up and become more outgoing and fun. Now she's reverted back to the introvert. I don't understand her.
"Matt told me that she used to be opposite. He said when they lived in California together, she was fun and outgoing after she got over her initial nine-year-old shyness. They've known each other for twelve years, and he's never seen her quite like this."
Tracey stared down the hall to where Sam had stood a few minutes before. "She's had a hard life, though. Didn't you say something about her being in Witness Protection?"
Aaron nodded. "For the last two and a half years."
"She's changed then. Something happened to her to change her like that."
"Do you realize who she is?" Aaron asked. Tracey looked at him curiously. "Do you remember that story on the news about the family in California that was gunned down in their own home, and one of the family members survived?"
Tracey's eyes widened. "That's her?" she asked.
Aaron nodded. "Matt said that he had dropped her off at home, and then it was on the news the next morning." Something clicked. "She saw her family murdered," he realized.
A sad expression settled on Tracey's face. "It's no wonder she's changed so drastically. No one could see something like that and not be untouched. And then to add a new identity on top of all that..." She trailed off and sighed. "I'd better get started on dinner. Matt had that gleam in his eye that I recognize anywhere."
Matt walked into the kitchen fifteen minutes later and took a seat next to Aaron at the table. There was a look on Aaron's face that said something was wrong. "What's up?" he asked.
"What do you know about Sam's past?" asked Tracey unexpectedly.
The question surprised Matt. "Just about everything. We practically grew up together. Why do you ask?"
Tracey set a pot of potato soup in the middle of the table and sat down. "I want to hear as much as you can tell me."
Matt stared at his hostess. Why would she ask such a thing? He took a deep breath and started telling her about how they had met. He had only been talking for a couple of minutes when they heard her coming down the stairs. "I'll finish telling you the rest tonight. She's usually not a night person, so we'll have plenty of time to talk then."
Sam entered the kitchen with her hair still wet from her shower. She smiled and said, "You didn't have to wait for me."
"We weren't," said Aaron.
"What he means is that the table was just set," supplied Tracey.
Sam walked to the table and sat next to Matt. Dinner was cordial enough. They all made small talk, and Sam even started to open up, if only a little. Tracey brought apple pie over for dessert, much to Aaron's delight.
"What kind of apples do you use?" Sam asked without warning.
"I have an apple orchard out back. I usually use red or golden delicious in my pies, but there are a bunch of kinds back there." She saw the look in Sam's eyes and said, "You're more than welcome to go back there any time you want, dear."
When she was finished, Sam excused herself and made her way back upstairs. Tracey stared after her. "She's probably already found one of the guest rooms. You two can share the other. How long do you plan on staying?"
Matt shook his head. "I don't know. Sam's kind of he unofficial leader of all this, and she won't want to stay in one place too long. We'll probably be lucky to stay two days."
Tracey looked troubled. "And what are you going to do?"
"That's up to Sam," said Matt.
"Then can you at least finish telling me about her?"
Matt nodded and continued his story where he left off. He left out the more personal details of their relationship. She could either figure it out or remain in the dark. When he was done, Tracey looked thoughtful. It was Aaron who spoke first, though.
"You're leaving things out, Matt. You never told me she saw her family murdered."
"Why does it matter?"
"I want to help her just as much as you do! How can I do that if I don't know all the details?"
Matt looked over at his best friend. "She's not going to accept help from anyone but me, and right now, she doesn't want help at all. She won't talk to me about it. I don't know what they told her before she went to North Carolina, but Lorh and Witness Protection did a good job on her. She's never been this shut up before." He sighed and stared at the ceiling. It was almost eight o'clock, and he was exhausted. "I'm going to go see if she'll talk to me." He stood up and climbed the stairs.
There was only one room with a closed door, so he figured that's where she was. She didn't answer the door when he knocked, though. "Sam, open the door, please. I want to talk to you." There was no response. He knocked again.
Matt was startled. "Sam, I just want to talk."
He stared at the door helplessly. Just when he thought maybe he was getting through to her. He sighed again and walked away.
Sam leaned her head against the door and tried to hold back her sobs, but she couldn't stop the tears from falling down her face. Why was she pushing away so hard? Matt was only trying to help like he always had. She turned around, walked toward the bed, sat down, and buried her face in her hands. He was there just like he was all those years ago when Jill ended their friendship because she wouldn't go to a party with drugs and alcohol, when Kenny had come down with severe pneumonia and they didn't know whether he'd live or not, and when her family had died. He had always been there for her whenever she needed him.
