The home screen is a map of the United States that quickly zooms in on Arizona and then drops a red pin on the location of the PSF base in downtown Phoenix. A window pops up, letting me know it can’t connect to a local wireless network, but would I like to engage the satellite service for a small fee?
No. Hell no. That means someone on the other end can use that same connection to trace the location of the tablet.
What’s surprising, though, is that I can still use it without letting it hook up to the Internet. Maybe all the information is preloaded into the tablet, and you only need the Internet to download updates? That seems reasonable; the only thing spottier than the Internet these days is President Gray’s resume as leader of the free world.
The main menu is a series of buttons that range from GPS services, to a digital version of the handbook, to something called “Recovery Network.”
So this is what Hutch was going on about. After I tap the button with my finger, the screen changes, switching over to a list of names and pictures of kids. Most of the photos are kind of heartbreaking—they look terrified in them. The ones that are in camps have the red word RECOVERED across their photos. None of them list where the camps are, but in each profile is a kid’s basic information—approximate height and weight, hometown, parents’ names, whether or not the kid was turned in or “recovered.”
It’s curiosity, I’ll admit it. There’s a search bar at the top of the screen, so I type in Zu. I try not to glance down at her as the tablet loads the results. And, great, over three hundred names come up. It went through and picked out any kid who had zu in any part of their name, including a surprising number of Zuzanas and Zuriels.
But her name is Suzume. I know it the minute I see it, even though her doll-like face is framed by thick, glossy long hair. The tears hadn’t finished drying on her face when they’d taken the photo. She looked at the camera like the lens was the end of a gun waiting to fire.
Twelve years old, from Virginia. An only child.
At large, her listing says. Yellow. $30,000 reward for recovery. Highly dangerous, approach with caution. Then, because it’s all not horrible enough, it lists the date she escaped her “rehabilitation program” as being only four months ago. The number they gave her is 42245.
Below that is the field the skip tracers use to leave tips. There are two sightings reported in Ohio and one dated a few months ago, in late March, in Virginia.
A pounding between my ears starts at a low, uneven beat and races to a shattering pulse. Suddenly, I’m seeing two screens instead of one, and then they’re both blurring and I can feel my blood start to fizz beneath my skin, pounding at my temples. My whole body heats, like it’s being taken by a fever. I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I’m going to be sick.
They cut her hair short, I think.
She can’t talk, because of what they did to her, I think.
It was so bad there she had to escape, and every day she has to deal with ass**les like me trying to send her back, I think.
Why did I never think this was a possibility? Not even once. I was so focused on turning her in I hadn’t even considered she’d already been inside, and what she’d found there had been horrible enough that she had to escape. And she did it. She got out. We both got out and we found each other, and maybe it wasn’t an accident after all. Maybe this is really what I was supposed to have been doing all along.
I want to ask her about it. I want to know the truth, even if I can’t hear her form the words. She can write it out for me, I don’t care. I want to hear what they did to her there—who did it to her—and I want to kill every single one of them. My mind is flashing with images of my friends. In their black uniforms, marching the kids up and down the halls. The crushed look she gave me when I forced her hands into those gloves and tied them together, like she was some kind of animal. More than anything I can’t stop thinking about the expression on her face watching that stupid movie in my motel room—the way it visibly lifted when Dorothy stepped out of that house and into the sweet dream of Oz.
Because she knows what it’s like to live in a world of black, and black, and the tiny bit of white, but when she escaped it, she didn’t find the rainbow of colors, the dresses, the singing, the dancing. She only found ugliness.
She only found me.
DELLA is younger than I expected, somehow. I guess I heard the words no kids and assumed that meant she was elderly, not someone who looks like she’s in her late forties. Her white sedan is the only car that pulls into the parking lot the whole time we’re sitting there, so it’s impossible to miss her, even before she drives straight for us.
Bryson pops his head up just as she parks right beside the passenger door. We’re set as far back away from the storefronts as the parking lot will let us be, but I know we’re going to have to make this quick. At best, someone will see us and hopefully think we’re exchanging drugs or some other illegal substance, not kids.
She’s wearing blue jeans and a brown T-shirt and all it takes is seeing that head of fire-red hair for her guarded expression to fall. The lady still has her looks—a nice smile, a warm, open face. She doesn’t look wrung-out the way my mom did. She’s standing there, her aviator sunglasses on, her sunny blond hair curling around her shoulders, and she has her hands on her hips.
“I’m sorry, Miss Della” are the first words that come out of Bryson’s mouth when he opens the door. “I’m so, so sorry.”
She doesn’t look like the lecturing type, but I have a feeling if he were her flesh and blood, he’d be on the receiving end of some serious ass-whopping. Instead, she just cocks her head to the side, gives a faint smile, and opens her arms to him. Bryson goes willingly, burying his face in her shoulder. He basically collapses against her. I only relax when I realize the open door is blocking him from view.
“Y’all had some day, huh?” She lifts her sunglasses as she looks from Zu to me. “You’re younger than I expected!”
“I have a son about your age,” she continues, blue eyes inspecting me. “This feels like a stunt he’d pull, so you’ll have to excuse me—I’m trying to fight the urge to lecture you about taking big risks like this.”
Weird. Bryson said she didn’t have any kids.
I shrug. “No risk, no reward, right?”