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By April Henry
Henry Holt and Company Copyright © 2010 April Henry
All rights reserved.
A Thousand Things Wrong
Cheyenne heard the car door open. She didn't move from where she lay curled on the backseat, her head resting on her bent arm. Despite the blanket that covered her, Cheyenne was shivering.
She had begged her stepmom to leave the keys in the car so she could turn on the heat if she got cold. After some back-and-forthing, Danielle had agreed. That had only been five minutes ago, and here she was, already back. Maybe the doctor had phoned in the prescription and Danielle hadn't had to wait for it to be filled.
Now the door slammed closed, the SUV rocking a little as weight settled into the driver's seat. The engine started. The emergency brake clunked as it was released. The car jerked into reverse.
It was a thousand little things that told Cheyenne something was wrong. Even the way the door closed hadn't sounded right. Too fast and too hard for Danielle. The breathing was all wrong too, speeded up and harsh. Cheyenne sniffed. The smell of cigarettes. But Danielle didn't smoke and, as a nurse, couldn't stand anyone who did.
There was no way the person driving the car was her stepmom.
But why would someone else have gotten in the car? It was a Cadillac Escalade, so it wasn't likely someone had just gotten confused and thought it was their car.
Then she remembered the keys. Somebody was stealing the car!
And Cheyenne was pretty sure they didn't know she was in it.
She froze, wondering how much the blanket covered her. She couldn't feel it on the top of her head.
Cheyenne felt like a mouse she had seen in the kitchen one time when she turned on the light before school. Caught in the middle of the floor, it had stood stock-still. Like maybe she wouldn't notice it if it didn't move.
But it hadn't worked for the mouse, and now it didn't work for Cheyenne. She must have made some small sound. Or maybe the thief had looked back to see if someone was following and then realized what the shape was underneath the blanket.
A swear word. A guy's voice. She had already halfway known that it was a guy, the way she sometimes just knew things now.
"Who the hell are you?" His voice broke in surprise.
"What are you doing in Danielle's car?"
Their words collided and tangled. Both of them speaking too fast, almost yelling.
Sitting up, she scrambled back against the door, the one farthest from him. "Stop our car and get out!"
"No!" he shouted back. The engine surged as he drove faster.
Cheyenne realized she was being kidnapped.
But she couldn't see the guy who was kidnapping her or where they were going.
Because for the last three years, Cheyenne had been blind.CHAPTER 2
The girl in the backseat wouldn't stop yelling. She had black hair and huge brown eyes, wide with fright. Maybe she was pretty. Griffin didn't know. All he knew was that right now she was a big problem. Even though he was freaking out, he forced himself to think. Thank God no one was nearby.
If he stopped and let her out, the way she kept demanding, this girl would run screaming to the first person she saw. In ten minutes or less, he would be arrested. And then the cops would naturally drive out to their house, and everything would unravel. All of them in jail. Probably for a long time.
Instead of slowing down, Griffin accelerated as he turned out of the far end of the parking lot. It threw the girl off balance. He winced as her head clunked against the window, but still he kept going. He was acting on pure instinct now. And instinct told him to get as far away as possible. Growing up around Roy, you got pretty good at running. Running and hiding.
Griffin caught a break, hitting a gap in traffic. He drove as fast as he could across the freeway overpass. The Escalade leaped forward when he pressed the accelerator, hitting sixty-five with no sign of strain.
With the way today was going, the cops would pull him over for speeding. Griffin needed time to think this through, but there was no way he could afford to take it. He figured he had to put as much distance as he could between whoever had been driving this car and the girl in the backseat, who must belong to them. To get away from any witnesses who might be calling 9-1-1 on their cell phones right now. Cutting in front of a red Honda, he took the next corner on two wheels, getting off the main road.
He pounded the side of his head in frustration. How could he have been so stupid as to not notice that there was someone in the car? Griffin could hear Roy shouting at him, almost as real as the girl in the backseat, the girl who wouldn't stop yelling.
He hadn't been able to see past the keys dangling in the ignition. It was that simple, and that senseless. Griffin had been walking down the long rows of vehicles, looking like any other stressed-out Christmas shopper who couldn't find his car. Instead, he was looking for packages he could boost. The packages came from the big, boxy stores that surrounded the acres and acres of the shopping center's parking lot. (The whole place was so big that most people left one store, got in their cars, and drove the equivalent of three blocks to the next store.)
