Chapter no 25

Five Survive

The song continued, saxophone screeching up and down.

“Bugged?” Reyna repeated. Oliver signaled for her to lower her voice, to hide it under the music. “Like with a microphone?”

“How else could he know everything he seems to know?” Oliver replied. “When would he have bugged the RV?” Reyna returned, just as the

chorus did, and Red had to strain to hear. “We haven’t left it unattended.” “Maybe when we were changing the first tire?” Simon spoke with the

music. “We were all out there, on the other side to the door. Red and Arthur were off somewhere. He could have snuck in then?”

Oliver shook his head. “Not when we were jacking up the RV. We would have felt it.”

“When, then?” Reyna asked. “When we stopped for lunch, for dinner at the rest stop? But we double-checked it was locked.”

“Maybe even before that,” Oliver said. “Maybe before today. You heard him; they planned for everything, they’ve been planning this awhile. Maybe he planted the bug before Simon even borrowed the RV. Maybe it’s something to do with your uncle.” Oliver looked at Simon as he said that, a shadow of suspicion in his eyes. Simon sniffed. “Or maybe it’s in the stuff we

brought onto the RV. In our bags. We need to search everywhere, find it, so we can get our advantage back.”

His eyes flashed as the song drew to an end, rallying them all. He dragged the cursor back and restarted the song.

“We’ll have to turn the music off so he doesn’t get suspicious, but no one mention what we’re doing. Just speak normally. Okay?”

Yes, sir, right away, sir. Red blinked. It seemed Oliver had already forgotten that two people just died less than fifteen minutes ago, bleeding out on the road out there, blooms of red around their once-heads. He was already on to the next thing. Moves and countermoves. Sniper takes a turn, then them. Win-win solutions, as Catherine Lavoy would say, but so far they’d won nothing. It seemed Oliver wanted to avoid the other solution, the most obvious one: finding the secret that the voice on the walkie-talkie wanted. It wasn’t Red’s he was after, couldn’t be. But now Red was starting to doubt herself, dark thoughts slipping in through the gaps, through holes in her head. Was she doing the exact same thing as Oliver, as the rest of them too, maybe, clinging to her secret because she didn’t want to lose it? She needed the plan. Needed it. Oliver Lavoy didn’t need anything, he already had it all.

“Red, you keep cycling up through those radio channels while you look.

Okay, let’s do this.”

Oliver paused the music, holding his finger to his lips, making sure they all saw. He pointed to himself and Reyna, and then to the back bedroom and the bunks. Red he pointed into the kitchen. Simon the bathroom. Arthur right here at the dining table and sofa bed. Maddy up front in the cockpit. They nodded and dispersed.

Red went to the refrigerator first, pulling it open, pressing her body close to the cool air that seeped out of it. The RV was growing warm and sticky, no air passing through, too many bodies, too much movement, too much fear, and dread and guilt. When would Red’s heart stop beating so hard? It couldn’t keep this up. It didn’t want her to forget—did it?—that Don and Joyce were dead outside. She could have done more. She should have done more. She knew that would happen and she let it. The second time she’d listened to

Oliver, chose him, and when would she learn? No time soon, apparently, because she was doing what he told her to right now.

Red moved aside a six-pack of beer, unopened, checking behind it. Cheese slices, salami, butter, beer, oat milk, wine coolers, chocolate. Nothing out of the ordinary. Not that Red knew what a bug looked like anyway, some small black microphone thing, right? Well, there was nothing like that in here. She closed the refrigerator door and turned to the counter, placing the walkie-talkie on top.

Red pulled open the bottom drawer and searched through the saucepans and frying pans, opening each lid and checking inside. Running her fingers into each corner of the drawer to be sure.

Next drawer up, pulling out the stacks of plates and bowls, placing them on the counter and separating each one, the porcelain scraping together, the sound grinding in the bones of her jaw. Nothing there either. Only five sets of each, but there were six of them here.

Top drawer, cutlery. Red picked through the knives, forks and spoons, checking beneath the cutlery holder too. Nothing. An empty space for the sharp kitchen knife that was now sitting on the dining table. Red looked; Arthur was underneath the table, only the bottoms of his shoes visible, sticking out the end.

