The following is an excerpt from The Heretic, the second book in The Champion Trilogy, which is scheduled to be released this summer.
The brown Volvo slowed down to a crawl parallel to two young adolescents walking down the sidewalk. It was getting dark, and the preteen boy and girl were still on the streets, alone. Perfect.
The girl looked up and the man inside beeped his horn in a friendly manner. He pushed the power button on the passenger-side window and examined the two closely. The girl looked to be about 12, maybe 13; the boy a year younger. The girl was crying.
“Something wrong? Can I help?”
The girl sniffed, hesitated, then walked over to the side of the car. She wiped her nose on her sleeve and looked in the window.
“We missed the bus. We’ve been walking for half an hour, but it’s such a long way, and….”
“I’m tired,” the boy said behind her, whining.
“Josh is tired.”
The middle-aged man smiled slightly. “Well, get in and I’ll take you home. It will be dark soon, and knowing Seattle, it will rain any minute.”
The girl hesitated again, then looked back at Josh, who stamped his feet.
“What’s your name, young lady?” the man said.
“Well, Ruth, I have a little girl just about your age, and I sure wouldn’t want her out on the street with it getting dark. Get inside and I will get you home.”
He swung the passenger door open. Ruth hesitated again, but Josh ran past her and got into the car. Ruth paused another minute, then got into the back seat.
“Your parents must be worried about you by now,” the man said.
Josh spoke up. “Mom works evenings. She won’t be home until late.” He looked up at the man and grinned. The man saw broken, crooked teeth in the boy’s mouth.
“Son, you need to get to a dentist.”
“He fights a lot,” Ruth said. “What’s your name, mister?”
“Well, my name’s almost impossible to pronounce, so most kids just call me Unk.”
“Where do you two live, by the way? Kinda hard to take you home if I don’t know where you live.” Unk looked over at the boy, who had pulled a MP3 player from his backpack and put earbuds in his ears. The man could hear a voice speaking, and assumed it was some children’s story the boy listened to. Something about the boy was a little odd, but the man couldn’t place it.
“We live up by Edgewater Park in Broadmoor,” Ruth said.
“That is a long way,” Unk said. “If you don’t mind, I need to stop by my house and check on my dog. It’ll just take a minute, and then we’ll get you home. Do you like dogs?”
“Josh does. I do too. What kind is it?”
“Rottweiler. His name is Sweety. If you want, I’ll let you pet him.”
“I love rotties!” Ruth said.
Touchdown, Unk thought to himself. He looked at the boy again, who seemed lost in the story on his MP3 player. Odd, that one. Oh, well. Won’t matter in a little while.
The Volvo pulled into a cul-de-sac that was already dark. Unk pushed the button on a remote on his windscreen and the garage door opened. He pulled into the garage and closed the door behind him. He switched off the key and pocketed it. By the time, Ruth and Josh got out of the car, he was already stepping into the house. Ruth looked around her at the half-finished garage and slowly followed Unk through the door, with Josh right behind.
Unk crossed the darkened room and unlatched the glass door on the other side. “Sweety,” Unk called out into the darkness. Then he snapped his fingers. “The maid put him in the bedroom.” He started down the hallway, the paused as the kids stood watching him. “Well, come on, if you want to meet him.”
Unk opened the door to the bedroom. An 80-pound black and white Rottweiler stood in the middle of the room. Ruth and Josh followed Unk in, and the dog stood motionless in the same place.
“Hi Sweety,” Ruth said meekly, holding her backpack in front of her. She took a step forward, and a low growl came from the beast. She stopped.
“Ok here’s what’s going to happen,” Unk said, his voice suddenly losing its friendly tone. “You do exactly as I say, and Sweety here won’t tear your throat out. You give me trouble and you’ll see just what this dog can do.”
He leaned over the two children and jerked the earbuds from Josh’s ears.
“First, you’re going to take your clothes off and get on the bed. Then we are going to take some pictures. Did you ever want to be on the Internet?”
“I don’t think so.” The words came from Josh. Unk turned and saw that the boy stood taller and more imposing. He held a Taser in his hand. I was right to worry about him.
“Kiss!” Unk shouted at the dog, and it instantly leaped through the air at Josh. Josh fired the Taser, and two darts with electric charges hit the dog in mid-air. The momentum of the dog continued, however, and it hit Josh like an 80-pound sack of concrete. The two of them smashed into the closet door.
Unk turned to Ruth to see her holding an identical Taser. He raised his eyebrow as he realized that Ruth was also older than she had appeared. More like 17, he thought.
“Where are the children?” Ruth’s voice was all business.
“Give me the gun,” Unk said, stepping forward. Before he completed his step, the two darts hit him in the chest. He stiffened and fell to the floor like a rotten tree in a windstorm.
Ruth hurried over to Josh, who was struggling to get out from beneath the large dog.
Josh shrugged, then looked over his shoulder.
“Broke his closet door, and ‘bout broke my back, but yeah, I’m fine.”
Ruth helped him up. “Tape them up and call the cops. I’ll find the kids.”
Josh pulled a roll of duct tape from his backpack and began taping the legs of the rottie together. Ruth left the room and went into the hall. She found another bedroom door that was locked. She went to the kitchen and got an icepick. In a couple of minutes, she had picked the lock and opened it.
Inside she found four young children, asleep on the bed. A closet full of costumes, many of them looking like they came from a sex-toys shop, lined one wall. Studio lights stood around the room. A bedside table held a variety of medicines. Not for sickness, Ruth thought. More likely to control them.
She went back to the room with the dog. Josh was just flipping his cell phone shut. “I figure we have about three minutes before the cops get here,” he said. “Ready to go?”
Ruth nodded, then looked at the closet door. Josh had written “Joshua 10:6” with a black marker. Beneath it in large letters he had written “Ruth 1:16.”
Ruth shook her head at him. “So much for being in and out without leaving a trace.”
Josh grinned back at her through broken teeth.