Time to Run(2)

By: Marliss Melton

The sound of Kendal panting had her hurrying forward. "Sweetheart?"

She found him on the edge of his bed, arms clasped to his midsection, staring wide-eyed at the empty rabbit cage.

"Honey?" She eased onto the bed beside him, dead rabbit cradled in her arms. "What happened?" She'd never seen him like this, gasping as if he'd been punched in the stomach. "What did your father do?" she asked, shaking his arm when she got no answer.

"Strangled," he whispered, through bloodless lips.

"What?" Horror squeezed Sara's heart. Garret wouldn't have strangled Kendal's rabbit to death—or would he?

The boy continued to pant as if desperate for air. She jumped up to find something he could breathe into. There was a lunch bag, filled with school supplies. She emptied it and brought it to him. "Breathe into this, honey. You need to calm down."

Calm down? The suggestion was ludicrous! How could anyone be calm in this nerve-wracking environment?

Kneeling on the plush carpet, she watched the bag inflate and deflate. Kendal's panting subsided, but his face still reflected shock. How many times had she looked into the mirror and seen herself looking like that?

Volcanic, maternal rage boiled within her. It was one thing to let Garret intimidate her; it was another thing to let him victimize her son. How dare he threaten her baby, her reason for enduring this marriage in the first place?

No more. This was where she drew the line, where she pulled together her fragmented plans for freedom and made them a reality. "Listen to me," she whispered, placing the dead rabbit on the floor to grasp his knees. "We are going to leave him, Kendal. We don't have to live like this."

He looked at her. At last, she had his full attention.

"I have a plan," she admitted, speaking so quietly that even if Garret had planted a listening device in Kendal's room he couldn't overhear. "I can't tell you what it is, but it's going to work. We are going to leave," she said again, "and we're never coming back," she added fiercely.

The scales of shock fell from Kendal's eyes, giving way to hope. "He'll find us," he whispered fearfully.

"No, he won't. I've kept a secret from him. Something that he doesn't know."

The boy's gaze fell to the lifeless bundle at their feet. "I'm afraid," he admitted.

"I know, sweetheart." I am, too. "That's why I can't tell you any more. You'll just have to trust me."

He gave a tentative nod, which Sara took as a token of his agreement and, hopefully, his cooperation when the time came.

She needed more than that, though.

She needed a miracle to help them get away.

Chapter One

Next Day

Chief Petty Officer Chase McCaffrey stalked into the Trial Services Building on Oceana Naval Base in a piss-poor mood. He hadn't put a dent in the paperwork piled on top of his desk at the Spec Ops and, already, he was having to pack his bags and leave—not on an assignment this time, but to claim the land his stepfather had left to him, land he never wanted to go home to.

The young, African-American security guard on duty greeted him warmly. "How you doin', Chief? I ain't seen you here in months!"

"Twelve to be exact," Chase told him, slapping the envelope he'd brought onto the X-ray belt. He withdrew his pistol, a SIG Sauer P226, out of the holster on his battle dress uniform belt and surrendered it to the guard, along with his cell phone, neither of which was permitted in the building.

"Where you been?" Petty Officer Marcelino Hewitt asked. "Oh, wait, I guess you can't tell me that. It's classified."

"Somewhere hot," said Chase succinctly. Which had to be obvious, given his savage tan and sun-bleached eyebrows. He stepped through the metal detector, feeling vulnerable. But this wasn't Malaysia. In this building, he was safe from everything but long lines and red tape, neither of which he had time for today.

"What's wrong, Chief? You don't look so chipper today," Hewitt needled, reverting to their habit of harassing each other.

"I am never chipper," Chase articulated, with a scowl that was half-genuine, half-pretend.

"Jolly, then," Hewitt amended, with a straight face.

"Fuck you," Chase said, without heat. "You're the one who's jolly." His gaze fell to the petty officer's ample midsection. "I thought I told you to lose weight. You've put on at least ten pounds."

The man chuckled. "You said to lay off the donuts. You didn't say nothin' about no honey buns, though," he retorted gleefully.

Chase snatched his folder off the X-ray belt as it reappeared. "No pastries, period, Hewitt," he suggested. "And lay off the soda," he added, pointing out the can of Coke in the guard's work area.