It seemed like we'd been walking along the tracks for ages. "This is a dead end," I declared.
"It's not like we have any other leads," Charlie snapped.
"Did you hear me blame your for the dead end? Don't get so defensive, my god," I mumbled. A bullet whizzed past my head and we all scattered. I ducked behind an abandoned car and glanced around for the others, Miles and Bass were two cars to my right and they motioned for me to make a run for it. I sprinted towards them and Charlie was right behind me. "How many guys are out there?" I asked.
"Seven or eight," Miles told me.
"What do we do?" Charlie asked.
"Remember South Bend?" Bass asked Miles. Miles nodded. Charlie looked at me and I shrugged, just as clueless as she was. "Cover us," Bass said, tossing Charlie his gun. He and Miles ran out from behind the car.
My reflexes were quicker that Charlie's, and I was on my feet in a second. I shot at the first soldier I saw who was aiming for Miles and instinctively turned to my left and shot another soldier right between the eyes. My arm was yanked suddenly and I stumbled backwards.
"Be careful!" Charlie reprimanded. "You were standing in the open!" I crouched back down behind the car and leaned out to take my shots. For a few minutes we shot and were shot at and then it stopped. Charlie and I glanced at each other and nodded before coming out from behind our barricade.
Miles stood in the doorway of a ruined building holding onto one of the Patriots. "Who's he?" I asked.
"We get him to talk and he's our proof."
We headed to an old mill by the river and tied the Patriot up. Charlie wasn't particularly thrilled with our plan, but she also didn't try to stop us. Miles headed back to the ground floor and Bass followed him, I waited a moment before crossing the room to the stairs.
"If you trust him so much, why do you keep following him?" Charlie asked.
I paused and turned around. "It's not Bass I don't trust. We both know he's going to do something to set Miles off eventually, and I'm going to be there when he does to make sure neither of them wind up dead."
I reached the bottom of the stairs just as the door creaked open and Rachel walked in. I took the last three steps in one stride and put myself between her and Bass. I knew I wouldn't be much of a buffer, she had made it clear that killing him was more important that keeping me alive. "What the hell is this?" She asked calmly.
"Oh god," Miles said, stepping between Rachel and me. Now Miles, on the other hand, Rachel probably wouldn't shoot. She grabbed one of the guys' guns and pointed it at us. "Hold on Rachel, hold on!"
"Get out of my way."
"We do not have time for this," Miles told her.
"Look, Rachel, you can hold us at gun point later. We've got more important things to do," I told her.
"If you don't move, I'll shoot you too," Rachel told me.
"Fry will be here any moment now and you all need to go," Miles told us. "Go! Upstairs, anywhere, I don't care, just give me the gun and get out of sight." Rachel reluctantly let Miles take the gun. I let Charlie, Rachel and Aaron go up the stairs in front of me to make sure Rachel didn't try anything last minute. "Go!" Miles said exasperated.
At the top of the stairs Aaron was waiting and he gave me an awkward hug. "Been awhile."
"Yep." We stepped into the room and I remained glued to Aaron's side. We may not have been close, but he was the best buffer I had between me and Rachel at this point.
"How are you, mom?" Charlie asked.
"I've been better. I know Ciara may not have the best judgment, but why did you let him live, Charlie?"
"I am so damn tired of people questioning my judgment. I'm not a naïve little kid anymore, I know the choices I'm making. Bass has been a hell of a lot more loyal to me than anyone else has."
Aaron shushed us. "I hear voices downstairs."
"They want to help," Charlie told Rachel.
"And you believe them? God, Charlie. Ciara basically admitted she's only looking out for herself."
"You haven't exactly given me a reason to help you," I told her. "I'm here because of Miles and Bass. The rest of you are just a means to an end. But it just so happens we have the same end."
"And what happens when that end changes?" Rachel countered.
"You don't have to trust us, but I guarantee you'll be a lot better off if you let us help. But be my guest, kill us, or run us off. I won't be crying when the Patriots lock you up, or worse."
A gunshot rang out below us and we all ran down stairs to see what happened. The first thing I noticed was the Patriot slumped over dead, then at his feet, lying face down on the concrete was the Texas Ranger. Bass stood a few feet away holding the gun.
I nodded. "Oh. Well, that's how you get things done around here."
"Head back to town with Rachel and Charlie," Miles told me.
