A Girl Undone
By Catherine Linka
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2015 Catherine Linka
All rights reserved.
Yates moaned, and I checked the readouts from the machines surrounding the hospital bed. His fever was holding at 105.
Bags of fluids and drugs hung over him, the tubes snaking into his veins. His beautiful face was almost unrecognizable. One eyelid was purple and swollen shut and a strip of white tape bridged his broken nose. Black stitches crisscrossed the shaved strip on his scalp.
Yates' hand was hot in mine, but every time I set it down, I reached for it a moment later.
His good eye fluttered open, and I stretched for the cup of ice chips. "You thirsty?"
His iris was a dull blue, not the cobalt I was used to. It's the fluorescent light, I told myself. It makes everyone look sick.
I tipped the cup to his lips, but before the ice reached them, he'd lost consciousness again.
In the hall, I heard footsteps. Not the night nurse's muffled squeak, but a cautious step like someone in leather shoes trying not to be heard. I pulled my feet onto the bed, and sat stone-still behind the privacy curtain.
It was one A.M. No one else should be on the hospital ward except the patients and Ed, the one nurse.
The footsteps came closer. Whoever it was had entered Yates' room. I held the cup of ice, afraid of the noise it would make if I set it down.
I glanced at the floor below the curtain and spied a battered pair of boots, then steeled myself as the curtain rolled back.
"Luke!" I whispered.
Luke stood there in his sheepskin coat, his black cowboy hat dusted with snow. He swept his brown eyes over me and then Yates. "You should have been out of here two days ago, Avie," he said, his voice low.
My cheeks went scarlet. "I can't leave him."
"They're looking for you and Yates, and you're putting him in danger by being here."
Ed, the nurse, appeared at the door. "The front desk just called. A couple cops are on their way up."
I smacked the cup down on the table and scrambled off the bed.
"That's it," Luke said. "Where's your stuff, Avie?"
"In the closet." I bent over Yates, who was still unconscious. "I have to go," I said, "but I promise I'll be back." Then I leaned in and kissed him lightly on the lips.
Luke tossed me my boots and grabbed my pack. Ed snatched the remains of my sandwich off the bedside table.
Luke and I hurried toward the stairs at the end of the hall. The huge plate-glass window ahead of us reflected Ed wheeling a linen cart to block the hall.
The elevator pinged, and Luke pushed me through the stairwell door, then caught it as it closed and peered through the crack while I pulled on my boots.
"I can't get a clear view around the cart," Luke whispered, "but they look like state troopers, not feds. Still, they're armed."
The troopers didn't bother to keep their voices down. "We're looking for a young man about nineteen. Medium height. Dark hair. Accident victim. We got a tip he might be here."
I held my breath. Two days before, a photo of Yates had been broadcast on the national news along with mine. "Suspected Terrorists in Salvation, Idaho, Shootout."
Ed took his time walking toward them. "Between idiots playing with chain saws and drunken snowmobilers, we've got a lot of patients to choose from. You have a name?"
"Nope, nobody by that name."
"Still, we'd like to take a look."
"No problem, Officers. But I need to ask you to put on masks and booties before you enter any rooms on this floor. Some of these patients have compromised immune systems —"
Luke let the door close. "Let's go. I've got a car outside."
I blocked Luke as he moved for the stairs. "No, wait. Maybe they won't recognize him. By tomorrow, Yates might be better and we can take him with us."
A look flashed across Luke's face. I was acting like a fool.
"How long do you think your luck's going to hold?" he said.
I dropped my gaze to the carved-bone buttons on his coat. "I don't know."
"How long before someone here figures out that a girl's hiding in one of the unused rooms? And not just any girl, but one the feds are hunting." Luke tipped up my face so I'd look him in the eyes. "I know you love him, but the safest place for Yates right now is in that bed."
The infection in Yates' blood could kill him. He needed those antibiotics dripping into his veins.
"Even if they arrest him," Luke said, seeming to read my thoughts, "the docs will keep Yates here until he's well enough to move. You can't help him now."
I glanced down the stairs. I knew I couldn't hide out here forever with Yates — not with my face and the word "Wanted" all over the news. "All right, I'm going. For now."
"You've got the thumb drive Maggie gave you?"
"Yeah." It dangled between my breasts on a steel chain. I breathed in, double-checking that the piece of silk she'd given me was still pinned around my waist, then felt for the phone in my pocket. All three together provided enough evidence to imprison or impeach at least a dozen of the most important political leaders in the country.
When federal agents had trapped the entire town of Salvation in the church, Yates and I had promised Maggie we'd get this evidence to a friend of hers in D.C., and start the wheels of justice turning. I'd barely taken it off my body since.
Luke and I crept down three floors, and through a door that released us just above the parking lot. Snow coated the roofs and hoods of the cars and pickup trucks. The cold slapped my face, and my limbs moved stiffly like I'd been cut out of a cocoon.
