Long Lost Page 69

I heard men in the woods, not far from me. No choice. Had to make a move. I looked at the Victorian mansion on my right. My fingers wrapped themselves around a large rock as something close to a plan started running through my head.

The leader: ’’I have a knife. I\'m going to cut out his eyes now.’’

There was movement in the house now. I could see it through the window. Not much time. I got up, my knees bent, ready to spring into action.

I heaved the rock as hard as I could in the direction opposite the house. The rock landed against a tree with a thud.

The leader\'s head turned toward the sound. The men moving through the woods started in that direction too, firing their weapons. The Jeep veered away from me and toward where the rock had landed.

At least, that was what I hoped was happening.

I didn\'t wait and watch. As soon as the rock left my hand, I dashed through the trees toward the side of the house. I was moving farther away from Berleand\'s cries and the men who were trying to kill me. It was darker now, almost impossible to see, but I didn\'t let that stop me. Branches whipped my face. I didn\'t care. I knew I had only seconds. Time was everything now, but it seemed to be taking me too long to get close to the house.

Without breaking stride, I picked up another rock.

The leader: ’’I\'m taking out an eye now!’’

I heard Berleand shout ’’No!’’ and then he began to shriek.

Time was up.

Still running, I used my momentum to hurl the rock toward the house. I gave the throw everything I had, nearly dislocating my shoulder. Through the darkness I saw the rock move in an upward arc. On the right side of the house the side I was on there was a beautiful picture window. I followed the rock\'s trajectory, thinking it was going to land short.

It didn\'t.

The rock crashed through the window, shattering it into small shards of glass. Panic erupted. It was what I had counted on. I doubled back into the woods as the armed men ran toward the house. I saw two blond teenagers one male, one female come toward the broken window from the inside. Part of me wondered if the girl was Carrie, but there was no time to take a second look. The men shouted something in Arabic. I didn\'t see what happened next. I was circling back, moving as fast as I could, using the diversion to get behind the leader.

I saw the man in the Jeep stop and get out. He ran toward the smashed window too. That was their main job here: protect the house. I had broken through their perimeter. They were scattering and trying to regroup. Confusion set in.

Staying out of sight and not wasting any time, I had managed to move back down, past my original hiding place. The leader had his back to me now, facing the house. I was maybe sixty, seventy yards away from him.

How long until help came?

Too long.

The leader was shouting out orders. Berleand was on the ground by his feet. Motionless. And worse, Berleand was silent. No more cries. No more whimpers.

Had to get to him.

I wasn\'t sure how. Once I stepped out from behind this tree I would be in the open and ridiculously vulnerable. But there was no choice now.

I started sprinting toward the leader.

I had moved maybe three steps when I heard someone shout out a warning. The leader turned toward me. I was still forty yards away. My legs pumped fast, but everything else slowed down. The leader too wore a green bandana around his neck, like an outlaw in an old Western. His beard was thick. He was taller than the others, maybe six two, and stocky. There was a knife in one hand, a gun in the other. He raised the gun toward me. I debated dropping to the ground or veering to the side, anything to avoid the shot, but my mind quickly sized up the situation and I realized that a sudden shift wouldn\'t work here. Yes, he might miss with the first bullet, but then I would be totally exposed. The second shot would certainly not miss. Plus my diversion was over. The other men were already coming back toward us. They would fire too.

I had to hope that he\'d panic and miss me.

He aimed the gun. I met his eyes and saw the calm that simple moral certainty brings a man. I had no chance. I could see that now. He would not miss. And then, right before he pulled the trigger, I heard him howl in pain and saw him look down.

Berleand was biting his calf, holding on with his teeth like an angry Rottweiler.

The leader\'s gun hand dropped to his side, aiming at the top of Berleand\'s head. With a surge of adrenaline, I launched myself at the leader, arms in front of me. But before I could get there, I heard the blast and saw the gun recoil. Berleand\'s body jerked as I reached the leader. I wrapped my arms around the son of a bitch, kept my momentum going. As we toppled toward the ground, I positioned my forearm against the leader\'s nose. We landed hard, my full body weight behind the forearm. His nose exploded like a water balloon. Blood smacked me in the face. It felt warm against my skin. He cried out, but he still had a lot of fight in him. So did I. I dodged a head butt. He tried to get me in a bear hug. A fatal move. I let his arms encircle me. When he started to squeeze, I quickly snaked my arms free. Now the leader was totally vulnerable. I did not hesitate. I thought about Berleand, about how this man had made my friend suffer.

Time to end this.

The fingers of my right hand formed a claw. I didn\'t go for the eyes or the nose or any other soft target to disable or maim. At the base of the throat, right above the thoracic cage, sits a hollowed area where the trachea isn\'t protected. With two fingers and my thumb, I dug full force into the opening and grabbed his throat in a talonlike grip. I was crying as I jerked his windpipe toward me, screaming like an animal while a man died by my hand.

I plucked the gun from his still hand.

The men were running back toward us. They hadn\'t yet shot for fear of hitting their leader. I rolled toward the body on my right.

’’Berleand?’’

But he was dead. I could see that now. His dorky glasses with those oversize frames were askew on that soft, malleable face. I wanted to cry. I wanted to just give up and hold him and cry.

The men were getting closer. I looked up. They were having trouble seeing me, but the lights from the house behind them made them perfect silhouettes. I raised the gun and fired. One man went down. I turned the gun to the left. I fired again. Another man went down. Now they started firing back. I rolled back toward the leader and used his body as a shield. I fired again. Another man went down.

Sirens.

I kept low and sprinted toward the house. Cop cars came rushing up. I heard a helicopter, maybe more than one, above us. More gunfire. I would let them handle it. I wanted to get into that house now.


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