Chapter no 40

Five Survive

It was a puzzle, that was all it was. Not like Don’s head out there, one Red could fix, one she’d done and undone before. For Mom. Now she could do it for Maddy. She bent to collect them, the pieces of the broken walkie-talkie, dropping them into her open hand.

She took the bundle over to the dining table, passing Oliver as she did. He let her by, but his grip tightened on the handle of the knife as she did. There was heat around him, following him, the smell of stale sweat. The hairs stood up on the back of her neck as she got too close, telling her to stay away.

Red let the pieces slide out of her hands, onto the table, scattering there.

She studied them.

“Can you do it?” Simon asked her.

Red breathed out. “If anything’s broken, I could take out the RV’s stereo system, the radio. They have a lot of the same parts.”

She leaned closer to the disassembled walkie-talkie. The green circuit board was cracked down the middle, still holding itself together at the soldered connections. There was a chunk missing from the black casing at the front, by the speaker grille, but that didn’t matter. The plastic disk of the speaker was shattered, unfixable, the part that turned radio waves into voices. But that was okay, Red could make a new one out of the paper Maddy had

brought. Nothing else looked broken, not the capacitors, or the amplifiers, the tuner, the transformers, not the magnet or the coil inside the broken speaker. She just had to put it all back together again, remake the speaker, reconnect the wires.

She nodded. “I can do it.”

“Do you need the stereo?” Arthur asked her, moving toward the cockpit. “No.” She swallowed. “I can do it without.”

Red sidled onto the booth and along it, coming to sit beside the window. The same place she’d been sitting almost eight hours ago, staring down at the tiny cars outside on the highway, Maddy chattering opposite her.

“Stay awake, Maddy.” Reyna’s voice floated over. “You have to stay awake.”

“I am.” The words rasped out of Maddy’s throat. Dry and frail. That sound scared Red more than the screams had. They were losing her.

“Simon, get her some water.” “Sure.” He ran to the kitchen.

Red reached across the table, for the scissors, strands of Maddy’s light brown hair still clinging to the blades. She pulled a fresh sheet of paper from the pad and sliced into it, moving the paper around as she cut a complete circle, about the same size as the broken plastic part of the speaker.

“Maddy, can you drink for me?” Reyna said. “Can you open your mouth?”

“I’m cold,” Maddy said.

It was hot in here, stifling. Red wiped a line of sweat from her temple against the back of her hand as she concentrated, smudging the Call AT&T.

She reconnected the circuit board to the antenna, resting it back inside the

black casing.

Simon and Arthur were standing over her, watching. What was Oliver doing? Red couldn’t see him and that scared her.

“Will you leave Red alone after this?” Simon turned to Arthur, his eyes darkening as he looked at his friend. But they weren’t friends, were they? Simon had just been Arthur’s way in, to get closer to Red. “You and your brother won’t still come for her?”

“You have my word,” Arthur said, holding his gaze, refusing to let go. “I never wanted any harm to come to her, to anyone. I tried, I swear, I tried to avoid all this. I don’t believe in that, in killing people. I won’t do it. Not for anything. That’s why my dad says I’ll be in charge of the numbers, of the legitimate businesses, because he can’t trust me out on the streets, to be a soldier for him. Not like my brother.” He paused. “But they will listen to me, both of them, I will make them. No harm will come to Red, ever. I promise.”


“I’m sorry, Simon. I’m sorry I had to lie to you.”

Simon shrugged. “Always thought you kind of sucked at basketball,” he said, with the tiniest hint of a smile in his voice. “And hey, at least I’ll never be scared of anything else again after tonight. Makes telling my parents about drama school seem not so scary anymore. But there’s something I don’t get,” and the smile was gone now. “Why didn’t you say it was Red with the secret hours ago? Why didn’t your brother just come out and ask her who was paying her to be the witness right at the start, when we first found the walkie-talkie?”

Red couldn’t see either of their faces, she was concentrating, looping a wire through, reconnecting it to the batteries.

“My dad’s idea,” Arthur said. “If we didn’t say whose secret it was, then maybe we’d learn more than just the information we needed from Red. Find out things they don’t want you to know, there’s power in that. That’s how my dad operates. And we could use those secrets to blackmail you into silence, if my cover ever got blown. Which…” He trailed off. “Well, too late now, you know who I am. That’s over.”

