It took the better part of an hour to clear the dirt from the top of the hatch on the ground behind the fence.
“This was just covered,” he’d told Candy, fetching his shovel from his trunk. “Let’s see what’s under there.”
What ended up being under there was disappointment–it was little more than an abandoned and neglected tornado shelter.
“They had some kind of computer equipment in here,” he called up to her. “Late seventies. See the clean parts on the walls where the consoles were mounted? And the plate covers on the plugs, they’re mostly white except for the edges. Something’s been covering them. Someone very recently removed a whole bunch of stuff that was plugged in. Why? What the hell were they doing in here?”
“Who?” she asked, her hair dangling down into the hatch and dancing back and forth in front of the beam of her flashlight.
“Probably those guys I saw in the vans. Hold on, I’m coming up.”
“Vans?” she asked him as soon as he was back above ground. “What vans?”
“Oh, yeah, guess I didn’t mention those. You were a little preoccupied. Saw these two conspicuous white vans in town on the way over after the break-in. Had to be feds.”
“Why couldn’t they be from like, the electric company? Independent contractors?”
“Because they weren’t.”
“Oh, okay. Guess I’m just a stupid girl, I wouldn’t understand.”
“Shut up. Can’t you turn it off and be serious? This is deep shit, whatever this is. It’s not important how I know they’re feds. It’s an instinct, okay?”
“You’re covered in mud,” she said. “Bet you wish you had something else to put on instead of that stupid suit.”
“I do, as a matter of fact. My gym bag is in my trunk. It’s got a post-shower change of clothes and shoes.”
“I think you’d better change,” she said.
“Yeah. I think you’re right.” He smirked. “You know, you’re not the first woman to tell me that.”
She rolled her eyes, and they went back to the car. He checked his phone when he popped the trunk. Still nothing from Shonda.
He got the bag out and slammed the door shut; changed very quickly into jeans and a plain black Hanes pocket tee. Candy watched him with her arms folded, not even bothering to pretend not to look.
“Nice legs,” she said.
He ignored her. They got back in the car and drove to the outskirts of Groundswell’s Southeast corner. Logan parked behind a cluster of trees that adequately concealed the vehicle and they set off through the woods on foot.
For nearly twenty minutes they trudged across rocky, wooded terrain in relative silence, until a house came into view.
When they reached the house, they saw others, and from there they began to see rusted tractors embedded in mounds of hard, red clay. They saw boarded up feed stores and other businesses with hail-shattered signs that had long ago been claimed by nesting birdsand. They saw old, stripped cars, crumbling schools and churches, and other ancient relics of the American Dream. It was a true ghost town.
“Groundswell,” said Logan.
Candy looked at him. “No duh, Captain obv–”
He placed a hand over her mouth, and she was about to protest when she spotted the reason.
“Are you supposed to have mountain lions here?” he whispered in her ear.
She shook her head. “No, I mean, I don’t think they’re native to Oklahoma but I’ve heard of people seeing them. It’s rare, though.”
“It’s what?” Candy was speaking so softly that Logan could barely make out what she was saying.”
“I said it’s rare,” she said, just a touch louder.
The mountain lion, draped across a fallen telephone pole that rested on the remains of a partially-collapsed building raised its head and met their eyes.
“Shit,” said Logan. “Don’t move.”
The cat stood, stretched and came creeping towards them.
“Shit,” he repeated. “Change of plans. “Run. Follow me.”
He darted across the street and into a pawn shop that somehow had managed to retain both its door and windows–an impressive feat, even with the bars covering them.
Candy stayed on his heels and dived through the door, skidding across the cracked and dusty tile floor inside. Logan slammed the door shut as the mountain lion leapt through the air and bonked its head against the bars. It jumped to its feet and clawed at the door, its growling, snarling face watching them through grimy glass.
“Quite a situation we’ve gotten ourselves into here,” said Candy, pulling herself to her feet and dusting off her clothes. How do you propose we get out of it?”
Logan watched the big cat as it grew increasingly frustrated. It turned and left.
“Oh,” said Candy. “That was easy. I thought we were trapped.”
Logan directed her to a window to their right. “We are.”
The cat was sniffing around the edges of the window, examining it for an entry point. It found none and moved on.”
Candy’s eyes lit up. “Hey! Wait! I know what to do. Give me your keys.”
“Just do it!”
He shrugged, dug his keys out of his pocket and tossed them to her. She grabbed a hammer that was sitting on the counter, took it to another window and smashed out its pane.
“What the hell are you–”
The cat came into view, to investigate the source of the noise and Candy shined Logan’s laser pointer through the jagged hole in the glass.
The mountain lion pounced on the little red dot, which to his confusion was now on top of his paw.
Candy moved the dot, and the mountain lion pounced on it again. Before long, she’d moved him across the street, where he’d chased the dot through the doorway of a barbershop.
“You’re a genius,” said Logan. “Come on.”
Hand-in-hand, they exited the pawn shop through the back door and took off down the alley behind the shop.