J O H N
“You should be more careful. You were lucky to be in the area otherwise you would have had to call one of your friends who end up giving you infections cleaning the wound,” the vet, Marcus, lectured John. He’d heard it all before, but, funnily enough, getting shot wasn’t a regular occurrence. And now he had been shot twice in the space of a month. “By the way, the girl over there, I’m guessing a bounty, was slipping a scalpel into her pocket. Just thought you should know.”
While John was bleeding out on the table, Mari was arming herself. How incredibly cold of her. He was actually impressed that the situation hadn’t distracted her from her goal in the slightest. She wanted to escape more than anything.
“She’s a slippery one,” John said to Marcus, staring at the little girl hunched up into the corner asleep.
“Young,” Marcus pointed out, raising his eyebrows towards the bounty hunter. “Who could need to hire you to find someone so young? It couldn’t be that hard.”
“Oh, it’s hard,” John replied with a wince.
“I thought you said it was a cop who did that,” Marcus said, gesturing to the freshly bandaged bullet wound.
“It was. The other one was her,” he told Marcus with a slight smirk on his face. He was pissed about getting shot back then, but the fact that Mari had done it cancelled it out. This cop, he was enraged about that. But that was his job.
“Where are you taking her?”
“New York. That’s all I can say right now. She’s a fighter; I’ll give her that. Too much fight for her own good.” John knew that to be true. She would go down fighting until the very end. And that, for some reason, worried him.
“Yeah, she tried leaving. Might not be that smart for this, having not that much experience in the game. She’s young, it’s understandable.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. I’ve underestimated her too many times. She can be so smart that you think you’re being dumb.”
She was fiercely motivated to run. She would risk her soul before going back. If she had shot him and he died, she would have kept running. She would feel a piece of her soul stolen away but no regret. Whatever it took for her freedom. The fact that she had yet to do something, try something, throughout their journey since he caught her the second time bothered him. He knew she hadn’t given up, clearly by the fact that she was arming herself. What was she planning? What was she going to do?
He watched her eyes flicker open, adjusting to the light and her body sit up. A pout naturally sat on her tired face and her eyelids were half over her eyes. Still, she was beautiful.
“Get up, we’re going,” he declared, breaking himself and her out of their dazes.
“Maybe I should drive. You’re still healing,” she joked, although secretly hoping it would work.
“You wish. Come on, get in the car.” He pushed her forward, making sure he kept her in his sights at all times.
“We can’t get back into your car, right?”
“No,” he gritted through his teeth. He loved his mustang, but now it was on the police’s radar and they were crossing state lines. He didn’t need any more setbacks, though Mari would love that. “We’re taking Marcus’ car and he’s taking mine to the impound.”
“Sorry,” she muttered. He refrained from looking at her strangely. She had just given him sympathy for losing his car, unaware of what she had done even. It was instinctive, genuine. He contemplated whether she was actually starting to care, or whether she actually liked the time she spent in his car.
Before she could reach for the car door, he pulled her back flush against his chest. She squealed and squirmed a little but froze when his hand trailed up from her thigh around to the back pocket of her jeans. He pulled out the scalpel and held it to her throat steadily.
Her breathing was jagged, her throat pressing against the blade as she swallowed in her sudden fear.
“Now, what would you be doing with this, little girl?” he whispered in her ear. He wanted her to know that he could kill her right there, and he wanted her to think he was capable of that. “Huh? Answer me.”
“For protection. When we get back home,” she answered.
“What would you do with it? Stab your father?” he questioned. He found this peculiar. Perhaps she wasn’t planning to use it on him. Or perhaps she was planning to use it on both. Why would she want to stab her own father? He sent the best bounty hunter after her because she was so important to him.
“I’ll do what’s necessary,” she responded coldly. And he admired it. He admired her confidence when saying it, even though he knew that wasn’t true. If it were, she would have had the guts to kill him. She could surprise him well enough for him not to see it coming. Plenty of his bounties had tried. But she could actually do it if she had the stomach for it.
But she didn’t.
“You’d stab me?” he asked her daringly.
“No,” she lied. She knew he knew she was lying. But she couldn’t even be bothered to hide the truth. He couldn’t blame her. She liked to think she would do whatever it took.
“Get in the car,” he ordered, pushing her inside. He tossed the weapon away, climbed into the driver’s seat and they were off once again.
They drove for a while, passing through a couple of towns. The scenery was far from perfect, but Mari seemed to be enamored with it, which at least put him at ease. She was easily distracted, her youth causing that. She’d be entertained with anything bright and shiny. He just needed to find something that would keep her focus. The world outside the windows wouldn’t hold her attention for long.
“Does it still hurt a lot? I saw you down a handful of painkillers, which you shouldn’t do, by the way,” she said.
“Thanks for the tip, doctor. And no, the pain’s a little number now. Why? Thinking of ways to get rid of me still?” he joked, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I was just asking. Why does everything have to have an ulterior motive?” she retorted, almost as if she were offended. Perhaps she was being genuine. Which was the much more confusing reason of the two. A few hours ago, she was thinking about stabbing him, and now she was concerned about his pain? That didn’t even seem plausible. And yet, this little girl always found a way to surprise him.
“Because it does.” He didn’t know what else to say. Everyone wanted something. And that motivated everything they did and said. That was life. Maybe he should teach her a few lessons about the real world. He already had.
“That’s very pessimistic.”
“No, that’s realistic. You should learn how to be realistic. Here’s what you need to know about the world. Life’s unfair, you don’t always get what you want. And everyone wants something. Learn it.”
“I don’t have to,” she muttered, staring out of the window. “You’re sending me back home. I won’t need to know about the world.” She sounded as though she had given up on her escape, which John couldn’t help but be disappointed by. Perhaps the knife thing was a last-ditch attempt. It seemed that way. It would have been an impulsive move to stab him. Now, she had no weapon, no way of escaping.
He admired her fight, her desire to keep going until she had completely run out. Maybe this was it. Maybe there was really nothing else she could do.
“Life is what it is. Don’t think about it too hard.”
“Says the man who can go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants and be whatever he wants to be.”
“It’s overrated. Trust me.” They drove a couple more blocks in silence. He had finally accepted that she would be gone soon, even though he would miss chasing her. She was his favorite bounty. Perhaps one of the smartest too. But her youth weighed her down, as did her inexperience of the outside world.
Then, something happened.
A car door opened. A belt strap was popped. And, in a blink of an eye, she was gone. Mari was gone.
He was in such a stunned state that it took him a few seconds to pull up and stop.
She had just jumped out of a car moving at forty miles per hour. That had to hurt. And she had to have injured herself. Why did she think that was a sane plan? He understood that she was grasping at straws, but did she really just do that?
He scrambled out of the car and scoured the streets. He didn’t understand it. Not at all. She just vanished. She vanished, injured and alone. How did that happen?
And he was left there, completely astounded yet again. She really mastered the element of surprise. One would think that by now, he would learn. But he was fooled once again.
She somehow got away. Again.
When he answered the ring of his phone, Marcus’ voice spoke.
“The girl took my phone.”
That probably meant she wasn’t on foot. Shit.