Red glanced up, at Arthur’s downcast face, eyes on the floor. His life would never be the same after tonight either, would it? All of them changed, by this RV, by each other. He’d lied to her, he was a liar, but so was Red. And the terrible thing was, she didn’t want to hate him. She maybe even wanted to take his hand, the one that matched hers. Her head told her she was a fucking idiot, but sometimes you didn’t go with your head, sometimes you trusted your gut. Red had learned that from Reyna.

“How’s it going, Red?” Simon asked her.

“Working on it,” she said, turning to the speaker, fiddling with the magnet and the coil.

“Stay awake, Maddy.” Reyna’s voice was higher now, scared. Maddy mumbled, a croak that didn’t make it past her throat.

“Oliver, come on, please,” Simon said, running his hands through his hair, pulling at his scalp. “She’s not going to make it. Let Arthur go outside and speak to his brother. He says he will let us go. I trust him.”

“I don’t,” Oliver growled. “For all we know, he’ll go join his brother, try to kill us all, now that we know who they are.”

“What about Red?” Simon pointed at her. “She can go outside, can’t she, Arthur? Your brother doesn’t know you have the name from her yet, which means he can’t shoot Red.”

Arthur nodded. “Until I tell him we have the name, Red is untouchable.

He wouldn’t shoot her.”

“Will you let Red go, Oliver?” Simon pleaded. “Will you let Red leave the RV and go speak to him? To ask him to let us go?”

“No.” Oliver bared his teeth, brandishing the knife. “Red doesn’t leave either! She’s a liar. She’s trying to get my mom killed!”

“Lights,” Maddy rasped, and Red ripped her eyes away from the walkie-talkie, over to her friend. Her eyes were cracked open, barely. One arm was raised, bent at the elbow, index finger shaking as she pointed it. “Lights.” The word scratched out of her again.

“What, Maddy?” Reyna said, leaning in closer.

“Lights,” Simon said, turning toward the windshield. Red’s eyes followed him.


Blue and red lights, flickering in the darkness of the dying night. Flashing through the glass, inside the RV.

“Cops are here,” Simon said incredulously, like he didn’t dare believe it yet. “The cops are here! Red, they must have heard you on the walkie-talkie. They called the cops. They’re here!”

Red scrabbled up from the booth, the unfinished walkie-talkie gripped in her hand.

Simon was running up to the windshield, Arthur behind him, Oliver next. Red followed them, peering through the gaps between their shoulders.

There was a black squad car pulling toward them on the road, red and blue lights spinning from its roof, lighting up the wide-open nothing. But it wasn’t pitch-black out there anymore, the sky was stained with the faint pink of twilight.

The police cruiser rolled forward, drawn by their headlights, wheels crackling against the road.

“It’s police, Maddy!” Simon called behind him, his voice cracking, breaking open. “We’re going to get you to a hospital real soon.”

The car peeled to a stop, directly in their headlights, before it reached the back end of the white truck.

“Arthur?” Red said, her breath on the back of his neck. He turned to look at her.

“Would your brother kill a cop?” she asked.

Arthur’s eyes darkened, his mouth tensed as he searched inside for the answer. “I don’t know,” he said. “He shouldn’t, we’re not supposed to. But Mike wasn’t supposed to kill anyone tonight, except you. I didn’t think he’d shoot Don or Joyce, or Maddy. So…I don’t know. He’s unpredictable. He’s a soldier, my brother. He knows what the mission is: get the name from you and kill you. He wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of that.”

“So, he might?” Red said, watching beyond Arthur as the driver’s-side door of the squad car pushed open.

“I don’t know,” Arthur said quickly, turning back as a female officer began to step out of the car in her uniform, dark hair scraped off her pale face, blue shirt, badge glowing on her chest, throwing back the light. She was on her own, looking up at the RV, one hand gripped on the car door, the other by the radio on her shoulder.

Her eyes met Red’s for an instant and Red knew what she had to do.

There was no time to think it through. It was instinct, almost, something in her gut where the shame used to live.

