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Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt, and we’re happy to share the news that this terrific read is FREE for Kindle Nation readers during its TOTW reign!
by Lee Chambers
in its Audible Audio Edition, Unabridged!
A #1 Bestselling Thriller on Amazon. Award-winning writer/director Lee Chambers takes on a YA crime thriller for his debut novel.
THE STORY: Seventeen year old Aaron stumbles into the aftermath of a five million dollar bank heist gone wrong. Hiding under a canoe, Aaron partially catches the murder of one of the robbers. In the chaos he sneaks away with the money and heads straight for the closest place of safety, his high school. Terrified, Aaron tells his shocking tale to Amanda Becker, his drama teacher, but it doesn’t take long for one of the psychotic robbers to show up. In the locked down school the pair are relentlessly pursued in a quest to get the money back and wipe out the evidence.
The Pineville Heist is based on the award-winning screenplay by Lee Chambers and Todd Gordon. Script consultants included a (former) Senior VP of Production at Universal Pictures and the author of the Screenwriter’s Bible.
NEWS: Twilight Saga movie star Booboo Stewart (Seth Clearwater) just signed on to play Aaron Stevens in The Pineville Heist movie set to go to camera later this year.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
AARON LOOKED STERNLY at himself, his reflection staring back at him. His dark hair was wispy, and his handsome, sharp features were accentuated by his smart designer clothing. He straightened up, relaxed his arm, shook his wrist to release the tightness, and then brought the open book in front of his eyes again. He glanced briefly at the page, inhaled a deep breath and then lowered the book to his side, so he could face the floor-length mirror attached to the back of his closet door.
“But to my mind, although I am a native here, and to the manner born, it is a custom. More honored in the… in the… Shit.” Aaron crumpled shut his eyes in frustration and sighed, releasing the remaining air from his lungs, deflating in front of the mirror. He raised the book, a copy of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, and scanned the sea of words for the correct line.
Just as Aaron found his place on the page, he heard the familiar creak of the staircase. His father’s weight made that type of creak. Without knocking and much to Aaron’s chagrin, Derek Stevens, Aaron’s dad, swung open the bedroom door and waltzed inside.
“Didn’t you hear the intercom, Aaron?”
Aaron simply glanced at the reflection of his father, without turning away from the mirror. Dressed in a shark-skin suit and a slick black tie, Derek was stone-faced, as usual, with slightly receding hair and deeply-set eyes. Even with the same sharp features and clean cut appearance as his son, the similarities ended there; the fifty-year-old man couldn’t remember, or perhaps didn’t care to, what it was like to be seventeen. Yet, just like Aaron, Derek’s clothes were all designer labels; his hair styled as slick as his wardrobe. And both of them, father and son, looked sullen and utterly unimpressed with the other.
“I’m leaving now. Let’s go!” Derek barked, marching out of Aaron’s bedroom in a huff. Aaron closed his eyes in frustration and opened them slowly, sharing a knowing look of annoyance with his reflection. Then he turned on his heels and scuffed the shag carpet as he crossed the massive room to his even more massive desk. Picking up a red binder lying next to his top-of-the-line computer system, Aaron dragged himself away, passed the various shiny, pretty objects in a room filled with high-end toys and gadgets, stereo equipment, exercise gear, a big screen TV, and shelves lined with Blu-Ray and Playstation game cases.
From the exterior, it appeared like Aaron had everything a kid could ever want. But, Aaron had learned to be jaded by the materialism of his father’s lavish estate, gifts and clothing. Growing up surrounded by luxury tended to make the rest of the world seem shitty and unforgiving. While growing up in Pineville, population 3902 confirmed it.
Aaron hurried down the sweeping marble staircase to the front doors, a massive set of double doors. Made of solid oak inset with elaborate geometric windows, the doors together totaled ten feet high and eight feet across. They lead out to a marble porch, which was decorated with elaborate potted plants, trees really. As Aaron hurried down the slate walkway lined with an impeccably maintained and elaborate bed of bright flowers, he glanced over his shoulder for a glimpse of the colossal mansion he hated, an imposing structure similar to the homes featured in architectural magazines. In the distance, the smokestacks of an old mill loomed over the main street of a quintessential small town.
The town was settled nicely next to rocky cliffs and featured tree lined streets and fresh air; a haven for bringing up a family. Wire flower pots lined with moss and brimming with flowers and vines hung from every other lamp post, and blue banners that featured the upcoming town centennial floated gently in the breeze on the other lamp posts. This quiet place, which was once rich with an industry on the move, was now a simple town with many closed storefronts. Only the basic amenities of a grocery store, a fire station, a bank, a travel agency and several other essential community staples remained.
“Took your sweet time,” Derek snipped as Aaron slid into the backseat of an idling limo, its door already open. The limo immediately pulled away from the palatial Stevens residence and rolled down a meandering driveway, through a pair of wrought-iron gates surrounded by perfectly-trimmed, thick, green hedges, and into the outside world.
Derek was busy typing on his smartphone, while Aaron opened his red binder, where he had tucked the well-thumbed Hamlet book. He started mouthing lines to himself, drifting away from the frosty tension in the limo and immersing himself into a completely different reality. “By the way, I can’t make it Monday,” Derek murmured off the cuff, killing the silence.
Breaking his concentration, Aaron’s wide hazel eyes shifted to his father before he slapped the book shut. “Your play,” Derek continued, nodding at the book. “I’m going to be tied up all day finalizing the mill situation. Anyway, you’ll survive, right?”
“I did for all the others,” Aaron replied, nonchalantly. He stared at his father for a moment, feigning the nonchalance he had voiced.
An irritating shrill ringtone permeated the limo as Derek’s phone illuminated in his hand. Derek brusquely snapped it open and, while intensely staring into Aaron’s eyes in a contest of wills, barked, “This better be good news, Phil.”
Aaron turned to look out the tinted window, disappointment brimming in his eyes, cutting a frown on his forehead. He watched as the town began to stream by his window. Suddenly, Derek’s comment was followed by a loud crack, as he ploughed his fist into the door panel.
Drawing back his knuckles, Derek looked disapprovingly at the blood that had risen to the surface of his skin. “I’ve already deposited the five million. What more do they want?” he said, suddenly calmer. “The mill’s not worth it, Phil. I’d rather mothball the place than accept that…” Derek paused, noticing that Aaron was watching him out of the corner of his eye. “Look, I’ll call you back,” he concluded the call abruptly.
