Chapter 15

Cashman pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his jacket, stuck one in his mouth, went to put the pack away then held it out to me.

“Want one?”

When I didn’t answer he put the pack away, pulled out a lighter, lit the cigarette, took a long drag, then looked at me as he blew smoke out of the side of his mouth.

“See, I might not know everything, but I do know my etiquette. When I hold out my hand, tell you my name, you’re supposed to shake my hand and tell me your name. What — you never learned that?”

I was staring out my window. In a soft voice, I said, “This isn’t happening.”

“Say that again?”

“This whole thing,” I said, looking back at him. “This isn’t real.”

“Is that right? So that thing there on your finger, it hasn’t done weird stuff now, has it? Nothing that would seem — oh, I don’t know — unbelievable?”

I squinted at him, this tall large bald man with a thick goatee. He had large gold earrings in each ear.

“I’ve seen you before,” I said.

“Have you now?”

“Last night. You were across the street from the convenience store. Have you … have you been following me?”

“Not you. That.” Cashman using his cigarette to point toward my hand. “See, there’s a kind of … power the thing gives off. You might not be able to sense it. Hell, not many people could. But someone like me, someone who — ”

“Hunts aliens?”

He grinned. “Why, yeah, exactly. People like me, our minds have sort of become attuned to the world outside our own. And when I sensed this thing here last night and tracked it down, I knew trouble would be coming for it as soon as possible.”

We were leaving downtown now, headed toward the expressway.

“Where are we going?”

“Gotta lay low for a while. At least until I can come up with a solid game plan.”

“But won’t they find us?”

“Give them enough time they will.”

I stared back out my window, thinking about the past half hour. “Stop the truck.”

“What’s that?”

“I want to get out. I want to go home.”

“Kid, you go home, those things will follow you. Bad shit will happen, if you get my drift.”

The shotgun was between us on the bucket seat. I could still smell the gunpowder.

I grabbed it, held it up so it was aimed at Cashman’s face. “Stop the fucking truck.”

The cigarette still between his lips, he glanced in his rearview mirror, then slowed and pulled us over to the side of the highway. Slowly putting the truck in park, he said, “Now what, boss?”

I moved back against the door, kept the shotgun aimed with my left hand as I reached down and opened the door with my right.

“Now I’m leaving.”

“Oh yeah? And where are you going? We’re on the highway. The next exit isn’t for a mile and a half. You going to walk the entire way with that shotgun? Don’t you think that might make some people a little skittish?”

The door now open, I placed my right foot flat against the pavement.

“And then what are you going to do once you make it off the highway?” Cashman asked. He kept his hands on the steering wheel; the cigarette still dangled from his lips. “Last time those things came after you, you ran like a little girl. In fact, if I remember correctly — and I should, as it happened only ten minutes ago — it was me who saved your ass back there.”

“What are you saying?”

For the first time Cashman moved his head so he could look at me. “I’m saying stop being stupid. You don’t know what’s going on. I do. So why would you leave? At least stay with me until you find out what this is all about.”

“And what is this all about?”

“Goddamn it, kid, we don’t have time for that right now. In case you forgot, you’ve got a shotgun aimed at my head and we’re on the highway and God knows how many people can see us. So why don’t you put the shotgun down, shut the door, and we’ll get moving again.”

“Where are you going to take me?”

“Someplace safe.”

“And how do I know you’re not going to try to kill me once we get there?”

Here Cashman grinned, had to hold back a laugh. “You’ve been wearing that ring long enough to know by now I can’t do shit to you even if I wanted to. With that thing on you, you’re practically invincible.”

I thought for a moment, then said, “So then I shouldn’t be afraid of those things back there.”

“Look, are we going to play word games all day, or are we going to get moving?”

I thought for another moment, then shut the door and said, “Fine. But I’m keeping this thing aimed at you while you drive.”

Shaking his head, placing the truck back in gear, Cashman said, “Whatever makes you happy, kid.”

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