“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
~Shannon L. Alder
Roger turned away from the road for a moment and looked over at the sleeping girl next to him. She was only nineteen, hardly old enough to be a woman, but that hadn’t stopped the government from thrusting this duty upon her so young. He shook his head. Roger knew that a girl like Veronica had no business being here. She was the beauty queen of her class and the daughter of the most powerful people in their home of insiders.
In a way, he was in the same boat because Alex had always acted as a much older brother for him, even if they weren’t related, but it hadn’t always been that way. He thought back to before they were able to get inside the city. Life had been incredibly hard, and he had lost everything a person could. His family, pride, and even his home had been stripped from him before Alex and Will finally took pity on him. Veronica would never know that kind of hardship, and nor should she. This trip could change everything, however. Could she handle the cruelty of the real world?
As Veronica awoke, she saw Roger looking at her with concern. She rolled her deep green eyes in protest. She loved him like a brother . . . maybe even as much more than that at times, but his concern wasn’t needed. All of Raines’s citizens had to do their duty, and without her completing this simple task, a lot of people could be in trouble. Him not having faith in her was just one more indication that Roger would never think of her as his equal. She was younger, and she hadn’t experienced the hardship that he or her parents had, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t capable of everything they had done in their past.
This was her time to shine, and besides, it wasn’t like the outside world had shown any real danger besides a few storms. From what she had heard, the weather had started to even out over the last few years. Seasons were starting to return, and earthquakes almost didn’t happen at all in their region anymore. Most societies were democratic and civilized, too. As far as Veronica could tell, Roger was only being his overly paranoid self when he volunteered for this fetch quest to the west coast. Still, it was at least nice that she didn’t have to drive, not that she would have ever let him know that.
“It’s almost morning. Did you sleep well?” Roger asked and smiled.
She could never tell what that smile meant. Roger looked at her like no other man did with such intense love. It was like his eyes lit up whenever he looked at Veronica, and he only saw her. Did he think of her as a little sister? He was almost ten years older than her, so that would make the most sense, but she didn’t think of him that way, at least not lately. Roger had come all this way just to protect her, and now he was looking delighted just to see her awake after he had driven all night when she was the one who was supposed to be doing all the work. Didn’t that say something for how he felt about her?
“You should have woken me!” Veronica shot back.
“I know, but you were sleeping so well, and besides, the roads have been pretty rough. You’ve never learned to drive, so I figured it would be safer if I just handled this part of the job.”
It was true that the roads weren’t in the best shape once you crossed into Nevada. The desert had taken much of it, making it unclear what was road or what direction you were even going in. Roger suspected that he had veered off course many times, only to find an old half destroyed sign pointing him in the right direction soon after. With a rookie driver, they would have been lost within five minutes.
“Don’t do that! You know this was my job. You only came because . . . well, I’m honestly not sure why you did,” she said and looked at him expectantly. Veronica wanted Roger to spell out his true intentions, even if she knew that would never happen.
“To protect you, of course. After you wouldn’t let Alex come and that other kid disappeared, I pretty much had to.”
Veronica shook her head. Her father had always been protective of her. It was sweet, but at nineteen, it was starting to get a little annoying. She was an adult who was fully capable of getting this job done. As for the boy who was originally drafted to deliver the goods with her, Travis had always been a bit of a coward. Even back in school, he had passed on any school activities that involved contact or self-defense. It was no surprise that he had disappeared at the first sign that he might have to leave the safe walls of the city. He would resurface as soon as she returned, and thanks to the lenient system her parents had put into place before they stepped down from power, he would probably get by with a small fine that his parents would gladly pay for him.
“Look, I know you don’t want me here, but you need backup, and there really is no one better to help you,” Roger said.
“I never said I didn’t want you here! It’s not like I don’t appreciate the help. It’s just that . . .”
“You want them to see you for who you are, right?” Roger asked with a grin.
“Well, yeah. Right now I’m still a little girl to them, but I’m so much more than that,” Veronica said, sounding a bit dejected. Just the thought of how she would always be her parents’ daughter and never be viewed as a capable and independent person was almost enough to make her lose hope in the future.