She couldn’t let it happen. That woman out there might have a daughter waiting for her at home. Maybe they had a fight last night, about homework,

about the state of the daughter’s bedroom. What had their last words been to each other? Red couldn’t let it happen to another little girl, to lose her mom and her whole world the same way she had. Killed in the line of duty. A mom who never came home, never flashed the headlights at the living room windows, never pulled those faces again in the mirror behind the breakfast table. The flag on the casket, the three-volley rifle salute, “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.

Red wouldn’t let that happen.

The undone walkie-talkie gripped in one hand, Red lashed out with the other, at Oliver. She brought her fist down against his wrist. He wasn’t looking at her, he didn’t see it coming. The knife flew out of his grip, falling to the floor with a clatter, skidding away under the table.

“What the—” he began to say, but Red was already moving away, charging for the door.

Heavy footsteps behind her, on her heels.

“Don’t, Red!” Oliver’s voice roared as he sprinted after her. She didn’t look back; she knew what she had to do.

With a last look at Maddy—Reyna watching over Red’s shoulder, terror growing in her eyes—Red collided with the front door.

She grabbed the handle and shoved open the door. It crashed into the metal side of the RV with a crack.

“Not one more step, Red, or I’ll do it!” Oliver’s voice ripped against his throat, battered against her ears.

Red checked over her shoulder.

Oliver was standing by the sofa bed window, the mattress shoved aside. In his hand was the Zippo lighter, open, the flame dancing, fleeing from his breath. He was holding it out the window, pulling the shade up with the other hand.

“I’ll drop it, I will!” he screeched, head hanging off his neck again, tendons raw and red, a wild flash in his eyes. “You’re not leaving. I’ll drop it into the gas, set the RV on fire. I’ll do it!” He screamed those last words, foam and sweat around his open mouth, strings of spit hanging from his teeth.

“No, you won’t,” Red said, one final look at him before turning back to the open door. Oliver wouldn’t burn the RV for one reason: he was inside with them. His survival came first, above everything; he was the highest-value here, in his head. Oliver wouldn’t drop that lighter, and she knew it.

Red left the RV.

She charged down the steps full speed, shoes crunching against the gravel road as she sprinted to the left. Toward the white truck.

The red dot might be here, following her. But Red was untouchable, he couldn’t shoot her. And she had to use that to save this woman.

She leaped over Don’s crumpled body, feet skittering as she landed. Could the officer see Don and Joyce from where she was standing? Could she see the blood, the red road?

Red ran, alongside the white truck, around the back of it, toward the police car. was emblazoned on its side in bright blues and yellows.

The woman’s eyes widened when she spotted Red.

“Stay where you are!” she shouted, drawing her handgun from the holster in half a second. She gripped it in both hands, pointed it at Red.

Red drew to a stop, dirt scattering, bunching around her feet.

But it was okay. She was standing right where she needed to be. Blocking the officer from the sniper’s line of sight. Her body a barricade against that red dot. The woman would be safe, because Red was here, and she wouldn’t move, she wouldn’t move whatever happened. This woman was going home today, and she’d hug her daughter, if she had one, tell her how much she loved her. That was how this ended.

“Hands up!” the officer shouted. “Hands where I can see them!”

Red swallowed, raising her hands, the broken walkie-talkie still in her grip.


Arthur’s voice screamed out into the breaking dawn. Her head whipped back over to the RV.

Arthur was charging down the steps onto the road, his eyes on her as she stood here, frozen.

But there was a dark shape behind him, backlit from the yellow glow of the RV. Faceless, wide shoulders.

Oliver was right on Arthur’s heels, leaping to the road after him.

Now that they were both outside, Red could see something new in Oliver’s eyes, something final. The explosion must have hit at last, his face disfigured with the rage, eyes black and hollow, not golden brown. And she could see something else too, the knife in his hand as he bore down on Arthur.

“No, Oliver!”

Reyna was outside now too, scrabbling for Oliver’s other arm, dragging him back in the same moment he swung the knife.

It caught Arthur in the neck, slicing through flesh. Not as hard as Oliver had meant it, because of Reyna.

Arthur’s hands darted to the gash in his throat, dark blood trickling over his fingers. But he was on his feet, he was still standing.

Oliver noticed that too, righting himself. He shoved Reyna away.

She slammed into the side of the RV, falling to the road. Oliver readied the knife, charging toward Arthur to finish it. Crack.

