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12

CHAPTER EIGHT::


When Parker got to the intersection he made a U-turn and stopped, facing back the way he had come. He and Angie waited in the Dodge while Henley took the ROAD CLOSEDDETOUR sign out of the trunk and set it up blocking the numbered county road, with the arrow pointing toward the smaller blacktop road leading off into the woods to the right. This was a completely empty intersection, the crossing of a minor county road and an almost-abandoned old connector road, with no buildings of any kind anywhere in sight. On two sides there were dense woods, on the third a scruffy weed-grown meadow, and on the fourth a cornfield now dry and brown after the harvest.

Henley got back into the car, and Parker drove a quarter mile back toward the city, then backed off into the dead-end dirt road hed found last week. There was nothing to do now but wait; Krauss and Ruth had already been dropped off, Krauss would be setting up the other detour sign, and everything was set.

Six miles away, the black Lincoln limousine took the curving ramp down from Northern State Parkway to the county road and turned north. The chauffeur, Albert Judson, drove steadily at fifty-five, undisturbed by other traffic in this sparsely populated area early on a Tuesday afternoon. In the back seat, Bobby Myers read his comic books, sprawling comfortably across the seat.

Seven minutes later Henley said, Here they come.

I see them, Parker said, and put the Dodge in gear as the Lincoln sailed by them. The Dodge moved out from the dirt road and accelerated in the Lincolns wake.

Judson, at the wheel of the Lincoln, tapped the brake when he saw the sign blocking the road ahead. Bobby, behind him, looked up from his comic book and said, Whats the matter?

Detour. We have to take Edgehill Road.

The detour wasnt there before.

Judson, turning off onto the secondary road, said, I guess they just started. Maybe theyll fill in those potholes down by the bridge.

Boy, I hope so, Bobby said. Sometimes I could throw up along there.

Dont do that, Judson said, grinning in the rear-view mirror at the boy, and as he did so he came around a curve in the road and saw vehicles stopped ahead. A school bus, facing this way, its red lights flashing, meaning it was unloading passengers and traffic wasnt permitted to pass it in either direction. And a truck, a big tractor-trailer rig, facing the same direction as the Lincoln and obediently standing still. The two vehicles between them blocked the road completely. Judson braked, and the Lincoln slid to a stop directly behind the truck. Bobby said, Whys the bus stopped there?

Must be letting somebody off.

Nobodys getting out.

Judson, who was sometimes irritated by Bobbys questions, said, Then theyre waiting for somebody whos supposed to get on.

Back at the intersection, Parker stopped long enough for Henley to get out and move the detour sign so that it now blocked the road the Lincoln had just gone down. Then they drove on, following the Lincoln.

Judson too was beginning to think the school bus was taking too long to do nothing. Glancing in the rear-view mirror again, seeing the blue Dodge coming to a stop behind him, almost close enough to touch the Lincolns rear bumper, he said, Pretty well-traveled road.

In the Dodge, Parker and Henley and Angie were putting on the large rubber Mickey Mouse masks. I feel like a clown in this thing, Henley said. His voice was muffled and altered by the rubber.

Its to make it easier for the kid, Parker said. We dont want a hysterical kid on our hands. Angie, you do the talking to him.

Right.

Its a game, its fun, were all just playing.

I know, Angie said.

Lets go, Parker said.

They got out of the Dodge, Parker and Henley carrying revolvers, and walked swiftly up next to the Lincoln, Parker on the left and Henley and Angie on the right.

Judson, who was frowning now toward the school bus, wondering why it wasnt finishing its business and moving on, caught a glimpse of something moving in his outside mirror. He looked at it, and saw a man coming this way with something glittery and strange over his head. What the? He twisted around to his left, to look back, and the man closed the distance, pulled open Judsons door, and said, fast and low, Not a move. Not one move.

There was a gun in the mans hand, down by Judsons elbow. Uh, said Judson The Lincolns engine was running, but the gearshift was in park. Also, the car was wedged in both front and back by the truck and the Dodge. Still, Judsons hand started to move almost instinctively toward the gearshift lever, when the door on the passenger side opened, and another one got in. Another gun, another mask over the head. Judson, looking at him, suddenly terrified at this apparition sitting next to him, realized what he was looking at was a Mickey Mouse mask, and for some reason that only made things more frightening.

Meanwhile, Angie had gotten into the backseat. Hi, Bobby, she said. Do you know whose face this is Im wearing?

Bobby hadnt seen the guns of the two men dealing with the chauffeur, but hed heard the toughness in the one mans voice, and he sensed the strangeness of what was happening. Frightened, not sure what to expect or how he should act, he said, Whowho are you?

Who do I look like, Bobby?

Youre not Mickey Mouse! He knew that much; and being able to say so, loud and clear, helped to calm and reassure him.

But Im making believe to be Mickey Mouse, Angie said. Were all going to play make-believe for a while now.

Up front, Henley had pressed his revolver into Albert Judsons side. His voice soft, muffled by the mask, he said, Lets not scare the kid. Nobodys gonna get hurt.

What do you? Judsons mouth was dry. He coughed, and started again. What do you want?

Think about it, Henley said.

Parker. seeing that the chauffeur was under control, shut the Lincolns door again and went up to rap on the rear doors of the tractor-trailer. The doors swung open, pushed out by Krauss, who looked critically out and down at the Lincoln and said, Youll have to back it up.