"Down that row," Luke said.
I pulled my hat out of my pocket, then stuffed it back in. The shots of me that the newscasters used from the video broadcast of my distress call had zoomed in on the llama design. Put this hat on, and I might as well wear a name tag.
I flipped the hood of my down coat over my hair and followed Luke. My black coat was anonymous, but the red scarf was a giveaway. I needed to change my appearance if I wanted to stay alive.
The lot was quiet, but I kept my head down so security cameras couldn't see my face. We didn't talk.
Luke stopped by a car so beat-up I couldn't believe it ran. The front was torn up and the panel was missing over the right front wheel. Luke climbed in and unlocked the door from the inside.
"Keep your gloves on," he said as he wiped the windshield with his sleeve. "Defrost should kick on in a few minutes."
"Where'd you get the car?" I said.
"It's a beauty, isn't it? Just goes to show what you can get for five hundred dollars cash, no questions asked."
Luke pulled out of the space, drove through the lot, and turned onto the road. He sped up, and as the hospital shrank behind us, my heart tugged like it was still tied to Yates. Take care of him, I begged the powers above. Protect him.
I saw us back in Salvation in the unfinished cabin we'd borrowed for our one night together, our bodies entwined, the fire in the potbellied stove giving his face a golden glow, his eyes dark blue as a night ocean.
What if I never see you again?
"I shouldn't have left Yates," I murmured.
"He'll forgive you," Luke said. "He knows what's at stake."
I buried my nose in my scarf. The truth was Yates would have thrown me out if he'd been halfway coherent. After he'd been injured in a fall back up on the mountain, he'd told me to leave him, to finish the mission we'd started.
But that was before we were rescued, and I'd wrongly thought we were safe. Government agents were caught threatening American citizens, but Yates and I had somehow become the terrorists in the media's eyes.
Luke turned onto a broad avenue and street lamps lit the car like spotlights. He handed me a torn scrap of paper with penciled directions. "Help me read this."
Cars approached and I ducked my head as I guided him toward the highway. We couldn't get off this road fast enough, but we had another three miles to go.
A part of me wanted back in that bare, unused hospital room Ed had locked me into the last two days, where all I had to do was sleep and wait for his shift to begin.
When I came down from the mountains with Yates, I thought I was fearless, but lying there on the hospital linoleum, watching the news reports, and reliving the siege, I realized I wasn't as fearless as I thought.
I was scared for good reason, carrying secrets that could get me killed.
"I hate this," I said.
"We'll be on the highway soon."
"What if there are roadblocks?"
"Better pray there aren't, because I don't have a license."
Of course, why would he? When you live in a community that's left the rest of the world behind.
The shock of having Luke pull me out of the hospital was wearing off, and I shivered as the heater kicked out cool air. "How'd you find me?"
"Followed your tracks out of Salvation until I got to the tree where Yates had his accident. When I saw the cuts the dogsled left, I guessed Spoke Coleman picked you up and brought you here."
Luke unbuttoned his sheepskin coat with his free hand and loosened the scarf around his neck. A faint light from the dash carved his profile out of the darkness. Gone was the easygoing calm he'd shown me in the woods around Salvation.
We all had had the crap kicked out of us up there.
Images flashed through my head. Maggie exiting the church, holding up the banner. I SURRENDER. Gunshots. Her body sailing backward like she'd been punched.
I knew I should say something to Luke about his birth mom and dad dying in the firefight. "I'm sorry about Maggie and Barnabas —"
Luke clenched the wheel. "You heard what happened?"
"Spoke told me when he found Yates and me back on the mountain."
"The minute those agents opened fire on Maggie, Barnabas was out the door. He got two of them before they took him out."
During the last forty-eight hours, I'd watched hours of television with the sound off, but no one, not one news crew, reported that story.
"Strange, isn't it?" Luke said. "I spent my whole life angry at my mother for leaving me, and then I have to watch her die, trying to save my life."
I shook my head, unable to speak.
"They've got Salvation surrounded." Luke looked to see if I'd heard him. "The governor sent state troopers to 'assist' the federal agents while they interview everyone."
Hunting for clues for where to find Yates and me, I bet. "How did you get out?"
"Beattie shoved me in the tunnel after Barnabas and Maggie got shot. I hid there until the next night, then came down the mountain."
Sealed for hours in the pitch-black, in a narrow tunnel that smelled like a grave after seeing your birth parents gunned down? Then tromping through miles of snow, the temperature below freezing? How did Luke have the strength to do it?
I wanted to reach over and touch him, let him know I understood what he'd been through, but something stopped me.
"How would the feds even know about you?" I said gently. "You've been off the grid your whole life."
"Yeah, I'm luckier than you are. I'm not in their system, and there aren't any photos of me they can throw up on the news."