She needed him now more than ever, but she couldn't seek him. She was too afraid. When things were safe, she'd be relocated again, and Lorh would make sure that there was no chance they ever saw each other again. She couldn't take the chance of getting close to him again; it'd be too devastating to lose him a second time.
The realization that she was going to lose everything dear to her once more made her slide to her knees and seek God in prayer. She couldn't remember the last time she had actually prayed, but it was all she had left.
Aaron walked into the kitchen the next morning to see Sam and Matt sitting in the kitchen. Sam was sipping on a cup of chocolate milk, and Matt was reading the comic section of the newspaper. Tracey wasn't up yet, it seemed. Sam looked up at him when he walked in.
"Good, you're awake. We need to talk." Matt set the paper down and looked over at him. Aaron took a seat at the table. "What are we going to do from here? What do we know?"
"I think the better question is what do you know?" said Matt quietly.
Sam was quiet for a moment. "I know that we're on the run from a powerful organization and people who have enough resources to trace us. They're looking for me because I present some kind of danger to their business. We can't go to anyone related to you, Matt. They know your connection to me, so they'd expect us to go there. It won't be long before they find you, Aaron, and start targeting your family." She looked at him with sorrowful eyes. "You two have to~"
"Forget it Sam," Matt said firmly. "We're not leaving you."
She looked at him with a glint in her eyes. "I'm not going to let you two get involved in this."
"You involved us when you called me," argued Matt.
"But you'll be safe if you stay here."
"And what about you," demanded Aaron.
"This is my battle. I'll fight it how I see fit," replied Sam. She stared at them, trying to make them understand. When they stared back at her with equal force, she sighed. "Fine. This is going to be dangerous, though. I can't promise we'll all get out alive." The two boys nodded in acknowledgement. She sighed. "Alright. Here's what I was thinking."
She explained her plan and then stood up. "So that's it. Now if you two don't mind, I need to go do a couple of things. I'll see you later."
It seemed to Matt that Sam avoided them for the rest of the day. He couldn't understand why. He didn't understand much about her anymore. Gone were the days when he could guess at what she was thinking and feeling. That had been stolen from him in her transformation from Rebecca to Samantha. The two personalities were so different it almost frightened him.
He managed to catch up with her later that evening in the apple orchard. She was sitting on a bench staring off into the distance. The sun was beginning to set. He sat down next to her and asked, "How are you doing?"
"I don't know," she said. "I just wish things would be simple again."
Matt wondered what had happened to open her up, but he wasn't going to worry too much about that. "We'll get through this together," he promised her.
"But that's the thing!" said Sam. "You shouldn't have to deal with it at all!"
"I'd much rather shoulder some of the burden with you than let you do it all by yourself."
She turned to look at him. "I just don't want you to get hurt."
Matt didn't have anything to say to that. He couldn't assure her that that wouldn't happen. They lapsed into silence. Tentatively, Matt reached out and took her hand in his. She didn't complain or react at all. They just sat there.
Finally, she said, "I really missed you." That threw him off, but he waited for her to continue. "I thought about writing you once or twice, but if Lorh ever found out, he'd be furious. I knew that it wouldn't do anything for either of us, though. You couldn't have written back because you had nowhere to write to, and I thought it would be more of a distraction than anything else. I never knew missing someone could physically hurt, though." She paused for a moment and then continued, "I cried myself to sleep a lot. I couldn't turn anywhere for help. I gradually just started telling myself that I needed to move on and forget everything else. It wouldn't do me any good to sit and stew over it because I couldn't have it.
"I was upset at first to see you again for many reasons." She stopped, as if not sure how to continue.
She smiled slightly. "I'm kind of glad you found me. I've felt more like myself in the last week than I have in the last two and a half years. When you walked out of the room at the government safe house, I knew that was it. Nothing was ever going to be the same again. And I'm glad to have seen you one more time."
"What do you mean?" asked Matt.
"If I get out of this alive, Lorh is going to relocate me again, and this time, he'll make sure there's no chance we'll ever see each other again.
