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It was dark on the road back, and there was surprisingly little traffic. They pulled into a gas station on the way out of town and filled up the tanks of both bikes and both brothers wanted to celebrate a little by buying the #3 meal from McDonalds and Freedy didn't feel like he should deny them the small pleasure.
Freedy felt an anxiety that he probably should have been experiencing on the whole trip but which was only now hitting him hard. It was as though at first everything had come as such a surprise that he couldn't quite take it all in, and after that he had relied on Garland knowing what he was doing.
Now? Garland was gone. They were near broke and being chased.
The money in his pocket seemed insecure and inadequate. The flashdrive? It might be more of a danger than a help.
If only he could figure out how to use the Key to help them and in such a way that it didn't put them in danger. The gold miners thought their opponent was Darrell Horn, and that would have certainly seemed intimidating to Freedy under any other circumstance.
But the Dark Lord made all that pale in comparison. The Creator of the Key, who seemed all-knowing and all-threatening to Freedy and here Freedy had a small object in his pocket which the rumored richest, most powerful man in the world wanted more than anything else.
There was nothing he could do until Garland returned. 'I will never, never, never try to hide something from Garland again," Freedy thought. 'Never.'
The thirty minutes back to Beggs passed in a blur of dark and wind and roaring engines. They pulled into the backlot of the market in a triumphant thunder.
The others were laying about the grassy median. A few of them had created some game with the pebbles in the parking lot and they were throwing them against the curb in the garish light of the nearest street lamp. The market was closed. They seemed relaxed and happy and unaware of all the danger they were in.
Sheila was sitting by herself at the lone beat up picnic table, reading. Did Freedy imagine that the hopeful look in her face as they pulled up? She had her head buried back in the book by the time he dismounted. He wanted to go to the table, sit down next to her. Just absorb her nearness.
But it was as if she had built a wall around her. When he looked again, she had turned her back.
Freedy went looking for Charlie, who he found asleep in the back of the van.
"What?' their fearless leader said, looking like a teenager rousted out of bed for school after a hard night of partying.
"We need to get out of here," Freedy said.
"What are you talking about?" Charlie said. He was waking up slowly, and he looked over Freedy's head to see not one but two Harley Davidson's. "What happened? Couldn't you sell it?"
Sam and Steve sauntered over about then, and slapped Freedy on the back.
"We got a real original gangster here, Boss," Steve said.
"Nerves of cold polished steel, I'm telling you," Sam agreed. "This little fellow walked into a jewelry store as if on an afternoon shopping trip and walked out with the biggest diamond you ever saw. Then he walked into another jewelry store as if on a lark and came out with a big honking wad of cash."
"You got the money?" Charlie couldn't hide the eagerness.
Freedy took the entire roll out of his pocket and plopped it in his hand. Charlie looked pleased, as though he just scratched a winning lottery ticket. "I was thinking you'd only get a few thou out of the bike," he said. "There must be twice that much here."
Charlie seemed to finally pick up on Freedy's glowering at him. "What?"
"We have to get out of here," Freedy repeated. "We're being tracked."
"How do you know that?" Charlie asked sharply.
Freedy didn't really know how to answer. Somehow, he knew that he had to keep the Key a secret. The miners didn't have either the timidity and restraint that was Freedy's natural bent, nor the experience and intelligence of Garland. They would probably immediately try to mess with Horn and solve it all their problems in one stroke. Freedy knew it wasn't going to be that easy, and he knew that the real enemy was no longer the bombastic tycoon, Horn, but a much more secretive and powerful character who manipulated things from behind the scenes.
Charlie was looking at Freedy as if he was some kind of secret agent or something. Which he was, in a sense. He decided to play it up.
"I can't tell you, but you have to trust me. We're being chased and they could arrive at any moment."
Steve and Sam were looking at him not so much in surprise but with a kind of awe. "We probably ought to listen to him, Bossman."
Charlie stared at him and Freedy held his gaze. He rarely did that, he realized. His gaze mostly slid off the surface of things, catching things in a glance but never really lingering. So it was probably all the more impressive to their leader that he was so serious.
Charlie looked ready to object and then suddenly gave in. "All right. All right. Problem is, we don't have any gas and every station in town is closed."
"No problem, Charlie," Steve said. "We both have full tanks this time. We should be able to siphon enough to get to Tulsa. It's not as far as we thought, actually."
Somehow Freedy's anxiety was picked up by the others and they quickly and efficiently folded up camp. They were ready to head out within ten minutes.
"As soon as we get gas, we must head north instead of east," Freedy said, with as much authority as he could muster. The Dark Lord would be expecting them to heat to Tulsa and then down the interstate. They needed to head in a ninety degree different direction, Freedy sensed. Anywhere but Tulsa.
Again, Charlie looked ready to object, and then shrugged in surrender.
"One last thing," Freedy said. "Give me all your cellphone and computers."
"What?" Several them exclaimed at the same time. This was a real imposition. Most of them played video games in the long hours on the road. They'd call girlfriends at all the rest stops.
Freedy just held out a paper sack he scrounged from the nearest trash can and went from miner to miner who all hesitated but who all ended up placing their phones in the bag. One of the phones turned on accidentally, and Freedy heard the squawking of angry birds and the evil chuckle of a defiant pig.
Sheila held out the longest. "I'm supposed to always have it on me," she said.
"You have to trust me," Freedy pleaded.
She looked long and hard at him and then dropped it in with a soft clank.
Charlie refused to give him the one laptop they'd brought along.
"We need it for maps and things," he complained. Freedy didn't say anything, but just held out his hands. Finally, reluctantly, the computer was handed over.
Freedy marched over to the trash can and dropped both the bag of cellphones and the computer into the container.
"Now...we can go," he said.
4 days ago