“I don’t think so,” he says. “But I still need you out of sight. Go.”
I look around. We haven’t left anything that would give us away in plain sight. I rush to Connor’s room knock softly before I open the door. “Connor, come on, we have to—”
I don’t finish, because although the book is lying tented upside down on his bed to mark his spot, he isn’t there. I bend and look under the bed. Nothing. I check the small closet.
Then I feel a breeze on the back of my neck, and I look over and see that the window by the bed is open. The curtains are slowly moving from the wind.
Holy crap, no, you didn’t.
There’s no time to tell Javier, because I hear Boot’s deep-chested barking outside. I sweep the curtain back and look out, but I don’t see my brother anywhere. There’s a small wooden crate under the window, perfect for climbing down on quietly. Where the hell are you? The old barn is the only thing in view, and I hesitate for only a second before I throw a leg out the window, duck, and step down onto the crate. It creaks a little, but it holds. I ease the window shut. Boot’s low-throated growls and barks cover whatever noise I make, and now I hear Javier whistling him back to the porch. I step off the crate and run as quietly as I can across the open ground toward the barn.
Connor isn’t in here, either.
The barn is full of tools and the usual junk that accumulates in rural areas—old parts, mostly—and if there ever was a loft, it’s long gone. There’s no place to hide in here.
It’s too late to try to get back into the house, so I go back into the shadows and try not to think about the spiders that live in here. Or snakes looking for places to curl up for warmth. I crouch down and listen. I don’t have a gun, but I grab a hay fork and hold on to it with both hands. If I have to fight, I will. I listen for the crack of a gunshot, or sounds of a fight. I don’t hear anything but male voices. They’re calm, I guess. It goes on awhile, and finally I hear an engine start up and the crunch of tires as the car turns around and leaves. I wait until I can’t hear it anymore, then stand up and brace myself with the pitchfork, because my knees are shaking.
I go outside and look around, but I don’t see any sign of my brother at all. I climb back in his window and peek out the door. Javier’s just closing the front and locking it. Boot’s inside, off the chain, and he saunters over and looks up at me.
“Who was it?” I ask Javier. My mouth is dry, and it hurts to swallow.
“Detective Prester,” he says. “He says he was checking in on my health, seeing how I’d cut back my hours at the range. He smells a rat, though—”
I interrupt him in a rush. “Connor’s missing!”
“What do you mean, missing?”
“He’s not in his room. And he’s not anywhere outside. I looked.”
“How about the closets? The barn?”
“He isn’t in—”
“Lanny, just check the closets!”
I open my door and look in all the places my brother might be able to hide, but there’s nothing. I back out and am in time to see Javier yank back a gel mat that covers part of the kitchen floor—we stand on it every day, to wash dishes—and beneath it, there’s a ring inset in the wood. I blink, because I had no idea that thing was even there. He hasn’t mentioned it. I suppose he was saving it for emergencies.
When he heaves it open, I see that there’s a set of wooden steps leading down into darkness, and a light hanging down with a pull cord. Javier yanks the cord as he plunges down the steps. Boot scrambles at the edge and barks, but he doesn’t follow. Javier’s only gone for a moment, and then he switches the light off and slams the trap shut as he exits. Kicks the gel mat over top of the door. “He’s not down there. Did he say anything to you? Anything about where he’d go?”
“No,” I say. “I mean, he likes to go out in the yard sometimes, but . . .”
He’s gone before I can say anything else, and Boot scrabbles claws on the wood floor and takes off after him. I feel sick now. Shaky. I look again in my brother’s room. In my room. I check absolutely everywhere.
He isn’t here.
And when Javier comes back, looking grim, I realize the worst has happened.
My brother really is missing.
Calm down, I tell myself sternly. He’s just off pouting. He’s mad at me. He’s gone off to punish me.
Would he, though? He knows the rules, and he knows Dad is out there loose. He knows Mom is too far away for us to find, so why would he try to run away to her? He has to be just angry and stupid. Maybe he’s gone into Norton. I don’t know.
I absolutely can’t tell Mom I’ve lost him. When I find him, I’m going to hug him, and then I’m going to punch him so hard he’ll never forget it. Then I’ll hug him again. I want to tell Javier, Please don’t tell Mom, but I can’t. He feels responsible, too.
I go out on the porch. Boot’s chain lays there in a long, piled coil. I stand next to it and look around. Javier’s come all the way around the house by now, with Boot pacing at his side. He looks out over the fence at the woods around us, and I know what he’s thinking: Which way? I have no idea.
“Can Boot find him?” I ask.
“Maybe. He’s tracked game before. Maybe he can track Connor.”
I go back inside to Connor’s closet, and I come back with a particularly smelly T-shirt from the laundry pile. I hand it to Javier, who shows it to Boot. He sniffs it enthusiastically, then looks as us as if he has no idea what we want. I crouch down and say, “Find him.”
I don’t speak dog, and Boot just licks his chops and cocks his head at me. I take the T-shirt and shove it in his face again. He waddles backward and gives me a warning growl. “Please,” I tell him. “Please.”
He sits down and sneezes. Javier curses quietly in Spanish—he probably thinks I don’t know what he’s saying—but he reaches down and pets the dog, and says, “Sorry, boy, not your fault.”
Boot still looks confused, but suddenly, his ears perk up. It’s like he makes up his mind. He backs up, barks once, and takes a single muscular leap that clears the fence with at least six inches to spare. Javier’s mouth drops open.
“Did you know he could jump the fence like that?” I ask.