The Priest's Graveyard (8 page)

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
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A heavy metal screen protected the vent from the elements, and the moment I put my hand on it, I knew there was no way I could
break through the barrier. But I could see the screws that held the screen in place. If I could unscrew them, I would have
a clear escape path.

Rope
.

If I had rope, I could climb down. Then I could unlock the dead bolts on the front door. Once the house was open, I could
come and go as I wanted, which would only be when I was absolutely desperate for food or supplies.

I had to find a screwdriver and some rope. There was only one place where those might be.

I scurried back to the attic door like a wheezing rat, lowered myself into the hallway, and took the stairs at the end of
the hall down to Lamont’s bedroom.

I ran into his room, hit the overhead light switch, and hurried to the trophy room door. Locked. Naturally. But the key was
on the dresser. I knew it well.

Thirty seconds later, having unlocked both dead bolts, I stood in the doorway to his inner sanctum. I hadn’t had this much
exercise in over a year, and my arms were trembling.

Hold it together, Renee. Don’t collapse now. Find a screwdriver and some rope and get out of the house. That’s all you have
to do
.

I nearly turned around and ran back to my room then, because I really didn’t want to leave the house. I was lost without Lamont,
a ghost without a home. All of this was pointless.

And yet I walked into the trophy room and looked around. The room smelled like Lamont. His desk sat on the near wall, an ornate
wooden antique that had three drawers on each side. His papers were neatly stacked on the surface, everything in its perfect
place, screaming his name.

Two of the walls were lined with mounted heads, like those in my own pink-and-white room. These were my protectors when he
was gone, Lamont said. I knew the ones down here well: a water buffalo that was too large for the room, two gazelles, a zebra,
a boar, and a fox, all from Africa.

I saw their glassy eyes staring at me now, filling me all over again with the weight of my loss. He’d always meant so well
for me. However quirky all his compulsions were, he was the only one who loved me.

Move, Renee. Get out before they come.

The new thought sharpened my sense of urgency. If Lamont had been killed, wouldn’t the men who’d done it come to his house
to clean up anything that might point to Bourque’s illegal activities?

The rope was easy to find. Three lassos hung from a hook on one of the walls. I took down the thickest one, though the thinnest
would likely hold my weight.

The screwdriver was a different matter.

I’d never been through Lamont’s desk and I didn’t want to do it now, but if I were him that’s where I would have put a screwdriver.
So I pulled out the drawers one by one and rummaged through their contents.

I found paper clips, several old cameras, files and empty notebooks, binoculars, various electrical cords and adapters, rubber
bands, a pocketknife—which might have worked, though it looked too flimsy—and other assorted items, but no screwdriver.

The bottom right drawer was locked. Having run out of places to search for a screwdriver, I began to panic. I put my heels
against the desk’s legs and tugged with a grunt.

The old wood around the lock crumbled and the drawer flew open.

Stunned by my success, I leaned in. There was no screwdriver in the drawer. There was, however, a large number of neatly bound
and stacked hundred-dollar bills.

Money. A lot of money.

Of course, this made perfect sense. Lamont was the kind of wealthy man who, not trusting any system but his own, would keep
a stash of money for emergencies.

The ceiling above me creaked, and I caught my breath.

There it was again: the soft shuffle of a step and another soft creak.

My first thought was that Lamont had come home.

My second was that I had just broken into his desk.

I shoved the drawer shut without making any attempt to hide my breach of his privacy and flew from the room like a bird from
a cage.

He called out when I was halfway across his room. “Hello?”

It wasn’t his voice. I pulled up sharply and listened without daring to move a muscle.

The feet padded softly above me again. Whomever they belonged to, they were not Lamont’s. The police, maybe? Or a friend of
Lamont’s who’d come to get me and take me to him?

Or the people who had killed him.

Four days of wild imaginations sliced through my mind again, severing the nerves that told my muscles to move.

If they were the police, wouldn’t they have identified themselves? If they had come on Lamont’s behalf, wouldn’t they have
called my name? I had left the ladder to the attic down, and the floor was littered with evidence that someone was or had
been in the house.

The vent in the attic was broken.