That...that's why I've been pushing away. I can't bear to get close to you again only to have you torn away from me."
Matt wondered why she was opening up to him at the moment if she was afraid that such a thing would happen, but he was not about to ask and ruin it. Sam laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. "I'm sorry," she said.
"For what?" asked Matt.
"Everything." She didn't elaborate further.
"Sam, do you regret where we've been?"
"Not exactly," she replied carefully. "I don't regret anything that has ever happened between us. I just wish it hadn't turned out the way it had. I don't see why it had to be me. I'm not strong enough for this!"
Matt squeezed her hand reassuringly. "You're stronger than you think," he said tenderly. "You haven't given up yet. You're still fighting."
"But I'm a wreck, Matt," argued Sam. "My life is in shambles, and I'm not who I used be! Everything is a confused mess. Sometimes I feel closer to God than I ever have in my life, and other times I hate what He's let happen to me."
Matt opened his mouth, but Sam cut across him. "Don't lecture me on how He loves his children. Don't tell me all I need to do is have faith and everything will be all right. I remember Primary; I remember Young Women's, but nothing they taught ever prepared me for this."
He didn't have anything to say to that, and they lapsed into another silence that stretched on. Sam closed her eyes and sighed. If not for the conversation, it would have been so easy to sit here and pretend everything was fine- that she wasn't being hunted by murdering drug lords. It would be so easy to convince herself that it was just her and Matt, as she had imagined it for so many years- that they were together as she had secretly dreamed of since her freshman year of high school.
Her eyes flew open, and she stood up abruptly, ripping her hand out of Matt's. He looked at her with something between curiosity and concern. "I'm sorry Matt. I need to go in." With that, she walked away as quickly as she could.
He sighed and leaned his elbows against his knees. It had been too much to hope that she would be content like that for very long. He had wanted it to last as long as possible, though, and he thought he was beginning to understand her more. It pained him to see her in so much pain, but there wasn't much he could do besides be there for her when moments like that arose. It was something she had to work out on her own. Hopefully, she'd come to terms with it before it consumed her.
Sam closed the door and slid to the floor, shaking. She had become too close to him again. He was in danger now. It's exactly what she had been afraid of. Why had she let him sit down next to her? Why had she talked to him so openly? She had said far too much.
She had to get out of there- and fast. She was not only putting Matt in danger by becoming so close again, but Aaron and Tracey were as well. Whoever was after her had too many resources. They had traced Matt's credit cards when they stopped for gas. That was the only explanation. How had they done it, though? And the answer came to her so suddenly she gasped. It couldn't wait any longer.
Matt walked down the stairs the next morning and into the kitchen. He was slightly surprised to see that Sam wasn't in there, but maybe she just had a rough night. An envelope was sitting on the table that had his name on it. The handwriting was very familiar, and he frowned. Why would Sam have left an envelope on the table for him? Dread filled his stomach as he opened it and started to read it contents.
I'm sorry about last night. I put you in terrible danger. It's time for me to leave. You and Aaron can't be safe while I'm around. Everything makes sense now, and they will find me if I stay. Don't worry about me. I'll be in touch in a couple of days just to assure you that I'm alright. It won't be any use trying to find me. My cell phone is off, and I'm pulling all the cash I have so I can fly under the radar. Plus, I've borrowed the car, so you're stuck for the time being.
I really was glad to get to see you again. Please try to move on. You deserve so much more than what I can give you. I want the best for you, and I can't give that to you with the life I lead. Tell Aaron thanks for me. He's a great guy. Also give Tracey my gratitude.
I'll be in touch.
P.S. Please keep the necklace. I haven't worn it for a while, but I always had it with me. Give it to whoever that special one is.
Matt stared at the letter in front of him. She had signed it with her real name. He carefully took the necklace out of the envelope and choked back a sob. It was the necklace he had given her for her last birthday they had celebrated together. It was a silver heart with a hint of blue that hung on a fine, silver chain.
His paralysis suddenly broke, and he bolted to the front door and ripped it open. Sure enough, the car Aaron had bought as their get away vehicle was not sitting in the driveway. He closed the door and rushed up the stairs to the room he was sharing with Aaron. He flung open the door and said loudly, "Aaron, she's gone! Sam took off!"
Aaron sat bolt upright. "What?"