Thanks to Roy, Griffin knew how to get in and out of a locked car in under a minute. He could do it even when someone was climbing out of the next car, and they wouldn't notice a thing. Sometimes, just for a thrill, Griffin would even give a nod as he straightened up with the J. Crew bag or the box from Abercrombie. Then he would stroll down to his own car, parked near one of the exits, and put the bags in the trunk. After the trunk was full, he would drive into Portland and across the river to Eighty-second Avenue, where any of a string of secondhand stores was happy to buy new merchandise for resale, no questions asked.
The Escalade had been a gift, a surprise present meant just for him. Anyone who was stupid enough to leave the keys dangling from the ignition, in full view of the world, deserved to have the car taken away. And he couldn't wait to bring it home and present it to Roy.
That's what Griffin had thought, anyway, until the blanket in the backseat turned out to have a girl underneath it.
Ignoring the girl, ignoring his own panicked thoughts, the explanations and rationalizations he was already practicing for when he got back home, Griffin drove as fast as he could without losing control. Too fast for her to risk jumping out. He kept his head half turned, one eye on the road and the other on her. Weaving around slower cars, Griffin took a side street, and then another, until finally he was on an empty road that cut through a piece of scrubland. On each corner, a big white sign advertised it for sale to any interested developers.
As soon as he slowed down, the girl came at him, outstretched hands curved into claws, screaming like a banshee. Her head was cocked to one side, and her eyes were wide and staring. She looked crazy. Maybe she was.
Throwing the car into park, Griffin tried to deflect her, raising his shoulder and turning his head. At least no one was around to hear her. Her fingernails raked down his right cheek, and he could feel she had drawn blood.
He had to do something, but what? He squeezed between the seats. Griffin just wanted her to calm down, but he ended up wrestling with her, both of them struggling in a desperate silence. Finally, he managed to straddle her and pin her arms to her sides. He was bigger than she was, and he was working on pure adrenaline. At least she had stopped screaming. The sound of their ragged breathing filled the car. He became aware of a quiet hum — he had never had time to turn off the car. Straightening up, he managed to quickly reach over and turn off the key.
"I'm sorry," he said into the complete silence. "Let's talk about this. But you have to promise that you'll stop trying to kill me."
"I will." She nodded, her eyes not meeting his. Griffin figured she was probably lying. In the same situation, he knew he would lie.
He exhaled. "Look, it's an accident you're here. I just wanted the car, not you. I didn't even know you were in the car."
"Then let me go." Her voice was low and hoarse. She took a deep breath and then started to cough, a deep, racking sound. She kept her head turned away, but still little flecks of spit landed on him. When she spoke again, it was in a whisper. "Please, please, just let me go. I won't tell anyone."
Even Griffin wasn't that dumb. "I'm sorry, but do you think I really believe that? By the end of the day, my description would be handed out to every cop and broadcast on every radio station in town."
A strange expression played across her face, the ghost of a smile. In the cold, the engine ticked as it cooled. "But I won't be able to tell them anything. Didn't you notice that I'm blind?"
Blind? Griffin stared at her dark eyes. He had thought they weren't really meeting his because she was looking past him for help, searching for a way out, assessing the situation.
"You're really blind?"
"My cane's on the floor."
Still wondering if she was tricking him somehow, he looked on the floor. Sitting next to a small black purse behind the driver's seat was a folded bundle of white sticks.
Griffin imagined doing what she asked. He could let her get out. Maybe give her her cane, maybe not. She could probably hear cars okay, and it wasn't like there were a lot of them. Instead of getting run over, she would flag down the next vehicle that came along. But as soon as someone stopped for her, it wouldn't be long until the police were involved. The brand-new Escalade didn't exactly blend in. What if someone passed by here only a minute or two after he let her go? He was thirty miles from home, thirty miles from where he could hide the car. It would be all too easy to track him down. And after that, it was still the same nightmare scenario. All of them locked up and the key thrown away for good.
No. Better to keep her for a little while yet. Ask Roy what to do, even though he wouldn't be happy about Griffin bringing back trouble. Better to bring it back than to leave it out here, ready to explode and engulf them all in the fallout. Besides, Griffin already had an idea. Tonight, after it got dark, he could drive this girl someplace deserted and let her out and then drive away again. Leave her someplace where it would be hours before anyone found her. Just like she asked, only with a lot less chance of being caught. But not here. Not now. Not in daylight. Not when a car might come by at any moment.
As if to make the thought real, he heard a car in the distance. Approaching them.
"I can't let you go," he said, and was starting to add, "not right now," but before Griffin even got the next word out of his mouth she was fighting him again, opening her mouth to scream. What could he do? Then he had an idea. He didn't know if it would work, but he had to do something. Desperately, he groped across the passenger seat until his fingers closed on what he needed.
Griffin pressed the barrel against her temple.