“I know. I can see the same things in you that I saw in them so many years ago. You’re intelligent, kind, and most of all, strong,” Roger said reassuringly.
“So you get why I would be offended that no one thinks I can trade medicine with New Vegas then.”
“I do, but you’re more than just good things, you know.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re inexperienced, too. Things look perfectly safe right now, but you never know what could be lurking around the corner. You couldn’t possibly know the extent of how true that is because you’ve never left the walls, but it is. You’re capable of getting through anything you have to, but someone like me can help you if worse comes to worst.”
“If you say so. Anyway, why don’t you let me . . .” Veronica managed to say before they heard a loud pop, and the truck turned sideways.
As they slid on the sand covered road, she looked over at Roger’s almost always composed face. It was covered in panic, and for the first time, she knew this wasn’t just a routine trip. This was a descent into a world she knew nothing about.
The truck flipped, and their supplies spilled out into the road as the sparks flew and the screech of metal grinding on pavement echoed into Veronica’s ears. Then it mercifully subsided as they came to a sudden halt. She expected Roger to turn to her in concern. He would ask her if she was hurt at the very least, but in truth, she expected him to be beside himself with concern. That wasn’t what she saw, however. Instead of panic, his face now only showed a burning focus. On what, she didn’t understand, but Veronica would soon find out.
After Roger unbuckled his seat belt and fell onto the roof of the truck, he pulled his pistol off his side and started crawling out of the vehicle. Veronica wanted to say something . . . anything, but the words hung in her throat. Was this really happening? She had heard about stragglers outside of government control who would kill and rob back in the old days. They were taught as young children that they always had to be cautious if they left the city because of them, and as teenagers they were even trained to use guns in case of an emergency, but none of them had ever witnessed a crime on that scale. She thought that, much like other tales, her parents’ history had been exaggerated. The outside world didn’t equal a one-way ticket to death. It couldn’t, but yet here she was with a gun on her side and not enough nerve to actually use it.
Roger got to his feet once he was out of the truck and stared out into the distance in the dimly lit morning light. He didn’t see anyone, but he knew the culprits were close by. They had to be. Someone had buried road spikes in the sand, and they hadn’t done it for no reason. That was when he saw the sun glance off glass and a flash. He immediately hit the ground as a shot cried out and whistled just above his head. Roger then crawled behind the vehicle as Veronica joined him.
“Wh . . . what do we do?” she asked with complete fear in her voice.
“We don’t do anything. You stay here. I saw where our shooter was. He’s about eighty yards out with a rifle,” Roger said.
“All you have is a pistol. You can’t hit him from that far, can you?” Veronica asked.
“I don’t have a choice. Just stay low, and I’ll be back. I promise,” he said and pulled himself up.
At that point, Roger bolted toward the man with his gun raised. He had acted brave for Veronica, but he knew the truth. He was probably going to die today. Roger had always been a poor shot in general, and with a pistol, his odds of hitting anything other than dirt were next to none. Still, he had to do this. If he didn’t, there was no way Veronica would be safe.
Roger raised his gun and lined up the sights. He fired quickly and hastily, missing his target by a wide margin before firing wildly twice more. Then he heard it. A shot rang out, and Roger felt a stinging sensation in his left shoulder. It nearly knocked him off his feet, but somehow, he kept moving. In a last-ditch effort to end this, Roger aimed once again with shaky hands and more doubt than he had ever known and fired. Thankfully, he heard a man yell out this time as he hit his mark.
With no time to waste, Roger double-timed it toward his target who was now writhing in pain. The bullet had pierced his neck, but it hadn’t finished the job, and when Roger got to him, he saw something he had never wanted to witness again. As a child, he had seen people die. He had even killed one person himself, but never did he think it would be necessary again. Blood was gushing out of the man’s neck, and one thing was completely clear in that moment. Killing him was no longer a sin. Death would be a mercy for this suffering man.
“I would have given you whatever you needed if you had just asked. I’m sorry it had to end this way,” Roger said and fired a bullet through his skull.
