Chapter no 26

Five Survive

Simon passed the photograph of the happy red-haired family back, not taking a second look.

“I don’t know,” he said, voice spiking higher, betraying him. He was supposed to be a better liar than that.

“Simon?” Maddy asked.

“I don’t know,” Simon repeated. “Do you know all the stuff your weird uncle gets up to?”

“We don’t have a weird uncle,” she snapped back. “Is he, like, a stalker, or something?”

“No,” Simon said, though he hadn’t leaned into the word like he fully believed it. “No, no, no. Look, I’m sure the RV is just secondhand. Maybe he bought it from that family and neither of them ever cleared out the glove compartment.”

“That makes sense,” Maddy conceded. “So why are you being weird about


“I’m not being weird.” “Yes you are.” “Maddy,” Red warned. “Simon.” So did Arthur.

“It’s nothing, really.” Simon wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, droplets of sweat by his temples. “Just…well, my uncle owns a used-car dealership, right? That’s why he had an RV we could use. But, and you know, this is not as bad as it’s going to sound…” Simon trailed off, clearing his throat. “What I mean is, I’m not sure his business is strictly legal, if you catch my—”

“Stolen?” Oliver barked suddenly. “Your uncle sells stolen cars?” “Maybe.” Simon held his hands up in surrender, taking a step back. “Maybe?” Oliver demanded.

“Well, n-no, definitely, actually,” Simon stammered. “I know because I, well, I helped him once. Couple of times. Few times. Run some scams. Apparently I have a trustworthy face. Good liar when I need to be. Acting is just lying, after all, isn’t it?”

Maddy gasped. “Simon, you’ve stolen cars?”

“No.” He shook his head, pointing his index fingers at her. “I’ve helped.

There’s a difference.”

“Why would you do that?” Maddy stared him down, breathing hard. “Oh come on, why d’you think?” Simon retorted. “I needed the money.” “Why?” Maddy pressed. “Your parents have money.”

“Well, they aren’t Lavoy-loaded,” Simon said. “I know you never have to think about stuff like this, because your mom thinks the sun shines out of your ass and would support you whatever you wanted to do. But my situation is different. I need the money, in case I want to take a year off and apply to drama schools next year and my parents freak out and refuse to pay for it. I haven’t told them yet, I haven’t decided yet. It’s not that big a deal, really. Just think of it as practice for my first big acting gig. My uncle’s been in prison a couple of times, but that was ages ago and he’s actually a pretty nice guy. Not everything is stolen, some’s legit.”

“Wait, wait, wait, forget all that.” Oliver stood up, swung his legs out. “Are you saying there’s a possibility that this RV was stolen?”

Simon swallowed. “There is a small possibility, yes.” “Fuck!” Oliver smashed his fist down on the table.

“But he didn’t say it was when I asked to borrow it, I’m sure he would have told me. He made it all sound legit, said we could use it for free, no charge, before he sold it on,” Simon said. “Showed me all the features.”

Thirty-one feet long, Red thought.

“You’re telling me there’s a chance I’ve been driving across state lines in a stolen vehicle?” Oliver rounded on Simon. “Do you know how bad that is for someone like me?” He bared his teeth. “For me and Maddy, considering who our mom is?”

We didn’t steal it,” Simon said desperately.

“That’s not the point!” Oliver replied. “I thought you said you didn’t have any secrets before. This is a pretty fucking big one, Simon. Jesus Christ.”

Maddy stepped in front of her brother, asking, “Why would your parents let us use this RV if they know what he does?”

“They didn’t, obviously,” Simon answered. “They don’t know I got it from him. My mom doesn’t even like her brother, doesn’t know I sometimes go see him. They think we’re renting it from a company, that you organized it.”


“What, it’s not my fault, Maddy!” He turned his eyes on her. “It was your idea in the first place. You’re the one who told me we had to keep everything as cheap as possible so that Red could come!”

