I was glad for the snow then, coming down too hard for him to see my expression.
“Sorry,” I said. “Yeah, I’d like something to eat.”
He trailed off. I followed his gaze to a black SUV that had just passed us. It had slowed to a crawl, brake lights flickering. Given the weather, caution made sense. Only it had barreled past a moment ago. And the only thing on this empty road that could make it slow down was us.
“Pick up the pace,” I said. “Don’t run. Take the side street there.”
As we turned the corner, I snuck a glance back at the SUV. It was turning around.
“Faster,” I whispered. “See that building up there? With an alley or lane beside it?”
We zipped into the narrow walkway just as the SUV roared around the corner, sliding on the slush. A horn blast from someone coming the other way. We broke into a jog.
The walkway ended at a road. I paused to get my bearings, but Simon was already running for a store across the road. I followed. It led to a parking lot behind the building—a big lot, shared by a bunch of businesses. It was getting late now, the stores closed, only staff remaining. The lot was dotted with cars covered in snow . . . and one that wasn’t. A cop car idled in the corner of the lot, driver hunched over paperwork.
I grabbed for Simon’s arm, but he’d already thrown on the brakes. The cop looked up. His partner was pointing at us.
Simon jostled me hard and I spun, ready to snarl, but he was grinning. He ran a few steps, scooped up snow and whipped a slushy ball at me.
I charged, pretending to try tripping him. He slid out of the way and grabbed a handful of snow off a car.
“Head left,” I murmured. “Take that lane out of the lot.”
We kept at it, throwing snowballs, sliding on the sleet-covered parking lot, paying no attention to the cops as we made our way to the lane.
A crunch of snow under tires. The cop car rolled toward us.
He darted to the side. I whipped a snowball. He pretended to slip, arms windmilling. I charged and hit him in the side, pushing him further away from the cop car.
It turned and headed toward us. The window rolled down. Simon motioned for me to stay back, he’d handle this. Then he jogged to the police car.
“Private property, right? Sorry.” He flashed a grin. “First snow in a month. Couldn’t help ourselves.”
Simon’s smile didn’t falter. “Um, no, and something tells me I don’t want to be, huh?”
The officer looked over at me. “Derek Brown?”
Behind his back, Simon motioned for me to go.
“What’d you say the name was again?” he asked.
Without warning, he cast a fog spell. It whirled up, mingling with the falling snow, the perfect cover for me to take off. Run. Escape. I know that’s what he wanted. And maybe I should. Without me, they’d have no reason to hold Simon. He could call Andrew to come get him and I could meet up with them later.
Only he didn’t know Paul was dead and we couldn’t call Andrew, couldn’t put his life in danger like that. I told myself that’s why I needed to stay. It was bullshit. I needed to stay because there was no way I could run and leave Simon behind. No way I could even consider it.
I walked up behind Simon, passing through the fog curtain.
“I’m Derek Brown,” I said. “We’re looking for our dad.”
Simon was annoyed with me. Not angry. Angry would mean he’d actually thought I might take advantage of the diversion and run. So all I got was a glower and a muttered, “You should have,” as we got in the cop car. Then he took over the explaining.
As Simon told our story, he skated the edge of reality as close as he dared. Dad called and said he was picking us up after Simon’s game. He’d been leaving work early, around noon, and that was the last we’d heard of him. When he didn’t show, we walked home. Dad wasn’t there. Neither were his keys, wallet, cell phone, no sign he’d come home at all.
The cops didn’t ask about the van. I wasn’t sure how we’d answer that. If those guys at our door yesterday morning had been real police officers, they’d have seen the van there. Now it was gone, and that added a whole new level of complication to the story. Best to let on we’d thought Dad didn’t come home from work at all.
Simon said we’d phoned Dad’s office and cell. When we didn’t get an answer, we were worried, but figured he’d been called back to work. Sometimes he was there until after we’d gone to bed. A lie, but it worked.
So we went to bed. When we woke up, and he was still gone, we got worried. After my trouble with the cops we were understandably nervous about going to the police, so we’d hitchhiked to Albany. Walking sounded too desperate.