“What’s that about?” Aaron asked, with a hint of concern in his voice. It wasn’t like his father to raise his voice and show anger.
“It’s just business.” Derek then deftly deflected the conversation as he always did. “Maybe if you took some classes on how the real world works instead of learning how to prance around in leotards, you’d understand a little more about what it is I do.”
Aaron rolled his eyes at the typical remark. “You mean sitting in your office pissing off the whole town while you get richer and richer?”
He had a point; pretty much everyone in Pineville worked at the mill, making money for the Stevens family, money truly taken off their own backs. The mill was a processing plant that turned the nearby woods into practical requirements for the home as well as into works of art.
The success of the mill was all thanks to Derek Stevens; he invested in the mill in the mid 80’s before the boom and benefited from it greatly. Derek was a savvy investor who went to New York with his inheritance when he was young and made a killing on Wall Street before returning to his family’s roots back in Pineville.
In the beginning, Derek was a local hero. He was respected and liked. Admired for his kindness. The town existed because of the mill. For if there was no mill, there was no Pineville. Off the beaten track a bit, Pineville had no other options for growth; no options to sustain itself. Tourism maybe. But, other than being a pretty town, it had no drawing features. The town needed the mill and, for years, it prospered.
Nowadays, however, Pineville was finding it tough as the market of finished wood products was changing. The Chinese were largely to blame. Even though Pineville’s products were better, the Chinese hustled in on the market by cutting corners, paying low wages and undercutting on prices. Everyone wanted a deal and suddenly the boom of the 80’s and 90’s disappeared and customers moved away from Pineville quality to cheap flat-pack, easy to assemble stuff. No one wanted to cough up for quality anymore. Times were getting tough, hard to survive.
The once respected Stevens’ name was now a curse. While the mill faltered and bordered on collapse, the man most closely associated with the business, Derek Stevens, still enjoyed his vast wealth. Angry that the recession wasn’t affecting the town equally, many of Pineville’s residents, and mill workers, were turning on the Stevens family. The town was on the verge of bankruptcy and they needed someone to blame.
For most, the writing was on the wall. As majority stakeholder, rumor had it that Derek was about to make the harsh decision to shut down the mill. The announcement would be a blow. People feared for their future. There were many that were downright mad and outraged that Stevens seemed too interested in protecting his personal wealth.
Recently, the signs were going up. For sale. For rent. Foreclosed. Homes began flooding the market. All at once. Everyone was trying to sell, but no one was about to buy into what may soon become a ghost town. A blip on the map. Thanks for visiting Pineville. Gone.
And Aaron was caught in the middle. The only son of the rich man on the hill. Still seen as part of the cursed Stevens’ clan, yet disdainful of his father’s actions.
“Hearing you right now it becomes more and more obvious every day how right your mother was,” Derek said, shaking his head, returning his attention to the text messages on his smartphone.
“About what?” Aaron asked quickly. Discussions about Sandra Stevens always got the hair on Aaron’s neck up. Struck down with breast cancer in her prime, the loss was crushing for 14 year old Aaron. As his Dad was always at the Mill or away on business, Aaron gravitated to his mother. It was Sandra that raised him and encouraged his creative endeavors. Losing her was tough. Now a single parent, Derek was forced to be a father and he wasn’t having an easy time.
“How you just don’t… get it.” The words “get it” hung around in the air like a bad smell. Aaron had heard it all before, of course, but this time it seemed more personal an insult than usual – it was only a matter of time before his emotions would untangle from the knot in his stomach and join the heated conversation.
“Get it? Yeah, well, listening to you lately makes me realize how wrong she was about you!” Aaron said in an explosive outburst, as he pointed his finger precariously close to his Dad’s face.
Derek waved his hands. “Stop the car.”
A pair of eyes unplucked themselves from the road to look into the rearview mirror. “Sir?” the driver enquired, as the limo rolled up on Main Street.
“Stop the goddamn car!” Derek spat, saliva beading in the corners of his mouth.
The driver immediately slowed the limo next to a white van, just as it was about to pull out from the curb. Aaron heard the squeal of the brakes and took it as his warning signal to get ready to be ejected. “You want me to walk from here? It’s your fault I’m already late.” But, it was pointless. Aaron could see the serious look on Derek’s face – daggers protruding from his irises, with the cutthroat vengeance of a businessman who had done his share of dog-eat-dog deals. “Fine!” Aaron shouted as a parting shot, exiting the limo into the cool morning breeze.
The chill in the air was all the more eerie when the man behind the wheel in the white van pounded his fist on the horn, honking in protest at being cut off by the limo. Aaron kept his eyes on the ground, until he heard Derek call out, “Hey!”
Aaron turned back to the limo just as the Hamlet book was contemptuously tossed out of the lowered rear window. It hit him in the chest and fell to the ground, in a shallow puddle that had pooled near the gutter. Aaron cursed under his breath as he squatted to pick it up.
As he straightened and stepped onto the sidewalk, he watched the limo disappearing in a cloud of exhaust smoke. His eyes aimlessly crossed paths with the man in the white van, who was looking directly at him. Although a beard consumed much of his face, above it, the man’s beady bloodshot eyes were piercing and fixated on Aaron. He pumped his balled hand at Aaron as the driver pounded on the horn again, letting rip with a blare that almost tore holes in Aaron’s eardrums.
Aaron started walking as the bearded man and his partner peeled away in the white van and then he glanced down at the damp squelchy object in his hand. “Oh man!” The book was sodden and dripping. He shook it off as he walked up Main Street, passing outside the town’s bank.
With a strip of silver chrome running along the exterior, the bank almost appeared futuristic in comparison to the surrounding stone and brick buildings. However, the Pineville Savings and Loan was still very much in Pineville, evidenced that morning by a handwritten sign, hanging in the bank’s window: Gone To Lunch. Rosie.
Leaving behind the confines of the overly cheerful Main Street to take a shortcut through the woods, Aaron began to push the limo ride with his father into the recesses of his mind. Here he was, in the forest, his favorite place to get away from everything – the materialism, the expectations, the boredom. Towering, ancient tree trunks surrounded him, along with the sounds of a babbling brook and a few birds, chirping in the branches above. This was Aaron’s own private stage where he could rehearse, relax, and forget about his troubles. Nobody would judge him, he could speak his lines as loud as he wanted, and nobody would burst in and boss him around. It was just him and nature.
