I freeze. There are so many things I could do right now. I could run. I could ask the man who he is and what he wants with me. I could kick him, karate chop him, or scream at the top of my lungs. Or I could do something a little more tame like calmly stepping away and convincing him I’m not the person he’s looking for.
But my body won’t let me process beyond the “I could”s. I just stand there, frozen in place like a statue.
I see Jeremy out of the corner of my eye. He ran on several yards ahead before he noticed I’d been caught. He’s now frozen too, looking like he’s trying to decide whether to keep going so at least one of us gets away, or to come help me and thus make himself known to the man.
Go, I try to convey to him with my eyes.
He comes toward us. Of course.
“Yo!” Jeremy hollers when he’s still a few feet away, stopping and crossing his arms over his chest in an attempted “cool guy” posture. “Get your hands off my friend!”
Right. I’m his friend, not his sister. It’s safer that way.
The guy completely ignores Jeremy. I find that I can finally speak. “I don’t think I’m the person you’re looking for,” I say disdainfully. “I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“No, you haven’t,” he agrees. “But I’ve seen you, Krystie Williams. And I know your dad.”
My heart drops to the sidewalk. He knows. He knows who I am. …Right? Or is he just some creepy kidnapper dude who tries to lure kids into his van by saying “I know your parents”? He got my last name wrong, after all.
But he got my first name right. And for all I know, maybe Williams was yet another long-ago last name that I’d completely forgotten about.
I want to come up with a quick comeback, some snappy retort that makes it clear that I have no idea what he’s talking about because I am absolutely not Krystie Williams. But again, it’s like my brain and my body are frozen.
“Olivia,” says Jeremy, and I hope I’m the only one who can detect the quiver of fear in his voice. “Come on. Let’s get going.”
It takes me a ridiculously long amount of time to realize he’s talking to me, giving me yet another new alias. It takes me even longer to realize that this man isn’t holding on to me, not really. He just has his hand on my shoulder.
I take a step backward and finally find my voice. “I’m sorry,” I say to the man. “I think you have me mixed up with someone else.”
“No, I don’t,” he says evenly. “Because that--” he points a finger over his shoulder at Jeremy. “--is Jeremy Williams, your older brother. I don’t blame you for not remembering me. It’s been a good ten or eleven years since we last saw one another.”
I gulp. I’m willing to bet this man is telling the truth. What are the odds that he would randomly guess both my name and Jeremy’s?
The man removes his hand from my shoulder. I don’t run away. Neither does Jeremy. Maybe he’s thinking the same thing I’m thinking--that this man might have some answers.
The man smiles. It’s not the kind of smile that puts you at ease, but rather a careful, calculated smile. He knows his bait did the trick. He’s got us hooked until he gives us more information.
“What were you looking up on the computer?” the man asks.
“Why in the world would we tell you?” Jeremy retorts.
The man chuckles. “Combative, I see. I suppose it’s fair. I haven’t been the most forthcoming in my information. Let’s start over.” He holds his right hand out to me, as if expecting me to shake it. “I’m Christopher Blake. Your dad, Derek Williams, helped me out from a tough spot about ten years ago. We were good friends for a few years, then fell out of touch. I never knew what happened to him until a few days ago, when he gave me a phone call right out of the blue. Told me it was my turn to repay the favor by watching out for you kids. So here I am.”
I don’t know what Jeremy’s thinking, but it’s probably something along the lines of what I’m thinking, which is This story smells like a heaping lump of rotten garbage. Nothing about it makes sense in the slightest.
“Stalking people in a library is a great way to watch out for them,” Jeremy says sarcastically. “So is grabbing middle-school girls on the sidewalk as they walk by. You definitely seem like the kind of guy someone would want watching out for their kids.”
I desperately want to hear his answer about how he found us in the first place, but to ask that question, I’d probably have to admit that we are the people he was looking for. In fact, the more I think about it, the reason he concocted such an implausible story probably has something to do with him wanting us to give ourselves away by asking questions.
I stay silent.
“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” says Christopher. “Such as, how did your dad contact me? And how did I find you, since you’ve been nomading around in an old truck for the last day and a half?”
Another jolt of panic jumps through me. He knows about the truck?!
“The answers are simpler than you might think. Your dad is a smart one, with backup plans to his backup plans. He knew he might end up getting arrested. So he arranged a series of systems that would be put into place in the event of that happening. The most important thing was that he wanted to make sure that you--”
WHAM. Out of nowhere, something hits Christopher in the back of the head. He pitches forward, and I lunge out of the way of his falling body. He lands sprawled out on the small patch of grass next to the sidewalk.
“Let’s go before he comes to,” hisses a voice just to my right.
I look up to see Pam.