"She took off!" said Matt. He handed Aaron the letter to let him read it.
He looked back up at his friend when he was done. "What are we going to do, Matt?"
"I don't know...I don't think there's anything we can do. She's left us trapped her so we can't help her," he said helplessly. He closed his eyes to stop the tears that he could feel burning in his eyes. "If anything happens to her..."
"It won't," said Aaron. "She's a survivor."
"But she's injured and alone, and there are a whole host of other things that could possibly happen. What if she gets in a car crash? What if the car breaks down? What if~"
"Matt, stop!" commanded Aaron, taking him firmly by the shoulders. "Listen to me! You have to stop that. You'll drive yourself insane. She's a fighter, and she can take care of herself. We are going to have to wait until she calls. She will call. She won't break a promise to you."
Matt trembled. He clutched the necklace that was still in his hand tightly. If anything happened to her, he'd never forgive himself.
He snarled in frustration. She wasn't at the cousin's house. It had been four days since the shooting, and there wasn't any sign of use from her credit card. They hadn't been able to pick up any kind of signal from her cell phone. The old boyfriend had stopped using his credit card. How was he supposed to track her now? He'd have to send people to the aunt's house. They wouldn't be there, but maybe the aunt knew just enough to clue him in but not enough to realize the threat he posed to the three young refugees. If that didn't turn up anything, he'd have to start calling in favors.
Sam pulled away from the small convenience store where she had stopped to buy just a few things. The food Aaron and Matt had bought before they left North Carolina had been depleted, and she had to restock. She was just an hour outside St. Louis. Once she got there, she's make a few calls, and then she'd reverse directions and head for Nebraska. That's where she planned to stop, at least for the night. It'd also give her time to think about what she'd do next.
She felt alone in the car and realized how much she had come to depend on Matt and Aaron being there. It was best this way, though. They were out of harm's way if she wasn't with them. She wished she could have said a proper good bye to Matt, but there hadn't been time. It was four in the morning when she left. She'd stopped only for gas and food.
The realization of who was after her had shocked her system so thoroughly that she was still trying to recover. It just didn't make any sense. She thought she could trust him. It explained a lot of things, though. She was now in a deadly game of hide and seek in the nation's heartland.
Matt was lying on the bed in the room Sam had occupied holding the necklace above his head and staring at it. He had locked himself in because he didn't want to listen to Aaron or Tracey tell him everything would be fine. He wouldn't believe that until the whole mess was over and Sam was safe, even if that meant they were separated again. It would hurt, but at least she'd be somewhere where no one could harm her.
Who was after her, though? She obviously knew, but she hadn't left any clues as to who it was. It was someone powerful; he knew that. That was the only way they could have been tracked.
"Matt, open the door!" Aaron's voice interrupted his thoughts.
He didn't respond. Maybe if he stayed silent Aaron would leave. "I know you're in there! The door is locked and you're not anywhere else in the house!" No such luck.
"What?" he snapped.
"Come down for lunch. You haven't eaten anything all day. Tracey made spaghetti and bread."
"I'm not hungry," replied Matt.
"I know you're not," said Aaron. "That's why you need to come down. You're too worried to be hungry, but you still need to eat."
Matt sighed and decided to appease his friend. He got up, put the necklace on the dresser, and left the room. The two boys had just sat down when the doorbell rang. Aaron stood back up and went to answer the door. There were two uniformed police officers standing on the thresh hold.
"Good afternoon. How can we help you?" Aaron asked warily. Matt stepped up behind him.
"We're sorry to disturb your afternoon," said the one on the left. "There was a missing person report filed a couple of days ago, and we're scouting the neighborhood to see if anyone has seen her." He produced a picture. "Her name is Samantha Morlon. Have you seen her anywhere?"
Aaron took the picture and glanced over his shoulder at Matt. There was a calm expression on his face, but the terror in his eyes was clear. They both pretended to study the picture, and then Aaron handed it back to the police. "Sorry. I don't think we've seen her."
The cops nodded. "Thank you." They walked away.
Aaron shut the door and turned to Matt. The terror in his eyes had finally transferred to his face. "Those guys weren't cops," he said quietly.
Matt nodded. "I know. Aaron, we've got to find her. They're looking for her! We can't just sit and do nothing!"
