The cop laughed and chatted with Simon. He was a good enough guy. Dad said most cops were—it was just the bad ones you remembered.
Simon promised we’d phone Dad and remind him about calling the detective, and the cop asked Simon about the basketball game last night, having heard he was on the team. I knew Simon was doing the right thing, chatting the guy up, not acting the least bit suspicious, but I couldn’t help looking around, wanting to get going.
As I stared down the empty road, a blue sedan crossed the intersection, the windows so dark I couldn’t see who was in it, but I knew anyway—the so-called cops from the house. They stopped halfway through the intersection, as if they’d seen us.
Simon was still yapping with the cop. I walked behind him and reached for the back door handle, as if the cop had told me to get in, and the sedan sped off.
“We should be going,” I said. “I’m in enough trouble at school without being late.”
Simon checked his watch and swore. The officer offered us a lift, but Simon said having me dropped off by the cops was probably not a good idea and the guy agreed, saying he was sure everything would work out. Then he left.
We jogged to the end of the road. I told Simon about the sedan, but there was no sign of it.
“We should get the van,” he said.
“And do what? Drive around aimlessly, hope we see the car again?”
“Why not? If those weren’t cops, they have Dad.”
I wasn’t sure I agreed, but the set of Simon’s mouth said he wasn’t giving in on this. He needed those guys to be the ones who had Dad. It was the only solid lead we had.
So I said okay and we walked back to the house as fast as we dared. When we got close, we could see the driveway. It was empty.
“No,” Simon whispered. He jogged forward, getting a better look, just in case, murmuring, “No, no, no,” under his breath.
The minivan was gone.
When we got to the side door, it was still locked. Simon opened it while I peered through the windows, looking for signs of anyone inside. Simon glanced at me and I nodded, so he opened the door. I walked past him into the house. I checked the table where Dad had left the car keys. They were gone.
Simon brushed past me into the kitchen.
I headed to the bedroom. The half-packed suitcases we’d left on the floor were gone.
“Who is this?” Simon said from the kitchen.
I raced in there so fast I almost tripped. Simon was on his cell phone.
“I know someone’s there,” he said.
I took the phone from him and punched the End button.
“Hey!” He grabbed for it. “I was—”
“—calling Dad’s number to see who answered.”
“And someone did. They didn’t say anything, but they were there.”
“Keeping you on the line while they traced the call.”
He blinked, and I knew he hadn’t thought of that, but he only lifted his chin, defiant. “So I let them know where we are? Good. Having them come here is easier than chasing them down. We’ll hide and—”
“And hope they don’t have spells to sniff us out? Hope they really are the guys who took Dad?”
“Yeah? Then why come this morning and not last night? Why ask for Dad if they knew he was gone?”
“Sure. It’s obvious, and I’m a moron for not figuring it out on my own.”
“You don’t need to, Derek. You never need to.”
“—walk out the front door? You really think I’m an idiot, don’t you?”
Leaving the door ajar, he walked to the basement and flipped on the light, then headed back toward the rear.
“Are you coming?” he called. “Or waiting until they show up?”
I looked from the front door to the basement. “Oh, you want to make them think we’re hiding in the basement. That should slow them down enough for us to get away. It’s a good—”
“—going to pat me on the head for having a bright idea. It’s condescending, Derek. Normally, I let it slide, but today I’m just not in the mood.”
“You never do. Now come on or we’ll still be bickering when the bad guys show up.”
We left the house the same way we had before, through the backyard and over the fence. Next stop: Albany, to track down the sorcerer who’d helped Dad get his job. The only problem? Getting to Albany. The last time I’d thought of running away from home had been when Simon took my shoes, so I’d never realized that, when it came to getting away, there were some serious disadvantages to living in a small town, namely, the lack of public transportation options.
The only way out was by bus, meaning it would be the first place anyone would look for us. Even if we managed to get on without being stopped, we were recognizable enough that the staff would remember where we’d gone.
