Thump, thump, thump. The sound made us jump. A young, cocky patrolman beat his fist on the driver's window. Dad rolled the window down. "Hi, Officer. Crazy night, huh?" He chuckled, but his voice was shaky. Great, Dad. Really smooth.
The officer didn't seem amused. I saw that his name badge said Williams. He raised an eyebrow and growled, "License and registration."
Mom opened the glovebox and fumbled around for the insurance verification. Her hands trembled.
Another patrolman startled me when he walked up and shined a light into the back seat. I heard his muffled voice. "I could have sworn there were more people in here a second ago."
Stay calm. Stay calm. I dropped my head and focused on my knees.
The man at my Dad's window gave a hmph and asked, "So where are you guys headed?"
"Tennessee. We're going to stay with a relative," Dad said as genially as he could.
The officer shining his light into the back seat walked around to Williams and muttered something to him.
Williams looked past my Dad's head at me. "Young lady, would you mind stepping out of the vehicle with Officer Grant over there?"
And he was back at my window.
Tap. Tap. I could hardly see his face because the light was blinding me, but I could tell that he was bent down, smiling at me through the window.
I scooted over and reached for the door handle. But I paused when Mom asked, "Is this necessary?"
"Everything is necessary at a time like this, Ma'am," Williams barked.
Exhaling, I proceeded to open the door and get out.
"But, but—" Mom stammered. There was nothing she could do but shut her mouth.
I knew I didn't want to look frightened stepping out of the SUV, so when my foot hit the road, I raised my chin and stood tall. Of course, Officer Grant towered over me.
He placed his fingers gently around my arm and led me to the front of our SUV, right into the glow of the headlights. Williams met us.
"Have you ever met these two men?" He held up the sketches of Jeremy and X.
For a moment my speech faltered, and I gazed past him into the dark trees. They were out there somewhere hiding, watching.
"No." I replied. My eyes shot up to meet his, and even though I tried, I could hardly mask my defiance.
He glared at me. And then with a smirk he turned and walked back to the driver's side of the SUV. My eyes followed him the whole way. He handed the license and verification back through the window, and I heard him start talking quietly to my father. I didn't like that guy Williams one bit. He was one of those men that set your nerves on fire the minute he opened his mouth.
"Sorry about that." Grant drew me out of my thoughts. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, ya know." Something about his voice was soothing and alarming at the same time.
For the first time, I looked into his face.
My stomach twisted.
Behind the facade of high cheekbones and smooth skin, behind a brilliant smile and long lashes, I saw it. The presence couldn't hide it entirely because he didn't belong there.
I saw a familiar darkness swimming in Officer Grant's eyes. A haze swirled behind his irises like oil in water. It would be so hard for any unsuspecting human to perceive, but considering my experience, I couldn't miss it. Instantly, I had a flashback of the night in England when a sweet innkeeper looked at me this same way. Right before he tried to rape and possibly murder me. But just like Nick the innkeeper, Officer Grant couldn't know that he was possessed.
My eyes dropped as I pretended not to notice. I felt so stupid.
While I was making a rival out of Williams, the true enemy was lurking by my side, pretending he was just another sweet face in a sea of metal and authority. I realized just how easy it was for the demons to hide, to stay on the sidelines until just the right moment. They were snakes on the hunt, deceiving and manipulating. And always watching.
"Thank you, Officer Grant. Can I get back into the car now?" I desperately tried to sound sweet and naive. I couldn't let the beast know that I had caught on, or he might act rashly in front of all these people.
Carefully, I glanced back to his face. The innocent smile that had been planted on Grant's lips was now replaced by a wicked grin. I heard a low chuckle in his throat.
"Run while you can," he whispered hauntingly.
As playful as that might have sounded in any other situation, I felt it was a threat.
He knew exactly who I was. And he also probably knew that X and Jeremy couldn't be far away.
I could just nick him with my dagger . . . My hand slid slowly up my hip toward my belt. I stopped.
My jaw went rigid and I held my mouth in a hard line.
Grant glanced down to my hand, so I released my arm and let it fall to my side. When our eyes met again, he smirked.
He was taunting me.
I felt transparent under his gaze. As much as I wanted to deliver a steely death to the body-snatching bastard, I knew that the implications of such an action would be disastrous. Surely, few of these other officers were under possession, and they would only see it as an assault on a police officer, not on the beast hiding his veins.
The only way out was to turn my back on him. I pivoted but kept my eyes on him until I reached the door of the SUV. My emotions were clashing in a mixture of fear and challenge. And my confusion was only amplified by the fact that I was actually given the chance to walk away.
Why? When he had me in sight, why did he let me go?
I slammed the door and scooted back into the middle where I could see Grant out the windshield. We locked our eyes on one another for moment, and then the man slipped off into the shadows between the vehicles surrounding us.
"You folks have a good night," Officer Williams said, patting the top of the SUV. He bent to look through the window and give me one last suspecting glance, and my eyes narrowed at him. I was lucky not to have been put in handcuffs just for my attitude, but there were hundreds of other cars to inspect.
Mom was sniffling and she blew her nose with a tissue she had found. "What was that about? What was he saying to you? Are you okay?"
I ignored her questions and leaned back, crossing my arms.
"Well, let's hope that doesn't happen again. But at least we're safe for now." Dad sighed, relieved at what he believed to be a victory.
"I wouldn't be so sure," I muttered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" His brow furrowed.
I hadn't quite made any sense of what was happening, but I knew that our narrow escape wasn't luck at all. Not willing to talk at the moment, I pointed ahead as if to say, "Drive."
My parents got the hint and turned to face the front.
Again, we rolled on. Once we were past the traffic stop, we picked up some speed: a whopping thirty-five miles per hour. But it was much better than the mere inches we moved prior to our inspection.
When the police lights were no longer in sight, the air stirred around me. Jeremy was now on top of me.
"Get off!" I screeched.
He rolled over to the side and whooped. "Man, that was a close one!"
"Oh, praise Jesus!" Mom yelped. We were all together again.
X locked me in his arms in a crushing embrace. I couldn't breathe. When he pulled back, his hands began trailing over my face. "Did he hurt you?" His voice was frantic. "You have no idea how hard it was for me not to sail in and tear into that sick freak. The minute he walked up I knew what he was."
He could tell that Grant was possessed from that far away?
"Wuh . . . well," I stuttered, "I'm fine."
"Thank God." X hugged me again. "But I don't get it. Why didn't he capture you?"
Still confused, I grew frustrated. "I don't know, but while you two were playing hide and seek in the woods, I think I figured something out about Macbre's plan."
"What?" The four of them nearly screamed this at me.
I wasn't quite ready to put my thoughts into words, but I was getting the nagging feeling that we were heading into a trap. We thought we were escaping from watchful eyes, but in truth, they were leading us right where they wanted us. They were luring us in.
I shook my head violently. "Will you just turn on the radio or something?"
Dad hit the power button, and we were immediately bombarded with urgent voices discussing the latest world news. Station 1: The UWN was issuing a state of emergency and extending its manhunt onto islands off the east and west coasts. Station 2: London was reporting to UWN officials that rioters were demanding access to the bodies of the demons. Station 3: IZ officials were now teaming up with the UWN in an effort to locate the Daemoni and his accomplices. Efforts were also being made to . . . Whatever happened to radio DJs who actually played music? I couldn't stand to hear any more lies about us.