The glowing numbers of the clock were showing 11:13 when we finally pulled into a gas station/mechanic garage. Millie got out, and as I pumped more fuel into the car, I thought about the surrounding area. We were racing north along the seaside highway, and I knew that up ahead there were two roads - one would take us out of the state, and the other would take us up into the mountains. I knew what Millie wanted to do, but it would mean following the major highways and becoming predictable. If we turned off into the mountains, we might have a chance of losing them. I finished up with the gas, and then leaned against the car. Millie was as tired as hell - she hadn't complained, but I could see it in her eyes. I sat down in the driver's seat, and saw her walk out of the station, her eyes red-rimmed. She saw me sitting in her seat and shook her head.
"Get out," she told me quietly.
I nodded at the back seat.
Her eyes hardened. "What, you're not letting me drive my own freaking car?"
I shook my head. Get some sleep, Millie.
She pulled the door open and caught hold of my shoulder, pulling me up with surprising strength. I let her help me up out of the seat, but as soon as she tried to slip under my arm, I caught hold of her arm and stopped her short. Millie tried to wrench herself free, but I didn't let her. A snarl slipped from her throat and she twisted, suddenly trying to slam an elbow into my jaw. If she'd been even half-awake, she would've probably managed to land it, but I saw it coming from a mile away and caught hold of her, turning and pinning her against the car, my fingers tightening around her arm.
She tried hitting me with her free hand, but I easily slapped it away and looked into her eyes.
Millie was tired. I knew sleep deprivation when I saw it - my uncle was a usual case - and the only thing that was keeping her awake was her fear of the men following us. Of her past. But that fear was going to get us killed if she was behind the wheel at this time of the night. I'd slept already - I was fresh, and I could drive pretty well. I tried to communicate all of this in my gaze, but Millie's sullen defiance remained as I let go of her.
Get some sleep, I mouthed. Just do it.
Millie tried to push past me again, but her effort was weaker than last time. Finally, sick of her pathetic resistance to inevitability, I pulled the passenger door open and shoved her in. A stream of half-formed curses were cut off abruptly as I closed the car door, and then slipped into the driver's seat. The windscreen was still spiderwebbed by cracks, but I could see reasonably well out of my side, which was all I really needed. I started up the car, and then heard Millie start talking. There was a strange edge to it, like she was slightly high, and I realised it was the lack of sleep and stress that had finally gotten to her. Maybe she was asleep already. As I pulled out of the gas station and went back onto the road, her words became clearer.
"You know, I've never met a guy like you, Todd. I've known a lot of guys before, but they were all selfish jerks. Only really interested in one thing. You're different. You're quiet, you're cute, and you're not afraid to stand up for what you think's right, even if..." she chuckled softly. "Even if it'll make me hate you. It's nothing like normal guys. You're just... different."
I kept my eyes on the road, but I listened keenly to her words.
"My dad's a crook. You know that, right?" Another laugh. "C'mon, if you haven't picked up on it by now then you're more stupid than I give you credit for. He owns half of the bars and nightclubs in the city and pretty much runs all the drugs and prostitution too. He's a big damn crime boss. And those guys he sent after me? After us? They're his enforcers. His freakin' army. There's dozens of them. Most of them are out of the tank - killers, rapists, thugs. Animals. When they find us, we're not going to last an hour. Well, they'll be after you mostly. They still need me."
She went quiet for a while.
"I'm gonna get some sleep, Todd. Don't kill us while I'm asleep, K?"
Don't plan to, I said silently, but she didn't pick up on it.
I didn't fall asleep, but watched it come up through the mountains. I'd turned off - headed into the hills, into the unfamiliar territory of trees and brush and winding roads. Millie was still snoring softly in the back, and I had only my own thoughts for company. I had no idea if Millie's father had installed a tracking device in the car. If I'd been a psychotic drug dealer, I'd have done that for my daughter. It was a possibility. I reminded myself to ask Millie when she woke up - see if it made sense to her. We needed to ditch the car as soon as possible - a car with bullet holes in it coming out of Flagstaff was bound to be distinctive, and it was probably all over the news by now. But we didn't have supplies - if we started off into the hills on foot, it seemed almost certain that we'd get lost and starve.
Was that better than being caught and shot?
I couldn't tell.
There was a small stir from Millie at the back, and I heard her mutter a curse as she sat up.
"Where are we?" No answer.
"Dammit, Todd. I said get out of the state, not head into the mountains!!"
She climbed over into the shotgun seat, and then pinned me with a lethal glare.
"Just what is your plan? Huh? Get us lost up here?"
Might throw off the lunatics chasing us, I suggested in my silent way.
Millie caught the gist of it. "Sure. But what about the cops who know this place inside out? You're going to get us both caught. Once we're caught, then we're both in prison. Then my father's people on the inside will kill us. Congratulations."
I pulled the car to a halt, and then switched off the engine.
She glared at me as I pulled out my trusty notepad and pen.
You haven't killed anyone, and I don't think you're stupid enough to carry drugs in the car. What makes you think that the police are going to get on your case about ANYTHING? We can lose your father's people up here and wait for help. You hop the state border, you're still following the highway. That's what they'd EXPECT you to do.