Terrified I would be discovered, I acted without any plan whatsoever. I ran back into the trophy room, pulled the door closed
behind me, and slid both dead bolts home. The key was in my pocket.

Feet continued to walk overhead, more than one pair, I thought.

I turned off the lights, groped my way into the corner behind the desk, slid to my seat, drew my legs close to my chest, and
waited for them to force the door open and kill me.

My wait did
not last long. I could hear the soft mumble of voices as the people above moved around on the main floor, and with each step
they took, I imagined new scenarios, all of which ended badly for me.

When the sounds finally stopped, I was sure it was because they had left the main floor and were descending the stairs to
Lamont’s room.

I was right.

“It’s empty,” someone said.

“Check the closet.” Another muffled voice.

The knob on the door rattled. “It’s locked. Framed in steel with a dead bolt.”

“Look for a key.”

I could hear them opening and closing drawers, and I held my breath, praying they wouldn’t find a second key that I didn’t
know about. If I knew Lamont, they wouldn’t be able to bang the door down. I clung to that hope. A rotting desk inside a locked
room was one thing. Getting into that locked room without a key was another.

“Nothing. Try the door again. Use force.”

They spoke in the mechanical voices of men who used force for a living. But after a few hard crashes into the door, the man
applying that force backed off.

“Not gonna happen.”

“Make
it happen! Bourque says
everything,
he means
everything.”

“It’s gonna take a torch. Two bolts deadheaded into a quarter-inch steel plate.”

The other man swore. “I’ll get it. Check the rest of the attic.”

They left, padding up the stairs.

Crouched in the dark corner, I no longer had to guess at my predicament. Lamont’s instincts hadn’t betrayed him. Bourque either
had him or had killed him, and he somehow learned that Lamont wasn’t living alone. They’d come here to eliminate me.

I had two choices that I could see, and both were terrifying. One: I could try to sneak out now, leave the house with nothing
but my pajamas to my name, and wait for Cyrus to hunt me down.

Two: I could take the time to grab the money and then sneak out, hoping my delay didn’t give them enough time to get the torch
from their vehicle and return.

I didn’t want to see Cyrus’s face ever again, not unless it was at the end of a long shotgun firmly in my grasp. So I stood
and hurried toward the light switch, banging into the desk as I went.

Ignoring the pain in my thigh, I dropped down by the bottom drawer and pulled it open. Now I had another choice to make. How
much?

I thought about taking the whole drawer but rejected the idea immediately. I could make a sling of my flannel shirt front
and carry as much as it would hold. Anything I stuffed into my waistband would only fall through my pant legs when I ran.

I glanced around the room for a bag or anything I could use but saw nothing. I had wasted valuable time; if I waited much
longer it wouldn’t matter how much money I took.

Standing, I slid my long flannel pajama pants off and then quickly tied a knot at the bottom of each leg. My top was long
enough to cover most of me. I would have rather run outside in an oversize shirt than go topless.

I feverishly stuffed all the money packets into my makeshift bag, slung it over my shoulder, and, hearing no creaking or walking
above me, unlocked the door to Lamont’s bedroom.

Not until I was on the bottom step did I consider what might happen if they returned to find the door unlocked. They would
hunt me down before I managed to get off the property.

I flew back, locked both dead bolts using the key, then ran up the stairs. It was now a race—either I’d get out the front
door without being seen, or I was dead.

My heart was weak from the lack of exercise, and it was flopping like a waterless fish. I was sure they’d opened the doors
from the outside, so I sprinted for the side door leading into the garage, thinking I could slip out the back of the garage
and then…

I didn’t know what then. I only had to get out of the house before they saw me.

The door was open. I yanked it wide and for the first time stepped into Lamont’s garage. Light streamed in through two small
windows near the ceiling. I closed the door behind me and allowed myself to breathe.

Lamont’s BMW was gone. A white Audi sedan sat in the third bay. As much as I would have liked to zoom away to safety in a
car, I wasn’t sure I could still drive well enough to navigate busy streets. Or, for that matter, lead a chase through those
streets—they wouldn’t just let me drive away. Besides, I didn’t have the keys.

