“Run, Liberty! Run, run, run!”
She couldn’t run because she couldn’t see where
she was going. Didn’t he get that? She couldn’t breathe.
She couldn’t think. He was out of his mind.
“Jase, I can’t!” She sobbed, choked,
stopped, and wailed. “I can’t!”
She spit hair from out of her mouth,
spit dirt, swore she spit bugs. It was gross and disgusting, and he
was never going to get
away with what he’d done anyway, so why did she have to run?
Jase came back to where she stood clawing
her hair from her face. He grabbed her wrist and jerked her forward,
her arm. “You better move your ass or I’m going to leave
you here, got it?”
She nodded, whimpered, stumbled along
behind him. She was wearing her best pair of sandals and she’d spent all afternoon
doing her toenails for tonight’s date. And now it was all ruined.
Ruined because Jase was stupid and greedy. Stealing money
from the printing and office supply store where he worked-what was wrong
with him? They paid him more than minimum wage, good enough money to
take her out for a salad and Diet Coke any time she wanted to go.
All he had to do was make the store’s deliveries
and daily deposits, running some of the money into Odessa or El Paso
because of the banks being bigger or something like that. Why did he
have to be stupid enough to take what wasn’t his? Why did she have
“Jase!” She tripped, wrenched
her wrist from his hand and went down to the ground in the dark. Dirt
clods and rocks
the size of Lego pieces dug into her hands and her knees.
She pushed up to a kneeling position,
picked the grit from her palms. Tears blurred her eyes and made it
impossible to see anything.
It was too dark to see anything anyway. The moon was out, but they were
in the middle of freakin’ nowhere on his father’s ranch.
She just knew they were lost, and wished at least they
were lost on an island with a beach like those people on that show she
used to watch before her parents got religion and banned TV from the
house. She hated Texas and was never going to forgive either of them
for moving her away from California and all of her friends.
Jase skidded to his knees beside her,
throwing more dust into the air for her to gag on. She tried not to
cough, tried not to
cry. She even held back yelling at him for being so dumb since it hadn’t
done any good so far. But then he pulled her head to his chest and cuddled
her close, and she forgot why she was mad.
This was all she wanted, being with a boy who liked her,
away from her parents and the stupid way they tried to run her life,
even though she knew she was really lucky. A bunch of girls her age at
school had been promised by their parents to men old enough to be their
Men already married to two or three other women. It made
her sick to her stomach to even think about it! Like who would want to
sleep with a guy and get sloppy seconds?
“Liberty, listen.” Jase set her away from him,
lifted her chin. “I know you’re tired and scared, but we’re
almost there. We’ve got to be. I just didn’t know it would
take so long on foot. I’m usually on my ATV.”
Yeah. Not to mention he was usually
stoned since he used the hunting blind to smoke pot. “They’re
going to find us anyway.”
“Maybe.” He sat back, rubbed his hands up and
down his thighs, the denim all scratchy and loud in the really quiet
wide open spaces. “But maybe we can hide out until this shit blows
Dumb. He was dumb, dumb, dumb. And she was dumb to hang
out with him.
“It’s not going to blow over, Jase. Your boss
is going to send Holden Wagner after you, you know that. Holden freakin’ Wagner!
God! He takes care of all the legal stuff with the businesses in town,
and he’ll take care of you, too!” She pulled away, curled
into a ball on the ground, totally ruining her outfit.
Holden Wagner was a big shot lawyer
in Earnestine Township where she and Jase lived, and one of the most
powerful men she’d
ever met. Everyone knew him from the church and from around town, Earnestine
being such a dinky dot on the map and Holden being the only lawyer and
into everybody’s business.
A lot of girls at school thought he
was hot. Liberty supposed he was. He was only like thirty-five or something,
and wore clothes that
she’d never seen anywhere but in People Magazine or on the People’s
But, still! He could turn a molehill
of evidence into a big fat mountain and put Jase away forever! Then
what would she do? Who
would she have to date? How would she ever get away from this dump? She
didn’t have anyone else on her side!
