I followed Tracy Dent outside. My Mustang was parked behind Liquerotica, and she trailed me as I walked to it. I unlocked the driver’s side and frowned at her. She was standing at the passenger side.
“Where’s your car?” I said, knowing the answer as soon as the words tumbled out into the humid night air.
“I don’t know. I took a cab here.”
My teeth ground together again. I let her in. We drove to Walmart for the shovels, and I wasn’t surprised when she didn’t chip in. I packed the shovels into the trunk while she yammered about her life.
She said she was down to her last four dollars. McNair had hustled her off to Snow’s Pass, Colorado with sixty bucks in her pocket. She’d had a job while at the halfway house, but it was minimum wage, part-time, and barely paid for her plane ticket back to Texas. McNair had cleaned out her apartment, put everything in a storage building in Humble, and mailed her the key and a warning to not set foot in his county again. The rent on the building was paid until the end of the month.
“I guess my car was repossessed. I’ve thought about calling the bank, but . . . screw it, you know? In a couple of hours, it won’t matter.”
“You’re going to live in Wyoming.” I unlocked the car. We got in.
“Yep.” She settled into the leather seat, closed her eyes.
“With a woman. Since when are you gay?”
“I’m bi, actually.”
“Oh, right. Of course.” I pulled out of the parking lot. The interstate was a couple of blocks from here.
“You’re not my type, sorry.” I looked in the rearview mirror. There was a black Ford truck behind us. It had been behind us when we’d left Liquerotica. When we turned into the Walmart parking lot, it had too, but it had split off down another row.
Here it was again. Could be a coincidence.
But the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up, and the skin there was tingling. My werewolf danger sense.
Dent said, “I need your help. I don’t need your judgements. You know what, I never twisted your fucking arm and forced you to take those pills, so I don’t know why you’re so pissed at me–”
“Oh my Christ, shut up a second. You know anybody in a black Ford truck?”
She didn’t check the rearview. She leaned over a little and scoped it out in the side mirror, then shook her head. “Is it following us?”
“Let’s make sure.” The entrance ramp for I-10 was coming up. I had planned to take it to Highway 69 North, which would then take us to the airport. It was the quickest way.
But there were other ways.
I passed the ramp. So did the truck.
I moved into the right lane. So did the truck.
FM 45906 cut across the interstate frontage road at this point. I lightly pressed the brakes and cut the wheel hard to the right, the Mustang’s tires screaming. We nearly went into the ditch on our left. I cut the wheel back to the right, and the car responded. Once we were safely in the middle of the narrow road, I checked the rearview mirror, just in time to watch the truck pass the road.
Tracy checked the mirror, too. “Did they–”
Then the truck, quite a bit smaller now, backed up and turned down the road after us.
“Well,” she said.
“Fuck,” I said.
I considered hitting the emergency brake and pulling a 180, flying past the truck, getting to the interstate and hopefully losing them in the traffic. But then I glanced at Tracy, saw that she had her jaw jutted out, was chewing on her upper lip with her bottom teeth, and my eyes narrowed. I goosed the accelerator, cranked the Mustang up to 70, too fast for this road. She looked at me.
“You might want to slow down a little,” she said.
“Uh-huh.” I kept it at seventy.
“You know there is deer out here.”
“Yep.” The road cut through pines and oaks, the occasional long stretch of cow pastures. Houses and trailers and side roads zipped by us. I slowed down for the curves, regained speed for the straight parts. The truck stayed far back; all I could see of it were the headlights.
“Elizabeth, damn it, slow the fuck down!” She reached over and grabbed my leg, actually tried to pry it back. “Slow down!”
One more curve coming up. We passed a street called Missionary Lane. I kept the speed constant on this one, no slowing down, Tracy screaming in my ear now, annoying. The road straightened out and I floored it, the V-8 roaring, the speedometer needle shooting up to 80, 90, 100 and there was a T-intersection coming up, the end of FM 45906. Ahead of us was a boarded-up convenience store, the pumps out front still advertising gas for $1.25 a gallon. The new road was Spurger Trail; take a left, it would lead to 96 and the airport. Take a right, and it would eventually end at the edge of the Big Thicket National Preserve.
