Nope. I see the answer in her face. There’s a bit of pride there, too.
It takes five full miles for me to realize that whatever she did to the skip tracers’ car, she can just as easily do to mine. If I’m remembering right, the handbook says that they can manipulate electricity only through touch, so I just need to keep her hands in one place and her mind convinced she won’t be able to escape. I jerk the car onto the shoulder and throw the parking brake on. My “supplies kit” is nothing more than an NAU duffel bag full of whatever crap I could buy off the policemen who got let go in the economic crash. Handcuffs. Some zip ties. A Taser that doesn’t work but I feel could be a pretty good threat.
My hands are still shaking, and it’s embarrassing and awful, and it makes the fact that I can’t figure out how to use the zip ties that much worse when the girl has to do it herself. I feel her silently judging me as she slides the flat end through the end with the nub. She puts her hands through and then tightens the loop by taking the flat end between her tiny pearls of teeth and pulling. When she finishes, the kid puts her hands delicately back in her lap and looks at me, all expectant. Like, What’s next?
“I’m not saving you,” I remind her. But something makes me wonder if she even wants me to.
I’M actually stuck.
I need gas to make it up to the PSF station in Prescott—the only one in northern Arizona—but the gas is in Camp Verde, south of here. And to get to Camp Verde, I’d need to backtrack, risk running into the skip tracers I just screwed over. Chances are if the kid fried their car, they’re still sitting there. Or they’re walking down the freeway to get help.
So I find myself back in Cottonwood at Phyllis’s joint. I don’t really remember driving there, or the sun starting to go down, or how I managed to park, but the dashboard clock tells me it’s six o’clock. And somehow, I’ve managed to sit here next to this kid for a silent two hours, running through every possible plan.
Tomorrow. By tomorrow they’ll be out of Camp Verde and the PSF station will be open. After I fill the truck’s tank, I can backtrack to Prescott to drop her off and pick up my new tech and her bounty. Tonight we can stay here. She may be a freak, but I’m bigger than her and I think I can lock her in the bathroom from the outside. I can watch her for one night.
We have to wait another twenty minutes before the men and women loitering on the sidewalk, enjoying the cool twilight, are finished with their conversations and cigarettes. Then I take the girl’s arm and force her to slide across the bench, out my door.
I worry, just for a second, that I might be pulling on her arm too hard as I run the length of the parking lot, but I have to hand it to her. Little Miss looks like she got herself into a cage fight, and she still more than keeps up with me.
I fumble with the key to the room, sliding the cheap plastic card in and out, getting a red light every time. I glance around, convinced Phyllis or one of her sons is going to pop out of thin air, hand extended, waiting for the rent money before they reactivate my key. Before I can hash that particular conundrum out, the little girl reaches up and touches the reader, and the light goes out altogether. I hear the lock pop, and suddenly, she’s the one dragging us inside the dark, musty room.
Compared to my old trailer, the motel room might as well be Buckingham Palace. But there’s this tiny, nagging ache in my stomach as the girl glances around. The longer she stands there looking, assessing with those dark eyes, the more ashamed I feel. I didn’t make the queen-sized bed before I left. The abysmal mauve country chic quilt is a rumpled pile on the ground. Both nightstands bookending the bed are littered with food wrappers, soda cans, and a few stray beer bottles.
The kid sucks in a deep breath of stale air, and the way her mouth twists into a painful grimace makes me wonder if she’s caught in some kind of bad memory. The desk behind her is piled with dirty clothes awaiting the five dollars I need to wash them. I don’t smoke, never have, never will, but both neighbors do and I swear the stench is somehow bleeding through the paper-thin walls.
I push the girl forward, toward the bathroom.
“Clean yourself up,” I tell her just as there’s a knock on the door.
I feel about ten times more panicked than the girl looks as she walks to the bathroom and shuts the door. I stand there, just to make sure she doesn’t have ideas about causing trouble, but the knocking turns into pounding.
I look through the door’s peephole and one of Phyllis’s boys glares back at me. He’s got a good twenty years on me but also is carrying about a hundred extra pounds tucked into his bright yellow polo shirt. I keep the chain on as I crack the door open, more to make a point than to stop him.
“Yeah?” My brain is scrambling to remember the guy’s name. He’s the one who’s actively balding. The other one just looks like he lets his mother cut his gray hair. I know this one is trying to figure out how I managed to get back in.
“You need to be outta here tonight if you aren’t going to pay,” he says. “I thought we made that perfectly clear.”
“I’ll have the money for you—” I start, but then I remember the lump of bills in my back pocket. I didn’t get a chance to count it before I stole it, so I start to thumb through them, making a show. That’s when the bathroom’s crappy faucet sputters to life. What’s-his-name looks up sharply, trying to wedge himself farther between the door and the frame.
“You know it’s extra if you have another person sleeping here,” he snaps.
“Oh, she’s not spending the night,” I said, wagging my brows. “You know how it is.” Except, clearly, this guy does not know how it is. And also, given the age of my “guest,” that was one of creepiest things that’s ever come out of my mouth.
“Here—here’s the hundred,” I said. And two hundred slides back into my pocket. Nice. “Tomorrow I’ll be out of your hair.”
The guy stares at the twenties in my hand like it’s Monopoly money.
“Where’d you get this?” he demands, snatching it up and recounting the five bills himself. “You doing something sketchy in here? Something we need to know about?”
“Just finished some freelance mechanic work,” I say, holding up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”
“You wouldn’t know honor if it was spitting in your face,” the man mutters, still staring at the bathroom door at the other side of the room, the shadow of her feet moving beneath it. He’s looking at it like he’s thinking, like he’s finally realized what I meant earlier, and suddenly, he’s interested.