"Since when are you an expert in hood tactics?" Millie asked, a mocking edge in her voice.
Since my dad spent most of his nights busting their heads, I wrote angrily. He taught me a lot.
"What, so there's always been gangs in Flagstaff, right?" she asked sarcastically.
I moved to Flagstaff three years ago, my writing told her. Before that, I spent my nights alone in an apartment in the city alone, wondering whether or not my father would come back alive from the bars he worked at. Some nights, he'd be blind. Some nights he'd be holding his skin together with freaking DUCT tape. I've got a pretty good idea of what we're dealing with. GPS tracking, maybe?
Millie froze as she read the words.
"Dad said he was going to modify... Jesus, that's how they found me..."
She kicked the door open, and stepped out of the car, pulling her bag from the back seat and then looking around for her gun. I did a quick slip of my own, finding my wallet. I opened the trunk of the car, and found a large silver suitcase sitting in the back. Before Millie could stop me, I unclipped it and found myself staring at green banknotes, packed tightly together.
She slapped the case shut, narrowly missing my fingers.
"Finished poking around?" she snapped.
What? I demanded silently.
"Yeah, fine. I lifted some of my old man's pocket change," Millie told me harshly. "He didn't need it."
So, it wasn't just Millie they were after. It was the money.
I shook my head to myself.
"Where the hell did you put my gun?" she demanded.
Scooping it out of my waistband, I held it up, but didn't give it to her.
"Todd, I'm not ****ing around with you. Give it to me."
I shook my head. Game's changed. Tell me what you're doing.
"I'm not playing games. Give me the freaking piece or I swear I'll..."
I popped out the magazine and tossed it to her. She snatched it out the air, and froze and I cocked my arm back, ready to hurl the pistol into the trees. We were standing at the top of a slope, packed so tightly with trees that I knew she'd never find the gun again if I threw it. If this was the only way I got the entire story, then so be it.
Time to make a decision, I mouthed at her.
"You throw that and I'll kill you," Millie said, her voice hard.
A smile tugged at my mouth. Yeah?
"Todd, the longer we stand here, the closer they get."
I know. So, tell me. Are we going to start trusting each other?
"Trust? You're the one holding the gun!"
And you've got the bullets, I told her silently.
She shook her head. "What do you want from me?"
I want you to leave the money behind.
Millie laughed harshly. "That money almost got both of us killed! You think I'm just going to leave it behind? I'm not. That gun's the only thing that might keep us alive in the next couple of hours, but if you want to throw it, be my guest."
She turned, walked over to the case in the trunk...
And then twisted into a back kick, driving straight at my crotch. I knew Millie well enough to see that she was having me on, and I pulled a up a knee, letting the kick slide off my thigh. She turned, hurling herself at me, going for the gun. I wrenched it backwards, and then went low, trapping her leg and taking her to the ground in an instant. She writhed, trying to throw me off her, but I wasn't going anywhere. I stared into her eyes, pinning her to the ground with my knees.
I held up her pistol, and then tossed it onto the road, pulling myself up and off her.
Millie rolled up onto her feet, racing for the gun, just as I got my hands around the silver case in the back and slung it as hard as I could into the trees. It bounced off a tree, and then spun into the canopy of leaves. I heard Millie swear, and I turned, looking back to see her 9mm, magazine attached, pointed at my head. The cold chill of fear that ran down my spine was the knowledge that she could kill me by pulling her finger back a quarter of an inch. And that she was angry enough to do it. I'd just lost her whatever leverage she might have had with the gang. Which meant that we were now in the same boat - I was pretty sure that the gang wouldn't care too much about the boss' daughter if a huge amount of cash was sitting somewhere in the woods.
Millie's breathing was hard and fast. "You're a ****ing idiot."
A strangely familiar, clipped voice spoke from her left.
"If you'd kindly point the Dan Wesson away from my nephew..."
She spun, and a man dressed in a hunting outfit with a pipe in his mouth pulled the slide back on his shotgun, chambering a shell and daring her to defy him. I stared at my uncle in astonishment. How had he managed to follow us here? How...? I shook my head, trying to clear it. Millie, realising that she was outgunned, lowered the pistol and let it drop to the ground at her feet.
"Who the hell are you supposed to be?" Millie demanded.
"Peter Atticus Fowler," my uncle replied. "Todd's uncle."
"How did you follow us?"
"Before I took up writing, I was a hunter, Miss Higgins." My uncle lowered his shotgun, and let a puff of smoke slide from his mouth. "As was my brother. We both know the value of a trail."
You're not making a lot of sense, I mouthed at him.
He turned and nodded to his truck, a battered Ford.
"Perhaps I could better explain while we drive out of here?"
Millie moved, as nonchalantly as she could, to pick up her gun, but my uncle waved her away with the point of his Remington and nodded for me to retrieve the pistol instead. I scooped up the Wesson, removed the magazine, and then tucked the weapon into the back of my waistband. Then, trying not to react to Millie's glare, I followed my uncle into his truck.