Chapter edited August 2013
I stopped myself just in time from screaming profanities in Varderen's direction, although why I bothered to check myself, I wasn't sure; the moment the wardrobe doors were opened, Bobby and I would be done for anyway.
Gray looked hard at Varderen. 'Check it yourself, I'm not your lackey.'
Varderen shrugged. 'Suit yourself, but if I were you – I would check.' He left the room.
'Bastard,' Gray muttered under his breath, and I smiled – at least I wasn't the only one who had thought so. The smile soon disappeared, however, as Gray turned his head fully to look directly at us. He wasn't happy, and for a moment I thought that he would just leave the room out of spite.
Unfortunately, Varderen's words must have got to Gray because he very reluctantly headed in our direction. Bobby held his breath next to me as I ran through our options in my head – there weren't very many. Shit!
As Gray reached out with one hand for the closet handle, I gave out a bit of war cry (in other words, I screamed like crazy) and pushed open the doors forcefully – catching him by surprise and nearly knocking him over. I had one hand clasped around one of Bailey's jackets and quickly tossed it on top of the man's head. I then reached for Bobby and ran as fast as I could towards the bedroom door. As we entered the corridor, I shoved Bobby hard to the right and shouted 'go!'
He quickly took off in the direction of the backdoor. Instead of following, I turned left and charged down the corridor towards the front door. I wasn't too sure where any of the other bikers were at that moment, all I was concerned about right then was the very angry man running along and thundering down the hall behind me. Gray had quickly gotten rid of Bailey's jacket and, having either not seen Bobby or deciding that I would be easier to catch, was hot on my heels.
After sliding around a corner and tipping over a display table as I did so, I risked a glance backwards. Gray vaulted easily over the table and was soon right behind me again, his dark eyes bright and his expression anything but pleased. He reached out and I could actually feel the rush of air as his swipe narrowly missed catching the back of my top.
Alarmed at the near miss, I focused back on where I was going and nearly breathed a sigh of relief as the front door came into view. I was nearly there! Encouraged by the sight, I managed to dig deep and nearly flew the remaining couple of metres. I didn't even have time to fully appreciate my luck that the thick wooden door was slightly ajar, I just pulled it fully open and ran straight out into the cool summer night.
Straight into a someone's solid chest.
Oomph. I tumbled to the ground, the wind knocked out of me as I came to a sudden halt. Dazed and a little turned around, I picked myself up off the ground and automatically turned to face the front door to see where Gray was. Suddenly, I was pulled back against a warm male body.
'Can't stay out of trouble, can you sunshine?' a new voice murmured teasingly into my ear, his breath sending an unexpected shiver down the back of my neck.
I struggled uselessly in his grasp, my back pressed firmly up against his chest. Giving up, I said the first thing that came to mind. 'You're such a pain, Varderen.'
I felt him chuckle silently against me. 'I've been called worse.'
I wasn't surprised.
He shifted slightly so that he was talking over my head. 'I take it you decided to check the closet after all.'
I looked up to see Gray standing in the front doorway, a glower on his face. He wasn't too happy; whether it was because of Varderen or myself, I wasn't sure. Probably both. 'And I take it you already know this kid?'
I stiffened in Varderen's hold. Was I just called a kid? Coming from a man who didn't look too much older than myself – possibly mid to late twenties – that was insulting! I conveniently decided to ignore the fact that I called Bobby a 'kid' on a regular basis; that was more because of how he acted than because of his actual age.
Varderen felt me bristle in his arms and chuckled again. 'Well, she is definitely not happy with something you just said.'
Gray ignored the comment; he couldn't really care less about what made me happy or not. 'She one of your girlfriends?'
I sighed – why must I always be someone's girlfriend? Still, I suppose it was a step up from being Bobby's girl. I decided that it was time to cut into this conversation. 'She can hear you both perfectly fine, and she would prefer it if you talk directly to her instead of at her!'