Luke slowed and pulled into a parking lot outside a grocery store, stopping alongside a big metal donation box. He got out, letting the engine run, and slid a pair of snowshoes from under a blanket on the back seat, before he walked over and dropped them in the donation box.
Time to toss the hat, I thought. I pulled it out of my pocket, leaving my phone on the dash. Luke held the metal bin door open, and I shoved the hat in. Then we climbed back in the car, and a few minutes later, Luke drove up the ramp onto the freeway, leaving the lights of Boise behind.
"So where are we going?" I said.
"Right now we're headed east."
"And how long before we come back? A week or two?"
He reached down and fiddled with the radio controls. "How about we play that by ear?"
I blinked into the darkness as the radio came to life. "Authorities continue their search for suspected terrorist Aveline Reveare last seen in the survivalist community known as Salvation —"
"Sorry about that." He switched to a country-western station.
"It's not your fault I'm all over the news." I hugged my crossed arms to my chest. "I can't believe I was so naïve. I thought when I got to Boise, I'd turn over Maggie's evidence to the police and be free to go. I was so sure after the video of the feds firing on Salvation was blasted all over the national news that Vice President Jouvert would have to answer for what the feds did."
"The vice president's got powerful allies. The leaders of the Paternalist Party are gonna cover up his crimes so theirs don't get exposed."
"Do you know they said I'm guilty of 'associating with a terrorist'?"
"Yeah, I heard. Pack of liars, saying that about you and Maggie, and calling Salvation a bunch of 'armed extremists passing themselves off as a religious community'! Makes me want to line them all up and shoot them."
Something in his voice made me do a double take. Luke had every right to be angry, but —
He lifted my phone off the dash. "You listen to the message from your friend, yet?"
"No, Sparrow's message was for Maggie, not me." I wasn't exactly lying. I'd only listened to a few seconds before I'd pulled out my earphones after the little I'd heard made me sick.
"Maggie's dead. Don't you want to know what you're carrying?"
I shook my head. "No."
"It's —" Too dangerous. "I'm not ready."
Luke ran his fingers over the lit screen. "We should listen to it now. Maybe it could protect us if we get caught."
"No," I said, shaking my head even harder. "Maybe later. Not now."
"All right," he said, handing it back to me. "Later."
I pushed the phone deep into my pack, hearing again the breathy murmurs of my friend Sparrow and the powerful man she was with, Vice President Jouvert. Her voice echoed in my ears. This recording was trouble magnified by a hundred.
I hadn't asked for any of this. I hadn't intended to become a revolutionary. All I'd ever wanted was to be free to choose what I wanted to do with my life.
Now Luke had shown up, and I couldn't pretend that this whole huge mess would disappear.
The sun was coming up over the mountains when we got to the outskirts of Pocatello, and we followed a school bus into town. Pickups were gathered outside a brightly lit doughnut shop, and the smell of hot sugar made my empty stomach tighten.
A black truck with police lights approached, and I slid below the dash and out of sight. I crouched there, ticked at myself for not checking if Luke's brake lights were working, because he probably had no idea that cops liked to have any little excuse to stop strange cars.
"All clear," Luke said.
I climbed back into my seat.
He drove slowly, his gaze panning left, then right, like he was reading an unfamiliar landscape.
"Have you ever been here before?" I said.
"Once. A few years ago. Barnabas used to take me with him when he had to deliver the guitars he'd built. He sold to a store here, a few up around Casper, and Jackson Hole, and a couple in Spokane. So I'm not completely ignorant of the world outside Salvation."
I saw Luke's face relax like he'd spied what he was searching for. A block later, he pulled into a lot beside a lawyer's office and parked in a spot with a name painted on it.
"Luke, they'll tow the car if we leave it here."
"That's my plan. Take your things."
"What are we doing?"
"We're walking from here."
I glanced at Luke's face to see if he was joking, but he wasn't. He reached in the glove compartment and took out a pistol, then stuck it in his pants under his coat. "You still have your gun?"
"It's in my pack," I said. Stuffed in the bottom with the clip removed. "You want me to get it out?"
"Nah, it's still early. I think we'll be fine."
I wrapped my scarf over my hair. Spiky wasn't a popular hairstyle in Idaho and I didn't want to be memorable.
We were alone on the street, but I felt like I had "fugitive" painted on my back. We walked beside each other with our arms bumping before Luke felt for my hand. "We should look like a couple."
I wove my fingers into his, surprised at how lightly he held mine, despite how strong he was. His hand felt hot through my glove, making me think Luke was as nervous as I was.
I tensed as cars drove by, letting out my breath after they passed. It had been years since I'd walked in the open without a bodyguard, and my neighborhood in L.A. didn't count. There was a guardhouse and cameras on every street. (Continues...)
Excerpted from A Girl Undone by Catherine Linka. Copyright © 2015 Catherine Linka. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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