“I don’t know. I guess so. I only saw him do it to one other person besides Ox. It was instant, what he did.”
Ethan said slowly, “I’ve always heard you can’t hypnotize another person into acting contrary to their wishes. But here’s the thing, Joanna. Last night, it seemed to me that Ox would have killed you, killed me, killed anyone who happened to get in his way of nabbing Autumn. You don’t know Ox, but I do, and that guy last night wasn’t the man I know. He didn’t even sound like himself, exactly—manic, excited, quite mad, really. It was more than hypnosis, I’m thinking. It’s scary, Joanna, what he did to Ox.”
“Sheriff, I appreciate your wanting to protect us, but Blessed is out there, mending his arm, making his plans. Autumn and I must leave. We’ve got to stop at the B-and-B and pack our things. I do thank you for what you’ve done for us, Sheriff.”
“You’re welcome, but I’ve just begun to fight. Now, I’ll take you to the B-and-B. While you’re getting your stuff together, I’ll make some calls. We’re staying together, Joanna, get used to it.”
NORTHEAST WASHINGTON, D.C.
Sunday, late afternoon
Buzz Riley looked one last time at the bed he and his wife, Eloise, had shared for more than thirty-six years. He’d never been gone from home for long since she died of ovarian cancer the year before. He missed her every single day, a steady ache. Was the ache less than it had been six months ago? He didn’t know. His three kids worried about him, and hovered. At first it was good, but soon it was driving him nuts. He figured out they’d made a schedule to see him, especially on the weekends, and that drove him nuts too. He tried to tell them he needed time alone, to reflect, to remember, to enjoy fishing in his new fifteen-foot Blue Fin Dory, but they wouldn’t pay any attention. One of his kids and some of his grandkids were always with him, the kids pressed against his back at the center console.
He fastened his ancient army duffel bag, checked to see that all the kitchen appliances were turned off, something Eloise had trained him to do, locked the front door, and carefully set the house alarm. He walked to his 2007 blue Chrysler Sebring, the first convertible he’d ever owned. They’d bought it from their mail carrier—only nine thousand miles on it—a year before Eloise died. She loved to ride around with him with the top down, laughing like a teenager sometimes, until one day she stuck her head out the side and an insect hit her front teeth. Buzz grinned at the memory of her shriek. He could still see her scrubbing her fingers manically over her teeth, trying to find a Kleenex.
He tossed his duffel into the passenger seat and slid across the soft black leather, closed the door. He patted the dashboard, still looking good as new, since he kept his baby cleaned and polished inside and out. He loved this car, only wondered in that moment if the damned thing had taken some of Eloise’s place in his affections.
“Nah,” he said aloud, and turned the key in the ignition.
Nothing happened. The engine didn’t even turn over.
He centered the steering wheel and turned the key again.
There was a small grinding noise that didn’t sound good, but then the engine roared to life, hummed smooth, and happy. He gave it some gas, listened to the sweet music. “Ah, there you go, beautiful.”
Buzz backed out of his driveway slowly because the neighborhood was always hopping, kids playing in the street, riding bikes. Didn’t matter if it was nearly seven o’clock in the evening, if it was still light there was action.
He waved to a couple of teenage boys who looked like they were going to smoke dope the minute he was out of sight, and they waved back. He was a retired cop, seven years now, but still a cop, and they knew it. His fingers itched sometimes to grab the little yahoos by the scruffs of their necks and shake some sense into their buzzed teenage heads.
He took a last look at his house, wondered how long it would be until he was home again. He knew he had no choice but to leave, with those crazy loons from the bank out for his hide—that young girl, Lissy, especially. Mr. Maitland had told him Lissy was probably sprung by the guy driving the getaway car, and confided that Dillon Savich would be taking over the case. Buzz liked him. Mr. Maitland treated Buzz like he was still a cop, even thanked him for saving Savich’s life.
Buzz had been to the Caribbean only once, with Eloise, on a cruise they’d hated, what with all his fellow cruisers running like pigs to the trough, and the threat of a hurricane, which, thankfully, hadn’t materialized.
He figured if he got bored on Aruba, he could always island-hop—after all, he was on leave with pay. Island-hopping, that might be good, but not if it meant being stuck on a rocking boat for seven days. At least he’d get a break from his kids cluttering around him all the time, trying to feed him, siccing his grandkids on him. It had been a zoo with them since he’d nearly bought the big one in the bank robbery. Buzz hadn’t called any of them to tell them he was leaving. Nope, he’d sent a blanket e-mail, and hadn’t answered any phone calls. He’d send everybody postcards.