“‘Guilty feet have got no rhythm,’” he sang.
“Isn’t that song older than you are?” she asked after a moment.
He seemed surprised. “Oh, was I singing that out loud? Sorry, I tend to do that when I cook if I don’t keep a strict hold on myself.”
“How do you even know the words?”
“I’ll have you know that to this day, ‘Careless Whisper’ remains a very popular song on the karaoke circuit. I kill it on eighties night.”
“You’re into karaoke?”
“Hey, who says schoolteachers don’t know how to party?” He stepped away from the stove, sauce-covered spoon still in his right hand, and pulled her into a loose embrace with his left. He danced her once around a small circle, pressing his rough cheek against hers, while singing, “‘Pain is ah-all you’ll find…’” Then he turned back to the stove, dancing in place while he sang cheerfully about how he was never going to dance again.
Don’t be an idiot, her mind told her as the goofy smile stretched across her face again.
Shut up, her body responded.
Daniel didn’t have a voice that belonged on the air, but it was a pleasant, light tenor, and he made up for any deficiencies with his enthusiasm. By the time they heard the dogs greet Arnie at the door, they were in the middle of a passionate duet of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Alex quit singing immediately, her face flushing, but Daniel seemed oblivious both to her cowardice and to Arnie’s entrance.
“‘I really need you tonight!’” he belted out as Arnie came through the door, shaking his head. It made Alex wonder if Kevin was ever any fun or if it was just business all the time when he and Arnie were here alone.
Arnie didn’t comment, just shut the screen door behind him, letting the fresh warm air mix with the smells of garlic, onion, and tomato. Now that it was dark outside and light inside, she’d have to make sure he closed the exterior door before she or Daniel went into the part of the room that would be visible to anyone watching.
“Anything from the dogs?” she asked Arnie.
“Nope. You would have heard them if they’d found anything.”
She frowned. “The story didn’t run.”
Alex and Arnie exchanged a look. Arnie’s eyes cut to Daniel’s back, then returned to her. She knew what he was asking, and she shook her head no. No, she hadn’t talked to Daniel about Kevin and what his silence could mean. Arnie’s eyes did that subtle tightening thing that seemed to be his only physical tell for stress.
For Arnie’s sake, they’d have to get out as soon as possible. If anyone connected Daniel and Alex to this house, it would put Arnie in danger. She hoped he would understand about the truck.
Dinner was subdued. Even Daniel seemed to catch the mood. She decided she would tell him her fears about Kevin as soon as they were alone. It would be nice to allow him one more night of decent sleep, but they should probably leave before first light.
After they were finished – and not a noodle had survived; Arnie would miss this part of having houseguests, at least – she helped clear while Arnie went to turn on the news. The story lineup was repetitively familiar. She felt like she could recite along with the anchorwoman word for word. Arnie hadn’t already watched three rounds today; he settled into the couch.
Alex rinsed the plates and handed them to Daniel to load. One of the dogs whined through the screen door; probably Lola. Alex hoped she hadn’t spoiled them too much this afternoon. She’d never thought she was a dog person, but she realized she was going to miss the warm and friendly inclusion of the pack. Maybe someday – if Kevin was somehow still alive and well and the plan was operable after all – she might get herself a dog. If all the happy thoughts were real, maybe Kevin would even sell her Lola. It probably wasn’t a practical —
A low, fast thud interrupted her thoughts – it was a sound that didn’t belong. Even as her eyes were moving toward Daniel, looking for a dropped utensil or a slammed cupboard that would explain the noise, her mind was leaping ahead. Before her body had realigned with her brain, a huge baying cry erupted from the porch, along with a vicious growling. Another thud, quieter beside the hullabaloo of the dogs, and the baying broke off into a shocked and pained yelp.
She tackled Daniel to the ground while he was still turning toward the door. He outweighed her by a lot, but he was off balance and went down easy.
“Shhh,” she hissed fiercely in his ear, then she crawled over him to the edge of the island and peered around. She couldn’t see Arnie. She looked at the screen door – a small round hole was torn through the center of the top panel. She tried to listen over the sound of the dogs and the TV, but she couldn’t hear any sound from where Arnie should be.
It had to be a distance shot or the dogs would have seen it coming.
“Arnie!” she hoarsely whisper-shouted.
There was no response.
She slithered to the dining-room table, where her backpack was propped against the leg of the chair she’d used. She ripped her PPK out of its Ziploc bag, then slid it across the floor to Daniel. She needed both hands.
Daniel snagged the gun when it was halfway to the island and leaned around the edge. He hadn’t practiced with a handgun, but at this distance that wouldn’t matter terribly much.
She shoved her rings on and flung the belt around her waist.
Daniel was on his feet in a fraction of a second, bracing his elbows on top of the counter. He didn’t look at all conflicted about his ability to fire. She scuttled to the nearby wall where the dining room jutted out from the great room. As she moved, she saw a hand shoving the handle down – but it wasn’t a hand. It was a black furry paw.