Oliver jolted back. A blast of blood behind him, spattering against the off-white sides of the RV.

He crumpled to the road, knees first. It was instinct.

Red’s hands jumped to her ears at the sound of the rifle, her eyes flicking from Oliver, lying dead still on the road, to Arthur clutching at his neck, to the police officer in front of her.

But the woman wasn’t looking at Red. She was looking at the dark shape of the walkie-talkie in Red’s hand.

It must have been instinct for her too. Her gun flashed. A tiny firework.

Something stung Red in the chest, breaking through. She stumbled back.

Another clap, another firework in the officer’s hands. A second punch, lower down, through her ribs.

Red blinked.

Her hand cradled her chest, pressed against her dark red shirt. Her fingers came away and the red came away with them.

Then the pain, a wet kind of pain, gathering around the two holes in her chest. But it didn’t stay long, a cool numbness taking over as Red’s legs buckled beneath her.

She fell back, onto the road. Legs out straight, arms beside her. A gurgling sound as she tried to breathe.

A beep. A hiss of static.

“Shots fired,” a woman’s voice said through the fuzz, panicked and high. “Ten-thirty-three. Ten-thirty-three. Requesting immediate backup!”

“RED, NO!”

Arthur was screaming, his voice strange and far away, but he must be close, Red could feel that.

“Stay back!” the officer shouted. “Don’t come any closer.” Another gunshot.

The sound of footsteps pounding the road, running away.

“One of them is running. Ten-thirty-three. Requesting immediate backup.

We have fatalities. My god. What happened here?” Red blinked up at the sky.

Dawn was breaking, pale yellows and pinks dissolving the darkness, scaring the night away. But the stars remained, they stayed, blinking back at her.

Red couldn’t feel it, the blood burbling out of her chest, nor the road, dirt and gravel hard against her back. She didn’t feel anything, except the cool plastic of the walkie-talkie, still gripped in her hand.

She shifted her head, told her eyes to look at it. It was undone, unfinished, broken. But she blinked once, twice, and the walkie-talkie came alive, the green screen lighting up, a glow against her face.

A hiss of static that wasn’t there, because it was broken, but it was, she could hear it against her ears. That white noise. Home.

The walkie-talkie wasn’t on, except it was, and it was tuned to channel six. Their channel.

Red couldn’t move, she couldn’t move to press her thumb against the push-to-talk button, but she didn’t need to. Because her own voice was coming through the speaker, Tiny Red, from a decade ago, hiding behind the door as she played Cops and Cops.

“Attention, attention,” Red said, voice low and serious. “Officer down.

Officer down, requesting backup. Over.” The static hissed, filling up her head.

And then she heard it, clearly, for the first time in years. Mom’s voice.

“Oh no, Officer Kenny,” her mom said, that kind lilt at the end of her words that Red missed so much. “Have you been hit?”

“Mom, you have to say: Over.” “Sorry. Over.”

Red smiled, watching the walkie-talkie sputter in and out of life, between then and now.

“Yes, I’ve been hit,” Red said. “They got me.”

“Oh dear, sweetie,” Mom said. “Backup is on the way to administer get-better kisses. Over.”

Red coughed, a rattling in her chest that shouldn’t be there. But there was something else too, something that did belong.

And here it was, the proof that she’d been wrong all these years. Red knew it was coming, just like Mom must have done, on her knees against the concrete, Red on her back against the road. But it wasn’t hate she felt, or regret, or guilt, or blame. They didn’t exist anymore, not here in this place, flickering in and out. She wasn’t thinking about last words, she was thinking about all the words, all the memories. It was love; thorny and complicated and sad and happy. But it was a red feeling too.

“Aha, there you are, Officer Kenny,” her mom said, breaking through the not-there static. “Looks like I got here just in time. You’re going to make it.”

Red giggled, the radio waves carrying her voice through time as Mom wrestled her to the ground, covering her in kisses.

“Mom, stop,” she laughed and laughed and laughed. They both did. “Love you, Red.”

“Love you, Mom.”

Red blinked away a tear, smiling up at the wide-open nothing of the sky. Time must move backward here in this in-between place, reversing,

because the night was coming back, darkness reclaiming the sky, taking Red with it. But Mom stayed with her, right here in her hand, at the end of all things.

Mom stayed, and so did the stars.

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