I’ve been avoiding this, but it’s probably time I finally admit it.
I have absolutely no clue where I am.
Of course, that’s not a really big deal, because I have no idea of where I’m going, either.
I’ve been driving north for hours in the dark. The road signs aren’t lit. The only thing I have making me feel like I’m headed in the right direction is the North Star. Good thing it’s not a cloudy night.
The truck jerks and stutters before finally coming to a stop.
I tap on the gas gauge, which still shows I have half a tank.
I don’t even know who to curse at this point.
I want to just crawl into the back of the truck and fall asleep. And eat. Like, really eat. Pounds and pounds of food, enough to cause my stomach to burst open. I want to hurt from the amount of food inside me.
But I can’t. Not now.
I have things to do. No matter how tired I am, no matter how empty I am, and no matter how much my feet are falling apart from all the torture I’ve put them through these past few weeks, I have to keep going.
I see lights in the distance. Sacramento, I’d guess. Too many people to want to be anywhere near there, so I should probably head northeast.
Or that truck bed is still available…
I slip the headphones on. Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley.
Really? This? Now?
“Never mind,” I murmur under my breath as Grant walks me toward the castle with his gun pressed against my back. “This is a terrible idea. I don’t like it.”
“Why not?” Grant whispers back. “These are your friends, right? And you said breaking out of here should be a cake walk. If it’s that easy, you should definitely be able to do it from the inside.”
“But we didn’t even see what happened with that general guy. Maybe he’s taken things over.”
“It’s too late to back out now,” Grant says, nodding his head in the direction of the five armed SPs headed in our direction.
They reach our side and Grant starts talking before they can even question what’s going on.
“I found this one running around in the woods over there,” Grant says. “I think he might be with those kids we found earlier.”
“Hey, I remember this kid,” an SP standing on the left of the group says. He walks closer to me. “Yeah, this is the kid I saw up on the roof when Harmon got here. You don’t think he’s working with them, do you?”
“Don’t you guys recognize him?” another SP asks. “He’s that terrorist kid everyone’s been looking for. He’s the one who led the attack on Washington.”
Crap, I say to myself. He doesn’t sound like a fan of my work.
“Hey, you’re right,” one of the others says. “He’s that Cyrus Rhodes kid.”
“Really?” Grant asks. “I thought he was supposed to be taller.”
“Nope, this is definitely him,” another SP says. “There’s no mistaking that bright red hair of his. And look, he’s wearing those red shoes they said he likes.”
“Oh yeah,” is the muttered agreement coming from the rest of the SPs.
“He’s the reason we all lost our jobs,” the central SP accuses. “The reason we’re here in this whacked out place trying to keep other terrorists safe.”
“Yeah,” the one on the far right agrees. “What should we do with him?”
“Shouldn’t we bring him in to the boss and see what they want done with him?” Grant asks.
“The boss?” the central SP asks. “Whose boss? Our boss? Our boss, Central Patrol Director Scott P. Darrens, was killed by a bomb set off by this little jerk. How do you expect us to bring him to him when Director Darrens is in a million tiny little pieces spread out all over Boston?”
“Well, I’m just saying, we’ve got this new job now,” Grant stammers. “Shouldn’t we see what the new bosses want with him?”
“And give up our one opportunity to get revenge for the entire SP force?”
“I say we take him out to that creepy island and string him up!”
“No!” I shout.
They all look at me questioningly.
“Oh look, he talks,” the center SP says.
“Yeah, I talk. And, um, I think you’ve all got the wrong idea.”
“No, I’m fairly certain you’re Cyrus Rhodes,” he says.
“Well, yeah, I am Cyrus. I can’t really deny that. But here’s the thing. If you kill me here, no one will even know you did it.”
“What if you found some way to let everyone know what you’ve done to me? You know, like put it up on TV or something.”
“And how in the world do you think we’ll be able to get ourselves on television?” the SP asks.
“I don’t know,” I answer, my mind racing for an idea.
“Right, so, back to the real plan. We can just—”
“Wait!” I shout, something suddenly coming to mind. “We’re near Burbank, aren’t we? That’s where all the old TV studios were. They’ve got to have some equipment we could use.”