A twig snapped, and Aaron stopped in his tracks. He looked around to make sure his private oasis wasn’t invaded by an intruder. Nothing – then a flash of movement. A rabbit, running from its burrow. Aaron sighed and smiled at himself. “Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane!” he called after the fleeing rabbit.
Aaron continued to stroll deeper into the forest; thick brush at his legs made him walk in high steps, while spindly branches near his face made him duck and weave. As it became denser, he pushed the copy of Hamlet inside his red binder, and slotted both into his jacket, zipping it to his neck. The shadows were closing in around Aaron; the sky was now barely visible through the shroud of intermingling tree boughs. He looked up, looking for the sun, only to find the towering pines he knew so well reaching toward the sky. He forged on, looking for the path he had accidentally strayed from.
Breaking off a piece of branch, Aaron emerged onto a muddy pathway, smudged with tire tracks. At the end of a long line of tread marks, the white van was parked, with dirt specks sprayed all across its back doors. Aaron’s brow furrowed. “What the hell?” he thought as he tentatively plodded in the direction of the van, each footstep mired in muck.
Slowly, Aaron leaned over to peer inside the driver’s side window. There was no sign of the bearded man, just the interior of a well-lived-in van, with a dangling tree air freshener and empty paper coffee cups. Then something caught his eye – beneath the car seat, there appeared to be a pair of gloves and some kind of uniform rolled up, like it was hastily hidden away.
Another crack caught Aaron’s ear. Much farther away this time. Probably just the rabbit, hopping along. Probably.
Jake in a sweat-stained checkered shirt, filled out by burly shoulders, worked away with a shovel. This was the bearded man. He stopped to catch his breath and then turned to another man just as gruff-looking who was standing over him watching. “Pass it over, Gordie.”
The man, Gordie, a clean-shaven 30-something, handed Jake what he wanted – a stuffed green backpack. Jake shoved it into the freshly-dug hole and admired it for a second. It looked tiny and lost inside the large hole.
“Should I put a stick in to flag it, Gordie? He won’t be able to find it without a bloody tour guide.”
Gordie reached into his jeans’ pocket and retrieved a black GPS unit. “That’s why he gave me one of these, genius.” Gordie recorded the coordinates as he moved deeper into the woods. “Come on – we still need to stash the other backpack and dump the van.”
Jake groaned and watched Gordie walking away as he wiped the perspiration from his neck with a handkerchief. “Lazy bastard,” he murmured. “Wouldn’t take so long if you picked up a shovel.”
With a second thought, Jake reached down and unzipped the backpack, carefully, easing through each tooth of the zipper to ensure an almost silent opening. He touched the canvas bag within the backpack – stenciled with the words: PINEVILLE SAVINGS AND LOAN.
“Don’t take all day,” Gordie called out.
Nervously, Jake retracted his hand and turned his coveting eyes away. Zipping the backpack closed, he proceeded to bury it in a pile of dirt. “Goodbye – for now.”
Leaving the hole mostly unfilled, he dragged a wooden board over and placed it on top. Then he kicked some soil and leaves over the plank of wood, disguising it, blending it with the rest of the forest groundcover.
“About time, genius,” Gordie coughed as Jake joined him.
“No need to be a jerk,” Jake said. Finally he’d had enough.
Gordie turned to face Jake, examining him with his steely unblinking eyes. He recognized he was pushing boundaries. “Okay, Jake. Relax. Stash this second backpack and be quick about it. Unless I’ve hurt your feelings?”
Jake shook his head. That was good enough, he supposed. “Give it to me.” Jake snatched the backpack and ventured off into the woods.
Gordie scanned the trees and breathed a sigh of relief. A smile crept across his face. He called out to Jake. “C’mon! Hurry up.”
Soon both men were returning to the white van. “That was just too frigging easy,” Jake laughed, suddenly feeling free of the burden of what was safely stowed in the backpacks, deep in the woods.
“Don’t count your chickens just yet,” said Gordie.
Jake opened the passenger’s side door and turned around, holding the gloves, two security uniforms and two Halloween masks, what appeared to be a zombie and a Frankenstein’s monster. “Why do you always have to be so serious? Come on, relax. We did it. We’re on easy street now, man,” Jake said, oblivious to the teenaged-sized footprints in the mud, which he was obliterating with his every step.
The Pineville High School was imposing as approached from the expanse of the athletic field. An older three-level brick and mortar monstrosity, the school housed 235 young minds week on week. One of the oldest buildings in Pineville, the school stood strong on the horizon. Built in the late 1800’s as part of the railway expansion, the building converted to a school in 1935 when the commuter trains stopped slipping past the town.
Aaron looked up from his mud-caked shoes and picked up the pace. He was really going to be late at this rate.
With a squeak, Aaron entered the polished locker-lined corridors, and didn’t pay much attention to the boiler-suited janitor with a mop in his hand, who was aghast that Aaron had left footprints marking his freshly clean floors.
Aaron made a beeline for the nearest classroom on the left – he passed by the walls, covered with famous literary quotations and paper flyers touting various school productions of plays by Steinbeck, Miller, Mamet, and Shakespeare. He knew by the noises inside the room that he was indeed late for English, with Miss Becker.
Miss Amanda Becker. She wasn’t like the other teachers. In her mid-20s, in a skirt, heels and a blouse, she was the thing of teenaged fantasies. A teacher in the ballpark age of her students – and in the tight clothes that challenged every boy’s mind to focus on Shakespeare. She tossed her straight sandy blonde hair often, and her glossed lips looked angelic as she helped the students speak in 17th century prose.
It wasn’t inconceivable that any one of them had a shot with her. It wasn’t outside the realm of possibilities. One day their age differences wouldn’t matter. So, perhaps, maybe, who knows. It happens all the time; there was a case recently featured on CNN, thought Aaron, before shaking it off. Too weird. His mind wandered back to waiting for the right moment to make his entrance.
“This is Shakespeare guys, not Tennessee Williams,” Amanda announced from the side of the room. She was watching two boys dressed in Elizabethan clothing as they acted out the final scene in Hamlet in front of an audience of fellow students. “He wrote the words that way for a reason. Keep going.”
One of the boys, Mike, leaned on his sword. The plastic blade bent and he looked down as it was starting to give way under his weight. “Do we get to use real ones on Monday, Miss Becker?”
“Yes, Michael, you get to use the real one during the play, now please continue.”
“Now cracks a noble heart. Good night sweet prince,” Mike said, jumping back into character, as Amanda stepped towards the stage.
