Upward and Onward

Benny reached into the oversized envelope he'd been given and pulled out the heavy wad of cash. He looked around quickly, shoved a little more than half in his pocket, then folded the rest to make it feel a bit thicker and stuffed it back into the envelope. Lake would know what he had done, but this might slow him down. This might make him think for a minute before coming after him. But Benny knew it wouldn't make much difference.

He pushed the envelope under the door and bolted. The street was damp and deserted, and his footfalls echoed between the quiet buildings. At the end of the block, he turned and darted through a parking lot, then continued at full flight behind shops and then houses. He was hidden back here from the street, running, running. Twigs and wet leaves crunched beneath his boots as he weaved between bushes and trees, the sweat pouring off his bald head. Occasionally he glanced behind him knowing there'd be no one there. He didn't slow down until he got to her street.

He had sent her the message as soon as they'd given him the envelope, before he'd even gone back to Lake's. He'd typed out the cryptic message he had told her to look out for and sent it to the disposable phone he had made her promise to carry but wouldn't tell her why. He hadn't seen her in days, and it had been weeks before that since they'd talked about the phone. He didn't know if she still had it. He didn't know if she'd gotten the message. He hoped she had. Even more, he hoped nobody else had gotten it instead.

He needn't have worried. It was her, standing behind the big mailboxes at the end of her block, just out of view from the street. His old landlord's daugher. His oldest friend. His closest friend, as strange as that was to say. They weren't particularly close at all. But they got on well and that was mostly down to the warmth of her. He could see a trace of unease upon her face as she looked around for him, bending a stick back and forth in her hands. He forced himself to slow to an inconspicuous pace and approached her.

"There you are!" she chirped. "It's about time. What is this is about?"

He placed his finger to his lips, put his head down, and walked up very close to her, so that their shoulders were nearly touching. She seemed taken aback, but didn't retreat. She could feel head radiating from his body in the humid air as he yanked the money from his pocket and held it between them in his fist.

"Benny," she breathed. "What did you do?"

"Take it." He forced his breathing to slow. "Take it, hide it. We have to get moving."

She was concerned but didn't hesitate. She took the money and pushed it deep down in the pocket of her jeans. It bulged out awkwardly on her leg.

Benny was still standing almost against her. He looked past her, over her right shoulder and between the post boxes, watching acutely for any movement on the unpaved street beside them. After a moment, without looking at her, he said, "Let's go."

And he took off.

With some difficulty, she kept up with him, and they ran down the open dirt road, not stopping at her house. Neither one looked back.

Benny stopped unexpectedly in front of a little house with a big, overgrown front yard and a pond. She bumped into him. "Are we going to yours?" she asked, panting.

He grabbed hold of her arm and scanned the road behind them. "Yeah," he breathed, now facing the house. "But I hid it."

"You did what?"

With that, Benny ducked into the overgrown yard, pulling her with him. He held tight to her hand. She used him for support, walking as quickly as she could over the slippery mud. They stepped carefully along, Benny looking over his shoulder with increasing frequency, watching the still street for signs of pursuit. They would be looking for him by now.

In spite of her ginger steps, grey-brown mud soon spattered her clean pink sneakers. She realized she was the reason they were moving so slowly. It was making her nervous. "No. Run," she panted.

The two of them took off, slipping and sliding through the tall grasses and damp trees, mud and grit covering them to their knees. She slipped sideways a few times and laughed at the clumsiness of it all, but Benny pulled her up and they ran on, between the houses and the empty lots, never more than a hundred feet from the road. She stopped short stumbled back a step when she saw it.

She didn't know when or how, but Benny had moved his massive RV from State Street to the middle of an abandoned lot in the back of her neighborhood. There it sat, surrounded by trees, weeds, and unkempt grasses, with no apparent line of sight to any of the surrounding roads. There didn't even appear to be space enough between the trees for the thing to have gotten here. Her face lit up with fascination, and she opened her mouth to ask him how he'd done it. But when he jerked her arm forward and pulled her up the stairs and into the trailer, taking no time at all to beam about this feat of mischief, she understood that the trouble afoot was serious.

"Benny." The voice came from inside the RV. "They're on the phone already. He's got them out for you."

Benny nodded.

"Lake?" she asked.

He locked the flimsy door.

Her eyes grew wide. "What are you doing?" she cried. "We can't hide in a trailer. We've got to run before they spread out too far!"

He looked at her, then through her, a new light in his eyes. "We're okay," he said.

There were two other men here. One was a neat black gentleman who concentrated intensely on some kind of handheld device and the other was white and stocky, like Benny, but he was younger and wore a goatee. They were both dressed in suit pants. She didn't know them. The younger man moved busily around the perimeter of the RV, squeezing past her to get to all the little windows, checking to see that they were locked. She shook her head as her disbelief began to give way to panic.

Benny had gone to the cab of the RV and was bending down over something. "Benny." She went toward him, avoiding his muddy footprints. He stood and faced her, then nudged her gently backward. She was blocking him in. He returned to the front door, unlocked it again, and leaned out. She followed him once more but didn't know quite what she wanted to say.

"Grid, let's do it," Benny said to the black fellow. He pulled a long rope inside the hatch and locked the door back up. Grid took a deep breath, which he released slowly through closed lips, still punching buttons on his little machine.

She was standing nose to nose with Benny now, and he looked up and finally met her panicked gaze. There was something familiar about his expression. Playfulness mixed with the fear in his eyes. He put his hands on her shoulders and smiled. He had never done that before. She did not know what it meant. But she was quiet.

Grid and the younger man crouched low and grabbed onto the walls of the RV as the whole vehicle erupted into an ear-splitting rumble. Benny's grin widened, and with one hand he reached out for something to hold onto. He wrapped the other tightly around her shoulders, drawing her securely into his chest, and lowered his head to look out the small window in the hatch. She stared out with him, terrified.

They all watched together as the RV lifted away from the ground and floated upward, very, very slowly, toward the treetops.

The End

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