Despite the bravado of my words, I shrank back a little bit against Varderen as Gray did turn his full attention on me; the steely look on his face was unchanged by my little outburst. His dark unreadable eyes were disconcerting, or maybe it was just the raw energy I could feel simmering below the cool exterior he put on. Unlike Varderen, who appeared to favour a more carefree and laid-back style, Gray did not seem to care much for charm or similar; he was terse, brazen and more than a little rough around the edges. He was definitely not someone I wished to be alone with in the middle of the night.
When he continued to stare at me silently, I added, 'and I would never in a million years go out with Varderen. So there.' I wasn't too sure what had provoked that childish declaration – especially since, despite the fact that he was mostly likely a crook and a thief, I was sure that I could do a lot worse than the beautiful man pressed up against me. I could be going out with Bobby for instance.
The corner of Gray's mouth almost tipped up into a smile. Almost.
Varderen dipped his head down close to mine. 'Never say never, sunshine.'
I was about to come back with some sort of a retort when something pushing against my lower back started vibrating. I jerked in surprise. What the-?
Varderen grinned at my startled reaction and at the expression on my face. 'It would appear that someone's trying to call me. You wouldn't want to reach into my front pocket and retrieve my phone for me, would you?'
I responded by trying to stamp down hard on his foot. He moved away just in time, laughing quietly to himself.
'I'll take that as a no then,' he said, unexpectedly letting me go as he took a step back and reached for the phone himself. I felt a sudden chill as the warmth of his body was replaced by the cool night air at my back. He moved away from the porch as he answered the call, speaking in quiet tones that I couldn't quite hear.
I contemplated taking the opportunity to run away, but Gray was still standing in the doorway to Bailey's home and Varderen was pacing up and down on the front lawn. I was pretty sure that my chances of getting away successfully were slim; either one of them could catch me the moment I tried to run.
'So who the hell are you, and what were you doing hiding in the closet?'
I turned my attention back to Gray; he was looking at me, seemingly unimpressed by what he saw. I noted that he didn't ask a thing about Bobby – was it possible that the kid hadn't been spotted? Where was he anyway? I attempted to look around at my surroundings without being too obvious about it. There was no sign of the boy.
Gray's eyes narrowed as he saw me glance around, probably thinking that I was planning some sort of great escape. With regard to his questions, I decided that the best defence was a good offence. 'How about you tell me what you were doing breaking into Ba- into the house?'
I stopped myself just in time from mentioning Bailey's name. How much exactly did the bikers know about my best friend? The stormy look on Gray's face told me that I wasn't going to get an answer to my question any time soon.
'I don't have time for this,' he said finally, 'who the fuck are you?'
Hah, like I was going to answer that one.
'Her name is Kayla, but she's not the one you should be concerning yourself with. It's the boy who is more important.'
I spun around abruptly to see that Varderen had ended his phone call and was standing not far behind me. I glared at him accusingly, feeling horribly betrayed despite the fact that he was never on my side to begin with.
He glanced at me calmly for a second, before looking over my shoulder at Gray again.
'What boy?' the darker haired man asked, his mouth pulled tight in suspicion. There was obviously not a lot of trust between these two.
Varderen shrugged in what seemed a deliberate act to piss Gray off. 'I'll let you figure that one out. I have to go.'
My heart nearly stopped at his words. What? He was going to leave me alone with Gray? Before I had time to protest, Varderen had mounted his bike and disappeared off into the night. I must have turned back to face Gray with a stricken look on my face for he actually laughed, a sound which sounded cold and not at all jolly.
'Sweetheart, if you think you're safer with Varderen than you are with me, you're sorely mistaken.'
I wasn't sure whether those words were supposed to be of comfort or not; I then realised that he didn't mean those words as anything other than fact. That realisation was definitely not comforting.
Now that it was just the two of us, I tried to weigh up in my mind the chances of me making it away if I started running down the street suddenly. Given that his legs were longer than mine, and that he was probably all muscle, I wasn't rating my chances very highly. Maybe if I screamed, one of the neighbours would hear and look out the window. Would that be enough to deter the biker from harming me?
Did he even intend to harm me?
Again, like Varderen, Gray appeared to be a mystery. Brute and Roy had gone after me without any sort of hesitation at all, so what was different about now?
Gray unwittingly helped to answer my silent question with one of his own. 'This boy you're with, he has something in his possession, doesn't he?'
