End of Chapter Four: Molly walked past him without raising her head. She could feel Jace’s racing heartbeat where his warm body hung over her arm.
“Young lady with the gorilla,” a deep voice boomed from behind them. “Wait right there.”
Icy fingers of fear squeezed Molly’s heart as Andre turned around to look at the speaker.
“Oh, crap,” he muttered.
Molly looked up at him. “Get out of here,” she hissed, as the man approached. “Now!”
Andre stared at her. “I’m not leaving you-”
Molly glared at him. “I don’t care what you’re selling,” she said in a loud voice. “I don’t want your tickets. It’s a scam. Get away from me!” Shoving Andre hard in the chest with her free hand, she turned her back on him and walked several feet to one side, just a man’s large hand came down on her shoulder.
Chapter Five – Toy Gorilla
If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.
James Herriot ~ British Writer (1916-1995)
Molly gave a little shriek when the hand came down on her shoulder. Wrenching her shoulder down, she spun around to face her assailant.
“Whoa there, young lady,” the man said. “I just wanted to ask you where you got the toy gorilla?” He pointed to Jace, who hung limp in Molly’s arms. “It’s so realistic.”
Molly’s cheeks burned as she stared back at the man. He wasn’t one of the park keepers. Dressed in plaid trousers and a cable-knit sweater, he reminded her of photos she’d seen while researching men’s fashion trends for her ‘Family and Consumer Sciences’ class, but his crew cut seemed almost military.
She took a step back and glanced over at Andre.
Andre stood twenty feet away, arms folded, watching her intently.
The man followed her gaze with interest, and Molly’s skin tingled as goosebumps formed on her skin. Something was very wrong.
“Uh, excuse me. I have to go,” Molly muttered. She turned to walk away.
The man’s fingers clamped around her wrist. “I don’t think so,” he said, all pretense of the friendly stranger vanishing from his voice. “You’d better follow me, quietly, back into the park.” He lowered his head until his cheek brushed her hair. “We don’t want to cause a panic or frighten the gorilla, now, so keep your mouth shut and walk.”
Molly clutched Jace against her chest. She debated whether or not to scream, drawing attention to herself, and immediately dismissed it. Jace’s heartbeat thumped against her shirt, competing with her own. She had no idea how long he would play ‘toy gorilla,’ and the man was right. People were hurrying past them on both sides, exiting the park due to the fire.
Then it happened.
A loud boom sounded from inside the park, accompanied by a mushroom cloud of dark grey and black smoke. People screamed, and the man lost his grip on her wrist when a woman carrying a child shoved past him.
Molly whirled to run, but the man’s reflexes were even faster. He reached for Molly’s jacket, but missed, grabbing a handful of her hair. She cried out in pain as he yanked her back.
Jace came to life and sank his teeth deep into the pudgy flesh between the man’s thumb and forefinger.
With a howl and a stream of foul language, the man let go, clutching his bleeding hand.
Molly flew across the area, dodging in and out of the masses of people now fleeing the park in earnest. Sirens filled the air, as Molly caught up with Andre.
“Come on, this way,” he gasped and ran back toward the far side of the entrance.
“Are you crazy?” Molly shouted, but she followed him, scanning the area for the man in the plaid pants.
“No, hide in plain sight,” Andre said, ducking behind an abandoned food stand. “He will expect you to try and leave.”
Seconds later, they crouched behind the large silver freezer portion of the food stand, watching as emergency services converged on the entrance to the park. The man in the plaid pants appeared out of the crowd and ran toward the parking area. Pulling a cell phone out of his pocket, he spoke into it, before turning and heading back inside the park, flashing an identification badge as he passed the attendants.
Jace lifted his hand and touched Molly’s face. “Jace scared,” he said, in a soft voice. He buried his face against her shoulder.
Molly and Andre exchanged a glance as Molly stroked the gorilla’s fur. “Sshhh,” she murmured. “It’s okay. I’ll keep you safe. I promise.” Tears filled her eyes, and she bit her lip, berating herself for making a promise she had no idea how she was going to keep. Memories flooded her mind, and she squeezed back tears. When Madeline was dying, Molly had begged her to stay, promising to do anything, give her anything if she just wouldn’t die and leave her alone. It hadn’t worked. Molly hated promises.
Sniffing, she nudged Andre with her shoulder. “Who do you think that guy was?”
“He wasn’t one of the keepers. Not dressed like that.”
Molly nodded. “I know.”
“Government agency, maybe?” He gave Molly a wan smile. “Any ideas as to what you want to do now? Maybe we should try to put him back.”
Molly shook her head and winced as Jace’s long fingers grasped her shirt. Wide brown eyes met hers, and he shook his head.
