As soon as he spotted the phone booth downtown, Silas whipped the car into a parallel parking space. His heart pounded furiously. No sign of Charlie… Cursing, Silas climbed out of his car. He wanted so badly to slam the car door, but caught himself just in time. It would do Charlie no good for Silas to make so much noise. That creepy-sounding Todd guy might hear…
Silas made his way quickly and quietly across the sidewalk and toward the phone booth, his sharp green eyes scanning the street for any glimpse of Charlie. All was quiet, the mountain town sleeping in what seemed to be peace.
Silas stepped into the phone booth. The receiver was dangling on its cord, swaying slightly. Someone had just been in the booth, Silas surmised. Charlie…
His breath coming in short, angry gasps, Silas scanned the area for any sign of Charlie. All traces of the younger man seemed to have vanished. Silas knelt in the phone booth and bowed his head. "I'm so sorry, Charlie," he bit out breathlessly. "I should have been faster…" He clenched his jaw and swallowed hard, fighting down the fierce sense of guilt that threatened to envelop him. He couldn't let it, had to ignore it, or he would remember…
"No!" he shouted, jumping to his feet and smacking the receiver against the hard glass of the booth. It swung back violently and would have hit him had he not been already on the move, practically jogging back toward his car.
All of a sudden, a low, metallic growl caught his attention. He stopped jogging midway between his car and the phone booth, his attention riveted toward the sound. A flash of red around the corner sent hope speeding back through his veins. Moving quickly, he ran the rest of the way to his car, jumping into the front seat and cranking up the convertible. The car roared to life, and he steered it onto the road, following the elusive red gleam of another vehicle's taillights.
His target led him out of town and down a winding, twisting country road. A heavy fog began to settle over the ground as the two cars raced onward.
Silas swore and flipped on his windshield wipers. He could barely see through the condensation on his window--or through the thickening fog. The headlights of the other car gleamed a dull, faint red through the mist.
The other car suddenly jerked sideways, the headlights vanishing to the left. Silas tried to follow, then…
Something slammed into his car on the right side, sending it fishtailing wildly across the damp road. Silas fought desperately to correct the spin, but failed to do so in time. His car hit a deep rut in the road and went flipping, flipping into the ditch.
Madeline's heart thudded heavy and fast in her chest, so heavy and fast it almost hurt. Keeping one hand on the steering wheel of her car, she pressed the other against her chest, trying to calm herself. "Breathe, Maddy, breathe," she whispered. "God, please help me…" She could find no sign of Silas's car downtown. The place was silent and empty and lonely.
Chewing on her lower lip, she parked on a curb near a telephone booth, then leaned her head against her steering wheel, tempted to cry. Still praying, she took a few deep, shuddering breaths, fighting to recover her wits.
Random clips of her recent conversations with Silas played through her mind to accompany her worry for him, worry that had ousted her rage.
"Charlie isn't a killer, Madeline."
"It's okay, babe. You can cry."
"…get that Jason kid to triangulate some more signals or whatever it is that he does…"
Madeline blinked and lifted her head. "Jason… Triangulating signals," she murmured thoughtfully. She whipped the cell phone out of her pocket and frantically punched in Jason's number. As the dial tone beeped, she tapped nervous fingers on the dashboard.
"Jason! You're up!" Hope rose in Madeline's heart.
"Well… Duh. The Guild is meeting online tonight." Jason yawned. "Although, I stayed up really late on World of Warcraft last night and have been forced to drink like ten cans of Red Bull to even--"
"Jason, I need your help," Madeline interrupted. Her whole body was shaking.
"Madeline, what on earth are you up to?" Jason asked. The clicking of keyboard keys could be heard in the background. "Are you like a spy now or something?"
"Not yet. But… I need you do some more… triangulating for me."
There was a brief silence, then a sigh. "I really don't want the FBI or the CIA or the NSA breathing down my neck, Maddy. They probably already are…"
"Look, maybe this will make them, uhm, appreciate you or something," Madeline countered. "Maybe they'll try to recruit you." She was sure she had seen a movie to that effect…
"Hmm. Maybe you're right, Maddy…" He was definitely weakening.
"And anyway, if you do this…" She took a deep breath. "I'll join your online Guild."
"Sure. Just… Just please help me here, Jason."
