Jack steps off the bus on Pike, two stops before the one by the trailer park, figuring this way he has a better chance of throwing of any agents, or cops who might be working with them.
The streets are nearly empty, and most of the stores are still closed. He keeps his head down, his hood up. He glances here and there to see if there are any mysterious SUVs or other suspicious vehicles around, but does so in a way that won’t make him look like he’s looking for suspicious vehicles.
The night air seems to blow right through him as he takes quick strides down the sidewalk toward home. He feels a couple of prickly burrs, one on his heel and one on the small of his back, left over from the bramble he ran through between the agents’ building and the river bank. He thought he picked most of them off him during his bus ride, but at this point, he doesn’t care. He just wants to get home.
He suspects the agents will be watching his house, so he cuts up the back way, through the little patch of trees on the other side of the Olsens’ place, right across the street and down a couple of houses from his. He moves slowly through the trees to try to make as little noise as possible, which is difficult given the heavy layer of dried leaves on the ground.
Once his house is in view, he stays still, remaining on the lookout from the shadows. There are no lights on. That’s a relief. It means Grandpa isn’t up in the middle of the night doing something stupid. The rest of the neighborhood is still asleep, too. He doesn’t know what time it is, but from the bluish-black color of the sky, he guesses it’s at least a couple of hours before people start stirring.
He keeps his eyes peeled for unusual vehicles, or movement. He recognizes most of the parked cars as the types he usually sees around Melanee Homes.
But then from down the street, he sees a set of headlights turn off Pike and move his way. They approach slowly, heading straight toward him. He ducks into the underbrush so the lights won’t hit him. He hears the tires rolling down the asphalt, coming to a stop not far from him. Then the engine turns off, and not long after that, the lights. From the sound of it, the car could have pulled over right in front of his house. He gradually raises his head to get a peek and spots the car. It’s stopped in the middle of the street. He sees some movement in it. He imagines it’s somebody he knows in the neighborhood, maybe somebody who works the night shift, getting a ride home. Janice maybe?
Please let it be Janice.
The passenger door opens and somebody gets out. Then the driver gets out. Then a third person from the backseat. They’re talking, but quietly. Jack can’t make out what they’re saying, but he can tell they’re men’s voices. There goes the hope he was clinging to that this was Janice. They walk up to his house. They all look like big guys, especially the one in the back.
Jack determines they’re agents.
He’ll wait them out, figuring they’ll probably wake up Grandpa, maybe question him—they won’t get far wit that. They might even search the place, looking for Jack. When they see he’s not there, they’ll leave. Maybe one of them will stay behind to wait for Jack. He’s not sure how he’d get around that. But if he had to, he could sneak in his bedroom window. He knows how to jimmy it open. He’s done it a few times when he’s locked himself out, or when Grandpa’s locked him out.
The three men stop at the door, their silhouettes visible against the light vinyl siding. But they don’t knock or ring the bell. They talk some more. Jack wishes he could pick up what they’re saying. One of them opens the screen door, which makes its familiar loud creak.
The man in front appears to reach inside a sport coat. He pulls something out. It glints in his hand. The two in front step aside, and the one in back kicks the door in with a whoom! Something crashes inside, like breaking glass. They rush in. Jack gets a chill up his spine, and his pulse pounds. He can’t see what’s happening and wants desperately to move closer, to step out of the shadows just a little, to get a better look, but his instincts tell him if he gets any closer, he’ll be spotted for sure.
He hears more banging around inside the trailer. Sounds like their knocking over a table. Jack can’t imagine why they’re they being so rough.
The light in Grandpa’s room doesn’t turn on, but he must have heard the door smash open. He’s too light a sleeper not to. Even Jack heard it, and he’s almost two houses away.
It’s eerily silent for too long. Then, cutting through the silence like a tear in the fabric of space, gunshots! One after the other, loud pops, with quick bursts of light in the main front window accompanying each blast. Four shots. Maybe five.
Some lights go on in homes around the block. A dog barks down the street.
Jack finds himself running uncontrollably out from the trees, into the Olsens’ yard, but stops short of storming his house, his instinct again restraining him from certain doom.
There’s more noise in the house—crashing. It sounds like they’re tearing the place apart. Jack’s guts wrench at the thought that Grandpa’s been shot, lying there bleeding to death right now, begging for Jack to come and help him.
The crashing mostly stops. Little residual noises taper off, like bulbs breaking, or knickknacks getting tossed aside. Jack can’t understand why they’re trashing his house. What are they looking for?
Then the screen door slams open. The three men walk out in no particular hurry. Jack backs into the shadows and ducks down.
He wants to rush them, to scream at them, to just come out and start swinging at them, but something inside stops him—something cowardly, something that fills him with shame. It’s a deep desire for self-preservation, and he can feel it holding him back, biting his tongue, fighting against every fiery breath inside him that wants to cry out for them to pay for what they just did, and get vengeance in any way he can. These agents are killers. They never intended to offer Jack any kind of opportunity. There’s no telling what they want. There’s no telling what kind of murderous madness Jack has got himself messed up in.
The men reach their car. The two in front get in. The third trails slightly behind. Jack notices he’s the biggest of the three, and his stark bald head glares from a distant streetlight.
Jack rustles in the leaves to reposition himself, and a twig snaps under his foot. He freezes.
The bald man looks in Jack’s direction.
Jack holds his breath as the man slowly walks toward him.