Two Lethal Lies(2)

By: Annie Solomon

The charm worked. The engine turned over, and she wrenched the seat as close to the pedals as possible. She still wasn’t tall enough to reach them and see where she was going, but by fits and starts, she managed to get the truck down the bridge to the other side where her dad was heading.

She set the brake carefully, then dashed out again and grabbed an old blanket from the truck bed. It was dirty and leaf-strewn because her dad used it to haul stuff, but she snatched it anyway, scampered around the edge of the bridge, and slid down the bank to the river. Her father was approaching, using one arm to swim while the other cradled the small body he’d rescued.

“Over here!” Julia jumped up and down, waving her arms.

At last the water was shallow enough for Mitch to stand. He shifted the girl into both his arms and carried her to the shore. Dripping wet, he stumbled up the bank and laid the girl on the blanket. Julia thought he was going to fall down he was breathing so hard.

“Is she okay?”

The girl’s eyes were closed, and she looked all scrunched up and tiny. More like a doll than a person.

Mitch wiped water off his face. “I don’t know.”

He started pumping the girl’s chest and blowing into her mouth and pumping her chest again.

Endless minutes of nothing but the sound of her dad working on the small body. Then… another miracle—the girl coughed, groaned, and opened her eyes.

“There we go,” her dad said softly. “Welcome back.”

Mitch’s arms trembled with exhaustion. Every muscle ached and he wanted to collapse on the ground for a week. Not for the first time, he wished he had a cell phone. A few buttons and someone else could take over. But phones and credit cards and accounts of every kind were a thing of the past. And any kind of authority—police, EMT—would have questions he didn’t want to answer.

“Hey,” Julia said. “What’s your name?”

The girl startled, seemed to see them for the first time, and started to sob.

He told Julia to wait while he got the truck, but she thumbed over her shoulder with a triumphant, mischievous look. Their dusty black pickup was already at the near end of the bridge. Half of him wanted to scold her; the other half wanted to pin a medal on her.

He chucked her under the chin. “Good work, soldier.”

She smiled happily, like he knew she would, and as it often did, it took his breath away. She would be a mankiller someday. Every inch of her inherited beauty was there in her face. The silky dark hair, the amazing blue eyes. He was going to have a handful if he wasn’t careful.

But he was careful. He was always careful.

Mitch hadn’t originally planned to stop in town. But the girl had abandoned a backpack when she went into the river. Inside, a wallet told them her name was Sara Jean Blunt and she lived in Crossroads.

The address took them in the direction they were already heading—across the bridge to the better side of town. Her house was at the top of the hill that overlooked the river and the flats, with its sprawl of cramped homes and old warehouses. Mitch stopped in front of a large clapboard house, a well-maintained Victorian wonder, with turrets and angles and a wide, wraparound porch. The geography and the architecture told him everything he needed to know about the girl’s family and their position in the town.

Beside him, Sara Jean was shuddering inside the blanket, sniffling and weeping quietly as if afraid to let him hear. He got out, came around, and lifted her off the seat. She shivered in his arms while Julia bounced beside them.

“Is this where you live? Wow, it’s so big. Do you have your own room? Can you see it from here? What color is it? Do you have a TV?”

“Down, girl. Let’s get Sara Jean inside. She’s tired.”

He knocked on the door, and when she saw where they were, Sara Jean groaned. “Oh, God.” She looked up at him, her eyes wide and filled with tears. “Don’t tell them. Please. Promise me you won’t tell them. They’ll be so disappointed.” She hiccupped. “I’m so… so tired of being a disappointment.”

A shard of sympathy struck him. He knew all about disappointing people. “I’m sure you’re not a disappoint—”

“Look at me!” She threw off the blanket. “I’m too tall and too skinny, and my hair is this awful red, and everyone calls me Sara Jean Butt!”

Clichés tumbled through his head—kids can be stupid, so ignore them; everyone goes through an awkward stage; toughen up and fight back—but sometimes the only way to protect yourself was to hide the truth. He’d spent most of his life in deep cover, so he should know.

Fortunately, he was saved from replying by a small, trim woman with the same head of burning red hair as Sara’s. “Mrs. Blunt?”

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