Peering into the room, Aaron knew he couldn’t wait any longer; he decided to slip in now, and hopefully Miss Becker wouldn’t interrupt the rehearsal just to bite his head off. He sauntered in and slid into the nearest empty seat. “Aaron! What time do you call this?”
Aaron released a long sigh. It was going to be one of those days. He looked over his shoulder at Miss Becker and she was already crooking her finger, beckoning him to the back of the class. Her face was a mask of displeasure and nothing like the fantasy conjured up by his television fantasies.
“I thought you took this role seriously, Aaron,” Amanda whispered in hushed tones.
“I do, Miss Becker, I do,” Aaron whispered back to her, lifting his copy of Hamlet – considerably worse for wear after its dunk in the puddle. Amanda cast her eyes over the disheveled book and it appeared that her disappointment was gaining momentum.
“If you really want to be a professional on Broadway someday, you need to realize how the simple act of being late can affect the entire production. The play is called Hamlet… and you’re Hamlet,” she said, poking him in the chest with a ruby-polished nail. “That means this whole thing rests on your shoulders. Understand?”
Aaron looked down at his dirty shoes and then back into Amanda’s eyes. “Yeah, but it’s not my fault. My dad’s in the middle of some stupid deal and couldn’t drive…”
“Another part of being a responsible actor is taking your lumps and not passing the buck. Okay?”
“Okay, Miss Becker. I apologize for being late,” responded Aaron. “Should I jump in?”
“Yes, Aaron, please join the group. We can’t practice ‘Hamlet’ without Hamlet,” Amanda said as she patted Aaron on the shoulder.
Aaron moved to the front of the class, glancing back at Miss Becker, who was staring out the window, arms crossed. Just when Aaron was becoming worried that Amanda was extremely angry with him, she pulled herself away from the window, smiled and focused on the group of teens at the front of the stage, assessing their stances and stage placements.
Aaron also assessed the small group, but with a less Shakespearean focus. The group consisted of about ten students, who played the characters of the last scene. Most of the students were dressed in modern clothing, most of which were cheap knock offs from discount stores. With t-shirts, baggy shorts, and tank tops matching the shaggy modern hairstyles, the group looked more apt for a run on the beach than recite classic lines.
The group surrounded the two main characters of this portion of the scene, Hamlet and Horatio, played by Pete and Mike. The two stood facing one another, ready to act out the final scene.
Mike, who played Horatio, was certainly not a modern day gentleman. He wore baggy skater clothing, and his shaggy dirty blonde hair hung in his eyes. Out of character, every move he made was slow and indecisive, but when immersed in his role, Mike became a quick, decisive leader.
Pete had stepped in as Hamlet in Aaron’s absence, and he was a poor replacement. Perhaps to challenge the name given him, Peter George Cornelius III, Pete outfitted himself entirely in black and was poked full of more holes than seemingly possible. Three lip rings, a bull nose ring, two eyebrow barbells above each brow, and one large gauge lobe stretcher in each ear were the more prominent piercings, but he boasted of others in places no one – except maybe his girlfriend – wanted to see.
Pete breathed an audible sigh of relief as Aaron approached to take back the Hamlet role. “Thank God, man. Miss Becker is a slave driver,” Pete said as he left the stage, winking exaggeratedly and blowing kisses at Miss Becker as he took his seat next to his equally holey girlfriend, Charlotte.
The class laughed at Pete’s antics, and Miss Becker hushed the class. “That’s enough class. Let’s get down to work. We only have a few days until opening day, and we still haven’t gone through the entire dress rehearsal.”
Miss Becker turned her attention to Aaron and Mike. “Ready to take it from the top of Hamlet’s death encounter?”
Mike nodded and threw himself into the Horatio role before Aaron could respond. “Never believe it. I am more an antique Roman than a Dane. Here’s yet some liquor left.”
Aaron jumped in, saying, “As thou’rt a man, give me the cup. Let go; by God. I’ll have’t—”
“By heaven,” Amanda interrupted.
“What?” asked Aaron.
“As thou’rt a man, give me the cup. Let go, by heaven. I’ll have’t,” Amanda corrected.
“Oh. Okay,” said Aaron. “By heaven. I’ll have’t. Oh good Horatio, what a wounded name, Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me! If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from…from…from…”
Aaron began thumbing through his sodden book while the students around him whispered. He tossed his book aside in frustration and plucked Mike’s from his hands. Aaron furiously sought the line, and when he found it, he forcefully pointed at the line in the book and yelled “Felicity!”
“Aaron, are you prepared for Monday’s opening?” Amanda asked, her brow furrowed in concern. “Pete can always step in as understudy.”
Aaron glanced at Pete, who looked as horror-stricken as if he’d been offered up as a sacrifice to the Gods. “No, I know my lines,” Aaron said quickly. “I just blanked on ‘Felicity’.” Aaron paused a moment before continuing. “Will you be there Monday to prompt lines if we get stuck?”
Amanda opened her mouth to answer just as a loud rattling cough erupted from the doorway. Amanda looked to the interruption in relief. Sheriff Jay Tremblay was standing there, filling out the doorframe. Even at 54-years-old, he cast a terrifying silhouette, with his tall looming stature, domed bald head and untamed black moustache draped over his crooked mouth. Having caught Amanda’s attention, he adjusted the fit of his hat and checked the holster strap over his Colt 45 pistol.
“Alright, gang, put away your scripts and props and listen up. Sheriff Tremblay has been kind enough to drop by and give us a few words,” Amanda said, clapping her hands together.
Aaron and the other cast members quickly took their seats. Amanda nodded her head for Tremblay to proceed.
Tremblay looked around the various boys and girls, as if he were scanning them for criminal records, or even inclinations of criminal activity. He raised his furry, graying eyebrows, like a pair of caterpillars growling at each other as they battle for the coveted position of the bare skin in between the eyes. Then, with another rattling cough, he finally spoke, “Don’t take drugs.”
A geeky student, complete with black glasses, braces and acne, let out an unfortunate and likely involuntary snort, bringing Tremblay’s gaze to him. Feeling the heat of the glare, the student dropped any semblance of a smirk and lowered his head in shame.
“You may think Pineville is some kinda Shangri-La and immune to all the crap that happens down in the big city,” Tremblay began to rant, almost spitting at the mere mention of the ‘big city.’ “But I can assure you that drugs are permeating our community here in Pineville just like disrespect to your mothers is ripping apart the nuclear family.”