I tiptoed to a door that led out the back, twisted the lock, and pulled it open a crack. I recognized the terrain leading
down to the rocky beach. No one blocked the way that I could see.

Now the challenge of getting away from the house unseen confronted me. My tender feet couldn’t exactly blaze a trail through
the underbrush, and running down the street in nothing but a flannel top, with a sack that look conspicuously like pajama
bottoms stuffed with hundred-dollar bills, was hardly the way to slip into obscurity.

I stood with the garage door opened a foot, frozen by the thought that I had come so far only to go nowhere.

The Audi was there to my left. The Audi had a trunk. What if I hid in the trunk until they left?

I heard the solid
clunk
of a door closing inside the house, and that got my feet moving in the direction of the car. I only hoped that there was
a way to open the trunk from the dash. And that the Audi wasn’t locked. What if the Audi was locked?

The driver’s door came open when I pulled the handle. Thank God. Thank God, thank God. I dropped my two-legged bag on the
ground by the driver’s door before slipping into the front seat. I pushed buttons and pulled levers, praying for the right
one. The hood popped halfway; the steering wheel tilted up. Where was the trunk release?

I muttered something nasty in a raspy voice.

The lever that opened the trunk was located to the left of the steering wheel. I learned this when I jerked it and was rewarded
with a solid
pop
behind me.

Elated, I dipped out, grabbed my makeshift moneybag, and ran to the rear. I threw the stuffed pajamas into the trunk and was
starting to climb in when I saw that I’d left the driver’s door open. Nothing I did was smooth, but at least I was thinking
on my feet.

It took me five seconds to close the door.

It took me fifteen to get into the trunk, because when I had one leg inside, I realized I couldn’t lock myself in. How would
I get out? I pulled my leg out and stared dumbfounded until I saw the cord with a handle marked
TRUNK RELEASE
.

Of course! All cars must have a simple means of escape for stowaways. Moments later, I was in the dark trunk with my back
to the money-filled pajamas, sweating profusely and breathing hard but otherwise alive and safe.

For the moment.

Hidden away in the trunk, I could hear nothing but my breathing, which gradually slowed until I was able to draw air through
my nose. Then the real wait began. A dozen times I was tempted to pull that cord and see if Bourque’s men had gone. How would
I know?

I would wait until dark, I decided. Once it was dark, I could climb out and sneak around unnoticed. Then again, legs as white
as mine would likely be noticed half a mile down the road. Maybe I could sneak back into the house and get properly dressed.

Or I could stay in the house until I figured out what to do.

A rumbling noise made my decision for me. It was pitch dark in the trunk, but I could not mistake the sound of the garage
door opening.

“I’ll lock up.”

I blinked in the darkness. The voice was muffled, but I thought that’s what I heard. They were leaving!

The car shifted with the weight of a driver climbing in. With a single beat, the engine purred to life and my heart nearly
stopped. They were taking the car!

I groped for the trunk release and found it but stopped short of pulling the cord. Popping the trunk now would be the worst
thing I could possibly do. They would see the skinny white girl tugging a two-legged bag from the trunk and then running across
the driveway. Once they got over their shock, they would either gun me down or run me over.

The car was moving. Backing up.

Rock music blared from speakers behind me. I was trapped with Led Zeppelin singing “Stairway to Heaven.”

It took me only a few seconds to conclude that my life was as good as over. I should have sneaked out to the beach and hidden
behind a large rock. I could have hidden in the corner of the garage with a blanket draped over my head. I was a fool not
to dig a hole in the sand and bury myself until they had left.

But now I was speeding away from the house, surely to a field where they would drag me out and kill me, or onto a ship that
would be sent overseas, where stolen cars bring in good money.

Motion sickness overwhelmed me and I had to throw up once, but after I wiped my face on a cuff of my flannel moneybag, I felt
better.

I tried to keep track of how long we were on the road. I wanted a rough idea of how far from Malibu we would end up, but time
drifted and I lost track.

I had left my pills in the house, I realized. Without them, the monsters would return. The blue pill was the one that helped
me deal with the trauma I’d experienced, and the sedative helped keep me calm. Honestly, I don’t know why I took the sedative.
I felt calm enough in the house, but now I wished I had brought both bottles.

