“Until what’s over?”
I took Jill’s hand. I had hoped to give it a reassuring squeeze, but my grip was far too tight for that.
“Dammit, Chad,” I said. “They’re all standing in the open in a frickin’ group, no less. What the hell are you waiting for?”
“Who are you talking to?” Jill wanted to know.
“The man on the other end of the phone.”
Daniel overheard us, although I didn’t think he understood exactly what we were saying. He gripped his gun with both hands and brought it up, yet he didn’t point it at us. Instead, he peered into the darkness.
“Something’s wrong,” he said.
Brand waved at him the way parents dismiss children who interrupt their conversations. When they finished talking, both he and the Mexican turned to face us.
“Mr. Dyson, we find your terms unacceptable,” Brand said.
“I’m open to suggestions.”
“I’m going to kill you.”
“One way or the other, you’re a dead man. If you want to take the money with you, that’s your choice. If you give me the phone instead, I promise I’ll let the girl live. Daniel will take her home. I’m not worried about her testifying because she knows what I’ll do to her family if she does. If you don’t give me the phone, I will kill you both.”
“I’m supposed to take your word for that?”
“Not just my word, Daniel’s, too. He seems to have taken a liking to her.”
“I hadn’t noticed.”
“The money for the girl. That was our original deal.”
“So it was.”
“Give me the phone, Dyson. Do it now. Don’t make me wait.”
“Any frickin’ time now, guys,” I said.
“Something’s wrong,” Daniel repeated.
Please, please, please, my inner voice chanted.
The lights came on, five of them in an arch arranged from one end of the clearing to the other. I was right about the Target Field reference—you could play baseball under them.
“This is the ATF,” a man shouted over a megaphone. “You’re surrounded.”
There was something else about dropping weapons and raising hands. By then I had Jill turned around and we were both running, hand in hand, toward the dock. She was in bare feet, yet that didn’t seem to slow her down.
Guns were being fired. Single shots and full automatics. I heard someone shout, “Don’t hit the girl.”
The wooden dock groaned under our feet. We had to duck our heads to avoid being decapitated by the wing of the seaplane. When we reached the end of the dock we jumped in. The water was deep. We didn’t touch bottom. I held tight to Jill’s hand while I kicked my legs toward the surface. We both came up gasping for breath. I was facing the lake. In the distance I could see the lights of two boats that had not been there before. They were coming fast.
I turned toward the shore. The scene in the clearing was chaotic. Two of the Mexicans were down. The third henchman and his boss were standing rigid, their hands locked behind their heads. Men dressed in windbreakers emblazoned with the initials ATF pushed them to their knees and clasped their arms behind their backs with handcuffs.
I could not see Brand and Daniel, and then I did. Somehow they had managed to reach the wooden shed. The far side of the shack was on fire—I have no idea how that happened. Brand was inside the shed; Daniel had taken cover behind the near wall. They were both firing on the ATF agents with assault rifles. They had attempted to escape into the woods, but the agents had blocked their path.
I pulled Jill to me, wrapped an arm under her shoulders, and swam with one hand to the end of the dock—it never even occurred to me to ask if she could swim. We grabbed hold of the piling. I positioned myself so that my body was between her and the clearing.
The fire grew until the far side of the shack was engulfed in flame. I wanted to warn the agents about the aviation fuel inside, only I knew they wouldn’t hear me—the roar from the two speedboat engines was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself. As it turned out, the agents didn’t need a warning. I realized that when one of them jumped into the cab of the pickup truck. I whispered a “thank you” to no one in particular that I had left the key in the ignition. The agent started up the truck and drove across the clearing, pulling the trailer and pontoon boat with it.
Moving the vehicles exposed Brand and Daniel to additional gunfire. Brand was the first to fall. Daniel was hit, yet he managed to keep his feet. He leaned against the wall of the shack. He looked out toward the lake. It seemed to me that he was staring directly at Jill when the aviation fuel ignited.
The words formed in my head—The Jabberwock with eyes of flame, came whiffling through the tulgey wood—yet I couldn’t manage to say them out loud.