It was strange, hearing her name like that, forgetting that it belonged to her, that it wasn’t just a misplaced splash of color. A second later, Simon’s words punched her in the gut, winding her, gnawing at her chest. Keep everything as cheap as possible so that Red could come. Her fault again. Simon and Maddy, talking about her behind her back, making Red their problem to solve. And why did it hurt so much that they all knew? Little Red Kenny, poor as dirt and a dead mom, but she had potential, hadn’t you heard? Everyone was looking at her now, everyone but Arthur. Red’s eyes glazed but she blinked the tears back, forcing her eyes open and closed. Don’t you dare, don’t you fucking dare. She didn’t need their pity, she had her plan.

“I’m sorry, Red,” Simon said, his voice softening. “I didn’t mean…”

But he did mean, and that was okay. She was fine. She smiled, waved her hand in front of her face. But she didn’t look at Maddy. That betrayal was

worse, somehow. No, that wasn’t fair. Maddy cared, that was all. Maddy looked after her, looked out for her. Maddy cared.

“And I’m sorry about the RV,” Simon continued, looking around at the others. “Look, it probably isn’t stolen, I dunno. But whether it is or not, it doesn’t really matter now. I don’t think someone is threatening to shoot us all over a stolen RV. Killing that innocent couple out there.” He stepped forward, pressing one finger into the photo in Maddy’s hand, over the man’s face. “I don’t think that’s jolly ol’ sniper number one and jolly ol’ sniper two.” He moved to the woman’s face, her auburn hair framing his fingernail. “Husband-and-wife murder team, I don’t think so. It’s not about the RV, is it? Why we’re here.”

He finished, breath heavy in his chest, shoulders moving in time with it. He was avoiding Red’s eyes, though, wasn’t he? At least he finally seemed to have sobered up. Enough.

“No,” Oliver said, dropping back down to the booth, rubbing the hand that had punched the table. “But it could be something to do with your uncle. A business thing. Some people he pissed off. Or you pissed off.”

Simon shook his head. “He’s a criminal but I don’t think he’s that kind of

criminal. Plus”—he coughed—“killing all of us, including me, wouldn’t really be a punishment for him. Not sure he cares. This isn’t about him.”

“Of course you’d say that,” said Oliver. “People have died.”

“Yeah, and whose idea was it to pass them a note? That’s on you, Oliver.” “And it would have worked,” Oliver hissed, “if the sniper wasn’t somehow

fucking listening to us!”

“He’s not listening,” Reyna said, voice croaky and unused. “We’ve checked, there’s no microphone planted anywhere.”

“You were at this table here,” Red said, looking at Oliver and Maddy. “Talking low, so Joyce and Don wouldn’t hear. If there was a bug, it would have to be right around here. Around this table.”

“Maybe we haven’t checked everywhere,” Oliver said, studying the table, eyes flickering like he was spooling back his memory, replaying the scene. “Red, give me the walkie-talkie.”

That was when she realized; the sound of static had gone. Left her.

Red looked down. It wasn’t in her hand, where it was supposed to be. Fuck, where was the walkie-talkie? She must have left it somewhere. She must have—

“Red?” Oliver snapped his fingers impatiently. “It’s—it’s gone,” she stuttered. “I don’t have it.”

“What do you mean you don’t have it?” Oliver’s voice hardened. “Where is it?”

“I—I must have put it down somewhere,” Red said, patting the sides of her shirt as though it could have somehow slipped down there. She’d lost it. Of course she had, this was what Red did. Couldn’t be trusted with anything. Things erasing themselves from her memory as soon as they were out of sight. Lost keys, lost phones, lost wallets.

Why couldn’t they hear the static? Red needed that sound back, anything but empty to her.

“For fuck’s sake, Red. Where were you searching?” Oliver pushed up to stand. “The kitchen? Reyna, go check in the cupboards.”

“Where’ve you been?” Maddy said, more patiently than her brother. “Retrace your steps.”