My mind imagined a dozen scenarios of what might happen once that trunk opened.

I had lived with men who used violence to get what they wanted, and the memories came back to me in fragments, each one more
sickening than the last. Screams, the crunch of bones, gunshots. They were bundled in a heroin-induced fog from long ago,
but I was surprised by how real they felt as they surfaced.

I started to cry softly as I lay there on that hard trunk floor, and I resigned myself to the fact that once they opened the
trunk, I would be executed. My last threads of self-control fell away when one of Lamont’s favorite songs by Coldplay, “What
If,” played over the speakers.

It was a sad song about not belonging that he would sometimes listen to while drinking a glass of red wine on the balcony.
“I hope you never leave me, Renee,” he would say. “I don’t know what I would do if you left me.”

I would throw my arms around his neck. “I would never leave you, Lamont! Never!”

In the trunk, I began to weep uncontrollably at the memory. Somehow this was all my fault. I was leaving him now, wasn’t I?
Guilt racked my body and I shook with sobs. It wasn’t logical, I see that now, but my anguish was no less real than if I’d
spit in his face to thank him for all he’d done for me. If the music hadn’t been playing so loudly, my sorrow would have alerted
the driver and gotten me killed on the spot.

As the miles rolled by I began to settle, enough to start thinking more about the present than the past.

I concocted absurd little plans. When the trunk opened I would spring out and bite the man on his nose before he had time
to react. When he grabbed at his bloody face, I would snatch my moneybag and fly into the woods.

Or, when they opened the trunk, I would play dead and bide my time until they were off guard and leaning over me to poke me.
Then I would swing my arm and hit the man on his head with…something…

This made me think of a tire iron. I felt around for a way to get to the spare tire. It must have been under the trunk floor,
because I couldn’t find a latch to open any tire compartment.

What I did find was a small tool bag affixed with Velcro to the side wall. I unzipped it, fumbled around in the dark, and
came away with a screwdriver.

A new plan formed in my mind. I could hide behind the moneybag, way back against the seat. It would be dark when they opened
the trunk, and they wouldn’t see me because all their attention would be on the flannel pajamas filled with hundred-dollar
bills. As they gawked at the cash, stunned by their good fortune, I would fly out and stab them in the ears with the screwdriver
before snatching the bag back and fleeing into an alley.

These were among my more reasonable plans fueled by a burgeoning rage at the men who had, for reasons unknown to me, forced
me to leave the house. Who’d separated me from Lamont.

Jonathan Bourque. I imagined ways to deal with Jonathan Bourque. They were nasty and involved everything from boiling oil
to machines with a thousand blades.

I was in the middle of just such an exotic fantasy when it occurred to me that the car had stopped for longer than the typical
red light required.

The engine shut down. Startled, I went rigid. I wasn’t ready! None of my carefully considered plans rose to the top of my
reasoning as the way to go. In fact, if the men saw the screwdriver in my fist, they would likely shoot me.

The driver’s door opened, then closed. The cooling car ticked. I pressed myself against the moneybag, mind blank with panic,
expecting the trunk to pop open.

I shut down my lungs so as to not make the tiniest sound. Walking feet crunched past me, then faded.

The trunk did not open. I ran out of breath and exhaled, then sucked at the stale air. They had left me? I felt momentarily
exhilarated.

I wondered if Lamont had come to my rescue again. Maybe he’d been on his way home, seen the Audi leaving, followed it here,
and would take care of my abductors before coming to collect me. The trunk would open and he would swoop me out.

But I knew that was impossible.

It took me at least fifteen minutes of stillness to work up the courage to take a peek. I carefully pulled the trunk lever,
eased the lid up, and saw that it was dark outside. The car was in a building with ribbed metal walls.

I was so relieved by my good fortune that I got out of the trunk without fully considering what other danger I might be in.
By then it was too late. I was standing exposed in a large garage lit by one fluorescent bulb over an exit door. This was
about twenty feet away.

But as far as I could see, except for about a dozen cars, I was alone in the room.

BOOK: The Priest's Graveyard
11.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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