Throwing off the blankets, we moved through the cabin in silence. Through a small slit between the curtains we spied two figures moving in different directions through the trees. A car began bumping its way down the drive toward the cabin. As it approached I thought it looked remarkably like the Chevy that had given chase back in Ohio, and my heart began racing.
Dominic and I moved away form the curtains so the driver wouldn’t see us. I headed to the bedroom and woke Allison, urging her to be silent and quick in dressing. I had slept in my clothes, and so went to arm myself. I made a quick holster for the nine using a scrap of a torn sheet and slipped it through Allison’s belt loops.
Her eyes shone with fear as I tied the gun securely to her hip. Whispering, I told her, “Someone’s here. I don’t know who it is, so I want you to hide in the basement until I come get you. Find a good hiding place that’ll be hard to find. Don’t make a sound. Don’t come out, no matter what. If you need the gun, just pull this,” I indicated an end of the fabric strip tucked into her front pocket. “It will untie the belt and you can use the gun. You remember how to, right?”
She nodded. “Red means fire. Both eyes open. Squeeze, don’t pull. Aim for the body.”
Her matter of fact repetition of the basic rules broke my heart. My little angel was again taking a huge step in the growing up process. And once again she was taking a step she should never have to take at her tender age. A step I wished she never would’ve had to take.
I handed her a flashlight. “Only turn this on if you need it.” My eyes searched hers before I wrapped her in my arms and squeezed. “I love you, baby.”
“I love you too, Mommy,” she whispered back with tears in her voice.
Leading her down the stairs to the basement, I opened the wooden plank door. Bending down, I gave her another tight squeeze. “Remember,” I whispered, “Only come out for me.”
“Okay. Mommy? I’m scared.”
“I know, baby. I’m scared, too.” I kissed her. “Now, use the light to find a good spot. Then shut it off until I come for you.”
When the flashlight switched on, an exterior door was illuminated. I stayed her hand with the light shining on the door. “If anyone comes in through there, don’t move or make make a sound. If you feel in danger, leave through there. Go to the little cave we found and hide there.”
I hugged and kissed her again. “Don’t worry, baby. We’ll be okay.”
She just nodded and swallowed visibly before moving into the dank basement.
I closed the door, climbed the stairs, and slid Dominic’s .44 into my waistband. He pointed to the rifle by the window in the bedroom. There I wouldn’t be visible from the living area, but I’d be able to see both the front and side of the cabin.
I watched through the window as a man climbed out of the car. He was short, but beefy, with a slight paunch at his middle. His head was bald, but whether it was nature’s doing or clippers, I couldn’t tell. The black long-sleeve shirt and blue jeans were nondescript. He could be anybody.
The confidence in his step as he approached the cabin, however, indicated that he knew exactly where he was and what he was doing. Maybe he was part of the FBI team that put us here. If so, what was up with the men sneaking through the woods?
When he stepped onto the porch, he disappeared from my line of sight. Seconds later, a knock sounded on the door.
“Yeah?” Dominic’s voice was hard, less of a question than a demand for the knocker to identify himself.
The answer from the other side of the door was muffled to my ears, but Dominic answered with another question. “What’s the password?” he demanded.
Password? There was a password? Why wasn’t I aware of this password? I listened as the muffled voice answered, the click of the door opening indicated he got the answer right.
“Bill,” Dominic said in a low voice. “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to make sure you got here and had everything you needed. The tank for the generator was full?” He sounded young, but there was something in his voice that didn’t quite mesh with his nonchalant words. He sounded tense.
Dominic’s tone changed to match Bill’s. “Yeah. Everything’s fine. Still doesn’t explain why you’re here, though. You’re not supposed to be here. That’s the point of a safe house, Agent Jennings.”
The edge in Dominic’s voice screamed trouble. If this Agent Jennings wasn’t supposed to be here, why was he?
“Where’s Mrs. Boothe?” the agent asked.
Dominic didn’t answer right away. I listened to his foot steps track around the other room. As he approached the doorway, he spoke. “I’m not ready to have her come out yet. I still want to know why you’re here.”
That was my indication to stay put. I stole a look out both windows, trying to see if I could identify the other men’s locations. It was a futile effort. Unless they were wearing hunter orange, I’d never be able to pick them out of the trees. They could’ve been anywhere by that point.
I sat on the floor beneath the window, pistol at my back, rifle across my lap. There was nothing for me to do but wait and listen. I hoped that Allison was okay down in the darkness of the basement.
Jennings’s voice floated through the doorway in a soothing wave. “It’s okay, Sterling. We got Ritter, so you guys can come out and head home.”
Silence from Dominic.
“Why do you look like you don’t believe me?” Jennings asked.
Dominic’s voice was stiff, edged with doubt and distrust. “This wasn’t how we agreed you’d notify me. You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Yes, well. . .” Jennings didn’t finish the thought.
After a long, strained silence the door opened, and Dominic said, “I think you’d better leave, Bill.”
A gruff humf preceded the closing of the door.
I watched through the curtain as Bill Jennings walked to his car. Pausing at his door, he looked through the trees to his right. Following his gaze, I found the first of the two men hiding in the woods. The guy wasn’t far from the front door, but he perched in a tree so that a quick glance around leaving the cabin wouldn’t reveal him. He was armed with a sniper rifle, and didn’t acknowledge Jennings’s glance.
When the agent looked off in another direction, I did the same. The second of the men was off in the distance with a clear sight of the cabin door. The scope on his rifle flashed in the morning light as he sighted Jennings. Both men were in full camo.
When the agent drove off down the drive, Dominic returned to the bedroom. “There’s at least two snipers out there,” he murmured in my ear.
“I know. They’re both out front. Is there a back door in the basement?” My heart was racing. If there wasn’t a back door, we’d have to sneak out a window. And that was counting on just two men watching. If there were more scattered around the back, we were done for.