"I'd agree if we knew where she was or what she plans on doing!" said Aaron. "But seeing as how she up and left without a word, I don't know what we can do right now."
Matt's shoulders slumped. He knew his friend was right. They had to wait for her to call. "I'm going back up to the room." He didn't think he could keep anything down now. Sam was in more danger than perhaps even she knew.
Sam pulled out her cell phone and turned it on. It made her nervous to do it this way, but she had to throw them off her trail. They were on to her by now, for sure. First, she dialed the operator and asked for Officer James Payton with the Redwood City Police Department. "Officer Payton."
"James, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but this is~"
"Rebecca Zanick! I know your voice anywhere! Oh my word! What in the name of Heaven happened to you?"
"I don't have long to talk," said Sam. "The details are going to have to wait. I need to ask a favor."
"Can you contact someone at the FBI for me? I don't have any one person in mind, but I really would prefer if they were a member of my church. There are some things happening, and I need to get into contact with someone I can trust."
"Of course. How can we get into contact with you?" said James.
"I'll call you. My phone is going to be off again after I make one more call. Thank you so much! I'll call you in a few days."
"I'll be waiting for it, and please take care of yourself Rebecca."
"I will. Bye." She hung up and dialed one more number.
Matt nearly had a heart attack when his phone rang. He quickly grabbed it and checked the number. It was vaguely familiar- just enough so that he didn't waste any time answer it. "Sam?"
"Yes, Matt. It's me."
"I wasn't expecting a call from you for a few days."
"I didn't know when I'd get the chance."
"Where are you?" he demanded. "You scared the crap out of me when you took off like that! Why did you leave? We could have helped you!"
Sam didn't respond immediately. "You two are safe there. I don't want you in any more danger than you already are. You and Aaron have already helped me so much. I couldn't ask you to continue to jeopardize yourselves like that."
"You never asked anything of us!" insisted Matt. "We did it because we wanted to help you!" He was aware that she had avoided his first question, but something occurred to him. "Why are you using your cell phone? They can track you! Sam, there were two thugs here today. They're looking for you!"
"I know," Sam said quietly. "I'm using my phone so they'll come looking here. As soon as I hang up, I'm going to turn my phone off again and take off in a different direction. Once I get there, I'm just going to lay low for a couple of days. I asked James Payton to get me a contact at the FBI who I can trust."
Matt was getting frustrated. She was deliberately keeping him in the dark about her plan. "Sam, let me help you! Where are you going?!"
"I can't tell you that, Matt," she said. "I'm already taking a terrible risk and putting you in danger by calling you. I'll be in touch in a couple of days."
"Sam, wait!" He didn't want her to hang up. He desperately needed to know that she was alright. Before he could say anything more, however, she hung up, and he was left listening to the dial tone. He flipped the phone closed angrily and was tempted to throw it across the room. He couldn't take much more of this.
Aaron appeared at the door and said, "What's wrong?"
"Sam just called."
"Why didn't you tell me?" asked Aaron.
"I wasn't on the phone with her for more than two minutes," said Matt. He ran his hand through his hair.
Aaron sat on the bed next to him. "So what are we going to do?" he asked.
"There's nothing we can do!" Matt exploded. "She made sure that I have no idea where she is or where she is going! She doesn't want our help because she thinks that she's putting us in danger. She thinks this is all her fault!"
Aaron watched as Matt tried to control the myriad of emotions flooding through him. In the six months that they had known each other, Aaron had never seen him as emotional as he had in the last week. He wasn't a mind reader, but he could see how much Sam meant to him, and it was eating him up that there was nothing they could do to help. "Listen, Matt. You know her better than anyone. Where would she go? Where would she feel safe? Don't try to think logically about this. Think about how she's feeling. She wants somewhere safe. Where would that be?"
Matt stared out the window. The question wasn't where would she feel safe? It's where could she feel safe. Sam knew more than he did, and he knew enough to know that she wasn't going to stop until the threat was over. It was hard to tell how far she had gone because he had no idea when she had left. He closed his eyes. "I don't know, Aaron. I just don't know."
He was tired of waiting. Why hadn't the two idiots called yet? Surely it didn't take all day to find a little, old lady and get a yes or no out of her. The cover had been an easy one. If they managed to screw this up...
His phone interrupted his train of thought. "Yes?"