With that finished, Roger looked back at the truck only to find more trouble. Four men were walking toward him, and they weren’t alone. One of them was holding Veronica at gunpoint. Roger didn’t want to fight these people, and he knew that if he did, they would both die, but what was the alternative? He could fight or surrender his life and Veronica’s into the hands of these men, and he didn’t think they would have any mercy. Most thieves never did. They took what they wanted and left no witnesses.
“Drop it!” the man holding Veronica said.
He was older. Roger would have guessed that he was in his mid-forties with long unkempt black hair that had plenty of gray mixed in. He was skinny, which wasn’t uncommon for the poor, and his men didn’t look like they were in any better shape. Under different circumstances, Roger might have pitied him. After all, he had basically been just like these people at one point in his life, but they were back in a world of kill or be killed, and pity had no place for people who wanted to survive.
“I don’t think that I will. Let her go!” Roger commanded.
“Does it look like you have any power here? You’re bleeding, and you just killed one of our men. You’ll have to die, but if you surrender peacefully, we might just let the girl live. She’s not bad looking. I’m sure some asshole in Hendricks would pay for company like hers,” he said with a grin.
“Do you have any idea who you’re holding?” Roger asked in what sounded like outrage. The truth was that his theatrics were just that. He had a plan that might just get him out of this alive and keep Veronica from being sold to anyone who would hurt her.
“No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me some wild story. Go ahead. Try to give me a reason to spare your lives. I’ve heard it all in my time.”
“That’s Veronica Morgan, Alex and Sarah Morgan’s daughter.”
“Please! Do you actually expect me to believe that the leaders of Raines have their daughter out running errands?” he asked and laughed.
“It’s true. Check my pocket,” Veronica quickly said.
Sure enough, he pulled out a Raines ID that confirmed her identity. He had never seen what the IDs looked like in Raines, but it seemed to be legitimate. Either these two were telling him an elaborate lie that they had prepared beforehand, or they were actually telling the truth. Either way, the risks were outweighed by the potential reward. If they were truly holding royalty, then they had the golden ticket to enough money to buy them citizenship to any city they wanted.
“I’m Desmond. What’s your name?” he asked and smiled.
“Well, I think we have a way out of this for everyone, Roger. I want ten million credits for this girl’s life. Give us your gun, and we’ll get you on your way back to Raines so you can tell her parents.”
Roger nodded and threw the gun into the dirt. He knew it was risky, but at this point that was the best option they had. Afterward, Desmond loosened his grip on Veronica and motioned for his men to flip Roger’s truck. Unfortunately, it wasn’t useable. All four tires were ruined, so with no other choice, they had to give Roger one of their vehicles.
“I’m going to need some assurances,” Roger said as he took a step toward the truck.
“You’re getting nothing in this deal, little man. I’m the one calling the shots,” Desmond said and scoffed while looking Roger’s 5’8” skinny frame over.
“Just don’t hurt her. If Veronica is harmed in any way, I can swear to you that you’ll get nothing other than a bullet from me.”
“Don’t threaten someone who could kill you where you stand,” Desmond said while glaring at him.
“Just don’t hurt her, please.”
“You have my word. Here, this is where you’ll find us,” he said and handed Roger a piece of paper with some coordinates on it.
“Thank you. Veronica, I swear I’ll come back for you. Just hang tight.”
She nodded, though her eyes didn’t tell the story of someone who was confident. Veronica looked panicked and like she was convinced that she was going to die. In truth, that was the most likely scenario. Others weren’t much better. She could picture being sold into slavery, and even if she wasn’t, there was no telling what these men would do to her while they waited for her parents to come with the ransom.
As Roger got into the truck and started his long journey home, he scowled at the thought of what these men could do to her. They could kill Veronica as soon as he left and simply wait for the money to be delivered to them. They could starve her, torture her, or even rape her. Men like this were never predictable, and honor wasn’t associated with them. The thought of any of those things happening to her was almost more than Roger could take. At that point, Veronica was the most important person to Roger. He couldn’t live without her, and what would Alex say about this? He had saved Roger’s life, and how was he repaying him? He had gotten his daughter captured by thugs who were going to kill her.