“No,” he whispered. “Bad man hurt Jace.”
Andre jumped to his feet. “Now, let’s go,” he snapped. Dashing out from behind the cooler, he made a beeline for an approaching car.
“What the-” Molly began.
Andre opened the passenger door, greeting the driver by name.
He jumped in and held out his arms for Jace, who was once again acting like a toy.
Molly scrambled in behind him and closed the door. Looking up she saw the sign identifying this driver as one of the Lyft drivers who picked people up at the parks.
As if reading her mind, Andre tilted his phone screen toward her, displaying the online order of the transport – Adam in a blue Toyota Corolla.
“Cute toy you got there,” Adam, the driver, said conversationally.
Molly nodded but didn’t speak.
Moments later, the driver pulled up at their hotel. Andre thanked him, and they climbed out, hurrying along the back pathway through the thick shrubs and trees to reach the building where they were staying with their families.
“Now what?” Andre said, a crooked grin spreading across his face.
Molly wiped a sheen of sweat from her brow. “Now, I have to figure out how to stop the twins from tearing him limb-from-limb.”
Jace squeaked, and Molly held him closer. “Just kidding. I’ll act like the selfish teenage daughter my mother thinks I am and refuse to let them touch you.”
Reaching into her pocket, she took her phone out and pressed the side button to turn it on. The screen lit up over and over, as dozens of text messages flashed on the screen.
“Oooh, girl. You’re in serious trouble,” Andre said, wincing as Molly held the phone up as she scrolled through the messages from her mother.
“Molly, call me the minute you get this message.”
“Did you shut your phone off again?”
“That’s it, young lady. You’re grounded.”
“I can’t believe how irresponsible you are.”
“Your brothers need to go home. And where are you? Galavanting around the parks with Andre.”
“We’re checking out the minute you get back here.”
“WHERE ARE YOU? YOU ARE IN SO MUCH TROUBLE.”
Molly sniffed. “Nothing new about that.”
The text messages continued.
“I called Andre’s mother. She said he’s not answering his phone either, but I shouldn’t worry. She said she trusts him.”
“Must be nice to have a child you can trust.”
Molly shoved the phone back in her pocket just as it began to vibrate in her hand. With a deep sigh, she looked at Andre. “Wish me luck.”
“Yeah. I hope you make it home. How are you going to-” Andre waved a hand in Jace’s direction, “I mean if he needs to, uh, go to the bathroom?”
Molly gave him an innocent smile. “Guess I will have to develop a case of the stomach flu and need lots of stops on the drive home.’
Andre winced. “Sucks to be you, girl. She’s gonna be even madder at you for that.”
Molly rolled her eyes. “You have no idea.”
Andre touched her arm. “Call me, or text me. Keep me posted.”
“Molly, there you are,” a male voice called out from the sidewalk by the pool.
“Dad,” Molly said.
“Hi, Andre, hi Princess,” Molly’s dad said as he joined them. He glanced at Jace. “Whatcha got there?”
A car horn beeped.
“Never mind,” he said, with a grimace. “That’s your mom. She’s ready to go, and she’s hotter than Hades right now. I didn’t think you took any money. What’d you do? Steal it?” He patted Molly’s shoulder. “Just kidding.
Andre opened his mouth to answer, but Molly cut him off with a glare.
“I kind of won it.”
“And now your brothers are going to be fighting over it big time. Sucks to be you.”
Molly snorted. “You really have no idea, either of you.”
She turned and followed her dad to the parking lot.
They’d almost reached their vehicle when Jace whispered. “Potty.”
Molly froze. “I’m too young for this,” she muttered.
“What did you say?” her father asked, opening the car door.
A shriek echoed from inside the van. She looked in. Ryker was moving his hands, forming the word for bathroom.
“I’ll take him,” Molly said, reaching in to grab his hand.
At that moment, she could have kissed her little brother.
“Dad, would you do me a favor and pull up by the front lobby?”
“The walk won’t hurt either of you,” came the reply.
Molly gave an exasperated sigh and began walking. “It might if anyone recognizes Jace.” Her brother’s hand felt warm in hers. He looked up at her and smiled, before signing ‘Thank you,’ just as Jace, who was draped over her shoulder, turned his head a fraction of an inch and kissed her cheek.
Molly grinned. “Thanks,” she said, making sure Ryan could see her lips. “Maybe this will work after all.”
A maid coming out of the restroom looked up at her and gasped. Pointing at Molly, Ryan and Jace, she began speaking rapidly in Spanish.
Or not, Molly thought, closing her eyes tight in a futile attempt to disappear. Andre was right. She was so dead. “Prison, or reform school. Here I come.”