I barreled straight ahead. Tracy stopped screaming and braced her hands against the headliner.
I let off the gas and adjusted the car just a bit to the right, so we shot past the store. Then I stood on the brakes and fought the steering wheel, managed to convince the car to turn left, behind the store. I cut the lights as soon as we were behind it. I slipped out of the car and ran to the store’s backside, peered around the corner and saw the truck at the intersection, trying to decide which way to go.
I had ridden with Tracy Dent for six months after completing my time with my training officer. Sawyer County wanted their rookies to ride with a seasoned officer after completing their training; the idea was that the rookie would still have someone observing them, but since that observer would be more of a peer, that the rookie would be more relaxed. Or something. Dent had been there three years longer than me; she wasn’t the most seasoned officer, but we were tossed into a patrol car anyway. We endured six months of dyke and tuna boat jokes, and I learned a few things about her. One, she hated bananas. Two, she was lazy when it came to paperwork.
Three, when she felt guilty about something, she chewed on her upper lip.
She knew the truck.
The truck finally turned to its left, to 96. This did not improve my mood. Either they knew the area, and knew the right was pretty much a dead-end, or they knew where we were going.
They were following us, though. If I knew where someone was going, I’d see to it that I met them there.
I walked back to my car. Tracy was still there. I dropped into the driver seat and closed the door. The car was running. I wanted to shut off the engine, but it was warm out, and I didn’t feel like sweating. I ran my hands over the steering wheel. Finally, she spoke. She had, I noticed, unbuckled her seatbelt.
“Which way did they–”
I am very quick. Perk of being a werewolf. I grabbed the back of her head and slammed her face against the dashboard. She squawked something and tried to push back, but I am also very strong. I held her there and said, “Who are they.”
She gave up on pushing and started slapping my arm. I sighed and ground her face against the dashboard until she stopped.
“Tracy. You know them, or you have a pretty good idea of who they are. So. Who are they. Why are they following us. Why–” and here I pulled her head back– “shouldn’t I kick your ass out of the car and leave you here.”
“Elizabeth, please, I don’t know who they–”
Back to the dashboard her face went. “Tracy. Who are they.”
“They are not called ‘please’. Who are they.”
“Please, I can’t breathe, please–”
“Then you’d better tell me fast.”
“God! All right! They must be with Eric!”
“Eric.” I lifted her head back. The move exposed her throat, and for a second, I stared at the pulse beating below her jaw. “And who is that?”
“You’ve met him before.” She swallowed. Audible click in her throat. I found myself staring at her carotid artery again. “He was the one with the 8-ball tattoo on the side of his head. He supplied me with the pills. From some place in Houston, I never asked where. Didn’t want to know. Let me go now. Please.”
“No. Why is he after you?” I thought about her buried treasure. “You stole that money from him.”
“No, that’s all mine. He’s after me because he thinks I ratted on him. He got busted the day after I did.”
“No. Bad timing. He was speeding, got pulled over by a state trooper. He had bags of pills in the trunk of his car. And an unlicensed firearm in the glovebox.”
“How do you know all that?”
“Because he called and told me when I was in the program. He’s still in prison. But his friends aren’t.”
I considered this a moment. “So I’m here as your bodyguard, is that it?”
“I thought it might be good to have someone watching my back, yeah.”
I let her go. She straightened up, wincing. “Jesus,” she muttered. She touched the back of her head, winced again.
I rubbed my forehead. I should’ve kicked her out of the car. Stranded her here. But the reporter. Assuming that wasn’t a bluff, I didn’t need that in my life.
I had some of her hair in my hand. I opened the door, shook my hand empty. When I closed the door, she was pressed against the passenger door, wary.
“What now?” she asked.
“Now, I guess we go get your money.” I turned on the headlights, drove around the store.
“Really. Why, changed your mind? Don’t need to leave town that bad?”
“No. Just . . . never mind.”
We headed to 96. I kept my eyes peeled for the truck, but we reached the highway without seeing it.