He smiled. “I was just in the neighborhood. Been driving around, making some stops. I didn’t know you owned a gun. I’ve been looking for one myself.” Kiernan looked at Jack. “You must be Jack. We haven’t met, but I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m the guy who’s been f**king your wife.”
“Listen to me, Kiernan,” Dee said. “You’re sick. You need—”
“No, I’m actually better than I’ve ever been.” He pointed the tip of the butcher knife at the Land Rover. “Where you going?”
Tires screeched, an engine revved, and a few blocks away, headlights passed behind a hedge, light flickering through the crape myrtles like a strobe. A succession of distant pops erupted in the night.
Jack said, “Dee we need to leave right now.”
“Go back to your car, Kiernan.”
The man didn’t move.
Jack took a step back and eased himself into the driver seat.
“Who is it out there, Daddy?” Cole asked.
Jack fished the keys out of his pocket. Craned his neck, peering into the backseat at his tense children.
“Naomi, Cole, I want you both to lay down in the backseat.”
“Just do what I tell you, Na.”
“Dad, I’m scared.”
“Hold your brother’s hand. You all right, Cole?”
He started the engine as Kiernan receded into the darkness of the front yard.
Dee jumped in beside him, slammed her door and locked it.
“You know how to pick ’em, Dee.”
“Do we have everything we need?”
“We have what we have, and now it’s time to leave. Stay down, kids.”
“Where are we going?” Cole asked.
“I don’t know, buddy. No talking, all right? Daddy needs to think.”
The dashboard clock read 9:31 p.m. as Jack shifted into reverse and backed out of the garage and down the driveway, nothing but the reddish glow of taillights to guide him. He turned into the street, put the car in drive. Hesitated, fingers searching for the automatic window control. The glass beside his head hummed down into the door. Over the idling of the Discovery’s engine, he heard another car approaching at high speed, headlights just becoming visible in the rearview mirror.
He stomped the gas, the Discovery accelerating through pure darkness.
“Jack, how can you see?”
He made a blind turn onto the next street, drove for several blocks in the dark.
Dee said, “Look.”
A house burned on the corner up ahead, flames shooting out of the dormers, the branches of an overhanging cottonwood fringed with embers while molten leaves rained down into the lawn.
“What is it?” Naomi asked.
“A house on fire.”
“I don’t know.”
“I want to see.”
“No, Cole. Stay down with your sister.”
They sped up the street.
“I’m going to run us into something.” Jack flipped on the headlights. The console lit up. “You’re kidding me,” he said.
“Way under a quarter of a tank.”
“I told you it was getting low last week.”
“You aren’t capable of pumping gas into a car?”
Three houses down, the headlights swept over two trucks that had pulled onto the lawn of an expansive adobe house.
“That’s the Rosenthals’ place.”
Through the drawn shades of the living room windows: four loud, bright flashes.
“What was that, Dad?”
He gunned the engine and glanced over at Dee, a deathgrip on the steering wheel to keep his hands steady. Nodded at the gun in his wife’s lap.
“Wasn’t even loaded, was it?”
“I don’t know how.”
The university campus loomed empty and dark as Dee ripped open a box of ammunition. They passed a row of dorms. The quad. The student union. A squat brick building whose third floor housed Jack’s office. It occurred to him that today would have been the deadline for his bioethics class to hand in their papers on euthanasia.
“There’s a button on the left side behind the trigger,” he said. “I think it releases the magazine.”
“Are you talking about a gun?” Cole asked.
“Are you going to shoot somebody?”
“It’s only to protect us, buddy.”
“But you might have to kill someone?”
“Hopefully not.” Jack watched Dee thumb another semijacketed round into the magazine.
“How many will it hold?” she asked.
“Nine, I think.”
“Where are we going, Jack?”
“Lomas Boulevard, then the interstate.”
“I don’t know. I’m trying to work that—” Two sets of headlights appeared a hundred yards ahead. “Jesus Christ.”
“You see them, Jack?”
“Of course I see them.”
“What’s happening, Dad?”
In the rearview mirror, a third set of headlights rushed toward them.
“Jack, do something.”
His foot depressed the brake pedal into the floorboard.
“Sit up kids.”
“What are you doing?”
“Naomi, Cole, sit up. Give me the gun.”
Dee handed over the .45, which he stowed under his seat.
“What are you doing, Jack?”
He took his foot off the brake, the Discovery nearing the roadblock.
“Jack, tell me what you’re—”
“Shut up. Everybody shut up.”
A large oak had been felled across the road, the middle section excised and two pickup trucks parked in front, blocking passage, their highbeams glaring into the night.
Dee said, “Oh, God, they’re armed.”
Jack counted four people standing in front of the vehicles, silhouetted by the headlights. One of their them came forward as the Discovery closed within ten yards—a man wearing an Isotopes baseball cap and a red windbreaker. He trained a shotgun on the Discovery’s windshield and extended his right hand for Jack to stop.
Jack shifted into park, locked the doors.
“I’ll do the talking. Nobody say a word.”
The third truck pulled within several feet of the Discovery’s back bumper, its headlights halfway up the glass of the back hatch, so they shone directly into the rearview mirror. The man with the shotgun produced a flashlight and circled the Land Rover, shining the beam through every window before arriving back at Jack’s door, where he tapped the glass and made circles in the air with his right pointer finger. Jack noted a cold trickle of sweat gliding over the contours of his ribs. He found the switch, lowered the window eight inches.