Brad pulled up across the street from the school and hung there with the engine idling, watching a group of younger boys laughing and shoving each other around on the steps of the building. Had there ever been a time when he had been that carefree? As if in answer, a picture flashed into his mind of himself as a ten-year-old, roughhousing with his friend, Jamie, during recess. Taller and stronger than Brad was back in their preteens, it had been Jamie who had taught him to stand up for himself so he wouldn't get picked on. Over the years he'd had some wonderful times with Jamie, but he had never been part of a group the way these boys were.
Excerpted from The Twisted Window by Lois Duncan Copyright © 1988 by Lois Duncan. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
The kids on the steps eventually began drifting over to the bicycle rack. Brad put the car into gear. There was nothing more he could do until evening, he told himself, so he might as well drive back to the motel and watch some television.
Pulling away from the curb, he shifted into second. That was when he saw her, a little more than half a block ahead of him on the far side of the street. He recognized her instantly, even from the back, by the set of her shoulders and her graceful, long-strided walk. Although he had seen her for the first time only the day before, already she seemed incredibly familiar.
He glanced at his watch and then back at the girl on the sidewalk. It was late for her to be leaving school. He wondered what could have held her there this long. The sight of her at a time when he had not been looking for her made him feel like the recipient of an undeserved present. Without making a conscious decision to follow her, he kept the car in second gear and inched it along, letting the distance widen between them so that if for some reason she turned to look back, she would not notice he was tailing her. She walked two blocks along Third Street and then turned onto Rosemont. When, a few moments later, Brad, too, came opposite the corner, he was startled to find that she had vanished.
Not vanished, he corrected himself. Nobody just vanishes. Maybe she had entered one of the houses on the west side of the street. That didn't seem reasonable, though, since the Stevensons' address had been listed in the phone book as being on South Cotton. A second possibility occurred to him; perhaps she had crossed the street and gone into the park. A gravel path ran diagonally in from the corner, but a row of trees and a screen of flowering bushes cut off his view of the interior, so he could not tell whether or not she had entered.
Once again, acting strictly on impulse, Brad stopped the car, turned off the motor, and got out. He crossed Rosemont and walked down the path until he came to the inner edge of the clump of trees. Standing in a pocket of shadow formed by the leafy branches, he was surprised at the extent of his relief at seeing Tracy some twenty yards ahead of him.
He struggled against the temptation to call out her name. For a moment he actually contemplated doing so. He had intended a slower approach--first a casual phone call, then perhaps a movie date, and, if those went well, the initiation of an in-depth talk during which he would explain to her what had to be done. Much as he hated the idea of wasting time in such a manner, he had been afraid that if he moved too quickly she might refuse him. He had thought he would start the ball rolling by phoning her that evening. Now he found himself wondering if the elaborate preparation was necessary.
While he was trying to decide whether to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity or to stick with his original, more carefully conceived plan, Tracy broke into a run. The suddenness of her flight took Brad by such surprise that he froze where he was and then moved hastily back into the protective covering of the bushes. What in the world had happened? he asked himself. He was not aware of having made a sound. She had not glanced over her shoulder, so there seemed to be no way she could have known he was there. Somehow, though, she had sensed it, and that realization had been enough to send her skittering away like a frightened rabbit.
Brad silently cursed himself for his own stupidity. How could he have been idiotic enough to have let this happen! Now she was all worked up, and by this evening when he made his phone call, she would probably have developed a full-blown case of the jitters. There was no telling what the result of that might be. She might not even be willing to come to the phone.
The one thing he did know for certain was that it was imperative that he get out of her range of vision before she reached the edge of the hedgerow and decided to turn around to look behind her.
Hurrying back along the path to the street, he quickly got into his car and turned the key in the ignition, cringing as the afternoon quiet was broken by the roar of the engine springing to life. There was no way Tracy could have missed hearing that racket, he thought grimly, and it was bound to reinforce her suspicion that she had been followed. He knew her too slightly to be able to predict her reaction. She might panic further at this indication that someone had indeed been spying on her, or she might throw caution to the winds and rush back to investigate.
Either way, he knew he had to get out of the area. Brad threw the car into gear and clamped his foot down hard on the accelerator, glancing apprehensively into the rearview mirror as he did so. He could see no sign of Tracy, but that did not necessarily mean that she would not come popping out from behind the trees at any moment.
With that thought in mind, he drove the first few blocks of Rosemont as though it were the Indianapolis Speedway. Then, reminding himself that the last thing he needed was to get arrested, he slowed to comply with the residential speed limit and drove carefully back to the Trade Winds Motel. Parking in his designated space, he got out of the car, fumbled in his pocket for the key, and let himself into unit twenty-three.