wreath

Chapter One

 

So my name’s Docherty Harrison—

But everyone calls me Doc.

Can I tell you a secret?

My dad’s a mad scientist.

No, really. I’m not exaggerating. He works for this military company that’s so secret they don’t even have a name. They develop stuff from like Star Wars and Star Trek, but it really exists. Basically, my dad thinks it up and the government pays to make it happen.

Pretty badass, right?

So tomorrow’s Friday, my sixteenth birthday.

Dad promised he’d take the day off, which in his world is like a freaking miracle.

But instead he decided to get himself kidnapped.

Two guys. Sunglasses. Pistols.

So there I was, walking up the driveway with a pepperoni pizza as they dragged my father through the front door. One guy had his arm around Dad’s neck. The other pointed his gun at me.

“Doc, run!” my father screamed.

So I threw the pizza and took off.

A gunshot boomed.

I sprinted around the house, jumped the backyard fence, and landed in my neighbor’s yard.

I knew Julie was on her way home from school, so I called her. She lives just down the street. We grew up together, and she’s like my annoying older sister.

However, she is eighteen and owns a car, which makes her less annoying, especially when you’re being chased by bad guys. Of course, she didn’t believe my story until I screamed at the top of my lungs.

That worked.

I hid in some bushes until she picked me up—

But they found us, and now we’ve got two more minions on our tail.

“I’m not losing them,” she says, glancing at the rearview mirror. Her Mustang GT rumbles when she hits the gas.

And, oh, yeah, she hits the gas, but the light’s turned red.

“Look out!”

We rip into the intersection, and here comes this colossal tractor-trailer with its horn blaring.

My jaw drops.

I see nothing but chrome grille and headlights, nothing but an Imperial-class star destroyer about to T-bone us. Diesel fumes. Sudden death.

Rest In Peace Doc Harrison… your dad’s been abducted, your mom’s off “finding herself” in Seattle, and you still don’t have a girlfriend.

Incredibly unfair, right?

Obviously, we don’t die. The truck misses us by inches. Maybe less. Maybe by a distance measured at the subatomic level by Dr. Thaddeus Harrison, PhD, my father.

I take a breath, and my eyes burn. They took my dad.

“Doc, are they still back there?”

Julie’s voice sounds distant, like we’ve made the jump to hyperspace and the streets of Orlando have blurred into that swirly white tunnel thing. She screams again.

I crane my head—

And there they are: Black Explorer. Sunglasses.

“Make a right.”

She does. Three seconds later, here they come.

“Uh, hello, we’re not losing them.”

She eyes the mirror. “That’s your fault! We need help! Why did you hang up on 911?”

“Because she’s like, sir, I need you to keep talking, and I’m like, hello, there’s a guy shooting at me!”

Julie glares at me. “Call her back.”

“I gave her the address,” I say.

“How does that help us now?”

She’s right, of course. I’m about to dial when a shadow passes over the driver’s side windows.

It’s the Explorer, roaring up beside us. The passenger’s side window scrolls down, and this thug aims his gun at Julie. With his free hand, he gestures for us to pull over. He reminds me of my Sensei from Karate school, a Japanese college kid who never smiled.

Julie stomps on the gas pedal. My head hits the seat. My phone goes flying.

Two shots crack from outside.

“Seriously?” she cries. “He’s shooting at us!”

We’re doing nearly seventy-five miles per hour, with the next intersection racing toward us. Strip malls. Fast food chains. Quickie lube shops. Some guy wearing earbuds and twirling a sign for electronic cigarettes.

Green light… yellow… red.

Julie’s sweating, her hair whipping like blond flames as boom! One of our rear tires explodes!

We fishtail into traffic.

The stench of burning rubber.

An earthquake tearing through the cabin.

Two cars peeling off to avoid us.

And somewhere in the middle this near-death experience, I drift back to one of those tutoring sessions when Julie was trying to teach me to conjugate verbs in Spanish.

I was so stupid.