"I'm not going anywhere with them," I told him.
"Fine, yeah, just go get some water, we need to clean this up." I nodded and looked around for a bucket. Bass was behind me and I tossed him one too.
"Well this is a new experience," I said, as we walked down towards the river. "I guess this is what real fugitives do."
"There's a price on your head and you're treating it like a joke."
"If you can't laugh you'll go insane. You aren't normally this serious, why are you in such a mood, grumpy goose?"
"Normally I'm the only one in trouble."
"You're always in trouble," I corrected. I leaned down and scooped up a bucketful of water. "I don't want anyone worrying about me, so if that's where you're going you can stop." I walked up the hill and Bass followed.
"Did you call me a grumpy goose?"
"Sarah called everyone that," I explained. "I thought it fit." I smiled sadly as I remembered babysitting Governor Braxton's daughter years ago while our dads were in meetings.
"Are you two done yet?" Miles called out, impatiently. "Bass, help me carry him down the hill. Ciara, start scrubbing." Bass handed me his bucket and I went inside to start cleaning up the mess. Who knew people bled so much?
"And this is going to work?" I asked.
"Did you clean up?" Miles asked.
"Scrubbed as much as I could, it stained a little but I swept some dust and dirt over to cover the darkest stains," I told him. "And you planted evidence?" Miles nodded.
"Then, yes, hopefully this will work," Bass said. "Now come on, they'll be looking for him soon." We crossed the river and waited for the Rangers to arrive. Bass had been right, it didn't take them long to track Fry out here. We passed the binoculars around to watch as they went into the mill and then as they scoured the river.
Some of the men pulled Fry's body ashore. We couldn't hear them talking from our position but one of the Rangers was holding the Patriot bullet casing we'd planted. "They bought it," I said quietly. Miles didn't say anything he just pressed his lips together. "Well, this is what you wanted, isn't it?"
"You wanted a war and now you have one," Bass told him.
We left the mill and made camp a couple of miles outside of town. We'd already been there a few days and the excitement still hadn't worn off for me. One night while we were all resting, I pushed myself up on my elbows. "This is stupid but I'm having fun, and don't either of you lecture me about not taking this seriously, because I am."
"You call this fun?" Miles asked skeptically.
"I lived in a pretty little sheltered box my entire life. I didn't do the whole on the road, camping under the stars thing. It's peaceful out here, I can almost forget about everything else."
"Almost," Bass mumbled.
"Not that I don't miss my box sometimes, it was nice to not worry about anything, but you take what you can get. I guess I did the same thing with Charlie, but it was different, I had a goal and I was stuck with her. And now…well a year ago this moment would have been unfathomable, for all of us I think. Do you believe in fate?" I asked. Neither of them answered. I looked at both of them and realized they'd fallen asleep. "I am not taking first watch." No response. I groaned. "I seriously hate you both."
The next morning Bass asked me to go on a walk with him. Our walk quickly turned into tracking down a Patriot and taking him into an abandoned building for questioning. "You know what would be nice?" I asked, when it was clear the soldier wasn't going to last much longer. "A knife that stays red hot all the time. You could stab someone and it would cauterize the wound so they wouldn't bleed out, then you could stab them again. It would be handy for this torturing stuff." Bass looked at me funny. "What?"
"That was borderline sadistic."
"I just meant it would be a lot more efficient, you could get more information that way."
"I did a pretty good job with this one," he said. He handed me some papers he'd gotten from the man.
I flipped through them: base locations, rosters, supply delivery schedules. "Impressive. Still, Miles is going to be pissed you killed another one."
"Help me drag him around back, I dug a hole."
"Already? Did I fall asleep?"
"I'm exhausted," I told him. We lifted the guy up and lugged him around back to the hole, where he dumped him unceremoniously. Bass filled the hole back in and we headed back towards Miles.
After walking for a little bit I sat down. "Sorry, my ankle is acting up today. I tripped yesterday and landed on it wrong." I rolled it around. "Dr. Porter said sprains are never the same, it'll always be a little weaker than it was before." Bass sat down next to me and I lay across his lap so I was looking up at him. "I feel like all I've done is walk for seven thousand years."
"This on the road thing still exciting for you?" He asked.
I laughed. "Is it bad if I say yes?" He shook his head at me and I smiled again. "I know, I'm not normal, I don't need to hear it from you."