Aaron rested his chin on his arm as he slumped over his desk, suddenly exhausted by his morning. Yet, he kept his eyes fixated on Tremblay who was moving over to the blackboard where he picked up a piece of chalk.
“Pop quiz. What’s the biggest threat to you kids today?”
“Reality TV,” a foreign student said, causing the whole room to burst into nervous laughter. Tremblay remained silent, with his lips held tightly shut.
“Twitter,” a pretty girl murmured, leading to more giggles. Aaron smiled over at her, but she didn’t return it.
“Alright, people,” Amanda said, crossing her arms.
Aaron’s words killed the laughter and drove the room into a sudden silence – except for the sound of Tremblay breaking the end of the chalk off on the blackboard.
Mike grinned at Aaron while the other students looked scornfully in Aaron’s direction, before turning away from him. Aaron’s attempt to win praise from his fellow classmates had failed. Amanda made eye contact with Aaron and frowned. She wasn’t impressed either.
“Please continue, Sheriff,” Amanda urged.
“Ten million have tried it,” Tremblay said accusingly as he continued to eyeball the classroom of stony faces. “The majority of users are under the age of twenty.” He paused for effect before snapping, “Anyone?”
His word echoed off the walls. “Marijuana,” volunteered the pretty girl.
“Masturbation,” Aaron joked.
Dead silence. Then suddenly laughter erupted from the desk by the door. It was Steve, a bushy haired seventeen-year-old, with equally bushy sideburns and a soul patch spurting from beneath his thin lips.
“Office,” Amanda said sternly, her finger directing Aaron to the door. This immediately erased the smirk from his face and eliminated the short victory celebration of at least making Steve laugh.
Expressing his dismay with a loud hiss-like exhale, Aaron rose from his chair. As he scuffed along the aisle, he stole a glance at Tremblay and regretted it instantly. He found himself on the receiving end of Tremblay’s iciest of glares. Not a good idea to be on the wrong side of the law, Aaron thought to himself. And this lawman was as prickly as the points on his Sheriff’s badge.
Tremblay didn’t miss a step and went on to answer his own question: “I’m talking about a fairly new drug called methamphetamine, also known as speed, crank or ice.”
“It’s not new. Hitler used it,” Steve said with all the condescension he could muster, leading to a few chuckles from students. Aaron shook his clenched fist in a ‘jerk off’ gesture to Steve, and then hurried out the door, suddenly glad to have Tremblay and Miss Becker in his rear-view. They could talk about drugs and crap all day long. He was outta there and free as a bird.
“You want to go too, Steve?” Amanda said, her voice carrying into the corridor.
“It’s true, Miss Becker, the Nazis made it out of fertilizer. The Kamikaze pilots used it too, to stay awake and…” Steve’s explanations eventually faded into muffled echoes as Aaron kept walking, smiling like he’d won the trip of a lifetime, instead of a one-way trip to detention. Still, there was time for a detour. Aaron deviated to the right, entering into the boy’s bathroom.
Just as Aaron disappeared inside, Officer Carl Smith rounded the corner with a lollipop in his mouth. The white stick dangled dangerously from the corner of the young man’s mouth, like a cigarette in a Dirty Harry movie. Nevertheless, with his tousled brown hair and lightly-stubbled chin, while he fancied himself as a Harry, he wasn’t quite Dirty enough.
Carl stopped dead and tick-tocked the lollipop stick left and right in his mouth, with the flick of his tongue. He breathed in the pine-fresh scent of the freshly mopped corridors. Brought him back to his glory days. He used to rule this school. And now he ruled the town, as the Sheriff’s right-hand man.
After a quick reminisce down memory lane, Carl pulled himself together, tugged the lollipop out of his mouth and strolled towards Miss Becker’s classroom. He stood by the door watching for a moment. He found Tremblay in the middle of drawing a crude picture of a skull on the blackboard. With an irritatingly shrill and piercing scratching sound, Tremblay meticulously shaded in the brain area with a nubbin of chalk, then turned to face the kids again.
“This is your brain on meth,” Tremblay said matter-of-factly. A muted groan arose from the corpus of students. They’d heard this all before…
Amanda was distracted by a light knock at the door’s window – Carl was tapping with the end of his lollipop. She smiled at him, a sparkle dancing across her eyes, which she tried to hide, but failed miserably.
“I thought we were meeting after work?” Amanda whispered through gritted teeth, attempting to smile like a teacher robot, and not a girl talking to a boy. Steve looked over appraisingly at Amanda and Carl. Normally pleasant, there was something brutish about Carl’s demeanor.
Carl blankly gazed at Amanda’s face for what seemed like ages. For a man usually focused and charming, Carl looked tired and irritable.
Amanda looked deeply into his face the entire time, trying to read his expression. To Steve, she looked like a love struck puppy denied attention.
Carl finally turned his head, ignoring her question, ignoring her imploring gaze. Without a word, or an offer to enter, he pushed the door open wider and stepped inside the class.
Amanda stepped back and tried to hide her emotions from the class. Steve watched as Amanda’s face fell, as she wiped what appeared to be a tear from her eye, as she turned away, eyes downcast and saddened.
“Sheriff? Can I speak to you a sec?” Carl announced to the entire room, including a slightly bewildered Amanda. He had his hands on his hips, holding onto his belt, like his dignity required it.
Tremblay gave Carl a “what are you doing here” kind of scowl, then crossed the room, barging past Carl out into the hall. Amanda looked back at Carl, waiting for him to say something to her, anything, but instead he turned on his heels and walked out, closing the door.
Amanda studied the closed door for a moment. Carl didn’t need to speak. The back of the door seemed to be saying everything to her. She then turned around to find Steve watching her, blinking after a long stare. Did he also hear what the door had intimated to her?
Defensively, Amanda snapped, “What?”
Aaron leaned over the sink, face to face with his reflection in the cracked mirror. “But to my mind, although I am a native here, and to the manner born, it is a custom. More honored in the… in the… BREACH! In the breach, than the observance.”
He smiled, fairly pleased with himself. Then he turned on the faucet and splashed refreshing cold water over his cheeks. Aaron took two paper towels from a rusty dispenser, dried his face, then stopped – he could hear two voices, right outside the bathroom. The first one sounded like Tremblay? What was that old bastard doing now?
Aaron opened the door an inch, holding his breath as he eased it, hoping it wouldn’t utter a creak and give him away. “So, where are we at right now?” Tremblay asked gruffly.