Back at the crash site, Veronica’s hands were bound, and she was dragged through the desert for a half-mile until they reached a jeep where they forced her into the back. She was seated between two men who stunk to high heaven. Neither of them smelled like they had taken a shower in weeks, but that should have been the least of her concerns. Just what kind of men was she stuck with? Would they kill her, hurt her, or even sell her into slavery?
“Relax. I might be a thief, but when I give my word I keep it. You won’t be hurt,” Desmond said as he glanced into the rear-view mirror and saw the worry on her face.
Veronica nodded, but she knew the truth. Her mother and father no longer ruled Raines. They didn’t have ten million credits, and they weren’t young anymore. Even so, she knew what they would do. Alex and Sarah would come for her, and that would only result in one thing. Death would be the end for all of them.
Veronica shook her head, knowing that her foolishness would be the death of everyone she loved. Why hadn’t she hidden like Travis? Life would have been so much easier. Who even knew if Roger would make it home to tell her parents after the gunshot he had sustained? Blood had covered his shirt back at the crash site, and she couldn’t imagine that he would last long without finding a doctor.
She should have been concerned. Nothing about the future was certain, and for one man, another job awaited some twenty odd years after the one that had changed Raines forever.
The Journey Begins
Alex Morgan awoke early as his body jerked itself awake. He sighed and shook his head. More and more rough awakenings were becoming routine. Alex didn’t know what it was this time. Sometimes dreams he couldn’t remember would be the culprits for ripping him away from his sleep, and at others it would be worry for his daughter. Veronica was far away by now, though. In fact, the job could even be finished for all he knew and she was on her way back. Still, as a father he worried.
Ultimately, Alex knew there was no need for that, however. He had asked Roger to go with her, and there was no one else in this world he trusted more besides Sarah. Roger would protect Veronica if there were any need in it, which he wasn’t so sure there would be. Alex hadn’t left the safe city walls in well over four years, and back when he did, it looked much better than he remembered. It could be that the age of survival of the fittest was over, and no one had to worry about anything other than some warm weather outside of the walls.
Alex turned over and looked at his still sleeping wife. Sarah was just as gorgeous as she had ever been. After two kids, he had expected her to change, and she did for a while, but Sarah had ultimately lost the baby weight and stayed in peak condition. In some ways, he thought that she might be even more beautiful than the girl he met so long ago, but that was only in his mind. Sarah was an attractive woman, but age had left its little marks with a few wrinkles that were just starting to show, some stretch marks from their children, and the mature and somewhat less optimistic eyes that come with life experience. For him, every mark and every look was a map leading back to what they had been through, however. It was their story, and the more of it he saw in her, the more Alex could see the type of beauty that only comes with time.
As Alex quietly got up and walked out of their large master bedroom, he stepped into the bathroom to see something that wasn’t exactly a beautiful sight to him. Age might have suited Sarah, but the man staring back at him in the mirror looked almost unrecognizable to him. In his twenties, he had been muscular and athletic. Now he was in his late forties, however, and muscle had turned to fat as he transitioned from being a fighter to the ruler at Sarah’s side. Sure, it wasn’t all bad. He had lost some of the weight, and his arms weren’t exactly small. He had at least retained half of the muscle on them, and the definition was definitely still there, but his six pack abs had been replaced with a bulge of fat that showed more than he would like. Sarah had told him it was normal for a man of his age. After all, it wasn’t like he was overweight, though he was right on the cusp of being there. His doctor was already warning about his elevated cholesterol and blood pressure.
Alex sighed. How had he gotten here, and what would Jake think if he could see him now? He had gone from a street fighter who was better than anyone he knew with a gun to an aging and ailing man who hadn’t picked up a gun in over a decade. Maybe Jake would scold him, saying he had gone soft . . . literally. Then again, this just might have been Jake’s goal all along. Living in a world where he didn’t have to fight or shoot wasn’t so bad, was it?