Ah, of course – he wasn't going to kill me until he had Bobby. I stopped myself just in time from asking what it was exactly that Bobby was supposed to have in his possession; I had money riding on the mystery SD card I had found in his sunglasses case. Instead of saying anything though, I figured that it would be best for the kid and myself if I were to just remain silent.
Gray stared back at me, his face unreadable. Finally he said, 'you're free to go.'
I blinked in surprise. 'What?'
'You heard me, get out of here.'
I hesitated, finally realising that it must be some sort of trick – he was just planning to follow me wherever I went. I was definitely not going to lead him to my parents house, but where else would I go? I also knew that the longer I stayed there waiting, the greater the chance that Bobby would show up and get himself into more trouble.
'Tell me about the man who lives here,' I said instead, trying to buy some time as I thought about what my next move should be.
Gray's lips pulled into a tight line.
I felt the beginning of panic starting to creep into my awareness again. I couldn't read his body language and didn't know what to think. 'Is he okay?' I asked, not bothering to hide the desperation in my voice, 'the man who lives here – is he okay? Is he hurt?'
No response. The lips pressed tighter together.
He exhaled slowly, carefully. 'He isn't hurt. He's... fine.'
Despite what should have been comforting words, the tone of his voice set my nerves further on edge. Was there something he wasn't telling me? Of course there was. 'But?' I prompted.
'But he won't be if he keeps interfering. And the same applies to you.'
'Interfering in what?' I asked before I could stop myself.
His gaze turned even sharper all of a sudden. 'You don't know?'
I was getting more confused by the second. No, I didn't know. I decided to let the expression on my face speak for me.
He let out another cold, sceptical laugh. 'You don't even know what you're getting yourself mixed up in? Christ. You're in way over your head, girl. It'd be better for the both of us if you just tell me where the boy is and stay at home, minding your own business.'
I glowered at him, and he grinned – he wasn't the least bit fazed. His grin was that of a predator, an alpha male. The rebel in me wanted to slap that smug grin right off of his face – however, I knew that he'd have me pinned to the ground before I could even raise my hand. His smirk widened, daring me to try it.
I had just bunched my hand into a fist by my side, when he turned his head away from me all of a sudden. Confused, I followed his sight without thinking, and saw flashing lights in the distance – red and blue, moving steadily down a nearby street towards us. I noted that, although I could see the lights clearly reflecting off surrounding trees and houses, the sirens on the police car remained silent.
I looked back over at Gray to see him staring at the approaching lights with a chagrined look on his face.
'Fuck,' he repeated again, before running for his motorbike, a dark Harley-Davidson resting in the front yard of Bailey's house. I noted that his was the only vehicle there; Roy and Brute must have left before Varderen had. Just before he slid on his helmet, Gray shot a final glare in my direction. 'Stay away from the Manticores, girl. And stay away from Varderen.'
Within a second he had started the engine and was gone.
'Psst, hot stuff, shut the front door and get over here!'
I turned my head back towards my parents house to see Bobby's afro hair bobbling up and down behind the fence. He was jumping around, waving his hands, and trying to get my attention. Quickly shutting the front door behind me, I ran over to where he was just as the police car came around the corner and cruised towards us.
The car rolled to a stop outside Bailey's house, and a tall, thin man and a much shorter, blonde woman got out of the vehicle. I was actually surprised to note that Officer Stanley was nowhere in sight.
'Evening miss, sir,' the woman said as she walked towards us, 'we received an anonymous call about some suspicious activity in the area. Anything you could tell us about that?'
Was she accusing us or asking for our assistance? I couldn't tell from her weary tone; more than anything else she just sounded tired. Her partner walked towards the front porch while she spoke to us; I saw him knock on the door and wait for a reply. When there was none, he reached for, and tried, the handle. Locked. The door must have locked when I shut it behind me.
I refocused my attention back on the woman as the man stepped off the porch and began a walk around the property. Bobby nudged me aside since my mind was clearly elsewhere right then.
'Yes, ma'am. That was me,' Bobby said, answering the policewoman's previous question, 'I looked out the window and saw a gang of bikers hanging around outside the neighbour's place. Looked suspicious to me.'