“It looks like they got away with four, maybe five-million,” Carl answered, slightly aroused by the size of the numbers.
Holding his silence, Aaron mouthed the words “holy shit” and closed the door again.
“Holy shit,” Tremblay balked, seemingly sharing Aaron’s sentiments.
Aaron went back to the mirror, grinning to himself. He didn’t want to get caught eavesdropping – especially information that was so incredibly interesting! Maybe five million. Even his Dad would consider that a lot of dough… Wait! It probably was his dough! Aaron couldn’t resist listening in, just for a while longer. Carefully, he pushed the door ajar again.
Meanwhile, Carl crunched on his lollipop. “Rosie called it in – as soon as she got back from lunch.”
Tremblay nodded soulfully. “Good old Rosie. Any witnesses?”
“Someone saw their van leaving the bank. There’s already an A.P.B. out on it, but so far nothing.” Aaron stiffened in surprise as he remembered seeing a van, next to the bank. The bearded man! Aaron clapped a hand over his mouth to stifle a gasp and he vanished inside the bathroom, accidentally releasing the spring-loaded door too quickly, causing it to bang ever so lightly.
Tremblay’s head flicked around, like a rattlesnake. His hearing was damn acute for an old timer. Lifting his hand, he pressed his palm flat against the bathroom door, ready to push, when suddenly the end-of-class bell rang loudly in the corridors. Tremblay looked disconcertingly at Carl and they both walked away, right before they were up to their necks in spotty, snot-nosed teenagers.
A chorus of slamming lockers harmoniously illuminated the corridor. Mike put his sad excuse for a sword into his locker, with a shrug. Then he closed his locker door with a booming bang, revealing Aaron standing behind it. Grinning, Aaron announced, “You’ll never guess what happened!”
“You finally learned your lines?” Mike remarked, sarcastically.
“Someone robbed the bank!”
Steve emerged from behind his locker door, plastered with sexy bikini babe posters. “Get out.”
“Seriously. But, we can’t talk about it here,” Aaron added mysteriously. Aaron turned around and walked away without another word.
“Looks like we are bailing on History,” Steve said with a cheeky grin.
Steve and Mike were already moving ahead and began talking excitedly – and loudly – about spending the bank robbery money as they walked deeper and deeper into the woods. “First thing I’d do is buy a Porsche. A black one,” Steve chirped.
“Boxster, Nine-Eleven or Cayman?” asked Mike, as if this was a realistic possibility.
“Carrera, Targa, Turbo or…”
“What are you guys talking about?” Aaron chimed in.
“The money. If we find it,” Steve nodded.
“Yeah, what are you going to do with your share?” Mike poked Aaron in the ribs; playful roughhousing.
“He doesn’t need it, dink, he’s already loaded.”
“We’re not keeping it,” Aaron said authoritatively. End of story.
Steve and Mike halted in their tracks. “What?”
“You heard me.”
“Why?” Steve and Mike both said, almost in unison.
Aaron kept walking before Steve and Mike caught up with him. They entered into a denser thicket of the woods, as Aaron finally answered them. “Because it belongs to my Dad, that’s why.”
“Oh my God, you’re kidding, right?”
“What do you mean?” Aaron asked Steve, as he stepped cautiously on the slippery wet stones, crossing the river.
With a single push, Steve toppled Aaron from his footing, and Aaron was forced to step with a splash into the shallow water. “Hey, watch it, these are new shoes!”
“Yeah, bought with the gazillions your old man already has. He’s not going to miss a lousy five!” Steve barbed.
“It’s not just his, dumbass,” Aaron shouted, shaking off his leg as he walked onto the river bank. “The money belongs to Pineville.”
“Listen to Mister Morality all of a sudden, sheesh.”
“He does have a point, Steve,” Mike said, creasing up his forehead with concern. Steve had a tendency to push it too far. All over a bag of imaginary money. Not worth shoving your mates into the water and picking holes in their family. Mike glanced over at Aaron with an apologetic nod. Then, moments later, Steve shoved Mike into the tall grass. “Hey!”
Mike picked himself up and huffed angrily. Then he ran to catch up with Aaron, leaving Steve to trail behind.
Looking into the distance, Aaron and Mike trudged along an old railroad bed, between a set of train tracks. Moss and grass had partially hidden the rails of the rusty old relic, and the wooden ties were rotting beneath the forest floor.
Steve was still fooling around as he balanced himself on the rail. “You idiots ever hear of insurance?” Steve said, concentrating as if he was walking on a high wire between two skyscrapers. “The bank will cover every dollar of that money. Nobody’s going to lose out. Trust me.”
“And what does everybody do in the meantime, huh?” Aaron retorted. “People need money to survive. They have to get paid.”
“Who gives a shit, Aaron?”
“Your father would.”
“How do you know?” Steve accused, suddenly breaking his concentration and stepping down from the rail. The game was over.
“He works at the mill, right?” Aaron looked at Steve, already knowing the answer. “Where do you think the payroll is before they cash their checks?”
Steve glanced down at the ground, moodily, like he’d fallen off an actual high wire. “You sure know how to ruin something before it even starts.”
The brooding trio walked between the tracks in a quiet frustrated huddle, before Mike said, with an uplifting tone, “Maybe there’ll be a reward?” Nobody answered him, so Mike rammed his fists into his pockets and continued on in a collective silence.
They left the railway tracks and walked onto a path into the woods, where Aaron had seen the van. “It was parked right here,” Aaron said, pointing to an empty void.
“Sure it was,” Steve rubbed his chin and rolled his eyes.
“I’m not lying.” Aaron saw that the tire treads and footprints had all merged into a quagmire of sludgy mud, each print indiscernible from the other.
“You believe him, Mike?”
“I… I don’t know,” Mike stuttered.
“Screw you guys.” Aaron raised his middle finger and then stomped off down the path. The van was gone and so was any shred of his story’s credibility.
“Come on, Aaron! I’m kidding,” Steve said, trying to catch up. The thrill of the chase amused him, until he struggled to uncurl his lips and look apologetic. Aaron turned just in time to see the remnants of Steve’s stupid grin.
Mike was looking down at his feet, pensively. “What do you think happened to it?” he pondered. His quiet and detached tone was disarming; caused both Steve and Aaron to glance over and consider his question carefully.
Aaron started, “Carl probably found the van right after he…”
“Banged Miss Becker,” Steve spat out, finishing Aaron’s sentence.