Nothing around the faucet or the plug in the sink. Red wanted to wash the drying sweat off her face, but maybe that would be a waste of water. How much did they have in that tank below? And how long would the generator keep running? She couldn’t remember those numbers, but thirty-one feet was burned into her brain, cropping up when she didn’t need it, like right this second.

The high-up cupboard with the glasses. Red stood on tiptoes, pushing them carefully aside to see in, but she didn’t really need to. She could see through the rows of glass; nothing black or bug-like in here.

She sidestepped to the oven, swinging the door open. They probably would never have used it on the trip. What could you make using cheese, salami, beer, chocolate and oat milk anyway? Nothing good. She needed to stop thinking about food. She was hungry in the slow comedown from the

adrenaline. Scratch that, she’d been hungry before, hadn’t she? Or maybe that yawning feeling in her gut meant something else entirely.

“Red?” Arthur’s voice interrupted the thought; he was standing behind her. She straightened up and turned.

His eyes were drawn and sad behind his glasses, lashes long and downcast.

He didn’t say anything, just raised his eyes to meet hers and then raised one hand.

There, on the back of his hand, written in that same black felt-tip pen against his tan skin, were the words: YOU OK?

Beside them were two options. YES with a square checkbox drawn next to

it, riding up one knuckle. And below that, NO, with an empty box.

Arthur gave her the pen, pressing it into her hand, fingers warm against hers as they lingered there. Something passed between their eyes. Red held up the pen, uncapped it. She was always fine, when people asked. Of course she was fine, thanks, yes, she and Dad were doing just great, thank you. Fine, okay, fine. An elaborate lie squeezed into those two tiny words, the greatest gifts to a liar like her. No one asked for more detail if you were fine. But Arthur, he was really asking, she could tell. And so Red really answered.

She reached out and held his hand steady, gripped the pen and drew a

check mark in the box next to NO. She wasn’t okay. And maybe Arthur wasn’t either. He hadn’t forgotten that they just watched two people die twenty minutes ago. Joyce and Don were somebody’s someone. Each other’s. They had a daughter, a grandchild. But it was the daughter who stayed in Red’s mind, between thirty-one feet and the unknown pattern in the curtains. A daughter like her.

“You did everything you could,” Arthur said, the marked hand dropping to his side, matching the to-do lists on hers. “You tried to stop it.”

No she hadn’t, not really. She could have done more. Red shrugged, staring down at the checkbox on Arthur’s hand. He’d dropped her hand when Don and Joyce were killed. They were holding hands and then they weren’t, and Red couldn’t remember the changeover. Maybe if he hadn’t dropped her hand, they wouldn’t have died, which was a stupid thought but Red had it

anyway. Sometimes those small, inconsequential things mattered, like hanging up a phone.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Arthur said.

But didn’t he know? Everything was. All of this.

“I need to pee,” Red said, only becoming true as she said it.

It was Arthur’s turn to shrug now, a wounded look crossing his eyes. She always did that, didn’t she? Whenever he got too close, whenever it got too real. But now she really did need to go.

Red scooped up the walkie-talkie and stepped toward the bathroom door, which Simon had left wide open. She paused as, right then, Oliver and Reyna reemerged from the bedroom. Reyna’s eyes shifted, rubbed red, and Red wondered whether they’d been fighting in there, in whispers so the others couldn’t hear. How bad could their secret be? Worse than hers? And what about Simon? He was being a little too quiet, wasn’t he? Or was that only because he thought the sniper was listening? And, now Red was thinking, Maddy hadn’t come over to speak to her in a while, only Arthur.

Oliver clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. “Anything?” he mouthed, lips and teeth moving in oversized strokes.

Red shook her head, saw the others doing the same, a thumbs-down from Simon. Maddy returned to her search of the glove compartment. Arthur was finishing up the kitchen for Red, opening the door to the microwave and checking inside.

Red pressed the button on the walkie-talkie, skipping up through channels four and five, swapping one empty static for another, so Oliver could see she was doing her job.

He wasn’t paying attention, though, glowering up at the ceiling.