Alex splashed some water on his face and brushed his teeth. It still amazed him after all this time that this could be his place. The bathtub was huge with jets all around it, and the double sink with a marble top was an extravagance that he had no idea would be an option. Back in the streets outside of Raines, they didn’t even have running water. They would have to rinse off in the streets, oftentimes naked in front of neighbors. Maybe I can handle being a chubby aging man with luxuries like this, he thought and smiled.
After he was done, Alex walked into the kitchen where he popped some bread into the toaster. He had been advised to stay away from bread by his doctor, but that wasn’t happening. Some eggs, toast, and hash browns would be the perfect way to start the morning. Coffee was also a necessity. Just after he had put the coffee on, Alex heard a knock at the door. Then he heard another a second later, only this one was louder and more rapid, like whoever was on the other side was in a hurry.
“Hold on! I’ll be there in a second!” Alex yelled, annoyed that the noise had probably woken up his wife and son.
“Alex, we ran into some trouble, and you’ve got to come quickly!” Roger said, panic showing on his face, as Alex opened the door.
“What do you mean you ran into trouble?” Alex asked as he studied the dread on Roger’s face. Why wasn’t Veronica there, and was Roger about to give him the worst news possible? Could his daughter be dead?
“They got her!”
“What are you talking about? Who got who, and where is Veronica?” Alex asked, hoping against everything he felt in his bones that somehow this would be okay.
“It’s a long story, but some men captured Veronica.”
“You lost my daughter?” Alex asked in disbelief. He hadn’t meant to sound so accusatory, but it came out that way out of instinct. If Alex hadn’t been so worried in that moment, he would have regretted the harshness in his tone.
“No, it wasn’t like that! We were in Nevada, and I could barely stay on the road because in most places sand was covering it. In one of those spots, some people had buried road spikes. I hit them, and we flipped. After that, a sniper tried to pick us off. I got hit, but I was able to kill him. Four other guys got to Veronica and held her hostage, though. I didn’t want to drop my gun, but they were going to kill her.
“I thought quickly just like you always taught me to. I told them who she was. Common people still think you and Sarah rule Raines, so it was enough to pique their interests. They think that they can get ten million credits from you by holding her hostage. I know we don’t have that kind of money, but it was the only play I had. If I hadn’t pretended she was the daughter of someone who could pay any amount of credits for her safety, then they would have killed us right there. You have to believe me on one thing, Alex. I did everything I could. I would die before I let her be killed. You know that, right?”
Alex could see the hurt in his eyes. Roger loved Veronica. How much he loved her Alex wasn’t sure. They had an odd attachment to each other. When Veronica was a girl, that attachment had been more like he was a big brother, but lately he thought his daughter looked at him in a different way. That wasn’t quite acceptable for Alex, given that Roger was a decade older, but it was why he knew concretely that Roger was telling the truth. He had done everything he could, and there was no use in torturing him by blaming Roger for this mess.
“It’s okay . . . well, it’s not really, but this isn’t your fault. You did well just by giving us some time. Do you know where these men are right now?” Alex asked, now looking more composed. He didn’t feel calm, but he knew that Roger wasn’t, and when Sarah heard this news she would immediately panic. Someone had to hold it together, and that responsibility was going to fall to him.
“Thank you for that. They gave me some coordinates to find them. How are we going to fix this, though?” Roger asked anxiously.
“Simply. I’m going to see them, and when it’s all said and done, no one will ever have to worry about those men again.”
“Slow down a minute! You haven’t left the walls in how long?” Roger asked with doubt. He knew how capable Alex had been before their lives changed, but that felt like a lifetime ago now.
“I still know how to shoot, and I’ll do anything to get her back, Roger. Now, are you going with me?”
“And I am, too,” Alex’s son, Lee, said as he stepped out of his room.
“No, you aren’t!” Sarah said as she walked into the living room.
“How much did the two of you hear?” Alex asked and sighed, knowing that it was now too late to derail the metaphorical runaway train that was coming his way. There was no way he was getting Sarah to stay home, and keeping Lee there wouldn’t exactly be easy either.