“What?” Aaron asked, snapping his neck to glare at Steve.
“Ewww…” Mike groaned, shuddering at the thought of two authority figures bumping uglies.
“Bullshit,” Aaron shook his head.
Aaron walked away again, reiterating his point of view: “Bull. Shit.”
Steve shrugged reflectively. “Don’t believe me then.” He veered off into the woods, muttering as he stumbled through the brush. “It’s not my fault your girlfriend would rather do Carl than you.”
Suddenly, Aaron was behind him, shoving Steve over. The force of the two palms slammed against his back launched Steve forward, almost tripping over a dead branch.
“She’s not my girlfriend, asswipe!” Aaron barked at Steve who had whirled around, wide-eyed.
A flash of anger stole across Steve’s eyes as he lunged at Aaron, returning the push, flipping Aaron onto a bush. “Come on, guys,” Mike called out, waving his arms like a ref at a boxing match. Aaron bit his lip, before swinging his leg deftly to knock Steve’s legs out from under him. With a thud, Steve hit the ground hard; his head bouncing off a small piece of rock.
A guttural roar erupted from deep inside of Steve’s chest. He rolled onto his side and grabbed Aaron by the shirt, yanking his face in the direction of his balled fist. “You sonovabitch!”
Aaron felt a searing pain in his jaw, as he lashed out at Steve’s eye with the sweep of his knuckles. “She’s not worth it, guys!” Mike hollered over their heads, watching the blurring flurry of jabs and slaps.
The fight began to gain momentum and the pair rolled over, so that Aaron had the upper hand. He rubbed his sore chin, eyed his chaffed knuckles, then turned to Steve who was shaking off a dazed expression. “Stop it!” Mike implored, screeching like a girl.
Aaron and Steve suddenly smirked at Mike’s over-the-top cry, before laughing at their own ridiculousness, rolling around in the mud, like a couple of kids who’d realized they were arguing over marbles. “Calm down, Mike. And give us a hand, will ya?” Steve said, raising his hand for a lift.
Grabbing their outstretched hands, Mike pulled Aaron and Steve half-way to their feet. The loose dirt was crumbling beneath the sole of Mike’s sneaker and then, without warning, he found himself veering downwards – all three now tumbled over, sliding down a steep slope of long grass and slick mud.
A haze of green blades whipping passed their faces. The murky palette merged with the shadows as the boys crashed through the brush at the end of the slope. Their collective yells broke the silence of a small clearing, an old campsite, which they entered en masse, with flailing limbs and mud-smeared clothes.
Aaron leapt to his feet in a cat-like reflex, checking himself for cuts and bruises. The right knee of his designer jeans were torn on a branch on the way down. “Just perfect.” Yet, then Aaron quickly thought to himself that the rip had actually improved the look of the jeans ten-fold. He smiled inwardly, as Mike got up and walked to a fire pit in the center of the clearing, full of sooty grey ash.
Mike turned in a circle getting his bearings. Tall pine trees towered over the clearing, and little sunlight peeked through. In the sparse light, Mike could see a derelict lean-to with a shanty-style corrugated roof and an old upturned canoe scattered to the left of the otherwise empty clearing. The ground was littered with brown and red leaves, dried to crisp fall perfection. The leaves crunched underfoot, and a breeze sent a few flying in a beautiful fall dance of life and death. “What is this place?” Mike asked, finding his voice again.
“Looks like a hunting camp,” Steve groaned as he lifted himself using a broken branch, dusting his jeans with his other hand.
“In Pineville?” Mike frowned.
“Or maybe one of those old hobo camps when the trains were running,” Steve suggested, pointing back up the embankment to the train tracks.
“Hobos had canoes?”
“They could have portaged,” Steve quipped.
Aaron laughed. “Portage? Where do you come up with that shit, Steve?”
Steve and Mike made a beeline for the canoe, as Aaron picked up a long stick, ideal for roasting marshmallows on a cold starry night, and he started poking around in the ashes. From absentminded jabbing, Aaron’s mind trailed away and he drew a couple of matchstick men in the gray muck. He mumbled, partly as the words formed in his head, “I heard those guys yelling from over here when I saw the van… This must have been their hideout.”
“Do you think we can portage this all the way back, Steve?” Mike and Steve weren’t listening. Too busy examining the discarded canoe shell.
“How about I portage your face?” Steve said, punching Mike in the arm.
Suddenly, Aaron’s stick caught on something beneath the ash – he raised it out of the dust. A pair of wire-framed glasses. “Hey guys…” Mike turned around, followed by Steve, to see the mangled glasses dangling from the end of the stick. “Looks like they burned a body here.”
Mike looked horrified and was immediately on edge. “Seriously?!”
“There are some pieces of rags… or clothes, too.” Aaron continued to shake the stick through the fire pit, unearthing burnt pieces of clothing.
Steve elbowed Mike in the ribs. “Jeez, you’re gullible. It’s just a bunch of junk thrown onto a fire by a hobo,” Steve scoffed.
A crack of a gunshot obliterated their jovial mood. Steve’s face dropped in an instant. Mike froze. Aaron dropped the stick back into the ashes. There was an echo around the clearing as the shot continued to ring out for a couple of seconds – it was from somewhere close.
“They’re back!” Aaron hissed in a stage whisper.
Another gunshot, closer than before, succeeded by a crippling scream of pain. A man. Crying out in agony.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God…” Mike broke into hysterics. He and Steve scrambled to the edge of the clearing, quickly looking for cover.
“Come on, Aaron. Let’s go,” Steve barked at Aaron who seemed paralyzed, standing by the fire pit, listening for the next sound. An angry man’s yell. Aaron snapped out of it, just as Steve and Mike ducked behind the bushes near the canoe.
Twigs were snapping under foot – someone or something was heading straight for the campsite. Aaron looked in all directions. Where was the noise coming from? Go the wrong way and run right into the thing making the noise. Aaron spun in a complete circle, his ears trying to penetrate the woods and differentiate from all the crunching and echoes.
Setting a course in his mind, Aaron decided to run to the far left; he crossed the clearing at a gallop, his heart racing – no, wrong move. The noise was getting louder. Someone was plowing through the brush, just a few steps away!
Aaron stopped short, and made a last ditch attempt to hide. Only one place. The canoe. He bolted for it and threw himself across the ground in a perfect slide for home plate. Safe.