“Light fittings?” he hissed, mouth overperforming the words again. “Arthur, help me. And can you pass that headlamp?” Oliver’s voice had returned to normal levels; clearly he thought the request was obscure enough if anyone was listening.

They didn’t need her. Red walked through the bathroom door, bringing the static with her, and shut the door, flicking the lock across. Should she have asked Oliver first? No, she didn’t need permission to pee, fuck him.

She placed the walkie-talkie down on the side of the sink, hissing from channel nine, and fiddled with the button on her jeans. Her fingers were too warm and rubbery.

“Simon, hit the lights,” Oliver called.

A moment later, the bathroom was swallowed by darkness. Did they really have to turn her lights off too? Red pulled down her jeans and underwear, feeling blindly for the toilet behind her. She found it and sat down.

“Where’s that mop bucket?” Oliver’s voice sailed through the gaps under the door. “I need something to stand on.”

Well, now she couldn’t go, with them all right out there. Red scrabbled through the darkness for the faucet, turning it on so the others couldn’t hear her pee.

There was grunting outside, a twisting sound of metal grooves.

“Nothing. Next,” Oliver said. The sound of the bucket dropping down somewhere else. “Reyna, you have a quick look in Maddy’s bag. Check the pockets.”

Red’s stuff was in there too. But she would have seen if there was a microphone hidden in her things, when she emptied everything out and gutted the bag. If there even was a microphone anywhere to be found. It was starting to look doubtful. Why was Oliver so certain? The sniper had known about the note. It could have been a lucky guess, seeing Oliver shake Don’s hand. But had he even seen that from his position, with the back of Don’s jacket blocking his view? And he didn’t just know there was a note, he also knew that it was asking them to call the police, he said it like a definite, and that was a guess too far, wasn’t it? It had all been so fast.

Red scrabbled in the darkness for the toilet paper, ripping some free and folding it up.

“Next,” Oliver said, the plunk of the bucket again.

She stood, pulling her underwear up and fastening her jeans. She flushed and dipped her hands under the cold running water, flicking the faucet off and wiping her wet hands down her legs.

Red stepped forward in the pitch-black, stubbing her toe on the corner of the shower as she searched for the door.

She unlocked it and walked out, closing the door behind her.

The darkness was easier to navigate out here, spoiled by a beam of light attached to Oliver’s head as he studied the lights under the kitchen cabinets, removing one of their casings and shaking his head. Simon held the flashlight, and Arthur had the one on his phone.

“Nothing,” Oliver said, backing away. “Okay, you can turn the lights back on.”

Red was closest, free hands. She flicked up the switches and the inside of the RV reappeared. Maddy was still up front, knees on the driver’s seat, eyes level with the glove compartment. Reyna was standing on the sofa putting Maddy’s case back, checking the cupboard around it with the flat of her hand.

“Anything?” Oliver repeated, saying it out loud this time. A low rumble of “No,” from Red, Arthur and Reyna.

No bug.

“I don’t get it,” Oliver said, dropping down on the closest booth. “There must be.”

“We’ve literally ransacked the entire RV,” Simon said. Oliver shushed him.

“What?” Simon doubled down. “There’s nothing. We’ve checked.” “Maddy?” Oliver called to the front, where Maddy was clutching

something in her hands, a small rectangular piece of paper, eyes narrowed and thinking as they flicked across it. “What have you got there?”

“Well, not what we were looking for,” she answered, holding it up. It was a photograph.

She brought it over, holding it out for the others. There was a family of five pictured there, huddled together on green summer grass, arms looping in and out of each other’s, a golden retriever mid–tail wag. The man had gray hair and a bright smile, and his wife and three daughters looked near identical with matching burnt-auburn hair, the same person in four different stages of life, only changed by time.

“This isn’t your uncle, is it?” she asked Simon. “I thought he didn’t have a family, though. You said he was a loner.”

Simon took the photograph, a muscle working in his cheek as he chewed his tongue. “No, that’s not him. He’s not married, no kids.”

Maddy’s face scrunched, the look in her eyes replaced with something new, something uneasy. An edge to her voice as she asked: “So why does your uncle have a photo of someone else’s family in the glove compartment?”

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