The Drafter

Page 74

“Like she can’t tell we’re at the airport?” the other said. “The jets kind of give it away.”

Yes, the jets did kind of give it away, and Peri struggled for balance when they took a turn onto what was probably a service road.

“Holy shit!” someone exclaimed, and Peri tensed when the van swerved again and the other man began shrieking, “Turn! Turn! She’s coming right for us!”

The tires hop-skipped. Peri gasped, rolling to the front of the van. Her head hit the back of the seat as tires screeched, and they stopped in three seconds flat.

For a moment, the om of sound between her ears was the only noise. Peri’s heart pounded and she heard a groan. The van was tilted forward. Adrenaline made a spot of clarity in her drugged state, and she felt as if she’d been sleeping. She could smell propellant, and she panicked before she realized the airbags had deployed.

“O-o-o-ow …,” a man groaned, and Peri tried to move, cataloging new hurts. “She ran us right off the road. Jeff, you all right?”

“Yeah,” came a softer voice. “I think I’m going to puke. Is the woman okay?”

No, the woman isn’t okay, she thought when the driver leaned to check.

“Back off!” she shouted as he reached for her, and he jerked away in surprise.

“She’s alive,” the guy said, settling back in his seat.

Her head was throbbing, and either the audio binder, the drugs, or hitting the back of the seat with her head was making her nauseated. There was a rush of cooler air, and both men turned to the front window. “Hey, you’d better have good insurance—” the driver started, and then Peri froze at the click of a safety releasing.

“Y’all do anything I don’t like, and I’ll pop you!” Taf shouted, and Peri’s head snapped up. “You think my mother’s a bitch, I’m her devil spawn. Hands up. Out of the van. Now!”

“What is she—ow!” the second man said, and Peri pulled herself together as the back of the van squeaked open. Howard?

“Peri, are you okay?” Howard said, awkward as he levered himself into the slanted back end. She blinked at the bright sun, the light hurting her eyes. They were in a ditch, the empty road stretching behind them at a weird angle.

“Both of you men get out!” Taf yelled from the front of the van. “Get over here. Move!”

Howard’s eyes were creased in concern, and she croaked, “I’ll live.”

Relief crossed his expression. “Does your neck hurt? Can you move everything?”

“If you’re rescuing me, I can run a marathon.” Peri clumsily got to her knees, her hands still bound behind her.

“Let me get that,” he said, reaching to cut her hands free. The cuffs released with a snap, and she hissed at the pain. Fingers numb from the lack of circulation, she fumbled for the audio binder. Blessed silence replaced the irritating hum. Renewed, she took a deep breath. “Thanks,” she whispered, wondering why he was here, helping her again.

Taf’s voice came from outside the van. “Howard? If she’s okay, we gotta go.”

Howard slid to the back, hand extended to help her. Strength seemed to rush to fill her as she took it, and she crab-walked out, surprised at the faint vertigo.

Taf was pointing a big-ass rifle at two men kneeling beside the front wheel. The driver’s-side fender was wrapped around a tree. Their hands were laced atop their heads, and they looked like assassination victims. Across the road was a 1954 Ford F100 truck, tricked out and painted a bright red. A part of Peri wondered how she knew what make and year it was, but she did.

“Sorry about that,” Taf was saying, but she was talking to Peri, not to the men. “I didn’t know what else to do other than play chicken with them. You okay?”

Taf had changed into black slacks and top, blond hair pulled back in a ponytail and a leather duster furling about her boots. Peri didn’t like that she looked like a younger version of herself on a good day. “Ask me tomorrow,” she said, knowing the real aches wouldn’t start until then. “Your mom is calling every five minutes,” Peri added, leaning on Howard as she limped forward. “Get their phones.”

“Phones. Now!” Taf barked. “Easy …,” she warned when their hands dropped. “I never liked you, Wade. Give me an excuse.”

Peri looked up the empty road for signs of trouble, knowing they likely had only moments. The vintage truck was clearly their way out of here. It was half in the ditch, but it was a muscle car, by God, even if someone had prettified it with flames; a ditch wasn’t an issue.

“Throw ’em,” Taf said, and two phones thumped at her feet. “Good,” she said, the shotgun never wavering as she pulled two sets of cuffs from her pocket and tossed them to the two men. “Put them on.”

Peri was starting to wonder about Taf. Where was she getting this stuff? “Thank you,” Peri said as Howard helped her across the road. “Why are you doing this?”

Howard supported her with a professional surety. “You aren’t the only one being spoon-fed lies,” he said tightly. “Taf planned it. She can do more than parties. Are you okay to drive? You look a little spacey. You’re going to want to ditch it before you go too far, but it will get you out of here. You don’t know what they gave you, do you?”

“Muscle relaxant?” she guessed. Her shoulder hurt, and she hoped she found a bottle of aspirin or, better yet, tequila before the adrenaline wore off. “I’m good. I can drive.”

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