Red hated when people said that. That was the whole point, she’d already forgotten where she’d been, there was no trace left to follow. It skirted around her mind, evading her as she tried even harder to think back. And, great, now the Phineas and Ferb song lyrics were running through her head again, word for word.

“Everyone be quiet a second!” Oliver shouted, holding his finger to his lips, motioning to listen with his hand by his ear.

Red held her breath and strained to hear. Strained harder. Where had she left it? It was somewhere, it couldn’t have disappeared, Red knew. Even though things did seem to disappear around her: headphones, homework, moms.

There was a faint hiss, almost unnoticeable, not much louder than the way the air fizzed when you were scared or alert. But it was there, Red recognized it, coming from beyond the kitchen. Her eyes followed it, to the closed door.

“The bathroom!” Of course. Red darted forward, slamming down the handle and wrenching open the door. The welcome sound of static filled her ears and there, waiting for her on the side of the sink, was the walkie-talkie. Green eye winking as she stepped forward to scoop it up, holding it to her chest. “I’ve got it!” she called back out to the others. Hers. Her responsibility. Oliver wouldn’t take it away from her, would he?

“Bring it here.”

Red sidled through the bathroom door, pressing the down button to skip from channel nine—where she’d left it—back to three.

“…what I say.” The voice cut in, midsentence. Fuck, the sniper had been talking to them.

Red’s eyes widened. The other five were over there, too far away. Just her and the walkie-talkie, keeper of the voice.

He couldn’t know, she couldn’t let him know they hadn’t been listening, that they were searching for interference on the other channels.

Red raised the walkie-talkie to her lips, pressed the push-to-talk button. “Understood,” she said quickly.


Of course they hadn’t understood, they hadn’t even heard what he’d been saying. But that was the only word that came to her, vague enough to fit most places.

“Good,” the voice replied. “I’m getting impatient.” Static.

“What did you do that for?” Oliver hissed.

“So he didn’t know we weren’t listening,” she said. “I think it worked.” “Shh. But we have no idea what you just agreed to,” he said, holding out

his hand for her to bring him the walkie-talkie.

Red hesitated, then placed it in his open hand.

Oliver took the walkie-talkie and bundled it up in his shirt, holding it close in the material, between his tightly cupped hands.

His voice dipped back into whispers. “It’s the classic Trojan horse,” he said. “Maybe the bug is inside the walkie-talkie, so it’s listening even when we

think it’s not. We always have it around us. And Red, you brought it over when me and Maddy were doing the note. Maybe it’s listening all the time.”

“Oh, they’re clever,” Simon said, wagging one finger.

“I can check?” Red offered, voice low. She did not want to believe Oliver, follow him again, even though it made a perfect kind of sense. “I know what the inside of a walkie-talkie looks like, all the parts. I can look?”

“How do you know so much about walkie-talkies?” Oliver asked, not giving it up.

“I just do.” Red held her hand out now, waiting for Oliver to pass it back. Her memories did not belong to him. He might be the natural leader, but he didn’t know what he was doing here. Red did.

Oliver narrowed his eyes. He unbundled the walkie-talkie and passed it over.

“Shh,” he said as he did.

Red slid into the other side of the booth, placing the walkie-talkie down. She would have to be quick at this, so the sniper didn’t know they weren’t listening again, if he tried to talk. Concentrate. Red’s fingers moved to the knob on top, beside the antenna. She flicked it into the off position and the static cut out.

Silence. A buzzing kind of silence, broken up by Maddy’s breath as she leaned over Red. It was distracting, in and out and in, a faint whistle underneath.

Red pushed down and slid off the back casing, into the battery compartment. It was empty, other than the three batteries slotted into place. Next she grabbed the screwdriver from the table, inserted it into the first screw on one of the back corners and turned it around, fast as she could. She placed the small screw on the table, spinning around itself, and turned to the next.

The others were all staring, she could feel their eyes on the back of her neck, on her fingers as she unscrewed the next one and placed it down. It almost rolled off the table but Maddy caught it.