“Pretty much everything. You two weren’t exactly talking low. If my sister is in danger, then I can help. You know I can!” Lee pleaded. His plea sounded a bit childish to Alex. It was more like a little boy’s cry not to be left behind than a concerned brother.
“No, and that’s the last we’re going to hear about it. Go to your room, so your father and I can talk,” Sarah said.
“Mom, I . . .” he managed to say before she interrupted him.
“Please, Lee! This is hard enough already,” Sarah said, showing the cracks that Alex feared she would.
He nodded, even though he was tired of being treated like a child. After all, he was seventeen. His dad had started working on things much more dangerous than this when he was only fourteen. In the old world, he would have been a man, but now he was just a boy under his parents’ thumbs.
“What’s the plan?” Sarah asked.
“We’re packing all the guns we have, and I’m going to get her back. It’s just that simple,” Alex answered.
“What about the people here? Surely some of them would help us.”
“That’s wishful thinking at best. People are safe inside the walls, and unless they’re drafted to do something, they don’t leave. As someone who’s been out there, I don’t blame them.”
“Well, then let’s do this,” she said.
“Let’s? You aren’t going anywhere. You can’t.”
“And why can’t I?” Sarah asked. He could tell it was a loaded question. Alex couldn’t tell her not to go, or it would start a fight, and he didn’t have time for that right now.
“Look, I know from experience that you’re the best person to help me with something like this, but what about Lee? We’ve got one child who’s in danger. We don’t need another. Stay here, and look after him,” Alex said, trying to appeal to her with reason.
“Nice try, but he’s seventeen. He can look after himself for a few days.”
“I know that, but we might not be coming back. He looks like a man, but he isn’t yet. Lee will need someone if this goes south, so one of us has to stay. You know that deep down.”
“So you stay then,” she said, not meeting his eyes. Sarah knew that wasn’t even an option. Alex would go, no matter what.
“We don’t have time for this. Talk while we load the guns and pack,” Roger interrupted, hoping it would speed this process along.
They loaded the guns first, and all the while, Alex and Sarah talked about what to do. It sounded like they were arguing, but Roger knew better. They weren’t angry with each other. They were desperate and afraid - afraid that their daughter would die - afraid that one of them might not be coming home. Thankfully, by the time they started packing their clothes, they had finally quieted down, and the near shouting match had turned into an understanding conversation between two people who were simply worried.
“Hey, come here for a second,” Lee said to Roger as he stood out in the hallway.
“What is it?” Roger asked after stepping into his room.
“You said there were four guys, right?”
“Yeah, but why?”
“Well, there are only two of you. There will be three if Mom goes, but I was thinking. The odds still won’t be in your favor. You could use another man to pull a trigger, and I had weapon’s training in school. You know I’m right about this, so convince Dad to let me go.”
Roger thought for a moment. It was true that having help would be good, but one of Alex’s children was already in danger. Putting another one in harm’s way was completely out of the question. Besides, he cared about Lee like he was family. Taking a risk with his life seemed wrong.
“I’m sure we could use you, but you don’t know what it’s like out there. You aren’t prepared for it, so do yourself a favor, and stay here. It’s for the best,” Roger said.
“That is complete bull . . .” he said before Roger cut him off.
“It’s not my decision, but I care about you. Trust me when I say you’re better off here. I tried to tell your sister that, and look at where she is now.”
Lee conceded and gave Roger a nod. At that point, Roger walked back into the living room to find that all of Alex and Sarah’s bags had been packed. Apparently, they were both going. In truth, he thought it was for the best. They needed another person there if they hoped to succeed, and from what he had heard, Sarah was almost as capable as Alex back in their day.
“Great. So it’s decided then. We’re all going,” Roger said.
“It is. We need to tell Lee, though,” Sarah said.
“I’ll get the truck started. They left me with the perfect vehicle for the job. It’s the blue truck just across the street. Join me when you’re done,” Roger said and walked out.