“And you’re going to help us run it so we can broadcast your death?” an SP on the left says with a laugh.
“Well, I mean, I’ll admit I’m just trying to buy myself some time here, but I do have a brother, who you just locked up in the hotel or whatever. He can run anything. I’m sure he could get you on the air.”
The SPs all look to each other in question. I hazard a glance back at Grant, who appears on edge.
“Alright kid, don’t think we don’t know what you’re up to. But you make a good point. We’ll kill you live on television.”
“Great!” I cheer before realizing what I’m cheering about. “So, you’ll get my brother out?”
“Sure, that shouldn’t be a problem at all. Once we spread the news, there isn’t a single SP officer who wouldn’t be ready to help out. Cadet,” he says, gesturing to Grant, “why don’t you spread the news and get things moving.”
“Oh, and my friend. We’ll need her, too.”
“Um, well, she’s the girl who was running with me. If you’re going to kill me, you’ll probably want to kill her, too,” I offer.
“He makes a good point,” Grant agrees.
“Fine, Cadet. Spread the news, get the boy and the girl, and meet us behind that creepy building on the southwest side.”
Grant looks at me questioningly.
“What are you looking at him for, Cadet? Get moving!”
Grant hesitates before running off toward the castle.
“Where are you going?” the central SP yells to him. “They’re at the hotel!”
Grant pauses and looks to the man in question.
“Out the entrance and to the right!” the SP shouts.
Grant hustles off toward the entrance.
“You know, I get that we’ve only been here a day, but you’d think the guy would take a few moments to memorize the map before getting on the job,” the SP says to no one in particular.
“So, what do we do with him?” one of the other SPs ask, gesturing to me.
“We can’t very well keep him out in the open like this now, can we?” the head SP scowls. “Take him on over to that creepy building. The mansion, I think the map called it. I’m fairly certain there’s nothing going on inside. You can keep him there until we get the other two.”
“Yes, sir,” the questioning SP says loudly.
“And take Kowalski with you,” the head SP states. “You’ll need someone to run interference in case you get spotted.”
“Yes sir!” both Kowalski and my other SP captor say in unison.
They push me off down the walkway.
“I’ve gotta say, Kowalski, it’s going to be mighty hard to wait and let Hendrix perform the kill. I mean, what’s with this whole taking charge business he’s been up to? I’ve got seniority on him.”
“I get it, Banner, but what are you going to do? It’s not like you’re going to just kill the kid here, are you?”
“Well, a dead body would be just as good on the screen as a killing, wouldn’t it?”
“It wouldn’t be nearly as exciting.”
I continue on in silence as these two discuss options for my death. This whole area looks terrifying in the dark. There are tall trees blocking out the stars and the rundown buildings which line the walkways make it seem like some sort of monster could come storming out at any moment.
Of course, the idea of a monster coming out of an old gift shop isn’t nearly as frightening as having two trigger-happy SPs escorting me to a secret location to await my execution. And I convinced them bring Eve and The Geek? What was I thinking?
I have no clue what they’re being subjected to in their hotel. They could have full maid service. There are probably showers and food and all sorts of awesome amenities. Probably a whole lot of better options than coming along with me for my execution.
In all likelihood, there will be even more SPs than the five I saw coming along with us to find a TV studio. If I couldn’t escape with five of them and Grant at my side, what are my chances of escaping an entire squadron.
I’ve really messed up this time. Like, really messed up.
How could I have been so stupid as to let them go on without me in the first place? If these guys kill me now, my last words to both Eve and The Geek will have been about how I don’t trust them.
We approach a decrepit house with columns on the front. I’m guessing this is the creepy house they were talking about. My captors push me through a bricked entranceway and down a long path to a large black door.
A look at the house from this close, even with how dark it is out, shows me even more reason to be concerned. The foundation looks cracked and the walls look rotted out. Two of the front columns don’t even touch the ground.
Maybe I won’t have to wait to get to the TV studio to be killed. Maybe this building will do it for them.
Go to Chapter Twenty-One