And she was so patient.

She’s always looking out for me, even when she hates it.

Why?

Because, well, I’m not sure how to explain it, but there’s this connection between us… it just goes way back… and it keeps us together, even when she’s annoying and I’m a total jerk. It goes beyond friendship or family or love… it’s just… weird.

Of course if we die now it’ll be all my fault, and if there’s an afterlife, Julie will be waiting there to scream at me.

For now she tells me to hang on and cuts the wheel. The seatbelt claws at my shoulder. I clutch it with both hands and check the side view mirror.

No Explorer. We lost them crossing the intersection.

“It’s okay,” I tell her. “We’re okay.”

I throw my head back and breathe.

The Mustang thumps over the asphalt. Flat tire.

Julie pounds the steering wheel, jarring me. “Really?”

“What? We lost them.”

The whine of a motorcycle engine rises from behind us.

She shakes her head and bangs on the accelerator, but the Mustang’s limping, and it’s like the drummer from AC/DC is playing a solo in the trunk.

We slip into an alley behind another strip mall, weaving drunkenly between the dumpsters and legions of fleeing squirrels.

The motorcycle follows. The guy wears jeans and a green T-shirt. Helmet with mirrored visor. Concealed weapon, no doubt. Probably keeps it in his boot. He’s a Terminator. He’ll ask Julie if her name is Sarah Connor.

Still, there’s something strangely familiar about him, the way he holds his shoulders and how perfectly his arms are spread apart… almost military…

My breath grows shallow. “Uh, Julie?”

“Don’t you think I see him?”

“Uh, yeah, I think that. So, uh, maybe we should—”

“Stop? And why aren’t you calling 911? I told you to call them back.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Now we’re alone with this biker. He’s probably a psycho! Why did I pick you up? My mom’s gonna freak out!”

“Probably…”

“Wait a minute? What am I saying? Your dad’s gone. Guys were shooting. That’s a free pass.”

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“Wait. She’ll never believe me! Why didn’t you get them on video?”

I roll my eyes. “Seriously? How ‘bout a selfie with the bad guy? They’ll find it on my phone after they pry it from my cold, dead hand.”

“Shut up!” she orders. “Oh, God, here he comes.”

The biker thunders alongside us and points to a row of empty parking spaces behind the mall.

“I’m stopping,” Julie says. “I don’t see a gun.” She slams on the brakes.

“So we’re giving up?”

Her eyes bug out. “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know. You’re the smart one. Do the Wonder Woman thing. Figure it out!”

She snorts and fumbles with her phone. “Okay, see? I’m calling 9-1-1 again, and you tell them we have…”

She breaks off as the biker raps a knuckle on her window, and then motions for her to lower it.

“Don’t call anyone,” he shouts from behind his helmet. “Just pull over. Trust me!” He sounds really familiar.

We park. “Come on,” I urge her. “I think I know who it is!”

As we get out of the car, the biker removes his helmet.

I thought so. It’s Tommy. Semi-old dude. At least forty. Crew cut. Gray temples. Scars and muscles and a medium-sized gut from all the beer he drinks with Dad.

To be more precise, he’s Major Thomas McMillan, United States Marine Corps.

Oorah.

He works with my father, and I’ve known him my entire life—my surrogate uncle who practically raised me.

However, his motorcycle’s black, not red. Maybe he borrowed this one from somebody?

“Tommy? What’s going on? Who took my dad?”

“Hang on, son.” He barks something about assets being moved and a non-specific delay into his phone. Solid copy. Good to go. Roger, out.

“What’s he doing here?” Julie asks.

She knows him, too. He’s been at our house many times while she was there.

Tommy raises his palms. “Y’all are coming with me.”

“What is this?”

“Doc, just listen up.”

“Yeah, whatever. What’s happening?”

“We’ve got a massive security breach. No worries, though. Y’all are safe with me. And we’ll get your old man back—but we can’t do it alone. We need both of you.”

Julie and I look at each other like what the hell?

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