The swell of purple was tinged with a burst of orange and yellow, a muzzle flash, the explosion and wind of an onrushing bullet…
Naomi jerked back into reality with a mighty full-body flinch, blood pounding in her ears, but the bullet was gone, the gun was gone, the man was gone…
Candace was gone.
Blinking away the threat of tears, Naomi choked down a breath, sat up, and came face to face with a very startled police officer. He was crouching in the middle of the path, holding a camera and a little piece of yellow plastic with a number on it, and he looked like he’d just seen a ghost.
As the cop stared uncomprehendingly at her, Naomi gathered herself and looked around. The white van had been supplanted by two police cruisers and an ambulance, and emergency personnel were swarming all over the path. Cameras were flashing everywhere and there was a hubbub of shouting voices and idling engines.
Amid the throng, Naomi caught a glimpse of a familiar face which was suffering the attentions of a couple of paramedics. “Emily!”
The sound of Naomi’s voice startled the cop partly out of his astonished trance. “You’re… I’m not… Where did…”
“Hi,” said Naomi.
The cop gave his head a shake and called over his shoulder, “Callahan! We’ve got a live one!”
Naomi tried to stand so she could get to Emily, but the cop put his hand on her shoulder and held her down. “Hold on,” he said. “We’d better get you checked out.”
“I’m fine!” protested Naomi. “I just want to talk to Emily.”
“There’ll be time for that,” said the cop. “Just hold on. By the way, how did you—”
A tall, angular officer with thin brown hair and a loose-fitting jacket with “Det. Callahan” stitched onto the breast stepped up, looking over the crouching cop’s shoulder. “Where did she come from?”
“I don’t know,” said the crouching cop. “I was just documenting the bullet mark in the middle of the path here, like you told me—it’s underneath her now—and poof, all of a sudden there she was!”
“‘Poof’, huh?” sneered Callahan. “And I guess there was a cloud of glittery smoke, too, right, and a couple of doves flew up into the sky?”
“No, no, of course not,” protested the cop. “Just… There was no one there, and then she was there. No special effects involved.”
“So what, you think she teleported here?” said Callahan with a derisive sniff.
“I don’t know,” said Waddins. “It’s a crazy world we live in…”
“Uh huh, sure,” said Callahan. “Feel free to write that into your report, if you think it’ll gain your pitiful career any credibility.” But even as he mocked Waddins, Callahan squinted at Naomi long and hard through his narrow eyes, and she thought she caught the hint of a knowing smirk. “Get back to work, Waddins. I’ll process the girl.”
“Should I send one of the paramedics over to make sure she’s—”
“What for? She looks fine to me.” Callahan offered Naomi a hand up. “You’re fine, right, kid?”
Naomi nodded. “Can I talk to Emily?”
“Yeah, in a minute,” said Callahan, pulling Naomi off to the side of the path. The shadows were growing deeper as night fell, and a cutting wind was whistling through the trees. “A few questions for you first… Are you Naomi or Candace? I’m assuming you’re one of the two.”
“Okay. And I don’t suppose you know where Candace ended up?”
Naomi shook her head. “They were taking her to the van when I…”
“Vanished from under their noses, right? And reappeared under ours?” Callahan lowered his voice. “How did you pull that trick?”
“It’s…” Naomi dropped her eyes and stared at a pinecone.
“‘A gift’ is how most people describe it.” Callahan smirked. “Or are you one of those angsty, embarrassed ones who just wants to be treated like a ‘normal’ person?”
“Hey, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing to worry about, either. If you’d rather keep your secrets, that’s fine by me. I’ll cover for you. Waddins won’t say anything, and even if he does, no one will believe him. He’s got a bit of a reputation around the office of suspecting just about everyone of being a special of some variety, and he’s always wrong. I admit I may have a little bit to do with that reputation.” Callahan winked.
“I… Thanks, I guess,” said Naomi. “Are you going to get Candace back?”
“That’s the goal,” said Callahan, “but we don’t have much to work with right now. Ms. Pollard gave us the basic rundown—three guys, white van—but I gather they came closer to nabbing you than they did to getting their hands on her. Up until about 90 seconds ago we thought they’d gotten you along with Candace… Before you pulled your little trick and managed to escape, did you see any of their faces or hear their voices? Did they say anything that might help us?”
“They all had masks on,” said Naomi. “But one of them did talk to me, and I heard him on his phone, too, before the van showed up.”
“What did he sound like? Did he have any kind of accent, or speak a different language?”
“No, it was all English I think. And it sounded, um, ‘local’.”
Callahan stroked his chin. “Hmm. Okay.”
“He said he’d shoot me if I got too close to him,” offered Naomi. “He told me I was worth less to them than Candace was.”
“‘Worth less’? So they’re probably thinking ransom, then. How much money do your parents have?”
“A… normal amount, I guess,” said Naomi.
“And what about Candace’s family?”
“Um… More,” said Naomi.
“That’s helpful,” said Callahan. “Would you say—”
He was interrupted by his walkie talkie. “Detective, we’ve got some parents in the parking lot. What do you want me to do with them?”
Callahan grabbed his handset. “Hold them there a minute. I’m on my way.”
“Come on, Naomi,” said Callahan. “I’m probably going to have a few more questions before the medics get their hands on you.”