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Chapter no 16

Five Survive

Escape was a strange word, wasn’t it? One of those ones that tripped Red up. Funny like resource but not in the same way. A word that, if you thought it too much, grew spiky and nonsensical in your head. Please someone say something else. Escape. Eeescape. ESCAPÉ.

“Just to float an alternative,” Simon said from the sofa, his head bouncing back against the mattress. Thank you, Simon. “Why don’t we just wait this whole thing out, here in the RV? Look, sunrise must be at about six a.m., right? And when it’s light, the sniper loses his advantage, because we’ll be able to see where he is. Then we can escape”—there it was again—“and because it’s morning we’re more likely to be able to flag down help.” He sat back, hands raised as though his plan were there, sitting on top of them, held out like an offering.

“My mom will give up the name before sunrise.” Oliver shook his head, dismissing the plan.

“And the witness will be killed,” Maddy said, a grim set to her jaw. “Mom would be responsible for someone dying.”

Someone dying. Red’s chest tightened again.

“Right.” Simon nodded, raising his hands and the plan even higher. “And that’s very sad for the witness, of course. Poor guy. But it’s not really our

fault. And I’d prefer the six of us to survive. We’re safest in the RV. I mean, come on.” Simon glanced around. “Arthur? Red?” he said, looking for agreement in their eyes.

But Red didn’t agree, she couldn’t. She looked down. “I think we should do what Oliver says,” she answered, keeping her voice flat. What other choice was there? Oliver was in charge: the natural leader, the highest value. This was about surviving, and this RV wasn’t safe, no matter how hard they pretended.

Simon dropped his hands, a flicker of betrayal in his eyes as he shot them at Red. He shrugged it off and returned to his beer.

“Majority rules.” Oliver clapped his hands, returning to business. “Let’s start thinking about how we can escape, then.”

ÉSCÄPÈ.

“Or get help,” Maddy added.

Arthur sighed, removing his glasses to wipe them against his sweatshirt. “Both seem pretty impossible right now. No cell service. No one around. A rifle. And we don’t know where he is, out there in the darkness.” A pause. “He has all the cards.”

Oliver exhaled, conceding the point, and Red bet he didn’t like being someone without any cards. Cards. Pokémon cards? Was that the pattern in the curtains? If she thought about that, then she couldn’t think about anything worse, like what was happening here.

The static filled the room again, in the absence of voices, and Oliver glanced down at the walkie-talkie.

“Maybe he doesn’t have all the cards,” he said, scooping the walkie-talkie

up, cradling it between his hands like it was spun from glass. “We have this. He’s overlooked something here. He’s given us a communication device!” His voice picked up speed, mouth trying to keep up, as was Red. “Can’t we use this to contact someone? Walkie-talkies don’t need cell service, I mean, clearly. And don’t emergency services use walkie-talkies, anyway? Can’t we somehow connect this to the police radio and ask for help?”

“Can’t believe we didn’t think of that sooner.” Simon sat forward. “That’s a plan I can get on board with.”

It didn’t work like that. None of it worked like that.

“How would we…” Oliver trailed off, studying the LCD display.

“What’s wrong, Red?” Arthur had been watching her, he must have read it in her eyes. She thought she was better at keeping a straight face; she’d had enough practice.

“I’m sorry,” she began, looking at Maddy instead of Oliver, the softer of the Lavoys. “Two-way radios don’t work like that. Radio frequencies are regulated. Emergency services, like the police, have their own frequencies specifically so they don’t get interference from other signals, like you’re suggesting.”

“Right, I know,” Oliver said. Had he, though? “But, in an emergency, can’t we make it do that?”

There was a simple answer to that, the one Oliver didn’t want to hear. But he was asking, so: “No,” she said, looking away from him as she did, so his eyes didn’t bully a different response out of her. “No, it’s not physically possible to make this radio transmit on the emergency frequencies that police use.”

“Fuck” was Oliver’s simple answer in return.

“How do you know?” Reyna turned to Red, but Oliver answered for her: “Her mom was a cop.”

And that was still hurt. It always did. But that wasn’t why she knew so

much about walkie-talkies. Well, not directly. Her mom was a cop, but so was Red when they played that game together. And that was how she knew. Four days after the funeral, Red found a box in the attic, a box of her mom’s old stuff. And there, nestled between old jackets and shoes, were the walkie-talkies. A piece of masking tape across the back of each, one with MOM, one with RED. She hadn’t been looking for them, not really, just looking to look, to preserve her mom for another day, and then another. Red left her own walkie-talkie there, took the one labeled MOM down to her room. She stole a screwdriver from her dad—he was already mostly lost by then, but he could still pretend to function, still went to work—and, in the quiet of her room past midnight, she took apart the walkie-talkie. Piece by piece, wire by wire, but she never did find her mom’s voice hiding inside.

“It’s probably an FRS radio,” she said, approaching Oliver, holding her hand out, waiting for him to let it go. He placed it in her hand, and she felt the familiar weight of the device. She knew it, inside and out.