Jase tried to clear his throat. “Yeah, well, Holden’s
not really the one I’m worried about.”
Liberty heard the break in his voice
and grew still. “What
do you mean, he’s not the one you’re worried about? Who else
“Holden may be all powerful, but even he can’t
get away with murder. I’m not so sure that’s the case with
the guys I’m dealing with here. The amount of money I took? It
can’t be legal, which means they won’t be going to the sheriff.
They’ll be taking care of it themselves.”
She sat up slowly, her ears ringing with the word murder.
Murder! Her heart thudded in her throat until she thought she would never
again be able to breathe.
“Jase? What’s going on?” Her hands were
shaking so badly she drew up her legs to her chest and tucked her fingers
in the pits of her knees. Her voice cracked and she barely managed to
whisper, “Tell me what’s going on.”
Jase sighed, hung his head. Light from
the moon made his bleached blond hair look white, the spikes look like
tufts of dead grass.
The hoop in his ear sparkled. Sweat ran down his cheeks from his temples. “It
wasn’t only a couple grand like I said.”
“What are you talking about?” Oh
my god, oh my god, oh my god!
“It was a couple hundred grand. There’s no
way it was all the store’s money.”
She started rocking back and forth where
she sat. “You
stole two hundred thousand dollars?”
He shoved both hands through his hair,
clamped them down on top of his head. “The deposit slip said one thing, but there
was an extra two hundred G’s in the bag.”
“So you just kept it? Not even knowing whose it was?” She
sounded hysterical. Shoot, she was hysterical! “What is wrong with
you? What were you thinking?”
“I was thinking about us, Lib,” he yelled back,
really screaming now. His voice echoed in the night. “I was thinking
about you. I want us to get out of here. Me off the ranch and away from
my dad. You so far away from your parents that they could never force
you to marry some old geezer.”
He was rocking now, too, and almost
town is fucked up, Lib. Pastor Straight’s hold over everyone is
insane. It’s like a commune or a cult, and the way the church treats
the women is as bad as the Taliban. I’m not going to stay here.
I want you to come with me. We only have to hide out a few days, wait
for whoever the money belongs to to lose our trail, then we can hitch
Everything he was saying suddenly made
so much sense. She’d
been so wrong. He wasn’t stupid. Not if he could get her out of
here. He was smart, and she decided then that she loved him and wanted
to be with him forever. “Don’t you think they’ll look
for you in the hunting blind?”
“No, see, that’s the beauty of this.” He
scooted closer, excited now. “My dad tore down the blind two seasons
back. He hasn’t leased out that plot since and has no idea I put
it back up and come out here all the time.”
She didn’t respond right away, and he went on. “We’ll
only stay tonight if it makes you feel better. We’ll hide out long
enough to come up with another plan. That’s all we’ve gotta
do, Lib. That’s all.”
His desperation tugged at her heartstrings
like he was playing music just for her. “Okay, okay. But I broke the thong
on my shoe and have to go barefoot. I don’t know if I can keep
up with you.”
He got to his feet, brushed dirt from
the butt and knees of his jeans. “C’mon. I’ll piggyback
He was so totally cute sometimes. She
shook her head. She could do this. She could. “No, I’ll be fine.” She pulled
off the scarf she’d wrapped around her waist like a belt. “I’ll
just tie the shoe to my foot-”
“Shh. Listen.” He backed a couple of steps
away. “Do you hear that?”
She did. A diesel engine grinding hard
as the truck it belonged to fought the uneven terrain. She knew the
sound well. Eighty
percent of Earnestine’s population of just under four thousand
drove the same.
She finished tying her shoe to her foot,
know why she bothered. They’d issue her some pair of tacky granny
lace-ups in jail, because back in California she’d watched enough
cop shows to know she’d be charged as an accessory. Unless she
was killed, too, she thought with a big fat ugly-sounding sob.
“Stay here,” Jase ordered. “Don’t
move. I’m going to draw them away.”
“No, Jase!” Panic rose in her throat and tasted
like the bad cheesy ranch dressing she’d had on her salad at the
“I’ll lose them and circle
back to get you. Just stay put.”