Our story had lots of holes, but it was good enough for these guys, who only wanted to drop us off at the station and get a pat on the back for finding us.
The police station parking lot was a mess. It was snowing even harder. We got soaked on the walk to a rear door, only to find it wouldn’t open.
“Frozen,” one of the officers said. “Figures.”
It didn’t seem cold enough to freeze—not if the snow was so wet—but I could never judge temperature. All I know is that we had to go around to the front, and the whole walk there, I kept looking for a chance to run. Stupid, I know. How far would we get from a building full of cops?
I thought about it even more when I heard the chaos inside. The weather was causing problems everywhere. It reminded me of what Dad said after every snail’s crawl home from Albany when snow hit. “It’s New York, people. It’s winter. We get snow. If you aren’t prepared to deal with it, move to Miami.”
On that walk around the building, two pairs of exiting cops told our guys to hustle us inside so they could head back out on the road. Accidents everywhere. A pileup on two major roads. “Welcome to winter,” one said. “When fifty percent of drivers should have their licenses temporarily suspended.”
As we drew closer to the front doors, the noise grew louder. Cops trying to get back out on the road. Operators taking calls. Senior officers barking orders. And regular people trying to get regular stuff done—lodging complaints or whatever—while arguing and bitching about the wait.
Once we stepped inside, I knew escape was a definite possibility. The front room was jam-packed. Irate citizens. Stressed-out desk clerks. Cops yelling about the other doors being frozen shut, everyone spilling into the front room.
But Dad would tell us to stay. If Paul was dead and people were looking for us, then we were better off taking refuge with humans. They were the least of our worries right now. They’d take care of us. That was their law. Whoever was chasing us played by a very different set of rules.
As we waited, the front doors flew open, cold air sliced through the heat.
“Who the hell do I talk to about laying a charge?” a voice boomed over the din.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” said a second voice. “We had a deal, Cooper. Get back outside.”
“Me . . . and my two buddies here.”
I strained to see above the crowd. I’m tall; I’m not so tall I can just look over everyone’s head. The two guys facing off were easy to spot, though. Huge, bald biker types, with two more behind them.
Every cop in the place started edging that way, fighting through the crowd.
“Shit,” one of our officers said to the other. “Watch these two.”
He waded into the mob. One of the guys threw a punch. The fight started, spreading fast, bystanders getting jostled and shoved, then joining in, already short tempers exploding. Even people on the edges were getting knocked down . . . when there wasn’t anyone within touching distance.
I looked at Simon, but he was bouncing on his toes, trying to see.
Obviously he wasn’t the one casting the spells. Knockback spells. Doors that wouldn’t open. A spontaneous brawl making a chaotic situation even worse.
When someone else leaped into the fray, I caught a glimpse of two faces I’d seen only a few hours ago. The couple looking for Paul.
I turned back to Simon just as our officer shouldered into the crowd and disappeared.
“He said to wait here.” Simon grinned. “I don’t think I heard him, though. Did you?”
I caught his arm. “We can’t. The people who were looking for Paul. They’re here. It’s—”
Two women pushed through the crowd. They were middle aged, wearing suits that looked ten years old. Government workers.
“Where’s Officer Overton?” one said, frowning as she double-checked a paper.
“In there, I’ll bet,” the other said, pointing at the crowd.
They led us to the side of the crowd. People made way for them—one look and you knew they weren’t part of the brawl.
“Lena Morris,” the first woman said, extending her hand. “Child services. The station notified us that the officers were bringing you in. We—”
Someone flew from the crowd, knocking Ms. Morris back a step.
“We need to get them out of here,” her partner said. “I’ll go talk to the officers that brought them in.” She turned to us. “That’s Officer Overton there, isn’t it?”
Simon said it was. She made her way to him as he snapped cuffs on someone. He tried to wave her aside, but she pressed until finally he glanced our way, nodded and replied. They spoke for a minute. Then she came back.
“We can take them out of here until this gets sorted.” She smiled at us. “Could we interest you boys in dinner?”