“FRS?” Oliver said, not stepping back, like he couldn’t be too far from the walkie-talkie, couldn’t trust her to even hold it.

“Family Radio Service,” she said. “It’s the radio frequencies most amateur devices like this use. If I remember right”—and she did remember right, how could she ever forget this—“it has twenty-two channels.” She knew more than that, that those twenty-two channels were found somewhere between 462 and 467 megahertz, and that the speaker also functioned as the microphone, built from the same bones: a magnet, a coil of wire, a cone made of plastic. She’d learned all that, putting Mom’s walkie-talkie back together again, until it turned on and hissed at her. For days that was all she did, took it apart, rebuilt it, did it again on her mom’s birthday the year after, and the one after that. You couldn’t do that with dead moms, though, rebuild them. They stayed gone.

“So, we can’t use it to contact anyone else?” Oliver asked, still standing too close.

Red stepped back if he wasn’t going to. “Yes, we could,” she said, and the light returned to Oliver’s eyes. “In theory, if someone else is using another two-way radio on the same frequency channel within range, we would be able to talk to them. The sniper is using channel three.”

Red and her mom always used number six, for some reason. It was lucky, at least until it wasn’t anymore.

“What’s the range?” Reyna asked, studying Red as though she couldn’t wait for the answer.

Red sighed, unable to give them what they wanted. “It’s not great with something like this,” she said. “It depends on the terrain, the weather, how many trees and buildings are in the way, but…” She thought about it. “A couple of miles, maybe. A few at most.”

Red and her mom once picked up interference from a wedding planner barking orders down her end. Must have been someplace close. The groom

had been late, apparently, but Red pretended it was a surveillance mission and they took notes. Laughing. The kind of laugh that hurt during and after.

“Oh,” Reyna said in response. No, it wasn’t good news, not for them. They were in the middle of nowhere, a range of three miles still left them pretty much in nowhere. But there were houses and farms within all that nowhere.

Reyna pulled out her phone to check the time. “It’s almost one a.m.,” she said, deflating. “I guess it’s unlikely anyone will be out using a walkie-talkie.”

Silent agreement from the rest of them, the walkie-talkie laughing at them from Red’s hands.

“Unlikely, but they might?” Red said. “Or someone might have a baby monitor on in range. We could keep cycling through the channels, see if we pick up any interference?”

Red hadn’t found her mom’s voice on channel six, or any of the others she’d tried. But it was harder when the person you were looking for wasn’t alive.

“Yes.” Oliver snapped his fingers at her, a smile cracking his face. “This is what I’m talking about! Some initiative. Okay, Red, you’re in charge of the walkie-talkie. You cycle through the channels, but make sure you always return to three, every couple of minutes or so. In case we miss the sniper trying to talk to us. We don’t want him to know what we’re up to.”

Red glowed, despite herself, nodding as she accepted the order from Oliver. Was she useful? What a plot twist that was. A smile from Maddy too, full house. Red bet Arthur was secretly impressed as well; look at her, knowing stuff.

Right, focus. There was a man with a rifle outside, and Red was trying to be useful. She wouldn’t want to die, not like that. Although she supposed it wouldn’t take two shots to the back of the head this time. Just the one, just anywhere. Red pressed the menu button and then the + on the right, switching to channel four instead and the empty static there. She could pretend the tone of the static changed each time, a different swirl of sound, like a new song. But it didn’t, it sounded the same. An empty hiss. Up to five now, then six. Red waited longer there, just in case.

“Okay,” Oliver said, looking around at the group. He stepped over to the sofa and, in one quick motion, removed the beer bottle from Simon’s hand, walking it over to the kitchen counter. “So Red is on part one of the plan; trying to get outside help. But we need part two. An escape plan.”

ÊŚĊĄPË.

Stop that. Up to channel eight now. Should she go back to three and make sure the sniper wasn’t trying to talk to them?

“Like our mom always says.” Oliver turned to Maddy. “A plan must have two parts, and you have to make sure either way plays out in your favor.”

“That’s win-win,” Maddy said, completing it for him.

Yes, Catherine Lavoy always had a plan, Red knew that. Birthday presents and reserves. Two different flavors of ice cream. Red herself preferred the lose-lose system: no plan at all and no backups. She pressed the down button back to three to check for the sniper’s voice. Nothing. Back up to eleven. Click, static, click.

“And what is the plan?” Simon said, his words more slurred now, but Red couldn’t tell if he was putting it on to irritate Oliver. “You’re the leader, the most high-value person here. What is your brilliant plan to escape the active shooter out there in the pitch-black who can see us but we can’t see him?”

Oliver’s jaw snapped open, hanging ajar as his eyes spooled in his head again, working loose.

“That’s it,” he laughed, slapping one hand against his hip. “That’s his only advantage, that we don’t know where he is.”

“I’d say his advantage is the giant fucking rifle with the laser sight,” Simon muttered.

Oliver didn’t hear him, or didn’t listen. “That’s the plan, that’s all we have to do. Work out exactly where he is out there. Find the sniper.”

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