It was tough, but they explained to Lee why they had to go. Surprisingly, he took it better than either of them thought he would. Alex thought he almost took it too well, but he didn’t have time to worry about what his son might be planning while they were away. They were several hours away from getting their little girl back, and even when they got there, he had no idea how they were going to do this.
Once they walked outside, Alex found that the truck truly was perfect for the job. It was a large four-wheel drive with a covered bed where they could put their things. He was surprised Veronica’s kidnappers had given Roger such a nice vehicle to travel in, but then again, they were expecting ten million credits out of this deal. They wanted their messenger to get home safely.
“I’m driving,” Alex said emphatically and nodded for Roger to scoot over. Roger was soon met with a glance from Sarah, too, signaling for him to get into the back seat. He understood. Alex and Sarah had a lot to discuss on the way, and after driving all night, he could use some rest.
“This is where you’ll need to go,” Roger said and passed him the piece of paper with the coordinates on it.
“Good. Sarah, can you look the location up on the map?” Alex asked.
“I’m on it,” she said as the truck started to move.
They didn’t get halfway through the city before Alex suddenly stopped, however. Roger was already half asleep when the brakes slung him forward, bringing him back to the waking world. He started to ask Alex just what he was doing, but he spied the exact reason they had stopped. Travis, the draft-dodging coward, was standing on the side of the street. In truth, the kid would have done them no good, but Alex had a certain look in his eyes. His daughter was missing, and he needed someone to blame it on. Travis was as good as any other person to throw his anger at.
“Don’t do any . . .” Roger managed to say before Alex slung the truck into park and bolted out of the vehicle.
He sighed, knowing what he had to do. Roger jumped out of the truck and chased after him. It didn’t take long for Travis to see the angry father coming toward him, and he ran for the alley. Alex might have been older than he used to be, but years of having to be quick had taught him how to run like his life depended on it. Travis, on the other hand, had lived a life of privilege and had the speed and stamina of a couch potato. Halfway down the alley, Alex tackled him to the ground. Travis immediately covered his head. He didn’t know why Veronica’s father was after him, but he knew this was going to be painful.
“I’m sorry! Just don’t hurt me!” Travis yelled, his voice cracking in fear as he did.
“You left it all to her, and look what happened! You’re a coward and a fool! Do you think all of this came for free! Men like me had to build it! We all have to do our part, and you . . . you let her get . . .”
“He didn’t do anything, Alex! Get off him!” Roger yelled.
“That’s exactly right! He didn’t do anything, and there should be a price for that.”
“What happened? Just tell me, and I can make this right,” Travis pleaded.
“Veronica was taken on the road. The people who have her want more credits than I have to give, and now we have to go fight for her life. If her partner had been there, maybe things would be different.”
“I was just scared, okay? I didn’t mean for anything bad to happen.”
“Well, something bad is about to happen to you if you don’t come up with a better excuse than you were a coward!” Alex threatened.
“Wait a second! Just listen to me. I didn’t go when I should have, and I get that you’re angry about that, but what if I made it up to you now?”
“And how could you possibly do that?”
“I’ll help you get her back, if you just don’t hurt me.”
Alex looked at him skeptically. If he were scared of a man approaching fifty hitting him, then would he really be any help in a firefight? It seemed unlikely, but they did need as much help as they could get.
“You heard him. Now get off the kid, and let’s go,” Roger said.
Alex nodded and stood. He reached a hand down to Travis and helped him up. The boy still looked afraid, but he was a bit calmer than before.
“From this point forward, we’re going to be journeying through some dangerous territory, but I need to get her back, and this is partially your responsibility. Can we really count on you?” Alex asked.
“Yes, sir,” Travis said more confidently than Alex expected. As he looked the boy over, he found that he at least had the build of a man with a six-foot frame and what looked like a little muscle definition. Maybe he’ll be useful in a fight with some mentoring, Alex thought.
“All right, then do what I say at all times, and we’ll get Veronica back and get home safely.”He nodded, and the three of them walked back to the truck where their journey was finally beginning. Alex had never wanted to leave the walls again, but this was the most important thing he would ever do. For him, it would truly change everything.