"Sure thing, Maddy! Who's phone do you want me to locate?"
"Well, I need you to tell me how to get to Silas." She gave Jason Silas's number. "I'm in the middle of town. Tell me how to get to Silas from here." She tired to control her voice, to keep her intense worry out of it.
"Alrighty. Give me a few minutes, and I'll have those directions for you."
When he called back a few minutes later, Madeline threw her car in gear and roared out of town.
Invisible heaviness weighed down on Charlie. There was something semi-soft beneath his cheek and hand, beneath his body, along with a steady humming, like an engine. Someone was speaking soothing words to him, words he didn't entirely trust. He wasn't sure why. All he was sure of was that something foreign and dangerous was swimming through his veins. Maybe if he gave in to sleep, it would go away.
So he slept. And he dreamed a memory.
The raft rushed downriver, pushed and shoved along by paddles and wild currents alike. Charlie grinned and gripped his paddle tighter. He was scared, sure, but this was fun. And he was sharing it with two of his favorite people. He glanced back at Madeline, then sideways at Silas. Madeline looked like a Viking goddess, blond hair streaming from under her helmet, chin lifted, lips curved with a mad smile. And Silas also appeared warrior-like, intense, but wildly glad.
"Told you this was fun!" Silas yelled to Charlie over the roar of the rapids. His teeth flashed white in a grin.
The raft started to tilt sideways, and Charlie corrected it by shoving at a rock with his paddle.
"And you picked up on it pretty quick!" Silas added.
Charlie nodded, spray splashing his face and making him blink. "I like it!'
Silas turned to glance over his shoulder at Madeline. "You okay back there, Maddy?"
"I'm great!" she called, her voice breathless with exhilaration.
Charlie smiled, then frowned suddenly at the sight ahead. "What's that?" He pointed. Not far ahead, another raft appeared to be beached on a large rock. Three people sat inside the raft, and they were all waving their arms, some reaching toward the water for something floating beside the rock…
Silas swore. "Someone's taken a plunge." He was suddenly serious, even more intense than usual. "Paddle harder."
And so they paddled as fast as they could. Charlie's arms burned, his heart beating faster. As they neared the other raft, he saw that Silas was right. Someone had indeed fallen out. With a pang, Charlie realized that the person in danger was a child. The kid was clinging to a boulder near the one upon which the raft was stranded. And his fingers were slipping.
"Charlie, Madeline--paddle hard on your side," Silas ordered. "As soon as we pass them, Maddy… You take my spot and try and get us to shore."
"What are doing, Silas?" Madeline asked above the rushing roar.
"I gotta save that kid," Silas replied, barely audible.
Charlie glanced sharply at his friend. There was a haunted light in Silas's sharp green eyes. "Silas--"
"Madeline, now!" Silas yelled. Then he flung himself out of the raft and toward the stranded child.
Madeline swiftly took Silas's place across from her brother. "He's crazy, Charlie!" she shouted, shaking her head. "He could be killed!"
Charlie thought he spotted tears on her cheeks, but maybe that was just spray from the river. "Let's get to shore like he said," he urged his sister quickly. As they steered the small raft against the bank of the river, he glanced over his shoulder, watching in amazement as Silas grabbed hold of the child, turning so that his back was to the rocks ahead, shielding the child with his body.
Dragging the raft onto the shore, Charlie and Madeline watched with wide eyes as Silas kicked against rocks and grabbed at the shore, his body taking a pounding, his grip never loosening on the child. Finally, he managed to get a hold on a dangling tree branch, hauling himself and the kid--a boy of about ten or so--onto the shore, where he collapsed, panting.
By this time, the three people in the other raft had managed to free themselves from the rock. They swiftly paddled to shore and disembarked. A woman ran to the little boy and scooped him up, hugging him hard, while two men hovered over Silas. Silas sat up, wiping water from his eyes and coughing, motioning toward the little boy.
Charlie's shoulders sagged with relief. "Oh, thank God. He's alright."
"He saved that kid, Charlie." Madeline's eyes were still wide with wonder. "Have you ever seen anything like it?"
A sudden jolt awoke Charlie from his dream. His mind remained focus on his sister and his friend. Madeline, Silas… I need you!