“Thanks,” Red said, unspooling the next screw.

Oliver shushed her. And was it spiteful that Red wanted him to be wrong about this? For him to be wrong and her to be right.

She undid the final screw, dropping it with the others, and pulled the plastic casing up and to the side, carefully as red and black wires connected through to the batteries. She propped it there and looked down, bringing her eyes closer.

The green circuit board she’d been expecting to see, with small metal parts soldered on. The connection to the antenna, the amplifiers and mixers on an integrated circuit. And what were those small parts called again, oh yeah, capacitors. The tuner, transformers. She remembered the diagrams, the YouTube tutorials. Words and shapes she’d learned long ago, the kind that stayed in her head because they weren’t important. Except they were now, and there was nothing here that shouldn’t be. She recognized it all, same as the parts inside her mom’s walkie-talkie.

“Is there anythi—” Oliver began.

“Shh,” Red said this time. She was concentrating.

Slowly, Red’s fingers pried up the circuit board, just a tiny bit, so she could lower her eye to the gap and see the parts beyond, sitting at the front of the walkie-talkie. She didn’t want to pull anything out of place, she didn’t trust herself to be able to put it back together. She didn’t know if she could rebuild it if it all fell apart in her hands now. The last time she’d taken hers apart and put it back together had been more than a year ago. Last February 6, just for old times’ sake.

Red could see red and black wires connecting to the circular plastic part that doubled as microphone and speaker at the front, beneath the grille in the plastic.

That was it. Nothing here that shouldn’t be. No bug that didn’t belong. Red lowered the circuit board into position, even more carefully than before, and guided the plastic casing back on.

“No bug,” she said, starting on the first screw, forgetting to whisper.

Oliver shot her an angry look. “How do you know?”

“Because everything that’s there needs to be there,” Red said, tightening the screw and moving onto the next. “There’s no independent listening device in there because there’s no separate power source. And there’s nothing connected to those batteries that shouldn’t be. He’s not listening to us. Not unless we push the button,” she added, slotting in the third screw.

“And we just have to take your word on that, do we?” Oliver asked, also forgetting to whisper now.

“Oliver.” It was Maddy who said it this time.

“She could be wrong,” he replied. “Or she could be lying to us. How do we know we can trust what she’s saying?”

Red wasn’t wrong and she wasn’t lying, not about this at least. She slid the plastic that covered the battery compartment back and turned the knob to switch the walkie-talkie on. The fizz of static greeted her, welcoming her home. She’d missed the sound. Wasn’t that stupid? But it meant the walkie-talkie was working, she hadn’t broken it somehow by trying to be useful. Except now she wasn’t useful, she was a liar.

Like when she gave her statements to the police over five years ago. Red was trying to be helpful, to be useful, even though the world was ending around them. She described her final phone call with her mom, every hateful part of it. Over and over again, every last detail she could remember. “There was a doorbell in the background. Mom rang the doorbell at someone’s house. They answered and she said ‘Hello.’ ” But that couldn’t be true, you see, they’d explained to her. Her mom wasn’t found anywhere near a residential road, near houses. She was found inside Southwark Generating Station, that old, abandoned power station on the pier. And she was dead within ten minutes of that phone call. They didn’t say Red was lying, not like Oliver just had, they said she must have been mistaken, confused, she was only thirteen, she was in shock. Sometimes Red wasn’t really sure if she’d remembered it at all. And, now that she thought about it, was she sure about the walkie-talkie?

“What are you talking about, Oliver?” Reyna’s turn to look at him, crossing the awkward silence that had followed his words.

“The sniper knew about the note, Reyna.” Oliver’s face was reddening again, heat in patches up his neck. “He knew what was written on it. He also knew exactly where we were to trap us here. So if we’re saying there isn’t a listening device somewhere in the RV, then we have an even bigger problem. Because the only alternative is that…”

He drew off, eyes circling around the group, finally coming to rest on Red. “One of us is working with them.”

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