And so I did.

I escaped from between the four cars and sprinted along the lane, gobbling ground in a hurry, until I reached the perimeter of the parking lot. Instead of running directly to my car, I went up the street, crossed against the light, circled the block, and approached the Neon from behind. No shouts followed me, no “there he goes,” no “get him.”


The screaming from the parking lot had ceased by the time I reached the Neon. I heard no sirens and wondered if the woman had called the cops, or at least the lobby. I waited, the engine running, my gun resting on the seat next to me.

A few moments later, Brucie’s big Chevy Blazer appeared at the entrance to the motel parking lot. He was driving; Danny was riding shotgun. They hit the street without bothering to slow down. I wasn’t surprised. If I was them, I’d be on the run, too. Come to think of it, I was like them. That’s why I didn’t linger in the parking lot when the woman screamed.

I followed, but I wasn’t careful about it. Brucie made me in a hurry. The Blazer accelerated hard. I tried to match its speed. Danny’s head appeared outside the passenger window, followed by his elbow, his arm, and a hand with a gun in it. He pointed the gun in my general direction, and my stomach suddenly had that express-elevator-going-down feeling. Only he didn’t fire. His head jerked toward the cab of the truck as if he were listening to something. A moment later, he disappeared inside.

A few quick turns and we were on Highway 5 heading east, weaving between cars just like in the movies. The sound of angry horns followed us, but there was no squealing of brakes, no smashed fenders. We had been lucky so far.

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A couple miles down the road, Highway 5 merged with U.S. 212 and we were driving north toward Minneapolis. The Neon had more giddy-up than I had expected. I quickly and easily accelerated to 80 mph, but there wasn’t much more that her four cylinders could give me. The Blazer pulled away. I tried to keep close, hoping I’d catch it when Brucie and Danny exited the freeway, only I couldn’t see around the other SUVs and vans on the road. I gave it up after a half mile and coasted to the posted speed limit.

That’s it, I promised myself. If I ever get my life back, I’m going to buy the fastest car they’ll let me drive on city streets.

It was dusk by the time I returned to Hilltop. The streets were quiet. I could see the flickering light of TV sets through trailer windows, and somewhere someone was playing Bob Dylan. I cruised past Pen’s mobile home. Her carport was still empty. I drove to the end of the street, turned around, and drove back again. One-on-one surveillance was impossible. There were too many people living in too confined an area. There was no place I could park and not be noticed, nowhere I could walk and not be seen.

“I know all my neighbors,” Ruth had said. She probably wasn’t the only one.

Yet I couldn’t let Pen go. She was my only link to Sykora, and through him to Frank Crosetti. I had convinced myself that Sykora was conducting some kind of black bag job; otherwise he’d be using bureau resources to hide Danny and Brucie, not his wife. Besides, although I had been a devoted fan of The X-Files, I wasn’t prepared to believe that the FBI as a whole would behave so poorly.

Having helped to save her from an assault—I still couldn’t believe her attacker was a kidnapper—Jake Greene had achieved a certain amount of trust and goodwill with Pen. That and his cover as a reporter might get some questions answered. But I needed more.

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