Madeline… I need you! The thought startled Silas and woke him from unconsciousness. Pain instantly greeted him, flaring through his chest and the left side of his head. His left leg hurt, too, and his left side… left shoulder… "Ugh," he groaned and picked up his head… which had been resting on the top of his steering wheel. "Crap," he muttered.
Somehow, his car had landed right side up after rolling into the ditch. The windshield was miraculously intact, although the driver's side window was shattered. "My car," Silas muttered, blinking rapidly and drawing a trembling hand down his face. "My baby…" He noticed that it was still running and quickly threw it into park and turned the key backward, shutting off the engine. "Least it still runs…" He released a shaky sigh and leaned his head back against his seat. His body ached, but, thank God, he was alive.
He shook himself out of his stunned state and opened the door, stumbling out of the car and falling forward on all fours. His limbs shook, his breath suddenly coming in ragged pants. Glancing at his hand, he spotted blood, then realized that more of it was dripping down his face, from just above his left eyebrow. He took a deep breath and sat back on his knees, pressing a hand to the cut on his forehead.
Lights suddenly cut through the gloom above him, up on the road. He glanced up, fear shooting through him along with the pain. He couldn't shake the insane feeling that someone had sideswiped him on purpose…
The low hum of an idling engine joined the rhythmic beeping of his car. The door… I've left the door opened… They'll hear the beeping…
"Silas!" a high-pitched voice cried.
A shaky laugh tore out of Silas's throat, rattling his aching ribs. "Madeline!" he coughed out. "Oh, thank God!"
A steady beam of light bobbed down the hill toward him, and behind it was the silhouette of the woman he loved, her hair gleaming silver in the back-light of her car's beams.
Silas staggered to his feet, one arm wrapped around his body, the other hand pressed to his wounded skull. "Maddy…" He grinned, which quickly led him to realize that his lip was split and bleeding.
"You're alive!" She halted a few feet from him, breathing heavily. "Are you--are you okay?"
He nodded, dazed. "Yeah. Yeah. I'm okay. Just a little banged up…" He was still grinning like a fool. "Car still runs," he added.
Madeline hiccuped. "And that's the important thing," she choked out.
"Madeline, baby, don't cry." Silas took a few limping steps toward her, wincing at the jarring pain shooting up from his left shin… and in fact the entire left side of his body. "It's alright… It's--" He stopped walking, closing his eyes and bowing his head. "Gosh, I'm sorry. I didn't--I couldn't find Charlie. I am so sorry."
"No. No… Don't be. It's not--not your fault. We'll find him." Her arms were suddenly around him, gentle, careful of his bruises. She touched his face, avoiding the cuts and scrapes. "Why do you have to be so responsible?" she whispered, gazing up at him.
"If I'm not, bad things happen," he murmured, leaning on her more than he would have liked. He was so tired… so tired… "Gotta find him, Maddy."
"We will--together," she assured him. "But for now, we need to call 911 or something. Okay?"
He shook his head, fighting the weariness. The circles she was rubbing on his back made him want to sleep. "Gotta follow that car. I'll be fine." He jerked his head up from her shoulder, yanked himself out of her arms. "Maddy, go back to the motel. I've still got work to do."
She narrowed her eyes on him. "I won't let you do this alone, Silas. I mean… Look at you." She waved the beam of her flashlight over him.
He glanced down at himself, taking in the arm wrapped around his ribs, the stiff way in which he held his shoulder, the blood from his face that had run down onto his jacket, the fact that he was leaning heavily on his right leg. Quickly, he shook his head. "I'm fine. I'm goin' after him." He glanced up at the road. "Can I borrow your car?"
Madeline folded her arms over her chest. "Not an honest man's chance in D.C." She shook her head. "Either we go together, or you go to a hospital. I've got the car. And you're banged all to pieces." Her voice shook on the last few words.
Silas worked his jaw… and found that that hurt, so he stopped. With a sinking feeling, he realized that he needed her. He had to have her with him if he wanted any chance of rescuing Charlie. "Alright," he conceded hoarsely. "I'll take you with me." He wagged a finger at her. "But you better listen to me. You are not putting yourself in any dangerous positions. You'll follow my orders."
A crooked smile twisted her lips. "Aye, aye, captain. But first… We make sure you're fit for duty."