The Path We’ve Had To Walk

Hide and Seek Chapter 33

A gust of wind rippled the grass and sent a shudder through the trees that lined the back country road. Candace was lying on the grass, staring up into the morning sky, while Naomi knelt beside her, holding her hand.

Ian Innis sat on the runner of the minivan that had delivered Candace, pressing an ice pack to his forehead and gingerly stretching his arms and legs, each in turn. As he watched the two young women he had just reunited, an occasional half-smile tugged at his mouth.

The shadow of a cloud passed slowly across Candace’s face. She blinked. “It’s all a haze, really. I don’t know who they were or where they took me… I was blindfolded the whole time, even after they’d locked me away. I ate something, I think, and I must’ve fallen asleep a few times, but I honestly don’t remember. It was so hard to tell the difference between being asleep and being awake, and it was completely impossible to track the passage of time. But then there were gunshots, and someone came in and stuck something in my arm—it must have been a needle—and the next thing I knew I was inside that van, and then getting out and seeing you here.”

“On top of everything else, they drugged you, too?” Naomi shook her head. “Those monsters deserved what they got.” But even as she said the words, the images of the dead and dying faces welled up, weakening the force of her conviction. They’d all been shot down like it was target practice, literally at the snap of a finger… She shivered as another gust of wind rustled the trees.

The low rumble of an engine signalled another vehicle’s approach. Naomi saw a green sedan working its way towards them from the direction of the highway. It pulled up behind Innis’s blue minivan and two men got out. One was tall and heavy with pale, blotchy skin. His long brown hair was tied into a neat ponytail that hung down his back. The other man had short-cropped hair, a boxer’s jaw, and bright, intense eyes. He wore a loose-fitting polo shirt, jeans, and a scowl. A half-broken pair of handcuffs dangled from one wrist.

Innis stood and hobbled over to the girls, grimacing with each movement. “Time to get you ladies home. You’ve got people waiting for you, after all.” He reached down and helped Candace to her feet. “I’d drive you home myself, but as you can see, I’m a little beat up, so Todd’s going to bring you, instead.” He nodded towards the driver of the blue van, who was exchanging keys with the handcuffed new arrival.

Innis led the girls to the sedan and helped Candace climb into the back seat. Holding the front passenger open, he said, “Naomi, thank you so much for the part you played in this. I know it was a lot to ask, but if it wasn’t for you, we never could have saved Candace, or these friends of mine, either.”

There was something about the look of Innis’s “friends” that rubbed Naomi the wrong way. Maybe it was the handcuffs. Television had trained her to associate certain connotations with those things. But that wasn’t entirely fair of her, was it? They’d been victims of the same people Candace had, and probably mistreated just as badly. Though neither of them really looked the worse for wear…

“We brought about justice today,” Innis continued, “and you played a huge part. I know the approach we were forced to take wasn’t exactly… appetizing. But the world doesn’t always run the way we want it to, does it? Those of us who have an opportunity to make it better have to take that opportunity, even if we don’t like the path we have to walk to get to that better place.”

“…Yeah,” Naomi managed, glancing past Innis at the ponytailed man, who was busy withdrawing a toolbox from the minivan.

“Well, have a safe ride home, okay?” said Innis. “And if there’s ever anything else I can do for you, don’t hesitate to call. That job offer I made before still stands.” He closed the door and nodded to Todd, who swung himself into the driver’s seat and started the car.

They headed for the highway, Naomi watching in the rearview mirror as the ponytailed man banged violently at his partner’s handcuffs with a hammer and chisel.

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