Without the minivan, we were screwed. Even if we knew how to steal a car, we wouldn’t. And hitchhiking was too dangerous. I might have superhuman strength, but it wouldn’t help us if a guy pulled a gun. Even more likely, we’d get some Good Samaritan who insisted on taking us back home.
So we were stuck with the simplest option. Walk the twenty miles to Albany.
There was a secondary two-lane highway Dad took when we weren’t in a hurry. We headed for that, backpacks over our shoulders, pockets stuffed with money we’d grabbed from the stash Dad kept, plus more from an ATM at the strip mall near our place.
Simon had barely said a word to me since we’d left. He’s good at holding a grudge. Most people are, which is something I don’t understand. It’s like when I fight with Dad. I’ll blow up over something, say stuff I shouldn’t, but I don’t mean it and he knows I don’t. When I cool down—and I always cool down fast—I’ll try to talk to him about his day or get him to play a video game with me, and he won’t. He says you can’t just explode at someone and then expect everything to be okay. I didn’t see why not. Dad knew I got moody and didn’t mean to blow up, so I should be able to say sorry and go back to normal. Apparently no one else sees it that way.
“Did you text, uh . . .” I searched for the name, but came up blank. “Your girlfriend.”
Simon gave me a look that said I was full of shit. I never paid much attention to Simon’s girlfriends. Mutual avoidance. They only talk to me when they want to score brownie points with Simon. I don’t play that game, so I stay away when they’re around.
He said nothing.
“I think you should,” I continued. “It’d be nice.”
I looked up into the blazing sun, then pointed to a tree past the ditch. “We should take a break, get out of the sun for a while. And you should eat something.”
“Get out of the sun? It’s barely above freezing, and that tree has no leaves, meaning no shade. I just had a banana five minutes ago, so I shouldn’t eat again until lunch.”
He looked at me for a minute, struggling to stay serious, before breaking into a laugh and shaking his head.
“Nothing, bro. Fine. We’ll sit. I’ll text. You eat. We’ll stop fighting, and that’s the point, isn’t it?”
Simon and I are both in good shape, but that walk was more than either of us were used to. Dad always said it was twenty miles, but I think he was rounding down. A lot. Between breaks to rest and eat and check Simon’s blood sugar, it took all day to get to the edgeof Albany.
By then, Simon was wiped out. He needed a long rest and good food so, ignoring his protests, I found a family-style sit-down place that served decent food at decent prices.
As we ate, we dredged our memories for anything we could recall about Dad’s sorcerer friend. Considering we’d just spent a full day hiking, you’d think we’d have done that on the way. But I think we were afraid to admit how little we knew, after coming all this way.
We had a first name. Paul. I thought his last name was Khan. Simon was sure it was Khanna. Indian, we knew that. And Simon thought his first name might actually be Pallav, and he was only using Paul as an Americanized nickname.
Paul/Pallav Khan/Khanna was a former Cabal sorcerer that Dad had helped out years ago. The problem with Cabals, though, is that once you’ve pissed them off, they don’t forget it. You might slide off their hit list, but you’re always going to be on their watch list, so Paul would be living under the radar like we were, probably with an assumed name. Really not helpful.
While we ate, Simon called directory assistance. He managed to get a live operator. She spent at least fifteen minutes trying to help him, even checking unlisted numbers.
Simon’s good at getting strangers to bend the rules for him. He says he learned it from Dad, but I think it must be inherited, because no matter how carefully I study their technique, I can’t do it. Can’t really bring myself to try all that hard either, though.
Anyway, Simon spouted some story about being at the bus station, supposed to call this cousin of his mom’s, only he’d lost the paper with the number and he couldn’t get hold of his mom, and he was stuck there, and it was getting late . . .
The operator totally bought it. It didn’t help, though. No listing for a Khan or Khanna, first name Paul or Pallav.