"Sir, there were two boys there who said they hadn't seen anything."
"Two boys? What did they look like?"
"Well, one was tall and broad. He had brown hair and hazel eyes." That had to be the old boyfriend. "The other one was slightly shorter than him and slim. He had green eyes and black hair."
"Those were her companions! She was probably there!"
"I don't think so, sir. I happen to see in through to the kitchen, and there were only three plates set. There was only one car in the driveway, which means the aunt was home."
He pondered it for a moment. "Ok. Report back here first thing tomorrow morning." He hung up. So the girl had given the boys the slip. That meant she was on her own. When he found her, she'd be a sitting duck. Then he could finally get her out of his way once and for all.
Rogers came in. "She used her cell phone earlier this afternoon. It was traced to St. Louis."
He grinned. Everything was falling into his lap. He had the girl, and she was all alone. "Thank you Rogers. You can go home tonight."
Yes. Everything was working perfectly. In the morning, he'd go to St. Louis, find her, and dispose of the fiery girl who had been a threat to his organization for the last two and a half years.
Thoughts were swirling around Matt's head as he lay in bed that night. Memories of his time with Rebecca kept streaming across his consciousness.
He saw her sitting in the room when he walked in. She was staring out the window and hadn't noticed him yet. When he took a step in, her head snapped in his direction. Her blue eyes stared into his hazel ones.
"Hi. I'm Matt. What's your name?"
She averted her eyes quickly before saying shyly, "Rebecca."
Jacob, his best friend, walked in at that moment. "Hey Matt, guess what? I got that game for my birthday!"
Rebecca quickly went back to looking out the window. He made a note to go talk to her after church. "Really? That's great..."
She was gone before he ever had a chance to talk to her again that day.
Rebecca tried to hide herself that night in the back. It didn't work very well.
"And we have a new Beehive tonight. Rebecca, do you want to stand up?"
He turned around as she stood up, and they all sang happy birthday to her. She had opened up in the last four years, but he could see that she was withdrawing into herself again in front of all of these new people.
‘Poor girl,' he thought. ‘It's her first activity and we're playing dodge ball.' She really had no idea what was coming at her.
Matt shook his head and tried to clear his mind, but the images kept coming.
"Please Matt? At least come and try it! You've never done it, so how do you know?" Rebecca pleaded.
He refused to look at her. She'd be giving him the look. He hated when she looked at him like that. If he looked at her now, he wouldn't be able to say no, and he'd be hung before he ever went out and tried to surf. It was some kind of crime in her mind that he was fifteen and never been surfing.
She framed his face with her hand and forced him to look at her. He had been right. She was giving him the look. "I promise it'll be a lot of fun. Please at least try it once? The worst thing that could happen is that you fall off and get wet!"
"Gee, thanks," he grumbled. His defenses were shattered, and he sighed. "Alright, fine. I'll try it, but when I fall off and decide I hate it, will you leave me alone about it?"
"Absolutely!" promised Rebecca. "But you don't need to worry about that because you'll love it!" She grabbed his hand and dragged him toward the beach shack where he could rent a board. Butterflies exploded in his stomach, but he pushed him aside.
‘What in the world was that?' he wondered.
He fidgeted on the swing while he waited for her. This could turn out great or horribly. She had agreed to come meet him here after school to talk. It'd been a year, and he had to know. If she felt the same (and he really wondered if she did), he'd be ecstatic, but they would have to have a long talk. If she didn't feel the same, well, they'd still have to have a long talk.
She appeared through the trail that led to her house and walked toward him. He glanced at her nervously once or twice. She sat down on the swing next to his as it started to drizzle. Neither one of them broke the silence. Finally, Rebecca said, "What did you want to talk about, Matt?"
He stood abruptly and said, "Let's go for a walk." She looked at him confused but followed him as he started down the path. He took a moment to gather his thoughts. "Rebecca, I, uh, have to be honest with you. We've known each other for seven years now, and, uh, well, I've- that is to say, I think that~"
Rebecca laughed. "Just spit it out, won't you?" she asked teasingly
He felt his face flush slightly. "Well, you've been my best friend for a long time, and recently, I've, uh...oh! Rebecca, I love you!" There- he'd said it. Now the ball was in her court.
