At first the growl feels like part of the storm, a base ingredient of the pounding thunder. Wind and rain against the pine needles; water drumming on the ground; even my heartbeats help mask the low-pitched rumble.
But as I work farther east, slipping stealthily from tree to bush and then back to tree again--think Elmer Fudd stumbling after Bugs Bunny--the rain gradually diminishes and a steady, background hum becomes loud and distinctively rhythmic.
It’s a familiar noise, one that quickly eases the tension in my neck and shoulders.
Car and bus tires race across cement.
I’ve found the Garden State Parkway.
Hiding under that tarp as long as I did--I look at it as more of a strategic retreat, really--I’m hoping Bluefish’s posse thinks their prey escaped. Or at least that I headed in another direction. If they play the percentages, they should have split into smaller hunting parties by now, shifted to multiple locations.
Besides NYPD Blue, I watch the cable channels a lot. Special Forces stories are my favorite, although I find Cooking with Emeril fulfilling as well. What this training tells me, if I’m full-boat Carr lucky, Bluefish’s Team of Terror has given up looking for me on this direct route to the Parkway.
Of course, luck hasn’t exactly been my long suit lately.
Good thing I’m not in any real danger.
Emotionally, these last fifty yards are going to be the toughest. Do I break for the fence or not? I’m torn between fear and greed. Kinda like being a day trader. I can see the Parkway traffic passing south, see the bordering fence has no barbed wire, even that the grass apron is wide and long enough for Luis to pick me up here. But if I were Bluefish, this spot due east of the lodge is exactly where I would station one of my details.
I check the time on my cell phone. Notice how everything’s mine now, not Gianni’s. That’s because I just lugged this bag and its contents through an insurgent-held neighborhood of the Pine Barrens.
I’ve earned this stuff.
The digital phone tells me four-fifty-four. Good. I still have over an hour before Luis said he’d be here.
The stench of gasoline exhaust chokes my throat as I grip the chain link fence. I throw my right leg atop the five-foot barrier and use toes and arms to hoist myself over.
That wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse trouble mounting women.
I stumble when I land, though, capsizing onto wet grass. My thick jacket cushions the blow, but a sharp rock stabs my shoulder as I roll away from the landing. Ouch. Those military TV shows make everything look so safe and easy. Who knew you could get hurt hopping a fence?
A single star shines between drizzling clouds. And then, through the same hole in the fading storm, the moon grins at me from an eerie angle, a twisted curve reminiscent of Creeper as jack-o-lantern. The breeze, suddenly colder, chills my gut.
(To read the opening scenes of BIG MONEY, click on top headline. Or check out the archives for ALL previous chapters.)