He would never find this place again.
She’d be lost
out here forever. “Wait! I’ll come with you!”
But he was already running away. “I
love you, Liberty. I love you!”
“Jase, no!” She couldn’t even see him
anymore. He’d vanished into the darkness. She was alone with dirt
and rocks and creepy crawly things. This was all so sucky and so so stupid.
The truck was getting closer. She could hear the gears
shifting, hear men shouting. Shaking like mad, she wrapped her arms around
her knees and tucked her chin to her chest, praying Jase was as fast
dodging tumbleweeds as he was dodging tackles on the football field.
A second later she heard a loud thudding pop. What looked
like a bottle rocket arched up and burst in the sky. A flare, she realized,
just as she heard the voices yelling.
“There he is!”
“Get the sonofabitch!”
“Go, go, go!”
The driver gunned the truck, drowning
out any further words she might’ve heard. She felt the dampness
on her cheeks only when her tears soaked into the knees of her jeans.
The second shot she heard was not from a flare gun. Neither
were the three that followed. When she heard Jase scream, her entire
body jolted. When she heard laughter and howling, she began to shake
It wasn’t until she heard footsteps
behind her that she managed to go blessedly numb.
She lifted her chin, lifted her gaze,
watched the figure of a man come toward her like a ghost out of the
dark. Once he was near
enough for her to see him better, her being numb came in handy. She couldn’t
react. Not to his camo fatigues. Not to his assault rifle. Not to the
knife hanging from his belt halfway down his thigh.
When he reached her, he held out a hand. She gave him her
fingers, eerily white against his black skin, and he pulled her to her
feet. Then he pointed toward the sky.
“Do you know of the North Star,
Oh, God, he knew her name. He knew her name! It sounded
strange when he said it; his accent reminded her of the rapper Sean Paul
that Jase was constantly listening to. It was like Jamaican or something
. . .
“Miss Mitchell? The North Star?”
She nodded, her teeth chattering as
she found the point in the sky. “My folks used to take me and my brother camping when
we lived in California. Before they got all into Jesus and we moved here.” At
least here she’d met Jase. They were like two peas in a pod, both
Or at least they had been . . . “What happened to
Jase? Where is he? He didn’t mean anything bad by taking that money.
We just both want to get out of this town-”
“You must do what I say now, Miss Mitchell, and not
worry about your Mr. Bremmer. Do you understand?” He took her by
the shoulders, turned her to face him. “There is nothing you can
do for him now.”
She nodded, tears welling in her eyes,
wondering if her hair would look as good as his did in dreadlocks,
wondering if she would
ever see Jase again, wondering where she was going to go because she
couldn’t go home.
Wondering how anyone could be so nice when he took the
bandana from his head and used it to wipe the tears from her cheeks.
“You follow the North Star for
an hour and you will come to the county highway. You walk and you do
not speak of tonight
to anyone. You do not ask questions. You act as if none of what you heard
or saw happened. If you do, you may very possibly die. And I may very
possibly be the one to kill you. Do you understand?”
She didn’t understand anything. “Nothing,” she
wanted to scream. Instead, she asked, “Where am I supposed to go?”
“You are only supposed to walk. That is all that
you can do now.” He placed his hand in the middle of her back and
pushed. “Now go. Go before it is too late.”
She’d only gone twenty steps when
her shoe came off. She was not going to be able to walk like this for
an hour and turned
back to tell him so, but he was nowhere to be seen.
God, if her parents hadn’t gotten all righteous and
moved here for the family’s spiritual good, she would have dozens
of places to go and people to help her. If she actually made it to the
highway, maybe she could hitch to El Paso and find a library where she
could get on the internet.
She had to find that Website. The one
Sherry Petersen whisper about to Teresa Monaghan the day after Sherry’s
sister went missing and her wedding to Mr. Gaston was canceled.
Sherry swore her sister was with the woman who ran the
rescue shelter for girls escaping the arranged marriages in Earnestine.
What was it? What was it?
All Liberty could remember was something about a barn.