She was quiet for a long time. He was starting to think that she was trying to find a way to break the bad news to him when she started talking quietly. "You don't know how long I've wanted to hear you say that. I was starting to wonder if you felt the same as I did." She looked up at him and smiled. "Because I love you, too."
Matt smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. That memory was bitter sweet to him. The rain had continued to fall as they had discussed where to go from there. Remaining friends instead of the alternative had been the best option. Plus, she was still too young to think about dating. Another memory flashed before his eyes before he could stop it.
She finally caught her breath and stopped laughing. There were tears falling down her face that she wiped away. He had just told her about his worst family vacation, and she apparently thought it was hilarious. "Well what about you, then?"
"Easily the family road trip to Illinois," Rebecca said without hesitation. "Ricky and Kenny wouldn't stop arguing over the stupidest things the entire time. It drove me crazy while we were driving through Nebraska because there was nothing out the window to distract me. It was just a bunch of straight roads and cornfields! We did stop at Winter Quarters to see the visitor center and cemetery by the temple before we went into Iowa, though. That was really nice. If ever there's a place to get lost at, though, it's Nebraska. It's probably just a bunch of farmers and red necks that'd be too drunk to remember anything even if they did see you. I think it'd be fun to go play hide and seek in those cornfields, though."
Matt sat bolt upright in the bed. ‘Where would she feel safe?' ‘Winter Quarters Temple...visitor center and cemetery. If ever there's a place to get lost at, though, it's Nebraska.' That had to be his answer! She was going to Winter Quarters, Nebraska.
He jumped out of bed and ran to the room Aaron was staying in. "Aaron! Aaron, get up! We're leaving!"
Aaron leapt in surprise. "Where are we going?"
"I know where she is!" he said triumphantly. "Get up!"
"Dude, slow down! Where is she?" asked Aaron.
"She's going to Winter Quarters, if she isn't already there. Come on. If we leave now, we may get there before she takes off again!"
"Matt, how are we going to get there? She took the car."
He felt the energy and excitement drain out of him. That fact had escaped him in his frenzy. He felt helpless and lost again.
"You can take my car."
Matt turned around to see Tracey standing behind him. "What?"
"Take my car," she repeated. "It's not quite as nice as the one you bought, but it'll get you there. It's about a six and a half hour drive, so if you leave early in the morning~"
"No. We have to leave now, or we're going to miss her," insisted Matt.
"But how are you guys going to make it? You'll be driving all through the night!" said Tracey.
"An energy drink or two and lots of prayers," said Matt. Aaron looked dubious. "Look, if you don't want to go, you don't have to, but I'm going just as soon as I can get everything gathered together." He walked out of the room down the hall. Tracey and Aaron shared a look before he got busy tackling packing so he could be ready when Matt shoved him out the door.
They were ready to go ten minutes later. Aaron hugged his aunt. "Thanks Tracey. We really would have been lost without you."
Matt nodded his gratitude. "Thank you."
Tracey smiled and hugged Matt. "It was no problem. Go find her and take her home."
"We will." He would or die trying.
It didn't add up. St. Louis was too obvious a place to stay. She was trying to throw him off her trail. Where would she go? The heart of the Midwest was an obvious choice. Kansas and Nebraska were within her reach, but would she follow that path?
Something buzzed in the back of him mind about Nebraska. What was it? It didn't have anything to do with the fact that Nebraska was just a vast, flat nothing. There was something else. He frowned. She was a Mormon. What significance would Nebraska hold for a Mormon?
Not that she had been active in her church for a long time, even after her records had been switched. He was actually glad that she had stopped going because it made her circle of acquaintances smaller. Less people would notice when she was gone.
If he remembered correctly, the Mormons had been chased out of several places back in the 1800's. Illinois had been the last place. They had crossed the plains and made it to Salt Lake Valley. Nebraska was just a flat, open field at that time. There should not have been any significance to it.
He pulled up the Internet on his laptop and started searching for his answer. It took a while because he didn't know exactly what he was looking for. Then at last he found it- Winter Quarters. It had been a winter campsite of sorts for those people. Now there was a temple. It was a small one, to be sure, but he didn't think that the size was what mattered. What had he read about the Mormon temple? There was something about them. He grimaced as the fact came back to him. They revered the place as a house of God.
