A hulk of a man climbed out of the tractor and walked around to my door. I wound the window down.
“Can I help ya, miss?” My eyes tracked up the round flannel-clad belly to a kind face weathered by a lifetime working the land. Greying hair poked out from under the man’s green John Deere hat.
“Yes, sir. We’re looking for the interstate.” I smiled at him, hoping I could keep in here long enough for the sedan to pass us by so we could go back the way we came.
He leaned down and looked at Dominic and Allison before returning his sun-bleached blue eyes to me. “Yer a long way off, miss.”
“That’s what I was afraid of,” I said in a dejected tone. “Could you point us to a store where we can get a map?”
“Well, yer best bet is to go back the way ya came. Go right at the stop sign. That’ll take ya to the main road. Goes north and south. Jus’ head the way ya wanna go. You’ll find a store either way.”
“Okay. Thank you very much.” Inside I heaved a sigh that he was sending us the way I wanted to go. It had been a gamble. Through the slats of the barn, I noticed the Chevy going up the road. The speed of the car indicated they were looking. But when they sped up just before cresting the hill, I knew they hadn’t seen us. Still, I had to haul ass to get back before they realized we ditched them.
The tractor rumbled away, and I backed out from our hiding place behind the barn. I pulled out slowly, hoping that the tires didn’t leave dusty tracks on the asphalt. Once we were out of sight of the friendly farmer, I pressed the accelerator to speed our progress. Allison tucked back into her ball without being told. Good girl.
We whipped around the turns in the opposite direction. It was good that I was blessed with a sort of photographic-tactile memory when it came to driving. If I drove a road once, I drove it a hundred times, allowing me to have the confidence of one familiar with the terrain. I knew where to feather the gas, where to drop gears.
Then end of the road came into sight, and I scanned for other cars, fully intending to run the stop sign if I could. Luck was on our side. I skidded the car around the turn and back toward the larger four-lane road we had been traveling before the drama.
“Get out the map. Get us to the interstate so we can put some pavement between us and them,” I told Dominic.
“What if that’s not the only car?”
“We’ll take it as it comes. Best way. You know that.” The main road was looming in front of us. “Which way?”
Dominic scanned the map. “Go right. Then about a mile up, turn left.” He was good with a map. Great team we made: me driving, him navigating. We’d always worked so well together. I trusted every direction he gave. He trusted every crazy swing of the wheel I made.
Once we were off of the main road again, I slowed down. I didn’t want to draw attention to us. The car stood out well enough without driving like the devil was chasing us. Even though he was. Damn those gold stripes on the black paint. Why couldn’t Dominic have picked a solid color? Even a less distinguishable stripe pattern? I squeezed the wheel until my hands ached with the effort, trying to expel my frustration.
Just over thirty minutes later we were merging onto the interstate. I would put some distance and time between us and our pursuers before getting off and taking a less traveled road. I pushed the needle to seventy-three miles per hour. The limit was sixty-five, so I was safe from being pulled over as long as I kept it under ten over.
At the third exit up from where we go on, I got off. Dominic checked the map and directed me to a smaller road that paralleled the road we had been on earlier. It was a two-lane road, and much less traveled than the main route.
“I think we should go to the safe house now,” I said with a glance in Dominic’s direction. His face revealed nothing as he stared out the windshield.
His silence was unbearable. “Dominic? Any thoughts on that?”
He looked at me, the green of his eyes swirling with indecision. He was afraid. That scared me. The Dominic I knew never showed fear, even to me.
I took a deep breath. “Okay. Do we have to use that safe house? Is there another one we can use?”
“We need to ditch this car.” He was curt. His way of dealing with the situation, I guessed. “When we get to a more populated area, drop me off. I’ll get us another car and meet you at a place we pick. Then we can drive somewhere out of the way and leave the Mustang there. Without tags.”
“What about the safe house, Dominic?” I pressed. “Can we use another one?”
“I don’t know, Ella,” he practically barked at me.
My head snapped to look at him. Something was off. And it had warning sirens screaming in my head. A quick glance at Allison sitting behind him told me she was paying attention, but pretending to be engrossed in her game. I wouldn’t get into anything in front of her. She had been through too much already, and I had a feeling it was only going to get worse.
So I drove in silence for another hour when we came to a small town that was much bigger than the towns we’d driven through until then.
Dominic pointed to a large grocery store with a full lot. “Pull in there, and make a few passes through the lanes.”
This was heading in a direction I didn’t want to take. Running was one thing. Committing a felony was another level entirely. I didn’t want Allison involved in something like this, but there wasn’t much choice. Dominic was right. The Mustang had to go.
We drove up and down the lanes while Dominic cased the vehicles in the lot. He pointed to the back row. “Drop me off back there.” He pulled out the map, and we decided on an intersection to meet at in twenty minutes. This whole thing rubbed me the wrong way. I had a bad feeling about it that didn’t have anything to do with stealing a car. It was more about Dominic and the way he was acting.
Leaning forward, he pulled a thin black leather wallet of some sort from the glove box. Then he reached under the seat and pulled out a holster, complete with the butt of a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson pistol sticking out. I knew what it was because it was the same gun he’d had all those years ago, lovingly cared for.
He caught my eye as he slid the holster onto his belt where it would be in plain view of anyone who saw him. The look he gave me said not to ask questions. I didn’t. Just watched as he climbed out and shut the door. Then I drove away without looking back.