I know.

Parker walked back past the Lincoln to the Dodge. Inside the Lincoln, Henley was controlling the chauffeur and Angie was controlling the boy. She was talking to him, chattering at him, keeping him calm with a soothing flow of words.

Parker got into the Dodge, ran it backward about fifteen feet, got out of it, walked up to the Lincoln, opened the chauffeurs door again, and said, Slide over.

Henley made room, and Judson slid over into the middle of the seat. He said, Youre going to kidnap the boy!

Henley said, Keep it down. I told you, we dont scare the kid.

Krauss had pulled the metal ramp out of the truck partway and now, when Parker put the Lincoln into reverse and backed up till he was nudging the Dodges bumper, Krauss brought the ramp out the rest of the way and lowered it to the ground. Parker shifted into low and eased the Lincoln forward, up the ramp and inside the truck.

Bobby, wide-eyed, said, What are we doing?

Have you ever been inside a truck before? Angie tried to make it sound like a treat, or a game. Inside a car thats inside a truck?

I dont think I want to do this, Bobby said.

Dont be afraid, Bobby, Angie said. Nobodys going to hurt you, I promise.

Parker switched off the Lincolns engine, took the keys, and climbed out. It was a tight fit between the side of the car and the inner wall of the truck. Parker went sideways to the rear of the truck, dropped down to the ground, and helped Kraus slide the ramp back up inside the truck.

In the Lincoln, Judson had moved over behind the wheel again; not so he could drive, but so he would be further from the gun. Henley, facing him but staying on his own side, said, Switch on the interior lights, and Judson did so, without question.

Parker and Krauss closed the trucks doors; inside, now, the only illumination came from the lights inside the Lincoln. Bobby, his fright being slowly overcome by curiosity as time went by with no attack against him, looked around and said, Its like being out at night, isnt it?

Thats right, Angie said. Well pretend were going for a drive now, at night.

Outside, Krauss and Parker had removed their masks. Ruth, at the wheel of the school bus, switched off the flashing red lights, put the bus in gear, and drove it off the road. Krauss got into the cab of the truck, started the engine, and drove off, accelerating slowly, the engine whining up through the gears.

Ruth got out of the bus and walked across the road to the Dodge. Peeling rubber gloves from her hands, she tossed them into the weeds beside the road, then got into the Dodge on the passenger side as Parker slid in behind the wheel. She said, Howd the kid take it?

Fine, Parker said. Angies talking to him.

Parker swung the Dodge around in a U-turn, drove back to the intersection, and picked up the detour sign there. He tossed it in the trunk, went back the other way again, passed the abandoned school bus, and caught up with the tractor-trailer at the next crossroad, where Krauss was removing the second detour sign, the one that had diverted traffic away from Edgehill Road while they were collecting the Lincoln.

Inside the Lincoln, Henley had taken out the handcuffs, and had cuffed the chauffeur to the steering wheel. Now, when Krauss knocked on the trailer doors, Henley turned to Angie, nodded at the boy, and said, Get him ready.

I know. Despite the muffling effect of the mask, Angies nervousness could clearly be heard, and she fumbled at first when she tried to take the other mask out from under her shirt. Then she got it, and showed it to Bobby, and said, This is for you. The same kind of mask as the rest of us, see? Mickey Mouse.

For me? Then he looked at it more closely, and said, The eyes are taped up.

Thats because were going to go on playing nighttime, Angie said. Well be leaving the truck now, but youre still going to make believe its night.

I wont be able to see anything! Renewed fright made the boys voice shrill.

Youll be holding my hand, Angie told him. Its all right, it really is. Ask your chauffeur, there, he knows.

Bobby looked doubtfully toward Judson, whose back was to him. Albert? he said. Am I supposed to do that?

Judson turned his head just enough to see Henley and the gun in Henleys hand. Answer the boy, Henley said., his voice soft. He was holding the gun too low for the boy to see it.

Judson nodded. Not facing Bobby, he said, Its all right, Bobby. You do what these people say. Theres nothing to worry about.

Bobby relaxed a bit, then, but still kept looking doubtfully at everybody, and when he said, All right, then, Ill wear the old mask, his reluctance was clear in his voice.

Angie slipped the mask on over the boys head. Is that all right? It isnt too tight, is it?

No, its okay. It smells funny. His voice, too, was muffled now.

Thats the smell of rubber, Angie told him. Take my hand, now, were going to get out of the car.

Henley led the way, opening the rear doors of the truck, then handing Bobby down to Parker. Angie got down, took the boys hand again, and led him over to the Dodge. Henley and Krauss closed the truck doors while Parker got into the Dodge and started the engine. Angie and Henley had gotten rid of their masks now, leaving Bobby the only one with his face covered.

They all got into the Dodge, the three men in front, the two women in back with the boy between them. Angie said, Bobbie, this is Gloria, a friend of mine.

Hello, Bobby.

Bobby said, his face toward Angie, You took your mask off. Your voice sounds different.

Youre the one with the mask on now, Angie told him. We take turns.

And be sure to leave it on, Ruth said. She sounded colder, more stern than Angie.

I will, Bobby said. Angie had been continuing to hold his hand, and now Bobby squeezed her fingers, holding on.


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