A smile suddenly spread across his face. That was his answer. She was going to Winter Quarters, Nebraska. She might already be there. All he had to do was get there. Hopefully the boyfriend wouldn't be on to her yet. He stood up and walked out of the room. He needed to pack because he was catching the next flight to Des Moines. After that, it was on to Nebraska. Then this whole ordeal could be taken care of, and there would be no one to threaten his organization.
Sam was bored out of her mind for the next two days. She didn't really have anything to do and didn't want to leave her room and expose herself. Daytime soap operas got old after a while, even if she did sit there and make fun of them.
Six days had elapsed since the shooting. It seemed like a distant dream, but the threat was real. She had to get in contact with someone from the FBI soon, or things were going to blow up in her face. He could be on to her by now. The phone decoy in St. Louis would only work for so long. She stared at the phone for a second and then dialed an operator, asked for Officer Payton, and waited.
When he came on the line, she said, "James, it's Rebecca. Do you have an agent I can talk to yet?"
"Yes, I do. He's been waiting for your call. I can transfer you over."
"That'd be great. Thanks!" She heard static as the line switched over.
"Hello?" His voice was deep and mellow. "Is this Rebecca Zanick?"
"Yes. It is." She didn't want to offer more than that yet.
"I'm Special Agent Venderburg. Officer Payton called and said you needed someone in the FBI who is LDS. He told me a little about your situation but not much. I need to know some things about what's been going on."
"Ok. Before I answer, though, I need you to prove that you truly are LDS, if nothing else. What is Nephi's response to his father when asked to return to get the Gold Plates?" Agent Venderburg recited the scripture from 1 Nephi and gave the reference. She sighed in relief and felt some of the tension leave her shoulders. Finally, someone she could talk to who was trained to handle situations like this. "Thank you. I had to be sure.
"My real name is Rebecca Zanick. It was changed to Samantha Morlon when I entered Witness Protection two and a half years ago." She continued to tell Venderburg about what had happened in the last two weeks. "I left Matt and Aaron in Oklahoma with Aaron's aunt two days ago. I stopped in St. Louis to throw my pursuers off my trail."
"Where are you, exactly?" asked Venderburg.
"Are you sure this line is secure?" she asked. He didn't respond right away, but she did hear him say something to someone else.
When he came back, he said, "Yes. The line is secure."
"I'm in Omaha, Nebraska. It seemed like a good place to lose the threat. I don't know how long I can stay here, though."
"Listen Sam, I need you to stay where you are. I can't find you if you go gallivanting all over the country again. Do you know who you're running from?"
Matt tapped on the steering wheel impatiently. The drive had not gone as he wanted it to. They had been slowed down by construction, detours, and weather. They were stuck on the high way in the middle of a storm that reduced visibility to almost nothing and had taken refuge beneath an underpass. They were just south of the Missouri-Iowa border.
Aaron glared at Matt. "Would you stop that? It's driving me up a wall!"
"Sorry if I'm a little uptight!" snapped Matt. "We've been sitting here for forty-five minutes and losing time!" He wasn't usually the type to lash out, but worry for Sam was pushing him over the edge.
"Listen, I know you're concerned, but you need to get yourself together. It won't do you any good to lose your head now," said Aaron.
Matt was silent. He seemed to be debating something. Without warning, he turned the key in the ignition and shifted the car into gear.
"What are you doing?" Aaron demanded.
"There won't be anyone on the road. We've got to beat this storm. Hopefully it'll let up soon."
"Matt, you're going to get us killed!"
He ignored Aaron and started driving. They were only a few hours away. If he could make it through the storm and Iowa, he could go find her and make sure she was safe.
Andy Vanderburg sat in the aisle seat of the plane, but he still couldn't get comfortable. The seats just weren't made for tall people like him. All he had with him was a small backpack hat he had stowed in the overhead compartment. He was reading the police reports that James Payton had given him before he left concerning Rebecca Zanick, or Samantha Morlon, as she was called now, surprised to find he already was aware of some things that had happened. He knew about the Dragons. The FBI had put in on notice that he may have to go out to California to work the case because he had been in narcotics. It had turned out that he hadn't needed to go, but he wished now that he had been assigned to the case. This whole mess could have been prevented. He only hoped that when he met Sam, he'd be able to help her and set everything right.
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