“Liked fucking them.”
“That too,” said John with a false smile. “Said it was easier, going with a Green girl. They couldn’t hassle him at school. Less maintenance.”
“What do you think, Edie, want to go out sometime?” asked John. He couldn’t be serious. The boy had to be crazy.
“Sure,” I said, keeping the WTF off my face.
“What do you want with her?” Chris scratched at this chin, lips set in a sneer.
“I like blondes.” John just smiled. “And Edie here seems cool with drinking stolen beers. My kind of girl.”
Chris shook his head.
No words were safe, so I sipped my drink.
Drawing back his arm, Chris let his empty bottle fly, glass smashing against the rear wall. My shoulders jumped, the sound was so startlingly loud.
“Another?” asked John, calm as can be. Like he saw this kind of thing every day. Maybe he did.
“You.” Chris jerked his chin at the silent friend.
“I’ll get some more,” said Isaac, voice shaking.
“Wish I hadn’t left my stash in the car,” said John. “Be good to pay you back, Chris.”
Chris coughed out a laugh. “’nother time.”
With a nod, John smiled.
A sudden obscenely loud trilling broke the silence, making my breath hitch. It was the phone. Just the phone. At this rate, I’d die of a heart attack long before the head wound could do its damage.
“Don’t answer it,” said Chris, body snapping to attention, glaring at all of us. As if we’d dare.
The ringing stopped, a moment later starting up once more.
“Bastards!” Chris struggled to his feet, keeping low as he took aim. Crack went the gun, again and again. It took him three tries, but he finally managed to score a hit. At least, the ringing stopped. “I’m just . . . just going to wait. Joanna, she’ll come back. She’ll have a plan. She’s always got a plan. Probably have to ram a window or something, I don’t know.”
Isaac returned, handing out more beers.
“Cool,” said John, lighting up another cigarette and exhaling a ring of smoke.
“You can go then.” Chris smiled, flashing a mouthful of black and broken teeth. “We just have to wait.”
John licked his lips. “You didn’t want to get rid of Edie now?”
Frown in place, Chris turned his head. “Why the fuck would I do that?”
“Like you said, useless Green girl. We don’t need her,” said John, voice smooth, compelling. “Bet you she’ll panic and mess things up, make shit difficult for you. Might as well send her out, right?”
“Wrong!” Faster than I’d thought possible, Chris grabbed the younger boy. “What the fuck you playing at? You think I’m stupid?”
“No, no. Wha—”
“Shut your fucking mouth,” Chris snarled, his fingers tightening around the gun. “She’s the only real hostage I’ve got. You think the cops would give a shit if I killed your drugged-up ass right now?”
“I won’t panic,” I said, not stopping to think. “I promise.”
Face lined, gaze angry and a little confused, Chris turned my way.
“We just have to wait for Joanna,” I continued, my breath coming fast. “Thank you . . . thanks for the beer.”
Slowly, Chris eased back, the fury falling from his face. “That’s right. We just have to wait for Joanna.”
I didn’t risk looking directly at John, to thank him for trying to help, to see if he was all right. Eyes down and mouth shut, that was safest.
“Won’t be long now,” Chris mumbled as if to himself. “It’ll all be over.”
I don’t know how long I sat there sipping beer. Long enough for my head to stop bleeding, if not to stop aching. The whole County Sheriff’s Office must have been out there by now, given the bright slivers of light shining in, the hum of a crowd.
A while back, Chris had started scratching, opening up sores. His trembling had also gotten worse. Calm as can be, John kept talking, telling stories he’d heard from his brother, asking after people they had in common. Empty beer bottles collected around us and his voice went on and on, husky and low. Probably on account of all of the smoking. The friend, Isaac, didn’t utter another peep.
“Chris, son,” said a man over a megaphone. “It’s Sheriff Albertson here. I’ve had a talk with Joanna—I know this was all an accident.”
“Jo?” Chris scrambled over to the front glass wall on his hands and knees, still gripping the gun. He peeked out from behind the safety of the magazine stands.
“Why don’t we talk this over, just you and me?”
“No!” cried the tweaker, pulling at his short hair. “She’s not . . . I can’t see her.”
John said nothing. His eyes were glued on Chris.
I couldn’t stop the shaking, first in my arms, then my legs. Please, please, please. Somebody get me out of here.
“Get up.” Chris rose to a stoop, standing over me. “Move, you fat bitch! Time to show these fuckers that I’m serious.”
He knocked the almost-empty beer bottle out of my hand, sending it spinning across the floor. Again he went for my hair, dragging me up to my feet. A cry caught in my throat, chunks of hair tearing out. I grasped for his hand, trying to ease the grip he had on me, the way he ripped at my scalp.
“Hurry up,” he said, and the flat of his hand smacked against my face.
Blood dribbled from my nose, putting the taste of copper on my tongue. The right side of my face was throbbing. He shoved me toward the door, the gun pressed hard against my spine.
I squinted, staring out into the night. It was hard to see much. There was a lot of light, so many people out there, watching. No one doing a goddamn thing to help. All of me shook, tears, blood, and snot dripping down my face. My hands fumbled over the deadbolt, fingers numb. Then I flicked the lock, pushing the door outward. I held it open with one hand.
Chris’s arm came around me, his hold like a lover’s. Give or take the gun shoved under my chin.
“I want Joanna!” he said, yelling the words loud in my ear.
“Chris—” the sheriff started in his nice, calm voice.