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(Catch up, here)

I pound on the door of 5D, breathless, but will all the urgency in the world. “Ruthy! Ruthy open the door!”

Dear God, please let her be alive. Nothin’ but silence answers the door. The other men must have found her and got to her before I could. I’m hit at that moment with what I’ve been caryin’ around my whole life: I’m a killer. And I’ve finally killed the person I love the most. I hang my head, unable to wrap my mind around the fact that Ruthy’s gone. Then my heart skips a beat. Our safe phrase. I knock one more time and say into the door seam, “Peanut butter monkeys.” I wait. There’s nothin’. Then, I hear the shufflin’ footsteps of someone movin’ behind the door. I step back. The brass knob turns and ever so slowly, the door creaks open. A wrinkled face slides into view. But I know who it is, and she’s just as beautiful as when she sent me packin’. “Ruthy, it’s me—” “I know who you are. What do you want?” Well, I knew she wasn’t goin’ to be happy to see me. “I need your help.” “Figured as much. Had your old buddy come knocking on my door ’bout an hour ago. Didn’t answer it, of course. But, I figured you’d be here sooner or later.” She shuts the door. I hear the scrape of the chain lock being drawn back before she opens the door again. “Hurry up, I don’t want anyone seeing you at my apartment.” When I step into the room, it’s like I’ve gone and stepped back through time. It looks exactly as I remember. My eyes scan table surfaces. Then I spot it. Ruthy in a white dress, smiling up at a young man. There are others, framed faces of children. “You got married,” I say. More of a statement than a question. She looks down at my hand. Instinctively, my thumb runs across the gold wedding band I still wear on my finger. “You, too.” We both sort of nod at each other. “What do you need, Abel?” “I think you know by now that they’ve found me.” She nods but doesn’t say nothin’. “I need your help to get away. I can’t let them find me. I have to protect my family.” I try not to let my words sound pleading, but it’s hard with my level of desperation. “Why me? Why can’t you go somewhere else?” “Because it has to be you, you’re the only one—” Her hand reaches up and clutches at my forearm. “Hush!” she whispers. My heart skips a beat as I strain to hear what’s alarmed her. Then it’s there. The sound of thunder as feet come pounding up the stairs. They’ve found me. I level my breathing, putting my mind on one track—protecting Ruthy and getting’ out of here. “There’s at least two of them,” I whisper. “We’ll be lucky if they haven’t sent more.” The footsteps stop outside her door. “I’m sorry about this. All I ever wanted was to keep you safe.” Her nails dig into my arm. I follow her gaze to the door. She didn’t lock it. The knob turns and is thrust open, a burly figure tumbles through, followed by a smaller one. I push Ruthy behind me, prepared to fight for her life. I look up with the most feral sneer I can manage. “Grampy?” a familiar voice says. “Junebug?” I say. “Found him,” Barrett says.


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