I tried not to look surprised as Bobby went on to describe Gray, Varderen, Brute and Roy in some detail. After he had expressed his reluctance at involving the police the other night, I was confused as to what exactly he was up to – had he really called the police himself? Something must have happened to change his mind about police involvement.
The female constable was asking Bobby further questions and taking down some notes when the man walked back around to the front of the house and gestured over at the woman. She told us to stay put for a moment while she went over to speak with him.
I took the opportunity to ask Bobby what was going on. 'Did you really call the police? I thought you didn't want them involved?'
Bobby's lips tightened. 'I didn't, but your friend is missing.'
I suddenly felt proud of the boy, and nearly hugged him then and there. So he did have some scruples after all!
'Besides,' Bobby continued, half mumbling now, 'you were in trouble.'
This time I did grab him and give him a big bear hug; oddly enough, he seemed rather uncomfortable with the sudden display of thanks and affection. Smiling to myself at his unexpected reaction, I let him go. He cleared his throat and brushed some invisible lint off of his shirt.
'Jeez, hot stuff. If you want me that much, just say so.'
My grin widened.
The policewoman came back not long after and reported that nothing appeared out of place according to her partner, but that she would follow up on our report anyway. After taking down our names and numbers (I noticed that Bobby wavered briefly before providing his contact details), she told us to go back to bed and to lock the doors; she would call us if she needed to.
As Bobby began heading back to my parents' house, I hesitated and turned back to the woman. 'The man who is house-sitting at this property,' I began, indicating Bailey's house with my hand, 'I was supposed to meet with him in the afternoon earlier today – uh, yesterday.'
'Patrick Bailey?' she queried to confirm, looking down at the notebook she carried with her.
I nodded. 'Yes.'
'You think he may be missing, and that the suspicious activity you witnessed may be connected?'
She nodded and made a note. 'Have you reported him as missing?'
Did Officer Stanley count? 'Not officially.'
'Tell me what you know.'
After I did exactly that, she shut her notepad. 'Thank you, Miss. Maitland. I will follow up and be in touch.'
I stared at her – was that it? How could she sound so cool, so calm? So detached? Perhaps she saw a lot of this sort of thing in the late night / early morning shifts. I managed to swallow back my impatience for action; deep down, I knew that there would be no use antagonising the police just yet. Besides, what had I expected? It wasn't as though she was supposed to work herself into a panic like me and call out the helicopters, detectives, crime squad or whomever straight away. 'Thank you, constable.'
She nodded again and then dismissed me as she walked back over to her partner. They stood together talking in hushed tones.
Sighing, I wrapped my arms around me; the night was beginning to feel cooler and cooler. Turning around, I noticed that Bobby was waiting in the doorway of my parents house for me.
'Come on, kid,' I said as I got closer, 'let's go to bed.'
He walked back inside, and I shut and locked the door behind us.
The first thing Bobby did as we got back to my room was to flop down on top of my bed. I was about to kick his skinny ass back onto the floor where it belonged, when I was side tracked by the scraps of white paper he clutched in his right hand.
'Are those Bailey's notes?' I asked with some surprise, had he been holding on to them all that time?
The kid looked down at his hand, confused. 'Oh yeah, I guess so.' He placed the pieces of paper into my outstretched palm before yawning loudly.
'Well, I'm off to sleep. Night hot stuff.' Surprisingly, Bobby rolled off my bed without any prompting and landed with a flop onto the air mattress. Two seconds later and he was snoring lightly.
Shaking my head with a sigh, I pulled the covers up over the boy and crept around into my own bed. I covered a large yawn with one hand as I snuggled deep into the blankets and fluffed up the pillow into a more comfortable position; I lay on my side and turned my head towards my hand with the pieces of paper still in them. I was curious to see what Bailey had written, but all of a sudden I was having trouble keeping my eyes open. Blinking several times to try and keep myself awake, I stared hard at the piece of paper – but my vision kept blurring.
In the end I yawned and gave up; I fell asleep and entered a dream world filled with motorcycles, dark nights, flashing lights, and strange half-man half-lion creatures.