The “someone” finally arrived in the clearing, just visible from Aaron’s vantage point beneath the upside down canoe. It was the bearded man – Jake. He stumbled out of the brush, breathing heavily, and staggered toward the canoe.
Aaron almost let out an involuntary yelp, yet managed to stifle it. Jake’s boots were now stomping over, within kicking distance of Aaron’s face. After a sharp intake of breath, Aaron clamped his lips closed. Had to hold it shut. Don’t make a sound.
Jake slumped over, using the canoe as a crutch, almost tipping it over. Oh God. Aaron squeezed his eyes tight, waiting to be uncovered and discovered. But, the canoe held steady. He almost sighed in relief, but daren’t move a muscle. Not till these guys were long gone.
Then another burst of noise. Another someone had bounded from the bushes – so fast, Aaron didn’t catch a glimpse of the figure, except for the steel gun brandished in his hand.
“Hold it right there!” a strong masculine voice called out. The sound echoed around inside the canoe. Muffled, but clear enough to Aaron that trouble had arrived.
“You… you don’t have to do this,” Jake begged, in between labored breaths for air.
“Shut up,” the voice said, abruptly.
The fancy alligator skin cowboy boots of the figure stepped closer to the canoe, not far from Jake’s cheap imitation leather boots. Aaron angled his neck slightly to see the figure’s face, but wasn’t about to press his luck.
Jake tried to plead his case. “We got in and out and nobody saw us. Why are you doing this?”
“I said shut up!”
Aaron risked a breath – a silent gasp – as Jake began to sniffle, loudly. Then, the gun cocked with a click.
“It hurts, man. It frigging hurts,” Jake whimpered. A drip landed on the dirt, a few inches from Aaron’s face. And again. And again. Blood. Dark ruby red blood, pooling on the ground.
“Where’s the money? And the gun?” the voice interrogated in a harsh and harried tone.
“Please don’t kill me…”
“Have it your way.”
“Gordie has it!” Jake suddenly cried. No time to be loyal now. Last chance to save your skin. Flip on your friends. Your mother. Anyone to buy a few more seconds of life.
“That’s funny, because Gordie said you had both backpacks,” the voice said with a playful sing-song to it, like a cat toying with a canary, right before he eats it.
A strange crinkling sound cut through the thickening tension in the clearing. What the hell was that? Aaron cocked his head, curiosity getting the better of him. His eyes traveled up the figure’s scaly boots, to the trouser legs, but that was all he could see; the canoe curbed his line of sight at the figure’s waist.
“I think you are the one who’s lying, amigo,” said the cold voice, sending Jake into a wailing fit of sobs and blubbers.
“Please, no, wait. Ask him again.”
“I wish I could, but he’s…” BLAM!
Aaron almost jumped out of his skin. The shudder of fast-moving air around the muzzle sent a shockwave, before the sound ever hit Aaron’s ears. That was when he knew that Jake was dead. Yet, his ears were ringing so loudly, everything seemed like it was vibrating. He hoped that he hadn’t let out a scream when it happened. If he had, he never would’ve heard it. He didn’t even hear Jake’s body hit the ground – Jake simply fell into view, pale and flaccid; his cheek slamming against the ground right outside the canoe – mere inches from Aaron’s terrified face.
Struggling to control the roll of his dying eyes, Jake looked up and made contact with Aaron. Jake’s eyebrows rose, perhaps involuntarily, or maybe in surprise at seeing Aaron beneath the canoe. A wave of blood washed over Jake’s brow and down his nose.
Aaron shook his head, trembling, as Jake stared now unblinking at him. Aaron raised a shaky finger to his lips – shhh, for God’s sake, shhh.
Jake’s tongue fought back against the blood in his throat. He gurgled, “Help me… he’s a…” A second bullet was fired, silencing Jake, snuffing out his last words. The flash of the gunfire illuminated Aaron, as he cringed, wishing this nightmare would end and he could just wake-up in his bed at the mansion. Just get me out of here.
The alligator boots crunched closer to the canoe, as the figure squatted down, checking Jake’s pulse. Then came a husky whisper that sent a shiver down Aaron’s spine: “It better be around here somewhere, that’s all I can say.”
The tightness in Aaron’s chest began to uncoil as the alligator boots stepped away from the canoe. The figure shuffled over to the fire pit. He picked up the stick, the same stick Aaron used to poke the ashes and, devil-may-care, started swishing the grass at the edge of the clearing.
Aaron’s heart, already pounding faster than he ever thought possible, began pounding even louder, echoing in his ears. The man was not leaving anytime soon, and the longer Aaron stayed beneath the canoe, the more likely it was that he would be found.
Boom, boom. Boom, boom. His heart pounded and drowned out all possibility of reasonable thought. Then his leg started itching, maddeningly in tune with his beating heart. Boom, boom, itch. Boom, boom itch.
Aaron moved his leg slightly, trying to satisfy the itch by rubbing his leg against the ground. Something in his pant leg snagged at his skin instead. A leaf? A bug? Something had slipped in as he slid baseball-style under the canoe. And whatever it was now had the perfect position to tickle him and make him itch.
Boom, boom, tickle, itch. Boom, boom, tickle, itch. As his heartbeat got louder, the tickle became worse and the itch became unbearable. Aaron reached down to itch carefully, and he bumped the canoe with an almost imperceptible knock.
In that exact same instant, in a moment of madness, Steve and Mike made a run for it. They rushed out of their hiding place in the bushes, while the figure’s back was turned on them, darting across the campsite.
Their footsteps weren’t dainty or quiet. A couple of knuckleheads trampling like a herd of crazed buffalo. They might as well have screamed, “RUN!”, because the figure spun around, dropping the stick to the ground once more, and barreled after them, gun raised.
Steve and Mike hurdled the canoe with ease, but Aaron panicked, curling into a ball as the figure jumped the canoe, his foot catching on the lip. In a second, the canoe flipped right over, totally exposing Aaron in his fetal position.
Then another few seconds passed. A gunshot in the distance. Aaron opened his eyes. Nobody. They were all gone.
Aaron unfurled himself and slowly found the will to stand up. At his feet, Jake had bled out. Something then caught Aaron’s eye, right out of the corner of his peripheral vision. Stuffed under the seat of the canoe. A green backpack.
Aaron whipped through the long grass as fast as his legs would carry him. His eyes were filled with angst and adrenaline. He was still in shock. Not every day you see a dead man. Not every day you see that much money either – he glanced down at the backpack in his arms. Must – keep – running.
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