"Shut up or I'll shoot you."CHAPTER 3
Every Reason to Lie
Cheyenne froze at the touch of the cold metal. She could tell that he meant what he said. He sounded angry and out of control, just like she felt. They were both quiet until the car passed them and the sound of its engine faded. She could feel her strength draining away with it.
"Look — can't you just chill?" His voice sounded a little calmer.
She made herself nod.
"I don't need this crap. I don't need you screaming and kicking and scratching. I can't think when you do that. So are you going to be quiet?"
Cheyenne nodded again, wishing she could curl up into a tighter and tighter ball, grow smaller and smaller until she just disappeared.
"I am going to let you go," he insisted.
Something must have flickered on her face, betrayed her doubt.
"I am! Just not now. Right now, I'm going to have to tie you up and cover you with the blanket so that no one can see you. And tonight, once it's dark, I'll let you go."
Her head ached where it had slammed against the window. That had probably only been five minutes ago, but it felt like a lifetime. Where were they now that he felt he could hold her down in the backseat without anyone noticing? That lone car had been the only one she had heard since he had turned onto this road.
"Take off your shoes." Cheyenne thought he was trying to stop her from running away, until he added, "And pull out the laces."
She did as he asked, wondering where the gun was pointing. At her head, at her heart? Or had he already set it down? The tiny slice of blurry vision she had left didn't reveal any clues. He ordered her to lie down on her side, facing the seat, then tied her hands together behind her. Cheyenne knew he couldn't be holding the gun when he did that, but even so, he could still pick it up and shoot her if she gave him any trouble. She did as he asked, but at the same time tensed her wrists and held them as far apart as she dared. With the second shoelace, he tied her ankles together. Why couldn't she have worn loafers?
Her mind raced. When he was finished, she rolled over so that she was facing him. She wanted him to see her face, to see her eyes even if she couldn't see his. It would probably be easier to shoot someone in the back.
She didn't want to make it easy for him.
Cheyenne heard him pick up her purse and begin to rummage through it.
"Are you looking for money?" she said. "Because I don't have much."
Cheyenne knew she had a twenty, two tens, and some ones. The twenty was folded the long way, the ten the short way, and the ones weren't folded at all. Whenever she got money back from someone else, she asked which bill was which and then folded it. Every blind person had their own way of folding money to tell it apart. Coins were a lot easier. Each was a different diameter and thickness, and some had smooth edges and some didn't. Even before the accident, when a coin fell to the floor, Cheyenne had been able to tell what it was, just by the sound it made.
Now she offered him a bargaining chip. "I do have an ATM card. Let me go, and I'll give you my PIN. I've got over three thousand dollars in my account."
"Three thousand dollars?" There was something about his voice that made Cheyenne think he was younger than she had first thought. He sounded incredulous.
She dared to let herself hope. "You can have all of it. I don't think you can get more than a thousand out at a time, but I won't tell them that you have the card. I swear."
"I don't want your money!" There was a strange tone to his voice. It was almost like he was hurt by her accusation, which didn't make any sense. It was okay to steal a car, it was okay to kidnap her, but it wasn't okay to take her money? "I'm looking in your purse for something to gag you with."
"You can't. I'm really sick. If you gag me, I won't be able to breathe." It wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth, either. But if he gagged her, it would make it that much less likely that she would be able to get help.
Cheyenne was shaking, partly with fear, and partly, she thought, because her temperature must be spiking again. It had been one hundred and two in the doctor's office. Dr. Guinn had prescribed antibiotics and said Cheyenne would be all done with them by Christmas. Now the thought struck like a blow to the stomach. Will I be alive to see Christmas at all? "That's why we were at the shopping center, so my stepmom could pick up my prescription at the pharmacy. If I can't breathe through my mouth, I'll smother."
He hesitated for a long time. Finally he said roughly, "Promise you won't scream?"
"I promise." Why should either of them believe the other? Cheyenne wondered bleakly as he pulled the blanket over her. They had no reason to tell the truth and every reason to lie. Which meant that he could be planning to hurt her, to chain her up in his basement for years, to shoot her in the heart. Just like she was thinking about how to get away, to get someone's attention, to hurt him so bad that he couldn't hurt her back. There was no point in either one of them trusting the other.
Even though he had pulled the blanket over her head as well as her body, the kidnapper had arranged it so it didn't cover her face. Good. She could still breathe. And because he could see her face, he would remember she was a person, not a long bundle like a rolled-up carpet. It would be a lot easier to shoot a rolled-up carpet. She heard him climb back into the front seat and then the car started.
Excerpted from Girl, Stolen by April Henry. Copyright © 2010 April Henry. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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