"I didn't say anything."
I pulled his arm around me and his sleeve rode up. There was a burn on his forearm and I pushed back the rest of his sleeve so I could look at it. It was scared over now, but I knew that was where his tattoo had been. I brushed my fingers over it. "You can't erase the bad things, they're part of you too. You wouldn't be the same person without them."
"Most people would say that was a good thing, especially in my case."
"Well, we've already determined I'm not normal." I hopped up. "Come on, Miles is probably wondering where we went."
"I know you're having fun playing Bonnie and Clyde but you'd be safer inside the walls," Miles told me.
"I'm perfectly fine out here," I told him.
"If the Patriots meet you and think you're under control they'll be less likely to come after you. Out here you're a sitting duck."
"In there I'm a prisoner."
"Rachel is alive."
"Yeah, but she has to pretend like she agrees with those people. Forcing me to play nice with them is like forcing Rachel to play nice with Bass, it's cruel and it's pretty much impossible."
"He's right," Bass interjected. "You're safer inside."
"Two against one, you're coming with me," Miles told me. He slung my bag over his shoulder and steered me through the woods.
"This is a bad idea, Miles," I protested.
"You need to learn how to control your mouth, now you'll have to or you'll end up in trouble."
"This is not the time to teach me a lesson! I could die!"
"Ciara, you are not going to die, stop being so over dramatic."
We reached the road leading into town and I followed it reluctantly. It wasn't like I had much choice. We walked right through the front gates without anyone so much as bating an eye at us.
"Hey," Charlie said, approaching us. "Surprised to see you here."
"Wait here," Miles instructed me. "I'll be right back."
"Rachel's upstairs," Charlie told me when Miles had disappeared into one of the buildings. "I can't tell if you're pissed about something or if that's just your permanent bitch face."
"Miles dragged me back for my own good," I told her.
"Well if you have to be stuck anywhere, Willoughby is as good a place as any right?"
"Sure, Willoughby is fine. But the Patriots aren't."
"They haven't done anything yet," Charlie said. "At least nothing I've noticed. They're afraid of pissing off Texas."
"We pissed off Texas for them."
The bell at the end of Town Square rang and my head whipped towards the gate I'd just come through. Wagons rolled into town carting Patriots and, to my surprise, a few Texans. "So much for the war, huh?" Charlie mumbled.
"Inside, now," Miles ordered me. He pulled my arm towards the building. I glanced back towards the street and saw the final wagon, the back was a cage and inside Bass was staring at us. Miles yanked my shoulders and I stumbled towards him and he dragged me inside.
I opened my mouth and Miles shoved his hand over my face. "Do not scream, or yell or freak out." I tried to speak but he pressed harder against my mouth. "We'll get him out, ok?"
I shook him off. "I'm not going to scream, I'm not an idiot." Miles watched me for a moment before stepping back. "I should have been there."
"And then I'd have to rescue both of you. There's nothing you could have done. Even Bonnie and Clyde were caught eventually."
"We should go out there, they whole town is listening to General Carver," Charlie said.
"I can't go out there, my civility is enclosed in these four walls," I told them.
"If the Patriots see you there, suspicion is thrown off you," Miles told me. "Come on." I followed them out side and we stood in front of the courthouse. The general congratulated some of his men and thanked the Patriots for their help in capturing the continent's most wanted man. Thankfully they didn't drag Bass out for the mob to see, because I probably wouldn't have been able to keep my cool.
After they were done speaking Rachel returned to the house and Miles, Charlie and I took a lap around the jail. The more guards I counted the more worried I got. "There are more of them than I expected."
"Too many," Charlie added. "Are you sure about this?"
"If Texas and the Patriots are working together we need him more than ever," Miles said.
"We have to get him out," I said.
That night we went up on the roof of the building next to the prison. I heard people below and leaned over the edge. "What are they doing?" I hissed. Miles popped up beside me. Guards surrounded Bass and they were walking across the street.
"They're moving him," Miles told me. "To the bank." We both ducked back down.
"Why?" Charlie asked.
"Because there's a vault."
"Only one way in and out," I said. "Damn it."
"Why all of a sudden? Why didn't they put him there in the first place?" Charlie asked.
"Because someone knew we were coming," I said. "Rachel."